Chapter Twenty-Five, December 12, 2005 – February 5, 2006

 

Much has happened since we last wrote.  For certain the Holidays have come and gone, and we have been on the move.  We’ve much to tell, so let’s get to it.

First, the Holidays.  We decided a tree was too much so we adorned the place with pines and red ribbon and everything looked gorgeous.  On our traditional bike ride route we found a huge pine branch in the road which we chopped up and clipped onto the back of John's bike. With our Christmas tunes and decorating, we were ready for the season!

We made batches of chocolate chip cookies for our friends in thanks for their kindnesses and generosity. This resulted in seven batches, quite a baking extravaganza. With the hunt for ingredients and two trial runs (the ingredients are so different and John needed to do some product testing) it was a project, but we had great fun and we think our friends appreciated the gesture.

We will admit the Italians are a little short on "decking the halls". A "slightly minimalist approach," but it coincided with our own personal décor so we felt at home. Other than that, we have zero complaints.

This makes the third year that we’ve celebrated Christmas and New Year’s away from home and family.  What makes it different is this is the first time we have truly been “alone.”  Previously we had either been with cruising buddies in the Bahamas, or with marina friends in Portugal.  But here in Italy we are truly alone, and our few Italian friends were busy celebrating with their families.  It was different for sure, but good too.  We took the time to reflect on our blessings over this past year, and to recall how very fortunate we are to have each other and this fabulous life.

We wanted to make the season special, so we checked out the Christmas concerts being given by various groups in Rome.  We identified two in particular, both on the same Sunday evening before Christmas.  We booked a hotel (what a find!) in the heart of the city, and were set to go.  Sunday morning is the time for the regular flea market in Rome.  You may have read about Rome’s flea market, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing.  It is mammoth.  On the day we chose to go, it was also incredibly cold.  We estimate we looked at about 15-20% of the market before our toes froze.  That took us over three hours. It was a mass of global junk in which we had little interest. Sharon likes a little antique trinket here and there but there were none to be had. She used to collect perfume bottles at the Paris flea market 20 years ago but alas, times have changed.  A quick lunch in a little pizzeria warmed us up, and we took off to check into our hotel.

 We ventured out to the Music Park via streetcar and arrived in time.  The audience stood in the vestibule of the new concert hall and listened attentively as a group of school children, ages 5-10 sang a few Christmas songs for their parents and families.  Twenty-five minutes, tops.  Oh, it was all very sweet, and the children were cute, but as “Christmas Concerts” go, it was not exactly what we had in mind.  (Maybe we’d better take more notice of the Italian lessons?)  We then determined that the next concert on our agenda was to be held outside on the steps of a church in the Borghese Gardens later in the evening.  It was getting colder as the sun set, so we decided to hum a few bars of “White Christmas” and call it quits.

A highlight of our Christmas visit to Rome was a walking tour in which we discovered the Trevi Fountain for the first time. It is the façade of a large palace decorated with statues and bas-reliefs on heaps of rock; water gushes from every part. It took a century to complete. Exquisite.

New Year’s Eve is the same everywhere: turn on the television and watch the countdown.  And that’s just what we did.  We had been told that there would be fireworks in our town, and that they were very good.  So, about ten minutes to midnight we bundled up against the cold and ventured out into the streets.  The very deserted streets.  Not a creature was stirring.  Anywhere.  After a few blocks of not seeing another soul, we reluctantly returned home to the certainty of the TV.  At the stroke of midnight the sky above Sabaudia erupted in a huge fireworks display; three displays, in fact.  Unfortunately, our garden is so filled with palm trees that we could see very little.  Maybe next year.

Our friends, Katrin and Hans asked us to join them for a day trip to Naples to see the Presepi.  “Presepio” is the Italian (actually Neapolitan) version of a crèche.  They begin with a traditional crèche, then add scenes from their own locality to make the Presepio.  The scenes are of local folk, usually in country villages, doing everyday tasks.  You can see figures baking bread, tending sheep, washing clothes, eating supper, and so on.  Sometimes the scenes are motorized, with water flowing in the fountains and streams.  They are fascinating displays; some are quite spiritual, some bring a smile.  The figures range in height from 1/2'” to 8-10”, and some Presepi have several hundred figures.  It was the larger figures that we enjoyed most.  They were quite realistic, with carved and painted faces and clothing made of colorful fabrics and trims (Sharon’s favorites).  After viewing an exhibit of “competitive” displays, we wandered through the adjacent streets where all manner of materials and figurines for making your very own presepio are offered for sale.  Hundreds of shops, filled with figurines.  What a wonderful treat Katrin and Hans gave us with this day trip.

