Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Romance of Rome ~ Diamonds, Danger and Desire


The name alone of this vibrant, ancient city- up until a few weeks ago – has always brought to mind scenes of exploration and adventure tinged with romance, similar to those from  “Roman Holiday” the 1953 movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. 

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An escapade in Rome 1953
For you who may not have seen the movie: a bored princess escapes her keepers, falls for a journalist and they zip around Rome on a Vespa, falling in love while having a delightful romp in Rome. 
I didn’t think anything could top that, well. . ., until we did. . .in a manner of speaking, that is!

Another escapade in Rome
As I hinted at last week, this post incorporates two tales of Rome – both in which we are the lead characters – however one is real life and one is rather ‘novel’. Without further adieu let’s do Rome. . . with a bit of fact and a bit of fiction:

Two Tales of a City

PicMonkey Collage
Riding the Rails through Tuscany
When we left you last week we were boarding a train on a cloudy Sunday morning in Tuscany’s Camuche/Cortona station bound for Rome. We’d have about 24 hours there before catching our flight back to Athens. It had been a whirlwind week of satiating our taste buds and senses with all things Italian but it was time to return to our Stone House on the Hill in the Greek Peloponnese.

     Jackie looked wistful. “Rome,” she whispered. “We are really going to Rome.”
     Joel approached her slowly, sensing in Jackie’s far-away glance that she was lost in a vision of what was to come. . ."

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

We checked into what has become our favorite hotel in this city, The Mecenate Palace, a four-star place located three blocks from Roma Termini; a location that makes it a walkable distance to sites like the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.  We’ve stayed here three times, each time requesting a room with a view of its neighbor, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore – and we’ve never been disappointed. 

This time, like our previous stays, we entered the room, dropped the suitcases and headed to the window to make sure the view was as remembered. Then we headed out to see how much ground we could cover in the few hours we had – unlike the fictional arrival:
Joel approached her from behind and landed a soft kiss on her neck.
“Oooooh, that feels so nice,” Jackie cooed.
(Joel was encouraged by that, let your imaginations soar. They didn’t go exploring outside the room right away.)

Cloudy skies followed us to Rome
The same clouds that had intermittently dumped rain in Tuscany extended over the Eternal City, but that didn’t deter us, nor the thousands of other tourists and locals, from enjoying a Sunday afternoon stroll through Italy’s capital city.  
The Spanish Steps
“Hey lets make it a point to kiss at every monument we visit,” Joel suggested.
“Yeah, and then we can write a travel book, ‘Kiss Your Way Through Rome’.”
Joel quipped, “Then lets get going so we can research our next chapter.”
By the time we reached The Spanish Steps, the sky was getting lighter and the temperature climbing. The Scout and I did hold hands (so I wouldn’t get lost in the crowds) while searching for a place to sip cappuccinos, people-watch and rest our feet. 
From the size of the crowds at the steps, we decided to skip the other ‘tourist sites’ and enjoyed a stroll past everyday scenes back to the hotel. A sunset drink sipped in the rooftop bar at the hotel, followed by dinner in its adjacent restaurant completed our brief stopover.
Night views from the hotel
Rome really is a city that enchants. You can understand why tales of  romance are often set here. Speaking of romance novels, let me tell you the story about the one in which we are featured:

