Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sicily and a Saved Marriage

We packed our bags, loaded up our rental car and headed out to Sicily this morning. Traveling presents many a obstacles, frustrations, and can really push you to your limits. I'm told that this is how we grow.

One of the biggest pains in Italy is figuring out where you are and where you are going while driving. Signage in this country is very poor. Streets do not have signs, but instead, street corners will have small plaques (sometimes) for the street. This makes identifying streets while driving very difficult. That is of course assuming they are there in the first place. Tonight I walked literally 5 blocks trying to figure out what street we were on before giving up. Still have no idea what road that was. During that time Ashley sat in the car struggling with the maps.

The maps we have are one large paper maps, and a couple downloaded to our iTouch. The iTouch tries it's best, but I wasn't able to find high quality paid maps. Instead have OpenStreetMaps. Although they do a valiant effort of creating maps, many key things are missing. Moreover trying to navigate on a tiny screen with no GPS to tell you where the frick you are does not work well. The paper map we bought was of no help. It only has an overview map of the island. We didn't know this until after we bought it since we couldn't open it before. Great for highways and such, but useless once into any of the little towns. Oh, I should add that the driver can't really help navigate much since almost all their effort must go into not getting killed by the craziness that is driving in Italy.

I'll spare the details, but Ashley and I both worked very hard at keeping our frustrations civil as we tried to get from Tropea to our B&B near Etna. Although nothing over-boiled it was extremely stressful for both of us. Not exactly what we were looking forward to after a very hard and rough week at work. During the pinnacle of our frustrations we had gotten ourselves quite lost in a little town. I was walking around to cool-off, as was Ashley. This local fellow in the exact same model and colour of car pulls up. "Are you lost?" "Do you speak english?" He then turned around and, with us following, lead us clear across town to the entrance to the highway we have been seeking for far too long. The Italian people are so very warm and wonderful. This man took 20min or more out of his day to help some strangers. Molto bene! At the end of all that the 3.5 hour journey which should have gotten us to the B&B at 1pm got us to there just after 4pm. Being too late we couldn't go explore Etna today.

Instead of pouting we salvaged the evening by doing some much needed shopping. Needing some cloths and a few other things. Best to take the time now instead of eating away at our time in Rome or Istanbul. As part of that we ended up buying a little piece of plastic to help our marriage.

Oh my goodness, what a difference. The drive home from shopping was so relaxing. Ashley and I could chat and enjoy each other's company. Although we spent most of the time in awe how this little piece of plastic was doing such a wonderful job of taking us home. We could both feel our marriage recovering from the week and weekend thus far, breathing a sigh of relief!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Baden Baden Evening

This post takes us once again back to Germany, Baden Baden.
We went out for dinner, and using some online reviews went to this place. The whole restaurant was built like a cave. Felt a little Spanish. They had a wonderful sitting room with fireplace and comfy seats to share a glass of something and talk long into the night
We sat not far from it along one of the walls. Lots of old farm equipment and such adorned the walls.
Keeping with the more rustic theme water jugs came in nice simple clay jugs. The low light, flowers, candle made for a nice romantic meal.
Looking back a good lesson learned is to take more pictures of food. We'll try to keep that up. We did manage to snap one of desert. Black Forest cake in the Black Forest. Touristy yes. Fitting yes. It was also served with home made ice-cream.
Ashley with her coffee is glowing. Enjoying the simple clay cups and rustic style of the restaurant. Traveling around is giving us so many ideas for what to do with a house if we ever get one. Although looking at house prices and what we can afford, I'm not sure it will ever happen. Still, we can dream.
A really neat idea was that the bill came in this lovely converted book. We thought of Mom Orr and our wedding rings coming in a book.
Opening it up you find your bill along with a recipe if you want it. Really nice presentation. We finished our yummy meal and went out walking.
Baden Baden is a spa town, and known for it's hot-springs. This is a naturally heated pool in one of the smaller town squares. To the left is the modern bath house we went to. Just to the right is the main church. We we went in and enjoyed the tail end of some pre-christmas chanting. Didn't take any pictures thinking it would be disrespectful.
Walking a little further into town's main square is this wonderful fountain. Loving the little Gorilla Pod we carry around along with a brilliantly designed shutter timer on the camera. It was quite dark in the town compared to Berlin, so couldn't free hold the camera to take pictures.
Clamped to a telephone pole I was able to take the side profile of the fountain.
This I believe was the Opera/Theatre House. Perhaps one day, like so many here, we'll roll back into town in our new BMW, wearing fur. We'll go for a soak in the bath. Have a multi course meal at one of the finner establishments. Then cap the day with evening wear and a trip here to finish stimulating all the senses.
Although between you and me, I think I prefer the simple life.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Catanzaro and La Castella

If you are searching the Internet for places to go and things to do in Calabria, it won't be long before you run across Cherrye and her website, My Bella Vita. Cherrye is THE travel expert for these parts - an American who now lives in Catanzaro with her Italian husband and beautiful bambino. Together they run a wonderful B&B called Il Cedro.
This is the view from outside our bedroom - notice the orange trees? Oh they smelled so nice!
Cherrye and Pepe invited us out for Pizza. Delicious real Italian pizza! I forgot to take pictures - it was so wonderful to have other people to chat and visit with. Then we went out for Gelato.
On Saturday we drove to La Castella. The myth goes that here is the castle described in the Odyssey, where Calypso help Odysseus prisoner for 7 years. It was actually built in the 1300's, but who's counting? By the time we made it to the Castle after strolling around the town a bit, it was just after 12. And they were closing. Drat. We would have to wait until 3 to get in. So we ranted about Italians for a minute, and then decided to explore the coast. 
Rocky beaches surround the tower, reminding us of the shoreline at home.


