Saturday, July 9, 2016

Rome and Ovieta

                                            2013 Christmas in Rome

Dec 23/24/25

My 3-flight, (eventually 4-flight), 55-hour trip from Raleigh to Washington-Dulles, to Paris to Rome, started well on Monday, Dec. 23rd with a very pleasant ride to RDU with Graylen driving, and K&J for company. I had already checked in with United, but had to pay $25 for 1 suitcase. Last year on United/Turkish this was waived. It seems Air France is not in the same alliance. Bit bumpy until cruising level, otherwise good flight. Air France in same terminal at  IAD so time for coffee and a banana. Bad weather in France is creating havoc everywhere. Spoke to Cliff, he will come get me if the flight is cancelled or delayed for hours. They only live 15 minutes away. In the end, the overnight flight left an hour late, a huge Airbus 380 with 500-600 passengers, maybe more. Full flight, but very comfortable over Atlantic. Food tasty. Fortunately I saved some items for snack. Very much needed later on. Arrived over Paris on time, then all hell broke lose. First attempt at landing at Charles de Gaulle was a go-round, windshear making the plane land sideways. Decision to land at Orly. Same thing, this time the plane did actually touch down but immediately took off for another go round. Instead of trying again the decision was made to fly to Toulouse, home of the Airbus, and they had a long enough runway. Weather was much better, so no problem.  The plane sat on runway for 6 hours, and in spite of the cold we were glad to have the doors opened for fresh air.  The photo is of the huge engines of the plane.
AF would not allow anyone to leave the aircraft or to go to the terminal to catch a connecting flight. It was frustrating to see Alitalia going off to somewhere in Italy and I couldn't be on it. After about 3 hours a focaccia sandwich was handed out with water. No hot or soft drinks offered. Decision at 4:30pm to return to Paris, still raining, but no windshear. Good landing. Arrived at 6pm. Got in line for AF Customer service to rebook Rome flight. I had saved a fibre bar and bought a coffee, I should have bought a sandwich as later there was no possibility of going for dinner and I didn't want to lose my place on line! Around 11:30pm got to the desk and booked in to the 9:45am flight Christmas Day. Also given overnight B&B accommodation at the Ibis hotel right by the terminal. Nice room, shower and sleep. Facilities good at CDG, great coffee.
Sitting in the plane for 6 hours at Toulouse.

Back in Paris, waiting in line until midnight to book a flight to Rome.  
Dec. 25 Christmas Day - Paris to Rome finally!
Up at 6am to have breakfast with fellow passengers before getting to gate for the Rome flight. Boarding and takeoff on time. Good weather, some turbulence, too much cloud to see the Alps.Dan was at Rome airport to meet me, and with my luggage still in Paris, it was an easy ride into the city on the bus. 6 Euros v 75 for a taxi. 55 hours door to door. So good to be back with the family. Zoe is growing so tall, speaking and writing 2 languages and enjoying school a lot. 
After presents and a nap we went out to see the the Nativity scene at the Vatican. All is well that ends well. Deus gratias.

The outdoor Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square.

Dec. 26. Boxing Day. My luggage was finally delivered to the apartment in the afternoon, in time for the party we had been invited to that evening. Dan and Elisa had met a young couple with a five year-old bilingual daughter and had been invited to their family's party. The wife is Italian, but having been a university student in Scotland, spoke excellent English, albeit with a somewhat Scottish/Italian accent. Her husband is English. The girls get along and were delighted to meet up at the party. It was at the home of the grandparents, a nice apartment filled with paintings and lovely furniture. The grandfather had been a prominent judge. The place was packed with family and friends, the food delicious - cheeses, cold meats, the Italian version of Spanokopita, several types of desserts and of course wine and champagne.
Towards the end of the party, a game of Tombola was played. Each person had been given a number and the computer randomly chose one for each prize. We all won something - I, a sweet little Christmas bell, Dan a cheese grater and Elisa a silver colored candle. The two guys who were running the Tombola were hilarious, hawking the prizes, all in Italian of course. A real insight into Italian family life.
In the evening went with Dan to a concert by a chamber orchestra, choir and soloists, in the Church of St. Paul's within the Walls, an American Episcopalian church. All Bach, the Suite #2 for Flute and strings and the Magnificat. Beautifully presented, acoustics took a bit of getting used to, but glorious sounds and playing. The concert finished up with carols and the Hallelujah Chorus. One other English person and I stood up for that, a few others did too, but it's obviously not the norm in Italy, although Handel was well-known and loved in Italy. 
Believe it or not, this church was built by Americans in 1873, obviously in the style of most of the 11th c. Churches in Rome. Before I knew this I wondered how the mosaics on the floor looked so new!
They have a wonderful series of concerts and opera performances throughout the year.

