Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ponza Perfection

The New York Times and I have been spirited competitors for some time.  Ever since I became a member of the journalistic fraternity those many years ago (filling in for my brother's paper route when he was sick, even doing collections from customers) I have felt them sizing me up and they, no doubt, have occasionally looked over their shoulder to see what I am up to.  The similarities between us are nearly endless, starting with their quasi plagiarism from me for their "All the news that's fit to print" tagline (obviously lifted my my mantra - "all the news that fits, I'll print") and the nickname "The Gray Lady" (v. the fat, graying man).

Nonetheless, despite our Hertz-Avis rivalry, we have seen mostly eye to eye over the years.  A recent article, however, shattered the uneasy detente that had existed between us.  I refer, of course, to the article "Off the Roman Coast, Bobbing for Views," which appeared in the Sunday Travel section on May 6 of this year.  The Lady's depiction of the island of Ponza, which we included in this year's itinerary for the fourth consecutive summer, simply did not, in this humble reporter's opinion, meet the high journalistic standards that I expect of myself and of my peers.  When the flat prose and poorly chosen highlights were combined with the dull black and white photos in the print version, the effect on readers was no doubt - "I'll take a pass on that place."

Perhaps the Times was doing us a favor, making Ponza look ordinary.  They hid away the good photos in vivid color in their online article and everyone knows that no one reads online newspapers nowadays when a good handsmudging paper copy is available.   Or perhaps they intentionally misrepresented this magical island, hoping to keep it a secret for their in crowd and premium subscribers.  As noble as that impulse might be, it lacks journalistic integrity.  No, for me, I feel it is right and proper to shout it from the mountaintops, that Ponza is the most perfect place on earth.  And I don't care if my 14 readers all buy tickets tomorrow and flood the island.

The truth must be told.

* * *

I suppose one could find Ponza to be an ordinary place.  Unless one likes fresh seafood, warm people and warmer weather, crystal clear crisp blue seawater, winding mountain roads with panoramic views of the sea from a puttering Vespa, quiet peaceful beaches dotted with a smattering of stylish Italian sunseekers.  Or a relaxing day with family on a rented motor boat with a local captain, exploring every one of the island's thousands of nooks, crannies, cathedral cliffs, grottoes, beaches and beach restaurants.

It takes only a couple of hours to circumnavigate Ponza by boat and you can rent and captain your own, as we did a couple of years ago, or for about the same price you can get a local captain, who happens to know where each Titanic iceberg of a rock lies just below the surface, to take you.  We've done the giro (the circuit) four or five times now in our four years coming here.  I don't think we could ever get tired of it, even if we did it every day for the next thousand days (Ponza days, that is, just in the summer).  Our captain this year, a local man of about 50 named Antonio and who was described by the charter master as the best captain on the island, actually was the best captain on the island.  Our boat, which held Suzy, our twin sons, friends Pete and Nancy and me, in addition to our marinaio could have held a dozen or more souls but in Antonio's hands it was like a little dinghy, as he repeatedly threaded rocky needles in the surging swells that followed us all day.  He spoke no English.  Not a lick.  But we understood him perfectly and bonded with him instantly.   Maybe because he reminded us of another Italian Tony, last name Soprano.  Subconsciously perhaps we didn't want to end up like Big Pussy.

* * *

One of the main purposes of coming to Ponza, for us at least, is to eat.  If you like seafood it is a place that is impossible to resist.  Every lunch, every dinner a feast not seen since our last visit to Red Lobster.  (I kid the Red Lobster eaters).  Everything fresh, having been pulled from the sea that day by the owner's best friend.  Everything simple - ridiculously perfectly al dente spaghetti topped by fresh vongole (clams), each strand coated with a flavor that tastes like liquid sea.  Fresh whole fish simply grilled.  Fatty tuna seared on the outside and raw in the middle.  Swordfish served lightly cooked, topping pasta or thinly sliced and raw.  Heaps of fried calamari and little fishes that look like the ones I raised as a boy in my aquarium.  Wash it all down with cold white wine from nearby Campagna, where they know how to make a wine that goes well with fish.  Eating on Ponza is not just a pleasure.  It is a moral obligation.

