Friday, July 6, 2012

All good things must come to an end...

Today is, sadly, the last day of our trip. I appreciate you all for reading this through either the entire trip or just a few entries. We had so much fun writing this and this has been the best vacation of my life. I know surprisingly I've been on so many trips as an 18 year old. Either way it was amazing for me every single minute.

I wanna dedicate the entire blog to my great Aunt Jane for taking me here. I know it's not easy to put up with me, especially for 2 weeks with no one else. Thank you so much, I love you and this trip is the greatest graduation present ever.

Now onto business. We woke up early to head over to Orvieto, which was a very cute city. Went through an underground tour which I liked a lot. Me being the adventurous type loved going through those sketchy staircases and those caves. Very interesting to see how the city was built and seeing underneath it.

After that, we headed to the Duomo di Orvieto which was a beautiful cathedral. Check out the pictures for proof. They didn't let us take any pictures inside. I'm sorry, you'll have to just trust me on this one. It was very beautiful though and obviously the center of the city and main attraction.

Then we headed over to a very nice place for lunch. We shared some prosciutto with melon which was very good then I had spaghetti with bacon and meat sauce. Also very good. The waiters and staff of the restaurant were very nice. I spoke what little Italian I knew and I think the waiter thought I knew it. Fooled him then. Also got some free lemoncello which was my first time having it and I love it.

Next we headed to a couple museums, which weren't much to talk about kinda boring. Then we had some gelato which was fantastic as always. We finished our stay by walking back to Bianca and did some shopping on the way through town.

Next we took a little road trip over to Civita, which that and human foosball are the coolest things I've seen so far. It is so hard to explain what it is. Just look at the pictures and make sure if you ever go to Italy you at least drive to see it. 100% worth the trip.

Not gonna update on our dinner tonight, sorry. But we need to wake up early for our plane and I still gotta pack. It has been an honor blogging to you three who have actually been reading this. I appreciate it, hope I didn't offend anyone if I did I'm sorry and if you don't accept my apology, well thats not my fault. I know there has been demand for us to continue blogging but I don't know what it would be about. We'll see though. I had fun doing this and I might come out with something else. Thanks again and now the best aunt is up. Caio!

Aunt Jane's take:

A great ending to a fantastic two weeks. If you read my very first post, you know that I wasn't quite sure what to expect on a two week trip with my nephew. Now that we are at the end, I have to say, it's been one of the best adventures of my life. Everett has been a fantastic travel buddy, a constant source of humor, and an expert navigator. In a word, he's awesome.

I can't begin to describe how much fun and joy it's brought me to share Italy with Everett. Seeing this place through his eyes has been an experience that I will never forget.

Our last day was spent in Orvieto, a very pretty hill town in Umbria that I've visited several times. Set on a giant hunk of tufa (sort of like a mesa of volcanic rock), it has spectacular views of valley below, as well as beautiful architecture, history, etc. And its Duomo is gorgeous. Beautiful mosaics on the outside, great frescoes and paintings inside.

We took a tour of Orvieto's underground, which is a complex system of caves, cisterns, etc. beneath the city. It's immense. While I enjoyed how cool it was to be below ground, I got a little claustrophobic. Especially when our guide started talking about how soft and crumbly the walls and ceilings of the caves were, and about landslides, earthquakes, 60 meter wells, etc. Below are few pix from above and below ground:

 Saw a beautiful exhibit of sculpture and drawings by Emilio Greco, too.
 And some nice frescoes in the old Papal Palace (love the monkey):

Certainly the highlight of the day was our trip to Civita di Bagnoregio, a town south of Orvieto that is "dying." Built on the same volcanic rock as Orvieto, the town has been slowly eroding over the past centuries and now there are only 15 full time residents. Literally, big hunks of the town have been dropping off.  There are doors that open into thin air.

Civita is reachable only by a foot bridge that is a rather formidable trek. As Everett, said, it's very hard to describe and the pix can only tell part of the story. But it was amazing, even the second time around for me. I knew Ev would love it, too.

And now we are packing our bags to return home. What a great trip. Thanks to everyone who has posted or sent us messages. It's been so much fun to share this with you.

Ciao and buona notte!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Saint Francis and Foosball (bet you never thought you'd see those words together)

Today was the first morning I didn't wake up to me sweating. Hallelujah! The A/C in my room is amazing, I don't know how you old timers dealt with life before A/C. Luckily I don't have to. Also had a great view of Umbria from my hotel room window. Pic underneath. 

