An Academic Year in Italy Travel Blog
Part II: Six months in Rome and elsewhere
January 2017 - Rome, Lazio
In my previous blog entry
, I explained how this job had come about, but I shall summarise for you: I was not totally satisfied with my three-month experience teaching in a small town in Sicily: I was not given sufficient hours teaching adults to enable me to pay my rent on an apartment that I was not entirely comfortable living in anyway due to a lack of privacy, so I set my sights instead on Rome and found a job fairly quickly teaching Business English to adults, Monday to Thursday in a pharmaceutical company. This opportunity gave me a three-day weekend and time to work on other more lucrative virtual translation and proofreading assignments, as well as opportunities to explore Rome and, later on in the year, other parts of Italy. I had also found a light and airy apartment in a safe complex with concierge, outside of the centre of Rome and was able to commute to work using a combination of bus, subway, train and walking, which took me about an hour each way door to door. The pay was reasonable as was the number of teaching hours. Moreover, I liked the school, my workplace, my teaching colleagues and my students.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I had fairly long breaks between my hours of teaching. In January and February, it was a lot colder in Rome than I had expected it to be, though thankfully I had managed to escape the snows in Vancouver. Consequently, I was glad I had brought with me a very warm coat, and hat and several sweaters from Vancouver from my Christmas visit home. I had also bought a guidebook to Rome and studied it regularly to decide on what to visit when I had the time and inclination. One of the first places I visited during one of my first long lunch breaks was Piazza del Popolo, which was accessible from Flaminio subway station. There was a nice view of it from Pinzio Park (see photo). I never got as far as the Villa Borghese though. Instead, I walked from the Piazza down to the Spanish steps and eventually to the Trevi Fountain. These three places I visited many times during my six-month stay. I also gradually got to know some of my fellow female English teachers at the pharmaco, namely an Indo-Canadian from Toronto and a Zambian-Italian who's been teaching in Rome for the last 15 years. Thanks to the latter friend, the former friend and I discovered many parts of Rome that we may not have. For many weeks in a row, then, when we found an hour or two of mutual non-teaching time after our morning classes, I would go and have cappuccini
(croissants with fillings, or pastries - the chocolate-chip ones were our favourites) with one or the other at a local café-restaurant just down the street. Later, we were also joined by a Dutch girl who had English as her second language, and who also taught at the pharmaco during some of the same hours as I/we did. These three girls became my local girlfriends.
The three of us (we had not met the Dutch girl at that stage) decided to meet up one Saturday in January in order to visit an English bookstore. There were no English libraries in Rome, which I found frustrating. Used to borrowing several books at a time from my local free library in Vancouver, I had run out of reading material in Rome. We found a large public library near Termini train station, but it was closed on weekends and when we looked on line discovered that it did not have the latest best sellers in English anyway. Disappointed, but desperate for escape literature, we ended up spending a lot of our hard-earned cash at la Feltrinelli International
, or, even more, in my case, Borri Books at Termini station. On that Saturday then, we met at Termini, on the Viminal Hill
, where a large outdoor statue of Pope Paul II is found - called by one of my colleagues “Pope-batman” due to the cape shape. Not far away was a marvellous church with a long history, the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. Built inside the ruined frigidarium of the Roman Baths of Diocletian, its claim to fame is a Michelangelo ceiling and an indoor sundial. I visited this church, a mixture of ancient and modern, thrice.
On another mid-week lunch break, I traveled to Manzoni subway station and first visited the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, on Caelian Hill - the green-bronze door you see above is from this church - then, another bucket list item, the Coliseum, one of the seven modern wonders of the world. I walked there but you can also get to it from its nearest subway station - called Colloseo - on the B line. I would come back to that area many times too. The line-ups to the Coliseum and the Forum that Wednesday were very long, and my time was limited, so I chose instead to walk round it and found a beautiful bronze statue of a broken horse, which I photographed.
The weekends too were occasions for me to visit Rome on my own. On the last Sunday of January, I went to visit the Vatican. I had heard that the Vatican Museum was free on the last Sunday of every month, (9.00 a.m. - 2.00 p.m. with the final entry 12.30 p.m.), but I arrived late, so when I joined the line I was not very hopeful and sure enough the doors closed just before I reached them. I figured I still had five months so was not disheartened. Instead I elected to walk right round the walls of the Vatican, thus completing, I suppose, a bucket list item of sorts: walking completely around a country - in this case, the smallest country in the world at 44 hectares (0.44km2). During these six months it was my plan too to visit San Marino, which is the fifth smallest country at 61km2.
I then continued on to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, on Esquiline Hill, the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, a UNESCO heritage site, and quite spectacular. The next images are from this church and I was particularly attracted by the white statue of a praying Pope Pius IX at the entrance to a reliquary of the Holy Crib. The section of ceiling in a photo above is also from this church. The column you see with Mary and the Christ child at the top is located outside the basilica in a large square in front of the church. I then dropped briefly into a couple of smaller churches in the same neighbourhood that had some nice mosaics (e.g. Basilica di Santa Prassede), and before it got too dark, I took the subway to Circo Massimo and walked under the Palatine Hill toward the Piazza della Bocca della Verità so as to join yet another line, this time to visit the Mouth of Truth, a marble face located on a wall of Santa Maria in the Cosmedin church, made famous in the Gregory Peck/Audrey Hepburn film Roman Holiday, a DVD of which I later found and bought at Feltrinelli. Of course, to remember the visit, I just had to get the iconic photo of myself with my hand in its mouth in imitation of Audrey! I know, cliché, but there were many other clichés I avoided during my time in Rome. You can see how heavily I was bundled up that day due to the chilly weather, despite the lovely sunny blue skies.
