Saturday, April 30, 2011

Florence by train

Today we decided to take the treni (train) to Florence (Firenze). We arrived to a bustling (make that a nightmare) crowd of humanity. Good Lord! This is a mission.

Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Gucci and every name you can you imagine is represented here. You can’t walk a foot without running into these names in the storefronts and on people. I have never seen so many people wearing so many name brands. The Italians, from kids up, are moving fashion statements. If the name brands weren’t enough, the markets are full of everything from Italian leather to ceramics and masks.

From the train station, it is a short, but crowded, walk to the Basilica. The cathedral is a huge blue and white tile edifice that only a few thousand photographs can describe and even then not well. Truthfully, as beautiful a city as Florence is, it is almost too overwhelming to enjoy. It makes Manhattan seem quiet.

Diana found some awesome leather jackets in the market. The owner came down from 250 Euro to 200 Euro for cash. It wasn’t in the budget, but I sure would have loved to buy that for her.

We rested over coffee at a little café La Sosta de’ Golosi on the Via De’ Pecori and had our first bad food. It took forever to get it and the ravioli and the gnocchi were cold . But, it was an excuse to people watch and we still loved it. We finished off with gelato and (you guessed it) caffee.

By cinquedi (5:00pm) we had to go. Neither of us could do anymore activity. We took the express back to Fiorentino and made the mercifully quiet drive home. As much as we enjoyed the city and as beautiful as it is and as much as I love urban lifestyles, I couldn’t do this everyday. Getting too old, I guess.

On our way home while we were stopped at one of the train stations we looked down at a couple of “love doves” they had nestled themselves about a foot from the train tracks off of the station walkway. To our horror we heard another train approaching fast, we feared for the doves’ lives as there was nowhere for them to go. In between the carriages we could see feathers flying everywhere and we feared the worst. You can imagine our surprise when we saw the doves alive and well. True Italian doves have adapted well!

Wednesday, we see Carla and discuss our project. The European Union is taking natural supplements off the shelves to “protect the consumer.” Of course, we all know what that means…protect Big Pharma. Diana is really ticked off as I am. It amazes me how people will put up with things.

Many countries, such as Holland for example, did not want the Euro. But, they got it. Many, like Italy are paying the price now. The Greeks and Italians can barely afford to live in their own country and the U.S. is not far behind. The EU is bankrupting the European Union just as the Federal Reserve is bankrupting the U.S. What will end up happening is the bankers will repossess the countries!!!

Oh, by the way Brian, take a look at the picture. We found cannolis! Every size and description are for sale. (Just saying).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Urbino on "Faith"

It is difficult to believe we ’have been here almost two weeks. We spent yesterday just hanging out around the casa. We didn’t do a thing. No pictures. Little writing. Just relaxing and playing cards.

But, today we “attacked” Umbria with a passion. We drove towards Urbino and, on the back roads, we found this beautiful little “chapel” built in the 9th Century. It is situated in this tiny valley and the light was carrying across the Umbrian landscape exposing the greens and pastels. We waited for the light to get just right and photographed it until we thought we couldn’t do any better.

We closed in and shot some close ups of the church. It is hard to believe that these constructions have lasted since the 10th Century. They are still standing! This one is so beautifully preserved one wonders how it has survived these centuries without change. We stayed for several hours just waiting for the light to accommodate and then drove on to Anghiari……..

Here are some stunning views of the town of Anghiari

We tried to navigate through the Urbino pass however we were sent back because of road work. Probably a good thing because it was already getting late and time to turn back.

I am having difficulty just comprehending such incredible works of art and devotion. This country has survived time, world wars and the destructions of man and the monuments to God still stand. Everywhere one looks we can see a church built by man’s hands and dedicated to faith in God. It really does make one wonder.