And our return engagement to the island was animated in part, if not in major part, by our desire for a return engagement at the restaurant Cala Feola.  There, a year ago, we enjoyed the most magical afternoon and lunch with our four children and Pete and Nancy, stepping off our rental boat onto the rocky shore that protects a small marina just below the town of Le Forna.  Five paces away a small rectangular shack with a wooden roof and open sides, enclosing a half dozen simple tables and benches awaited us.  Hours later, plates clean, save for the lobster shells that had topped our pasta we reboarded our boat, dreaming of a return some day.  This day we did.

And forget about those who say you can't go home again.  We did go home to Cala Feola and it was a home run.  It was the same in every respect - warm greeting from the owner, a comfortable table with a great view of the beach and the boats, lots of wine and a basket of live lobsters to choose from to top our spaghetti.  It was the same and it was perfect.  How often does one get an opportunity to relive perfection?

* * *

A little over a week ago we were visiting the north of Italy, a region called Friuli.  One of the memorable activities we undertook there was to take our hotel's Vespas for a ride along the winding wine country roads.  At the time I wrote that there is nothing more exhilerating than riding a Vespa in the Collio.  I was wrong or at least partially wrong.  There is something every bit as good as riding a Vespa in the Collio.  Riding a Vespa on the mountain road that runs along the spine of the tiny rock of an island that is Ponza.  And there is nothing better than having your son holding on right behind you, sharing the sounds of the cool air rushing through your helmet and the sight of rocky Palmarola in the distance and rocky beaches dotted with colorful beach chairs and umbrellas hundreds of feet below.  This, too, is perfection.

* * *

Chiaia di Luna beach
The beaches in Ponza are not sandy except for the crowed Frontone beach - beware any beach that offers free boat service to it - and Chiaia di Luna, a long, half moon shaped bay with a sliver of a sandy beach that is abutted by completely vertical cliff and which, due to cave-ins of those cliffs over the years has been closed to beachgoers for many, many years.  But there are numerous rocky beaches, more like platforms that oozed into the water from ancient volcanoes, where industrious Ponzese have set up concessions offering beach chairs and umbrellas, and some with lunch service as well.  We have explored a number of these little makeshift beaches, each one with a little different character, different exposure and view, different clientele.

One of our favorites is la Caletta, a cheery beach run by a cheery fellow named Silverio (Saint Silverio is the patron saint of these island and it seems that every other male here is named Silverio), that is reachable by a perilously steep goat path from the town above.  The climb reinforces the natural inclination that one has of being happy to arrive and upset to leave.

We returned to la Caletta one day on this visit, on a day when the weather was not particularly good.  In fact, we nearly decided to skip it, opting for, surprise, a long lunch.  But just as we were settling the bill, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine.  So we made the trek down the mountain side, arriving at la Caletta before nearly anyone else came up with the same idea.  We rented chairs and umbrellas from a boy who we presumed was Silverio's son, the transaction triggering the return of the clouds.  Despite the mediocre weather we enjoyed the tranquility and cool breezes that lapped the shore and a little later Silverio made his appearance, instantly recognizing us from previous visits and making up for the lack of sunshine with his own.

* * *

The next day, during our giro of the island with our captain it became clear that I had left a pair of swim goggles at la Caletta the previous day.  Because the waters do have an occasional jellyfish (medusa) that can give a very nasty sting, having some of our group on medusa watch with swim goggles is a good idea, and the missing pair was being sorely felt.  So after our lunch at Cala Feola I prevailed upon our captain to drive up as close to la Caletta as he could and that I would swim in shore and ask if they had found my goggles from the previous day.  Tony S. obliged, practically driving our boat on shore and, as we approached, Silverio recognized us, gave us a wave, formed his thumb and forefingers into two circles and placed them over his eyes, acknowledging that he had found our goggles and knew they were ours and retrieved them from his hut.  Then a perfect throw from the shore to our boat and our recovery mission, made with Seal-like precision was over.  Everyone on board shook their heads in disbelief.  Things like this happen in Ponza every day.  The miracle of San Silverio.

