A Very Wet Day in Cinqueterre

I arrive fairly late in Cinqueterre, get checked in to my “hotel” which appears to be more of a “hostel”, my “double bed” is… a bunk bed. Well, at least I have my own room. I go out for some dinner and am delightfully surprised to be served something I have not seen more than once or twice since leaving the states – ice water! Despite the heat here, they never seem to use ice, but this particular restaurant appears to cater to Americans. The “Milanese cutlet” (chicken fried steak) is also very good.

Cinqueterre translates as”the 5 lands” – it is 5 little nearby towns in a very rugged area. My hotel is in the first of the towns, Riomaggiore. There are trails connecting all of the towns, and I hope to hike to a few of them, so I get up early, check the weather, see that it’s supposed to rain all day, and bundle up for a long hike in the rain. It is very nice being up and about the town before the tourists arrive or are out themselves, and the rain is refreshing, at least at first. I grab a focaccia for breakfast and wander through the town, seeking the trail head that will bring me to the next town. Continue reading “A Very Wet Day in Cinqueterre”


Short Stop in Pisa

On my way to Cinqueterre, I make a short stop in Pisa. I’m not sure what’s here, besides a famously leaning tower, but it was on the way and seemed like a good way to spend an afternoon! I walk through a lot of the town (the Tower is on the opposite end of town than the train station), see some quaint streets and plazas, and a bunch of the “arcades” that apparently Pisa is known for – stone arched covered open spaces for markets and such.

I cross the river and decide to try a restaurant that was recommended in my guide book. I don’t think I’ve actually eaten at any restaurant recommended by my guide book on my travels so far, usually relying on Google Maps and Trip Advisor’s ratings and reviews to choose places instead, or more often walking into random places that seem convenient. This restaurant, though, was indeed worth the recommendation. The food was even worth the 45 minutes or so it took to arrive. I’m pretty sure this was the best food I’ve had in Italy. The first course wasn’t anything particularly special, Carpaccio di Bresola con Rucola e Grana – cold cuts and some cheese, I guess. The main course, Fettuccine alla Pisana, was amazingly good. Fresh cherry tomatoes, some incredibly flavorful bacon, good cheese, and dripping with oil. Continue reading “Short Stop in Pisa”

Circumnavigating a Country on Foot

My last day in Rome, I start by attending the Papal Audience. This is an event every Wednesday in which the Pope appears, talks to and prays with pilgrims and visitors to Rome. Though free, I had to pick up a ticket the night before, which I got from the fantastic Santa Susanna American Community in Rome which is run by the Paulist Fathers, an American religious order, one of my favorites, as they’re big into education and music, who also ran the church I attended during my years at the University of Minnesota. Because it takes a while to get through security and find a seat, everyone arrives early to St Peter’s Square, and I take an empty seat next to a few people who happen to also be from California. While waiting, speakers in various languages recognize all of the large groups of pilgrims in attendance, mostly in their native languages. When going through the English-speaking groups, I notice almost all are from England, or Scandinavia, just a couple groups from the US. The Pope also arrives early and moves about between the crowds shaking hands, blessing babies, and the like. He passes pretty close to where I am sitting, and it’s neat seeing him in person. I’m glad to see this pope does not feel the need for a bullet-proof Popemobile anymore.

Continue reading “Circumnavigating a Country on Foot”

Food Variety and Rome at Night

I’ve finally finished all of my day trips from Rome, and just about all of the things I wanted to see in Rome, with the exception of attending a Papal Audience, which I will do in a couple days, and attending an opera, which I will fail to do, due to tickets being sold out far in advance, and I’ve not been in to advanced planning on this trip =).

I spend time catching up on my blog posts. I’m glad I’ve been doing this as I go along, as it really encourages me to think twice before taking a photo of every interesting thing, and I think my photo collection from my trip is better for it. I do, still, take a picture of almost every meal, though. On one outing for lunch, I decide I want something non-Italian, do a search for Indian, and a few restaurants in the area pop up. I go to the first one, only to be turned away because they don’t have room for one more person. As I leave the restaurant I find another group of Americans, also turned away, also getting tired of Italian, who had just come from the other direction and let me know that the Indian restaurant over there was full too. They decide to settle for “ravioli again”, but I set off towards the remaining two Indian restaurants on my map. Continue reading “Food Variety and Rome at Night”

The Smallest Country in the World

This morning I board the Metro and head to another country. I really like the look of some of the Metro stops – underground, mostly dark, but shiny metal walls reflecting the light of trains coming from afar. Small and compact – no two-way traffic or additional trains at these stops, just big enough for one train to come through.
1292 Metro

I arrive at the entrance St Peter’s Square, which is mostly blocked off for some event, and spend a while in the hot sun waiting in the security checkpoint line to leave the country. Well, the security is to enter St Peter’s Basilica because it’s a significant and important site that has bee attacked in the past, not because I’m walking from one country into another. My audio guide tells me to “go through security, past the gaggle of backpackers in shorts being turned away for not reading the dress code, and into the square”, but it seems the dress code must have been reduced in recent years, as I don’t see anyone being turned away, and see some people in shorts inside. Continue reading “The Smallest Country in the World”

Ancient Roman Cats

Today I was planning on visiting the Vatican Museum and related sites, but, in preparation for where I’m heading in a few stops, I ended up spending most of the morning and afternoon figuring out how to get a Chinese visa for an American citizen in Italy. Luckily, there is a Chinese visa office in Rome, and they don’t care that you’re not Italian. Unlike the Chinese consulate I once stopped by in San Francisco, this one was almost completely empty, and on my two visits there I spent no more than 30 seconds waiting for someone (the same guy, who spoke good English, both times) to assist me, so it was relatively painless, though even with rush service they will return my passport, with visa attached, the day before my last day in Rome, so I hope all goes well! In order to get the initial Chinese visa, they required plain tickets to and from China, but I am not completely sure on my plans yet, so I booked some flights, printed out the tickets, submitted my visa application, and then canceled one of the flights (within 24 hours, so no cancellation fee) until my plans solidify. After this initial visa is granted, I can use it any number of times in the next 10 years to re-enter China without having to jump through any hoops, so I’m not sure why they’re so rigorous on the initial application/entry. Probably because people intending illegal immigration might just buy a one-way ticket and they want to protect against that.