February 2017 - Rome
February started off with a visit from a friend and we walked a lot around Rome, hence the photo of the Trevi Fountain by night and the Statue of Giordano Bruno in the Campo di Fiori shown here. The next weekend, I travelled by metro to far along the B-line to meet up with a couple of English teachers to have lunch in a restaurant and then visit an artistic gypsy village we had heard about in Prenestina. We took a number of photos and were quite fascinated by this village and met one of the children, who told us a bit about herself and then convinced us to play hide-and-seek with her. However, the buildings were not really suited to it or in fact safe, we found out, so after one unsuccessful round, we decided to head elsewhere. But the quirky artwork was quite fascinating nonetheless.
A couple weekends later it was already the end of February, and I was delighted to note that the cherry (or perhaps prunus) trees were in bloom, much earlier than in Vancouver, giving me hope that a warmer spring would arrive soon. That was the weekend I headed up to the Palazzo Quirinale, on the Quirinal Hill, a former royal and papal residence, but now the presidential palace, on a piazza that had views of the city. I also visited Santa Maria della Vittoria, a church known for the sculpture of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. The ceiling was rather nice too, as was the golden ceiling of Sant' Andrea al Quirinale, by Bernini (who was never paid for this work apparently). Both are in the group of photos below.
Around this time it was Carnavale and I was expecting to see something like what I had heard they had in Venice, but all I saw were occasional groups of children dressed up in costumes, like North American hallowe'en, and the odd splash of confetti on the ground. This same day I wandered down to the Trevi fountain again this time getting a photo of it in daylight. Then I worked my way to Piazza Venezia and the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument on Capitoline Hill, also known as the giant wedding cake or the typewriter due to its shape and white marble colour. One can walk up it to a certain level, but then to get any higher for views of Rome, one has to take a glass-walled elevator to the top, which to my mind was well worth the €7 for its views straight down the Fori Imperiali and over the Forum. I then walked down the Fori Imperiali, a pedestrian street, which leads directly to the Coliseum.
March 2017 - Rome
Suddenly it was March. Back at the end of January I had taken on a new teaching assignment to replace some lost teaching hours at the pharmaco, due to busy executives. This meant teaching an older teenager at the premises of the private school that had hired me and my travelling by train to Nomentana station and into little Africa, I suppose - all the streets around had names of African cities and countries. Nomentana station was brightly decorated with graffiti as were parts of the train route but not quite the eye-sore one might expect. The tunnels under the tracks through which I needed to walk to get out to the street were also brightly painted so I was inspired to photograph them finally in March.
That first weekend of March, I had started thinking about the 4 or 5km fun run associated with the Rome marathon and went to see what I could find out about it. I read that the starting point was near the Coliseum - we were to join the race by exiting the B-line of the subway at Cavour station - and the race finished at Circus Maximus, so I headed out to Cavour and walked down to the Fori Imperiali again and this time photographed Trajan's Column with its depictions of war in relief. Then I took the subway to Piramide, tried to find Keats's grave but the graveyard was closed. Next, I walked up Aventine Hill in order to peek at the famous view of St. Peter's Basilica through the keyhole of the gate leading to the Knights of Malta Headquarters. Unfortunately, the camera I brought with me did not do the keyhole view justice, so I told myself I would return with my good camera but unfortunately never did. However, I captured some great views of Rome and the Tiber River from this hill and looked into a couple of churches up here, Sant' Alessio (the bronze statue of a bishop) and the Basilica di Santa Sabina all'Aventino (the religious painting) next to which was a garden with a pathway of trees which gave almost the same effect with St. Peter's. The lovely face below is from a fountain next to the garden.
During another long lunch hour, I decided to visit the Palazzo Barberini, a 17th-century palace near Piazza Barberini (subway Barberini). It houses the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica and its most famous piece of art is Raphael's portrait of his girlfriend, La fornarina, seen below. The indoor fountain and the huge portrait of a nobleman also below come from this same museum. So realistic. I like paintings that make you wonder if they are paintings or photographs. There is also a nice helicoidal staircase by Borromini here. But my absolute favourite was a ceiling: Pietro da Cortona's Baroque fresco of the Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power, yes below as well. The museum cost €7 and was small, but definitely had some marvellous art.
On another March Saturday, I got together with two of my teacher friends to visit a whole food/vegetarian snack place that was co-owned by the brother of one of them - Fa'bio - which is the name of the other co-owner and means “do organic” in Italian. I often struggled with where to go for lunch in Rome because I wanted something healthy yet simple. Frankly I found it hard to find a simple panino. So this tiny venue was ideal for lunch, but, unfortunately, being near the Vatican, was too far for me to come every day. After tasting a sandwich and a salad there, we all went to a coffee place down the street which had real American coffee. OK, so we liked the Italian coffees, and all their varieties, but they were just too small for our North American palate, so it was nice to find this place - called Pergamino. The space had the unusual decor of lichen walls: inspired, I photographed the lichen reflected in the cup of coffee.
