Saturday, November 30, 2013

Friday, Nov 29, train travel to Cremona

9.22 and I've successfully boarded the train from Bologna to Milano, the Frecciabianca. 

Incredible that I just heard and understood the automated announcement stating the train approach had been changed from binario 3 to the adjoining binario 4. Luckily they share the same platform. The crowd just moved two feet to left of 3 and we were standing at 4. Thank goodness it didn't require going up and down stairs at the last minute. 

When I arrived in Bologna, I first thought I had jumped off at the wrong place. I couldn't see any signage. It looked like a construction site. Believe what you are seeing. This was the new train station, still under construction. It was so easy to navigate. First I found the paper schedule to find the binario for Milano (to arrive in Parma).  It was too early to be displayed on the electronic boards. 

Then I followed the signs for Binario 3. Up one elevator and then two escalators. The new station is really deep underground. Finally, I could see the sun and I found my bearings. 

While I waited directly in front of the elevator for binario 3 and 4, a pleasant gypsy approached me and with hand motions he offered to carry my bag up the stairs, which were just exactly to my right. I pointed to the elevator in front of me, with a surprised look on my face. When he walked off, a lady next to me rolled her eyes. It was such a wasted approach for him.  

I'm wearing my movers' back brace. A man offered to help me as I pulled the bag up onto the train. As soon as he touched it he made a comment. I only understood the word 'dead'.  The meaning was clear!

I'm sitting in seat 20, not my assigned      4. There's a nice spot at my right arm to keep the bag with me. I didn't see any luggage rack when I climbed aboard. It's probably at the other end of the car. I haven't seen a pattern of where the racks are located. 

I don't feel constrained by rules as I used to be when traveling. Life is more flexible here. Is the street light red for you? Cross anyhow if it's safe. Is your assigned train seat already occupied? Find another seat. 

10.22. On the train for Bresia. There's no elevator at Parma. Maybe in the future though. I saw some construction which looked like elevators. For the first time, I tried to use the stair lift for disabled but I didn't have time to work it out. 

I lifted one the bag up, one step a time. I was 8 steps from the top when a girl called down. Do you need help?  If she had asked sooner I would have paid her. As it was I was 3/4 of the way up. I was motivated too! I could see the very old train waiting. With 4 minutes to spare, I was on board. 

Now I really have to watch the time and the stations. I've never come this way before. There are lots of small country stations along this track. 

Two big police officers and the capotreno have just passed by going to the back of the train. This train only has three cars. We all looked, trying to see more. They must have boarded at the last stop. 

Just before disembarking at Piadina, the capotreno came by to check tickets.  I was standing at the door because my watch told me my 11.00 stop was coming up. The door opened, I saw it was not Piadina. An older man jumped off, realized his mistake and tried to get back on. The doors had already started to close. He put his briefcase into the space and I tried to force the doors back open. No luck. Fortunately the capotreno was still closeby.  She came running with her round override key. She didn't admonish him, but just walked into the next car. 

11.08 -- I had either missed my stop or we were a little late. When the capotreno passed by again I asked. She kindly corrected my pronunciation. It's PI A di na  not Pia DI na like the sandwich.  Next stop. 

I need to ask my family if one can stamp all tickets at the departing station. It would save me time. 

I waited on the Piadina platform for the train to Cremona. I'm on the train fir Cremona! I've made every connection.

I love watching the countryside passing by.

Cremona ----

took my time walking home from the station. The train let us off in the binario nearest to the road. I didn't need to carry the bag down any stairs. 

Lunchtime is 1.00 and Marina was expecting me. I had turned on my iPhone and sent Marta a text message.

I rang the outside bell on the gate at home and Marina buzzed me into the courtyard. The door for the building was also unlatched automatically when the outside gate opened. 

I could hear Baby G happily babbling. As usual I took the elevator to the wrong floor and Marina knew it! She could hear the elevator going up and down, twice. 

When its doors opened on the correct floor, there she was, waiting, with an eye on Baby G, who was standing in the apartment doorway, curiously watching my arrival. Big hugs!!  It's been 6 months since I've seen him. He's walking, running and flirting. Adorable!!

I arranged the things I had brought on my bed while Marina fixed lunch. 

Then suddenly Primo was home for lunch, just as he is every work day. Hugs all around. I love my Italian family. 

The new olive oil us so good! On his iPhone, Primo tells me he gets it from this place. The reason olive oil from Tuscany is the best, is because the olives are smaller, but full of oil. Hand picking also produces a better product. 

Marina suggests I 'riposare' with TV while we wait for Marta to finish her teaching workday. She will eat lunch as soon as she walks home, around 2.00.

