Tag Archives: Italy

Cat Sanctuary in Rome

There are two kinds of people in the world: cat people and dog people.  And cat people are way more interesting than dog people.  And if you can’t tell by that statement, I am a cat person.  Big cats. Little cats. Basically if you are in the feline family, I love you.  And Rome is a cat’s paradise.  Hundreds of cats haunt the place where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC.

Known as Largo di Torre Argentina, this archaeological wonder was excavated as part of Mussolini’s rebuilding efforts in 1929, revealing extensive multi-level temples that lie sunken 20 feet below modern street level. Besides several different temples, Torre Argentina also contains part of the famous Theater of Pompey, upon whose steps dictator Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed. Today, volunteers at Torre Argentina care for approximately 250 cats. After the site was excavated, Rome’s feral cats moved in immediately, as they do all over the city, and the gattare, or cat ladies, began feeding and caring for them. Since the mid-1990s, the population has grown from about 90 to the current 250, and the organization has ramped up with care for sick or wounded cats, as well as an extensive spay and neuter program to keep the feral population in check. Most of the permanent residents have special needs – they are blind or missing legs or came from abusive homes.

On any given afternoon a small crowd gathers here to watch the cats sunbathe on ancient pillars and steps. At first it may be hard to spot the cats, but once you start to see them, they are everywhere.

Also, in my next life, I plan to come back as either a pampered house cat like Lucy or Molly, or if I can’t get that gig, I would like to be one of Rome’s pampered felines–I mean lounging around ancient architecture having someone to come feed me every day– what’s not to love about that?

2770 and still going strong

Unpacking is never ending. I was recently going through some of my boxes, and found photos and other mementos of my trip to Rome [and Italy] over 10! years ago. Time flies when you’re busy traveling the world, writing a blog, going to graduate school,working an actual real job, and doing all the other things that occupy life.

Anyway…I came across a little statue I had bought of Romulus and Remus…which got me thinking [it’s always the smallest details…] when EXACTLY was Rome founded. And so I did a little sleuthing and discovered a bit about Rome’s discovery. [Because, yes I am #ahistorynred]

The stories

romulus and remus
Romulus and Remus…more than 2770 years ago

I remember snapping this photo at one of the [many] museums I visited in Rome. I remember the guide telling us the story of Romulus and Remus. I remember the cold, the rain outside, and it didn’t matter how long the tour lasted I was there until it quit raining. Yes, I had an umbrella and raincoat, but it was COLD and I don’t like the cold. So museum-ing I went.

According to one story, the founder was a Trojan hero, while another tells of 2 brothers fighting it out for the prize. Whatever the truth, Rome celebrates its birthday – known as Il Natale di Roma, the Birth of Roma – on 21st of April, and has done so for 2770 years.

Story #1

Our Trojan hero, Aeneas, achieved fame fighting the Greeks in the Trojan Wars. He was son of the goddess Venus and a mortal father. He escaped Troy before the death of Laocoon and the destruction of the city in 1220 BC. And according to Roman poet Virgil, Aeneas then went on a bit of a wander before finally landing in Italy. Virgil’s epic poem Aeneid, [which I have never even attempted to read] written between 29 and 19 BC, stretches over 12 books and 9896 [wow, count them!] lines of dactylic hexameter rhyme.

The first six books tell the story of Aeneas’s wanderings from Troy to Italy.  The second six books describe his victory in battle in Latium. The victorious Aeneas set up home in Latium and married the daughter of a local ruler, King Latinus. How and when Aeneas set up Rome is a bit vague, but Virgil and the Ancient Romans saw him as their ancestor, founder and, most importantly, a link back to the legends of Troy and ultimately, therefore, the gods. And historians of the day recorded that Aeneas named his new city “Rhome”, meaning strength. But sadly for Virgil and Aeneas, however, there is a more popular founding tale that has taken over; the story of the she-wolf and the twin brothers.

