Apr 29, 2009

A Visit to the Oracle of Delphi Greece

Day 3: Delphi
Departure time: 8am

From the majestic mountains of Meteora, we were heading off to Oracle of Delphi. We piled our suitcases into the bus and waited a half hour for 8 students who didn't seem to remember we were leaving at 8 in the morning. They were still asleep.

The difference in attending the museum as an individual as opposed to a group was very apparent...and even more so because our group was that of students. I felt the docents were afraid we would pocket one of the statues and tote it out to the bus. All the small stuff was under lock and key. We were herded together so if there was something of interest behind, it was uncomfortable to go back because of the imposing figures of the "guards" who closed around us.

I still enjoyed the museum and it's amazing pieces, my favorites being the friezes with horse and soldier. The most treasured artifact is the bronze charioteer that occupies a room all on it's own.


Apr 27, 2009

Visit to Meteora Monasteries above Kalambaka, Greece

Meteora Monasteries in Greece (Italian School Trip)

Rousanou Monastery seen from Varlaam Monastery

1. Beginning of the walk to Varlaam Monastery
2. Ilia on the stairs
3. Looking back along the trail

They gave us those 'beautiful' wraps to put over our pants. Women have to be wearing a skirt to enter.
Riccardo, next to Giaccomo practiced his english with me frequently. His friends ribbed him ruthlessly for it.

Looking up from the courtyard

Ex-students, I would bet if there was a pretty girl who only spoke English they would miraculously remember how to speak the language.

San Stefano Monastery

The entrance
You gotta garden when you gotta garden , even if it is on the side of a rock.

One of the residents
Housing, every detail cared for. I love it.

Andrea celebrated his 16th birthday on the trip. The door is deadly; I still have a bruise on my arm when I leaned on it accidentally with the crunch of bodies trying to get in from the rain.

Not the best photo. Andrea and Christofer left their group and came to keep me company as I parked myself at a cafe and was drinking my toast to these incredible rocks.

View from my seat in Kalambaka - Monastery San Stefano

Read about the history of the churches and those that contributed to their design and artistry here.


Apr 22, 2009

On the way to Kalambaka Greece

Road Trip to Kalambaka, Delfi, Athens
Day 2, Kalambaka (Part 1)
Time of Departure: 5:00am

Quote from Olympic Tour Guide book "Greece enjoys a Mediterranean climate with an abundance of sun, moderate temperature and limited precipitation."

It was raining.

I know I said Kalambaka and the Monasteries was coming next, but it is midnight and I am yet to wade through the photos. Here instead is my initial impression along the wet road from Igoumenitsa to Kalambaka.

  • Greece is a galvanized roofed country...painted red. Now do not ask why this strikes me. Perhaps its because houses (towns) stick out along the mountainside with their heads such a vivid color.
  • There is so much rock I think someone can build a decent size home without having to buy too much material if they wanted a stone house.
  • There is a lot of open land, either mountainous or farm land with a spattering of towns that makes it seem barren, wild and untamed.
  • If Italy is infatuated with making tunnels, Greece enjoys creating roads. A road would be abandoned..not fixed ...completely ignored and another new road will take it's place. The old road just sits there. Or a new road will be constructed to take out a sharp curve. Perhaps the two should colaborate to get things done really well.
  • The rocks at Kalambaka are truly magnificent and worth a good sit with a coke (beer if you prefer) just to stare at them.

Okay I am fried and can barely stay awake. I am going to sleep even if I am dying to tell stories.

Apr 21, 2009

SUPERFAST Ferry Service to Greece

Road Trip to Kalambaka, Athens, Delfi
Day 1, Travel Day
Time of Departure: 5:30am (and we are already late.)

It took less than an hour after leaving the Novara station to tip the scales in favor of the students. 99 students in various degrees of slumber is way better than three teachers who just can't stop talking! The Italy leg was uneventful and the bus was boarded onto the SUPERFAST Ferry line.

Our route from Ancona to Igoumenitsa involved an overnight stay on the boat as we left dock in the afternoon. Even on Italian water, we were informed that the moment we set foot on the boat, we would be using Greek time (one hour ahead of Italy).