When life is so full of seemingly overwhelming problems it all seems so slight and insignificant when compared to the devotion and faith these ancients brought to their buildings. It really does make us wonder what life is all about.
Ok. Prince William is married and Pope John Paul is now a saint. But, I have solved the greatest riddle of all time, why the Roman Empire fell. PORK.
Sheeze. Do these people love pork or what? We went to the store for veggies. What veggies? OK. It’s planting season, but all I have to choose from is pork, prosciutto, ham and more pork. I swear to God, crucify me if I have to eat more ham! Call it what you will. Ham is ham. Pork is pork and ne’er the twain shall meet.
I was raised with Italian sides and Irish sides of my family. I am not sure who won out.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A lazy day at the Casa

I remarked to Diana yesterday that even the birds speak Italian. Or perhaps the Italians learned to speak by copying the songs of birds. But, whatever the case, you can hear the Italian lilt in every bird’s song. The doves don’t just coo here. They “la coo.” I am serious. You can hear it.

We awoke this morning to a hazy cloudy day in Firentino. The mountains are covered in a blue mist. The sky is medieval gray. Yet it is not a depressing gray (grigio). It is just a romantic misty morning. I cannot envision not being here without Diana. We are discovering new things everyday. Unlike our Holland visit when Diana was my guide, this is a discovery of not only the landscape and people, but a great discovery of ourselves. Diana is having more fun shooting and I am actually enjoying watching her discover new things with her camera.

We are simply enjoying ourselves in the midst of this ancient land. We are steeped in Etruscan history and art. (There is even an Etruscan tomb in Cortona I want to see). The churches are overwhelming. The people have all been exceptionally helpful and nice. They wear clothes emblazoned with American labels. (We saw two sweatshirts yesterday emblazoned with San Diego. Too funny).

We spent 4 hours the day before yesterday in the “3” store getting internet access and the young lady who took care of us (Viala) was so patient in helping us get up to speed. She even went beyond closing time to make sure we were set up properly. What a sweetheart.

Our only disappointment so far was one of the local Gelateria’s advertised crepes which they have discontinued. Sad. We had to settle for dinner at home. Darn. This morning, Diana is shopping for lunch and dinner. Diana proceeded to make out our shopping list for the day (in Italian) which consists of the following:
Acqua Frizzante (sparkling water);
Latte; (milk)
Ette Caffe; (bag of ground coffee)
Pizza; (self explanatory)
Panne; (bread)
Patate; (potatoes)
Ovita. (eggs)

Whatever she doesn’t know at the store will be explained in “sign language a la “charades” This morning she got 4 Italian women to “play the game” and came home with everything on her list and more!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sienna?....not quite

This morning started with heavy clouds and drizzle. We decided to chance it and drove out toward Siena.

Siena is only about 40 km from here and our decision to take the back roads was rewarded by scenery straight out of a Tuscan painting. The light had begun to come through the clouds and spotted the landscape with bright colors and muted hues of green, yellow and an iridescent chartreuse.
By the time we arrived in the outskirts of Siena, a huge city built inside walls dating from the 1200’s, it was time for Diana’s fix of cappucino. Since it was nearly 2:00 we were getting hungry…noi fame!

We drifted into the town of Castel Nuovo. Immediately, we spotted a little Italian deli and decided to try for lunch. This little “deli” is operated by two beautiful Italian ladies (who speak less English than we do Italian. They told us that they are not a ristorante but they set a table up outside and we began choosing cheeses, prosciutto, a local chianti, salami and confettura picanta di cipolle (an onion “marmalade” for bread and cheese) and a lasagne funghili.

They presented it to our table in a beautiful setting on a bread board. It is almost too pretty to eat…but we managed. (Have you noticed that everything here revolves around food?) We had the bottle of local Chianti poured directly from the cask. Marone! It was so good. Not at all like the Chianti in the States…smooth, light and fruity. We bought a bottle to take home.

