Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Search for Bramasole!

Thursday 28 June
After lunch of pork rolls bought at the Camucia markets, with fresh tomatoes which we added, we drove into the town of Assisi, about 50km from Camucia. This was an absolutely delightful town which has been modernised to a certain extent in that it is very clean and tidy but it has loads of character in spite of catering for tourists. This is evident in the tacky souvenirs available as you walk up the hills. Souvenir shops are interspersed amongst gorgeous shoe shops and wooden toys and wine and foods and of course lots of duomos! The souvenirs include little models of monks and nuns on bikes or playing poker or showing strong indications of being very drunk and disorderly. They get tackier the higher you climb but really gave us a good laugh too! On the way up to The Church of San Francesco (in dedication to St Francis of Assisi) we stopped to look inside four other churches, each one showing gorgeous frescoes and stunning stain glass windows. There was one tiny little church which hardly had room for half a dozen people. Everywhere there were nuns and Franciscan Monks walking briskly along the little streets. There was a fantastic atmosphere.
We stopped at the very top to spend some time browsing inside the Basilica di San Francesco. There we discovered a lot more about St Francis of Assisi, a remarkable man. The church was amazing - absolutely huge with two levels and endless frescoes to study and the most stunning domed ceilings ever - wow! We enjoyed our afternoon thoroughly, Assisi was well worth a visit.
In the evening we drove into Cortona and returned to the little Grotto restaurant which we had discovered earlier in the week. This time I tried the truffles - delicious. It was such a superb meal that after a few wines we booked for a return visit tomorrow night - our last night in Camucia and Cortona before we drive on to another part of Tuscany.
Friday 29 June
This morning Mr B, CJ and I decided to run right to the top of Cortona. This involves running 4km uphill and I do mean UPHILLS. It was definitely a challenge. Mr B and CJ waited for me at the bends in the roads but I had little rest as I was a lot slower. However, I ran all the way even if it was painfully slowly (emphasis on the 'painfully' - phew!

Distance: 12.9km
Time taken: 87mins
Average pace per km: 6:4
Calories burned: 740
This was definitely good 'Six Foot' training Ewen - you should come to Italy! Everywhere we go there are hills and steps!
After reaching the top of all the hills we decided, having come this far, that we should endeavour to find 'Bramasole'. Those of you who are familiar with 'Under the Tuscan Sun' will be aware that Frances Mayes' house in the Cortona countryside was called 'Bramasole'. Yesterday we drove up and down a number of roads trying to find it but without luck. Today, by running through the shady pretty public gardens and through the other side and trying a gravel road before finding another road, we finally found it set up on the hills with stunning lovingly tended gardens and a stone wall. It was absolutely beautiful and worth those extra kilometres of effort. After this we ran back down the hills again (the easy part) and back to our farmhouse for a shower and brekkie before all of us drove back up to Cortona to visit the Museum of Academia perched on the hill. It had several levels and was mind boggling. There was so much to take in, so many artefacts to peruse on the lower floors, then on to the higher levels where there were lots of paintings, other art work, a huge bedroom with a four poster bed, mummies and at the very top the piece de resistance, a huge library with a large table, chairs and walls of ancient tomes all roped off from the public but amazing to view.
After all this culture we headed for a light lunch and a well-deserved coffee at the 500 Cafe which has photos of Fiat 500s on the walls and the waitresses even wear aprons with Fiat 500s on them - very cute! Then it was back to Camucia, another sunny day, for our very last day before heading for San Gimignano tomorrow - our next port of call for a week.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bellissimo! Exploring the Tuscan Countryside

Tuesday 26 June
After another hot mosquito-bitten night CJ and I went for a run at 8am on mainly flat (for a change) country roads. We found some nice quiet back roads - plenty of guard dogs barking, paddocks of sunflowers and a few tractors narrowly passing us on the narrow roads.
Distance: 9km
Time taken: 54.5mins
Average pace per km: 6:06
Calories: 533
It was quite a pleasant run in spite of a tired body but it was still very hot even then and I headed straight for a refreshing shower back at the farmhouse. After brekkie we drove to Montepulciano in our car. We saw some interesting sights including a group of unicyclists coming down the steep hills!
Montepulciano is a delightful little town set high amongst the hills with lots of cute shops and duomos (churches) and restaurants. We stopped at a lovely little restaurant, recommended in The Lonely Planet Guide, overlooking a great view from the terrace. We had a light bruschetta follwed by a torte della Nonna (seems appropriate for me) which is a type of cake sprinkled with pine nuts with a creamy custard-type filling and very yummy.

There's a large number of wine tasting places with samples of yummy nibbles along the way and many shops containing paintings and various works of art. The weather was a lot cooler today, in fact there was even a very light sprinkle of rain which made it much more pleasant for walking. It was surprisingly easy to fill up a pleasant afternoon and later we drove through the Tuscan countryside in search of a little house set on a winding narrow road lined with cyprus trees which appears in heaps of postcards and calendar covers all over Italy. It was quite exciting when we eventually found it and could take photos of the same setting although in an obviously different season. It was a much longer windier trip home due to a few detours.

In the evening we drove back into Cortona for a beautiful meal in a very fancy over-priced restaurant where I chose a lamb shank - it just melted (can lamb melt?) in the mouth, with roasted spinach and pine-nuts. I couldn't fit in dessert!
Wednesday 27 June
There was a light breeze today and it was quite pleasant. This morning Mr B joined CJ and I for a run. We went over a similar route to yesterday incorporating a few different country roads coming across a pretty cemetary and fields of corn. I felt a bit sluggish today, in fact I'm struggling to regain any speed and I do need to run off all thse extra calories! Lack of sleep here is creating a bit of problem with my energy levels I think. At least that's my excuse!

