AZinItaly

A couple of Phoenicians living temporarily in Roma

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Almost Out of Italy – Part 2

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Part due of our summer travels…

Since nearly everyone who can afford to gets out of Rome in August, we figured we best act like the natives and leave too. We considered vacationing in Sardinia or on the coast in Italy somewhere, but soon realized it wouldn’t feel like much of a vacation eating Italian food, getting indifferent restaurant service and being squished on a crowded beach by lots of nearly naked, but somehow overly dressed, loud Italians and their screaming children. (Sorry to sound so bitter…but hey, I live here and YES women even wear high heels at the beach!) So after weighing our choices, we opted for a cruise on an American owned cruise line, Celebrity. Granted, I don’t think any of the staff on the ship are American, but it offers American “style” service and that’s what we were craving.

The Ship's gym

The Ship’s gym

We sailed with Celebrity a few years ago on a cruise to the Caribbean in early December. It was full of adults, like us, who could afford to vacation when they wanted to, and there were few to no children on board. My kind of vacation. Silly us for not realizing that if you cruise in August when all the bambini are out of school, you’re likely to find them all onboard your ship. Crying little ones in stollers, running and jumping medium sized ones, and bigger older ones who travel in packs, like dogs. Along with their mommas, pappas, aunts, uncles and assorted grandparents. You’ll also find cruising in Europe in the summer that you’re likely to encounter a veritable Heinz 57 of nationalities on board (41 different countries, actually, which Michael learned from watching the ship’s TV info channel while on the elliptical trainer at the well equipped and very clean gym, something we’re not used to having in our neighborhood in Roma.

Our cruise stopped for one day in Messina, Sicily where we disembarked and ate a very over priced pizza lunch. Not so much.

Next day we landed in Piraeus, the port city for Athens. We visited the Acropolis, took lots of photos, wandered down staired streets into the Plaka neighborhood and admired how clean everything was. (I swear I am not some kind of clean freak. It’s just that I’m so used to the pigsty we lovingly call Rome, that when a place is clean, we’re overwhelmed.) We ate really delicious Greek food at Anafiotika, one of the little restaurants we found on the staired street. I’m a huge fan of taramasalata, a dip made from potatoes and fish roe, sounds kind of icky, but when it’s good, mama mia, it’s the best, and theirs WAS the best.

Unfortunately it was going to be wicked hot the next day when we landed in Kusadasi, Turkey, home to the Roman ruins at Ephesus. I’d toured Ephesus many years ago when I was backpacking mostly in the Mediterranean area after college. Michael isn’t such a big “ruins fan”, so we skipped going and found a nice beach. On the cab ride back into Kusadasi, we asked the driver to take us to a more local Turkish restaurant, and he did. The food tasted good, but it took the rest of the trip for my intestines to forgive me for that lunch. I had also been looking forward to wandering around the well advertised Turkish market area in the port, but was terribly turned off my the aggressiveness of the shop owners. I felt bad, knowing they needed the business, but they were so pushy that it made us run away.

We experienced a lovely time on the Greek island of Rhodes. In contrast to Kusadasi, Rhodes Town was charming, set inside the walls of the ancient city. Shop keepers were helpful but not in your face and they were rewarded by the purchase of a lovely ring and bracelet for me, handmade and designed by a Greek jeweler, Sarina.

Santorini was next on the agenda and we got off the ship and found our own tour once at the port. The island doesn’t have a dock so the ship drops anchor off shore and you’re tendered to the port area, which sits below the main town of Fira, high above you on the top of the volcanic island. We took a boat around the island to the town of Oia but only had a short time there before we took a bus to the black pebble beach at Kamari. The waters of the Aegean sea are SO blue. I’m a rock lover, and almost had Michael convinced that it made sense to lug a bunch of volcanic rocks home, but his level head won out and I just made some “art” and took a photo of it.

