Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Southern Lazio; Wine Tasting, Cooking Class, Churches,& a Cemetery

From there we went back to the B&B in Alvito to rest for an hour, then off again to go wine tasting at La Ferriera. Giuseppe Caporelli was waiting for us. 
He gave us a description of the history of the property while we toured the lush grounds. The part we saw wasn’t large, but wow, it was packed with history. La Ferriera was a major iron works factory. The huge smelting vats are gone, but the supporting structure is beautifully preserved and covered with greenery. 
Of course we finished with my favorite part… wine tasting and food pairing. I couldn’t bring myself to try the weird meat called lardo something or other. It looked like lard. He looked a little surprised and hurt that I wouldn’t even try it.
Then we were whisked off to Agriturismo Cerere for cooking lessons. Caterina (Adelina Eramo) welcomed us into her giant industrial kitchen. Everything was set up and ready for us to get to work. She had a great sense of humor and alternately praised us and laughed at us. The first thing we made were crackers, which was what we munched on for the rest of the preparations. 
A film crew was present to create a commercial for tourism in which we were the star guests… I guess it’s more authentic if you can watch someone actually floundering around in the kitchen trying to make pasta. A woman my age and two young ladies, all from France or Canada, and French was their primary language. Then Roseline (our French landlady) showed up to watch. Poor Vanessa and Caterina were outnumbered by foreigners.
After we’d finished creating a five or six course meal, we were led to the restaurant that I wasn’t even aware of. We ended up at a table for eight and a meal for us all, which lasted several hours. She emailed me the recipe.
That night we collapsed into our beds and surprisingly woke up early. The view was lovely, but we resisted the urge to sit like lazy bums. We headed down to get an espresso and a pastry. On the way back we stopped to admire a shrine in front of the church by our home. As we stood there, an elderly priest came by. 
He stopped and pointed to the church and mimed going inside. We eagerly followed him through the parish office past a couple of surprised nuns having coffee. As we stood there I photographed him patiently waiting for us to properly admire his little tiny church. What an honor.
As we were preparing to pack up and leave our little B&B, Roseline came to our room and asked me if I would be willing to look at her other room for rent. I agreed and crossed the hallway to another lovely flat. This one has an actual balcony. The reason she wanted me to look at it was so I could tell you guys that it’s for sale for 78, 000 Euros. The one we stayed in is going for 72,000. Can you imagine owning a flat overlooking Valle di Comino in the adorable town of Alvito? That would be amazing.
We hopped back into the Alfa Romeo and climbed to the famous Monte Cassino. Saint Benedict came to this mountaintop around 529 A.D., and decided it would be a peaceful place for his following of monks. Its giant parking lot was packed with tour buses. At the last moment I realized I wasn’t properly dressed for the abbey! I dug into my bag for something to cover up my shorts and bare shoulders. A green pajama dress and a scarf did the trick. In two minutes I was ready to go inside. Honestly… it didn’t look too bad!
This is an abbey with a difficult history. It’s been destroyed and rebuilt four times. It looks ancient, but was in fact leveled in 1944 by bombardment, so it’s only 74 years old. A temple to Apollo apparently was here first and Saint Benedict destroyed it and its associated grove of trees (which were used for pagan rites). He built a hospital and a worship center. The monks began accumulating medical books from around the world. Their skill increased. 
They began to teach, opened a medical school in nearby Salerno (the first school of higher learning in the world), and therefore played a major role in bringing Europe out of the Dark Ages. We entered the church, wandered the grounds and stopped for a little shopping in their store stocked with goodies made by the monks. I bought some elderberry jam.
Next stop was within sight; the Polish Cemetery and museum. If you go the museum, be sure to read the interactive computer book about the bear who was born in Iran and orphaned. The Polish II Corps adopted him, and he became a kind of mascot as he traveled with his regiment. He finally ended up in Scotland where he retired into zoo-life. To learn a little more about him, visit ItalyIndeed’s website and check out his story on their blog.