The Tale of The Tale

Back in January, a blogger-buddy, Irene Levine (More Time to Travel) wrote about a couple, J.S. Fletcher and Kathy Newbern, travelers and writers, who some 25 years ago put their travel knowledge and skills together in a money-making venture. They started writing custom romance novels – a ‘labor of love’ you might say. They created  
As part of that article, they offered a free book to a person who'd be randomly selected from those who'd left comments. You guessed it. I won!
Roman ruins are always a draw
I went through their list of book titles and picked a location and storyline, a thriller (Joel was cast as a cross between Indiana Jones and Superman in a secret agent role and Jackie was his clueless sidekick).  Then I chose the degree of romance, picking ‘huggy-kissy’ mild over ‘sexy-steamy wild. 
Then filling out a questionnaire, I gave them the information necessary to personalize the novel, things names, nicknames, eye and hair color, cars, work, favorite music, and favorite scents. 
P1070632I looked back at my comment on Irene’s post and see that I wrote, ‘laugh out loud’, giggling and smiling’ at the thought of us in such a book.  
As I read the book, I moved on to guffawing and howling with laughter.  
Sometimes it was the plot that brought me to tears and other times it was the fact that as ex pats in Greece we don’t quite ‘fit the mold’.  
Example:  the book has us flying a wide-bodied jet, overnight to arrive in Rome from Athens, which in real life is a two hour flight on smaller aircraft. Had we flown from Seattle as in our old life the plot would have worked as there would have been time for the frolic under the blankets that the two characters had while en route. It did make for good laughs. 
And on that note, I’ll say arrivederci Italy – real and imagined. We are back in Greece and I’ll have  a report for you from The Stone House on the Hill. Until then, safe travels to you and yours!  As always the time you spend with us, commenting and sharing is so very much appreciated. 
Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Riding the Rails ~ On the 6:20 to Tuscany. . .

To travel by train is to see nature, human beings, towns. . .and rivers, in fact to see life.
-- Agatha Christie

We love European train travel. Nothing can get our travel juices flowing like a train station over here. And our week-long getaway to Italy’s Tuscany last week gave us more than ample opportunity to pursue our passion for ‘riding the rails’.

Roma Termini
We’ve spent most of our lives in the train-starved Washington State where a single train departs for  Canada’s Vancouver, British Columbia or south to Eugene, Oregon, (sometimes as far as California) or east towards Montana and Chicago. These are all one or two departures a day from Seattle.

Then we moved to Greece – there are no trains running here, aside from a small metro commuter in the Athens area. (There is talk of a high speed train between Thessoloniki and Athens one day. . .)

So many tracks, so many destinations

So for this pair of vagabonds, being in a train station bordered by multiple tracks with a reader board listing dozens of destinations, we simply felt like  kids in a candy store.

On the Leonardo Express to Rome

Arriving in Rome
We flew from Athens to Rome. Once there we did as so many travelers do: hopped aboard the Leonardo Express, for the 32-minute ride between the airport and Roma Termini, the downtown Rome train station.
P1070323The cost* was 11 euros per person each direction
(* if booked in advance on-line). It is a quick and easy means of travel into town.

There’s also some great sightseeing as it travels through agricultural land that surrounds the city and then you pass some great historic sites once you enter the city.

Plenty of seats and luggage racks make it a great choice for getting to the airport and there’s usually a train departing every 20 minutes, at most every half hour.

And according to its website, should there be a strike that stops trains from running (we’ve had that happen to us twice during previous visits to Rome) they claim they will provide alternate transport to the airport.

The 6:20 to Tuscany

P1070471We bought our tickets for the train bound for Florence at the same time we’d purchased the Leonardo Express tickets - after we arrived at Rome's airport. We paid dearly for having ‘walked up’ so from that point on, we purchased tickets in advance using the internet.

No printer, no problem. They’ve gone electronic. 
(It was the first time we’d done electronic tickets and I was a wreck turning the phone off and on to make sure the ticket would show up when the conductor came past – but it worked, I am hooked!)

We had no metal detectors, no stripping of coats and shoes, no pulling computers out of the bag. We simply walked from the track on which we arrived, to the track where our train bound for Florence was sitting. 

We were reminded that the reader board displaying train departures lists the train’s final destination, in our case, Milan, and a running list in smaller print tells where stops are made along the way. 

Let the Adventure Begin. . .

I never travel without my diary.
One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”
                                             --Oscar Wilde

Old Oscar must have taken a night train to have written such a thing. One of the wonderments of train travel to our way of thinking is the world passing by the windows. I can’t imagine reading anything with a bit of daylight to illuminate the country through which we traveled. We’d have missed scenes like this. . .

Italian Countryside
And this. . .