Dec. 28- Christmas Market in the Piazza Navona

Dec.31 - New Year's Eve Dinner 
The most hilarious New Years' I've had in years! A five course plus coffee dinner with the next door neighbors (daughter is a professional chef.)
The Menu - anti pasta with potato rolls, onions, olives, 2nd course - pasta with mushroom sauce, 3rd course - fried octopus and shrimp, 4th course - lasagna, 5th course - fruit and cakes, accompanied by wine, water and coffee with sparklers and Prosecco to bring in the New Year. Cannot move. Zoe and a friend Emily, who came to have a sleepover had a great time, especially as the neighbours had a new TV with Disney movies running. We started around 8:30pm and left around 12:30pm. Fortunately, Emily's Dad who is English spoke reasonable Italian and I was able to converse with the patriarch in Spanish . The neighbors comprised of the parents, two daughters and one son-in-law, so with the four of us, Emily and her Dad ( Mum was away in a Bologna on a girls' weekend), it quite a gathering. Happy New Year everyone!

Jan. 1, 2014 After recovering from New Year's Eve, Elisa and I went to a New Year's Day concert in the evening at All Saints' Anglican Church on the Via Babuino. It was comprised of operatic arias and orchestral interludes. All the musicians and singers dressed In period costume. It was a very enjoyable program, many top of the operatic pops, all very well sung. The only one which was a little awkward was Irving Berlin's "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas". I think they added it to please overseas visitors, but the singers (all of them) seemed uncomfortable singing in English, and after the beauty of the opera songs, it seemed out of place. The acoustics in the church were marvelous and the orchestra was obviously very experienced and enjoyed themselves. A lovely night out. Concerts tend to start at 8:30pm and go for about an hour and a half with no intermission. It's really enjoyable that way, no need for an intermission, so it's not terribly late. Of course people are milling around in the streets until very late, as is the custom.

Jan. 2 - Orvieto 
A day out to Orvieto, a small town about an hour north of Rome. We took the local train, which we almost missed. Murpy's law, nothing went smoothly. The ticket machine would not accept a US credit card, so Dan had to go to the cash machine, but by the time he got back to the ticket machine, it would not give him the tickets as it was past the deadline for getting on to the train. Zoe, Elisa and I had gone on ahead and the train of course, was on the last platform of the very big station. Instead of train guards, the police monitor the departure of the train, and they were wonderful. They held the train until Dan arrived, breathing heavily, and when we got on board there was a long discussion with the police and ticket collector on how we were going to pay for the tickets. The police carefully explained what to do, most of which was incomprehensible to Dan and Elisa, and the transaction was made. All in good humor, and we were grateful to the police for all their help. There were other trains later, but not a local one for some time, only the very fast bullet train which is quite a lot more expensive.
It was a comfortable ride and interesting to see the winter countryside. It was chilly but great weather for walking around. The remembrances of walking in the summer heat in Rome in July made one appreciate the cooler weather. Orvieto is on top of a hill, so there is a funicular opposite the train station that whisks you up in seconds.
After a reviving coffee in a cafe we boarded the funicular to the top. Magnificent views over the valleys. There are just two streets leading to the Cathedral, quite narrow and cobbled. Lined with boutique shops of local specialities (ceramics, pork and wild boar products, cheese, wines ) all your senses are overloaded. There were not many tourists so we were able to take our time exploring. All of this was in no way near the experience of walking in to the Cathedral Square. Only photos can show the magnificence of its construction, one of two ( the other is the cathedral in Milan).

