Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mediterranean Adventure - Part 1 (Rome and the ship)

We left our Bucharest home as scheduled at about 4:30 on Sunday the 20th.  The flight to Rome on Alitalia was uneventful and getting to the B&B in Rome center equally so.  Nicole and Luca, proprietors of Luca’s B&B - found through Airbnb, greeted us like long lost friends!  I cannot say enough good things about these folks as hosts.  Unfortunately it was there that Amanda realized she had left her purse on the plane.

I will spare my readers the details because this is NOT the fun part of our trip.  The short version is that despite numerous phone calls by Luca and by me (so both in Italian and in English), and my making the hour-plus round trip back to the airport, the purse was not retrieved.  I quite accept responsibility on Amanda’s and my part for having left it there, but I was very disappointed with Alitalia’s lack of customer service over this loss.  OK, so we didn’t spend Monday touring the city as planned, but we did do some fun things…

In the morning we headed out together (I was going to try an Alitalia office in hopes of not having to go all the way back to the airport).  On Nicole’s recommendation, we stopped at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, or Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins, a church that houses both a museum to the Capuchin friars and also an ossuary with amazing, yet macabre, decorations made from the remains of thousands of Capuchin friars buried between 1500 and 1870.  We weren’t able to take photos, but I am including some from an Internet search.  This stop turned out to be unexpectedly engaging.


We then parted ways.  Amanda went to the Trevi Fountain, where she threw in her 3 coins and made wishes, and then wandered in that part of Rome, climbing to the top of one monument that allowed a good look at the Coliseum. I went on to the Spanish steps, named after the Spanish embassy to the Holy See, designed by an Italian, and leading to a French church.

For me, the highlight of this day was my visit to Roberto Mannino, a paper artist I had discovered via some Internet searching (  I had made an appointment with him for the end of the day.  I was late finding his studio, but he was gracious and welcoming.  He teaches art an does paper sculpture as well as pulling sheets of paper.  We had a delightful time chatting about paper making, bookbinding, and other paper-related activities.  We also spent time looking through his flat files while I selected some papers to purchase.  I will return when we are back in Rome at the end of the cruise to pick up my papers.  He has many that are mixed fibers, but cotton, abaca, and flax predominate.

Tuesday was our day for the Vatican.  Amanda and I spent quite a few hours admiring the works in the Vatican Museum, especially the Raphael rooms and the Sistine Chapel.  As has been said many times, by people more eloquent than I, the art is breathtaking.  It was a joy to share this with Amanda who has often told me she doesn’t like “art museums”, but who was as much taken by the art on these walls as I was.  I did not realize prior to this visit that the famous panel of God and Adam touching fingers is just one small portion of the entire ceiling.  From the museums we went to St. Peter’s Basilica, which I learned is the second largest church in the world.  It, too, is awe-inspiring.  Michelangelo’s Pieta is indeed beautiful, but I was more impressed by the sheer grandeur of the building itself and its dome.  Leaving Amanda on the ground, I did head up into the dome and then to the small cupola on top: all 320 steps beyond the elevator!  The panorama of Rome was well worth the physical effort!  Unfortunately I have no pictures of my own for this day since my camera battery died on my first attempt to use it and I had left the spare battery back at the B&B…

 (picture stolen from someone's website)

On another recommendation from our B&B hosts, Amanda and I ate dinner at a small restaurant that has been in business for 97 years.  She had pizza and I had spaghetti.  My pasta was a house specialty: a small amount of alcohol is lighted inside a large wheel of Parmesan cheese; once the cheese has melted a bit, the hot spaghetti with sauce is tossed inside the wheel of cheese; when served, the sauce is very cheesy. Delicious!

Above I am simply being satisfied after eating the same meal on our last night in Rome, following the cruise.

Wednesday did not quite go according to plan.  We had talked about attending the Pope’s audience as Amanda had expressed interest in seeing the Pope, but decided it would require too early a start to our day (since we needed to have suitcases packed prior to leaving the B&B).  So instead the idea was to do a small bit of shopping for Amanda to purchase a replacement purse and a few contents items.  Even though I know it is not possible for Amanda to be quick about shopping, I was hopeful, as usual, that this time would be different.  I definitely needed the serenity prayer as I coped with time getting later and later.  We got on the train to the port at Civitavecchia (an hour-plus trip) later than I had wanted to be boarding the ship.  But you know what?  We made it onto the ship just fine and with plenty of time to spare!  And Amanda is proud owner of a designer handbag that is very much her style.


Today, Thursday, we have been at sea.  I have seen the small island of Stromboli (shrouded in clouds), which contains one of Italy's 3 active volcanoes.

And the much larger island of Sicily, now with the sun gracing us.

The day has been windy with some rough seas.  Sometimes it is a little difficult to walk without appearing to be drunk.  I attending two informative and entertaining lectures: “Thirty thousand years of art history” and “Greek Gods and myths”, did quite a bit of walking, and have eaten well.  Tomorrow we tour ancient Olympia.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Winter Wonderland

I think there is certainly some irony in the fact that when Amanda returned this week from her holiday time stateside and was bragging about how warm it was in North Carolina, Winston-Salem was receiving several inches of snow!  While we have had had melting temperatures here in Bucharest this past week, last weekend provided some lovely new snow...

I celebrated by going to the opera with friends.  We saw a production of "La Boheme", which was quite enjoyable.  The male lead, Rodolfo, was exceptionally strong and received lots of "Bravo"s at the curtain call.  This was my first visit to the Bucharest National Opera, but it certainly won't be my last.  I took the picture below from my seat, front row center balcony, which cost me all of 25 lei (about $7)!  It is a lovely building.  The second picture is an architectural detail I liked.

And then on Sunday, I was up bright and early to join a Meet-Up ( group for a mountain hike.  The trip was well organized and communicated and we had almost 40 people there (which was too many - we definitely wound up spending a fair amount of time in wait mode).  I had purchased new hiking boots, new snow pants, and even a new backpack for the occasion - all of which I will use again!  I was plenty warm, especially going up hill!

We carpooled to Predeal, about an hour and a half north of Bucharest.  We began the hike by riding a chair lift to the top of one mountain...

And were rewarded with this view at the top:

I am in this group shot - I am the white hat in the center back.  You will have to take my word for it, because I am completely unrecognizable otherwise!

From the location above we walked to a second ski lodge, down and up.  It was fun to pass this horse-drawn sleigh that was there to ferry folks to the chalet.

Notice that I have definitely gotten warm: my hat is off, my mittens are off, my jacket is unzipped, and my scarf is loose!  The temperature throughout the day was below 0 C. (upper 20's F)  But look at the awesome scenery!  And the gorgeous blue sky, sunshiny day!

At the point I took the picture below, I was walking alone - in between sub-groups.  I was enjoying the extreme tranquility.  It was so very quiet.  I loved the play of the sunlight through the trees.

My favorite two parts of the hike were the very beginning - because of the incredible views, repeated below - and the section through the woods which was from the beginning section to the third and final chalet, pictured last.

We then went down the mountain from the third chalet to the base of the ski lift.  Unfortunately this part was often very steep and because of the snow was also slippery.  Some folks had brought snow shovels (plastic things intended for riding on) and went down that way.  Others of us slowly picked our way down with sore feet and knees (at least by the time I finished).

We all gathered then for supper at a restaurant in Predeal and shared stories of the day's adventures, before returning to Bucharest.  I was especially grateful for some folks who provided additional social support, especially at the end.  I have never before done this kind of winter hike and I was definitely slow by the end of the day.  All in all I am very glad I did it and am already looking forward to the next opportunity!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Munich and Salzburg - Part 2 of 2

On Saturday I decided to join a tour going to Salzburg, Austria with the company that sponsors the walking tours - I was that impressed.  Unfortunately I and 3 young women from England waited in vain for someone to show up.  So we simply decided to catch a train and go to Salzburg on our own.  I enjoyed talking with the women, all of whom are house mistresses at a boarding school in the Lakes District and very much enjoyed my time in Salzburg.  Not long after we arrived in the city the girls and I separated realizing that we had different touring interests, but I was glad to have made the connection.  I did wish several times, however, that I had either a guide - as, of course, was the initial plan - or at least a guidebook to let me know more of what I was seeing.  But hey, I've watched "The Sound of Music" umpteen times and I could recognize some of the locations!

The train trip was about an hour and a half.  It was a cold, dreary day - it would have been nice to have continued the sunshine from the day before, but I still managed a couple of shots of passing scenery as we got closer to the Alps...

Walked around the center of town a bit, just getting my bearings... and of course there were more Christmas markets, which no longer attracted my attention.

The best thing I did was to take the cable car up to the fortress on the hill - see it looming above the city in the picture below?

At the top I enjoyed a short concert by these fellows:

It amazes me how many different notes come out of this instrument!

It being lunch time I found the cafe there at the fortress and sat down in front of a window where I had an amazing view - neither my camera nor my photography skills do some things justice! - of the Austrian Alps.

I then spent a couple of hours touring the fortress.  Unfortunately by 3:30 it was too dark to take more pictures, but I had a good time up there and then walked back down to the city. 

Notice, above, what we in Winston-Salem call a Moravian star.  These are common decorations in Bavaria, which is next to the part of the Czech Republic called Bohemia, from where the North Carolina Moravians originated.
Wearing my wool hat, the style of which is all the fashion in Munich and Austria, but definitely not so much back here in Romania.  :-)

I enjoyed the walk down from the fortress - and was glad I'd not tried to walk up as parts were quite steep - and found my way back to the train station.  Back to Munich and glad I had a book with me as there was definitely no outside visibility at this point.

Sunday I did two activities in Munich that are worth recounting briefly and then I returned home to Bucharest.  I needed to get some papers graded and so I found the national library.  It was not only a lovely old building, but it was also a great spot to get some work done.  The reading area was filled with 100's of people, most of whom appeared to be college students, who were absolutely positively quiet!  I cannot imagine being in a library in the US with that many people and having it be so quiet.  When I remarked on this later to one of my German students she replied, "yes, Germans take their studies very seriously."  (The results of which I have often noted both at Pfeiffer and here in Budapest.)

The grand staircase and entrance to the library (I am looking back toward the front door, having already come up the stairs):

I wanted to take an interior shot of the reading room, but I knew it would disturb the studious activities.  Then it was time to climb another tower.  I returned to one of the church towers that had been pointed out on Friday's walking tour and climbed up for the view.  Despite how out of breath I can get on some of these climbs, it is always one of my favorite things to do in a city.

And then there is the trip back down...