And then we had a long lunch, like good Italians. The food was actually not very good. We started with a seafood risotto.
And then had a salad and prawns.
But we could see the castle from our table (which was beautiful), and we could see when it reopened.

This was a defence castle, and nobody really lived here. But it has a beautiful tower (which I began redesigning). When I am filthy rich (har, har) I plan on buying this castle and remodeling. I think it will do.
This view will be wonderful...
And this is what I will see from my bedroom.
At the very top of the tower is a look out (which will of course become Hanging Gardens). The rocks and plaster had this amazing texture.
In short, the enter castle was inspiring to me.
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Road Trip

While we were preparing for our time in Calabria, we read over and over that having a car in southern Italy is imperative to experiencing the country. So, we rented a car last weekend: a little Peugeot that we christened "Leo". 
This is the first time either of us has been behind a wheel since September, and it was so nice! We spent a lot time driving together when we were dating, (and after), and many of our best conversations and times together have been driving. We hadn't realized how much we missed those times until we were back in a car just the two of us.
It was also fun to be travelling on our own steam (so to speak). There is a sense of accomplishment when you drive yourself, as opposed to getting on a train and forgetting everything until you get off.
And we got to experience Italian Driving, which we both ended up having a lot of fun with—although there were a few moments of spiked blood-pressure. (I caught myself holding my hands to my cheeks just like my dad does when he doesn't like how someone is driving. ;) ) Driving through a Medieval town is a-whole-'nother experience though. In the future when I think that something is impossible, I am going to remember some of the streets we navigated through—all things are possible!
We drove along the ocean...
 And through the hills...
 Past farms and ruined villas...
 Beside acres and acres of Olive Groves...
 Mingled among Orange and Lemon groves.
 Here is the path that we took over the weekend. Started in Trope (G) and north to Lamezia Terme. Then over to Catanzaro on Friday, up to La Castella on Saturday, and down along to coast and back home on Sunday. More details of our trip will follow.

Cucina!

I have been taking Italian classes. For an hour every couple days, I walk across town to a small Italian Language school and meet up with Antonella. The walking to class may be my favorite part: I stroll past clusters of older Italian gentlemen and am greeted with "Ciao, bella!" and "Buongiorno!" I feel like I am strolling through the idyllic world from the first half of La Vita e Bella.

As for the Italian classes, we have yet to see if it will do more than just really mess up my Spanish! 

Last week, Antonella and Nicola (the school's director) wanted to make a big Italian lunch with Owen and me. The food here is UmUm GOOD!

We started with Onions, Tropea Onions (Cepolla). Fried in Olive Oil with Olives, Caper and a few tomatoes. 

Nicola brought the beautiful sun-dried tomatoes, preserved eggplant, and Bergamont Marmalade to try on Italian bread.
Antonella made this Tuna and Mashed Potato cake...it sounds different, but it was good!
And onion frittata (which Antonella said didn't turn out so well - Bruta) but was really yummy!

And for dessert we had chocolate balls made by Antonella, as well as the typical (but make it very hard to work for the rest of the day) Limoncello. That stuff is potent!
Every time we walk home this view beckons me to take a couple minutes at the view point. This is one of the great gifts of living on a cliff - these view points are insistent: "Come and open your eyes to the world around!" And so we take a minute or two (which is really no time at all) to be. Just to be. This is the Bella Vita.
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Friday, January 13, 2012

Welcome To Tropea - Part 2

If you haven't read Part 1 you should do that before reading this post.
This is the famous view at the end of main street historic centre. A young boy on his bike ponders. What? I'm not sure exactly. Many locals and tourists a like come and view over this railing, often daily.
Once at the edge you are granted a beautiful view of the beech below.
To the left a monastery perched on top of a little, almost, island.
The vastness is a wonder. No little gulf islands dotting the scenery. This looks right up to the ankle of Italy, although even on a clear day I can't see land straight out from the view. I imagine sailors of old who would fear sailing out past the horizon. Fear of never returning.
Looking back up we can see main street and the famous Gelati store on the left.
We'll travel through some back roads enroute to our apartment.
Of course we have to stop at the obligatory canon at another lookout point. The graffiti in this place is really sad. This is an actual 16th century canon being desecrated. Sad.
Another view spot looks down on the near by marina. Ashley and I thought about trying to rent a sail boat. Thinking we could get ourselves into a lot of trouble really quickly, and not really knowing that much about sailing we decided against it. Still a beautiful view.
This is the front door to our apartment. Well, technically it's to the palazzo which contains a number of apartments. The large building used to be home to a single family. With servants of course.
Going around the side our neighbour is a 12th century normal cathedral.
The bells go off at 7am, noon, and 7pm. A really nice alarm clock if you ask me. The honking of cars closer to 8am isn't so nice, but ensures we are out of bed and not being lazy.
This is the street that leeds to the back door and the way into our little place.
Our back door and tower. Ashley always wanted a tower on our home. Now we have one! We are confined to the first floor though so no exploring.
Our iron door which is a good 5 inches thick is a heavy beast to open. Thank goodness we only have to open a chunk of it.
And there I must leave you. Right now we are heading out for pizza with some locals. A tour of the inside will come soon. Ciao!