Another lunch time I found a park near work and read a book in the peace and quiet only interrupted by wild rose-ringed or ring-necked parakeets (seen here). I used to see (and hear) them almost daily but they were quite elusive and flew high up, so I felt it a great accomplishment, due to patience, finally to manage to photograph one of them. A second park I visited that week was Pineto near where I lived. I had asked Fa'bio's owner, who was a runner, where he could recommend I run, because I had not found anywhere in Rome I felt safe to do so, and he suggested Pineto. I found it that Sunday and walked around and through it, but it did not make me feel I wanted to run there. There were some colourful murals on a street next to it so I photographed those instead. As it was, I never did manage to get in any training for the Rome Marathon Fun Run.
April 2017 - Rome - Vancouver - Rome
As the very last day of March was a Friday, and I had the day off teaching, I took the subway to EUR station in the South of Rome and walked to the Palazzo dei Congressi to register myself and a teacher friend for the Marathon Fun Run. Although I had been trying to get more friends to join, it ended up just being the two of us. As the race was not timed, we were never really sure how long it actually was, but it didn't really matter anyway. It was quite simple to register, we just had to pay our €10 each, no names, no addresses, no ID. I collected the two t-shirts and lots of information about other races in Italy and Europe, which we never ended up doing. In actual fact, it is very complicated to register for European marathons because the rules say you have to be a member of a running club/association and you have to have a medical certificate stating that you are fit to run. I could not find any information about running clubs in Rome via Google, and I would have had to be registered with a doctor in Rome - another complicated process - in order to get the examination and certificate.
But back to the fun run. My friend and I had to get up pretty early and walk to the metro - the busses weren't working that early and it was an overcast morning. We met at Cavour station, found our way down to the race start, watched the real marathoners start their race, then waited for our little race to start. Just about then the skies opened and not just rain, but also thunder and lightening ensued. We were then running along wet cobblestones, so I slowed down afraid to slip. The route was good though - pretty level, up until the very last part down the road around Circus Maximus and into Circus Maximus where it ended. No medals, no timing chip, but according to my watch it took us about 35 minutes which was about my average for a 5km race. We checked out the stalls, collected a free banana, water, and some balloons, took photos and waited out one powerful deluge under the awnings. But there was no point hanging out together much longer, we decided, as the wet had made us cold, so we parted ways and returned to our respective homes under somewhat drier weather.
Easter arrived and classes were cancelled for the next couple of weeks, so I returned to Vancouver for the holidays and ran a couple more races - a 5km Easter Day in Stanley Park and the 10km Vancouver Sun Run - while I was there. During my time home, I was lucky to experience the cherry and prunus blossoms in Vancouver, as they arrived later this year due to a very long cold snowy winter - unusual for the city.
May 2017 - Rome
I do not seem to have taken many photographs during May. That first weekend was a long weekend for May Day and during my previous foray to Borri Books at Termini station, I had picked up a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. One of my students had just written an essay for me on her hobby - jigsaws. That had inspired me, plus I remembered that on my bucket list I had challenged myself to complete a 1000-piece jigsaw by myself. Below you will see a photo of the finished puzzle, finished in two days in my apartment. It's lucky I had a table big enough! It was in early May, too, that bright red poppies began appearing on the train tracks during my weekly commute between Tuscolana and Nomentana train stations.
And in May, I had another long-weekend visit from a friend, so we went to a Botero exhibit at the Complesso del Vittoriano, which had been advertised for a long time in most subway stations. The first painting you see below is the one they used to advertise the exhibit and the third is Botero's take on Raphael's painting La fornarina. So now you can compare it with Raphael's above under March. This exhibit ends today as I write these words (August 27, 2017). It coincided with the Colombian painter's 85th birthday and reflected about fifty years of his career with fifty of his masterpieces - paintings and sculptures - on loan from owners around the world. Finally, my nostrils certainly enjoyed May as they were filled daily with the strong scent of small white flowers that were growing on the walls around my apartment complex and on other walls in Rome too. I photographed them and looked them up to find they are Trachelospermum jasminoides or more commonly, star jasmine. The last photo in this group was actually taken in June, but I could have taken it at any time on my daily commute to work. It is a subway train. Practically all subway trains in Rome are covered in graffiti. The A-line trains have a red interior and announcements recorded by a male voice, whereas the B-line trains have a blue interior and announcements recorded by a female voice. On my daily commutes from Cornelia subway station to my work place, it was all underground except for one place, where the train comes up to ground level for a short transit on a bridge over the Tiber River. I would look out of the window every time at that point for the view. Sometimes in the distance I could see St. Peter's basilica, other times I could see the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. It would depend on which way I was facing in the train.
Workwise, my classes at the pharmaco ended at the end of May, so during this month I was busy preparing them for the final tests, then giving them the tests, then marking the tests. I am happy to say that all my students passed and the majority achieved marks in the 80 and 90 percentiles. I had taken on a new student too at the private school that hired me in May. As my contract did not expire until the end of June and I still had about a hundred contracted hours to fill, I wondered what or who I would be teaching during June. I will add here that I had taught a couple of classes at the public schools as a substitute earlier in the year, and in so doing was shocked to learn of the conditions of these schools, in a supposedly first-world country and EU member. These were high schools in a fairly central part of Rome, but they were ancient buildings, and the classrooms still had green/black boards and chalk! Moreover, my teenage students told me that in the wintertime when it got cold, the schools had no heating. Moreover their classrooms had flooded due to poor plumbing and the plumbing was not repaired for weeks. In my experience, perhaps due to these conditions, there was little interest among these teenagers to learn English, (I cannot comment on other subjects) despite how they might regret not learning it later in life. In my first sub class, only two out of a total of six girls expected bothered to turn up, so the lesson I had prepared was abandoned and instead I gave them two solid hours of conversation. They were quite advanced English students so it was quite easy. The other class I substituted in a different public school was the last English lesson for the academic year at this school and no students bothered to turn up at all. I didn't mind, I was being paid anyway, and took the time to catch up on my reading, but I could only think of what my adult students at the pharmaco had been telling me: that when they were at school they had had non-native (Italian) English teachers who didn't know how to speak English, so here we were, native English speakers, ready to provide good service and teach them English as it should be learned/taught, yet teenagers still didn't want to learn.