Distance: 8.8km
Time taken: 54:15
Average pace per km: 6:12 (even slower than yesterday)
Calories: 514

Today we drove to Castiglione de Lago, about 20mins away, where we explored some busy little markets which are only open on Wednesdays. We found lots of interesting little food shops specialising in cheeses, cold meats, pasta, oils, herbs etc. There were free tastings readily available. It was a pretty little hive of activity with of course a castle by the lake. After an expensive meal last night we decided to buy ingredients to cook our own meal in the evening.

Later in the afternoon we drove back up to Cortona to the very top to have a good look inside San Margareta's Church - fabulous, enormous, gorgeous high domed ceilings and Saint Margaret lying in state in the front of the church. We also headed up to the fort but as it was late in the day it was closed for visitors but we did notice someone up there peeping out looking rather distraught. We understand they lock up without checking if anyone is inside and I believe the rescue people had been called - would loved to have known the outcome of that poor man high in the tower - sounds like some sort of fairy story!

In the evening we had another united effort with our meal and it was superb. Mr B even bought a little griller in the supermarket so he could grill our veges the right way. This time we had oil and bought great wine. A great spaghetti dish with porcini and herbs bought from the markets with basil, mozzarella and tomato salad, toasted herb bread, grilled veges and assorted Italian biscuits for dessert - very successful!
Thursday 28 June
We all stayed in bed a bit longer this morning having a restful break. Then at about 10am we walked down to Camucia township where we discovered markets being held. Suddenly the quiet little town came alive.
We are planning to drive to Assissi very soon for another interesting day ahead.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Italian Way!