While Virgil’s story certainly is plausible, I prefer the other story.

Story #2

Before we can get to the boys, though, we need to backtrack a bit.  Their story starts with King Numitor of Alba Longa, an ancient city of Latium. Numitor, son of King Procas was a descendant of our old friend Aeneas. On his father’s death, Numitor inherited the throne.  Unfortunately for him, his brother Amulius coveted the position. In 794 BC, he overthrew the new king, and murdered his sons in order seize power for himself.

Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, was forced to become a Vestal Virgin. The pagan god Mars, however, had other ideas as he had fallen in love with the new priestess and decided to sneak into her temple to sleep with her. Rhea bore him beautiful twin boys and named them Romulus and Remus and so the story begins. Still with me?

Amulius was furious, as any evil uncle would be, and promptly threw Rhea into the River Tiber [sarcasm font: because it’s ALWAYS the woman’s fault]. Fortunately the river’s waves caught her, she married the river god who saved her.

The twins were similarly thrown to the river’s mercy. Set adrift in a reed basket, the babes floated gently downstream until finally being caught in branches of a fig tree at the bottom of a hill named Palatine in honor of Pale, goddess of shepherds.

And this is where the story gets a bit unusual.  According to legend, the she-wolf, an animal held sacred to Mars, found the twins, fed them until a shepherd arrived and took them home to his wife. Over the years, the twins grew up knowing their story. In 753 BC, at 18, they decided to start a new city near to the site of the fig tree that had caught them. Sadly, they couldn’t agree on which of 7 hills in the area that they should build. Romulus favored the Palatine hill whilst Remus preferred the Aventine. Kids!

romulus bas relief

So to settle the argument the twins turned to religion. They read signs from the gods to resolve the fight. The boys took the presence of birds on the hills as an indication of favor and so Palatine won.  Romulus saw 12 birds on his hill whilst Remus only saw six on his.

You’d think that after all the family conflict down through the years the boys would have learned how to play nicely.  Sadly, they did not. Remus teased his brother by repeatedly jumping over the low settlement boundary. And whether in jest or jealousy, his actions represented a bad omen for the new city suggesting that the city’s defenses could be easily overcome.

Romulus took the jeering badly.  The joke finally turned sour when Remus was murdered either by his own brother or one of his followers on 21 April 753 BC, 2770 years ago!

temple of rome
Temple of Rome…not Temple of Reme

The victorious Romulus named his new settlement – Rome – after himself. He oversaw the growth of his new city, and captured Sabine to help populate his dream. There’s no record of when or how Romulus died. The Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Romulus may have vanished in a violent storm in 717 BC at 53. The Romans clearly still venerated Romulus though, and declared him a deity after his death.

roman forum

So Happy 2770 th birthday, Roma. You don’t look at day over 2000.

Kindness of strangers

I am trying to live my life in a state of gratitude. Some days are easier than others. And sometimes, when I think about the past, I realize how truly grateful I am.

No traveler lives completely in a vacuum when traveling.  I suppose it is possible to travel somewhere and so strictly follow a schedule that it is nearly impossible to get lost or need help, but that’s never happened to me.  I have had to ask for directions at minimum on every single trip I have ever taken.  Sometimes it has been much more involved than simple directions.

We hear all the time that the world is a dangerous, scary place.  In fact, the most common question I was asked is “Won’t you be scared/Weren’t you scared?”

No, I am not, and No, I wasn’t.

I may have been a little nervous at times, but I was never scared. Okay, maybe I was scared a little when I was kidnapped by two guys between the Peru/Ecuador border when they were trying to extort $250  from me.  Maybe I was scared a little when I was caught by rouge waves that held me under water when I was learning to surf.

But I was never scared of the people. Even amongst strangers, I [almost] never felt like I was in danger.