We took pictures of the ladies in front of their deli on #10 Strada di Sestano and our suggestion is that no one should miss this! We proceeded from here out of town to find the golden light of Tuscany. This is truly an experience of a lifetime. The light is so special it is easy to understand how the Renaissance began here. The colors, light and perspective are breathtaking.

We stood at the rare turnouts watching the light as the clouds opened and closed to reveal multitudes of varied greens and pastel colors that can only be seen to be understood. It is unfortunate that we do not have Photoshop here to work on some of the photos we have taken but that will have to wait until we get home. As it is, just downloading the hundreds of photos everyday is a job!

We tried to negotiate the walls of Sienna, however the complex narrow streets, crowds of people and lack of parking made us turn our attention back to the beautiful landscape outside of the city. We will try taking the train there on another day for a closer look.

We arrived home around 7:00 (an early day for us) and had homemade ravioli with Bolognese and asparagus.

Now how is that for a day of food supplies? We bought two decks of cards (cost was 12 Euro!) so we can play cards. What we thought was funny is that two decks of cards cost more than two bottles of fine wine. Hmmm. Seeing how card playing here is almost a national pass time as is wine, I am wondering about this disparity.

Italy like Portugal, Greece and Spain is in a major upheaval of financial woes according to the world press, but everywhere we have driven so far there is an amazing amount of restoration going on. Homes are being built, castles and churches being restored and people enjoying shopping. In every town thus far, we cannot find any evidence of this financial difficulty.
My only observation is that the Euro has been a mixed blessing for these countries. The upside is that the Euro is the same everywhere. The downsides (too numerous to mention) is that many people (outside of Germany) are having difficulty living in their own country. Currently, the exchange rate is 1.54 Euro to the American dollar. Gasoline is 1.55 Euro per liter or roughly $10.00 per gallon! I don’t care where you live that is a huge cost.
If we allow the same thing to happen in the U.S., allowing the banks (IMF and the Federal Reserve) to dictate our currency (as they have already done since 1916 in the U.S.) we will be in deeper trouble than we already are.

The Italians don’t complain much, at least not that I can tell with my limited understanding of the local conversations and newspapers. All I can see is that politicians still promise what they have no intention (or ability) of delivering. Life among the common people goes on. I think it is just a matter of time before the banking system goes into full collapse. No amount of so called bailouts will help because, like the medieval times, the serfs will rise up and tell the powers that be that enough is enough and by sheer weight of numbers, the bankers will have to give in. There just isn’t anymore left. I listen to idiots like Timothy Geithner advise the U.S. Congress to raise the debt limit “for our own good.” Whatever happened to monetary prudence? Good Lord. This is advice from a notorious banking failure! When will we learn that you cannot borrow your way out of debt?

Another thing we noted; Farmacias or Pharmacies. While they appear not to be as stocked as American Pharmacies (thank God!), they are well stocked. They do claim to have Omeopathicas although we didn’t see any signs of natural products like vitamins. In fact, we have not seen a vitamin store yet. Not one! What we did find though was huge assortments of fresh food. Hmmm. Italians, and probably Europeans in general, have a higher health rate than we do simply because they do not have the crap in their food that we do and overall do not seem to stress out as we do.

Their dottores (Medical Doctors) are not as ubiquitous as the States and that might be a result of their lifestyles which not only include healthy eating habits but good mental health habits. For instance, as I noted previously, most stores close at 1:00 and reopen at 4:00. Restaurants usually do not open for dinner until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. They do not, as we do, run to a doctor every time they have a little ache or pain or some undiagnosed disease.

I did not see but one psychiatric hospital (in Siena) and few people with mental disorders. If the pharmaceutical companies have their way, Europe will go the way of the U.S. But this will take time. Europeans just do not seem obsessed with drugs as we are. I have not seen one commercial for a new disease or drug here. That is something we could learn if only we could get Congress to repeal this money driven infatuation with the drug companies. I doubt it, but we can hope.

