South Italy Tour 2011 Buttons

South Italy Tour 2011

Day 1 Monday October 3, 2011

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Casa San Giuseppe was on Vicolo Moroni behind Piazza Trilussa and off to the right.

The big news in Rome was that the public transportation workers had called a one-day strike. Actually, it was not even for a complete day. The Metro, the buses, and the trams were all running during the rush hour in both the morning and evening. So, it was barely noticeable that anything was amiss. Furthermore, strikes in Italy were always well publicized, and they must be registered in advance. In fact, we already knew that the work stoppage was coming even before we left Connecticut.

The plans for the day were definitely up in the air. We knew that we needed to check out of our hotel and check in at the tour’s hotel in Trastevere, the neighborhood on the other side of the river from the core city. There were a few places that I had planned on visiting, but if I missed any of them, it would not be catastrophic.

The door to Casa San Giuseppe. Room #108 is across the lobby.

Sue had arranged with someone at the Hotel Selene’s reception desk for a cab to pick us up at eleven to transport us to the hotel in Trastevere. There was at least a chance that our room at the new hotel might be ready at that hour. We did not want to be “between hotels” any longer than absolutely necessary.

Before breakfast I got dressed and hiked back to Termini to obtain more euros. The unexpected taxi fares were causing us to burn through them pretty fast. I withdrew another €250 from the BNL bancomat and walked back to the hotel. I had earlier discovered that it was much easier to cross the busy Via Giovanni Giolitti a few blocks before I got to Via del Viminale.

Plenty of space in this room.

The weather was spectacular again. It was a repeat of the other days – sunny, high in the low eighties, comfortable humidity, just perfect, at least for me.

When I got back to the hotel room I worked on the journal for a little while.

Sue and I went down to breakfast to discover the group from the Best of Europe tour saying their goodbyes. We easily identified the tour guide and another person who might have been the assistant guide.

During breakfast we made plans for the day. Sue planned to request that the breakfast crew make a brunch for Tom. We decided to ask the taxi driver to take both of us to Trastevere with our luggage. He would drop me off with the bags. I would check in to the hotel and hang around nearby until the room was ready. Meanwhile Sue planned to have the cab driver take her back to the hospital to deliver food to Tom and see what she could do to help. She would then take another cab back to Trastevere in time to make the 4:00 p.m. meeting with our tour group.

The overhead light fixture was, to say the least, unique.

I worked on the journal some more. I checked the status of the shirt that I had washed Saturday evening. It seemed pretty dry. To be safe, I packed it into a compartment of the suitcase so that it would not affect anything else.

As usual, Sue was not ready at the appointed time. I dragged all of our luggage down to the ground floor. I then went over to reception and checked out for both of us. I then watched for a cab on the street. Every so often I would dash back into the hotel to see if Sue was coming. I had no way of communicating with her, and it always drove me crazy when I had to explain to someone that she was coming soon when I had no real knowledge of how long she might be.

The bathroom before I washed any clothes.

I did not see the cab go by, but the driver wearing a white shirt with a pink tie saw me and walked over to help me with the luggage. I should have immediately realized that he was not a licensed cab driver but an employee of the same company that had provided our driver from the airport on Thursday morning. I certainly should have noticed that the car had no meter. Unfortunately, that is not where my thoughts led me. I was on the defensive, and I concentrated on explaining in Italian that Sue would be down in a minute. We had used the hotel to call a cab the previous evening and had no trouble. It never occurred to me that they would call someone else.

Hardwood floors by the shower?

The driver made it clear that he thought that we were going to the airport in Fiumicino. He said that that was what the hotel had told his dispacher. We heard him explaining to someone on his phone that the hotel had made a mistake and that we were changing hotels. He said that he could take us to Trastevere and then back to the hospital. However, he had no idea where Vicolo Moroni in Trastevere was. He took out a map from the glove compartment.

The driver found himself stuck when he reached Piazza Trilussa. He would have had to turn southeast onto the Lungotevere, which was one-way, but the hotel was in the other direction. So, he let me off with all of the luggage. I had to drag all the bags across the piazza and down the alleys while I searched for the hotel. Before I set off on this quest, I gave Sue €70.

My hike was not as bad as it could have been. I found the Casa San Giuseppe Hotel and checked us in. There was no hassle whatever. To my surprise the clerk told me that our room was ready.

The “wooden forniture” in the spare room was unexpected. Behind the chair is a mattress.