I kept my guard up in the beginning, but I soon realized that I needed to learn to trust the people I met along the way. I think that is just part of me.  I am used to being alone [only child and all] so I don’t always think about needing to rely on others.  I have learned how to do so many things for myself.  Time and time again, I needed to rely on the kindness of strangers to get me through.  So this Thanksgiving, I want to thank all of those strangers who went above and beyond to help me in my journeys – from people whose names I never knew or soon forgot to those who I am now happy to call my friends.

Thank you to Missa and Jamie who helped me celebrate my birthday in Rome with a bottle of Chianti, a plate of pasta, and a birthday cards and flowers from the market. It was so nice to not be alone on my birthday.

Thank you to the elderly lady on the train from Rome to Naples or at least I thought it was to Naples.  It was actually headed to the other side of Italy.  I would have figured it out eventually, but she saved me time and money.  I don’t speak Italian great [and even less in 2006] but I know Spanish and between my Spanish and her Italian, she got me pointed in the right direction and I made it to Sorrento during daylight hours.

Thank you to the women in at the Ecuadorian border.  After being kidnapped and missing my bus, two women in their 40’s asked me if I needed a ride somewhere.  They were headed to Guayaquil and offered to take me anywhere along the route.  I had a great time, met some amazing women, had an awesome lunch, and relaxed for the first time that day.  After seeing the ugly side of human nature, it was a blessing to see the good.

Thank you to Javier….the teenager who came and picked me up on his moped after I couldn’t get the bus driver to stop.  I ended up about 2 km past my intended destinations and carrying the 65L backpack plus the daypack loaded down with my tools for  jungle-work would have made a sucky end to a very long day.

Thank you to Massimo…who taught me to cook on a gas stove.  I have always either cooked on an electric range or a grill and gas tended to scare me a bit.  Thanks to Massimo, I didn’t starve during my weekends alone in the jungle lodge.

Thank you to the lady in Trujillo who made sure I didn’t get cheated by the taxi driver.

Thank you to all the people who have hosted me during my travels.  By not spending a ton of money for accommodations, I have gotten to visit so many more places, see how people really live–not just as a tourist, and spend time in places I would have never dreamed about staying.

Lynnley in Charleston, Corinna in San Francisco, Cameron in Seattle, Emily in Vermont, Jeanette in Florida, Angie in Chicago, Emilie in Chamonix, France, Marta in Bratislava, Slovakia, Tomas in Wroclaw, Poland, Alex in Mendoza, Argentina, Steve in Stafford, England, and Sophie in Kokkola, Finland. All strangers at one point; all friends at another.

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Thank you to everyone who has helped me in my travels.

A castle, a conspiracy, and a love story

Here’s the thing about Tuscany: it’s so freaking beautiful and historic. And tasty. Wine, bread, olives, olive oil. I’m sure it’s beautiful… especially in spring/summer/fall. Winter is pretty awesome too.

After spending some time taking in some winter sports with the best athletes on the planet and searching for my soul against the tiny coastal villages nestled against the Mediterranean, it was time to get down of discovering what Italy is known for:  good food, good wine, and good art.

A Castle

But first a side trip to back in time.  Enter Trebbio Castle, built in 1184!  1184.  That was the dark ages for crying out loud.  Anyway back to the story…

trebbio 1

The castle was built in 1184 by the Pazzi Family, [Italian language lesson=‘pazzi’ means crazy]. In fact, the family was pretty crazy to even attempt such a thing, but these were different times.  Ever hear of the Medicis–you know the family that rules these parts back then? The Pazzis and Medicis were rivals.  Somewhere deep in the castle [IDK if this part is true, but it sounds good] Francesco and Salviati Pazzi, with the help of Pope Sixtus IV and his newphew Girolamo Riario concocted an plan against the Medicis. The Pope was upset that the Medici’s were attempting to thwart his Papal power over the North-central Romagna region. And if you’re wondering whether it was successful or not, just check to see whose balls are all over Florence… a little hint, they’re not the Pazzis.