Back in time we will go to the day we left Rome. What a saga! So many adventures, so little time to tell them.
Sunday 17 June
We packed our bags, met the CJs and walked through Porta Portense where the Sunday markets are held. These are overwhelmingly huge and obviously impossible to cover in just over an hour which is all the time we had remaining before collecting our bags and leaving our respective apartments in Rome. On our return to our apartment we met Luca who owns the apartment and is also the artist who painted the Cuban cars and other paintings all over our walls. He was gorgeous and we had quite a chat to him. He even posed for a photo beside one of his paintings. We bade farewell to our apartment in Trastevere and met up with the others for a final cappuccino before catching a taxi to the airport to collect our rental cars. Disappointingly Mr B missed out on the new Alfa he had hoped to hire and instead we have a Mercedes Sedan classed as a luxury car. It's very nice in silver with wooden panels inside and all the the mod cons but it's not an Alfa! The CJs also have a Mercedes - a 4-door hatch - smaller than ours but a little newer and it includes a GPS system to help guide our way!
And so we set off towards the Amalfi Coast quickly adjusting to the left hand drive. For Steve it was the first time and he felt some trepidation. We stayed on the autobahn until Naples where we headed towards the coast road. Suddenly CJ sent me a text message - they had a flat tyre! We pulled into a safe rest area as soon as possible and the boys attempted to change the tyre. Now you may think this is a simple task but in the CJ's car there was no jack and in neither car was there a wheel brace! Impossible task. So there we were stuck on the side of the road with horns tooting, motorbikes whizzing past with their passengers pointing and laughing. Mr B spent 30mins on the mobile (at $5 a minute) trying to explain to the emergency number our location. Eventually after repeating himself over and over we were told the mechanic would be along in 30mins. And so we waited and waited - the CJ's suitcases on the roadside, not in the most salubrious location, just outside of Naples which is renowned for thieves. The roadside had needles and glass beside us and we felt very vulnerable. Then about 20mins after that the 'polizei' came past, saw us and stopped to help. Never have we felt more relieved to see a policeman. In their boot they found the much-need wheel spanner and they waved us out of the way as one donned leather gloves, rolled up his sleeves, knelt on a piece of paper and with the help of his colleague managed to change the tyre for the temporary spare in the boot. They were happy to pose for a photo opportunity and just as they returned to their car our mechanic turned up on his motorbike. Explanations were given but he was not a happy chappy!
We continued on our journey at last heading once more to the winding coast road. Now here was an adventure! The road was narrow, winding and steeeep! The views were magnificent and the sheer cliffs beside us were nail-biting. The Lonely Planet Guide describes this as a 'white knuckle' drive and I think that pretty well sums it up! Being Sunday and now late in the day due to our delay, the traffic was heavy as everyone was returning from a day at the beach. The number of motorcycles was mind boggling. They drove in bunches all over the road past the huge buses and cars and we had a few near misses. They were tooting and woo hooing as they whizzed precariously down the steep hills often on the wrong side of the road and obviously very used to the hair raising roads. Mr B soon got into the swing of it tooting with the best of them but I think poor Mr CJ wondered what on earth he had got himself into and indeed whether we would arrive at all let alone in one piece. However we did arrive and it was just beautiful and well worth the effort and dramatic drive here.
We found the landlord and were assisted with our luggage down over nearly 100 steps to our apartment. Obviously the Italians like their steps. There are hundreds of steps and steep roads to the beach or the shops or in the other direction to restaurants. It is a very long steep walk to anywhere from our apartment but the breathtaking views make it all worth every step. The water is a sparkling blue, houses are scattered up and down the hillsides, some so high on the cliffs that we can only wonder in amazement as to how anyone can reach them. The views are stunning from our location so from way up there how much more stunning they must be! Our apartment is perched on the side of a cliff overloking the view. The gardens are stunning with terraces of grapevines, lemons, herbs, tomatoes, zucchinis, eggplants, strawberries and flowers - geraniums, orchids, bougainvillea of deep pinks, purple and white climbing the stone walls. We are allowed to help ourselves to the fresh vegetables from the garden.
On our first evening here we climbed many steps to the road and walked down a long steep hill to a lovely pizzeria/restaurant to eat - delicious pizzas of course although a little different from Rome. Again we enjoyed the local wine and after dinner we drank limoncello to which we have since become quite addicted.
Mr B and I have also been drinking freshly squeezed lemon juice from the never ending supply of fresh lemons.
Monday 18 June
To run here will be a challenge. There will certainly be plenty of hilly walks though!
Today we walked heaps to discover our local area and we climbed down, down, down, to the local beach where the water was clear but salty and the surface stony. Our swim was beautiful although at first the cold took our breath away. Our days ever since we left Canberra have been hot and sunny. Everyone here is very friendly and we enjoy the peaceful lifestyle and the slow pace - so different from Rome.
That evening we caught a bus to Positano to browse through the gorgeous little shops set into the rocks and cliffs and to walk along the beach watching the sun set over the water. Here we ate dinner selecting the pasta of the day and sharing yummy grilled veges and of course complementary limoncello after the meal. While at the Amalfi Coast we caught the bus often as the drivers seem to easily negotiate those narrow cliff-hanging corners even in the dark, tooting at each blind corner as motorcyclists and cars whizz past. We even saw a number of cyclists ploughing up those steep winding hills no doubt training for some amazing Italian road race.
Tuesday 19 June
I need to abbreviate these entries a bit more as I could describe endlessly the amazing time we had here. However this morning CJ, Mr B and I did go for a run! At 8am the sun was already bright and intense. It was an up up uphill run but at the 4km mark I unfortunately had to detour back to the apartment for a loo stop. It was an extremely tough 4km averaging 7mins per km - no way could my legs go any faster up that gradient!
Later CJ and I caught the bus into Positano while the boys attempted to have the tyre repaired - no luck as it was the wrong sort of tyre! However we did have a little retail therapy in some of those lovely little shops. Gelati here is absolutely divine and we are enjoying the different flavours.
Later after lunch and returning to our apartment in Praiano we went down for another lovely refreshing swim at the beach. After lengthy calls to the car hire place a mechanic came out to our parking spot and towed Mr CJ's car away to have the tyre fixed - one car now and the saga continues!
Wednesday 20 June
Today we drove to Sorrento in our car to see if the CJ's car was ready - no luck - so we continued in our car to Pompeii. Mr B and I hired head phones so we could follow some of the history of the buried town after the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. We last visited this in 1974 which was so long ago that a lot of it seemed quite fresh to us. It was a very hot scorcher of a day and very exhausting, so difficult to take in so much awe-inspiring history. We even visited an ancient brothel with erotic paintings of sexual positions that could be tried!! It was a big day and we were so tired that we ate at the hotel opposite our apartment. The meal was probably the most ordinary so far but we were tired and just glad to eat. We did manage to become rather sunburnt in the intense heat today.
Thursday 21 June
This was a very different day to the one before. We took a boat trip from Positano to the Isle of Capri. There we were given 3 1/2 hours to explore. However, a lot of time was spent queuing for the funicula (cable car) and buses to Anacapri and back. The shops were very cute but very touristy and we really needed more time to explore the scenery. The cable car ride was straight up and good fun. It was a shame it was all so rushed. We did enjoy stunning views on our bus ride from Anacapri back to Capri to catch the boat again. The boat took us to the Grottos (caves) to view the gorgeous green and blue waters and we had the opportunity for a beautiful swim in the clear water. It was absolute heaven.
In the evening we cooked our own dinner. CJ made spaghetti with Italian sausage, I made basil, tomato and mozzarello salad (ingredients from the garden), Mr B grilled eggplant (from the garden) and we ate yoghurts and chocolate for dessert followed by limoncello of course courtesy of Mr CJ. We had copious amounts of local wine and later a Baileys. Mr CJ did the dishes. It was a superbly successful meal and great teamwork!
Friday 22 June
This was not a good day! It was another scorcher and the boys took off to collect the CJ's car from Sorrento. CJ walked round the local Praiano shops then decided to catch the bus to Positano. It was a very very long wait and we arrived just as the boys did in time for a late lunch! The boys eventually did manage to collect the car but not from where they left it. Instead they took it to a different mechanic who did it for them straight away - dramas and lack of communication was a very frustrating experience for them!
In the evening we caught a bus to the town of Amalfi itself where we explored heaps and heaps of shops (again) selling ceramics and limoncello! I managed to buy two cute cool tops. It's difficult to dress lightly enough in this weather. We ate dinner in a lovely little restaurant overlooking the water. I chose calamari this time with grilled veges and a delicious almond and chocolate dessert. Late in the evening we all packed our bags for the long trip to Tuscany beside Umbria tomorrow.
Saturday 23 June
Today was a very long drive from Praiano to Camucia near Cortona where we are staying in a farm house apartment (agriturismo). We arrived at our apartment just after 6pm after stopping several times on the way at Autogrills for a drink and a rest stop. We spent a little time at a lovely little place called Ravello where we had lunch. Ravello is the location for many classical music concerts throughout the year and there were lots of tourists there. It was very pretty with lovely views.
As we approached our farm house we noticed the country smells and the different air. It is definitely different countryside here. Our apartment here is quite pleasant with the bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs and the other bathroom downstairs. We walked into the little township nearby to buy some supplies and for a meal we just bought fresh bread, ham, cheese and tomatoes. Our landlord brought us along a number of bottles of wine from his home made supplies and has promised us more when we run out - a lovely welcome indeed! This local wine is very pleasant and easy to drink!
It's very pleasant and peaceful here and we have a lovely little swimming pool. There are however lots of mosquitos so we bought some spray!
Sunday 24 June
At last a run - oh how we have missed it. We have walked and walked up steps and hills but here we can run. We started out at 8am and ran along a farm road until we saw some dogs and turned and run back the way we had come (not taking any more risks thank you) and instead ran up, up, up towards the old town of Cortona. Although it had felt lovely and cool at first we became very hot very quickly.
Distance: 8.5km
Time taken: 57mins
Average pace per km: 6.4
Calories burned: 474
Yes, it was slow but we were running up hills again. I took my camera with me so that we could take a few photos of our first views of Cortona - the place where 'Under the Tuscan Sun' was filmed. It's such a pretty town with amazing architecture.
We returned to our apartment for shower and brekkie then we all walked the 5km up to Cortona - a very steep walk with endless hills and magnificent views. We had a lovely coffee and browsed round the cute little shops. We walked and walked up and up visiting gorgeous churches. On the way up the hill a group of classic motorcyclists (obviously in a race as they were all wearing numbers) came whizzing past us racing down the hills followed quickly by a large stream of classic cars. It was a real bonus and very exciting. I managed to catch a few photos but they were going very fast. It was awesome.
In Cortona we found a little market full of antiques. It was fascinating with all sorts of knick knacks. We saw the steps and the piazza where part of 'Under the Tuscan Sun' was filmed. It's certainly a delightful little town with lots to see. On our long walk back to our apartment we stopped at the local bar for a cold drink. Back 'home' we changed into swimmers and jumped into the swimming pool to cool off. It was heaven.
In the evening we drove back up to Cortona to find a delightful restaurant tucked into a little street where we enjoyed a yummy meal. I had tagliatelli with porcini mushrooms and CJ had hers with truffles. The boys had steak and pork. We shared a delicious antipasto to start and grilled veges with our main course. Great bread, great local wine and a delicious local dessert called zuccotto with chocolate, almonds and cream in a sort of trifle coating. This is a typical Tuscan dessert and was truly delicious. After all these calories we walked some more and discovered a theatre where all sorts of young dancers were performing interesting movements. We watched gratis for quite some time. It appeared to be some sort of school eisteddfod. Whatever it was, it was great entertainment. By the time we drove back to our apartment it was almost midnight and we were very tired.
Monday 25 June
Another stunner of a day. None of us slept well last night. It was very hot but we didn't open the windows in the bedrooms due to the onslaught of mosquitos. However tonight I think we'll cover ourselves with repellant and take the risk. It was a bit of a struggle to get moving today. We wrote a few postcards and walked to the local shops to stock up on food and to find a post office. However, we truly experienced the Italian way today!! After finally locating the PO we found we had to take a number then wait patiently until they decided to call us. We waited 35minutes just to buy stamps!
After lunch we decided to drive to Perugia to tour the chocolate factory there. It seemed a good idea at the time. Perugia is about 40km away and we went in the CJ's car with the GPS to guide us. Once there we discovered they were filming the chocolate factory as it was celebrating 100 years of existence. Now that seemed exciting at first. However, once inside we were stuck. We watched a movie in English then wandered round the museum and waited patiently (or perhaps not so patiently) for our tour. After two groups of Americans arrived more than an hour had passed. We were not allowed to leave as filming was in progress outside. So we were stuck there. Finally we were all rushed through the factory after asking to join the English speaking tour. Not a word was spoken in any language and it was all over in seven minutes!! There was a basket of lollies and chocolates which we were allowed to pick at while waiting for the tour but there were no free samples afterwards or during that whole seven minutes (!) as promised in the leaflet. That was certainly a big disappointment for those of us who are chocolate lovers!!
And so we drove back to our farmhouse having experienced rather a frustrating day. Tonight I think we are heading out for pizza. It's now 9pm and I've had to omit a lot of details in order to catch up but I think we are now up to date!
Suffice to say we are experiencing very hot weather, lots of interesting driving and laid-back Italians but we love them and we are having lots of amazing times. The architecture here is so very different from other places so far - lots of variations - stone and terracotta of all colours and styles. Tomorrow we will run again!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Vatican City on Mr B's Birthday

Continuing Friday
After a long journey Mr B and Mr CJ returned to join us for lunch after successfully negotiating their way round the Clinic only to find that the rabies section was closed until Monday! I have been studiously watching Mr B for signs of frothing at the mouth or howling at the moon but so far he seems as sane as possible!

At lunch yesterday CJ and I ordered cafe freddo (iced coffee). It was a hot day and it sounded refreshing. Of course we expected tall glasses of coffee with icecream, but alas no, this is Italy. They were tall glasses certainly but only a quarter full of black sweet cold espresso. It was surprisingly pleasant but we ordered aqua minerale naturale (plain water) immediately afterwards! The paninis that we all ordered were delicious although the service was slow!

After lunch the boys decided they needed a siesta after all the morning's trauma so CJ and I went for a successful shopping trip. Travelling light for me has meant I am a little short of the very necessary light weight tops and 3/4 pants. Both of us managed to buy lovely sandals today and a couple of tops and I did find a pair of 3/4 pants so it was most satisfying. Again we did lots of walking but it was fun popping into shops along the way. Much later after showers and a change of clothes we met up with the boys and went to a very popular pizza place for dinner. The street is lined with tables but they were full so instead we sat inside on a long table and from here had a great view of the enormous ovens and the incredible production line of pizza making on marble benches. It was an art force in itself - fascinating to watch!

After dinner our passagiata took us to the night market place by the Tiber - far different from the daytime and a hive of activity. There were crowds of people and lots of different stores with fascinating little knick knacks, jewellery, food and clothes. It was another late night after midnight again. Our days here are very full. We wake before 7am to the church bells, usually out for a run at 8am and we are never in bed before midnight.

Mr B's Birthday at Vatican City - Saturday
I wondered about naming this post Bootcamp at Vatican City. Further explanation of this comment is coming!

This morning Mr B stayed in bed instead of running with us - a little sleep-in was allowed today. I met up with CJ and we ran down to Circus Maximus for our run. It was another hot day and rivers of perspiration were running down my face within the first few minutes. It was a great experience to run in that venue surrounded by Roman ruins and running where the Roman chariots used to race. It was exciting and fun. We ran different directions back and forth along the tracks - hot, but fantastic.

Distance: almost 9km
Time taken: 52mins
Average pace: approx 5:54

After a shower and a cappuccino with the CJs at their local bar we walked by the river bank to Vatican City. There we spent some time in a winding but fast moving queue to enter the Vatican Museum where we joined an English speaking tour run by a fast-talking American from Ohio. He was excellent and we were supplied with head sets so that we could easily hear his explanations. The first part of his tour was free and very informative. Everything was pretty mind boggling and we were very glad we decided to have it all explained. The next part of his tour was fairly costly but we felt it would be well worth it. Now he did warn us that the Sistine Chapel was due to close at 1.30pm and would not re-open until Monday. If we joined his tour he would try to ensure we got through before the gates closed - we had ten minutes! Now we had no idea how far away we were and off we set. This is where the Bootcamp name came to mind. It was hot and we were flying. We did have to keep him in sight and in order to do so we had to basically break into a trot. The boys were slower than us and just made it through the doors before they were closed behind them. It was a close call and everyone on that tour was very very red-faced. However, believe me it was well worth it. We had about an hour and a half with our guide and he explained everything about the amazing ceiling and Michelangelo's story before we entered the Chapel. When we finally stepped in the door there was a united gasp of awe. Wow, it was absolutely fabulous - quite impossible to describe. The light on the ceiling and the walls and the detailed frescoes were awe inspiring - all the stories in each picture and the gorgeous walls. Again - totally fabulous. We left there with the guide, probably the last people inside before they closed the doors after us and exited our visit through the tombs where previous Popes are entombed. It was so amazing, the whole visit was amazing. We were hot and exhausted and very hungry. We walked through the Vatican city heading back through the crowded streets and finally found lunch at a pretty ordinary venue at about 4pm!! We then headed back towards our apartment stopping on the way at the Cafe della Arancia which Mr B had spotted yesterday, where we enjoyed long tall glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice with bowls of ice to add to each drink - very delicious and refreshing. It was a fantastic day.

Tonight we are heading off to a restaurant of Mr B's choice, just below our apartment. It has been highly recommended so we are looking forward to our evening celebrations. Tomorrow we will not run as we hope to visit the Sunday market before collecting the hire cars and heading for the Amalfi Coast. Tonight we will enjoy some more of the great Italian vino which is dangerously easy to drink!! I am hoping too that I will find a pastry or cake shop which sells a birthday cake. We need to sing Happy Birthday to Mr B!!

Rome has been a fabulous experience. We have enjoyed living La Dolce Vita - early mornings or late evenings leaning out of our high shuttered windows to watch the happenings below us. It is always fascinating in the mornings watching those solid doors opening to reveal hidden surprises behind each one. Sometimes it is a grocery shop, a boutique or a greengrocer. Sometimes it is a bar, a tobaccanist or a newagent. During siesta the doors are shut and the streets are quiet and it looks as though the doors hide apartments but when the street becomes alive we are surprised by what those doors reveal. The bars are where we enjoy our coffee or pastries and there are many delightful restaurants. Then there is the "amore" and those Italians know all about "amore"! And the motorbikes and vespas everywhere and the crazy drivers. It is always an art just to cross the road and always a huge surprise when someone stops to let us cross! The language is beautiful, so romantic, and it frustrates me that I had such trouble with my Italian lessons. I want to know more, to be more a part of this beautiful country and these fascinating people. Yes, I have enjoyed our short stay in Rome - exhausting but wonderful.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Saluti di Roma!

Buongiorno - we are here in beautiful Rome and finally I have a small window of opportunity to post on my blog. Mr B has just visited the emergency department of the local hospital and has been sent to the Rabies Clinic as he was bitten by a wild dog on our run by the Tiber this morning!! Hmmm and the dogs here are normally so placid too. Could it have been that we decided to run in the shade on the "wrong" side of the Tiber this morning where many homeless people were lying stretched out with their dogs loose to roam? Out of nowhere the brown mongrel dog leapt at Mr B's juicy thigh and took a bite -yummy flesh. CJ and I realised he was in trouble but didn't realise immediately that he had been bitten. So we detoured to the hospital where he was given an antibiotic injection, a tetanus injection to self-inject and a course of antibiotics! Now CJ and I in the internet bar while Mr CJ accompanies Mr B to the clinic on the other side of town! Welcome to Rome - another city of contrasts!

First Impressions of Hong Kong -
Hot, polluted, crowded (wall to wall people), busy!
We arrived in Hong Kong early on Monday morning after a long long day driving from Canberra in mid-afternoon and flying from Sydney at 10pm Sunday. The hotel in HK was friendly and efficient. Although it was only 7.30am they allowed us to book in an hour later. After a human making shower we walked to the ferry and went over to HK island. There we took all sorts of transport. We went by double decker bus to The Peak where we caught the cable car straight up and up to The Peak and from the top took several escalators to the viewing area. On a clear day it would have been magnificent but unfortunately it was a murky grey day where people wore masks to block out the pollution from the numerous fumes from buses and cars. It was however amazing to be so high up and to be above so many high rise apartments and office blocks.
After this we wandered round HK island and travelled by trams and buses walking through many market places and seeing many interesting and strange sights. We noticed ladies with masks emptying the street bins, men wheeling trolleys full of bags of raw meats presumably to the local market places, meat being chopped up on the ground at the market stalls, red taxis (toyota corollas) absolutely everywhere.
In the evening we were very tired with jet lag settling in so we decided to eat the banquet at the hotel - a mix of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese - really yummy with great desserts. Then later we walked it off by visiting the night markets - so many people, so many stalls open very late into the night. Then off to bed at last after such a long long day.
This morning we took a bus to Stanley to visit the famous Stanley Markets - huge and busy. We were caught in the rain and it poured in bucket loads. We were absolutely drenched. Everywhere people carry umbrellas but we just loved the rain. The temperature was so humid and the rain cooled the air temporarily and we revelled in the coolness. However it was all over in ten minutes and we were dry in another ten!
Today we travelled the world's biggest travelator. It was amazing. At first it was flat then it gradually sloped upward and then it reverted to endless escalators which went up, up and up. Apparently at peak times in the day the down escalators button is switched over so that you travel by escalator downwards whereas we travelled upwards to the very top where there was disappointingly little to see so we just walked many many steps down again. This plus the amount of walking we did in HK (and we haven't stopped since) could account for the sore calf muscles I have been experiencing since our arrival in Rome.
Tonight we ate in a true local restaurant using chopsticks and struggling with chicken bones. We spent little money in HK. We were weary from travelling and overwhelmed by the heat and crowds. However we have another day here on our return journey so may be tempted if we have money left at that end of our trip! We did pass many interesting shops and noted more places to visit. The many markets were certainly fascinating and I did make one very extravagant purchase - some beautiful gold earrings to match a pendant my sister sent me once from China with the double happiness symbol. They made them up for me especially and I am quite excited to find them.
Our plane left from HK airport at midnight. HK airport is purportedly the best in the world and has many duty free shops. However we found that Sydney Airport's prices are very competitive and although we perused the shops we were not tempted. This trip was slightly more comfortable than our first flight. It took 12 hours and we managed a little sleep.
We arrived in Rome about 6.30am feeling drained. We took a taxi to our apartment at a standard cost of 40Euro (about 50dol Aust). From there we rang CJ and Mr CJ who were staying round the corner as our apartment was not yet available. With Mr CJ's assistance we wheeled our bags along the cobbled streets (quite a challenge) and were so happy to see our friends. Their apartment is amazing and after a great coffee and a shower there we felt a lot more human. We left our bags there and walked with them to a bar for a pastry and our first Italian cappuccino (pretty damn good) then walked across the bridge to explore our local area of Trastevere. There is so much to see here, cobbled streets, Roman ruins, tiny shops, amazing shoes, large doors with hidden surprises behind each one. Did I mention the shoes - some are to die for. We ate paninis for lunch and enjoyed the sunny hot day with friends.
Later we rang our host and returned with our bags to where we will be staying for the next few days. We were full of anticipation as CJ's apartment is so divine but our apartment is quite different. For a start we are on the third level up 50 steps (yes indeed I have counted and re-counted them - large concrete solid and winding stairs intended to keep us fit I'm sure) - difficult to negotiate with all our bags and we were very glad of Mr CJ's assistance. Although it is a lot more basic our apartment has a character of its own. The walls are covered with paintings of cars - many Cuban cars - interesting artwork indeed. The bathroom is very small but we have all we need and it is fun to lean out the barred windows and watch the many sights below us. The smell of the local bakery wafts upwards and we are woken at 6.45am every morning by the church bells. This afternoon we put on a load of washing and had a siesta for a couple of hours before meeting up with the others and walking more. There are so many bars and restaurants to choose from and so much to see and explore. It is mind boggling to know we are here in Rome among all this history.
This night we ate in a little restaurant just below the CJ's. I selected the veal scallopine with a divine sauce. The choices were difficult. Everybody's meal was beautful. We know we will like it here.
Mr B and I met up with CJ at 8.30am and walked down to the Tiber River to run along the riverbank.
Distance: 6km
Time taken: 38minutes!
Yes, it was slow and painful - our first run since leaving home. My legs were leaden, my body was slow and my calves were sore - must be all those HK downward steps! It felt very hot even at that hour and tomorrow we will run a little earlier. I certainly did not feel great at the end and appreciated the shower and brekkie later. We had done a small shop in the local grocery store, for cereal, juice and milk so can make our own breakfast. After this we went on a two hour bus tour of Rome from the top of a double decker tour bus with an English commentary plugged into our ears. It was extremely hot and I did mange to become a little sunburnt. We drove past so much history - our main landmarks being the monument to Victor Emanuele, St Peter's Basilica, The Vatican City and the Colosseum. We will definitely return by foot to explore some of these places further.
We met up with the CJ's at Castel Sant Angelo and walked for quite some time before finding a spot for a delightful light lunch of pasta and rice salads at Piazza Campo dei Fiori. After this we walked and walked in search of the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps for great photo opportunities. There were lots and lots of people everwhere we went and the weather was hot and sunny. I cannot begin to describe how it feels to be part of so much history. At the Spanish Steps we walked to the top and went inside the Basilica where I covered my bare shoulders with the prerequisite scarf before entering to stand in awe in front of all those detailed frescoes.
We walked along via dei Condotti which is Rome's fanciest shopping street. It's full of designer shops with every name you can think of thrown in - Armani, Gucci, Prada, Yves St Laurent, Burberry, Ferragamo etc. Then on to via del Corso which is Rome's busiest shopping street.
We walked so far today. Aside from the short run and the two hour bus ride the rest of the day was spent walking. Our lunch was not until nearly 3pm and dinner was booked at Da Enzo near our apartment at 8pm. It is a highly recommended local restaurant and we understood why. Tonight I ordered pasta - carbonara unlike any I had ever tasted. It was in a bright yellow buttery cheesy sauce and we ordered mixed grilled veges which were amazingly delicious. Each dinner meal is presented with complimentary Italian bread in large hunks and it's seriously divine. We always order the local white wine and it is also very good.
Running here is a necessity. We want to eat, to fill the senses with the aromas, the local flavours, the whole Italian scene. It is beautiful.
In the evening after dinner we walked again. It is customary for 'passegiata' to occur each evening. Even on the cobbled streets it is surprising to see many ladies in high heels. We managed to become lost this evening and a short walk past many fascinating shops, became a very long walk. When the streets became flat and cobbled pavements disappeared we knew we had walked too far. So after much discussion we finally found our way back home towards midnight. On the way we stopped at Piazza di Santa Maria where we were entertained by some incredible fire throwers and dancers which were fascinating and talented. Tonight I had my first unbroken sleep since leaving home and was not woken until 6.45am by the church bells nearby.
Friday - today!
This morning we met up with CJ and started our run at 8am. It was still very hot so we decided to run in the shade (see start of blog) and that is why we are now waiting for the boys at this internet shop so that they can join us for lunch.
Distance: 8km
Time taken: 54mins
Average pace: 6:47
This is possibly the slowest run ever! However we did have to run up and down several lots of steps and we did have to circumnavigate many unsavoury sights and smells during the course of our "interesting" run! Now CJ and I are starving and thirsty so will detour for coffee and I will leave this for now.
I just need to add that we have been accosted by many beggars and even very young children asking for money. We have been confronted by stark poverty and immense wealth in both HK and Rome. It is so beautiful here but there is another side too of which we have become very aware. We have walked past a cat sanctuary which exists on charity and there are many many cats lying there in one of the Roman Ruins which has been converted to a rescue haven for cats of all sizes basking in the sunshine. There are so many fascinating sights.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