I finish with this statistic; the U.S. represents 1% of the world population. We consume 50% of the world’s pharmaceuticals yet we are listed by the World Health Organization as dead last in overall health! Hello!

O.K. No more pontificating. I am just in one of my moods. I am getting into the swing of writing after 10 days here and look forward to collaborating with Dr. Marzetti. We both have a passion for health. We both see the need to address the huge issue of parasites. Dr. Marzetti has purchased a new addition to her CytoViva ‘scope that will allow her to spectrally identify parasites in live cell blood samples. That is a huge move forward and I only hope we can accomplish a significant advance in the treatment of disease and parasites. Medical science is not at all a science but (at least in the U.S.) a science of how do we get more research money for something we already know? How do we produce more diseases and more drugs? When research stops being $$$ driven and science driven, we will solve the unsolvable and that is true science.

I foresee the day when many diseases (especially mental diseases) can be addressed by treating for parasites. Epilepsy, Parkinson’s, ADD, bi polar disorder and schizophrenia are just a few that have their basis in parasites. I also see the day in which parasitologists will be taken from their basement laboratories and allowed into the light of day where they belong. The day will come when people will simply get it.

Until tomorrow. Buono notte.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Finally "Connected"

Hurray! It took us 4 hours but we finally have internet service…kind of.
They don’t have WiFi like we do in the States. We purchased a Q 3 internet key (that took 3 hours to set up). As long as we are in range of this thing we can have better than limited internet. (I’m not quite sure what that means, but we do have some semblance of internet service.

Today was mostly caffee and internet set up, but it’s raining

slightly and cloudy, so we kind of lucked out. We did manage to shoot some poppies and trees. Mostly, we just tried to slooooowly wade through some e-mails. Diana spent about 4 hours trying to wade through hers and I just watched over my caffe Americano.
It’s odd, but I think we are the only Americans here. Last night we did run into a Canadian couple in Riccio, but no one here from home. I am surprised because I think anyone would be missing out not seeing this little “hamlet.” Everyday at 1:00 until 4:00 everything except the coffee shops shuts down. Then they re-open at 4:00 and the ristorante do not open for dinner until 8:00. Most tourists I think make the main attractions like Rome, Pompeii, Florence, Pisa, etc., but to miss these little out of the way places is a large mistake because I think this is the real Italy. Once in a while you find an English speaking Italian but not as often as in say, Rome.

Incidentally, no matter where you drive here, signs will say Peruggia/Roma; Siena/Roma, Arezzo/Roma or Firenze/Roma. I guess it is true that all roads lead to Rome or at least they make all roads lead to Rome! It’s almost as though some road builder took that seriously and made sure it is true.

As Diana worked on the computer, I people watched at the Bar 2000. Everytime we have been here between unodi and quattrodi (one o’clock and four o’clock) there have been men playing cards which they take very seriously. I mean they get into it! They take this more seriously than their driving if that tells you anything.

Diana finished up her computer work (after 3 cappucinos) and the computer was just about out of gas, so we headed back to our house for dinner and cards. (Did I say cards?) Diana has been doing all the driving and her Dutch expertise at planning and organizing has really paid off. She has been my best friend all these years and I do not know how I could have gotten along without her. In fact, I wonder how I did anything without her before. I still refer to things as B.D. and A.D…before Diana and after Diana. She is still working (now) our business from here.

Ben has been doing his thing for us from home and, judging from the e-mails we received today, he is doing a splendid job. It has allowed us the freedom to do this trip. We have been blessed with a compatriot as dedicated as Ben and I know he will make a fine replacement one day. He is already beginning to court many new clients with his expertise and we are proud and fortunate to have him as an associate.