trebbio 2

Here’s the thing about a time before photography or the internet.  You can use your imagination to picture how things happened.  It was April 26, 1478.  Easter morning.  The most sacred of sacred mornings.  It was beautiful–spring in full bloom–warm even.   All the Florentines were in the Duomo for High Mass.  The Pazzis snuck in to the Duomo and managed to get a seat near the Medicis.  Catholics being catholics the homily was probably eerily similar to Easter homilies today.  I like to think it happened right as the priest was offering communion to the Medicis. The Pazzis managed to fatally stab one of the Medici brothers, Giuliano, but Lorenzo ‘The Magnificent’ managed to escape. The Florentines side with the Medicis and killed the present Pazzis on the spot.  And all sins were immediately forgiven…

You might be wondering what happened to the castle after the demise of the Pazzis; it fell to disrepair. A caretaker lived there for 15 years [contractually], but as soon as he was able, he skedaddled off with a young missy in tow.

The love story

Fast forward 500 years or so…A young Austrian girl come to Italy to learn Italian.  Whilst on the train, she meets the the man who would become her husband.  They married and settled in Milan.  Never-mind the 40 year age difference [I’m all about the older men, but I don’t think I could do 40 years older].  She was 19; he was 59.  Six years of marriage = 5 children.

One day he came to her and said “A few years ago, I was a lonely man, so to thank you for all that you have given me, I bought you castle in Tuscany with over 800 acres.’  [Sidenote:  If ever a man wanted to buy me a castle in Tuscany, I’d let him].  I’m sure he didn’t quite expect the turn of events that set the castle’s restoration in motion.  You see, there’s no heat in that castle; I’m sure he expected that the Missus would only want to live in the castle in the summer, but oh no–give a girl a castle, she’ll want to live there for life.
SONY DSC

And so they did.  Restorations began in 1968. They started the wine and olive oil production. The castle is now in the hands of their daughter, Anna Baj Macario, who took over the estate with her husband Stefano Casadei, who is the winemaker. They live full time in the castle, which still doesn’t have heating, and is really quite cold, especially in February.

It takes over 100,000 euros a year to maintain this place so in addition to making wine and olive oil, they give tours, offer cooking classes, have apartments for rent and host events like weddings at the castle.

The moral of this story:  Life can start at any age usually when you least expect it. [Or how it applies to me; don’t give up on life just yet].

And a bonus:  A recipe for homemade pasta

Ingredients: EGGS ( 1 egg per person), FLOUR (*100 grams per person), EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (1 teaspoon), SALT

trebbio 5

On a wooden board, put the flour in the shape of a volcano, and the eggs in the middle. Add the extra virgin olive oil and some salt. With a fork, start mixing the eggs, taking the flour from the side, little by little or it will result lumpy.

Then, start mixing the dough with the hands. Don’t work it too much, because the pasta must result porous, in order to better absorb the sauce.

Then, when the dough is homogeneous, leave it to rest for at least half an hour.

Then, roll out the dough: firstly by hand, after with the rolling pin. Put a handful of flour on the dough in order to roll it out better, or it will stick to your hand/to the rolling pin. Turn the dough once in a while in order to give it a round and not oval shape. When the dough is very flat (*1-2 mm), leave it again to rest half an hour.

Then, fold the dough. Now you can cut the dough to prepare the shape of the pasta that you prefer: tagliatelle are wide stripes, tagliolini are narrow stripes.

Open the stripes, and let them dry.

Handmade Tagliatelle with “Sausage” Sauce:

Put some onion, celery, thyme, and rosemary in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Then add fresh sausage: when the meat gets a nice brown color, add peeled tomatoes. Let it boil for about 1 hour and 30 min.

Handmade Tagliolini with Vegetarian Sauce:

Put some shallot (kind of onion) and celery in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Add grated carrots and zucchini, some thyme and some fresh basil. Add some fresh cream, and chili (if you’d like).

*Metric measurement  because, you know, Italy ain’t America.