Tuscan blues and greens
And those far distant towns. . .we wonder what the names might be as we’ve come without our usual travel companions, a map and a guide book. This was a rather spur-of-the-moment trip for us.

Another town to explore one day
With scenes like these to keep us entertained. The hour and a half trip went rapidly. Well, so did the train, come to think about it!

Readerboard on the train told us the next destination and train's speed
As the sun set, we pulled into Florence. . .home of Michelangelo’s David, shops, galleries, eateries. . .oh my! Coming from our small village in the Greek Peloponnese, it was a shock to the system! I’ll tell you more about that stop in our next post.

However, I have just a bit of housekeeping to do today because the European Union and Facebook are complicating the world of blogging through two separate acts. . .  

Arriving in Florence
First, Facebook. Many of you read the blog after I would post it on FB.  I am learning that FB isn’t always feeding those posts to everyone so if you want to be assured of getting posts, you may need to 'subscribe' (its free – but it is a two step process that involves signing up with the link provided in the right hand column on our home page, and then when Feedburner sends you an email asking if you signed up, you must say yes or verify you did).  I have a number of you who are still unverified on my subscriber list. If you do get it on FB, please hit the like button so it will continue feeding through (assuming you want it to!)

Then comes the EU. On May 25, the General Data Protection Act comes into force across the EU (General Regulation 2016/679 of the European Parliament). This means that companies (and bloggers apparently) will no longer be able to use personal data, (Now keep in mind, I don’t have any personal data for you other than your email address – and I don’t even have that, it is Feedburner that sends the emails). But apparently we must have your consent to send such messages. Now I am not going to contact you individually as I don't know who you are. 

So tell you what. If you don’t want to receive the messages, all you have to do is unsubscribe.

There, I’ve satisfied giving you notice – I hope! (And I hope you don't unsubscribe!!)

Bottom Line:  I am going to be writing a post at least once a week to tell you about navigating the world of the ex pat in Greece and our explorations on this side ‘of the pond’. We are grateful for your comments, shares, and emails and the time you spend with us. . .and look forward to having you with us!

Until next week, safe travels to you and yours and hope you’ll be back for a taste of Florence next week!

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sunlight Serendipity ~ Frances Mayes did it again. . .

“Life offers you a thousand chances. . .
all you have to do is take one.”
--Frances Mayes

Our village, Agios Nikolaos at sunset
Well she did it again. That ne’r-met friend of mine, Frances Mayes, showed up last week in the village and in a subsequent rather wild and crazy turn of events and emails we are off to the place she made famous, Cortona, Italy next week. . .

A Bit of Backstory:

Under the Grecian Sun

Long time readers of TravelnWrite  know I am enamored with Frances Mayes’ books. I credit her “Under the Tuscan Sun” (that tale written more than two decades ago about having the courage to buy a home, Bramasole, in Italy and making it her own) for planting one of the seeds that has led us to our full-time Greek residency.

Her later, “A Year in the World” has become a rag-tag travel bible of sorts, that has a permanent spot within easy reach on my nightstand (first in the States now next to the Greek bed)  In this one she’s set loose the travel bug through her tales of long-term stays in far-away destinations. She’s sung the praises of spending enough time somewhere to really get a feel for a ‘sense of place’.

Mediterrenean doorways fascinate - Kythira, Greece
Six years ago her “Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of Italian Life”, a retrospective look at her Italian experiences, offered some poignant observations about the passing of time and life itself. It came along at a time I had just lost a couple of dear colleagues to illness and I too was pondering the fleeting passage of years and relationships.

You long-timers here know I refer to her as a ‘friend’ and do feel that she is a friend  – despite the fact we’ve never met and likely never will. Her ‘friendship’ is much like that I have with many of you whose written words have provided both encouragement and understanding; like that of any friend, near or far.

Sometimes among the most encouraging and understanding friends, I am learning, are those I’ve never met face-to-face.


Staying in touch with long-time friends
So my comment that Frances 'appeared in the village' really means her latest novel that I had ordered arrived at our mail table in the local taverna.