An Hour Before we Leave!! Arrivederci!

We ran a last run this morning at a respectable hour which hopefully will make us sufficiently tired to sleep on the plane tonight. Miss B has taken Mr B to collect the hire car and we will drive to Sydney in about an hour. Our flight to Hong Kong leaves at 10pm tonight. I received a text from CJ at 3am this morning (!) to say they have arrived safely in Rome and their apartment is gorgeous. How exciting!
This morning's run was very pleasant. The weather was sunny and still - not warm but not too cold either - stunning actually. It would have been good to run a longer run but we thought we should allow ourselves plenty of time for last minute family visits and packing.
Distance: 10.40km
Time taken: 57mins
Average pace per km: 5:30
Calories burned: 600
I was quite happy with that pace for a last run before take-off. Watch this space for updated blogging whenever an opportunity arises. Yes, Ewen there will be desserts, afternoon cappuccinos (hmmm) and there will also be running - never fear! And photos will be posted on our return unless I can work out something technical while I'm away!! Arrivederci for a little while my friends.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

It's Almost Time to Go!!

Thursday morning I rose early (again - what's new) and ran round the block telling myself in the dark and cold that in three sleeps I would be much much warmer!
Distance: 6km
Time taken: 36mins
Guess what the pace per km was for that lot - hmmm. The cold must have been getting to me. The morning run was because I knew I couldn't go to training this evening, as a friend is moving to Queensland and I went to her farewell dinner at Banana Leaf. This time I was brave and ordered the kangaroo. It was very tender - delicious. Lately my life seems to have been made up of a series of breakfasts, lunches and dinners - very social indeed and also far too many calories consumed - more taken in than worked off I think!

Friday - Gym
Yes, another early morning as I struggled to an RPM/cycle class this morning early after a rather late night last night. It was such a hard class. I was dripping wet by the time we finished. We do lots of tough hill climbs, that is we stand up on the bikes turning the level up high then have to sit back on the seat and sprint for 90secs staying at the same level then repeat that several times. There are seven music tracks and they are all various levels of difficulty - some hill climbs, some sprints and all very aerobic. It always feels like a really good work-out and a good alternative to a run.