* * *

There is a spirited debate going on between Suzy and me, whether it is better to come to Ponza for four or five days, avoiding the more croweded weekends or to stay for several weeks.  I don't know what the right answer to that question is, but I'm more than happy to test each proposition well into the future.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

Friday, July 29, 2011

Planes, Trains and Aliscafi

As the Venice portion of our trip comes to a close, we begin to face the grim reality that all travellers eventually must come to grips with.  To be a traveller you have to travel.  And as anyone will tell you nowadays, travel has become a chore.  Our romantic vision of the travel of yesteryear, with its sophisticated transatlantic crossings in black tie, bandying about such high sounding terms as staterooms and steamer trunks has been overtaken with the likes of cattle class, overhead bins and checked baggage fees.  But travel in the days of yore took weeks and was available only to the rich.  Today you can say what the heck in the morning and be sitting on a beach in Phuket before the sun sets.  There are so many options for getting from point A to point B that simply planning the logistics of a trip can take more time than the trip itself.

Our journey from Venice to the island of Ponza, about an hour off the coast from Anzio goes smoothly enough and along the way we meet up with our twin teenaged sons.  But there is much, much more to this trip below the surface.  It is a veritable replay of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," but without the misadventures.

And without the pillows.

How to get from Venice, a series of islands in a lagoon on the Adriatic side of Italy, to Ponza, a big rock of an island an hour off the other coast?  Working backwards, the final leg is pretty obvious.  We have to take some sort of boat to arrive on Ponza.  But what type and from where?  Enter Google.  And a lot of guesswork and patience.

Internet research, both of articles about Ponza and those of the handful of ferryboat companies that provide service to Ponza will tell you that there are a half dozen routes from the mainland to Ponza.  Departures run from a number of towns along the coast south of Rome to the island, some on big ferries that transport cars, others on smaller, faster aliscafi, or hydrofoils.  On our first trip to Ponza we decided to go the aliscafo route, a trip that takes an hour and ten minutes from Anzio to Ponza.  It may not be a transatlantic crossing in a stateroom, but it adds a little excitement and glamor to the trip, especially at the moment when you can feel the hull of the hydrofoil lift itself out of the water and begin what is essentially and hour plus waterskiing trip to this little rock of an island.

But how to buy a ticket, on which boat, how to pay, luggage, parking.  Oy moy, the logistics can be a bit much.  Although it is possible to buy your ticket at the small kiosk in front of the ferry dock in Anzio, it is best to make a reservation and buy your ticket in advance, especially on the weekend during June and July, when the Romans all descend on the island.  Our friends Collin and Yoko, deciding last minute to spend a couple of days on Ponza after departing from their visit with us in Umbria found the morning and early afternoon departures fully booked, requiring them to take a 5pm departure and forcing them to miss a day at the beach.  But Vetor, the aliscafo operator often throws up other roadblocks, such as posting last year's ferry timetable and price list and operating an online booking engine that can best be described as horrible.  This system requires you to enter a great deal of information about each passenger and finally confirms that you can pay by credit card.  It then navigates to the merchant credit card site which begins the process anew, requiring you to receive confirmation of your transaction (which took over 45 minutes in my case) before pressing the "proceed" button on Vetor's site to confirm your reservation.  I have no idea what would happen if I did not follow this strict procedure.  As it was, we never received an email confirmation of our reservation, requiring several phone calls to a tiny ticket booth in Anzio to straighten out the mess.  Integration between the two sites is not, as they say, seamless.  There is a very visible panty line.

After four successful crossings from Anzio to Ponza, these minor challenges in booking a ferry ticket seem like an integral part of the process.  This is probably how the Italians see them.  But for the uninitiated, it is not the aliscafo, but the parking in Anzio that is an unforgettable experience.  Upon arriving in Anzio for the first time on a bright, sunny day several summers ago, we had absolutely no idea what we were going to do with our rental car for the three days we were test driving the island.  I expected there might be a car park near the ferry docks, imagining a cruise ship-type depot with glass waiting rooms and a multilevel parking garage.  The dock in Anzio is not like that.  There is a cleat for the boat to tie up to and a narrow metal gangway to onto the boat.  In front of this is a small shed that operates as a ticket booth.  No champagne, no fireworks.  No parking.

As we arrived in Anzio and made our way from the beach area toward the port, a number of swarthy young Italian men in matching tee shirts were clogging the streets.  This is Anzio's parking garage.  We pulled up in front of the dock, not quite certain that we had arrived there and a young man asked us if we were going to Ponza and needed to park.  When we replied yes, he asked us when we were returning, wrote down a few scribbles in a little ticket book and tore off the bottom half, presumably our claim check but just as likely a raffle ticket.  He took our keys, unloaded our luggage and we began our three day worryfest, wondering if our rental car insurance would cover theft in the case where we actually gave the car away.