Women in Sunlight” is a novel that caught me up in the storyline just as has her non-fiction.  Perhaps it is because it involves three women in their 60’s who decided to chuck the safe and sane approach to aging and set off for Italy for a year-long adventure (I can relate.)

The narrative, with its thread of friendships made along life’s way, has an Italian village for its backdrop and is punctuated with her signature references to food, wine, and la buona vita, the good life.

Women in Sunlight comes from one of the major joys of my life – my friends. On every page, my love goes out to them,” she writes at the book’s end.

Sunlight Serendipity

Exploring the world - a 'sense of place' 
The Scout and I have been contemplating a week-long getaway (remember, we moved here so we could explore more of this side of the Atlantic). We could fly to Budapest, or Vienna, or Rome, we said. Or we could go somewhere within Greece. All are rather easy getaways with flights only two or three hours long.

We simply couldn’t decide where to go and were about to give up the idea.

In between pondering travel and reading, I’ve been catching up on long over-due correspondence. One long chatty email was to a friend in Seattle. I’ve been missing my friends ‘back there’ – the lunches and coffees, giggles and conversations.  Frances had reminded me again in her book of the importance of those relationships.

Among the topics I told my friend, Sharon, about was the book I was reading.

A secret spring on a spring day
Sharon wrote back saying that she and a friend were traveling next Tuesday as part of a group tour to  Tuscany and would, in fact, be based for a week in Cortona (the town made famous in “Under the Tuscan Sun”).

And yes, she said, they are both fans of Frances Mayes fans; their decision to join this group was sparked in part by their love of her books.

Setting off for serendipity

“Wouldn’t it be fun to write Sharon and suggest if she had a free evening that we go to dinner with her and her friend in Cortona,” I off-handedly suggested two days ago to The Scout. I wrote her and asked for her schedule – luckily there was some free evenings built in to their activities.

“Hmmm. . .said The Scout, “We could catch the train to Florence, spend a few nights there and then head to Cortona for a few nights, a final night in Rome. . .” And hour or so later we were booked!

So that Frances did it again.  She appeared at just the time I needed a reminder about friendships and she was again a spark for getting us out to explore a place we've never been before. Just like any good friend, she gave me the nudge when I needed it!

That’s it for this week at The Stone House on the Hill. I’ll be back next week with a report from Cortona and maybe I’ll be a few days late checking in with you all.  I might just be busy next week raising a glass with Sharon in toast to Frances and to friendships far and wide ~

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sunday Morning In Ravenna, Italy

Our footsteps echoed across the cobbled streets as we strolled through the town on that early Sunday morning  ~

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~ just the two of us touring Ravenna, Italy  on our introductory visit.  You know the kind. Strolling with no real destination in mind just content to be together, surrounded by such history and beauty.

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As the late autumn sun rose higher in the sky, the streets began filling with people – travelers and locals alike – in this capital city of the Province of Ravenna in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.

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Ravenna is an inland city connected to the Adriatic Sea by the Candiano Canal (pictured above). It was one of the last ‘ports of call for the Celebrity Silhouette; the ship we’d sailed from Rome through the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas last October.  A steady stream of buses transported cruisers  like us from the ship to the city on a route that followed the canal.

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From 402 – 476 Ravenna was  the seat of the Western Roman Empire. . .then the capital of the Ostrogothic kingdom. . . that gave way to the Byzantine Empire. . .and then the Kingdom of the Lombards. And the list continues. . .

SilhouettePt22012 327For those of us who love reading and writing as much as travel one of it is notable  attractions is the resting place of Italian poet and philosopher, Dante Alighieri, author of “The Inferno” (the city is mentioned in Canto V).  

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What we will likely remember the longest though about our visit to this city steeped in history was the stop at the Basilica of Saint Vitale, which is considered one of the most representative examples of Byzantine architecture in the world today.

(By this point in the trip we had seen a number of mighty impressive cathedrals but this one was simply jaw-dropping both for its size and its décor.)