Perhaps the most shocking thing I learned about Italian public schools, however, was their bathrooms. The one I went into, which was clean and whitewashed so quite acceptable aesthetically, though this may have been a staff toilet and not consequently used by students, not only had no mirrors, though I seem to remember it did have soap and possibly paper towels, but, and here is the shocking part, no toilet paper is provided by the schools period. In fact parents must provide their children with toilet paper as part of their school supplies. I can also report that I went to use the toilet in a mall in Rome once and noticed there was no toilet paper provided there either. I checked each stall in the women's room for paper - there were dispensers for toilet paper just nothing in them. I even went into the men's room to check there too! And this was a mall with eating places. Luckily, I was not desperate at the time and I was not that far from the pharmaco, so I returned there to use their toilet. Thankfully, the (private) places I worked at provided toilet paper. So beware, those of you considering teaching in public schools in Italy: bring a roll of toilet paper in your briefcase or bag. In fact, bring it with you wherever you are in Italy, just in case, as well as some change for those very few pay toilets you may find - I have had to pay as much as €1 for a toilet in Italy.
June 2017 - Rome - Rimini - San Marino - Rome - Cagliari, Sardinia - Rome - Trieste - Ljubljana, Slovenia - Rome - Genoa - Portofino - Rome
As previously mentioned, June brought me a new teaching schedule and a couple of new students. Now that it was summer, it was hot and the tourists were in town, so I felt the itch to travel myself and discover parts of Italy I hadn't been to before. I therefore asked the school to let me have Mondays off as well. As I now taught only Tuesdays to Thursday in June, and all of my classes were now at the private school near Nomentana train station, this did mean that my commute was a bit longer and with the tourists in town the busses were more crowded, so I frequently found myself walking back home from the subway station. Consequently, what had been a one-hour commute door to door the last five months now became a one-and-a-half-hour to two-hour commute. Only having to do it six times Tuesdays to Thursdays instead of eight times a week helped somewhat.
As you may have read in my other blog pages, my aim in life is to visit as many countries as I can before I am unable to travel any longer, so San Marino and Slovenia, being neighbours of Italy, were first in my mind. Sardinia too was an island I had not yet visited, so it was also on my list. Pretty quickly, I arranged on-line to travel to Rimini, from where, I found, I could get a local bus to San Marino. That was the first weekend of June taken care of. For the next weekend I had planned to go to Trieste, but the hotel dates for that weekend worked out better for Sardinia, so I booked a Ryan Air fight to Cagliari for weekend number two. Weekend no. 3 then became Trieste with a side trip to Ljubljana, Slovenia and weekend four...I finally chose Genoa, where I had never been, and from where I could take a side trip to Portofino, which I had visited once briefly by cruise ship but had not had enough time to appreciate it sufficiently. You can be sure I had my camera with me and took loads of photos.
Rimini, Emilia-Romagna: June 2 - 5, 2017
I caught a train to Rimini mid-day from Termini station in Rome, travelling in second class and changing trains to a smaller, local one at Ancona on the east coast, and then walked from Rimini station about 15 minutes with my wheeled suitcase to my hotel located a block from the beach. The next morning I found a map at reception, asked where the nearest branch of my bank was, then headed out for some money and then into the old town to grab a breakfast of cappuccino e cornetto. Finally, I was able to speak Italian to all and sundry and do things that Italians do. Although there are of course tourists in Rimini, especially Russian tourists, there are masses of Italians from all parts of Italy who swarm the beaches, so I was happy to be taken as a fellow Italian for the weekend and used my Italian every opportunity I got. If people answered me in English I pretended not to understand. Perhaps thinking I was Russian, they would revert to Italian! After my typical Italian breakfast, I walked round the cobbled streets of the old town taking many photographs. Here you see a statue of Julius Caesar and there a statue of a pope found in Piazza Tre Martiri and Piazza Cavour, respectively. In Piazza Ferrari, I came across an old Roman house that had been excavated on an area of 700 square metres, revealing 2000 years of history. Its last owner, before it burned down in the 3rd century AD, had been a surgeon, it was surmised, as archaeologists found over 150 ancient surgical instruments during their excavation.
On buying the ticket to this museum, I discovered it was also valid for their city museum a block away. This too was interesting. It started with a room of Fellini's somewhat controversial artwork. As it had a strong graphic nature, I only photographed his portrait, which you see here. However, there were many other Greek and Roman treasures, in sculpture and painting format, to admire. And by copying the mosaics they had found on the floors of the archaeological site, they had recreated some of the rooms of the surgeon's house as they imagined it at the time just before it burned down. I was much taken by the portrait of a young friar, by Guido Cagnacci (1601 - 1663). It was a face I imagined very possible today. I also liked the portrait of St. Joseph with the baby Jesus as it is not often you see pictures of Joseph with Jesus. There was also a lovely, but much more modern, painting of seven Rimini doctors, all wearing beards, heavy raincoats and a variety of hats, “I sette medici riminesi” by Francesco Brici (1870 - 1950) that I admired.