This house is so relaxing to me. I'm home. I watched Bernadetta's cooking show as I waited for Marta. Marina likes to do kitchen cleanup alone.  

Hugs again when Marta arrives. She is famished. There is no snacking here. When one sits down at meal, eating is done seriously. The food is beautiful, delicious and healthy. 

Marta is always excited to receive See's candy and cooking supplies from Williams Sonoma. I also brought Christmas idea magazines and other goodies I knew she would love, including a copper turkey cookie cutter. 

After putting Baby G down for a nap, Marta and I walked from Marina's apartment to Mario and Marta's new home. Boxes are still everywhere and the kitchen is almost done.  The colors and tile work in the bathrooms are fabulous. 

We spent the afternoon unpacking a few more things. Marta and Mario are excited about living in a climate controlled home. The windows are draft free and the whole apartment was pleasantly warm, even though it's cold and rainy outside. We had taken our muddy shoes off and I wore a pair of Mario's Crocs. 

Marta asked me how Americans can move so often! Marina, her mother, has never moved. Yes, she moved into her marriage apartment, where she still lives with Primo, but that wasn't a move of every single object. She was a bride. 

It's as if I've haven't been gone for six months. We talk and talk while we work. Something is missing. The little cleaning bot (robot). We open every single cupboard and box, trying to locate it. Hopefully it will turn up. 

Back at Primo and Marina's home and it's 6.30. I am starving. I ask Marta for a piece of cheese or anything! There's cheese in the fridge, help yourself. Ahh, the advantage if living near Parma. I'm in heaven with this cheese. 


Dinner time and Rosa is joining us. I brought her similar gifts from Williams Sonoma and maple syrup. Mario arrives.  For him, I brought a car magazine he likes. 

Mattia is working until 11.00 tonight. 

Dinner was yummy pasta e fagioli soup, torta salata, greens drizzled with olive oil. For dessert, we spooned Nutella into bread. 

At 10 pm I was sound asleep, so grateful to be back home, surrounded by loving family. 

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, Nov 28 Thanksgiving and Errands in Firenze

I slept 12 hours late night so I was late starting this morning.  At 11.00 Alessio gave me a left behind bag from their storage closet.  I packed it with 30 pounds of books and DVDs. 

(Red postal boxes in background.)

I went to the L'Ufficiale Postale for my very first time mailing packages. Alessio is an open encyclopedia of information. One can buy all the packing materials (envelopes or boxes) there. In addition they sell books, DVDs and board games. No pictures allowed inside. 

I first found the counter for purchases. No need to take a number for this line. A woman was waiting as I approached. 'There is never anyone at this counter. Every time I come, I have to wait.'  This ordinary everyday statement was a thrill for me! I understood every word she said. 

Observing other people going about their business is an excellent way to learn and  maybe that's why I have such good time. Learn by observation, just as a child does. 

When a woman went into the space behind the counter to fetch a mailing envelope, I followed and choose two of the same. I was mailing a baby quilt to one of Alessandro's students and a American  deodorant, See's Candy chocolate Santas and a bottle of pumpkin pie spice to an American acquaintance in Milano.   

When a woman stood in line, I stood behind her. We didn't have to wait long for a clerk to arrive. The mailing envelopes cost around 3€. 

I sealed the bags and went looking for the machine which dispenses numbers. One has three choices: pay bills or banking services, mail normal packages, mail with special delivery options. A ticket is dispensed. One sits and waits. The sportelli or windows seem to be specialized.  As I waited my turn, I addressed the packages, giving the hotel as my return address. The window for stamps only requires no number. 

There were three clerks at the packages windows. When my number displayed, I approached the counter. First I said, 'I'm not Italian and this is my first time sending a package. Do you need my passport?' I find it's better to be direct and polite. 

It was a very pleasant experience.  I asked about how long it would take for delivery. 3 to 5 days. I thanked him for his help and commented that I felt their service was more organized than ours. True! 

At 12.30 I was standing in line for the trippa panino. Cost was still 3€ 50. I need to find out if I'm loving trippa or is it actually lampredotto. 

I sat at their tables and enjoyed my sandwich. A older gypsy woman walked up and down the line of waiting people. She was persistent, not like the younger girls who half heartedly shake the change in their cups. Finally the manger of the stand came out and yelled really loudly at her back, as she was walking away:  VAI VIIIAAA!!!  (Go away!!)

Shortly after, an older man playing an accordion was serenading us. He was nicely dressed with crisply pressed pants. He and the manger exchanged  greetings. 