It’s cinquedi (5:00) here and Diana is down at the local market buying some bread and stuff for a quiet dinner tonight. We’ll probably have bread, prosciuto, cheese and local wine. Whatever it is it will be good. Even the rain here has an intangibility and mystery that is hard to explain. PLEASE. If you come to Italy, visit this place. It is awesome.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spoleto, Umbria and Aquaducts

Aprile 26 (this can get confusing when you are ahead 8-10 hours from Pacific Time)

This morning we decided to head for Spoleto, but with a bit of a twist; we are going through the mountains. Now when I say mountains, I don’t mean San Diego hills. I mean mountains. We found it fascinating that many gas stations here are called Auto Grills. Fascinating because they serve food in these establishments. Not American McDonald’s but actual freshly cooked foods from fresh veggies! They serve soups, pastas, sandwiches, turnovers to die for and fresh coffees. The service would make a fast food manager blanch. These people genuinely like to wait on people. At least, it appears that way and I have no doubt of it.

We detoured and drove around Lago Trasimeno which is obviously a vacation spot as the town was full of families and teens. Excursion boats were pulling out to tour the lake and it’s castles…Castiologne Lago and Cassel Rigone. Finding parking in any of these areas is difficult if not impossible and we decided to continue on to Spoleto.

We arrived in Spoleto to find another bunch of castles and churches (imagine that!). We also discovered that stream fishing is very popular here. Diana made it a point to let me know that she had tried to persuade me to bring our fly rods. (yada, yada, yada). The local restaurants advertise local tratte (trout and fillette salmon). I don’t know why but I found the existence of obviously old fish hatcheries a bit “out of place” even though they have obviously here for a long time.

On the way home, an RV was traveling about 30 mph and holding up traffic for miles. I mean 50 cars were backed up and (Italian style) horns were honking. Mountain roads, slow RV’s and Italian drivers do not mix. (I think at least 20 Italians went home and had to have massive attitude adjustments.)

Spoleto is a beautiful medieval town with a gracefully built fortified town square and incredible artifacts. When did these people have time to create the Renaissance? I mean imagine a complete town built of stone and brick, walls some 10 feet thick perched on a mountain top and about a mile square. Then add in living accommodations, churches and shop facilities and you have a close approximation of what went into building these. These things must have taken 30 or 40 years to build not to mention the resources and manpower.

Now something I never dreamed I would experience let alone walk on is one of the Roman aqueducts. This one spanned a quarter mile or more across an 800 foot chasm. Along side this is part of the Appian Way. I actually got acrophobia walking on this thing. It is a marvel of engineering and is still used by real humans! We walked half way across before I gave up. The engineering of this stretching from one mountain to another in Spoleto. This is absolutely mind boggling.

We then drove back to Perrugia and home stopping on the way for dinner in a local Ristorante. We had bruschetti with anchovies and Samorza cheese. Secondi was Tuscan style spaghetti and finished off with (yes, you guessed it, cappucino and caffe). Diana’s cappucino threw the waitress for a loop since Italians never have cappucino for dinner. The waitress even apologized and offered it free if it wasn’t acceptable. After all, she is a dinner waitress and not a morning caffe person. (Diana accepted a caffe machiatto). These folks even when bad can’t make bad coffee…even when it is bad!

By the way Brian, so far we haven’t found a single cannoli. For all the Tuscan love of pastries, not a cannoli to be found. Must be a Sicilian thing. Hmmm. La cosa Siciliana?

We are now home and tomorrow will try (again) to find internet service…

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday in Tuscany

First, we still do not have internet. We hope to find an internet café tomorrow.

Easter, as you might imagine, is a huge deal in Italy. Every town has been celebrating since Good Friday and the towns are full of people.

We have now been here 6 days and today was our first chance to really get out in the car and explore Tuscany. I think we put over 1,000 kilometers on the little Fiat. We drove from our casa down to Casteleogne d’Lago and Cortono. I know why most Tuscans are not overweight even though they eat a lot of pork. Every town is built around a medieval castle and these castles are all built on top of a mountain. Every step is either up or down and I mean up or down.

You can’t drive 10 kilometers without seeing a castle. They are as common in Italy as windmills in Holland. There must also be at least 5 churches in each town and every one is a work of art.