After the museums, I continued to wander around the old town. I photographed a couple of interesting gates - Porta Montanara, from the 1st century BC and Arco d'Augusto from 27 BC. I walked as far as the Tiberian bridge but was told later that had I only gone across the bridge into another part of the old town I would have found some interesting murals. Darn, why hadn't the concierge told me about them?
I had a nice lunch in the main square of the old town, the Piazza Tre Martiri, then headed through a couple of parks (Parco Maria Callas and Parco Renzi Madre Elisabetta) toward the beach, where a food-and-drinks festival was being set up. As I was there way too early, I kept on wandering along a section of this 15-km long sandy beach, full of people, umbrellas and beach chairs of a variety of colours. I wanted to get a birds' eye view of it all, so on returning to my room at the hotel, I asked to go to the breakfast room which had ceiling-to-floor windows and a balcony, and took several shots, which I turned into the long panoramic photo below. It's a shame the stitched photo is so tiny but a website page has its limits in width. I then walked along to the marina and photographed fishermen waiting for their catch as well as this bronze statue of a mother and child dedicated to all women of fishermen waiting for their men to return from the sea and set up in memory of all those who never returned. At this end of the beach there was a public (free) section, which was full of bicycles and people, some of the women bathing topless.
As it was a hot day, I now felt the need for a drink or an ice cream, so I had both at a café just off the beach. After a rest at the hotel and a shower to cool down, I headed out for dinner, choosing one of the more lively, therefore popular, restaurants opposite my hotel. It had a line up and when it came to my turn the waiter assumed I was with the woman behind me, so he led us both to a table for two and not minding his mistaken assumption, we enjoyed the companionship. She was a Rimini-based Russian tour guide with excellent English, so unfortunately, I was unable to practice my Italian at dinner, except of course with the waiter.
San Marino: June 4, 2017
On Sunday morning, I grabbed a very nice, copious breakfast at the hotel before walking to the train station and finding the bus that took me to San Marino, the world's fifth smallest country, a mountainous microstate and one of the oldest republics. It has a medieval walled old town, cobblestone streets and three towers, castlelike citadels dating from the 11th century, though the smaller third one is currently not open to the public, as I found out. Though the bus climbs up fairly high up the mountain and parks in a large parking area, the rest of the climb must be done on foot, so it was a good workout. After finding my way around, taking photos of panoramic views over the countryside, as well as some statues and flags, I decided that the thing to do would be to visit these castles and perhaps other museums if there was time. On entering the First Tower, called Guaita, I bought a multi-museum ticket. This tower looked in pretty good repair for the 11th century frankly. It had some interesting jails with prisoner art on the walls. I then trekked to the second tower, called Cesta, and this was a bit more interesting as it housed a Museum of Ancient Weapons dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Then I walked to the third tower - Montale - for the views but there was no entry possible and not much information about it either. I next tried to get into a few more museums - the Wax Museum, the Museum of Curiosity, the Vampire Museum, the Torture Museum - but found that these were all private museums and therefore cost extra. So I asked which museums the ticket I bought included in addition to the two towers I had already visited, and was pointed toward the Public Palace (really a town hall), the State Museum in the Palazzo Pergami Belluzzi, which had a hodgepodge of artifacts and art, including some very nice religious paintings, and St. Francis Museum (more religious art). What I liked most during my visit to San Marino was the fantastic travel photography exhibition in this latter museum. By the time I had finished with the photography exhibit, I was ready to go back to Rimini, but as there were still about ninety minutes before the next bus would arrive, I grabbed a late sandwich lunch in San Marino and then waited under a bit of shade in the parking lot for the late afternoon bus to Rimini.
On my journey back to Rome from Rimini, also via Ancona, that Monday, I travelled in the first class section of the train; I was able to plug in my laptop computer and work the five hours on a translation assignment I had received that morning for a rush completion. There was a delay with the trains and I arrived back in Rome two hours later than planned. Exhausted by then, I took a taxi back home from the train station instead of metro and bus.
Cagliari, Sardinia: June 9-12, 2017
It was an early taxi ride to Campioni airport - the other airport of Rome: trust Ryan Air to be different - but that also meant an early arrival into Cagliari and practically a full day to enjoy this new island and city. To my chagrin, however, I found that the hotel I had chosen was nearer the airport than the beach, and to get to the old town and then to the beach, it was a complicated set of busses, unless one had a car. Well I wasn't about to rent a car, so following the concierge's instructions, I walked quite a distance and had to get re-directed several times, as the concierge had not quite got things right, Finally, I found a bus going downtown and it let me out a bit past the centre - the bus driver forgot (perhaps) to inform me where the centre as I had asked him to. In any case, I had a map so I wandered around. I first photographed a section with some graffitied walls in the Villanova area and then on wandering through some public gardens, I could see the citadel above me, but I couldn't figure out how to get up there. I followed a German couple into an elevator, but it only got us so far and we were told by a couple of friendly youths playing basketball that the elevator to the top was broken - though we actually saw local people using it and arriving at the top. No matter, we were (sort of) young and strong, so we followed the road which wound up the hill and finally arrived in a rather old, not very well maintained, section called Castello. It reminded me rather of Ortigia in Siracusa, Sicily: lots of buildings seriously in need of repair and full of rot. I could see the sea from the Citadel finally and from the Bastione Saint Remy, then I found some steps down (which I should have found originally of course) and arrived in a pedestrian shopping area. It was by now after 1:00 and the streets were deserted because locals had closed their shops to go home for lunch with their families. However, I found one sandwich place open and the owner made me a cappucino and a bespoke sandwich.