Headed out to Assisi today, or to "Ass Icy" and "A Sissy," which is how Garmin pronounces it. Unfortunately she has not improved. Either has the Italian drivers we have passed. I have learned many new curses from my Aunt during this trip. All in the past two days. Luckily my ears aren't virgins to such words. If you've ever been to an Ackerman Steelers game you know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, we got there in about half an hour. The view was too tremendous to put into words so I'd rather just show you the pictures and let you respond to them. Went to about 4 churches all in this small hill town. All of the churches were beautiful, including the final one we saw, which was the Basilica of San Francesco. Absolute beauty. Of course, those strict Christians (no offense intended) won't let me take any pictures, but I'm sneaky ;)

I don't remember the first church but we went to (Aunt Jane's note: it was San Rufino), but the crypt underneath it was really cool. They have a lot of stuff down there. I didn't think they would have that much. 

After that we headed to St. Clare's, which was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. Very respectful people there, don't think I've heard a church that quite the whole time here. A lot of pilgrims, too, guess she was a big hit with them. Not a religious man myself, but I respect it, and they build some really beautiful places so I don't mind them.

Next was the really small church of St. Stefano, I believe it was called. It was quaint and beautiful in the old medieval way. Next was some lunch, which was the best one so far. Had thicker spaghetti, whatever that pasta is called (Aunt Jane's note: pappardelle), with boar meat and sauce then some lamb chops. So good I can't explain it. I'm sorry it was mouthwatering to look at and smell. I was full after the pasta and then had a large plate of lamb. Almost ate it all but couldn't finish it. 

We then finished our tour of the churches with Saint Francis' tomb and the church built around it. Better then all other churches I've visited in my entire life. Words can't describe how well the frescoes depicted Francis' life and the religious aspect. Not only a beautiful cathedral but everything else. I'm sorry it's hard to explain but was amazing. Just look at the pictures to see.

After that, we saw where Jane had stayed for a month but I'll let her tell that. We went in the pool when we got back which was very refreshing. Then to dinner at a pizzeria, but on the way we saw an actual human foosball game. Yeah I know what're you're thinking and I was wondering how it was possible til I saw an actual game. I was so jealous I couldn't join them, definitely gonna take Italian classes now. Check out the picture for how it looked. Well I'm very tired so I'm out. Ciao Ciao!

Aunt Jane's Take:

First morning in Umbria was lovely. Sunny, nice breeze blowing. A giant doppio espresso (I think it may have been a triplo). Ahh...

We had a quick tour around Torgiano. It’s a cute little town on Umbria’s strada del vini (road of wines). They have a wine museum (wasn’t open yet) and we checked out the restaurants in anticipation of tonight's meal.

Most unusual, we came across what I first dismissed as some kind of construction site, but eagle eye Everett quickly discerned was a life-size foosball “table” (see pix). It looked like an official schedule of games was posted, but we couldn’t tell what the actual date of play would be. Still, this was something we both marveled at.

Bianca, our Cinquecento, was calling us, so we headed off to Assisi to pay a visit to Saint Francis. Along the way, as Everett has alluded to, we discovered a possible cause for our troubles with Garminia. Her Italian is appalling.

She pronounces “Firenze” “Fi-Renz” and, as Everett told you, her “Assisi” sounds like a cross between “Ass Icy” and “A Sissy.” No wonder we were confused! And we are convinced that when she doesn’t know how to pronounce the words, like “Piazza Giacomo Matteotti,” she just says “cabbage cabbage cabbage.”

Assisi is a pretty town, dominated, of course, by the Basilica di San Francesco, but also has great views of Umbria and some pretty stone houses.

First stop in Assisi was, as Everett told you, the church of San Rufino. He’s actually the patron saint of Assisi, not San Francesco! A little known fact that we learned from our best friend, Rick Steves (Rico Stefani).

Really enjoyed the church and its crypt (really into crypts this trip, especially on hot days). Some great frescoes (see pix below). Disclaimer: did not use a flash to take these pix, so no frescoes were harmed during the making of these pictures.

There is also a Botero exhibit right now in Assisi. Didn’t have time to see it, but one of his horse statues was on display in the main square.

 Below is the interior of the Church of San Stefano (no relation to Rico Stefani).
The Basilica di San Francesco is still one of the most, if not the most, beautiful churches I’ve ever been to. The frescoes are absolutely breathtaking. The story of Saint Francis is one I think anyone can appreciate. He was an environmentalist, a lover of animals, and advocated for simplicity, peace and harmony in all things. Really a very special place.

We enjoyed more great views, and then headed back to Bianca for a quick tour of the towns near where I stayed during my sabbatical in 2004.

Here's a picture of our Bianca. Isn't she the cutest? I wonder if she'll fit in my carry on.

Once we returned to the hotel, we thoroughly enjoyed a swim in the pool. We had it all to ourselves, which was nice. 