Needless to say our car was waiting for us when we got off the ferry three days later.  And it even still had its radio.

Travelling in Italy is always an adventure.  And most of the time it works out fine and leaves you with a good story or two.

* * *

So, how to get from Venice to Anzio.  Here's the Planes, Trains and Automobiles part.

Most travellers to Italy, I imagine, would rent a car and drive to Anzio, or take a train.  Both options would be acceptable, but as with all travel there are some tradeoffs.  Driving would require being on the highway with Italians, an activity just slightly more dangerous than knife juggling (the Discovery Channel ought to consider a new Italian autostrada show along the lines of Deadliest Catch).  And it would take hours.  The train would be more relaxing (they rarely derail) but would require a couple of connections.  We opted, instead, for flying.  Selecting an airline from Europe's myriad low cost carriers.

Low cost carriers.  Those words send shudders down travellers' spines.  We love the low cost part.  Maybe it's the carrier part we don't like, such as a carrier of typhoid or gonhorrea.  Because as most seasoned travellers know, what one lcc's hand giveth, the other taketh away.  Beware the add on fees.

American low cost carriers are expert at collecting additional fees - checked baggage fees, fees for "food," charges for blankets.  One even considered charging for using the toilet (talk about the rule of unintended consequences).  The American LCCs got so good at add ons that the legacy carriers got involved and showed that they are not too entrenched to pass up additional revenue streams.  But the European LCCs have the Americans beat by a mile, led by RyanAir which has reportedly been exploring the possibility of introducing a standing room class.  And here in Italy they charge their fees and set their rules in Italian.  It is a trap waiting to be sprung on the unwary American.

EasyJet. Some restrictions may apply.
Pilot and cabin crew not included.  See box for details. 
The trick to flying on a European LCC is to pack light and to pay for your luggage when you make your reservation.  On EasyJet, which we booked from Venice to Rome, we paid for two bags at 20kg each.  That's 44 lb. and don't expect to take an ounce more.  What's more, EasyJet allows you a single carry on bag, generously allowing you as much weight as you can carry on, as long as it will fit within specified dimensions.  This is useful for LLC passengers carrying gold bars.

The cost of adding a bag at the airport is prohibitive (it could cost you one of your gold bars).  As a result there are generally a bunch of travellers at the front of the check in line frantically repacking their bags after having been told they were overweight, trying to figure out which heavy items to move into their hand luggage (no lady, that thong is not going to help you make your weight and thank you very much for searing that image in my mind).  We travel with a portable electronic baggage scale that is 50% accurate, making us 50% certain that we are not going to be charged an extra fee.  Thankfully, this time the scale is accurate (accurate enough - we are actually 2 kg. over limit, but the check in clerk must like my smile) and we are able to declare victory.  Two tickets from Venice to Rome for a pittance.

* * *

Marco Polo Airport is not in Venice.  If it were, all flights would have to have pontoons.  Instead it is on the mainland, reachable by train, taxi, water bus or water taxi.  Water taxi, a private launch that will pick you up at your hotel (if it is on the canal as our is) and drive you directly to the airport, is the most expensive option.  But at a little over €100 it is worth it.

Our driver picks us up at the Grand Canal entrance to our hotel at the appointed hour and half an hour later we are making the 7 minute walk from the dock to the check in counters.  We have avoided dragging our bags to the vaporetto stop.  To the train station.  To the Piazzale Roma.  Not having to drag your bags through the narrow streets of Venice and through the hordes of tourists, swimming against the tide like a salmon desperate to spawn is worth nearly any price.  Not that we have anything against salmon.

Boldly going where
no man has gone before.
But in addition to convenience, included in the price of the private water taxi is a heaping dose of exhileration.  The day before our departure we took a canal tour with our friend/guide Alessandro who proclaimed the water taxi driver "the best water taxi drive in all of Venice."  He was dead wrong.  Our driver to Marco Polo airport is without doubt, Venice's best.  He took us up canals that hadn't yet been discovered, maneuvered under bridges with less headroom than our boat and then opened it up when we reached the canal, ignoring the 30 KPH speed limit signs and skiing up and down the wake thrown off by boats coming the opposite direction.  The whole trip lasted less than half an hour.  But it is a memory that will last a lifetime.