SUPERFAST Ferry as a miniature cruise ship?
Let's see how many things an average teenager can do in the space of a few waking hours.
  • Disco - this tops the list. It's definitely a time for budding lovers to take it up a notch...an apparently for a few couples the fire was taking on new proportions.
  • Casino - of the many who probably tried their sorry luck, one teacher and two students actually walked away with a small profit. 5 euro in - 100 out. Not bad.
  • Shopping - It's there. I didn't go.
  • Indoor Bars, bars and more bars. Let's just say I am surprised that by 10pm so many were still standing. I am sure this fiery drink had a lot to do with the evening's combustion.
  • Internet and WiFi - what a surprise. If I hadn't still been dead (from the effort of getting to Novara and forced to stay awake on the bus trip), I might have taken advantage of this. Instead, I slept...blissfully, rocked to sleep by the gentle big boat.
  • Outdoor bars ....
  • Restaurants - Option for Self Service, Food for kids and a regular restaurant (where the leader of our teachers pack chose to eat). Greek service, Greek and Italian menu, Italian style (which means no less than three hours at the table).
  • Video games room.
  • Lounges to sleep in after the disco (even though parents have paid for a cabin.)
Extremely comfortable and spacious with private bathrooms.
  • 2 bed, 3, 4 or dormitory style cabins, inside or outside. (The view is great.) What was supposed to be all girl or boy rooms became mixed at some point...but i think teachers knew that was going to happen. Do parents suspect?
  • Lux Cabins come with a sitting area.
  • Garage area specifically for campers. (Out of the 10 decks, I believe 7 are for parking.)
Pets Allowed
There is a fenced kennel area on the upper deck of the ferry as well as pet cabins. (I believe the school brought some wild animals aboard this trip but didn't corral them in their appropriate pens.)

I worked with some of these students a couple years ago and although I playfully paint a picture of them in a lustful and reckless manner, I know it has a lot to do with coming to terms with their sexuality, the new and wonderful feelings of what they think and hope to be love and with how to manage the brief freedom they have from everyday home life (aka parents). It's gotta be hard for some....to be growing up.

Next: Kalambaka and the Monasteries (when I get to breathe again)


Apr 19, 2009

The Call of Greece...Road Trip

Monasteries of Meteore - GreeceGreece has my number.

Yesterday I had a treat talking to my friends Valerie and Carlos on Skype and I love how the miles seemed to slip away. I had the advantage of viewing them as they have a webcam ( embedded in Valerie's new Mac....and I don't (have a Mac or webcam :-( ). In my opinion they were spared...

I spent yesterday morning choosing what I want to take for the short trip to Greece. I can't believe it took longer to select items for a week than it did for me when I was going away for 3 months!!!! Plus, I am not sure what we will end up doing so there are the "just in case" items.

Thank goodness I'm not taking a train. Instead, we catch the 4:00am bus tomorrow to catch the 1:00 pm ferry at Ancona for Igoumenitasa. I desperately need to find my iPod for this road trip. We'll overnight on the boat (where they reminded me to bring a change of clothes in an overnight bag for the, ahem, disco-yeah right. Oh, and a bathing suit. Another 'yeah right'.)

For those of you who know me, you'd think I am out of my mind to go with a group of students for only a week. I am now used to traveling alone for months at a time, visiting the out of the way places and leaving the touristy places behind.

You're right, I am out of my mind. What was I thinking?!!! But Valerie, ever so quick with the positive side, reminded me that there will surely be stories to tell as teenagers are living entertainment.

The truth is, I can't wait to go. I love being on the move and I love walking in history and as Carlos remarked....I can't seem to stay away from high places. The Monasteries of Meteore are calling.

(Photo credit Greece Travel site)

Apr 17, 2009

Historic Morca Suspension Bridge Valsesia Italy

Morca Suspension Bridge - Mainland view

Following the road north of Borgosesia you can turn off the main road to cross the Sesia river and visit the small town of Morca. I got 'stuck' by the bridge because I was fascinated by its structure and never saw the town. Maybe another time.

Morca Suspension Bridge Partway across

Part of the way across A stopped the car, but the rattling I heard didn't stop right away. Only then did I notice that the bridge was actually moving and those cables weren't there just for show!

Morca Suspension Bridge - Morca SideLocal citizens pooled their resources to have the bridge built and in 1928 hired bridge engineer Giuseppe Magistrini to design and lead the project. The suspension cables were recently replaced but the timber floor planks are original. I think that is amazing considering the bridge is 81 years old. Of the 9 suspension bridges that were built in this area, three still remain.

And of course, I love the design - the three arches above have no other use but to be beautiful.

Suspension Bridge at Morca - Detail

The view from below the bridge.

Try again in a few seconds if the video is not available right away

Go here if you are interested in the engineering detail - and I mean "detail". It's a language I won't be learning anytime soon, but the article was interesting and gave some history of the bridge. It also will tell you how safe it is now.


Apr 16, 2009

April Showers...with Hail

Just when we were beginning to enjoy the new growth around here, Mother Nature declared that winter was not yet left behind.

Captured on the world's most boring video - the culprits, aka baby plant killers, at play!

Martin, if you read this...I am sooooo glad I didn't plant up my vegetable garden yet. I've been busy, lazy, out of town (every excuse under the sun) so fortunately I have nothing but my flowers to suffer. Somehow, that doesn't bother me as much.


Battling Traffic and Weather

We were away for five days and in that time the world turned green.Round blobs of light green plopped before darker green heads now dot the hill across from the house. Where it was once a barren and depressing brown has turned in a soothing, tone on tone play on this one color.

After the drive back from Calabria, it was most welcome. The traffic that jammed the highway above Florence going south bit us again below Florence, going north on our way back. Just look at the highway structure in Italy and you'll see why. The other option to the highway is to take the surface streets and greet every town along the way.

Somehow I think I would have preferred that to sitting stock still for long stretches of time on the highway.

You too would take pictures of everything just to be busy, pictures of nothing most of the time...but this was precious. Notice how the cars follow the lines.

What's to tell about the trip south? The weather followed us. On Sunday we went to Bivongi, one of the very, very old towns in the mountains, and were greeted with pounding rain and angry wind.

Naturally I didn't have an umbrella and hurried along the narrow alleys pulling my coat close around my neck. Only crazy stupid people walk around old towns on stormy nights daring roofing and what not to stay put.

A small metal door that covers an electric panel took flight and overtook me. I picked up speed just to get indoors and passed a plastic vase lodged against a staircase, broken from it's downward flight and never to be used again. A large dark lump lay in the street, leaves splayed to the side and plastered to the wet cobblestone, roots already emerging as its earthy home was lured away with each raindrop.

I knew A's Dad had a sense of humor when on my entrance he asked me "Did you get wet?"

Apr 13, 2009

Easter Speciality in Southern Italy

No Easter egg hunts here but just as well as it rained on Sunday. But eggs are definitely a part of Easter and I learned something about Easter and eggs in the south.

A's mom brought out some of her awesome sweet biscuits which I devour like there's no tomorrow. Buried in the bowl were three enormous creations, one shaped like a basket, the other two as hearts. Lodged in the middle was an....egg. Before entering the fiery oven, it was wrapped in the doughy embrace and left to bake.

I can only imagine how fun it would be for a kid, to sit at a picnic lunch, with biscuits and sausage and then unearth his or her very own egg from the middle. Which is exactly how it was for A when he was little.

For those not so lucky to have moms to make freshly baked breads, I saw they were also on sale at the bakery. Those that A's mom made were subtly hidden and perhaps a bit more interesting for a kid.

What is perhaps even more interesting than a baked egg, is a chocolate one. The Pope thought so too and sent 100 chocolate eggs to the kids of Abruzzo.

Hmm, not sure what I think of that.

Apr 8, 2009

Easter is Good News for the People of Abruzzo

It's the week before Easter and by the weekend, most of Italy will be fully celebrating. Except of course, the people in Abruzzo who have suffered at the expense of Mother Nature. If anything, Easter will be all the more meaningful to them, to those who have lost family and friends. (Photo: Painting by Caravaggio, “Supper at Emmaus”, painted 1601-02. Resurrection appearance)

Easter is about Good News
Italy is overall very religious and I imagine more so in the older villages. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of a world to come and this weekend, after such a disaster, it will be something of a comfort to bring fully to mind that there will be a chance to see again those who lost their lives.

Abruzzo Easter Tradition
Interestingly enough, Chieti in the Abruzzo region holds what is considered to be the oldest Good Friday procession in Italy; accompanied by a hundred violins playing Miserere by Selecchi. (Read more about Easter in Italy at Italy.com).

Chieti and L'Alquila in Abruzzo Region

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A Tidbit of Good News
The news is filled with statistics, with those dead, missing and homeless. But as precious time passes, when another life is saved, it becomes all the more miraculous, joyous and needs to be shared.

Two days after the quake, a woman was discovered trapped in her room. The building around her had collapsed but she was spared. When she was rescued, the cameras zoomed in to capture the moment and focused on a small, frail woman of 82 years.

One would imagine the fraility of old age and the solitude would make a person feel more vulnurable. Younger men and women, have emerged trembling and bawling from the trauma, stress and pure relief of being saved. Not this one. She was calm, smiling and grateful.

Perhaps at her age there is no longer a fear of death and she was prepared. Perhaps she too believes in Easter's resurrection story. But one thing is for sure, she is a wonderful example of the strength of the human spirit.

Apr 5, 2009

Convent Lodging at the Sanctuary of Oropa Piemonte

The Sanctuary of Oropa

For the budget conscious, nature loving, solitude seeking traveler - Santuario di Oropa in Biella, Piemonte is the lodging for you. On a clear day, the incredible view and tranquil surroundings are an unbeatable and inspiring way to start every day. Once previously designed to be set apart from the world around it, the convent is now easily accessible by car and bus.

Origin of the Sanctuary of Oropa

According to tradition, the Sanctuary was founded by the Bishop Eusebio in the 4th Century when he brought a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary to the site. A church was built within the compound, now called the "Old Church" as construction for the "New Church" began in 1774.

Convent Location

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15 minutes up the hill from Biella; About 2 hours from Milan.

Convent Room Selection

Economy: Prepared with groups, schools and youth in mind, this choice is also perfect for those wanting to experience convent or monastic life. The rooms are austere but arranged with restored period furniture. Rooms have 1 to 4 beds and sink; guests share a communal bathroom.

Comfort: Best choice for quality and price. Single, double and triple rooms available with private bathroom and arranged with period furniture in beaten iron.

Junior Suite: Add an incredible view and even more comfort to your experience without breaking the bank. Period furniture in beaten iron are placed in rooms that look out onto the valley below. Private bathroom, telephones, and TV are in each room.

Suite: The Sanctuary's best rooms, elegantly arranged with period furniture, antique pictures, lamps and decor. Some even have their own sitting rooms; each has modern bathrooms, TV and telephone service.

Price list for low and high seasons.

Reasons to Visit the Sanctuary of Oropa
  • For nature lovers, it is an excellent point of departure for walks, treks, mountain bike trips, skiing and ice climbing.
  • Museum of the Treasures of Oropa
  • Art Gallery
Restaurants in Oropa

Thirteen restaurants and trattorias service the Oropa Sanctuary. They specialize in preparing the area's local foods and cater for special events.

Slideshow of the Sanctuary or Oropa

Reservation Contact Info

Via Santuario di Oropa, 480
13900 Biella - Oropa (BI)
+39 015.25551200 Tel
+39 015.25551219 Fax
A little over two years ago, it was almost impossible to find information online about convents or monasteries that offered lodging for travelers. Now you can make online reservations to various convents or monasteries around Italy and Europe.

For your library, you can buy the following as resources for your next unusual trip to Italy:
(the link takes you to the amazon.com website)


Apr 2, 2009

Matera Italy Tradition and the Future

Matera ChiesaWhen I visited Matera at the end of August in 2008 there were a few things that were immediately noticable. The first was the intense heat (magnified by the black protective motorbike pants I had donned for our ride). Another was how barren the land was, due to the heat and to large quantity of rock (sassi). How and why do people live in places like this?

The Festa della Madonna Bruna

The quiet that greeted us, although the old center is a tourist draw, could very well have been because every sane person was well within the shady cover of their homes or hotels. So when I ran across James's Wandering Italy Blog and the post about the Festa della Madonna Bruna in Matera in July(!!!) I decided that the locals are either die-hard traditionalists or really very bored.

In brief, an intricately made float of the Madonna, made in paper, is carted throughout the streets during the hot daylight hours. Towards nightfall, the float is then protected by the town police, only to fall siege to marauding youth. A real fight ensues and at some point the youth tear the float apart. And everyone is happy.

Matera's Tradition is Meaningful

Read James's entertaining account for a better 'view'. For those who just see the action, it seems the citizens of Matera have succumed to the intense heat. But the festival is symbolic; an acting out of their hopes for themselves and in the future of their youth. In James's words:
"The youth, representing new ideas and rebirth, had torn apart the old, established order. And this sign of rebirth meant that fertility would come to the fields, and the hard life being scratched out of Basilicata's soil would be a little less tedious with the harvest to come."
On a personal level, it makes me think of what things in my life need to be ripped out in order for me to see more growth in my life. I know I get too comfortable and habits, good and bad, set down roots which prevent any other good thing from growing. Time to go weeding.

Apr 1, 2009

Entrecard Top Droppers on Romancing Italy

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