Posts Tagged With: Rome

The Way of St. Francis: Why is Trevi dry?

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Standing with our backs to Rome’s Trevi Fountain six years ago, we tossed coins into the water, wishing for our return to Rome.

Our dream has come true, but when we returned to the fountain Monday, it was closed. Why? Three days a week, the Trevi Fountain goes dry and the coins are vacuumed and packed into white bags that fill the back of a small white truck.

What happens to the piles of cash? The money goes to the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, which helps feed the needy in 200 nations and territories.

How much coin is tossed into the Trevi Fountain each year? About a million and a quarter dollars worth.

So when you are in Rome, toss those coins into the fountain, for good luck —- and a good cause.

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Minutes after the coins were sucked up, the Trevi Fountain returned to life. Money immediately began raining down, perhaps bringing good luck, but, more certainly, help for those in need.

 

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Way of St. Francis: A View Through Two Countries

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Were it not for the line of curiosity seekers, we might never have found the peephole we were looking for.  It’s there, just to the right of the white hat brim, looking very much like a round keyhole.  It is, in fact, known as The Aventine Keyhole and is part of the property owned by the Priory of the Knights of Malta, one of the last surviving orders of knights left from the Crusades.

It was the rumored view through this peephole that led us to climb Aventine Hill to the piazza Cavalieri di Malta.

Was it worth it?  I don’t know…what do you think?

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Categories: Italy, The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Way of St. Francis: Reflections from our journey

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We were rewarded with our testimonium Friday at the Vatican. Our bodies are happy we reached the end of the Way of St. Francis. Our minds are swirling as we reflect.

The numbers from our trek: 23 days walking, 258 miles (415 km) afoot, 79,923 feet of elevation.

Toughest trek yet: What made it more difficult than Spain’s Camino de Santiago, Scotland’s West Highland Way, and the Alps’ Tour du Mont Blanc? We loved the Camino, but it is a stroll in the park comparatively. The Camino is longer, but the surfaces here test shoes and your body much more. And the climbing and descending are relentless and treacherous at times. There are rarely nice bars for a break. Mont Blanc had more elevation per day, but it was “only” 110 miles, and we didn’t carry everything on our backs in the Alps.

Best trek? For us, it is almost like saying which son we love most. We hold all four treks close to our hearts. They all have special qualities and memories.

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Camaraderie: We saw fewer fellow St. Francis trekkers in 23 days than we saw in just one typical morning in Spain. On many days in Italy, we saw no fellow trekkers. We befriended a few fellow “pilgrims” now and then, but just for a day or two.

La Verna to Rome: Of the trekkers we talked to, all were walking a shorter section of the Way of St. Francis than La Verna to Rome, which we walked. Some were doing a few days, intending to return another year. We met more people going to Assisi, Francis’ home, than to Rome. Francis walked to Rome to get the pope’s blessing for his work.

Who does this trek? From our small sample, most were much younger than us. Two were Canadian, the rest Europeans. No Americans. This trek attracts people who enjoy solitude.

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English? Most trekkers knew some English. The storekeepers and bar and restaurant servers, not so much. Many of our lodging hosts also did not speak English. Most were gracious in helping us with our limited Italian. Pantomimes helped. Lots of smiles and laughs as we all struggled to communicate.

Italian people: In village after village, bar after bar, hotel after hotel, people wanted to help us. A small crowd came to our rescue when we had trouble getting in the front door at a B&B. A young woman in a bar dropped everything to make us an early dinner of fresh pizzas.

So many proprietors went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable. Several times, we had trouble contacting our accommodation host when we arrived. Each time, local people volunteered to track them down for us. And they go about life with such passion!

Pilgrimage: This trek is designed to follow St. Francis’ steps to Rome. There are many churches and other sites where pilgrims can honor his memory and work.

The next Camino? The Way of St. Francis is gradually becoming better known, but I can’t see it attracting big crowds. Most people probably don’t want to work so hard and there are other trails that are better designed for leisure trekking. Accommodations are not as plentiful and are far more spread out than some treks, especially the Camino de Santiago. The Italian path is rough and at times disappears. Too much asphalt for many folks. But, I can see parts of it, such as Gubbio to Assisi, becoming more popular.

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Finding the way: We could not have done this trek without the help of Sandy Brown, author of the Cicerone guidebook and Facebook forum. He answered Sue’s questions while we were on the trek. He gave directions to downloading maps, which were critical to finding our way using GPS and Galileo Pro. We are so grateful for Sandy’s help!

Expensive? This trek does not offer as many opportunities to get by on the cheap, like the Camino de Santiago does. There are some monasteries, convents and hostels that offer inexpensive lodging, though. Pilgrims usually need to phone ahead at such places to arrange arrival time. We stayed in B&Bs, hotels, and one agriturisimo. Nothing fancy, but all had private baths and were clean. Many were in small villages and a few were in a building far from town. We paid from 50 to 90 euro a night, and almost all included continental breakfast. Rome is the exception…we opted for location and a bit of luxury, so we are paying more.