After lunch, I headed to the port (Marina) and found a tourist office. The staff there told me how to get to the public beach, but once I found the right bus for the beach, I actually decided on a whim to stay on that bus and see how far it would take me. It took me on a 2-hour loop past a salt pond where there were supposed to be flamingos, and into the countryside toward Villasimius. Arriving back at the port, too tired to struggle to find a bus part way and then walk back to my hotel, I decided to take a taxi back. Then as I had booked my hotel on a mezza pensione rate, I had a nice chicken dinner in the hotel. On reflection, it would have been impossible to find a place to eat for dinner had I not booked this rate, as there were absolutely no dining places within walking distance as I found out this morning.
On Saturday, I had three translations and one proofreading assignment, which kept me working till about four, after which it was too late to wander off, so I hung out by the hotel swimming pool and read. Therefore, it was not until Sunday that I ventured outside the hotel again. On Sundays, I was told (whether true or not I would never know) that taxi rates increased, but not wanting to repeat my bus experience of Friday, I took a taxi to the beaches I had seen on Friday, had a nice lunch there and then wandered along the beach road with my camera photographing scenes that caught my eye - including the above menu which includes horse meat - and eventually called up a taxi to take me back to the hotel. Staying three nights with the same menu and only three choices for main dish, I can really say I tried everything. The last night, not wanting to repeat the slightly disappointing fish, yet curiously not finding the chicken I had had the first night, I ordered the only other non-red-meat choice, which was fried cheese. Not very digestible.
On Monday, my Ryanair flight back to Rome was not until 9:00 pm and I was allowed to keep my room at the hotel until 1:00 pm. I had by then decided I had seen all I wanted of Cagliari and, not having a car, could not venture to any other part of Sardinia. Consequently, I ended up working in my room on my computer for a while, working on it a bit more in the hotel lounge and then reading outside at the pool. Then I got a taxi around 5:00 to the airport, flew back to Campione and this time I argued with my taxi driver who was trying his best to rip me off. I won the argument this time, happily.
Trieste, Friuli-Venezia Giulia: June 16-19, 2017
Trieste is located over in the North-east of Rome in the overlapping part bordering on Slovenia and Croatia. I had booked an Alitalia plane to get there on the Friday and back on the Monday, but suddenly on the Wednesday, I received an e-mail from Alitalia saying my flight had been cancelled. I was at the school when this happened, so I asked around and was told there would be a general transportation strike on Friday - this happened about once a month in Rome - so I asked: what should I do? Alitalia was offering to book me on Thursday or on Saturday, but neither of those days suited me as I was working on Thursday and my hotel was already pre-paid for the three nights of Friday to Monday. My director suggested Flixbus, which is a private bus company not involved in the strike, and another colleague helped me book it instantly. At the same time, I booked my bus trip with them to Slovenia on the Sunday. I merely had to phone Alitalia when I got home that night and arrange for them to reimburse me for the flight out and confirm the flight back - which they actually did, to my surprise! It did mean though that instead of a one hour-or-so flight to Trieste, I had a 7-hour bus ride, which didn't, I might add, leave until noon from the central bus station in Rome. And since the metro was on strike too - or at least would be as of 8:30am after the rush hour was over - it behoved me to leave early from my home while the subway trains were still running. This meant that I had a long wait at the bus station. There were benches to sit on though, it was a sunny day and there were plenty of people milling about arriving from and leaving for various places round Italy and beyond. Finally my bus arrived, my virtual ticket on my phone was inspected, my luggage was loaded and we were off. There was a stop somewhere along the way for bathrooms and (very expensive) snacks, if we wanted; we delivered bus passengers to Florence and Venice en route, and then finally arrived in Trieste bus station (after passing through a nearby, lively seaside area I wanted to return to) pretty much on time. I took a taxi up the hill to my hotel and arrived at my room thankful that breakfast was included.
Saturday being a bright sunny day and the sea being downhill and within walking distance, I took my time visiting churches and monuments on the way (both the Castello and the Cattedrale di San Giusto - where there was a wedding going on). Finally, after traversing a pedestrian shopping area, I arrived at my goal, the largest square in Europe located next to the sea, the Piazza Unità d'Italia, which faces the Adriatic. Unfortunately, it was not looking its best, as it was covered in scaffolding and a stage for a summer concert. I photographed the bronze statue of a couple of girls and a cormorant swimming in the water. Then I wandered along the sea front, which stretched quite a way, and along some of the piers, to explore a path toward the prominent lighthouse. Knowing it was not far to the Croatian border at this point, I enquired about busses and found I could take a bus to a small fishing town on the way to Croatia called Muggia. This meant taking one bus back to the main bus square and another out again to Muggia. After walking around this much quieter seaside town, I decided to have lunch in the main square there. I then took a bus back to the bus square in Trieste and took another bus to the other side of Trieste, the Miramare area where all the bathers were. It is not as if there was a beach there really. It was all pretty rocky and people had even spread their beach chairs on the main walkway because there was just no room on the rocks, and little sand to speak of. However, before stopping at the beach, I decided to take the bus a bit further so I could visit a castle I had seen on the map I had, the Museo Storico Castello di Miramare. This is a 19th-century castle built from 1856 to 1860 for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium, later Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota of Mexico. It was a lovely little summer cottage for royalty that had later been used as headquarters for German, New Zealand, British and American occupational forces during WWII! I bought a ticket to visit inside, although visiting the surrounding 22-hectare grounds was free. I found my way by bus back to the hotel in the early evening.