Over a thousand Poles died storming the abbey in the Battle of Monte Cassino. The cemetery is majestically beautiful. The best view is from the balconies of Montecassino, but I’m glad we went down to it. The museum is well done and compact. It is mostly ceiling to floor life-sized photographs.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Southern Lazio: Alvito, Atina, Posta Fibreno

It was afternoon and I was hankering for some wine. Luckily for me our next stop was the Cominium Winery in Alvito. We beat the owner, Maria Pinto, so we wandered out onto the hill overlooking the vineyards rolling away under heavy clouds. The brilliant green grass was startling against the grey. Maria arrived and so did a burst of energy. 
This lady loves her business and loves Americans. She and her husband are transplants from a different region. After making wine and tasting wine made organically and non-organically, they made the difficult decision to go organic. Being a certified organic winery is extremely hard to do. It’s a family affair and each giant barrel and vat is named after a family member. 
Of course Joe had to pose in front of Peppe (Joe’s nickname in Latin America). She talked Izzy into climbing on top of one of the barrels. That was the end of those jeans until we got back to Rome to wash them.
Maria showed us the much coveted cork tree, and then she took us across the street to her house for a food paired tasting on the lawn with the view of the other half of the vineyard. She insisted on showing us her home. 
She explained each artifact and put her grandfather’s army hat on Izzy. This is the third time in three days someone has put a hat on her! Poor kid, but she bore it well as she giggled nervously about what the hat might contain. We were led right through the master bedroom to her balcony. What a gorgeous view!
Finally to Vicolo Maggiore B&B owned by Roseline Orofiamma. Roseline became our sidekick for several of the excursions after that and grew quit attached to her. She’s Italian, but born and raised in France. Now she has a home in Alvito (my favorite town), and a home in Paris.
After we got settled into our lovely rooms we left for dinner in Atina. The restaurant, Il Vicolo , was really nice, but I didn’t take any photos. Davide Tamburrini was our waiter (and the owner) and gave excellent attention to the food. He was a little bashful when he talked to us and would scurry off to bring us more treats.
The next morning we woke up to an amazing view of the valley blanketed in fog. I’ll never forget watching the fog slowly lift and reveal the verdant green valley floor. The B&B had a kitchen (with a stocked fridge and baskets of fruit and goodies), family room and two bedrooms, with a shared bathroom. Both bedrooms had doors to little tiny balconies, which opened wide to reveal the Alvito and valley.
We walked down to the town center for an espresso at Antica Pasticceria Di Tullio. Mauro Fazio popped in to take a tour the little town hall and theater of Alvito. We even got pulled into the mayor’s office where the secretary looked up in surprise. Down the hall was a civic room where Vanessa got married.

Vanessa drove us up to the Cantelmo Castle. This was a big hit for the three of us. Our hostess at the B&B, Roseline, joined us. No one was at the castle with us, we just wandered around.
There weren’t placards with descriptions, no fence, just a beautiful old castle. After we’d investigated to our heart’s content, Vanessa introduced us to our trail guide, Stefano Gaetani (with Compagnia dei Viandanti).
He led us to an overgrown path, we’d never have been able to find on our own. It was an easy two hour walk along the side of the mountains to the next castle of Vicalvi. During the walk Stefano stopped frequently to point out plants alongside the trail.
He kept a pair of clippers handy and would snip off wild asparagus or herbs for us to munch on.
We drove down to a little lake with a town around it for lunch, Posta Fibreno. This community had a different feel to it… like a summer resort-kinda-place. Daniele Quadrini welcomed us into his restaurant, Smile Pub for an early lunch (he opened the doors early) and he prepared a meal just for us. Apparently the word had gotten out that we were carnivores and Americans, so he made us the Italian version of hamburgers. They bring out all the fixings and then the hamburger patty on a plate… you build it yourself. He sat down with us and a couple of his friends to eat.
Then another lady came in and sat at their end of the table. It turned into a community meeting about their most pressing subject—how to get the word out that Southern Lazio is a beautiful area for tourists.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Southern Lazio: Veroli, Isola Liri, Sora, Campoli Appennino

Before our next tour site, we stopped for an espresso—very important—in Anagni (Scroll down for details of Southern Lazio up to this point). Then we clambered into Vanessa's Alfa Romeo and went south to the next town, Veroli. This region is super ancient, dating around the 12th Century B.C.. We met our next guide, Lorenza. 