Explorers? At times, the trail was so remote and without fellow trekkers that we felt like explorers. The mountains of Umbria are higher and more rugged than we expected.

Greetings by locals: In Spain, many people greeted us as we passed. The Camino is the economic life for their communities and has such history and tradition. The Way of St. Francis lacks that sense of community, but when we greeted locals, they almost always returned our outreach. Some drivers honked and waved. A few seemed to honk to tell us to get off the road. One truck driver swerved and stopped to block a loose dog that was barking at us. He yelled at the dog to leave the pellegrinos alone.

Booking.com: We used the website for most of our rooms and we learned to start with “booking.com” when we arrived.

Weather: The sun followed us the first two weeks, making some afternoons uncomfortably warm. Rain and thunderstorms threatened the rest of the way. Thankfully, we got stronger and faster, allowing us to beat torrential afternoon thunder and lightening storms. We walked in rain several times. Spring flowers were abundant almost the entire way. I would not attempt this walk during Italy’s hot summer.

Distances: It is incredible how far our feet took us. We would turn around after walking a few miles from the village where we stayed and it appeared so far away. It doesn’t work at the end of a long day, though. The town on the hilltop looks so close, but it takes forever to reach it. By then we were exhausted and so ready for a hot shower.

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The way to travel: For us, trekking is the best way to see a country and get to know its culture. We see villages and experience views we could only get by walking. It slows down and simplifies life. It is empowering to get by with so little. We feel fortunate to be healthy enough to do treks.

In the end, was it worth it? The Way of St. Francis was so many things to us. It tested us like no other experience has. When we arrived at the Santiago Cathedral in Spain, I felt strong emotion. Thursday, I was happy to stand before St. Peter’s Basilica, but I had little deep reaction. Later, as we sat on a building ledge at the Vatican, I folded my trekking poles and tied them to my pack for the first time in a month. Out of nowhere, I was overcome. That’s why I walk.

Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Way of St. Francis: Finito!

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Categories: The Way of Saint Francis, The Way of St Francis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Paris: A city that embraces the love of food

Our great friend Carolyn in Santa Barbara, California, requested some food photos, so walked across the Seine to the Saint Michel/Left Bank area this Saturday night. This area of Paris is changing, becoming more oriented to the tourist with three-course discounted offerings with sales pitches at every turn. Lots and lots of pizza. It remind us a bit of the big plazas in Rome.

The crepes were tempting.

Sue wanted quiche, but we could not find a place that served it. Go figure! But, our patience paid off after more than an hour of walking. We found a fantastic Thai place and the server and food were perfect. Très bien!

It was tough to resist the escargot.

Parts of the Left Bank are mazes of narrow streets filled with cafes.

The cheese selection...magnifique!

Next time you are in Paris, we highly recommend Khao Thai! This beef dish was spicy hot.

 

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Travel theme: Work

A fascinating part of travel is the opportunity to see work in other cultures. Here are some people in various countries we have visited as they toil, often in the service of tourists. The theme for this post was suggested by wheresmybackpack.com, a blog we follow.

Sue found an accordionist in Rome and was enchanted by a piper at Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands.

A calligrapher paints our name in Shanghai, China. A woman on the Li River in southwest China brings our tour boat fresh food for lunch.

Men in Spain operate a transplanter next to the Camino de Santiago during our trek last spring.

 

 

 

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Experiences pale with bucket list

During a bike ride to Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe, California, we took an unscheduled gondola ride up the mountain to a surprise lunch spot.

What's on your list?

How about New Zealand, Italy, Machu Picchu? Or sky dive, bungee jump, climb Half Dome?

If you are having trouble with your bucket list, visit a bookstore or look around online and you will find almost limitless suggestions. Or visit the App Store.

Why do we compile bucket lists of must-sees and must-dos to accomplish before we die?

I have read about many people who are tossing their bucket lists in favor of a more live-in-the-moment approach. If you are a traveler, think about one trip at a time, they advise. Who knows what is next? Does it really matter if you never see Machu Picchu?

Can a bucket list keep a person from some of life's great discoveries?

Last year, Sue suggested that we walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain. “Definitely not on my list,” I thought to myself.

“Why not?” she asked when I questioned why we should walk 500 miles.

It turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. She was right, it was a matter of one step at a time. And this year we are going to Scotland for more long-distance trekking. We will also visit friends we have met from Scotland, England and Denmark during our travels. So much for Machu Picchu.

So, taking a more micro view of travel actually helped me see a more macro view.

There are also bucket lists within bucket lists.

While in Rome, you have to see the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps…or should the list be your top priority? How about wandering the narrow, meandering streets, pausing for coffee or beer at a sidewalk cafe to watch Italian life go by?