Today, Saturday, we had a family lunch (see what I mean - more food) at Poachers Pantry on the road to Murrumbateman. They make a lot of smoked meats there and wine on the premises. It was a delightful setting and the food was yummy. The wine was also very good indeed. On the way home we bought a birthday cake as Mr B has his birthday just a week after we leave so everyone returned to our house to finish the early celebration.

Tonight I packed! My bag weighs 17kg Ewen so I'm within the range. I'm still contemplating taking a few things out but it's a bit tricky as I really have cut right down, honest. There's always so many chargers and gadgets - mobile, garmin, camera, ipod, international plug - it's ridiculous! So one more sleep and possibly a run in the morning just to give us a good start to the long day ahead! Thank you for all your messages. I will continue to blog at every possible opportunity. On Wednesday we will meet up with CJ and Mr CJ - woo hoo!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Four more sleeps!

Wednesday - Run
The wind cut through me like a knife as I ran before 6am today. It was so cold even though I wore gloves, leggings and ear warmers. Brrrrr! I was warmish by the time I finished but I didn't run very far - just around the Kaleen block. I was looking forward to my nice hot shower!
Distance: 5.9km
Time taken: 35:14
Average pace per km: 5:58
Calories burned: 560

Tuesday - Gym
Bodypump class at 6.15am.
Today I increased my weights by an extra kilo and boy did I notice the difference. So many squats and lunges - ouch!

Monday - Run
Training at Parliament House.
After a couple of warm-up loops of PH we ran to the grassy loop in front of PH for the main set which was 15 x 40secs on 2 minutes. Of course the 40secs repeats were on the uphill slope and 15 was 5 more than last week - pretty tough. It was a very cold night and although I rolled up my sleeves I didn't strip down to my singlet top tonight.
I decided against running the cool down loop - unusual for me but I wanted to be home a bit earlier as there's still so much to do!
Total distance: 8.8km

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Sunny Run Before Party Time!

Mr B and I decided we really should go for a run this morning before joining lots of small people with parents and being tempted by far too much party food! The sun was beckoning us and although the cold air hit us the sun warmed us up quickly and it was a stunning morning for a run. We ran from home, round the lake and back home.
Distance: 15km
Time taken: 1hr 26mins
Calories burned: 875 (probably not enough to counteract the calories eaten!)
Average pace per km: 5:47
Incidentally Sam's party was a big noisy messy success and they all loved the cake!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Golly Gosh - another weekend is here already!

Where on earth does the time go? How did it turn into Saturday already? This has been such a full-on week and I really don't think I'll ever have time to pack. Tomorrow there is only one more week before we leave and quite soon I'll be in panic mode! CJ and Mr CJ leave on Monday for Singapore. We had coffee with them this morning after bumping into them in the Mall. I think they are almost ready - only a week on Wednesday until we meet up with them in Rome. Wowee!

Today after shopping for all the appropriate ingredients I made a train cake for grandson Sam's first birthday party tomorrow. I had help from four year old grand-daughter, Talia and my eldest daughter, Mandy and her friend. It was fun but it took us about five hours!! We constantly nibbled on naughty little scraps such as licorice, smarties, jubes, icing, marshmallows and choccie bikkies. We also made lots of chocolate crackles! Me thinks a run is in order tomorrow or I will burst out of my jeans! The cake looks pretty good though and I can foresee some very hyperactive children tomorrow!

And so back to my week. On Tuesday night the same daughter took Mr B and me to the Rubicon for dinner. Speedygoose told me at training on Monday night that it was her favourite restaurant. It is also my daughter's favourite and I can understand why. The service, the atmosphere, the location, the food and the wine could not be faulted. Yes, speedygoose, we had the champagne to start in those gorgeous tall glasses along with complementary zucchini balls. After the garlic bread, we all chose something different for mains so we could taste each others! Mandy chose the lamb, Mr B the duck and moi the chicken. Now I might add that each meal was superb - delicious sauces, veges and great presentation. We also had a good semillon blanc to accompany it. Then on speedygoose's recommendation we all selected the upside down apple pie with caramel topping for dessert - talk about heaven. I drool now just thinking about it. It was a fantastic evening altogether.

Thursday was training at Dickson oval on a very cold and unpleasant evening. We ran a couple of warm-up loops and at that stage I was the only female in a field of very fast men. In fact it was slightly intimidating even when another female joined us after the warm-up as she was another speedysprinter. All the runners tonight were fast sprinters. The worst thing is it was another 2km time trial for the main set and I ran 15secs slower than the last time we ran this a month ago. How depressing! I felt blobby, cold and slow. Surely things can only improve. Having said that and read what I have just written about today's eating habits I think I need to run a lot in Italy!! Currently I have lost motivation - I think my focus may be elsewhere!
Total distance: 7km

at 6.15am I took part in an RPM class at the gym. It was so hard but I knew I did a good work-out. When I went into the changing room I discovered I had forgotten a rather vital piece of underwear so I picked up my bag and clothes and returned home for my shower which made it rather a rushed start to the day.

In the evening from 6.45pm I attended a very large awards ceremony - 1800 people for some very prestigious awards. It was a huge night - entertainment including the Young Diva's. They were great. The band that played for the dancing later however, was pretty dreadful and soon after that I caught a cab home. It was after 1.30am however when I arrived home which meant a sleep-in was a pre-requisite this morning!