Monthly Archives: April 2008

Naples

Naples

Love it or hate it—and we’re closer to hate than love—Naples is undeniably a fascinating city. It’s dirty, noisy, chaotic, humid, and crumbling. It also has some grand Baroque buildings, good museums, great pizza, and a glorious view over its bay to Mount Vesuvius. History feels very real here. Not least because Pompeii and Herculaneum… Read More

In the Shadow of Mount Vesuvius

In the Shadow of Mount Vesuvius

One of the great sensations of travel is the amazed shock of recognition that you get when you first lay eyes on something you’ve only seen in pictures, or on something very old and famous. That happens almost daily in Italy—it’s so chock full of old, famous stuff. A recent example occurred when we were… Read More

Ancient Greece in Italy

Ancient Greece in Italy

Centuries before the Romans took over, Italy’s southern coast was home to many Greek colonies. The remains of one of those colonies, Paestum, include three beautiful, nearly intact Doric temples that we were eager to see. The remains of Paestum sit in wide, flat, quiet countryside in the middle of nowhere. The walls of the… Read More

Lying Low on the Amalfi Coast

Lying Low on the Amalfi Coast

The first stop on our foray into southern Italy was the dramatically beautiful Amalfi Coast. If the south is a world apart from the rest of Italy, this coast is a world apart from the south. In the middle ages, the independent Duchy of Amalfi was a major maritime power, trading throughout the Mediterranean. Only… Read More

An Art Marathon in Umbria

An Art Marathon in Umbria

From northern Tuscany, we took the train into the next province south, Umbria, where we had a host for three days. Those days were an orgy of art, as we visited the hill towns of Assisi, Spello, and Perugia. Old towns look different in Umbria than in Tuscany. Churches have plain facades, not ranks of… Read More

Valley and Hill Towns in the Northern Tuscan Mountains

Valley and Hill Towns in the Northern Tuscan Mountains

Most visitors to Tuscany focus on Florence and some famous (and crowded) towns in the central rolling hills, such as Siena. We decided to leave Florence until later in our trip, in hopes of arranging a host there. Instead, because we love quiet, out-of-the-way places, we opted to explore the mountainous northwestern corner of Tuscany.… Read More

Pisa: More than a Tower

Pisa: More than a Tower

The big grassy area around the leaning tower and other Pisan monuments is choked with tourists—even on a Monday in March, so it’s hard to conceive how crowded it must be on a summer weekend. Luckily, most of the tourists mill around the tower and the line of souvenir shops. They don’t bother going into… Read More

Lucca

Lucca

We hit the ground running in Italy. Two hours after landing at Pisa airport, we were exploring our first Italian town, Lucca, which was recommended by a former colleague of Melissa’s. Lucca is a walled city that grew rich in the late Middle Ages on the silk trade. From the map in our guidebook, Chris… Read More

First Impressions of Italy

First Impressions of Italy

(written at the end of our first day in Italy) Lush and green. Rivers and canals. Higher mountains than C expected. Lucca wasn’t a hill town. Landscape had a pleasing familiarity. Lucca looked like how C expected old European towns to look. Earth-toned buildings. A surprising amount of helpfulness for tourist info/bus info people and… Read More

On to Italy

On to Italy

After spending 10 weeks in southern Spain, we felt like we had a good sense of the place, and we were eager to visit our next country, Italy. It was still cold in northern Spain (there was snow near Barcelona at Easter). So we decided to put off visiting other parts of Spain—Madrid, Barcelona, the… Read More

Flamingos in the Wild West

Flamingos in the Wild West

Our final stop in southern Spain, the town of El Rocio, turned out to be one of the strangest places we’ve ever seen. It’s sized to hold tens of thousands of people, but it has only about 600 residents. The streets are wide (think four-lane-highway wide) but made of sand. Lining them are low white… Read More

Linguistic Amusements

Linguistic Amusements

One of the most enjoyable parts of learning a language is always finding out the odd-to-foreign-ears idiomatic expressions. A few amusing idioms and words: (Spanish – literal translation – English equivalent) no necesita abuela – he doesn’t need a grandmother – someone who brags a lot salir de Guatamala y entrar en Guatapeor – leaving Guatamala… Read More

A Telling Moment in Vejer

Some things are not really talked about publicly in southern Spain: Official plaques, tourist pamphlets, and the like make no mention of the Civil War, Franco’s long dictatorship, or the Spanish Inquisition. But of course such things live in the memory of townspeople. By the main plaza of Vejer de la Frontera, there is a… Read More

Hiding Out for Easter

Hiding Out for Easter

During Semana Santa, Spanish hotels tend to be booked up far in advance and cost a fortune (especially in the big cities). So we were grateful that, a month or two ago, we found a Couch Surfing host for this period. She lives in Vejer de la Frontera, a white hilltop town near the coast… Read More

Quirks of Southern Spain

Quirks of Southern Spain

Little things we’ve noted with interest during our travels in Andalucia: –Traditional meal (and restaurant) hours: breakfast between 10:30 and noon, lunch sometime after 2 p.m. (often as late as 4), and dinner at 10 p.m. or later. As a result, you can show up in a nearly empty restaurant at 9:45 and be asked… Read More