Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday, October 14, 2005

Last day in Rome and in Europe for 2005

Posted by Hippobean at 12:59 PM 0 comments
Trying to cramp more into our trip, we waited half hour for the Vatican museum and the Sistine chapel.

Beloved Goddess Pallas Athena
Hall of Statues - Vatican Museum

Third time through this but this time we lingered in the maps room where we saw ancient Sicily, found ancient Neopoli and Sorrento and even Basilicata, the region where Tomo's mom's family was from.

map of old Sicilia

We made sure we didnt miss the Rafael room:

Sulking Michelangelo in Raphael's School of Athens
Stanze di Rafaelo

Raphael's self portrait in the School of Athens
Stanze di Rafaelo

Dante in Raphael's La Disputa
Stanze di Rafaelo

and then finally Capella Sistina.

It was Friday and EuroStar trains to Napoli were fully booked, and so we had to wait for the 7:45 train. With heavy heart, I stayed in the Termini. The train was packed and I kept thinking of our wonderful trip, of Sicilia, my beloved Sicilia, the welcome view of Pelegrino, the night view of Vesuvio on the ferry, the never ending lunches, the glorious view of Etna, Taormina filling the side of the hill, Sicilian refreshing rain, awesome and funny company of team mendola, of the family reunion in Sorrento, the glorious Tonnarella hotel, magnificent close views of Vesuvio, and Roma, ah, high above the Vatican and deep below its crypt, of Peter's bones and always, always and constantly of him!

It was after 10PM that we made it back to the Garibaldi Napoli Centrale. We knew it was only about 50 meters to the hotel but the city was unsafe especially at night and we had all our luggage and so we opted to a taxi. The driver wanted 15 euros and we wanted the meter. He seemed to be angry because of this and took us for a ride. He drove fast and furious and went all the way round the city. It was 12 euros when we finally reached the hotel. We got a big triple room with a wonderful bathroom. In the morning we got a wonderful american breakfast and I was comfortable although I kept thinking what the Paradizo hotel was like!

Last trip of the year and what a trip it was! The sites we've seen were all awesome beyond words can describe but the company was what made it most memorable. And what a year it was! 2005 should go down on Hippo's book as one of the best! 3 more months and it would be over but the memories will remain forever!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

High above and deep below and The bones

Posted by Hippobean at 11:36 PM 1 comments
In the morning we went up to St Peter's cupola. Oh, what a site! All 4 of the evangelists right above the center altar were now up close to us and we peeked down into Bernini's horrible canopy.

Tv es Petrvs et Svper Hanc

back of statues above St Peter

Out on the base of the dome we got great views of the piazza and the back of the statues. I've never been above St Peter's before and this was truly a wonderful experience to see Buonarotti's dome so close. After been high up on St Peter's, we went deep down below the Vatican, even lower than the crypt and the Basilica's foundation, the ancient necropolis. The Scavi tour was guided by a priest in-training, a young man from the Penn diocese who was doing his seminary studies in the Vatican. The scavi story started with Nero burning Rome and blaming it on the Christians and subsequently torturing and killing them right here on this hill. Peter was among the ones crucified and his body buried in a shallow grave. We walked on 1600 years old narrow cobblestoned streets with mausoleums on both sides. Later the Christians built a retaining wall and a simple Aedicule with 2 marble columns and a hole so that faithfuls can drop their handkerchieves down to touch the relics. Much later still Constantine built a more elaborate Memorial and subsequent popes added more memorials right on top of Peter's tomb. It was hard to imagine a sky above our heads and painted buildings in this dark underground place. Some mausoleums had nice frescoes and the tombs and sarcophagi (fresh eaters) were nicely decorated, some with roman/greek motifs and one building had egyptian paintings on the walls. Then we finally came upon the graffiti wall and behind it, the remains of the trophy of Gaius or the aedicule, with its 4 feet tall marble column. A hole was cut on the wall that revealed 17 glass boxes and inside them St Peter's bones! Right there the group paused in silence and the young to be priest offered a prayer. A lady in the group cried silently. It touched the core of my heart though I'm no longer a believer. It was a moment to remember and certainly the high point of the entire trip. This tiny place was not only significant to the Catholics but also a highly historical and archeological site. Aside from Israel, where else offered that much? Back up on the grotto we went by John Paul II tomb quickly. My favorite pope!