She walked us through the Criptoportico in Veroli underneath the town hall and the museum. This is a must see for checking out archeological digs. I’ve since checked the web for photos of this Criptoportico, but none of the photos match mine. I think we were taken to a deeper part. I have a thing about wanting to touch the stones and marble in ruins. She permitted us to touch these two thousand year old stones. Shiver of delight.
There’s also a beautifully preserved Roman stone calendar posted on a town wall. It has January, February, and March. Lorenza explained that each day tells the Roman citizen what subjects were permitted for discussion (politics, spiritual matters, community issues, and free discussion days). Talk about Big brother!
We stopped for a traditional lunch at Trattoria Sora Loci with Chef Carlo Fiorini coming to our tableside for a visit while we ate. This was Izzy’s first experience with Gnocchi (nyo-kee). For the next three weeks she ate it almost every day. When she got home she made it with sweet potatoes, and apparently it was good.
Next stop; Isola Liri to look at the waterfalls, It’s kind of cool how the river split around this island. We just stopped long enough to hop out of the car for some photos and a little blurb on local history.

Then off to Sora for a tour of the San Domenico Abbey with Giuliano Fabi. This is a really pretty church. The interior is as simple as the exterior… all beige stones and beige marble floors. 
Giuliano pointed out all of the recycled stone used from ancient Roman cemeteries and crumbled buildings. Even the pillars used recycled stones. The most interesting were the soldiers tombstones placed randomly along the walls both inside and out. 
We walked bypassed the steps that led up to the alter and went down to the crypt. I loved the soft ambiance with all of the arches. I could’ve stayed down there for an hour just soaking in the peacefulness. But no, back up to the real world.
Vanessa explained that Sora is Cicero’s birthplace (though it wasn't called Sora way back then). The two rivers that merge here are written about by Cicero’s brother. There is some story about a woman with braided hair being tossed in the river… I think she was a nun. Vanessa says she got her head cut off like Cicero... that's just gross. When we left the church interior we were taken around to the back of the church to see the oldest part of the structure. I pointed to several rows of stones out on the back lawn that looked like they may have been pillars. “What was here?” I asked. Giuliano and Vanessa looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. “They’re just old stones,” he answered. For some reason this made us laugh. Just some ancient ruins. No biggie, they’re everywhere.
Off to Campoli Appennino to visit Sulpizio Tartufi. We drove through the countryside for a bit and pulled into the driveway of a truffle farm. Truffles! Meet Spillo the truffle hunter. Spillo is specially trained to sniff out truffles, and we are here for the beginning of the black truffle’s season. White truffle season is over. We followed Marco down to the hillside for a demonstration of how his Spillo digs for truffles. 
We were accompanied by two little boys who divided their time between encouraging Spillo to work and playing games on the cell phone. The neighboring German Sheppards followed the chain-link fence to bark at Spillo, who completely ignored them. I noticed Spillo sneeze several times. Then he took off running through the grass at mach five, apparently uninterested in truffle hunting.
Marco was completely frustrated with playful Spillo. He threatened, offered rewards, begged, to no avail. Spillo would dig for about three seconds and run off again. We were dying laughing. Marco wasn’t. I finally suggested maybe Spillo’s sniffer wasn’t operating today. I mentioned the sneezing fit earlier. With Marco’s help a fig sized black truffle was unearthed. Marco told Vanessa that Spillo would be working overtime in the weeks to come to get him ready for her next tour group. She just laughed.
They have a little shop where they sell truffle infused olive oil and various truffle related treats. A tray was brought out for us to sample cheese, candy, and pickled un-ripe peaches (weird, but good).

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Welcome to Southern Lazio, Anagni

Full disclosure! I don’t believe in fake writing. If you’ve read my blogs for any amount of time you know I tell it like it is. So, when I was contacted by Vanessa of ItalyIndeed, I was a little leery. A group of people in the hospitality and tourism industry of Southern Lazio (southeast of Rome) are making a joint effort to increase awareness to this beautiful region. As part of this movement they volunteered to provide tours and experiences free or discounted to me. The goal was to reach my large following of travelers.
This occasionally happens to me. I’m always eager to participate, but if I don’t like what I experienced, I don’t write about it or I will say something simple. But this was more of a challenge. This would be an entire community sharing their pride in this region with me. No pressure, right?
It started with Vanessa Ianni, a local girl. Vanessa spent one year of her college studies in England and that was enough to fall in love with her husband. She, therefore speaks flawless English and about five other languages, as this was her major—languages. She recently started up her own tour company, Italyindeed.com. Vanessa contacted me through our mutual friend, Gianluca. I was sent an itinerary and maps to get an idea where we were going.
Vanessa picked us up in an Alfa Romeo because we were a small group, otherwise she uses a van. This was a very intense tour with fifteen destinations in three days. Because so many locals wanted to participate it was much more condensed than I recommend (though there are travelers who like to squeeze it all in).
Off to our first stop in Anagni (ah-non-yee). After our short time in Rome, I was pleasantly surprised with how lush the landscape is. Having been to Tuscany, I can honestly say Southern Lazio is equally beautiful. These foothills are dotted with pretty castle towns like Anagni. The war torn history only adds to the beauty and pride of this region.
The first inhabitants (the Hernici people) showed up in Anagni about 700 years before Christ (fossils date much further back than that, but these are the original city dwellers of Anagni). They rallied their tribal forces and fought the Roman Empire. They lost. Anagni became the vacation spot for Roman nobleman, than later residences of the popes. Actually this little hill town produced four popes. Beatrice Cretaro met us for a guided tour of the Santa Maria Cathedral of Anagni and the crypt. Standing out front I was struck by the simplicity of the church façade (especially after seeing the interior).
Inside we saw a lot of artifacts, but the most bizarre were two busts of popes. One contained the actual head of the pope and the other had the combo of two heads inside. They’re made of gold, silver and other metals, and studded with precious stones. 
We got to see the wooden sculpture of Christ with a little wooden tongue that could be mechanically drawn in and out of his mouth during processions. It was quite a high-tech hit with locals back then.
Then we went through the church (built over an ancient pagan shrine). The mosaic flooring is stunning here. Down we went to catch a glimpse of the original pagan shrine and then over to the crypt. 
I’ve never seen anything like this. The art work is so well preserved it defies logic. The paint (depicting the Bible, Popes, and scholars) looks almost fresh. Beatrice had to pry us out of there. She ended our tour standing in front of the pope’s residence/palace. We got a rundown on “Anagni’s Slap” during the “Outrage of Anagni.” A French regiment took the town and captured the pope. Sciarra Colonna slapped Pope Boniface VIII while being held captive. This led to the death of the pope (died of chagrin), excommunication of Anagni, and the subsequent decline from bustling little city to a village.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Trying to Get Home

The adventure of returning home started with waking up at 5:30am. We piled into the compact car and sped off to the airport for our flight back to Barcelona with a 4 hour layover. In Barcelona we learned that our flight was delayed by 4 hours (and it was a different carrier named Arik Air). 8 hours of down time! Barcelona’s airport isn’t very big or interesting. Thankfully we had access to the VIP lounge because we’d purchased those premium tickets. We had soft cushy couches and free food and beverages (well not free). We were content because we had no idea things were about to change.
We boarded our plane and promptly started playing with all of the buttons like children. Nothing worked, but it would once the plane took off. Or maybe not. Thirty minutes into the flight the controls for the seats suddenly came on to a round of applause from the passengers. It was short lived. The in-flight TV screens didn’t work. A stewardess came by with an Ipad for watching movies. It had 4 movies and Joe’s didn’t work at all.
An hour and a half into the flight the captain came on the speaker and informed us that he was turning around the plane and going back to Barcelona. We couldn’t go to Oakland. Why? Had there been an earthquake? He told us he’d be dumping fuel on the way so we could land, which is a creepy thing to watch.
The natives became restless. Rumours were flying. We landed back in Barcelona and had a Norwiegen rep tell us that the Oakland airport had explained to Arik Air that they are a small airport and would be closed by the time we arrived (recall the four hour delay). Somehow the pilot didn’t know this upon take-off. And why couldn’t we continue to LA (I’m assuming they have to use airports they’re contracted with)?
Next came the completely insane process of transporting and housing hundreds of people for the night. Not to mention the problem of getting a flight time for the plane to leave the next day. We, meaning all of us except the few smart ones who grabbed a taxi, trudged to the other end of the airport to find our assigned bus. We climbed on board and watched each bus take off, but not ours. Tempers were flaring (mine) after an hour sitting on a half full bus. Multiple people had gone outside to politely ask when we were leaving. I suddenly got up and marched to the front of the bus and got out to talk to the poor kid who was managing this disaster. I asked him how much longer and he gave me the wrong answer. I responded with maturity, “It’s two in the morning. We’re dying here!” He looked taken aback at this sudden attack from a Mom-person. When I got back on the bus, I was greeted with laughter and everyone wanting to know what I’d said. Apparently I could be clearly seen throwing my arms up in the air by the entire bus through the front window. The Schussman temper sadly on display. Izzy confided in me that I’m terrifying J
We were bused to a lovely little hotel called Las Balmes. I highly recommend it for their hospitality (especially the two startled guys at the front desk). We were led to our rooms at 3:30 in the morning. This was the most comfortable bed on our entire trip, or I was exhausted.
The next day we got a taxi back to the airport after confirming with the hotel manager that
Norwegian hadn’t scheduled a return flight. After several wrong windows, we found the representative who could tell us when our plane would be leaving. It wouldn’t be leaving. There was no plane for us to get into, we’re so sorry. We’d need to book a new flight. So sorry, but the Oakland flight is booked solid. So is tomorrow’s flight. Then they gave us the option to fly to Stockholm, Sweden and then to Oakland… the next day. We grabbed it. This time there would be no VIP lounge admission because our Stockholm tickets weren’t Premium… seriously? No problem, time flew by as we became excited about visiting Sweden for the first time, especially Stockholm (stop laughing… we didn’t know the airport wasn’t anywhere near the city).
Norwegian Air did a great job of taking care of our costs up front. We weren’t expected to keep receipts for reimbursements later. We had meal vouchers, the transportation was covered, and the rooms were reserved and paid for. As we flew over Sweden, I was struck by the vast openness of the forested land. They sent us to the Quality Inn. I was pleased because I knew what to expect… large rooms with two queen size beds, or maybe one bed, but we’d ask for one room with two beds (I’m so American). We didn’t want to be separated from Izzy. The lady said yes, the rooms had two beds. I asked if the beds were big. She shook her head and said no, but she’d put us in a larger room. So sweet.
Then a group of guys in the bar next to reception, one of whom was drunk, noticed us. As most of you know Joe always wears a cowboy hat when we travel. The drunk guy says, “Hey cowboy!” Really loud and slurred. After the third time I turned my “mom” glare on him. When I’m tired, hungry, and things aren’t going as planned, I have no patience for those kind of shenanigans! All I needed was for them to pick a fight with Joe. That would’ve been an unwise move on their part. The guy surprisingly spun around and didn’t say another word. Izzy told me again that I’m terrifying.
When we got there we had to eat quickly before the restaurant closed. Our vouchers got us an amazing plate of Carbonara and a glass of Chianti. We laughed at the irony of being in Sweden and eating one of the best plates of Italian food we’d had with an excellent glass of wine. Then we went up to our rooms and entered an Ikea display. It was thee smallest hotel room I’d ever seen! Ever. It had two skinny little cot-sized beds snuggled up side-by-side. Fortunately it had Murphy bunk beds. Izzy jumped up on the top one like an eight year old. The bathroom had a giant porthole into the room like on a ship. That way if you had to use the toilet at night the whole room would light up! Really?... whose idea was that? I stuffed a pillow into it.
It was almost midnight and still light out like in Alaska. I peeked out the window again at two in the morning and it was still twilight. Breakfast was in a spacious dining room, which was odd to me after seeing the bedrooms. Back to the airport. We’d gone by a jumbo jet out in a field the night before. Today I could see café tables and chairs on the wing. What the heck? I googled it and it’s called Jumbo Hostel. It has 27 rooms… the suite is in the cockpit. Now that’s recycling.
What a nice airport! The food is amazing here. We finally boarded the plane three days later and are still thanking our lucky stars that we got Premium on the way home from Stockholm. Izzy is sipping her last cup of wine as we fly over Greenland. Why do they call it Greenland?