After my Visa Quest, I strolled over to the Pantheon, as it was a bit of Ancient Rome I had not yet seen, and there were a couple other sites of particular interest to me in the area. The Pantheon used to be the temple of all gods, but when Constantine converted Rome to Christianity in the 4th century it was converted into the church of all martyrs and statues of Zeus and Apollo were replaced with statues of Andrew and Peter. Like most active churches in Rome, there is no admission fee, whether you’re coming in to pray or to be a tourist, and due to it being later in the day, there was no wait to go in.

Continue reading “Ancient Roman Cats”

Birth of the Renaissance

This is my last day-trip out from Rome, a day in Florence, known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. After the train ride, I start my time in Florence watching a short 3D movie about Florence – my guide book recommended stopping at the place above the visitor’s center to watch this, saying it’s “often overlooked”. Sure enough, I shuffle through an incredibly packed visitor’s center to get to the stairs, go up, and find a large room with a lot of empty chairs and I watch the movie entirely alone. It gives a nice overview of the city and informs me a bit on what I should try to see. The movie is in 3D, using polarized glasses, and is pretty good, however the subtitles have horrible vertical convergence. Usually with the two images of a 3D movie, any content will appear shifted only left or right, since it’s simulating images going to your left and right eyes, but for some reason the text was shifted vertically instead of horizontally, so gives me a headache trying to focus on it. It is so bad I have to take a picture. After that, I start making my way to the Cathedral, but continue my tradition of slipping in to any open church for a moment along the way.

I arrive at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which has a fanciful facade. Of important historical note are the bronze doors to the baptistery across from it – these doors are considered the start of the Renaissance. At the time, they held a competition among all of the city’s best artists to create the most artistic doors, and this was the start of an era of strong patronage of the arts in Florence, and soon other cities as well, but all of the famous renaissance men – Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, etc – lived or worked in Florence, at least for a time.

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Weathering the Storm in Orvieto

A day trip to Orvieto! Orvieto is a small “hill town” north of Rome an hour or so by high speed train. Called a “hill town” because the town is built atop a hill, a bit like the acropolises in ancient Greek and Roman times. This one dates back a couple millennia, but was abandoned for a few hundred years after the Romans defeated the native Etruscan people.

It’s a quaint little town with winding, slightly hilly streets, all with a lot of charm. There are a lot of cars considering how tiny the roads are – I expected almost no automobiles, it seems like a perfect pedestrian-only little city, but cars zoom by through one-way alleys. For lunch I decide to try a kind of “pizza” I’ve been seeing for a while – it has meat and… French fries… on it. And no red sauce. I’m not sure it can actually be called a “pizza”. The taste is, well, about what you’d expect. The cat who joins me as I sit on a bench seems to like it more than I do.

I make my way over to the Duomo di Orvieto – the Orvieto Cathedral, the main attraction in town due to its very fanciful facade.

Continue reading “Weathering the Storm in Orvieto”

Ancient Rome

I have always wanted to see ancient Rome, and though time traveling is not currently an option, today I wander through the ruins of it, starting with the double amphitheater known as The Colosseum. I shall avoid describing it as… colossal… but it is big, and a lot of the original is still standing despite the years of earthquakes and of locals using it as a “quarry” for gathering stone to build other (also now famous) buildings. Though there is no longer a floor and we can see directly into the basement, they used to hold all sorts of interesting shows here, from naval battles when they flood it, to hunts when they fill it with trees and pop dangerous predators up onto the field through trap doors, to, of course, the many popular forms of government-sanctioned murder entertainment. When someone asks if I would rather be a gladiator or someone watching the thousands of killings that would happen in a day here, I respond I’d rather be one of the engineers building the ingenious devices they used to spawn lions, tigers, and, yes, bears, onto the field.

From the Colosseum, I get a view of the Arch of Constantine and the remaining half-niche of Temple of Venus and Rome. Apparently two giant statues of Venus and Rome stood in the space that can still be seen here, and the circling inscription read, palindromically, “AMORA ROMA”. Continue reading “Ancient Rome”

All Trains Lead to Rome

My first sight of Rome is as I leave the metro station, and see, through the stairway, great, columns of stone. This pretty well sums of Rome – majestic stone buildings everywhere.

1080 First Sight of Rome
View from the Metro

My train to Rome had free, unsecured WiFi. But, to use it, to identify myself, it wanted me to put in my name, a password, and a credit card number, and submit it (without SSL) over unsecured WiFi. No thanks. I was really tempted to start a sniffer just to see how many credit card numbers of others flew by, but realized I didn’t have one installed, and I’d have to expose my credit card number to anyone listening in order to download one ;). Continue reading “All Trains Lead to Rome”