All of this was in no way near the experience of walking in to the Cathedral Square. Only photos can show the magnificence of its construction, one of two (the other is the cathedral in Milan).

The three bronze doors which give access to the entrance of the cathedral were finished in 1970 by the Sicilian sculptor Emilio Greco, depicting mercies from the life of Christ. 

These glittering mosaics were created between 1350 and 1390 after designs by Cesare Nebbia. The orginal pieces have been replaced over the years, particularly in 1484, 1713 and 1842.
Jan. 3
Dan and Elisa went much needed clothes shopping for the afternoon. Zoe and I went to the market for vegetable soup ingredients, fresh fruit and bread for supper. Deposited everything at the apartment, then we went to my favorite panini shop for lunch. We ate our paninis on a bench at the Christmas Market where later I bought some lovely olive wood gifts. Large serving board, wine bottle holder and a spatula for me. After lunch we walked through the Vatican piazza in front of St. Peter's to the Via dei Concilliazione where we went to my favorite pizza/gelato store. The weather was warm enough to sit out on the bench eating our gelatos (creme caramel, chocolate, )
Back at the apartment, Zoe and I attacked the Lego pile which is growing rapidly. Getting boxes to accommodate the different sections was a start, then deciding how to separate the parts was next. We got a lot done and then it was time for me to make dinner (vegetable soup). Fresh papaya for dessert. Yum! After dinner, off to another 
concert of operatic arias in the English Anglican Church near the Piazza di Populi. All dressed in period costume, it was a delightful performance.

Jan. 4. Roaming around Rome

One of the good things about coming to Rome at this time of year, is being able to walk around so much more than in the summer. What with the incredible heat and number of tourists, it is impossible to see much each day. Now with the aid of a box of 50 cards of walks around Rome, I was able to pick out areas that I had not seen before, to get a better sense of the city. This way I got lots of exercise and thoroughly enjoyed learning my way around, helped of course by stops for caffe latte and cornetto (small breakfast pastry). I was fascinated by the variety of the nativity scenes that were in every church and even in an Embassy across from the Vatican (I think Peruvian).

Jan. 6. Befana 
La Befana, a Christmas Angel bell and wooden animal ornaments
Today is the day of Epiphany, and Italy celebrates it with La Befana, one of Italy’s oldest and most celebrated legends. Each year on January 6 Italian children awaken to see if La Befana had visited their house. This day marks the day the three Wise Men arrived at Jesus’ manger. Apparently, over the years this has been a more celebrated holiday for the children of Italy than even Christmas. According to the legend, the three Wise Men were searching for the Christ child when they decided to stop and ask for directions. (They really were wise men, as we all know in general, men do not stop to ask for directions, but I would have thought they could have managed to find the stable following the star). Continuing  the story, upon knocking on the door of a small house, an old woman holding a broom opened the door slightly to see who was there. Standing at her doorstep were three colorfully dressed men who were in need of directions to find the Christ child. The old woman didn’t know who they were looking for, and could not provide them with directions. Prior to the three men leaving they asked the old woman to join them on their journey. (Three colorfully dressed men are going to ask an old raggeddy witch on a broom to join them??) The old woman declined saying she had too much housework to do. However, after they left she felt as though she had made a mistake and tried to catch up with the men. After hours of searching she could not find them. Thinking of the missed opportunity, the old woman stopped every child to give them a small treat in hopes that one was the Christ child. Each year on the eve of the Epiphany she sets out looking for the baby Jesus. She stops at each child’s house to leave those who were good treats and those who were bad a lump of coal. - See more at:

Jan. 7th. The Basilica and Villa Medici
After taking Zoe back to school, it was just after 9am walking back to the apartment past the Vatican. The crowds seemed to be greatly diminished since the last few days so I took the chance to visit St. Peter's Basilica. There were only a handful of people in the queue so I breezed through and got in right away. It's very difficult to describe it in a few words. Amazingly, the public is allowed to take photos inside, which I did, as well as videos of the Nativity scene which was still up, and the incredible altar and dome. The Pieta by Michaelangelo is breath-taking, he carved the David at age 24 and the Pieta at 28.