It is not just where you go, but how you see it. Shall we be travelers or tourists?

One traveler advised us that the first thing you should do when you arrive at your destination is sit down and have a cup of coffee. You don't need to rush out to see the world. Relax and watch it go by. As a boss once told me, “Take time.”

Sure, there are times we want to book a place, such as the Vatican Museums, because we know we will wait in line for hours without a reservation.

But, for every iconic place, there are many hidden treasures that will remain that way unless you take risks and explore without a plan, and, perhaps, by leaving the map in your pocket. Or at home, if you dare.

For our trek this May in Scotland, we had to book accommodations because there are few available and they tend to book up. This journey won't be as open-ended as the Camino was.

We have been asked many times about the wisdom of a two-week walk in a country famous for wet weather. It reminds me of what a Scottish friend told me when I asked him how he could play golf year round in such a climate.

“Why, Reg,” he said. “It never rains on the golf course.”

 

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So, You Want to Ride the Train in Italy!?

Sue does word puzzles on a high-speed Eurostar train from Verona to Florence today.

What is the best way to get around Italy? For us, it seemed that the train would be best for day trips from Rome and Verona and for intercity travel.

This notion is foreign to many in the United States, where train options are few and far between in most of the country.

How about price? It varies tremendously. Comfort, convenience? Those vary too, largely based upon what you are willing to pay. We have found that the train can be convenient, comfortable and inexpensive here. It can also be confusing, as travel can be in an unfamiliar country. But, this is part of the challenge and fun of traveling.

The conventional wisdom is that you get the best deals by purchasing tickets at the train station on or near the day of the trip. For regional trains, we have found this to be true. We went from Rome to Naples and back for 22 Euro each. Verona to Venice, about 15 Euro return per person. Some of these deals did not show up on the computer the day before.

Regional trains are fine and allow you to use the tickets any day and time within a specified period, usually a couple of months. They do not give you reserved seats, but we easily found seats except once and on that trip we got seats after about half an hour. They make more stops, but if the distance is not too great, it is no big deal. And, you can almost always travel spontaneously and cheaply.

But, if you have a fair distance to travel, there are other options, such as Eurostar, a more comfortable, high-speed train. We have used Eurostar twice, from Rome to Verona (74 Euro each) and from Verona to Florence today (about 40 Euro each). A Euro is about $1.29. These trains are very fast, comfortable, quiet, and make few stops. Plus, you get to choose your seats when you book. We enjoyed both Eurostar trips very much.

Graffiti is common around Italy; I found this art at a station during our ride from Florence to Pistoia.

Many people book their train travel online through trenitalia. At the station, you can book at the ticket counter through an agent or use a touch-screen machine. We used the machine every time, and it was easy. Just tap the British flag for English and the rest is easy. You can choose your itinerary and the machine prints your tickets. You can use credit cards.

If you book a regional train (without reserved date, time, or seat), get your ticket validated on the day of your journey by getting it stamped in one of the validating machines at the station. You can be fined (50 Euro) if you do not. Some people ride the trains without tickets…some hide in the bathroom when tickets are being checked. Several times, we had our validated tickets, but no one ever checked them. Ah, well.

We booked our Eurostar travel a couple of days in advance both times at the touch-screen machine at the station. We think the extra cost is worth it for longer trips.

Rome and Verona are walkable cities, but we used the buses several times. We bought tickets at tobacco stores, which are common (1,50 in Rome and 1,30 in Verona). The tickets are good for any one bus trip on any day. There are machines on the buses to validate your tickets. On some buses, you can buy tickets on machines. There are signs at bus stops that show which buses stop there and where they go. Usually, we were going to the train station (stazione), so it was easy to figure out.

At train stations, you can buy an espresso, or something stronger.

We know some who use cheap, intercity flights (Ryan Air, for example) to get around. If you love airports, this might be your ticket!

Now we are in Tuscany for a week, staying in a small, mountaintop village. Time for Californians' favorite form of travel: the car. After just one day, I am glad we have our little Alfa Romeo sedan. Italian drivers following us today may not agree, though. We booked online for about 240 Euro a week, full insurance included (as well as a fee for having two drivers).

No matter your mode of travel, travel light! Our rolling carry-on sized bags have been relatively easy on this trip. I remember once pulling two suitcases around London…never again!

What can you add about the best way to get around Italy? Share your ideas by writing a comment.

 

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Who Holds The Key To This Roman Mystery?

I couldn't help but wonder about the significance of these locks found on a lamppost.

 

 

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Splashes of Color

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living where we do (in the Sierra at an elevation of 3200') gardening is often a fight against nature. Deer, squirrels, rabbits and lately raccoons, have all helped themselves to various plants, shrubs and most recently, chunks of our lawn. Because it's rare for our flowers to last more than a day or two before wildlife makes a meal of them, I was pleased to see a few flowers to be enjoyed in and around Rome.

 

 

 

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