With a pleasantly full stomach I strolled the market until closing time at 2. I collected pictures and some spice packets. 

Outside at the mercato at Borgo San Lorenzo I found a scarf stand I really liked. In front stood a dandy and his entourage. The cart attendant was draping a scarf around the guy's neck.   He (not the clerk) was dressed in a light grey suit, handkerchief protruding from his jacket pocket, sunglasses and a Luis Vuitton man purse and black gloves. His girl was wrapped in fur lined coat. Money money money but such snobs. 

After they had made their purchases, I stepped in and bought a few scarves. Such nice quality of silk, cotton, wool. All made in Firenze. 

I next went to the Vodafone store. It's my fault my cell phone number has been deactivated. I must have forgotten to add money to the phone card last May. The phone number can be kept active if it has money applied to it at least once a year. I missed the deadline by just a few days. 

Classroom Italian is not street Italian! The young woman helping me spoke not a word of Engish but we could understand each other in Italian. She made a phone call explaining the problem.  I had to talk to a customer service rep. It's not easy over the phone! Yes, my phone number was no longer active. But, it was possible to activate it. I had to wait until the next day and then go back to Vodafone and put money on the card. While we waited, I had a nice personal conversation.  People are people, no matter where you are. 

I'm sure there is a nightly maintenance run, which should reactive the number, which will allow me to add money.  

I had made arrangements to have tea and cookies with Emiliano and his wife Caterina. I raced there from Vodafone. They live in the San Frediano quartiere. 

I arrived at 4.30, just after Grazia had returned home from school. Emiliano came home early from his job as an elementary school teacher. 

I took (Italian) books to Grazia who is now 3 years old and Angelo who is 9 months and just walking. The children are adorable. Grazia remembered me from my March visit, which made me so happy.  Both children have quilts I made.  

Grazia attends school from 9-4 and it's mandatory.  Italians strongly believe in nurturing children's social skills and putting their children out into the community to make friends. These friendships often last lifetimes.  This early education also prepares the child for academic learning, which I believe starts at 5 years. 

Both children are already bilingual, Italian and Sardo. 

I look forward to our twice a year tea. Emiliano was a student and later a colleague of Alessandro's. I visited for almost two hours. I may have an opportunity to visit next summer in Sardegna! Hoping it will happen!

Walking home along the street which becomes Via Santo Spirito, I had an experience. I came home and got online at TripAdvisor and wrote this:

It's Thanksgiving Day and this owner personifies the meaning of this day.
Nov 28, 2013
Tonight, while walking to my hotel after visiting friends in the neighborhood, I was drawn to the display in the window of this trattoria. While taking pictures, I saw the most delicious looking Torta di mele. I took more pictures. The cake drew me into the restaurant. I apologize now for intruding during the staff meal time. Four faces looked up at me. I realized my mistake. In Italian I asked if it was torta di mele and if I could purchase a piece for take away. I was embarrassed and started to back out of the shop. Instead, the owner left his dinner, came toward me, picked up a napkin and cut me a piece. Thank you for your kindness and generosity on this Thanksgiving evening. This torta and a glass of milk marks a special Thanksgiving dinner for me to remember. 

Grazie di cuore al simpatico gentile uomo! Buon giorno di ringrazimento <3

La Bottega di Mastro Guipetto, Via Santo Spirito

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, Nov 27, Day trip to Lucca

A quick change of plans this morning because the weather is nice and it was on my to-do list for this trip. 

I will not go to the post office or the phone store. Instead, I've gone to the train station to buy tickets for Friday's trip to Cremona and I'll go to Lucca today. Alessio drew me a quick map this morning and made two suggestions for lunch and a bread purchase. 

I had a different experience today at the automated ticket machine. After buying tickets for Lucca, the machine gave me a voucher instead of change. Good that I had plenty of time before departing on the Viareggio train, for Lucca. 

I stood in line at one of the help desks.  Both a man and a woman where available to ask questions. It was a good system, because while he helped me, the girl was able to help another customer. 

Now I know what to do.  Go to another ticket machine. Choose the correct option. Hold up the voucher to the screen, lining up the scanning link. The machine asks for some ID. I only had my California  drivers license. It liked that and promptly dispensed my change. The whole process took only a few minutes. 

At Pescia:  Students were waiting for our train and the one going back towards Firenze, which had also just arrived. High school students. These kids look so well dressed. I feel sloppy carrying my water, umbrella and other travel essentials in my COOP canvas shopper. I keep looking for a proper tote. Perhaps I'll be lucky today. 

I see plastic enclosed green houses out my window. This must be a transportable plant growing area. Rows of young olive trees in containers. 