I went back to the Galleria Borghese, but again it was closed, something to do with holiday closings, so I walked through the Gardens to the Villa Medici. It's a lovely walk through the park and I felt quite comfortable, especially as I knew where I was, having visited the gardens with Zoe several times in the summer. The cooler  weather helped. The Villa Medici is opposite one side of the gardens (it is now owned by the French, a swap between the Italians and French. The Italians got property in France). There used to be a valley between the Borghese and Medici estates, but now the valley has been turned into a traffic tunnel. I walked down interesting streets, finally coming to the Via Sistena which took me past the church Trinita dei Monti which is at the top of the Spanish Steps, one of my favorite areas. The Villa Medici is just a little further on from the church, and is the French Academy of Rome. Guided tours are given to visitors, no wandering around by yourself. I was too late for the English tour at 12 noon, but made the Italian/French one at 4pm. I had time before the tour started to see an exhibition of some very interesting photographs by Patrick Faigenbaum as part of 12th edition of the International Photography Festival in Rome. It covers 40 years of his career by intimate portraits, rural landscapes, still lifes and city outskirts. Our tour guide was great, he went back and forth between Italian and French, and when he learnt I was English, tried hard to use that as well. I told him I was catching most of his French. He was very knowledgeable with all sorts of facts about the history of the Villa, it was fascinating. We spent the early part of the tour on the outside patio and in the gardens, and because of the lateness of the day, were treated to a glorious sunset over the Vatican and Rome, as the Villa is high above on a hill. The photo is of the Villa Medici, to the right of the building is a parapet with the most glorious view across Rome.

Wed. Jan. 8
After taking Zoe to school, Dan and I went to the weekly public audience the Pope holds in front of the Basilica. Hugely impressive. I had gone to the Swiss Guard at the entrance to the road leading into the Vatican offices, to get the tickets which are given out two days before the audience.
We were reasonably early and after going through the X-ray machine, we walked up as far up as we could and got decent seats. Earlier than we thought, we saw the Pope in an open built-up golf cart riding around the perimeter, and Dan got some good photos. I of course, being vertically challenged even standing on the chair, could not get any of the Pope, only tops of people's heads.

It was quite an involved event, as there were several priests representing different countries who were introduced by the Pope, and then who responded with greetings from their country. After that, the Pope gave a homily in Italian, which was in turn translated by the priests of each country represented that day- Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, an Arab country, I don't recall which one, several South American ones. After all the speeches, the audience ended with a performance by several acrobats - an amazing juggler juggling five bowling pins, a uni-cyclist, an gymnastic troupe and several others I didn't see. There was a tiny Shetland pony, but I don't know what his participation in the event was. The big screens dotted around the Basilica Courtyard showed the Pope enjoying himself immensely, laughing and smiling. He is a very personable man, and Catholics must be very happy to have him as Pope.
After that, it was time for a reality check. Dan and Elisa had invited their landlord and landlady to dinner and Dan and I were cooking! Dan had found a recipe for a Swiss chard lasagna, together with roasted Brussels sprouts, and I was making a fruit salad. So off we go to a huge market not far from the apartment to buy all the fresh food. It was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. There were so many stalls with lovely looking produce, it was hard to choose which was the the best. We brought 3 kinds of cheeses, freshly made lasagna pasta, wonderful smelling fruits - papaya, mangos, pears, apples, lychees - I was in seventh heaven.
We pulled it all together and it turned out to be a delicious meal. Dan had added a few bits of some hot chili, but it was manageable and spiced up the lasagna. The fruit salad cooled our palates down! The guests were very complimentary. I had met Caroline in June, she is English, married to a handsome Italian and they have lived in Rome bringing up their family. Ricardo is a rowing coach, in fact coached the Italian rowing team for the Olympics. They also have a rowing equipment business. Caroline plays the cello in an amateur orchestra, I enjoy hearing about the music scene in Rome.
Jan. 9. Accademia di Santa Cecilia
On my last day, Dan took me to the Academy of St. Cecilia, Rome's and one of the world's top music conservatories and named after the patron saint of music.  As it was vacation time, there were no classes going on, however their small but exquisite instrument museum was a delight. I was happy to see that the instruments looked as if they were in playing condition and are being used by performers at the Accademia. Not all the instruments were expensive antiques, although there were a number of Stradivarius, Guarnieri, and other Cremona masters on display. The good thing was that all the instruments were in playable condition, so must be used by the members of the academy concerts. That's the way it should be, string instruments especially should be played, not left hanging on walls. It is housed in the large complex of the main auditorium where in 2009 Louise and I had heard Lorin Maazel conduct Beethoven's 9th Symphony, an incredible performance dedicated to the USA on the 9th anniversary of 9/11. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was there to represent the US. 