My impression was that room #108 was the only one in the hotel with an outside entrance. The desk clerk escorted me out of the lobby through the door opposite the one through which I had entered. He showed me the door to a very nice room with a second room that featured a desk and a cabinet that could be turned into a small bed. It occurred to me that Tom could actually have stayed with us, but the location was not exactly convenient to the hospital.

The biggest surprise was the “transformer” cabinet that turned into a cot.

I felt obligated to stay close to the hotel. I had no idea when Sue would be returning and no presssing plans for the day. So, I worked on the journal, napped, and did some laundry. I then walked around a little in order to orient myself to the area. I was not too hungry. I bought my first gelato of the trip and ate it while seated on the steps in the piazza.

I learned from the gentleman at the desk that the Internet connection at this hotel was only accessible in the lobby. However, our spare room was right behind the reception desk. A little experimentation revealed that my wireless adapter could sometimes pick up the signal in that room if I held the computer just right. It worked long enough to download my e-mail for the first time since we landed in Italy. There was nothing of any import.

Ponte Sisto is named after Pope Sixtus IV.

I did not have a lot of time left for touring. I decided to limit myself to the area just across the river. I walked across the Ponte Sisto and headed up the very narrow streets in search of Piazza Navona. I took the required photos of the fountains there. I was surprised to find so much artwork on display in the north end of the piazza. A less seasoned photographer might have found it difficult to frame elegant but provocative shots.

Pasquino was not the most beautiful statue that we saw in Rome, but he was the noisiest.

The one tourist attraction in the vicinity of the piazza that I definitely was dying to see was the famous “talking statue” named Pasquino. For centuries dissidents had posted clever and ironic poems on this and three other Roman statues. It was the one form of protest in Rome that had never been suppressed. Pasquino is not precisely in Piazza Navona. It has its own piazza a short distance to the west. I located the statue, the most famous of the talkers, and was surprised to find next to it a bulletin board that was full of hand-written protests. I did not take the time to read all of them, but I lingered long enough to take a few photos.

Ths Pasquinade says (in rhyming Italian): Misgovernors: They squandered our money: For this damage we were not reimbursed. But (obscenity) they say they paid us. Them? Pay? Never.

Somehow we had had completely missed the nearby Campo dei Fiori when we were in Rome in 2003. This time I found it full of garbage, more like the Campo dei Rifiuti. I had read that its character changed drastically several times a day, so I resolved to give it a second chance if possible.

One solution to the parking shortage.

I tried to visit two churches, San Luigi dei[1] Francesi and San Andrea della Valle, but both were closed. Maybe I would get a chance on Tuesday. I was certainly getting tired of locked church doors. I thought that I had been fairly thorough in planning how I would spend my time. I took into account what days each attraction was closed, but I paid insufficient attention to the hours of operation. I had wasted far too much time waiting for places to open. Fortunately, Rome is a great place for just hanging around doing very little. I shot some photos of the exteriors of the two churches; it was all that I could do.

Piazza Navona.

Bernini’s fountain and obelisk in the center of the piazza.

The Four Rivers Fountain up close.

Artists dominated one end of the Piazza Navona.

The French church had a place of honor for Charlemagne ...

Sant’Ivo’s was difficult to find.

The façade of San Andrea della Valle.

Giordano Bruno was burned in the Campo in 1600.

The audio magazine Acquerello Italiano once interviewed the owner of Obika, the mozzarella bar.

When it got close to 4:00, I found my way back to the hotel and ventured over to the lobby. Several of the tour members were fervently engaged in discussions about other trips that they had taken. I find this sort of conversation very awkward. I just sat in the lobby by myself and kept my peace.

Our tour guide, Rainer Metzger, a young[2] man with shockingly blonde hair[3], showed us the way to the room in the hotel in which our meeting was scheduled. I sat in one corner with a couple from Wisconsin, Ed and Charlotte Zieve.

The place was surprisingly well stocked with wine and diverse snacks. I had not eaten anything except the gelato since breakfast. So I was not ashamed to make a pig of myself; free food is free food.

This takeoff on Il Cenacolo would have been perfect if they replaced John Wayne and Laurel and Hardy with the Marx Brothers.

When the meeting started, we were missing five people. Sue and the Corcorans I knew about. Wilson Cheung and Ching Fong were only a couple of minutes late. They came directly from the airport. Sue made her appearance at about 4:30. Rainer was aware that the Corcorans had canceled for medical reasons.