My Rock Art

My Rock Art

Our big adventure on Santorini was getting back to the boat. After the beach at Kamari, a bus took us to Fira. There are three ways to get from the town back down to the port area…by cable car, which takes 36 people at a time; on the top of a donkey, which walks up and down a steep, slippery stepped walkway; or on your own two feet next to the donkeys, praying the whole way that you don’t slip and fall into a pile of their poop.  Of course, the electricity to the cable car was out and so we walked. Me in my Birkenstocks, in the blazing sun, surrounded by the horrifying reek of donkey pee, down the 538 stairs to the port. I found it even more amusing that the ship in their daily bulletin, warned us that more people die each year from riding the donkeys, than die in plane crashes. Comforting.

Our travel companions

Our travel companions

Mykanos was the next stop and we were blessed to catch one of the ship’s excursions to a dazzling beach. A few couples we had met on board from northern California joined us and a fun day was had by all!

After a day at sea, we landed back in Napoli (Naples). If we didn’t know we were back in Italy, the ship made sure we were well informed by it’s repeated warnings on the TV and in the daily bulletin to beware of pick pockets and thieves. Welcome to Italia. They should also have warned us about the crazy chaos to be found at the ticketing area on the dock where you purchase tickets to go from Naples to the sights on the Amalfi Coast area. OMG. No signs. No schedules. No prices. By the time we changed lines 3 times, we finally found the boat to Sorrento, our destination of choice for the day. Not until after we purchased the tickets, sold to us for 50€, but costing only 49€ on the face of the ticket, did I realize they were warning us about this thief, too. Nice side business the ticket seller has going.

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Sorrento was quaint and lovely.  The “beach” area in the town is actually a series of docks with chairs if they’re private, or just throw your towel down, if public. Tired after lunch but with a few hours to kill before our hydrofoil back to Napoli, we lounged undisturbed on the terrazza of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano, famous for hosting literary giants such as Goethe, Byron, Scott, Shelley, Keats, and Longfellow. We saw a dog pee in the lobby and the hotel staff walk around it. Nice.

All in all…it was a lovely 10 days at sea. The service was generally great. The food delicious, varied and plentiful. It was divine to work out at a “proper” gym. We got more tan than I’ll admit to my dermatologist. We got to see some of the world. Life is good.

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Fiat’s Advertising Geniuses

Beginning in 2009, Fiat the Italian car company started in 1899 in Turin, Italy bought an interest in Chrysler, the American car company. This alliance helped Fiat to introduce it’s small, cute cars to the US market. It also spawned some really great commercials that highlight the Italian sensibility of the cars.

I’ve posted a few of the best of these on my Facebook page, but for those of you who are loyal readers here, and not FB friends, I give you your day’s laugh, courtesy of Fiat.

The Italians Are Coming

Backseat Italians

Out of Italy – Part 1

Beach in Majorca

Beach in Majorca

We were able this summer to take a few vacations from our daily life in Roma. The first trip was to the Spanish island of Majorca (the Spanish spell it Mallorca, but I’ll use the English version.) The second was a cruise to several stops in Italy, then onto Greece with a stop in Turkey. This post will highlight Majorca. Look for Part 2 – Almost Out of Italy for highlights of the cruise. Thanks for joining us!

Majorca is the largest of the islands that make up the Baelaric Islands archipelago, located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain. When planning time outside of Rome, we had talked about going to Barcelona, but it was cheaper to fly to Majorca and we love the beach, so off we went.

Majorca has been inhabited for quite a long time. Evidence has been found indicating it was occupied in the Paleolithic period, which was 6000 – 4000 BCE. The capital city, Palma, was occupied by the Romans during the time of the Roman Empire, and then later by the Bynzantines, the Moors and a host of other invaders. It became part of Spain in 1716, and in modern times has become a popular holiday destination especially among the English, Germans and Scandanavians. According to Wikipedia, my source for this little history lesson, in 2008, over 22 million people passed through the airport in Palma, with an additional 1.5 million people arriving by sea. Quite the busy place!