Here is beautiful example of incredibly workmanship in violin making. Amazing for its beauty and uniqueness of the carving on the back of the instrument..
Santa Cecilia 

Jan.10  Roaming around Rome
Last day to sightsee and do some last-minute shopping. 

Went with Dan on bus to Trastavere to see the Palazzio Farneserina. We had originally planned to visit the Palazzo Farnese which is across the river and is now the French Embassy. They have guided tours in English on Fridays, but were not back from the holidays and were closed to the public.(On a later visit to Rome we finally got tickets - see the report in my 2014-15 Sabbatical blogbook -  
The smaller Palazzo is on the opposite side of the river to the Palazzo Farnese and is a little gem.
While we were there we noticed a poster advertising an exhibition of Verdi and his operas. It turned out to be right across the street in the library of the Palazzo Corsica, home of the Academy and was fascinating. There were costumes from his operas - Tosca, A Masked Ball, Aida and others. It was fascinating to see the ones that were made for Pavarotti, and those made for Tito Gobi. There were letters, manuscripts and his printed scores as well as many photos. It was an beautifully curated exhibition, I'm sure many Verdi scholars and enthusiasts have made the trip to see it, whilst we just by accident came across it.

The Verdi exhibition 
Gorgeous costumes from the operas. I wonder if there are any of Stuart's costumes there? 
                                                                        To die for (may be literally, being an opera)

After that we had lunch in a little cafe next to the Palazzo. The lunch was delicious -a Torte Rustica, similar to a quiche, but with a pasta base, rather than a pie crust. The area is full of students - as well as the Academy, the John Cabot university and the American university of Rome. There are lots of caf├ęs and bars, reminds me of Paris' Left Bank.

By then it was time to pick Zoe up from school which we did, and then went to Elisa's office to pick up a belated Christmas present from her Pop. Another Lego set which she completed before Elisa returned from work!
Instead of a meal out on my last night, Dan brought in several pizzas from a restaurant that makes the best locally. They were truly delicious with a thin crispy crust, and together with a salad Dan made, the meal was excellent. To top it off, I had a surprise early birthday celebration with a " Zuppa Inglese" cake from Mo's. Of course some wine and Prosecco did not come amiss either! So it was a lovely ending to my last day in spite of the sadness at leaving.The last treat of a wonderful holiday with the family.

Jan. 11-Rome to Washington-Dulles. 