On our walk to dinner, we noticed teams getting ready to play on the foosball court! Hooray! They were still at it when we returned after dinner. We met a very nice Canadian couple from Toronto and we watched the game together. The pictures don’t even do it justice. You really have to see this live. I took a short movie of the action. I’ll see if I can figure out how to upload it.

 The entire town turned out to watch. The match we watched pitted a group of young men against a group of women of all ages. Everyone was really into it. And we thought Italy v. Spain was exciting!

Tomorrow is our last day in Italy. It’s gone so fast!

Ciao and buona notte!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On to Umbria!

The touring Ackermani have left the canals of Venice for the rolling hills of Umbria. Or at least I think that's what it's like here. Don't really know, been here like an hour or so. Morning went fine except when I had first woken up, I was going though Facebook on my laptop to see what happened while I was asleep and check all my notis, when a knock came to the door. I figured it for my Aunt, but it was not. It was Natalia, or so I figured. As soon as she opened the door and saw me lying in bed, she quickly shut the door and, from the sound of it, left the flat. I didn't think I looked that bad.

Anyway we got packed up and left for the vaporetto to bring us to the car rental place. Had to wait a little for our new white Fiat 500 we have dubbed Bianca. After that we were off on the roads of Italy. Didn't go so well.

Jane had brought a Garmin GPS to help us locate the towns we would be visiting. Garmin is a bitch. I apologize to everyone out there offended. I'm sorry, mom. I know you told me to tone down the language, but she was really bad and didn't help us at all. Mamma don't judge me too harshly for it, she deserves it.

We left Venice and started driving on the highway, or whatever they call it here, and there was an accident on the road which closed the highway in the direction we were heading. Well, Garmin kept sending us the same way every time the polizia sent us a different way. We went around in a circle like 3 times in a row. Not kidding you. Garmin just failed us that point, but your boy navigated us through the side-streets and we got back on the highway, after much annoyance and exhaustion. 

Soon after we stopped at the AutoGrill, which Jane said had good food but I was very surprised. American fast-food, here's an example of good, healthy fast-food. Picked out a sandwich, loved it, and ate it in like 2 minutes when I wasn't even that hungry before I got it. They also have everything there. From stuffed toy pigs to wine. From cappuccino to candy. It's amazing. Plus there are so many of them too. We stopped twice but after the first time we had a little more trouble with Garmin…

While I was entranced in my music and book, I figured Jane could handle the rest of the way there. I was wrong she took a wrong turn on a roundabout and had us going the wrong way. Luckily as the navigator I was able to turn us on the right track. After much cursing (on Aunt Jane's part) and guidance from yours truly we were set upon the right path once more.

After settling into the hotel which is very pretty and quaint place. We headed to dinner in a similar type of restaurant. Torgiano, the town we are staying in, is also very pretty and quaint. Hmmm these similarities must be connected somehow… Either way, great dinner of spaghetti with some type of meat, the actual kind is alluding me, and grilled veal with fresh roasted cherry tomatoes which was, as all meals here are, DELISH! Finished off the night with chocolate gelato, of course. Tomorrow we head to Assisi or at least that's how I think you spell it. 

Buona notte!

Aunt Jane's take:

Quite the adventure today. Picked up our little Cinquecento (Fiat 500) in Piazzale Roma in Venice. Need to take some pix of Bianca. She's adorable. And as Everett recounted, it took us an hour to get on the highway. There was an accident and they detoured us, but we soon realized we kept going in a big circle. We kept seeing the same polizia over an over and I swear, I saw one point to another and say "haven't we seen them like three times already?" I feel like I know those polizia now. I may have to send them a Christmas card. 

Everett did save the day and navigated through some backstreets and got us onto the highway. And he's right about that stupid Garmin lady, who we now refer to as Garminia. She's a total beyotch. For example, when you stop for gas or the Autogrill, does she really need to tell you to get back on the highway? Seriously? The Autogrill is great, but does she really think we intend to stay there permanently?

To be fair, I wasn't helping matters. I had Googled the directions to your hotel and they were different than Garminia's route, which made me very confused. The Google suggested we go west at Bologna and then head south, Garminia's route was to head east at Bologna and then go south. I felt like Bugs Bunny and his infamous line "I must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque." Lesson learned: either go with the Google or the Garmin, don't mess with both. 

We're here, though, and that's what counts. Dinner was very good. We both had the umbricelli with guanciale. I had grilled veal chops that were fantastic. We've had A LOT of fish, starting in Roma. It's nice to have a little carne again. Everett, especially enjoyed his dinner.

  A few snaps of my view of the pool at our hotel and the sunset in Torgiano.
 BIG day tomorrow. Gotta get back in Bianca and deal with that hateful Garminia.

Ciao and Buona Notte!