Ljubljana, Slovenia: June 18, 2017
As I had already booked my bus for Slovenia, I made my way down to the large bus station near the local bus plaza in plenty of time, wondering just where it would leave from, as there were several possibilities. I received several messages on my phone that it was delayed, but in the end it turned up almost on time and again after scanning the QR code on my phone the bus driver let me on and it was a short ride across the border (where they did check passports) and into Slovenia and to a large train station in the capital city of Ljubljana. The first thing I did was look for the tourist centre for a map and the second thing I did was look for a toilet. I found one at the station inside a McDonalds, which, I was interested to note, served foie gras as one of their menu items. Needless to say, I did not stop to eat there. Instead, as I had looked into the interesting things to do in this town last night on my phone's internet, I found there was an interesting hippy town with quirky art work. Looking on the map, I found it was fairly close to the train station so I walked there first and took quite a few photographs (the first seven here). Then with my map I found my way to the Ljubljanica river that runs through town and my first bridge, the dragon bridge, with four dragons, the dragon being the town's symbol and mascot. According to one tale (pun intended), the dragon is said to wave its tail, when the bridge is crossed by a virgin! I didn't hang around though to see if that were true.
I then walked through the Central Market to the Triple Bridge and Preseren Square, named after a national poet and the de facto centre of town. There was a weird weather thing going on here - there was a big puddle and it was sort of raining, but just in this one spot, a phenomenon I could not figure out. Then I headed to the Slovenian Philharmonic Building and Congress Square, and subsequently crossed over the Cobbler's Bridge to the Town Hall and Robba Fountain, nearby which there was a small group of musicians playing. The whole town reminded me somewhat of Bruges in Belgium with the boats on the river, on a far smaller scale though. By then, I figured I had hit the highlights, so I looked for a place to have lunch and ended up at a nice place along the riverside. My energy renewed, I decided I could tackle the climb up to Ljubljana Castle, so I headed up its far side near the Cobbler's bridge again and then once I arrived, and had taken some photos of the views, I decided not to go into the castle, in view of the short time left before my return bus was due, so I exited at the opposite end near the market again and photographed the two façades of houses on my way back to the train station in plenty of time for the bus back to Trieste. In all, I was quite taken with Ljubljana and wondered why I had not traveled there earlier in my life. It certainly offered some interesting outdoor art.
On the Monday, after checking out and leaving my bags with the hotel concierge, I headed back down to the centre of Trieste again, by bus this time, to soak up the life of the main square, check out a few stores including a book store and have lunch to use the café's wifi. Then I caught another bus back to my hotel in the early afternoon and took a coach from the main bus station to the airport, which was about an hour's journey, so as to fly back to Rome.
Genoa, Liguria: June 23-26, 2017
I flew to Genoa with Alitalia mid-morning Friday from Fiumicino airport and this time my hotel was near the port and everything I needed was in walking distance. I actually had a translation project to finish and the weather looked miserable outside, so I worked in my room and then went down to the hotel restaurant for a rather expensive but quite inedible dinner - my fault perhaps for ordering a chicken burger instead of an Italian dish.
Saturday, then, I vowed to cater my own lunch and dinner for the next two nights and found a large grocery store in a mall across the street from my hotel. I stocked up on a few provisions and then headed out walking on a main street on a semi-circular path toward the Porto Antico, photographing some nice paintings under the elevated highway en route. I then turned left up into the old town through narrow winding cobblestone streets ending up at Piazza de Ferrari and the Palazzo Ducale. There was a large poster for a Modigliani exhibition, so, I thought, why not, and bought a ticket. (This exhibit ran from March 16 to July 16.) An untaught Italian painter and sculptor, living in Montparnasse, Paris, Amedeo Modigliani (or Modi to his friends) became famous for his sensual and voluptuous nudes (though perhaps not quite as voluptuous as Botero's), which were quite scandalous at the time. He was influenced by African art and Picasso's cubism. The works in this exhibition that attracted me most were his portraits - of his friends, fellow painters and intellectuals. They all had a certain melancholy, though the nudes were at least smiling. Sadly, Modigliani died at age 35 of tuberculosis.
The Ducal Palace was a work of art in itself and a large wedding was going on here, but I still managed to get into a chapel famous for its ceiling and photograph it. The marble floor was also quite splendid. Then I walked to the back of the Palace toward the Gesu Church in the Piazza Mateotti and boy was I ever lucky. As I stood there, I saw these huge statues of Christ on the cross being unloaded from pick up trucks and placed on stands in the square. Then I watched as men and boys and even some women, all dressed in costume, started gathering together. Still not sure what was happening, but now part of a crowd photographing these huge statues, I noticed men putting on padding underneath their costumes and I asked someone what was going on. He explained to me that there would be a parade for Saint John the Baptist Day (which was today, I realised), as he was the patron saint of Genoa, and that people (okay only men and strong ones at that) would carry these five crosses from here to the port. Finally a church procession - I had regretted missing the one in Siracusa in December - that I would be able to photograph and record on video (see below). I watched then as men from the ancient Confraternities took it in turns to carry the statues, which weighed quite a lot (a hundred or more kilos - I asked the weight but promptly forgot what I was told). Each would go for a few steps then change the statue over to another carrier. I followed the procession for a block, while a loudspeaker broadcast the service from the Cathedral San Lorenzo just down the street. When I arrived at San Lorenzo, there was a crowd of people set off by barriers watching a procession coming out of the cathedral, priests of various denominations it looked like, nuns, laymen, all following the crosses, and one group of young men struggling under a large silver reliquary containing the relics of Saint John, said, I read later, to have the ability to calm the seas, and brought to Genoa during the Crusades. I waited until the procession participants had left the cathedral and went inside but it was full of scaffolding so did not provide for great photos. The outside of the cathedral was gaily decorated in different coloured stone - it reminded me somewhat of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. I then wandered somewhat more slowly down to the port again and saw that the procession and the five Christs on crosses were now there and a service to bless the sea was going on.