Up at 4:30 am to get ready for the 5:15am taxi Elisa had arranged from her office. So sad to be leaving them, it's wonderful being part of their lives, but then the awful realization on the plane that just how far away they are.
Very easy and quick ride to the airport, only 30 minutes in a Mercedes at that time of the morning. No lines, straight through security. Time for a caffe latte and croissant, then onto the plane to Paris. I must have slept a good part of the trip, as I didn't see the Alps which I always look forward to, but after only 3 hours sleep during the night, I know I am tired!
Walked miles through the Charles de Gaulle airport to the terminal for the flight to Washington. Good exercise, I'm going to miss all that walking I did in Rome. Time for lunch and to catch up on the blog, and with my free 15 minutes of airport wifi, sent off an email to Dan and Cliff.
While the Airbus 380 is a fine aircraft, Air France still hasn't gotten used to managing it well. More time is needed to board the 500-600 people than other smaller capacity planes - our flight was full and we lost our place in the queue for takeoff, as passengers were not boarding in time, either because of security or the very long queues. I got lucky as I happened to be near the first class queue, and as most of those people had gone in, was told to go in their lane and went straight in. Grey hair sometimes has its advantages.
The flight was smooth for most of the trip, so it was quite a shock to have a cup of boiling hot coffee dropped on my legs. I was waiting to have it handed to me by the flight attendant, but before I could get hold of it, the cup dropped. Fortunately most of it went onto the tray table and was scooped up by the blanket I had over my knees, but what did get through to my skin caused small burns on each leg. I was whisked away to a back toilet and the attendant brought cold water and some sachets of burn gel and gauze. That did bring some relief, but I was surprised at how painful it was. Here's a tip for all travelers, one I was very glad to have followed. It served me well on both flights. Always take a change of clothing and underwear in your carry-on bag. Going to Paris, I had to unexpectedly stay overnight, and although Air France gave us a T shirt and toilet bag, it was nice to have fresh clothes the next morning. Coming back, I had packed an extra shirt and pants and it meant I didn't have to sit in wet coffee-smelling pants for 6 hours.
A good movie "The Late Quartet" took my mind off my painful skin. Just my cup of tea (although I had no more hot drinks on that flight!), being all about an aging string quartet. Unfortunately I was not able to watch it to the end. The last 20 minutes of the flight was very turbulent going in to DC, people were throwing up, I did not, thankfully, but did feel very queasy. I took the paper bag with me through customs just in case, but was OK. We stood in line for over an hour, and that was only with half the passengers, those with US passports or green cards. The visitor line was much slower moving, they must have been there for hours.
Thanks to texting, Cliff found me quickly and I was glad to get to their home in Reston. The boys were a year older since I saw them last Christmas 2012, Andrew holding his own as the younger brother and Jack eager to show me his Lego creations. We chatted for a while, then I was grateful for a comfortable bed and sleep. It had been a long day.

Fountain of Neptune, 1574, by Giacoma Della Portal. Along one side of the Piazza is a 17th c. Baroque church, Sant'Agnese in Agone (Piazza Navona). The huge dome with frescos done between 1670 and 1869 by Ciro Ferri and Sebastiano Corbellini, is stunning.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Family and friends

Christmas Winter warmers

Da Godfadder
The Vatican Nativity scene

Reading Zoe's special Christmas story about her, James, Kate and her friend Leo.

All together on the sled to the Alps!

Party flowers and friend Emily

Our little ballerina.

At the Nutcracker (a somewhat dysfunctional production!)

Back to school.

With a handsome Swiss Guard at the Public Audience with the Pope.

With my handsome son at the Vatican.

A much-loved Papa by all accounts.

Legos everywhere

More Legos

Neighbors giving us a New Year's Eve to remember! 4 hours of 5 courses, wine and hilarity.

Happy New Year!

Early Birthday celebration

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nativity scenes, Befana and Santa Claus.

The outdoor Nativity scene in the piazza in front of St. Peter's Basilica

The Nativity scene inside St. Peter's basilica

                                                                                          Outdoor nativity scene in the Piazza de Navona Christmas Market

Part of the Nativity Scene at the church of St. Eustachio,
venue for a great organ recital by the papal organist of St. Peter's.  


Befana, Christmas Angel bell and wooden animal ornaments
Befana, Santa and the family in the Piazza de Navona