We stayed for 5 days at the Luabay Marivant, an “adults only” resort, located just 10 minutes outside of Palma. Don’t get too excited… the “adults only” part just meant there were no children underfoot. It was clean and comfortable, with a swimming pool and a lovely little public beach just below the hotel. I think we were the only native English speakers in the place, as the majority of the guests were Scandanavian and German! We enjoyed the beach and pool, the lovely restaurant located on the beach, and we ventured into Palma and beyond into the surrounding areas a few times.

Cathedral

Cathedral

We visited the imposing Cathedral of Santa Maria de Palma, commonly referred to as La Seu. It’s a Gothic style Catholic church that took over 350 years to complete. In the early 1900’s, Antoni Gaudi, a famous Spanish architect and artist was invited to take over the renovations that had been undertaken at the church. He later resigned but left his mark as you can see in the photos below.

We visited a few good restaurants and had some great meals while on Majorca. I wrote a few reviews for Trip Advisor about our experiences and you can read about those if you’re interested here, here, and here. All in all, it was a great get away and someplace we’d love to return to again to further explore this beautiful island.

Chuiso per Ferie (Closed for Holiday)

IMG_5109Ah, vacanza in Italia. It’s a phenomena not known in the US, but common in parts of Europe. Storefronts are shuttered. Businesses close down. Some for the entire month of August; like our friend’s medical/legal business, or the chiropractor’s office. Others, for anywhere to a week or three (you can see some affects of the economic crisis here). I’ve been walking our neighborhood this month and it’s become like a ghost town. There’s parking on the streets. Hardly any people around. And more businesses shuttered than open.

It’s my 2nd August in Italy, and I’m still fascinated by it all. What’s so intriguing to my mind, which is little used these days, is how they let you know they’ll be gone. Some storefronts just close the gates and that’s it. They’ll be open when they feel like it.

But more common is a sign. In the window behind the security gate. High up on the store sign above the door. In a corner of a now empty display case. They are hung with packing tape or scotch tape. Someone was environmentally conscious and reused the DHL packing tape to hang theirs. Some signs tell you a “to and from” date, while others just let you know when they’ll return.

And they come in a variety of styles. Handwritten. There’s a printed one with drawings of a sailboat and a cable car lift, like at a ski resort. This one seems to be the standard template that’s available. Some people really go all out and print it on colored paper. Then there was one with a drawing of a woman in a bikini top holding a cocktail (she has the right idea!).

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Amazingly, one owner found it necessary to make it REALLY official, with a stamp and everything. (I used Google Translate… Italian doesn’t always translate well to English…)

IMG_5107

“I, the undersigned, Paolo Rubini, owner / manager of administration Bar Rubini, exercise place in the street / square off Gallia 106/108, communicate the summer break of the month of August in the following period from 10/08/13 to 31/8/13. In Faith, Paolo Rubin”

But my favorite is from this blog I posted some weeks ago, which I reposted from another site.chiuso-per-ferie

“Closed for holiday, for condoms and Viagra go to the bicycle repairman on Via dei Macci, thanks”

I hope you enjoyed your ferie. Stay tuned for a new blog coming up soon about our travels this summer to the island of Majorca, off the coast of Spain and a cruise to Greece.

Italian Bureaucracy is So Bad It’s Comical

I couldn’t have said it better! Thanks, once again, Un’americana a Roma.

Un'americana a Roma

This should be the title of an off-Broadway play.

Here’s the thing, people. Today I write you this tidbit not to complain and bitch. No, no. Perish the thought. Complaining and bitching about Italian bureaucracy is strictly for amateurs. I’m over that. No, folks, I consider myself a seasoned pro by now, so I have better things to do with my time than tell you about long lines and unfriendly clerks at the post office, and mail that never or almost never arrives. (Besides, I’ve done that manytimesbefore.)

Today I just want to have a few “ha-has” about how silly this whole thing is. I was tempted to say “how silly this whole tarantella is.” The tarantella is a folk dance from southern Italy, and Italians say that as a colloquialism to refer to the elaborate song and dance you have to do to get stuff done.

So…

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