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So many mosaics cover the walls, floors and ceilings that it would take weeks of repeated visits to absorb the story each tells; their various themes from the Hebrew Bible or what Christians call the Old Testament.  Some mosaics highlight Emperor Justinian I with his court and his Empress Theodora with her attendants.

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The mosaics were commissioned by Archbishop Maximian 546/556 A.D.

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The church had been closed earlier in the morning for services but when the doors opened, camera-snapping visitors filled its every nook . Yet there still remained a collective hush not unlike those moments before a church service starts as we absorbed the grand interior. If felt almost as if we, too, were attending a service.  Maybe we had been ~ each of us in his or her own way?

That’s it for this Travel Photo Thursday. Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos. And we send our best wishes to all of you who are celebrating Easter this weekend!

And If You Go:

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Hours and entry fees for the Basilica can be found at:

Ravenna  annually hosts the  Ravenna Festival – one of Italy’s premier classical music gatherings. Opera performances are held at the city’s Teatro Alighieri and concerts take place at the Palazzo Mauro de André as well as other locations like the Basilica of San Vitale.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On the Road in Tuscany. . .

Just saying the word, Tuscany, brings back memories of our day trip through Italy’s stunning countryside last fall.

As travelers you know those kind of memories; those images tinged with a just bit of regret because you didn’t .  . .

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. . .breathe a bit deeper. . .

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. . . linger a bit longer. . .

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. . .appreciate more the experience as it was happening.

The kind of trip not dictated by a GPS, in fact, one not clearly defined on paper either. . .

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. . .where the direction doesn’t matter. . .

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. . .your route doesn’t disappoint . . .

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. . .where your destination isn’t set. . .

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. . .where you find unexpected treasures along the way. . .

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That’s the kind of memories I am talking about.  Have you taken that type of carefree approach to trip planning lately? If not, give it a try – you might be surprised by what you find!  And if you’re ready for some armchair travel, head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for Travel Photo Thursday.

(And thanks to those who let me know you couldn’t leave a comment last week because of Google’s fickle support of its blogging system.  I don’t know what caused the problem nor how to fix it, but thanks for letting me know. . .if it continues, please let me know at

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

TPThursday: Hauntingly Beautiful Venice

While Halloween’s celebrations in the United States came to an end last night, All Saints Day celebrations begin today in cities around the world.  Venice, where we were last week, is among those places observing this more reserved, somber day of remembering the dead and departed.

With Travel Photo Thursday bridging Halloween and All Saints Day (also known as All Soul’s Day or Day of the Dead, depending on location and varying in date by a day or two) here are some of our hauntingly beautiful memories of our stay:

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While Carnivale is the celebration marking end of Lent each year; a time when party-goers will bring these masks to life, there was something about those sight-less eyes peering out of window displays that gave a ghost-like feel to them. . .

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The city is filled with statues of heavenly saints.  This one, deformed by time and the elements, gazed with blind eyes on visitors in Venice’s Music Museum.  Or was he still able to keep an eye on the visitors like me who aimed their cameras at his weather-worn being?

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This skeleton is a modern art installation at the side of the Grand Canal – his sightless gaze as spooky as the saint’s above.

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Ever notice how your imagination comes to life in the dark? As our lone  footsteps echoed on the walkway we thought we heard the voice of an opera singer.  The music seemed to come from someplace above us. . .but from where? It wasn’t recorded, but was it live?

We’d not finished pondering the source of the music when a large rat scurried past me and hurtled into the canal with a corresponding splash – now that one did give me goose pimples!

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As we walked along that dark canal route between the restaurant where we ate and our apartment, we came upon another mask shop with these two fellows looking out at us. The song, Music of the Night from the musical, Phantom of the Opera, came to mind:

". . .Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness that you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night. . .”

That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday. Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos.  We’ll get back to more practical matters in the coming week with posts about a new guest chef on the Celebrity ship, a don’t-miss-this-restaurant in Bologna, and who to call for tours there and give you a ‘spritz’ of place in Venice and a taste of KLM’s Business Class Food and Wine Celebration. . .


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