They had a passion for building in the Renaisance which nearly surpasses what we do in cities today. The difference of course is that they not only had to have purpose but art. When you walk these narrow streets you have a feel that Cesare d’Medici or some medieval Pope was here, as well plotting or conniving yet mindful of how history would judge them.

We spent the better part of the day in Montepulciano, another medieval castle, this one in Siena, Tuscany. The up and down streets once bustled with soldiers and even with the modern accoutrements of shops, ristorante and cafeterias it is easy to get a feel for the souls that lived here. Dark alley ways thrust through the sides of the streets, apparently allowing the soldiers quick access to the battlements should an attack come from the outside.

Montepulciano sits almost 2,000 feet above the city and there are incredible views of the surrounding countryside. It is difficult to imagine not only how cities like this were conquered in the 1500’s (as Montepulciano was conquered by Florence in 1511) but how much more difficult it must have been in the Second World War for the allies to displace the Nazis who occupied so many of these fortresses during that time.

After a lunch of spinach ravioli and braised beef, we walked down the mile of cobblestones to our Fiat and drove to the country side. When you leave the confines of the walled cities you find yourself confronted by lush countryside of grape arbors, farms and stone houses dotting the very open countryside. Tourist farms are everywhere and (as evidenced by the tour buses) is quite a passion here.

These tourist buses are almost ubiquitous as porcini. The farms are scrupulously clean and sport 3 hour walking tours. The Tuscan cedars line the roads leading to the farms and the views with the Tuscan sunlight can only be described as breathtaking. We drove down several old dirt roads. It is Easter Sunday and we encountered several families, dressed in their Sunday best, walking the roads, talking excitedly and enjoying the day.

Except for the concrete electric poles, it isn’t hard to imagine that the area has changed little in 500 years.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Today they delivered our luggage!!

Aprile 24

Today, they delivered our luggage! Molte Bene! We now have changes of clothes and can take a proper shower so we can now explore the area. Rosanno, bless his heart, graciously came in on this Saturday morning to await delivery of our bags. He has been so very kind and, even though we have difficulty understanding each other (he struggles with English as much as we struggle with Italian). Without his help we would have been at a total loss. Italians may not be able to drive but they are gracious to a fault. Everyone has been so kind. Rosanno was so upset with our problems he upgraded our accommodations to the largest casa!

While awaiting delivery of the luggage, we found out that Rosanno collects early ceramics from the area and he showed us pictures of his collection, some of which he has painstakingly restored. Some are Etruscan and many date from 1100 to 1300 A.D.. Many of the pieces he has restored personally. What a gentleman. If any of you plan a vacation here, please consider his mansione. He goes far beyond what one would expect. He is gracious to a fault.

Dr. Carla Marzetti of Valsambro called this morning while we were having coffee at the Bar 2000 (again for the 30th time. Diana is in love with the coffee). It was so good to hear her voice. Here we are in a foreign country and to hear a familiar voice was so exciting. We meet with Carla in Bologna to discuss so many things microscopic. Her expertise is allergies. She just returned from the U.S. and we will be collaborating on some research together.

There is a convent about 11 km from here and we plan on photographing that along the way of our adventure.

10:00 p.m. local time.

While we did not find the convent, we proceeded to Umbria and found an incredible medieval town; Citta di Castello. We spent from 5:00 until 9:00 (not nearly enough) exploring this little city’s central shopping district. The area is undergoing renovation and the houses, churches and shops are an amazing blend of modern fashion and photography to ancient architecture.

I am constantly stunned at the European flair for fashion and style. Here we are in the “middle of nowhere” and the fashion is beyond belief. The Italian women love their boots and leggings. I don’t believe I have seen so many varied styles except in Holland. I can only imagine what Paris is like. The streets were thronged with people, young and old just doing what Italians do best; enjoying themselves in Cafeterias drinking wine, beer and caffe.