Then there was the experience of Naples!  So very different from Rome.  It is not nearly so sophisticated and stylish as Rome.  There is a “slightly tattered” appearance to the city.  The streets we walked were narrow, filled with stalls and people (almost every shop spills its wares into the streets to attract customers).  Then, out of nowhere would come a car, barely able to fit through the stalls, and people would scramble out of the way, and make room. What a place. We loved it and hope to return.

January turned into “Friends Month” for us.  We were graced by visits from friends from home, and they in turn introduced us to new friends in Florence.  Our Litchfield friend, Tammy Moritz joined us for a whirlwind tour of  Cinque Terre and Florence.  The five towns (hence “Cinque Terre”) are perched on the steep, rocky hillsides above the Tyrrhenian Sea just south of Genoa.  This beautiful area is perfect for hiking; the trails between the towns take from 30 minutes to 2 hours to navigate.  The towns are also linked by a railway that is mostly tunnels, but emerges from time to time to make way for a tiny station.  That way we could hike “out” and train “back.”  The photos speak for themselves.

Between Manarola and Riomaggiore, two of the five small villages, is a path called Via  Dell’ Amore, the Street of Love. We managed to walk it twice that day, and only missed Valentine’s Day by a month.  (By the way, the smallest village has 300 inhabitants and fishing is still the way of life.)

Tammy continued with us to Florence.  There we were met by Ken Feldstein.  Ken is such a good friend that he managed to time his business trip to Florence so it coincided with our visit. This is the second time we’ve seen Ken since we arrived in Europe. His sidekick, Gary Gifford is a delight, and the two of them introduced us to their Florentine friends, Guido and Elena Mazzoli.  Being surrounded by these friends, both old and new, made our stay in Florence an over-the-top experience.  Guido and Elena, and their associate Pamela Buoni, helped us find the perfect accommodations; we stayed in a tiny B&B within steps of the Duomo.  Guido and Elena not only gave us a “welcome tour” of the hills surrounding Florence, later in the week they drove us through the Tuscan countryside for a tour of Siena.  What lovely people they are! 

Florence continues to remain at the top of our list of favorites. Michelangelo’s David still brings tears to our eyes and we had the wonderful memory of a similar trip eleven years prior on John’s 50th!

Toward the end of the month, Sharon’s high school friend, Joyce, and her husband Ron joined us for a trip to the Amalfi Coast.  Positano, Praiano, and Amalfi cascade down the steep slopes to meet the beautiful sea.  It is truly breathtaking.  But not as breathtaking as the driving!  Ron was stuck with having to negotiate the winding, narrow road with just inches separating us from a many-hundreds-of-feet fall into the sea; the road is so narrow and twisty that at times we were forced to back up to let a truck or bus navigate through one of the hairpin turns.  But Ron prevailed, and we thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. The weather cooperated greatly with temperatures hitting the low 70s. Spectacular. Notice our lack of fowl weather gear!

The main trouble with the arduous drive up to Ravello was that after we spent a great time exploring the hilltop town (11th and 12th centuries), Ron had to drive it all over again to return us to our hotel in Positano.

On the way home we made a quick stop in Herculaneum to see what life was like in 79 A.D.; the city was destroyed by the same eruption of Vesuvius that wiped out Pompeii.

In between these bigger jaunts, John had the opportunity to visit with old friends from his working days.  His former business colleague, Ottavio Raucci invited him to attend a new product launch meeting and luncheon.  The meeting was held in the Palazzo Reale di Caserta.  The Palazzo was built by the Bourbon kings of southern Italy in the 1750’s, and with its 1200 rooms and gardens that stretch for over four kilometers, is impressive.  The meeting and luncheon were well-done, and a great success, and John was very flattered to be invited. 

The trip to and from the meeting was another matter; what should have been six hours by bus and train turned into thirteen, with alternate means of travel inserted here and there (it was raining, and Italian trains don’t seem to like the wet).  But John enjoyed seeing old friends.

Now that February has arrived, we’re through traveling for a while.  Carmela comes to see us a few times per week, mostly to visit but also to help us with our Italian.  We have developed few routines but many customs while on land in Sabaudia. Every day we visit the market for fresh veggies, bread and the occasional pesto. Pasta is for us, like the Italians, a daily consumption.  Our daily bike rides continue and several weeks ago we did a 30 km jaunt. We skipped for days following due to some very sore muscles.

Cruising friends who are quite experienced told us that last year in Portugal would be our greatest winter in the Med. Well, they were wrong. Sabaudia has taken us far beyond our expectations. And we’re not through!

The Italian people are kind, warm, generous, helpful people. Italy satiates our every need.

There are still more adventures in front of us.

Ciao!