Rainer told us that he was from the Seattle area, and he went to UDub. He had worked for Rick Steves for ten years. He first came to Italy in 1992, and after spending a few months in Rome he informed everyone that he did not want to leave. His academic interest was primarily architecture and architectural history.

I was very happy to hear Rainer assure us that, contrary to the company’s general policy, wine would be included in most of the meals. Skimping on wine would not be a good idea for a tour of Italy.

Everyone introduced themselves very briefly and paired up for buddy checks. Rainer made it quite clear that the traveling companions needed to “cross-pollinate.” All but two couples understood what he meant and complied. My buddy was Bob Horenkamp, a dentist from Bloomington, Illinois. Sue chose Charlotte Zieve, a retired professor in the field of environmental studies. She had already visited an astonishing eighty-six countries.

Dramatis Personae

Mark and ....

... Gloria Ascoli.

Diann and ...

... Ed Bradley.

The Ascolis were from Charlottesville, VA. Mark’s father was born in Vieste. The Bradleys hailed from Anacortes, WA. Ed worked for Boeing.

Wilson Cheung and ....

... Ching Fong.

Gail Glode.

Amy Marchant.

Wilson and Ching were disgustingly young workaholic geeks from the Bay Area. Gail and Amy were from Vancouver, BC. Gail was fluent in Italian. Amy was Gail’s daughter.

Bob and ....

... Connie Horenkamp.

Jeff Redding and ...

... Robbie Griffith.

The Horenkamps lived in Bloominton, IL, home of the Pantagraph. Jeff and Robbie were from North Carolina. This was the first Rick Steves tour for both couples.

Debbie Radcliffe.

Judy Bass needs to get something off her chest.

Frank Buonpane.

Renee Roncone.

Debbie was from the San Francisco area. Judy, who had been on ten previous Rick Steves tours, was also from the Bay Area. She was an afficionado of Caravaggio. Frank was from Brooklyn by way of Beaver, WA. Renee was from Phoenix.

Steve Royce ...

... and Edie Martinelli.

Tom and Kathy Neithercutt.

Steve and Edie were from the Portland, OR, area. Kathy and Tom hailed from Grass Valley, CA. They were celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary.

David and Janelle Jones from Austin, TX.

Charlotte and Ed Zieve from the Starship Enterprise.

Benino thought that Rainer’s European carry-all was to die for.

Sue introduced Benino, her new finger puppet.[4] She insisted that he was the only child of the failed marriage of Va Bene Bunny and Jana.

The formal buddy introductions would be on Thursday evening in Vieste. Rainer made it as clear as he could that each of us should emphasize one memorable thing about our buddy.

Our first assembly and buddy check.

Yes, our leader carried a purse[5], but he exhibited so much charisma and raw courage that we would follow him anywhere.

Someone asked if we would be allowed to climb Mt. Vesuvius. Rainer said that Mt. Vesuvius had been removed from the itinerary at the meeting of the guides the previous November. He reported that the guides had been unanimous in their assessment that it was a bad idea to try to tour both Pompei and Vesuvius on the same day. If one had to go, they all voted against the volcano. Since Sue and I had already taken the tour of Pompei eight years earlier, and I did not think that it had changed much in the interim, I was a little disappointed. Sue certainly had no intention of climbing Mt. Vesuvius, and she did not have fond memories of Pompei.

What a tragedy that Tom Corcoran missed this place.

Rainer inquired as to whether anyone had played the “Name Game,” an activity in which we had been forced to participate in Prague. He said that instead of requiring us to go through that uncomfortable mnemonic exercise, he would photograph us and publish a list of names and pictures. Everyone agreed that this sounded like a good idea.

Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Rainer informed us that our local guide for Tuesday’s walking tour of the Ghetto and the Capitoline Museum would be Francesca Caruso. He said that she was the best guide in Rome. I recognized the name from the Rick Steves’ Italy guide.

The mosaic of the Madonna.

I made sure that Sue availed herself of her share of the wine and snacks. She told me that the total charge for the ride that morning had been €50, which definitely seemed excessive. The driver who brought her from the hospital to the hotel drove a real taxi, and he charged much less. He also brought her right to the door of the hotel. I was a little upset at the hotel for not calling a cab as we had requested. The communications had obviously broken down somewhere.

Hanging out in the piazza.

Patti Corcoran’s condition was not much different. It was not clear when she would be able to go back to the United States, but that was still the plan.