Naturally, we are in love with Italian coffee. There isn’t one (not one) café we visited that served anything less than perfect coffee. If I have learned anything it’s how to order coffee.

“Per favore. Uno cappucino y uno café Americano.” It averages 2.50 Euro (about $3.00) for two cups and is our main passion so far. Starbucks would be a losing proposition here. I cannot tell you how tasty the food is here. Tonight in Cassia d’ Castello, we had ravioli with spinach and a tiramisu to die for.

We shot hundreds of pictures and have just arrived home to download the days take. Once we finally find access to an internet café, the blog will be up to date. Forgive us. It is not our fault.

To my daughter Justice Naccarato and her husband Brian, we miss you and wish you were here. (Sorry Brian. We haven’t had a single cannoli yet). To our clients, we miss you and pray you are doing well. To Ben, we hope you are keeping up with the load as we know you are. To our many friends, thank you for giving us this opportunity to enjoy a “honeymoon” we have never had. For all of our friends…thank you so much. We really do miss you. We will be sharing photos beyond this blog as soon as we get access to the internet.

I am writing this from our casa in the Tuscan hills. There is no sound except the dogs barking in the far distance. Diana is sleeping. Diana and I could easily live here (except we really have to get our Italian down). The people are simply wonderful. I do have a few questions, however: why do older Italian men amble with their hands behind their backs as though they are surveying the streets and life. Is life really that simple?

We have only just begun our adventure and everyday a new possibility. Adventures like this are what everyone should experience and makes us understand how really close and so really different and similar we are. But, in the end, we are all just people with the only agenda being content with our lives, families and friends.

There are elections going here in Italy. (See some of the pictures). The politicians here are the same everywhere. No one really pays attention. Just another schmuck that can’t find an honest job.

Buono notte!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Aprile 22 (notice I changed to Italian? I am so proud of myself)

OK. U.S. Airways lost our luggage. At the lost and found in Milano, they tracked it down and said “perhaps tomorrow. We believe your luggage is in Frankfurt.” We called our casa owner to tell him we would be late (like tomorrow) because we aren’t driving to Castiglione Fiorentino in the dark. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, Milano Litane for the night and finally got a much needed shower. Of course, we are still wearing the same clothes we started with some 30 hours ago. Yuck.

After a much needed rest, we had a wonderful Italian breakfast (ovita, sausage, cold cuts, fruit, and breads) and took our rental Fiat for the drive to Castiglione Fiorentino. (You realize that Fiat means fake? The car is btw probably Chrysler’s salvation).

We have decided that to drive in Italy you drive seriously offensively. Offensive driving here means a horn and judicious (make that a lot of) use of brakes. It also means ignoring lanes. Lane markers are simply aiming devices. You drive where you want pretty much and use of a blinker is also optional. Diana is getting very good at driving Italian style. You simply go. Passing is expected even in the narrowest of roads. For people who sit and lazily enjoy dinner and/or coffee, I am convinced that driving is their true emotional outlet.

My son, Lucas would find driving here absolutely normal. You tailgate, pass when you want and cut everyone off. A driver’s dream. I love you Lucas. But, driving is not your strongpoint.

Italians call accidents Incidenti. We were behind two incidenti that held us up a total of two hours, mostly in tunnels south of Bologna. (Judicious use of horns was apparent even when it was clear we weren’t moving…period. They used horns in the tunnels even when clear that nothing was moving. One man next to us napped in his truck).

So my question is “If a rollover accident (which we sadly witnessed) is an incidente” what do we have to see to get an accident? Is this anything similar to a pharmaceutical company having “adverse events?”

So for something to be an actual serious problem, like Vesuvius blowing up or World War II, there must be a series of incidenti that become serious accidents

We have been driving since 10:00 a.m. local time and it took us until 5:30 to get to Castiglione Fiorentino. But, the drive was definitely worth it. This is incredible scenery and architecture! The light has its own “flavor.” Even in the mist of morning it is magic.