* * *

The final piece of our multimodal journey was getting from the Rome airport (where we spent the night after flying from Venice so we could pick up our twin sons who arrived from the States the next morning) to Anzio.  Again, we had options, including hourly train service from Rome's Termini station, which we have taken before.  But that would require taking the train from Fiumicino airport to Termini and then a connecting train from Termini to Anzio.  Not to mention schlepping our 42 kg of luggage from the train station through town to the ferry dock.  So instead we enjoyed the trip in a spacious private van, the six of us travelling door to door in airconditioned comfort.  And this really was door to door to door service, as the driver met our sons at baggage claim in the airport and then picked up the rest of our group at the airport hotel before heading south along the coast to Anzio.

* * *

Travel in Italy, as everywhere, can be an ordeal.  It is costly, crowded and dull.  But with a little, or perhaps a lot of planning, it can be enjoyable.  If it is true that life is a journey, you might as well enjoy the ride.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Venice Finale

It's a lazy Sunday in Venice and we are, frankly, a bit spent after three weeks of constant go.  Yesterday we spent the morning and afternoon cooking with Venetian native Patrizia at her beautiful palazzo near San Marco (see liveblogging video footage) and followed that up with a walking tour that called itself a "pub crawl" that was in reality a historic walking tour of this ancient republic.  All in all it was a very worthwhile couple of hours, even if it resulted in sore feet.

So Sunday saw us rise late with no appointments or obligations until late afternoon.  We took advantage of this rare lull and caught up on some work, enjoying the view over the Grand Canal from our room even as the previous days' beautiful weather deteriorated with clouds and occasional showers.  This is our first stay in this hotel, the Palazzo Barbarigo, located on the Salute side of the Grand Canal near the San Toma vaporetto stop.  It is a hip, trendy hotel, with cool furnishings and low lighting, a spare reception area and a large attractive bar and lounge area on the second floor, complete with a small terrace overlooking the canal.  Our arrival on Friday was by water taxi to the hotel's canal entrance, which made for a grand and impressive welcome.  Egres by foot, however, requires you to walk down an impossibly long and even more impossibly narrow alleyway that makes three separate right angle turns, with nary a doorway or entry along the way, before emerging onto a main street just off a large square.  The entrance to our private alley is unmarked save for a small red heart that someone, probably not the hotel, has painted on the entrance.  Thank goodness for grafitti artists.

Suzy and I make a single excursion from the hotel, a leisurely lunch at a touristy nearby pizza restaurant.  Despite the churning at the restaurant, when it became apparent to the staff that we were tucking ourselves in for an extended meal rather than the typical eat and dash of this place, they warmed to us and slowed the pace.  It was a relaxing way to spend a lazy afternoon even if the food was mediocre.  Pete and Nancy, meanwhile, bravely ventured off to Murano to explore the island's glass makers and had what they described as one of, if not the best fritto misto on this trip.  And that is saying a lot.

Our big adventure for the day was a private water taxi tour of the Grand Canal, arranged by our newest bestest friend Alessandro.  He picked us up at the hotel in an immaculate glimmering wooden launch captained by, as he described him, the best taxi driver on the lagoon.  It was only later on in the tour that I overheard him asking the driver "come ti chiama" (what is your name).  Oh those Italians!

Watch your head!
In any event, seeing the palazzos and the churches from the water and gliding under some of the city's 400 bridges rather than limping over them and fighting the hordes of tourists, texting, photographing, wheezing and generally clogging, is a great way to see the city.  I would highly recommend it, particularly in the early evening hours when the light is at its most beautiful and the commercial traffic on the canal is at its minimum.

Our tour ended not back at the Barbarigo, but rather at the ultra luxe Hotel Cipriani on the Giudecca, an island across the canal from San Marco, reachable by vaporetto, private taxi or the hotel's own private launch.  Alessandro and what's his name deliver us to the hotel's private dock where we are greeted by a uniformed attendant who offers us an arm to step from the taxi to the dock.  With that one step we are transported from the ordinary to a fantasy world of perfection.  We have arrived in the world of Cipriani.
Home, James.
We have a dinner engagement with a relative of mine who has the great good fortune of being able to summer here at the Cipriani.  She has agreed to let us into this world and for the next several hours we inhabit a magical world.  The Cipriani sports an enormous swimming pool that is the envy of Venice, it has the best views of San Marco and, as if on cue, the inclement, cloudy weather of the day clears, treating us to a miraculous sunset visible from the hotel's beautiful restaurant, acclaimed as one of the best on the island.  Pete, our resident chef who just earlier in the day proclaimed his Murano lunch spot as having the best fritto misto of the trip proclaims this the best meal on a trip that has seen us dedicate most of our time and resources to eating.  It is an unforgettable conclusion to our Venetian odyssey, an atmospheric evening whose feel, if not details, will become part of our Venice lore, as will the triumphant return to the main island on the Cipriani private launch.

