Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Photos from 15...

On a sunny Saturday on the last day of May, we headed into Rome...our final stop in Italy.

The overnight rain brought with it a pleasant chill. Perfect sleeping weather. Breakfast was out on the terrace...although an approaching storm was preceeded by strong breezes that tugged on linens.

Dropped ye olde Kia off at Avis. Crossed to the train station to wait for the 11:58 train to Roma Termini...delayed by 25min...and a bit confusing without seat reservations. But no worse for the wear, we made our way (finally) to Rome by around 1:30pm.

Taxi from the train station. Our first real problem. Even though we got an officially marked taxi from an official taxi stand, the driver still gorged us. Jeff berated him to reduce the price and we got a small reduction, but the 1 mile ride still cost us 30 euro...the hotel told us it should be 10-15 euro. Live and learn, I guess...still, it gives me that feeling in the pit of your stomach that you've been taken.

The Hotel 47 staff was helpful and the room spacious and comfortable. We're located near the end of the Roman Circus Maximus behind the Palantine Hill...which we set out to see after dropping off our bags.

In Roman times, the Palatino Hill was THE place to build your palace. Today, its a fun maze of ruins...arched brick walls, marble columns, scattered masaic floors, hidden passages. Our first and favorite sight was the newly-restored rooms in the Casa Augusto. These four tiny rooms were painted almost 2000 years ago, and yet the pigments have been amazingly preserved. Augustus must have loved brilliant red.

Finished the Palatino Hill and exited to the Forum below. The afternoon light made this open-air playground of Roman artifacts come alive. Exited the Forum at Capitolino Hill and the piazza designed by Michelangelo. Returned to the hotel to shower and relax before dinner.

Crossed the Tiber River into the Travastevere area...this is the heart of Medieval Rome...with narrow, winding, and slightly seedy streets. Found an outdoor restaurant on the Piazza Santa Maria en Travatereve. Ate a hearty meal while watching the colorful activities of the piazza...a comical mime, roving bands of salesmen hawking cheap plastic toys that light up, a gang of children mocking the roving salemen, a spray paint artist, and a rousing troubador.

Took a long walk into the wee hours. Historic Rome at night is just fun. The Jewish Getto and the Area Sacra...with its tribe of wild cats. The Campo di Fior with drunken/festive revelry. The race-track-shaped Piazza Navona. The simply breathtaking Pantheon. And every few blocks...a random patch of ruins.

Tired feet but an overwhelming sense of history.

Photos from 14...

Today we find ourselves reminiscing with photos from Orvieto in Umbria...a rainy day near the end of our trip to Italy. Stay from Rome are coming up soon. Promise. :)

Awoke to the sound of birds...happy birds. Birds feeding or nesting or courting or whatever birds do as the sun rises. Certainly our most peaceful wake up call. The scents of honeysuckle, lavendar, and roses mingled in the air.

A light, fruity breakfast in the hotel Enotecca--their event wine bar. Local preserves. Fresh strawberries and cherries. Three flakey fruit tarts. Yogurt. And cappuccini...oh yes!

Swung into Orvieto to buy tomorrow's train tickets to Rome and to locate the Avis drop-off. Success.

A short but scenic drive to postcard perfect Civita di Bagnoregio...but first a stop in sleepy Lubriano who's claim to fame seems to be the perfect overlook of Civita. It began to rain steadily. Drove to the larger town of Bagnoregio with its own to-see's, but for us just the entry point to Civita. Unfortunately, the rain picked up, and we were without rain gear. So, another picturesque vista of Civita...perched high atop its mound of tufa...the town's single connection to the world a narrow foot bridge.

Returned to the Locanda for rain garb for the afternoon.

Into central Orvieto for a couple of underground sights. First stop, a recently re-discovered network of Etruscan wells, tunnels, garbage pits carved into the tufa dating 25 centuries ago. These ancient sites were intermixed with more recent modifications by the Romans and again in the Middle Ages.

Grabbed lunch at a creative (looking) place we had passed yesterday. Unfortunately, only the decor made us chuckle...the food was mediocre and the service was horriffic. Maybe the pan-flute CD playing covers of Guns and Roses and Celine Dion should have warned us. Rain blew through and left behind high humidity...ugh.

Walked across Orvieto for our next stop...the engineering marvel that is Pozzo di San Patrizio...aka, St. Patrick's Well. Built at the orders of a Pope to ensure a sustainable water source in case of the town being beseiged, this 16th-century well is notable for its double-helix stairwells, decending 496 steps to the bottom with a half-turn separated route back up. Nice and cool below. Shopped for some of Orvieto's famous ceramics. A breeze picked up and lowered the humidity.

With the rain gone, decided to take the short drive back to tempting Civita. Much better vistas :) This time, we were able to walk the long foot bridge into Civita, up the steep approach, and through the old Etruscan tufa gate. The town is tiny and desolate...but the Medieval buildings are worth the trip.

It was getting late as we left Civita so we rushed back to Orvieto to try and grab dinner. Long story short...we left thwarted...Italy does not make eating lite and quickly simple. So we returned to the hotel to sample a local wine in our room minibar...only to find that there was no cork screw. Want a beer or Coke? No bottle opener. And no way to contact the innkeeper, because we are the only two people in the hotel. It wasn't meant to be.

We can see lightening on the horizon from our bed. There is a cool breeze and the humidity is low.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

2 weeks, 3 cities, 4 hotels...

I've had a busy couple of weeks, beginning with a few days in northern San Diego County for a meeting at the Four Seasons Aviara. This is a serene property overlooking a protected estuary. Indoor and outdoor spaces blend seemlessly. The Four Seasons is the master of understated elegance and comfort.

In stark contrast, I spent a few cold nights this past week in Seattle and then Philadelphia...both beautiful cities...but a bit on the overcast side during this trip. In Seattle, I stayed at the plain-and-simple Hilton.

In Philly, my coworkers and I got to our hotel--the downtown Westin--around 1am to find that our "confirmed" rooms had been given away. So, for the night, the hotel arranged a room at the nearby Four Season...what a stroke of luck. A beautiful room overlooking the historic Logan Square and its Swann Fountain. was no Aviara!

I returned to the Westin for my second and final evening. The room was fine, but I do have a bit of an axe to grind. When my displaced coworkers, Sarah and Tina, arrived at THEIR new rooms...they walked into a suite with an apology note AND a bottle of wine. What did I get? Zilch. Oh yeah, I could have complained...but I was too tired to bother. Shame on you, Westin!

My trip to Philly did have a bit of light, unexpected snow. Mostly heavy flurries...but pretty nonetheless. (Hello to Sarah, below, who requested a blog cameo.)

And of course, you can't have your yin without a good dose of yang. My pretty snow caused a two-hour de-icing delay...which caused me to miss my connection in Denver...and planted me in a middle seat between two hefty guys. At least I am home :)