Later in the afternoon, we wandered across the St Angelo pedestrian only bridge to cross over to the other side of the fiume Teverre (Tiber river) and came upon piazza Navona to admire the fountain of the 4 rivers (Nile, Plata, Danube and Ganges)

the fountain of 4 rivers - Piazza Navona

and at dusk we visited the Pantheon, a first time for the Hippo. Such an awe struck building. Enormous columns and magnificent dome.

the pantheon at night

Around the corner we had a most satisfying meal. After dinner we went to the Spanish Steps in the piazza de Espagna and then to the Trevi fountain and back to our hotel, passing the St Angelo castle at night.

castel Sant'Angelo at night

Piazza di St Pietro was lit with Michelangelo's dome in back lights. Our last night in Rome and what glorious sites we've witnessed and what enjoyable company I had. Surely this time Rome had left more fantastic memories than ever before.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Catholic center of the Universe

Posted by Hippobean at 12:44 PM 0 comments
Leaving a most comfortable and beautifully serene place was always most difficult. After 3 nights at La Tonnarella, one got used to its comfort, good service, free internet access, breathtaking views and wonderful rooms. No matter how well one planned, the end was almost always caos. The cell phone was recovered and Tomo had to mail it to Trieste and email to let them know the phone was found and on its way. Thus the rest of the group went ahead to the Circumvesuviana station and we 3 missed the bus and ended up taking a taxi. In a rush, we went in to the train and missed our farewells. I had wanted to hug each and everyone for the awesome company and the most heart felt pleasure of meeting them but we missed each other completely. Shame! In Garibaldi Napoli Centralle we EuroStar'd to Rome. The ride was pleasant as the train wasnt full. Rome welcomed us with rain. Rome was not one of my favorite cities. But 7 years was a long time and I've forgotten what it was like. We took bus 40 to our hotel by the Vatican. The bus was packed but I was able to take in the sites along the streets the bus travelled. I remembered them, crowded, dirty, noisy but with lots of ancient monuments here and there and most of all cobblestoned. The hotel Adriatic, 2 stars, is a typical European hotel. The rooms are big and clean and mine had a small balcony that overlooked a side street. Most typical European and I felt right at home. Another nostalgia! I just loved it! We went to the Catholic center of the Universe. I've forgotten how grand St Peter was. The circular square with its statues, the magnificent portal and giant columns, the over decorated ceiling of the antichamber, and oh, the cathedral itself. We admired the Pieta among visitors. The horribly out of place Bernini's canopy and the altar with missing Jesus. Everything here honored Peter but there was no Christ. Tomorrow is our much anticipated Scavi tour. I just cant wait. After all that's the only reason why we're doing Rome again. All 3 of us had been here before and this is my 4th time in the Roman capital. I've seen much in Rome before but finally I did get a bit excited and I'm glad I'm once again in the capital of the western civilization.

Back at the hotel, Terrence called to let us know the group was back at the New Europe hotel instead of the Paradizo. He said the Paradizo hotel is on the 4th floor of a shabby alley and there they ran into a young girl who told them the hotel wasnt safe. This got us scared and we too cancelled and booked at the New Europe. I had wanted to stay at the Paradizo because it's on Purgatorio street and the website says their bathrooms are deprived of all comforts! Well we never did find out how the hotel really was afterall. It would had been funny to stay at a hotel called Paradise on a street called Purgatory with bathrooms without any comforts!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Family Reunion

Posted by Hippobean at 12:39 AM 0 comments
Last evening was wonderful! The Family sat around tile covered patio tables with candle light, serenaded by Italian music off the iPod speakers, 3 bottles of wine (I like the Lacrima di Christi Rosso) and socialized. Our last night together. Lots of laughter. Tomo's wacky crazy funny family! All day shopping, lost and recovered cell phone, sickness, good and bad food, Ercolano and dirty circumvesuviana train, missed Vesuvio bus (no hike to the crater), lousy Italian sandwich ... quite a family reunion.

family reunion

Today EuroStar to Rome to visit the scavi under the Vatican.

PS - Walking through Ercolano (Herculanium) yesterday was like walking into an ancient city. Everything seemed to be like they were just left there and its inhabitants off to vacation or something. It's eery but the frescos are well preserved, the color, especially the light blue, brilliant. Not the scale of Pompeii, but nevertheless just as impressive and beautiful. I finally did the 2 towns so devastated by Vesuvius. Now I can allow Sorrento in peace.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sunday, October 09, 2005

ciao da Sorrento

Posted by Hippobean at 4:23 PM 2 comments
Ferried back to the mainland. We had live music in the lounge and we sat there for a while enjoying it. Already missing wonderful Sicilia. Didnt want to leave. Arrived in Napoli before the sun rose, in rain and cold. Taxied to New Europe hotel and met up with Tomo's family. What a reunion, with wow's and oh's. After an American breakfast with scrambled eggs and bacon and real cafe americano, while the rest of them went to the archaeological museum, we 3 took the circumvesuviana train to Sorrento. Napoli, what a dumpy town and I thought Palermo was bad! Lots of riff-raffs on the train, with accordians. But most got off at the Pompeii Scavi station. During the 1 hour train ride, Vesuvius was so near I could almost see the crater. After a long tunnel, the train emerged into sunshine and the Amalfi coast in view. Our hotel, La Tonnarella, has rooms all with views of the coast and the volcano. I have a balcony with direct view of the volcano and the town of Sorrento and blue blue Mediterranean water. Perched on the hill side, what a gorgeous hotel (not to mention free internet!). The bathroom in my room has Italian tiles. I'm going to just relax here and enjoy my room and the view. What a day! But I miss Sicily!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Friday, October 07, 2005