I wanted to explore more of the port though, so I walked along a few piers photographing interesting views made dull somewhat by the cloudy weather until I reached the end of the farthest one from where it was possible to photograph the lighthouse of Genoa. I then returned to the main street and photographed the Palazzo San Giorgio whose colourful and lavishly decorated façade also caught my eye and my camera lens, before returning to my hotel.
Portofino, Liguria: June 25, 2017
As I said earlier in this blog, I had been to Portofino a few years ago via cruise ship, but my main reason that time was to visit the Cinque Terre, so my stop in Portofino then was too brief to get to know it properly, hence the wish to visit it from Genoa and this time more in depth. I walked to the train station from my hotel and bought a ticket to Santa Margherita Ligure as there is no train station in Portofino. There is a bus, but more importantly, one can actually walk there along a red carpet, no less, as it is only about five kilometres. Although most of it goes along a sidewalk by a major road on which cars and buses go, part of it climbs up and undulates through a forest - yes, a red-carpeted forest! I knew that's what I wanted to do, although due to the time factor I did end up taking the bus back to Santa Margherita Ligure to get my train back to Genoa (both places are located within the Metropolitan area of Genoa). At the end of the carpet I arrived at the small Church of San Martino, into which I peeked, and then headed downhill to the famous piazzetta at the port, which was covered in Porsches, part of a monthly fancy car club outing, I was told by the female policeman/guard. One Lamborghini, being perhaps de trop had had to park elsewhere on its own further back, poor thing! I will add that this area is not usually a parking lot, but an exception had been made for these expensive-car-holics.
So now I was in the famous square, where was I to head next? It was a bit early for lunch. I saw signs to a lighthouse and a castle which meant heading up the hill again, but I was intrigued, and more exercise was good for me, so up I climbed. The first building I came to was St. George Church (patron saint of the village) which had a nice bronze sculpture of St. George and his dragon on the front door. Walking then through its adjacent cemetery and crematorium, suffused with flowers, I bordered gardens and cliff views, finally coming to the end of the walk to a lighthouse (with a bar but the bar was closed). I then headed back along the same route and this time decided to stop in at Castello Brown, which I felt was sure to have marvellous bird's eye views of the port, and I was right - likely the best views on the entire peninsula. The castle, surrounded by lush and colourful gardens, was open to visitors despite an entire catering team working inside setting up for a wedding reception and meal, because there was a museum inside about the history of Portofino. The castle was named Brown - as opposed to Bruno perhaps - because it was once owned by a British consul called Montague Yeats-Brown. When he bought the building (in 1867 for 7,000 lire) it was an abandoned fort that had been on that site since 1557. However, it now belongs to the city of Portofino who bought it in 1961. Later I learned that the original story for the film “The Enchanted April” (1992) was both written and filmed at this castle.
I then wound my way back down to the port, sat at a table outside a restaurant and ordered a glass of white wine, a sandwich, and later a gelato - because, after all, this was my last weekend in Italy - and watched life go by. Interestingly enough, while I was sitting comfortably, sipping my wine, chewing my panino, the entire wedding party, dressed to the nines, arrived on a yacht and disembarked right in front of me. I noticed one young lady in a midi length dress and struggling to walk in very high heels, and wondered just how she would manage to climb up to the very steep path to the castle in them.
I caught the €3 bus back to Santa Margherita Ligure then took a train back to Genoa and walked from there back to the hotel. It was all quite straightforward.
Boccadasse: June 26, 2017
An American woman I had met at the Genoa train station yesterday, while mutually waiting for our train to Santa Margherita Ligure, suggested I visit a small seaside village called Boccadasse, little known among tourists. She had been to this area several times via cruise ship and had friends in Genoa who had taken her. This weekend she was once again visiting Genoa via cruise ship. As I had almost seven hours left before my flight this evening, I decided to take her up on the idea. After packing up my luggage and leaving it with reception, I found out from my hotel concierge that the simplest way to get there would be via a local bus, or a couple of them anyway, so, using a combination of walking, subway, bus, more walking and a second bus, I finally arrived at Boccadasse, though I did mistakenly stop at another beach en route. I had a day ticket that covered all transportation systems so I didn't have to worry and, in the end, I did get to this charming, but crowded beach - just for photographs though. I had no intention of swimming or sunbathing. I am not a fan of rocky beaches, much preferring sand.
September 4 - 8 2017 - Antwerp
Well, I did make another short trip back to Europe this year: I spent just over a week in Antwerp to attend a summer school in Translation Technology - basically to learn some CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tools for my linguistics business. I did take some photos of Antwerp and having nowhere else to put them for now, here they are: