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October 14 – 21 Montemarcello: La Spezia​

Next day – La Spezia. La Spezia is a large port city. It has some lovely and well kept art deco buildings and a pleasant park along the marina. There are a variety of shops in the wide pedestrian areas. Our goal was the Museo Armedeo Lia which was well worth the effort to find it. The museum has some beautiful bronze and glass pieces as well as a nice collection of renaissance and later paintings. We took our time and got a return ticket so we could come back in after lunch.

We found a set price osteria nearby, which had several full tables. The menu was recited by the waitress, one course at a time. For €23 we had a mezzo lire bianco, a mezzo litre water, penne w/salmone, pasta with tomato and sausage sauce, fried anchovies, roasted pork, warm yellow and red pepper salad, panna cotta, berry crostini, and caffe. It was a real workingman's place - filling and good – and I enjoyed the experience. After our second visit to the museum we walked the main pedestrian streets. We found a rosticeria and bought minestrone soup, turkey slices with light gravy, and stuffed cabbage to take back.


A lovely boulevard in La Spezia

October 14 – 21 Montemarcello: Levanto​

Brrr ... The next day was overcast and windy. What to do? We decided to go to Levanto to see what it was like and to go in search of the three good seafood restaurants mentioned in Cadogen. Driving on the autostrada made our day trips easy to achieve. Everyone knows the rules, even though they go fast. Cars pass in the left lane quickly and move back and trucks stay in the right lane. I also enjoy seeing the names of every tunnel and bridge.

It began to sprinkle as we got to Levanto. It was easy to find parking lots and we chose one at the sea promenade near the “i.” The “i” had limited information, but it did have a good map of the town. We set out to find the suggested restaurants. The first one was closed on Thursday. The second one appeared to be closed for the season - part of the problem of traveling in this area in the off-season. The third one, Antica Trattoria Centro, was open and Michael noticed people in the garden room so we went in. This turned out to be a great meal in nice atmosphere with a nice waiter.

We ordered a mixed seafood antipasto for two. The plate held two slices of thinly sliced white marinated fish and a few sardines, also marinated as in a ceviche. We were a bit taken aback as this cost €12 per person. However, then the plates began to arrive, one after another: raw tuna and dried (like brasola) with cherry tomatoes; fried anchovies and stuffed sardines; smoked salmon with capers and onions, great butter, large anchovies; stuffed mussels and tiny seppia in red sauce; and finally steamed mussels in a light red sauce. Wow! We began to be sorry that we'd ordered two more courses! We did manage to share a plate of fabulous potato gnocchi in artichoke sauce.

I mentioned to the waiter, who was thoroughly enjoying watching Michael enjoying his lunch, that when we’d walked in I'd noticed his family had a large platter of roasted chestnuts and that we’d been craving them but hadn't found any. Shortly thereafter he brought a small bowl of roasted chestnuts, telling us that usually only made for the family but...

Finally, I had the best piece of grilled swordfish I've ever had and Michael had grilled scampi and shrimp. This had all been accompanied by a bottle of house white and two bottles of water. After a double caffe, the waiter brought a bottle of the dreaded limoncello and insisted we have some. It was very drinkable - not the usual sickly sweet – and I complimented him on it. This was the seafood lunch we had both been craving.

We left badly in need of a walk but it was raining. Fortunately we had raincoats in the suitcases in the trunk so we were able to walk about. The rain became harder so we decided to go home. And then we saw one of the downsides of the autostrada. A truck had jackknifed across the median. Our side was able to slowly move into one lane around it, but the other side was at a total standstill for miles back. There are so few off ramps that there is nowhere to go. I imagine they had been sitting there for quite some time and they must have continued to do so.

It was cool and overcast again the next day. We walked down the road for a couple of hours. There was almost no traffic on the road, lots of silence, some nice views, very pleasant. Ready for a dinner out, we waited until 8:00 and went to Marcellino Pane e Vino. We were the only ones there. Ava sat us by the fireplace, lit the fire and a candle on the table, and turned the lights down. A couple of guys came in later, but that was it. We shared an antipasto of local mountain cheeses and meats with some crispy fried bread sticks that were good with the cheeses. Then I had a bowl of pasta e fagioli which just hit the spot, and Michael had some kind of pasta. Dessert was a good warm chocolate cake and a hazelnut cake with fruit sauce. We’d had enough "private" dining and were ready to leave Montemarcello.


A happy Michael on the beach in Levanto

October 21 – 24 Maremma: Castglione della Pescaia​

It poured all night with rolling thunder and torrents of rain. It was still pouring when we got up but we decided to leave anyhow. The lights flickered and then went off for a few minutes just as Michael was finishing his shower. We got out the raincoats and umbrellas and got everything into the car. Michael was soaked through and had to dry off and change clothes before we left. It was an easy drive on the autostrada, most of it in the rain. We'd get occasional dry spots and see a patch of blue, but then the rain came again.

Friends had recommended Castglione della Pescaia so we decided to stop there and went to the only open four-star hotel, L’Approdo. The room was okay but not the luxury place we were both ready for. It had finally stopped raining and I was hungry so we walked the main pedestrian street and stopped for a slice of pizza and a glass of wine. Walked to the upper town where there is an old fortress, then went to the “i” and got information about the area. This seems like a nice little beach town and it's probably lovely in September, but in late October there were too many places closed for the season. There are lots of restaurants bars, enotecas and gelaterias. However, there didn't appear to be many interesting shops.

Instead of staying another night in Castglione della Pescaia, we left for what we hoped would be better circumstances in Porto Santo Stefano. The “i” office there was not open and the appearance of the town was disappointing. The road coming in was lovely, but the town itself was unattractive. We were in a kind of in a quandary as we didn't know where there were any hotels or how to find them. So it was on to Orbetello.


View from our room

October 21 – 24 Maremma: Orbetello and Pitigliano​

At first Orbetello did not look very appealing either. I saw a sign for the "i" so we parked and went in search of it. We walked to a piazza and it was like raising the curtain on a stage set: people were lively, chatting, sitting at cafes. All of a sudden Orbetello looked much better! The woman at the “i” was very helpful and gave us a list of hotels. We looked at one just off the piazza, Hotel Sole, which had a standard room for €80. We decided to check out Relais I Presido before we made a decision, as we'd passed it on the way in and I'd seen it on the Internet. Presido was definitely more like what we had in mind so we signed up for the large €130 room, which was done nicely in cream and green.

Around 12:30 we went in search of lunch. Trattoria La Pergola is a nice traditional place with exposed brick and arches. We shared mussels marinare (which, in Italy means white wine, garlic and parsley), fritto de calamari, mixed salad and white wine (Pitigliano). Then we took a long walk on the brick pedestrian walkway that follows the lagoon. There are lots of birds in the lagoon, including egrets. A couple of observation blinds are set along the way. We also saw some happy people: a father and son, about 10, practicing whistling; two older gents on their bikes singing and humming as they road; women chatting as they walked.

We stopped for gelati and sat watching the passing parade. The best scene was a group of seven teenage boys, all dressed in jeans and black t-shirts. They went into the gelateria and each came out with a two or three flavored cone. Shortly after the last one came out with his cone a woman wearing a very short leopard print skirt and very low cut leopard print top over an ample cleavage walked by. As one unit the boys heads turned and they gave her the once over, then they all marched off, following her into the piazza.

We’d made a dinner reservation at 8:30 at Gallery. It is a contemporary looking restaurant with modern takes on traditional food, presented beautifully. We were given an amuse bouche of a round of soft cheese in a nest of ultra thin crisp noodle threads with a drizzle of berry sauce on the side of the plate. Then we share grilled shrimp on fagioli seasoned with rosemary, then risotto with mushrooms and meat. Michael had a piece of fish (troncho) simply seasoned and roasted surrounded by small roasted potatoes and nicoise olives. I had breaded shrimp on a skewer with a small round mold of couscous and a curry paste sauce served in a spoon on the side. This was accompanied by a very nice white wine from the area. I think dolce would have been wonderful, but neither of us had room.

After breakfast at the hotel - yes, we were the only ones in the dining room - we left for Pitigliano. We'd read that the road was twisty and it certainly is. It's not that far from Orbetello (about 45 minutes) but it takes longer because of the road. I was a bit green by the time we got there.

Pitigliano is quite a sight. The hilltop town rises out of the tufa rock as though a sculptor began carving the town and stopped about half way down. We just wandered, as we never saw any signs for the “i.” Fortunately we got to the ancient synagogue which was the main thing I wanted to do. There had been a large Jewish community here in the 1500's. The synagogue was in ruins until rescued by the community in the 60's. While only a small portion of the ancient synagogue remains, the communal places in the tufa are there. We went into the mikva (ritual bath house), slaughterhouse, kosher storage room, and matzo ovens. The later was most interesting as there were old photos on the wall showing people actually using the ovens.


The road to Pitigliano

October 21 – 24 Maremma: Saturnia​

A bit more wandering and we got on the road back. We decided to check out Saturnia, a thermal spa area. The countryside around there is pretty rolling hills and vineyards. You can smell the sulphur baths of Saturnia as you approach it. The town was quite quiet at 1:00 so we headed back out. I'd read that there were free public baths somewhere down the road and thought I'd seen them as we drove in. We'd passed a porchetta truck parked on the road on the way to town and, since it was still there, we stopped and got a couple of porchetta panini and some water, both of which really hit the spot. I guess I'm just a peasant at heart.

While we were waiting for the sandwiches to be made Michael scanned the scenery below and spotted the baths. We took our panini and drove there and parked. Michael put on his bathing suit and I decided not to. I walked with him to the pools so I could take a photo and then went back to the car. A family pulled in next to our car and got out their picnic basket, small table and chairs and set up on the grass next to the lot. After lunch the dad went off to the pools and momma and daughter were hanging out. There was another family further over in the lot who also set up their picnic spot. People must stay in B&Bs on the road or in town and then walk or drive here to take the free baths.

Michael came back wet and refreshed and we were off to check out Porto Ercole. It has a nice harbor with nice yachts and looks like nice hotels and apartments in the hills, but not much else there. We witnessed a little drama with firemen on ladders to the roof of four-story building. There must have been a fire as they were hacking through the roof tiles. People had gathered around for the event.

And back to Orbetello. After a bit of a rest, and with stomachs growling, we went in search of food. After passing a couple of empty places we came upon Dalla Zia which had people in it. Not only did it have people, but it was packed, mainly with men in the late 20-30 age group. There were several tables of them but they didn’t seem to have any relationship to one another. We were given a table in the back and had crostini with liver pate, spaghetti with clams, and a cappricciosa pizza with a mezzo litre rosso. After the guys left, several tables became filled with what looked like dates. The place was decorated for Halloween. Do they do trick or treat in Italy?


Michael in the baths at Saturnia

October 24 - 28 Rome​

After the exercise of trying to explain how many minutes we wanted our eggs cooked (for hard-boiled) we checked out of the hotel. It had been sort of like living in a palazzo with servants. One other guest came in and sat in a different alcove facing the wall. I believe he was the only other guest.

Finding out where to return the Sixt rental car at Fumicino required much circling and finally stopping at the Hilton to ask for specific directions. (FYI: go to "arrivals", keep to the left and go into the parking and you will see the rental car areas). The next challenge was finding where the taxis were. It took two elevators (Terminal B and down to 0, then a long walk to the taxi stand) but we finally got there. It was a 40 minute €55 ride to Piazza Santa Maria, much of it with my eyes closed as the driver was weaving in and out of heavy traffic. We had given the driver the written hotel address, then showed him a map when we got to the piazza. The Villa de Fonte is on a side street off the piazza and cars cannot enter, but it was only a short walk with our luggage.

We rang the bell and the door opened to Carmen in a small reception area. Our room would not be ready for about an hour as they were fixing the AC. So we left our luggage in the reception area and went out to explore and get food. We stopped at the nearby “i” and had a delightful and informative chat with Lucia who, after I'd asked about how to get to the ghetto, told us to be sure and get the hot ricotta and cherry cake at the kosher bakery – “Not the fancy looking one; the one on the corner with no sign.” She also provided us with information about cultural events and exhibits.

It was exciting to be back in Rome after 30+ years. We decided to follow Rick Steve’s suggested night walk, but to do it backwards from Trastevere. We crossed over Ponte Garibaldi and went on to Piazza Navona. There was much going on including tango dancers warming up, lots of artists doing caricatures, guitarists etc. We got a wonderfully rich tartufo to share at Tre Scalini – as good as I’d remembered it from 30+ years ago - and went back to watch the tango dancers who were just finishing up their last dance. The Fountain of Four Rivers had scaffolding all around it, but was still a magnificent site. Our walk then took us to the Pantheon which is so awesome. Even with hundreds of people inside, it is breathtaking.

It was sunset and we went on to the Trevi fountain where we each threw in a coin over our shoulder, ensuring our return. What a masterpiece! There were hundreds of people ringed around the fountain and I took a photo of the tourists photographing the tourists, as that was about the only way you could get a photo of the fountain. And we finally got our roasted chestnuts from a cart there. When we finished the Steve's walk itinerary, we walked along the Via Condotti and Corso, and back to Campo Fiori where we sat on the piazza and had a drink with lots of peanuts in the shell and watched the passing parade. Quite the buzz.

We were tired and wanted dinner in Trastevere. We chose Vizi Capitali which proved to be a wrong choice with bad service and poor food. We stopped on the piazza before we went back to the hotel and there was a busker doing something with a fire baton. As we watched the scene, I noticed that boots were ubiquitous. Most have stiletto heels, some are cowboy style and some are flat. They are long, short, and in between. They are worn with everything from denim to taffeta and we've seen them in every city. Another fashion happening was tiered long taffeta skirts with velvet jackets or tiered shorter chiffon printed skirts.


Marsha enjoys the ultimate gelato

October 24 - 28 Rome: Ghetto and Piazza Navona​

After breakfast on the upper terrace it was off to the ghetto. We walked to the ghetto and toured the museum and the Great and Spanish synagogues. It is a wonderful museum presentation which many well preserved marbles, tapestries (Torah covers), and silver with excellent explanations of the items on display and Jewish culture. The only way to see the synagogues is with a group tour which runs frequently during the day. The Great synagogue is overwhelming and beautiful. It is a blend of east and west design, meant to reflect the variety of Jewish cultures that came together in the past 2000 years in Rome. The synagogue was built in 1900 but many of the artifacts from the earlier ghetto and cinque scuoli era have been preserved. The smaller Sephardic synagogue is in a downstairs room and is also still in use. All of the synagogues in Rome are orthodox and there are 12 of them for 15,000 people.

We walked through the ghetto area, which is still a gathering place for Jews even though they now live all over Rome. We found the Jewish bakery that Lucia had mentioned and had a piece of the very rich torte of ricotta and cherries. It was quite a scene in the bakery with trays coming out of the oven, fresh baked goods being put in the case, and a man in a suit directing the three aproned woman who were waiting on customers. We ate our cake on a bench outside and watched a touching scene of an older gentleman blessing the heads of two teenage girls and their father. He then was led off by a younger man. Another man was playing a sort of xylophone outside the bakery.

Our next stop took us to Piazza Navona through the market in Campo de Fiori and then to a fabulous exhibit of Henri Cartier-Bresson photos at the Museo de Roma. There was also a film of his photos, grouped in themes and set to contemporary music. Knock out!

At 9:00 we got dressed and went to Jaipur for Indian food. It was a nice change and we had a samosa and onion rings, tandoori chicken chunks which were juicy and delicious, spinach and potatoes, rice with veggies, bread stuffed with potato and cauliflower, and pappadum with three different sauces. It was all very good and filling.


Rome ghetto scene

October 24 - 28 Rome: Vatican Museum and St. Peter's​

This was the day for shopping, the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's. Before going to the Vatican museum we went to the Andrea Doria market to get lunch but it was mainly produce, so we went to a sidewalk tourist cafe and had a mixed salad and pizza. We followed Rick Steve’s and many Slow Traveler posting advice to get to the museum around 1:30. There was no wait and we kind of skirted around the many tour groups. We followed the Steve's itinerary, which Michael read aloud as we got to specific places, and I supplemented with readings from Time Out. The map gallery, Laocoon, Adonis torso, and Raphael rooms are particularly impressive. Of course the Sistine Chapel, which we purposely went to in the last half hour before it closed, is amazing. The paint has been restored and the colors are brilliant. Not just the ceiling but also the judgment day painting behind the altar. Again we followed Steve’s suggestion and left with a tour group through the door leading right to St. Peter's.

The basilica is ... words don't do it justice. There was the 5:00 mass going on which enriched the experience. Also the preserved body of Pope John XXIII is on display in a glass case. The Pieta is now behind bullet proof glass (it wasn’t the first time we saw it), which means you can't get as close to it as I remembered doing so many years ago. The dome, the Bernini columns and altar are just fabulous. It is astounding to think about how all of these things were created.

I was ready for a taxi to the hotel (we'd been on our feet for almost seven hours) but we walked. It felt great to get my shoes off when we got back.

We got spruced up and headed to dinner at Matricianella. After we’d walked a few blocks, Michael realized that he'd forgotten to take the map. For some reason, when he was getting dressed, I had looked on the Time Out map to see if I could figure the route. I sort of remembered the general direction but not the specifics. I remembered that the restaurant was near the Corso and Via Condotti. At one point we were very lost and stopped to ask directions from two older gentlemen. They talked it over and, when I told them the name of the restaurant one of them knew exactly how to get there. (I have found this to be true - that most Italians go by landmarks, not streets.) We followed his directions and found it only a few blocks away.

Marcianella is a well established trattoria which requires reservations. We shared fried potato skins and bucattini al amatriciana. Michael had melt in your mouth veal pieces with carcofi and I had delicious little grilled lamb chops. We finished with a light chestnut and chocolate mousse and decaf caffe. It was a really nice evening and we had a much simpler walk home.


Ceiling in the map gallery, Vatican Museum

October 24 - 28 Rome: Forum​

We skipped breakfast in favor of sleep. Before going to the art exhibit at Complesso Vitoriano near the forum we walked back to the ghetto for lunch. We really wanted to try authentic carciofi giudia. €8 for two artichokes was a bit steep, although they were good. Looks like they cook the little artichoke and then dip it, top down, in hot oil. The outer leaves get crunchy while the inner and heart stay soft.

The Bonnard - Matisse exhibit had wonderful Matisse work. (I like Matisse better than Bonnard.) Unfortunately our audio guide quit about 3/4 of the way through. After the exhibit we walked through the fora. Some of the ruins are massive and there is so much that you get the sense of what it must have like to live in ancient Roman times. We also walked by the Vittorio Emanuale monument which is totally over the top. It was a very long walk back, passing by the Circus Maximus, and my feet were justifiably tired.

When we got to Osteria Alle Fratelle for dinner we were told we had an hour wait so we signed up and had a proseco at an enoteca, and then walked back. We sat outside in the comfortably warm night. We shared the traditional pasta, orichette con cacia e pepe. I had scallopine al limone and Michael had mixed grilled shellfish (calamai, scampi, prawns) which was brought to him even though he'd ordered orata.

It was time to go home. I checked out and assured "momma" that we enjoyed our stay. Big husky Roberto brought down both our big cases at once - one in each hand. The hired car the hotel had arranged for us arrived and there was very little traffic, especially compared to when we’d arrived. We were at the airport in plenty of time. Because they do not have a business lounge at Fiumicino, Lufthansa gave us a €10 coupon to use at the bar/restaurant so we got our last macchiato, cappo, and brioche.


In the forum

Open Your “i’s”​

ViaRezia 1

Santa Cristina
Via Chemun 9

Cortina d’Ampezzo
Piazetta S. Francesco 8 near Piazza Venezia

Piazza Walther 8

Piazza del Duomo
Largo Boiani 4

Palazzetto Selva (From Piazza San Marco, walk to the waterfront and turn right. The office is about 100 meters ahead.

Lots of printed material about happenings, vaparetto schedules, etc. Asked about Internet locations but no specific information (“near Campo San Stefano ...”) The “i” near the Hotel Monaco did not have the weekly entertainment guide, but they directed me to the hotel to get one. Seemed to be mainly selling tickets to cultural events.

Two “i” offices. The one near Porto Santa Maria has very good lodging information and will make reservations for you. The other one near the western edge of the wall in the Piazzale Verdi, Vecchia Porta San Donato has cultural information and is in a very pretty building. We have found the “i’s” in Lucca to be among the best.

No “i”

Piazza Matteotti 12 and Piazza dei Signori

Via Parigi 11

La Spezia
Viale G Mazzini 47

Via San Nicolo 20 and Piazza Unita d’Italia

Piazza 1 Maggio 7

Bassano del Grappa
Largo corona d’Italia 35

Piazza G. D’Annunzio 2

Piazza Capitolo

Viale Dante Alighieri 72

Via Roma 5

Piazza Mazzini

Piazza Bastreri 7

Via XXV Aprile

Piazza San Giorgio

Via Biaggini 6

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