Norman Palermo

Posted by Hippobean at 11:19 PM 0 comments
Today did Palermo, all the sites, the Palatine chapel, the cloisters in St Giovanni degli Eremiti, and the mosaics in Monreale. Gorgeous, gorgeous!

La Capella Palatina

Domes of La Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti

Decorated double columns in the Cloisters
of the Cattedrale di Monreale

We had our last group lunch in Mondello, the other side of Pelegrino,

Mount Pelegrino

at a restaurant by the beach with fried calamari as our main course. Massimo delicioso! The breeze was soothing and the sea water warm to the touch. Last night in Sicily. What an island! The group (team Mendola!) had our evening meal together in laughter. Back at the hotel, we hugged and kissed our farewells. A gorgeous kiss on the cheek from Joe with intense gorgeous eyes. The evening was warm, crowds were out, monuments illuminated all around. Reminded me of my last night in Sibiu. The dumpy morning of Palermo is forgotten.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I'd show him the world

Posted by Hippobean at 11:03 PM
In pouring rain we saw the majestic temple at Segesta. Wonderfully intact.

Segesta temple

The trek up to the Greek theater offered fantastic views of the canyons and the temple below. The rain was refreshing and gorgeous. The middle aged couple Ligia and Joe was a sweetness to watch. They held hands all the time and still seemed so much in love. Joe, a Geologist, is such a romantic. Soft spoken, extremely polite, sweet and even good looking for a 50+ yr old. He said he proposed in candlelight during a storm in Florida. And now, how could a woman ever refuse? Once I saw them kissing. Another time I saw Ligia touching Joe's hair and her hand lingered on his face while he kissed it with eyes closed. How can they keep up the romance after 20 yrs of marriage? if there's one thing that makes this life worthwhile living, this is it! How many times have I dreamed about moments like these? And to see it really happening right before my very eyes, warmed my heart totally and convinced me that what I dream about can indeed be reality. While couples divorce after 2-3 years of marriage, we have Ligia and Joe with their love still going strong after 20 years! One need only to look at Joe's adoring eyes at Ligia! I've never been so jealous in my life! Only if I could get just one day with a love like theirs, I'd gladly live all my life in misery!

The weather improved a bit when we reached the mountain top of Erice. Cobblestoned streets, wall around the town, alley ways shooting out all over the place, ancient churches and a castle.


We had pasta con sarde and fish for lunch. Typical Sicilian. The best meal I had so far in Sicily. The town is quaint, lovely and not crowded with tourists. It was cold and breezy but I adored it. On our way back to Palermo, we stopped at Tappito, a tiny town with the bestest huge cannolli, covered with ricota.

bestest hugest cannoli

A lone bird soared in the sky amidst clouds of blue and grey - all alone, surfing its loneliness - just like me. At a small church we ran into a PowerPoint presentation in English, about toxic waste. Also here is the Math and Democracy conference center where Tomo's old boss had once been.

I think about him constantly. All this beauty, I wish I can share it with him. If he would have me, I'd show him the world!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

che silenzio meraviglioso

Posted by Hippobean at 11:34 PM 0 comments
The Romans knew how to live in style. Massimum built this villa in Piazza Armerina complete with cold, warm and hot baths, gardens, a basilica, and floors completely filled with figurative and geometric mosaics, even in the servants quarters, and a sex room. Hippo's not much for mosaics but these are truly gorgeous.

Mosaic in Piazza Armerina

Mosaic in Sex Room

In Agrigento Hippo saw what she came to Sicily to see - Greek temples, the Valle dei Templi.

Tempio della Concordia

The sandstone temples were in terrible decay and it hurts me that the Italian government never managed to restore and preserve them until now. It was towards dusk that we visited the ruins and the effect of the lowering sun behind the columns were marvellous, giving the rosy/orange columns a glowing look. At night the temples were lite, a site to marvel at. While standing over the valley with the immense blue Mediterranean, I stood in silence to take it all in. An old Italian couple came up and the lady said: 'che silenzio meraviglioso!' I turned around and smiled. "Buona sera". It's wonderful to know I'm not the only one who appreciates silence and cherishes moments like these. Total quietness standing on thousands year old temple ground.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

etna wont budge

Posted by Hippobean at 7:36 AM
The whole area was wet. Clouds covered the volcano as we made our way to refugio Sapienza. Fog and pouring rain. T's plans to summit went to nothing. Absolutely no views of Etna. Major Disappointment. Yesterday we admired fantastic views of Etna, towering clearly before our eyes and we spent a good time admiring it.