Renee asked to be allowed to leave the meeting early. Evidently she needed to take a shower. Sue confided to me that she was in the same condition, but she decided to blame it on the bossanova.

After the briefing Rainer took us on a walking tour of Trastevere and the area on the other side of the river. We passed a restaurant named L’Antico Moro, which he said might make a good choice for supper on Tuesday. He said that there was an abundance of good restaurants in the vicinity, but there were also quite a few tourist traps. He recommended that we just point at something on the menu and try it. This, in my opinion, sounded like a good way to end up eating tripe.

Santa Maria della Scala.

He also recommended that we visit Santa Maria in Trestevere, which might have been the first church devoted to the Virgin Mary when it was constructed in 340 A.D. It had a stunning collection of Byzantine mosaics, columns that were all different, bronze ceilings, and exquisite floors.

The streets of Trastevere were always lifely.

The group stopped on Ponte Sisto for Rainer to take our photos one couple at a time. It all went smoothly until it was time to photograph Sue and me. Then the camera in Rainer’s iPhone broke. He insisted that his iPhone malfunctioned because he had dropped it once too often. You can draw your own conclusions.

What a surprise! The Campo dei Fiori was almost deserted when we entered as dusk neared. At least the garbage had been pretty well cleaned up. Evidently it would get lively again in the morning.

A teaching moment.

The Palazzo Farnese housed the French embassy.

Rainer took a minute to direct our attention to the square paving stones that were laid point to point. They were called San Pietrini, and they came from the foothills of the Appenines.

We then walked to a nearby restaurant named Trattoria moDerna, which was definitely not a back-door place, for supper. Its exposed ductwork and totally filled chalkboard were reminiscent of the kind of restaurants that were trendy in the States a few decades earlier. The inside of the restaurant was completely empty when we went in and completely full when we left. I had to assume that we got a deal for coming so early.

Kids and a dog on the Campo dei Fiori.

Outdoor diners at the Trattoria moDerna.

Ordinarily I liked to use these group suppers as occasions to get to know other members of the group. Sue and I, therefore, often split up and sat at diffferent tables. This time, however, since we had not seen much of each other all day, we sat side by side. On my left was Connie Horenkamp. Across from me were Robbie Griffith and Gloria Ascoli. Connie, Robbie, and Gloria mainly talked about medical matters, children, and grandchildren. I could not come up with much to contribute. Sue talked some to Jeff (or maybe Jeffrey) Redding, but I could not understand what they were saying because of the din. So, I mostly ate and drank.

I did learn that Mark Ascoli (which he pronounced ah SKO lee, but his Italian relatives pronounced AH sko lee), had gone to quite a bit of effort to arrange meetings with his relatives in Vieste. He and Gloria were both looking forward to this.

Our first supper together.

The blackboard was full.

The supper started very strongly. The waiters brought several rounds of appetizers, including caprese, a very interesting salami with sauce, bruschetta, and radicchio with zucchino. These were served family-style in rapid-fire fashion. The primo consisted of risotto and matriciana. I did not generally care much for risotto, but this was pretty good, as was the matriciana. After this there was quite a long delay.

I was shocked that there was no secundo. I wonder what the explanation for that was. The dessert was finally served on plates that did not match. It consisted of apricot and canteloupe, which was fine with me. During the meal the waiters kept the red and white wine flowing as well as both carbonated and natural water. At the end they served limoncello in different types of glasses. I was a little disappointed with the conversation, but I enjoyed the meal, meat or no meat.

We walked back to the hotel pretty well sated. Sue made some phone calls to relatives of the Corcorans. I checked the state of my clothes drying in the bathroom, took a shower, and went to sleep.

[1]  From everything that I have learned about Italian usage, the name of the church should actually be “San Luigi degli Francesi,” but no one ever calls it that.

[2]  At some point they all start to seem young.

[3]  It was Italy, after all. I kind of expected someone a little less Nordic. Rainer reminded me of someone. Maybe I would eventually be able to figure out who it was.

[4]  Va Bene Bunny made his appearance on the Village Italy Tour in 2005. Two years later he met Jana in Moravia. They were married at a chalet in France in 2009. For some reason he turned to drink and destroyed their relationship.

[5]  He called it a “European carry-all” or something like that. It had a designer’s signature on it, for heaven’s sake! I say that if it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, and it smells like a duck, well, you know the rest.