We stop by San Marco for a final drink and to listen to the dueling combos that play at the outdoor caffes in square, the music washing over us like a coat of sealer that will preserve the memories of another visit to this magical, mystical city.

We alight from our vaporetto and make our way to the secret alleyway that will wind back to the Barbarigo, nearly getting stuck in the narrow passage, perhaps a warning that fantasy and reality do not always coexist so well.  But that is a lesson for another day.  Tonight we will sleep soundly dreaming of the fantasy world that is Venice before heading off to the island of Ponza.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Venice - From Sole to Heel

After a morning coffee with Jill from Caffe del Doge and our new friend Theresa we spent the morning and afternoon cooking with Venetian native Patrizia at her beautiful palazzo near San Marco. (see liveblogging video footage).  Although we had hoped to meet the cooking group as they toured the Rialto fish market, one of the truly don’t miss experiences of any visit to Venice, they had departed for Patrizia’s palazzo just before we arrived.  We did a quick round of the outdoor market, snapping some pictures and sorry that we had not been able to get a native’s explanation of the variety of strange fish with unrecognized names that are displayed on ice in this covered market.  We then dedicated ourselves to the task at hand, trying to find a Venetian address armed only with the sestiere number.  After a few false starts we arrived at Patrizia’s apartment, called upstairs and were buzzed in by Patrizia’s husband, lovingly referred to by her as “Cinderella Man,” presumably because he does the grunt work to Patrizia’s evil step sister.

We spent a the next three and a half hours under Patrizia’s somewhat eccentric (this is quite the understatement) guidance and in the company of a lovely group of Australian women who were doing walkabout in Europe for several months.  The class itself was a bit of a disappointment for those wishing to participate hands on and learn some insider’s technique, but we did get to clean and prepare a whole orata (while learning about its sex life, that being a sort of constant theme of the day) and spend time with a lively group of Aussies.  The view from Patrizia’s rooftop terrace, where we ate our handiwork, was worth the price of admission.

Frankly, after the rambunctious, double-entendre filled afternoon with Patrizia, the only cure was a drink.  Or several.  So we followed Patrizia’s with an organized walking tour that called itself a "pub crawl."  Starting at Ca Rezzonico we traversed practically the whole of the Venetian archipelago, stopping in 4 taverns for ombra and cichetti, the Venetian tradition of light cocktails and fingerfood.  Along the way we enjoyed the company of an extended family from New Jersey and Florida and a solo traveller from Canada. We also made friends with Alessandro, who introduces himself as Alex for the benefit of his English speaking clients, the charming native tour guide who led us on the two and a half hour excursion.

While the tour was fashioned as a pub crawl, in reality it was a historic walking tour of this ancient republic.  While we camped in the several taverns we visited, Alessandro held court about the wine and food, as well as the history of the buildings that now housed these taverns, some of them dating as far back as the 1300s.  Between taverns he regaled us with a living history lesson of the city, showing us its dozens of historic churches, the important artwork they contained and glimpses of life under the Doges.  All in all it was a very worthwhile couple of hours, even if it resulted in sore feet.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

Monday, July 25, 2011

Collio on Vespa

Buzzing along the winding roads of the Collio on a Vespa is about the most exhilerating thrill and sense of freedom imaginable.  Except perhaps sunbathing in the nude.  But the risk of a nasty sunburn is much lower, especially if you wear your helmet.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Serve No Swine Before Its Time

Italy is rightly famous for its prosciutto, the cured, aged and I might add, delicious meat from the leg of the pig.  Most Americans have only a passing familiarity with prosciutto, enjoying it in an Italian restaurant served in thin strips alongside slices of ripe cantaloupe.  But here in Italy prosciutto is a religion and today we taking a pilgrimmage.  So late in the morning we set off for a visit to one of the two holy lands for lovers of the salty, sweet pure pink pleasure.  We are off to San Daniele.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Benvenuto in Friuli

It is Monday, our first full day in Friuli, and we have planned a day trip exploring the Friuli coast from la Subida, the inn which will be our home for the next five days.  We arrived late in the afternoon the day before, having encountered a few "bumps" and disappointments along the way, but no matter, our real destination was la Subida, a complex of buildings just a few minutes from the village of Cormons, the center of the Collio wine district.