It's overcast but I saw no rain in today's weather forecast. 

This is my first time visiting the walled city of Lucca, home of composer Puccini. 

Lucca: in just an hour, I've arrived. When exiting the train from Firenze,  take the under corridor to the left. 

At the tourist office I bought map for 1€.  

I first bought from Taddeucci Pastisccetia two loaves of Buccellato bread for 4.50€.  Alessio told me it is only made  in Lucca. I see it's made with flour, sugar, eggs, raisins, anise and vanilla. Can't wait to have a piece later with milk. For dessert today I also, bought sweets.

I was really hungry when I arrived today, but it took me a little time to find Trattoria da Leo, which had been recommended by Alessio. 

It was an hour before closing. They were out of fennel baked with parmigiana, so I chose rigatoni with squash and olives instead of the cotoletta alla milanese
(made with pork).  

But after eating all the squash and half the pasta, I ordered the cotoletta, after all. I wanted to taste it here, because I make it at home with both pork and chicken, never with veal. I just remembered something sweet Marco, razaggo of Elisa, said yesterday.  I told him I never eat veal because I couldn't eat a baby cow. Puzzled, he said 'but they are two years old.'  

I've spent all day walking and taking pictures. It's really an adorable town and I can see why it would be a great place to live. I saw few cars but bikes seem to rule the road here. Also, there a no sidewalks. 

I waited my turn to fill my water bottle from this fountain. Good fresh water. 

After three attempts, I finally found one of the openings to Piazza dell'Anfireatro. It's oval shaped, large and surrounded on all sides with continuously connected tall buildings. 

Sunset was at 4.30, just about the time I entered the piazza. Strange to find the piazza empty. 

The next train departs at 5.31 (arrival 18.50). While window shopping back, I have given up hope of finding a tote.  I had been feeling more and more self conscious carrying the shopping bag. 

I saw a great bag in a shop specializing in a modular pressed plastic tote.  Made in Italy, my favorite color violet and has a black handle and insert. After paying for my 'o bag' I transferred my belongings. What a relief. 

I'm observing the girls on this train. They all have their own 'look' but it's always put together. I watched one girl, using the window reflection to make adjustments. Pulling her hair down just so, adjusting her winter cap. I need to look in the mirror more often and do the same. If I had, I would never had been carrying that shopping bag!

I need to check my lip gloss and hair now before we arrive in Firenze. 



- Piazza dell'Anfiteatro -

The amphitheatre, built as the centre of entertainment outside the Roman town, is today the centre of town life and the very symbol ofLucca. It is a unique elliptical-shaped plaza, theatre of the life of the citizens of Lucca, closed in an embrace of medieval houses and, in spite of the passing of the millennia, is always alive and witness to innumerable changes.

When its was created, for spectacles and gladiator games, the amphitheatre of Luccawas an imposing structure, with fifty-four arches and a cavea able to hold as many as ten thousand spectators.

Its construction began in the 1st century AD under the Emperor Claudius and was concluded in the Flavian period, generously financed by a rich citizen, as seen from an honorary inscription discovered during excavations in the 1800s. In the Middle Ages, when this area became a plaza, it was called the "Parlascio" and this name was believed to come from "parlare", meaning "to talk", as it was the venue of popular assemblies.

In reality, however, it was a corruption of "paralisium", the Latin for "amphitheatre". In many towns, with the long sieges of the medieval period, the Roman structures were transformed into fortifications.

Lucca's amphitheatre suffered the same fate; during the Gothic Wars, under siege byNarsete, it was fortified and made impenetrable by the closure of the outside arches. When this function too ended, terraced houses were built on the surviving ruined structures, which were also used for construction materials.

These then became a powder magazine, a salt store, a prison which was dubbed the "grotte" (caves) and finally shops and eating places, while the centre of the plaza was divided into portions and in a certain period was used for vegetable patches. It was in the 1800s that an architect of Luca, Lorenzo Nottolini, restored the value of the ancient space making theamphitheatre a fundamental structure for the urban arrangement of the town. The buildings which had crowded the inside of the arena over the centuries were demolished and the new via dell'Anfiteatro surrounded the ancient building.

The city thus gained a new oval space, which followed the same perimeter and the same volumes of the ancient building and was dedicated to the town market (not by chance it is called "Piazza del Mercato") while the originalamphitheatre retained its structures two metres below the road surface, with arches and vaults emerging at the shops that face onto the plaza.

Some of the Roman remains are still visible as we go along via dell'Anfiteatro, in the buildings bounding the plaza and in the lowest of the four arches leading into it, the only one left of the ancient structure.

Sent from my iPhone