After 10 hours of driving we arrived in Castiliogne and the area is stunning. We are absolutely blown away by the ancient architecture of this town. We met our host Rosanno Griolini and he showed us the casa we are staying in. Bella casa! We arranged to meet him for dinner and dined in a converted wine cellar from the 14th Century. We ate wild boar, insalata, salami, prosciutto, fromaggio and local wine. Dessert was a sweet biscotti dipped in cognac. Whew!

Our house is about 10km of narrow winding mountain roads from town to our casa in the “sticks.” It was built in the 1500’s and is a typical Tuscan farm home. According to Rosanno, four families lived in this one home in the past. It even has wild boar and deer that come every night and dig up the grass. We are absolutely enjoying the area and quiet atmosphere. All we can hear in the morning are roosters crowing in the distance, a few barking dogs, an occasional cuckoo bird and birds chirping. This is truly an experience I wish you could all enjoy.

The house is surrounded by olive trees and Tuscan cedars. In the distance is a beautiful view of the mountains of Castioglione. Diana has to get used to hanging clothes on a line. The Europeans are very energy conscious (make that $$$ conscious). Something we could learn from them.

For now, we rest…again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19, 2011

A bit of a caveat: we have so little access (make that none so far) to internet service in Castiglione that our blog here will be spotty.

Everything on our departure actually went pretty smoothly….at least this morning. My associate Ben Talbot, drove us to Lindbergh field and were processed through security. Usually, I am not enamored with TSA, but I must admit that this time three of the four TSA police were actually pleasant …make that very nice. Diana had a 16 ounce bottle of Sovereign Silver with her and the TSA agent actually tested it and let it through.

The flight was ½ hour ahead of schedule for our Charlotte connect so things were swimming along. And that’s where the proverbial crap hit the tarmac. We spent an hour waiting for a “parking place” and missed our connect to Charlotte.
We spent the next 20 minutes being re routed from Phoenix to Boston and changed airlines from U.S. Airways to Lufthansa. Now does that tell you we might have a problem with our luggage?

Veronica, our customer service rep at US Airways was a princess of a lady.
For our friends, Harold and Joanie, yes, we flew an Airbus to Frankfurt. Lufthansa was a great experience. The service was great and the flight attendants very…attentive. That being said, please remind me never to complain about American airports again. Frankfurt should be re-named Frankensteinport. What a nightmare getting around. For all their efficiency, the Germans are really very inefficient when it comes to airports.

We had to unpack our cameras and repack them several times.

We were late getting into Milano but better late than never and we holed up in a hotel for the first night. 12 hours on a plane is not a picnic. Do we need showers!?
See you tomorrow when things settle in a bit better and someone finds our luggage.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Benvenuto! All'inizio ...

For those of you who don't speak Italian, the title translates to "Welcome. In the beginning." Tuesday, April 19, we leave for Italy. The flight is a bit convoluted...San Diego to Phoenix. Phoenix to Charlotte. Charlotte to Franfurt and Franfurt to Milan. Sheeze. That means a cumulative X-ray effect from airoprt scanners that could make Diana and myself glow in the dark. But, this is a lifelong dream and and "ain't nothin' getting in our way."
We decided to start this blog so all of you could follow our journey which will last 4 1/2 weeks.
We will be staying in Castilione Fiorentino for 2 weeks in a private casa. (The owner made sure we understand it is a casa and not a villa). Hmmm. Then we stay for a week in Bologna for our reserach project with Dr. Carla Marzetti at Valsambro Laboratory. Dr. Marzetti is a brilliant scientist and also promises 6 homemade Italian dinners.
Then to Venice, Pompeii and points between.
We might even come home.
We will miss you but hopefully, reading this blog will keep you close to us even though we are seperated by miles.
Fino aquando si parla nuovomente (Until we talk again)
Hugh and Diana