Thursday, July 2, 2015

Flashback: The View From Fox-Amphoux

As I settle in here on Viale di Trastevere, I'm hoping to catch up on recording the first bit of my trip--the vacation part with my husband, Andre, and, for the first few days, with our friends Howard, Melissa, and Artemis.  We had the great pleasure of staying with them in their home in Fox-Amphoux, a quiet village in Provence.  And I'm not using the word quiet casually.  When we stepped out of the car, in the middle of a little cluster of homes, the first thing I noticed was the profound quiet--a thick, rich quiet like cream poured over everything, in which the loudest sound for miles around were the cries of the swallows that swooped and soared overhead.

From up on the roof, the view stretched on for gorgeous miles.  Just ask Artemis.

A brief hike in the neighborhood brought us to this chapel, carved into the mountain by a sailor who narrowly escaped a shipwreck:

We also wandered and ate in nearby villages, like Aups, where we peeked into a lovely church:

And in Cotignac, we climbed up to where some of the local live in cliffside homes and make inventive use of caves:

Our days in France passed way too quickly--an amuse-bouche, hinting at the feast that is Provence.

Looking Up

After two relatively difficult days of being perpetually lost and struggling to figure out How Things Work in Italy, today was a dream.  The highlights?

A group trip to the Colosseum.  A colleague's fun and fascinating lecture on what a day of ancient Roman entertainment must have been like.  Overhearing a guy in a gladiator costume singing "No Woman, No Cry" to a dude in dreadlocks.

Wandering off on my own, and feeling (for once) more found than lost!

Seeking and finding the market in Testaccio:

Then swinging by one of my favorite spots in Rome, the cool, green, and oddly beautiful Protestant Cemetary:

Where I made a pilgrimage to the grave of John Keats:

He died so young, thinking nobody would remember him--but do we ever.

Even the graves of people I've never heard of break my heart a little.

As did this random bit of street art I stumbled upon as I wandered toward the Metro:

And (almost) best of all: hopping on the tram, and finding my way home without incident!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Call Me Misadventure

Some of my friends--people I first met on the internet, though they later went on to be three-dimensional real-world friends--knew me first as Misadventure.  I chose this particular handle in remembrance of my travels,  and because of the Squeeze song, and because, when it comes to travelling, I remember the things that went wrong almost as fondly as the things that went right.

Misadventures make the best stories.  That's what I have been telling myself ever since I arrived in Rome.  I'm staying in Trastevere, a neighborhood I don't know very well, and so far, if there's been a wrong turn to take, I've taken it.  I've spent most of the last two and a half days lost--and not just geographically--learning the hard way how things work in a different culture.  I've had to admit that my sense of direction truly sucks, and that my Italian, while decent for the basics, really falls short when it comes to the complicated stuff.  And I've had to learn that what I thought was politeness--asking, in Italian, "Excuse me, sir, I'm looking for X"--fell short enough in the politeness department to get me nowhere.  I've learned that it's okay to take up more of a stranger's time by being really, really, REALLY polite.  "Excuse me sir, could you please help me?  I'm looking for X.  Could you tell me where it is?" gets much better results. 

Until I stop spending most of my day walking around in circles, I just keep telling myself what I know to be true: I've always learned more from misadventure than from the things that came easily.  And when I finally know my way around, it will feel all the more amazing for being hard earned.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

When In Rome....

So here I am at last, on the first day of the SJU study abroad program to Rome.  And this is the view from my sixth floor balcony, looking down on Viale di Trastevere.  

And here's a somewhat blurry shot of my view looking across the way:

The traffic's still buzzing--trams and Vespas and Fiats, oh my!--but there's a cool breeze up here, and a sense of being invisible and yet a part of it all.

Tomorrow I meet up with my class for the first time, for an orientation and a quick introduction to what the class will bring, and later for our first group meal.  But before the day gets rolling, you can bet I'll be having my morning coffee on this balcony!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Backtracking: Day One (Nice, France)

So now I'm going to backtrack a bit to day one of this summer's big adventure.  Ιn advance of my upcoming study tour in Rome, Andre and I flew into Nice, France, to stay with some dear friends who live part of every year in a village in Provence.  Defying our jet lag, we hiked up to the highest panoramic point of glorious Nice:

From there we heard some kind of concert happening on the beach, so we hurried back down to see what we were missing.  Turns out, it was a multi-artist event being filmed for French t.v., hosted by the radio station France Bleu, and open to anyone who cared to stumble in.

To my happy surprise, guess who came out on the stage? 

 If you can't make her out, it's Conchita Wurst, the gorgeous yet fully bearded winner of the 2014 Eurovision competiton--which I watched in real time via the internet, because when I'm not in Europe I'm pretty much wishing I were in Europe.  And though I was rooting for Greece's fantastic Kosa Mostra to win, if it couldn't be them, I'm glad it was the gender-bending, divalicious Conchita Wurst.

The upshot is, we stumbled into a concert by one of the handful of European musicans we are actually familiar with.  Is there a French word for serendipity?

And the best part of the day came after that: meeting up for dinner with our dear friends and hosts, Howard, Melissa, and Artemis:

Dinner was fantastic--good food, great company.   I tried bagna cauda--fresh veggies and a hard boiled egg dipped in a warm bath of anchovies and olive oil--a salad deconstructed with style.

Oh, and I never knew until that day, but in France you can buy fizzy water with the normal Perrier-style big bubbles or with strangely subtle smaller bubbles.  I suppose the French are particularly discerning when it comes to bubbly.

Speaking of water, the waiter brought Artemis a bowl of it (presumably the unfizzy kind) without even being asked, because in France's outdoor cafes, dogs are welcome guests.  

Greetings from Verona: Technical Difficulties

Due to technical difficulties and a whole lot of intense sightseeing, my good intention of posting a daily blog has gone unfulfilled...until now.  A friend helped me solve the technical difficulties.  And now that my husband Andre has departed for home, I'm having a fairly quiet layover in Verona before the study tour begins.  So I will be catching up and sending lots of dispatches from the road.

For now, though, I'm staying in an AirBnB in a quiet and somewhat industrial section of Verona, but I'm about to wander off into the charming historical center.  Just waiting for my phone to charge so I can take my usual thousand pictures.

I arrived yesterday, and have been laying rather low, recharging my own personal battery.  Last night at about sunset, the heat was broken by a surprise rainstorm--quiet fun to watch from the veranda of "my" apartment.  Ah, the smell of rain in Italy!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Travel Jitters

Come July, I will be teaching a travel writing course in Rome.  This afternoon I take off for a pre-study tour vacation, and by this time tomorrow I will be touching down in Nice, France.

Right now, though, I've got the airport jitters.  I always get them; they're part of the travel experience for me.  They are partially born of my fear of flying and partially of my conviction (sometimes true!) that I must have forgotten to pack some really important item that I can't live without.  

They're also spun out of my worries that the guys I've left back home holding down the fort will forget to feed the guinea pig or let the dogs out or turn the stove burners off.

But, as always, my travel jitters are mostly from excitement--so I've learned to embrace them.

It wouldn't be a true adventure if it didn't start with that feeling of the earth spinning so quickly under my feet that I have to work to keep from flying off into space.