Mount Etna

Today, she chose to hide herself and absolutely refused to let us scale it. So we just muck around the refugio, and had to settle to just climb to a few nearby craters.

Crateri Silvestri

Lava rocks everywhere. On our way down, we saw a house covered by lava almost up to its roof. Tomo went in and said he found a lava lamp!

So back to Taormina to shop. Gorgeous place. My hotel room has wonderful views of the coast and Etna. In pouring rain, we visited the teatro Greco and had a picnic lunch there. The theater had a broken wall behind the stage that offered great views of the sea.

Greek Theater - Taormina

Strolling thro Corso Umberto lined with shops on both sides and occasional squares that break the monotony of this long main drag. Each square was more fantastic than the last, with its own church and fountain. Found the internet cafe where I'm posting this. I love this town although touristy.

We had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant close to our hotel the Sole Castello, and walked up to the Saracene fortress. It was closed but we had great views of Taormina sprawling down the side of the hill and Castelmola high above, lite by flood lights.

Taormina at night

Tomorrow to Agrigento! Hope weather improves.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Monday, October 03, 2005

partial eclipse

Posted by Hippobean at 11:30 PM 0 comments
and everything went wrong. My camera of 15 years broke, my wrist watch band is torn, my brand new 6 euros cigarrette lighter no longer works. A car accident on our way down from Taormina. A near accident when our driver failed to slow down and almost slammed into the lines of cars in front of the highway toll. luckily there's some space between 2 cars, so he jammed the minibus there and the lady in the car on our right yelled with lots of Italian hand gestures. Chey complained she felt something funny and because it's a partial eclipse today. I've asked 'partial elipse of what? The sun, the moon?' and Howard thought it was the eclipse of the sun and the moon! Neither T nor I knew about this eclipse until we saw the crescent reflections on the ground.

Partial Eclipse

Eclipse indeed and everything went wrong today. And we are in Siracusa, exploring the greek and roman theaters.

Teatro Greco

Off to Catania now.

Yesterday we paid tribute to the lovely quaint town of Cefalu. A place Hippo would like very much to return and spend more time. By the north side of the island, narrow cobblestoned streets, a wonderful baroque cathedral, a bit rundown but romantic.

In Catania, the group got shaved ice and Tomo's cup came with a big piece of broken glass, no extra euro needed! Good thing he didnt cut his tongue. The old town square has the replica of the elephant holding the obelisk. Now I cant remember where this copy came from. We didnt spend much time here. Just a few pictures of the square and the cathedral and off we went. Our minibus had a flat tired and so we all had the experience of seeing Sicilians patching a tire. First of its kind. Back to Taormina with pizza dinner and the bus up to our wonderful hotel with gorgeous views of Etna, didnt show up. We ended up taking 3 taxis, 12 euros each, to the hotel. Our first experience of unreliable Sicilian public transport and expensive taxis. Tho altogether, not a bad day.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Saturday, October 01, 2005

ciao da Palermo

Posted by Hippobean at 10:23 AM 0 comments
The cabin bunk bed was most comfortable. I had a good night rest. Was bone tired after the transatlantic flight. we didnt get any breakfast on board but the morning was greeted by Pelegrino, the western rock of Sicily. (this Italian keyboard is driving me crazy!).

Arrival at Sicilia

As we approached the Palermo harbor, we kept creeping closer and closer to the mountain, first faintly then the sun finally appeared in full glory, the entire north west of the Italian 'soccer ball' was revealed. Hello Sicily. I had wanted to meet you for so long. We decided the first order of business was to have breakfast at the Presidente hotel, just to see what it looks like. Continental style buffet breakfast suited me just fine. The crunchy bread was lovely although neither T nor A liked it very much. I grew up with this kind of thing, I'm very at home here. We walked to the center of town. Palermo is a dump. Although the Spasimo with its broken wall was an awesome site. Palermo, what used to be a rival to London, so grand, is now bombed out and neglected. Vergogna! It could be a jewel in the Mediterranean, instead an eye sore. Nonetheless, welcome to Sicilia!

In the evening we met with Chey and Lou. The devil had the guts to show his face. I felt like punching him. We met some of the rest of the group. Everyone had similar bad experience with Lou. We dubbed our group 'team mendola'! Not a bad crowd!

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