Bumps in the Day

Our Sunday has one purpose only. To get from Emilia Romagna to Friuli. Along the way we hope to make a stop in nearby Cervia and a stop for lunch later on.

Unfortunately all does not go as planned.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Si Food

A certain sadness greets us on Saturday morning, in part because we are saying goodbye to the group we have spent the past week with and partly due to the long drive that awaits us.  Our destination is Friuli, the northeastern most province of Italy, a strange, quasi-Italian region that borders Slovenia and which is an usual mix of the Italian and the slavic.  It is a region we visited for the first time in February and one whose unique vibe, as well as its world class white wines has beckoned us return.  We are looking forward to our five day return visit to the region's Collio zone, but are not particularly looking forward to the six hour drive from Cannara.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Umbria has a way of reminding us that despite our efforts to tame her and understand her, there is always another new adventure just around the corner.  Our final day in Umbria proved to be just one of those occasions.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mojo (More Joy)

Our story of joy continues on Thursday with our group's early departure for the Arnaldo Caprai vineyard, a grand and elegant cantina located on a commanding hill between Bevagna and Montefalco.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pardi Time

For the past 48 hours we have been testing whether it is possible to overdose on joy.  Put simply, we have flowed from one joyous moment to the next.  And I'm happy to report that we're still standing.  Even if we may be spinning.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sardinia Retrospective

It's been a little over a week since we arrived in Italy.  We haven't yet hit double digit weight gain, but we're working on it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seinfeld in Italy

"You gotta love a country where you can spend the whole day shopping for groceries and count it as a good day."  So remarked Collin, one of our guests at the villa this week as we tucked into dinner outside by the pool sometime around 10:00 at night.  As I looked around the table at our group of 13, each chatting and laughing as if they were old friends, united in throwing back a glass of Montefalco Rosso and devouring a plate of prosciutto that had been roasted in the outdoor oven and finished off in the outdoor barbeque, I had to agree.  Some might find our itinerary for the day - a drive to Norcia to buy pork for dinner - minor and trifling.  Here in Italy, though, it can seem important and fulfilling.  Because it is.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Apologies to Rupert

Bill and Suzy's Excellent Adventures goes all Wall Street Journal on you!  A single weekend edition (because news likes to take the weekend off, too) just like Rupert's Excellent Adventures (soon to be prison blog?).  Hope you enjoy the new format.  We have updated our pencil sketched photos in favor of real pixels, too!

And now to the news . . .

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Three Hour Tour

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Faith Rewarded

I am a Red Sox fan. In 2004, after 89 years of World Series futility, the Sawx made an improbable comeback from a three game deficit in the American League Championship Series to beat their archnemesis Yankees and advance to the World Series, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals for the title. A few weeks later a documentary was released (a copy of which sits in my house in Washington, DC) chronicling their magical season. The documentary was titled "Faith Rewarded," a reference to the faith of Red Sox Nation, which carried them through eight decades of penantless seasons. I liked the title.

Yesterday we experienced our own version of Faith Rewarded.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When In Sardinia
Do as the Sardines Do

One of the appeals of coming to Sardinia for us was the opportunity to experience and understand its strangeness, its uniqueness. Like Sicily, Sardinia, at least from afar, seems a place of mystery, a land flying the Italian flag but more than Italian while not quite Italian. A little off center, wild, rough, exotic.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Round Two
Let's Get Ready to Rumble

Three and a half months ago, we finished up our idyllic Italy trip of a lifetime. Five weeks of exploration, discovery, and fun, an itinerary that took us from north central Trentino to the wine region of Friuli, to Carnevale in Venice and along the coastline of Le Marche. Along the way we made time to visit our friend Rita in l'Aquila, stay at our villa in Umbria and catch up with old friends there. Oh, yes. We also bought ourselves a Mercedes in Stuttgart.