Thursday, April 9, 2009
On Tuesday we visited one of the charming hill towns of Italy, a walled town called Monteriggioni, the home of the most renowned Festa Medievale of its kind in Italy. This festival is held each year in mid July. Built in the 13th century, Monteriggioni had very little work done until the 16th century and it is virtually intact. Today it exists entirely for tourists and pilgrims, although as late as the 1960’s it was a sleepy village of farmers and sheep herders. Once inside you are transported to a different time. Its shops, wine shops, and tasting rooms line narrow streets of cobblestone, and there are no vehicles, other than an occasional truck delivering goods. We stepped into the pretty Romanesque church that faces the main Piazza Roma. There are also restaurants and hotels. We found Monteriggioni restful and enchanting.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
It was surreal to land in a different country, and yet there was a sense of familiarity. Overall we didn’t have too much trouble navigating the tasks of finding the baggage claim and the place where we had reserved our car rental. Our car was a Fiat, a stick shift, which was a bit for Ari to get used to but it didn’t take long before he was driving like the best of the Italians. It seems there are no driving rules in Italy, and situations come at you fast. We had printed out maps and driving directions which made things somewhat less stressful. The challenge was that we were tired from the long flight and still had to drive from Milan to Badesse which is about a 4 hour drive. With the narrower highways, the unfamiliar road signs, the toll stops, the huge trucks on the road, and the numerous tunnels, the drive was a bit harrowing, but we made it. Had we to it over, I think we would have planned an overnight in Milan.
The Best Western Residenza Badesse Apartment Hotel was off the beaten path, fairly easy to find, and we were pleasantly surprised upon arrival to find that an envelope with our name on it on the reception desk with the key to our room in it (an old fashioned key, not a card that you swipe) waiting for us. The hotel reception was only open certain hours. Our room was an apartment with a kitchenette and a balcony. The space was plentiful for the two of us, quite clean and peaceful.
Next activity, dinner! What else would we do but get pizza? This involved a quick drive to the outskirts of Siena where we found a take out place with excellent pizza and a bottle of Chianti to take back to the motel. Ahh, this is the life!
Friday, March 27, 2009
I am a small town girl at heart, raised in the wheat country of Eastern Washington in a small town of a thousand people or so. As a child I dreamt of traveling one day, and imagined the excitement of new places and cultures but it wasn’t until the fifth decade of my life that these dreams came true. Traveling is an act of faith, at least from my perspective. If I think about it too much part of me is terrified, especially of flying, especially across the Atlantic Ocean to a country where I don’t speak the language. There are so many things that could go wrong; the plane could crash, war could break out, or I could get sick and/or lost while abroad. Even flying across the country holds its dangers, as 9/ll proved when my husband and I were in New York. I have learned that worry is a waste of time; life is meant to be enjoyed.
Each year Ari and I plan a trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Every other year we plan a trip out of the country. For our honeymoon we went to Paris, the romantic dream of a lifetime. Our next trip out of the country adventure was Puerto Vallarta Mexico which was so fun, sun filled and relaxing. This year we went to Italy by way of New York.
I have photos and memorabilia from each of these trips filed away in a drawer, waiting to be scrapbooked. I have memories stashed away in my head, waiting to be poured out onto the page. Daily life tends to take over and I have yet to write about these adventures beyond the brief notes of where we went, and what we did on such and such a date. I am trying to do better with this latest trip. It is probably of no importance to anyone but me; perhaps my family and my children may enjoy these accounts one day, and that is all that really matters.
I love New York, but it took a few visits before I appreciated the culture and the excitement of the city, especially since on my maiden voyage to the Big Apple was on 9/ll. To say that was a shocking introduction to New York is an understatement. Fortunately we were not in the city at the time of the attack on the towers. We had been staying Poughkeepsie with Ari’s grandmother and were on our way into the city to spend one more day before flying home. Or so we thought. Life for all of us changed in those few moments. I remember thinking “this is what war is like.” The first thing that popped into my head was that I wanted to get back to my family as quickly as possible. The train stopped at one of the stations along the way where we all milled around a bit and then learned that there was a train coming north for us to go back up north. No more traffic into the city. Over the next few years we went back to visit Ari’s grandmother a couple of times and to take in the sights, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or go to an opera. One year we took my youngest daughter with us and took her to see the musical 42nd Street.
First Stop New York
It was time to travel again. This time our destination was Italy and on our way took the opportunity to stop in Manhattan to stay in the Best Western Hotel President. We had stayed there before on our honeymoon trip to Paris because we liked the location near Times Square not that far from the Lincoln Center where the opera house is.
New York is exciting, full of a palpable energy, which, since I had been to New York before, was learning to enjoy. After a morning stroll through the remarkable Times Square, we lunched at the landmark Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue at 55th Street. It amazed me that, although it was very crowded and there was a line outside waiting to get in, we didn’t have to wait very long to get a table or to place our order. For me, being here was the embodiment of the New York experience. While we waited for our Rueben sandwich (where else but in New York can you get a $25.00 sandwich, but they are sandwiches like no other. They are huge. That is why we split one) we munched on pickles, people watched, and observed the “walls of fame” filled with photographs of celebrities, dignitaries, and athletes. The Carnegie Deli is also famous for its home made cheesecake, but we were full. Maybe next time.
Next stop was Guggenheim museum which is Frank Lloyd Wright's last major work. The building is distinctive and from the street looks like a white ribbon curled into a cylindrical stack, slightly wider at the top than the bottom. Inside, the viewing gallery forms a gentle helical spiral from the main level up to the top of the building. Paintings are displayed along the walls of the spiral and also in exhibition space found at annex levels along the way. The rotunda is lit by a beautiful skylight.
That evening we dined before the opera at restaurant called Rosa’s Mexicano near Lincoln center and Metropolitan Opera House. Rosa’s was the most upscale Mexican restaurant that I had been to and as quoted on their website: “When we opened the first Rosa Mexicano in 1984, New York Magazine applauded us for introducing New Yorkers to a “hitherto unfamiliar, elevated version of Mexican cuisine.” After the appetizer of chips and guacamole made to order at the table we decided this would be sufficient refreshment, accompanied by a pitcher of sangria which was delicious!
This year’s opera was an Italian one; Bellini’s La Sonnambula. This opera, originally based on a ballet, was light and romantic and tells the story whose heroine Amina who gets herself into all sorts of trouble by ending up in a stranger’s bed. You can imagine all the twists and turns of the plot. The music was lovely.
After the performance we strolled to a nearby café called Pigale where we enjoyed a nightcap of absinthe. Absinthe is a flavored distilled liquor emerald green in color that tastes strongly of licorice. Known also as the Green Fairy, it is said to be the favorite beverage of artists and writers such as Van Gogh, Monet, Oscar Wilde and Earnest Hemmingway. There was a procedure that went along with the serving of this drink. The waiter brought a water container with a spigot on each side. This served to drip water over a sugar cube which was placed on a special slotted spoon which is held over the glass. It was an especially entertaining way to end the first segment of our journey.