The Lover’s Walk

2016 Michelle here. Here I sit… older and wiser and all. 2005 was a particularly low spot in my life, and going in Italy in 2006, while not the best idea I’ve ever head, was really what jump-started my love of travel.  And also here I sit, older and wiser and all, dating a special dude.  One day I may even commit  to something more serious… like a love lock.

As a single, late-20-something suffering 3! break-ups in the last year, I’m pretty cynical about love these days, and not even being in the undisputed romance capital of the world is changing that. In the last 12 months I’ve caught a boyfriend with another person, had a few months’ long fling, and returned– against better judgment– to hook up with a previous partner. If my judgment is any indication of how my life is going to go, I should run, not walk away from any man that approaches, but me being me, hope springs eternal.

cinque terre 12

The Lover’s Walk is one of the easiest trails in the Cinque Terre. It’s just over a mile, flat, and connects Riomaggiore with Manarola. It could be the perfect trail to stroll with a lover… not very private if you catch my drift, but wide enough for two people, and the views are amazing.

cinque terre 14

Like nearly everything, there’s a story that goes along with the trail.

Built between 1926 and 1928, the Via dell’Amore was born out of necessity and not at all with love in mind. As workers blasted through the rock in order to upgrade the railway line, they found it necessary to build a gunpowder warehouse safely away from the two towns. They created a pathway from both villages that lead to a central storage area. After the railway was finished, locals rallied to reinforce the pathway, cover part of it, and keep it open as a second link between the two very isolated villages.

The story goes that, apart from aiding in commercial dealings, the new pathway also made it easier for young men and women from Riomaggiore and Manarola to meet and fall in love. Thus the pathway came to be known as the Via dell’Amore. Through the decades, the Via has stayed true to its name with lovers from all over coming to enjoy a stroll through its cliff side galleria, which displays breathtaking panoramas to visitors in any season. Approximately halfway along the Via sits the Bar dell’Amore, the original gunpowder warehouse that is now a quaint and welcoming café where visitors can rest, sample a glass of local wine and enjoy 180° views of the coastline and the turquoise waters below.

bar

lover walk

Decades’ worth of amorous graffiti painted onto or carved into the rock adorn the cliff face and the walls of the path’s galleria. Although off-putting to some, true romantics seem to find the sentiments behind the graffiti endearing. “Lucchetti d’amore” or love locks — padlocks marked with a couple’s name and locked in a public place for all to see — are a frequent sight as well.

kissing statue on cinque terre

cinque terre 8
You know, one day I’d like to lock a lock somewhere special with some as of yet undetermined male.

Gaining perspective on Cinque Terre paths

Most of last year sucked. Like straight up sucked. Yes, I graduated from school and got an amazing job, but other than that 2005 was shitty. Watching my father die, seeing my boyfriend tool around town with some floozy, having a fling with my boss, and moving to a new state–none of those things made me happy. I decided early on that 2006 was going to be a much better year. I’m going to explore my new surroundings, take real vacations, go on actual dates with appropriate people, make new friends…you know all that stuff that is supposed to make life more fulfilling.

cinque terre 4

Real vacation #1–hanging out in Itlay.

One of the things that always helps me to see things clearly is getting back to nature… getting outside and communing with the trees if you will. After being surrounding with throngs of people at the Olympics, I needed some alone time… Enter Cinque Terre, a coastal area of five little villages. This part of Italy is usually DEAD in the winter, but courtesy of the Games, some areas have opened up, providing a much needed escape from the Alps. Don’t get me wrong, mountains are awesome. The Alps are amazing, but I’d take a cold, sunny day on the coast over the snowy mountains any day.

One of the main draws to Cinque Terre aside from its location is the interconnect hiking paths. Some of them are easy, more like leisurely strolls through the woods.  Other trails are actual hiking trails complete with mountains and steep climbs.

cinque terre 2

A lot of people just hike the leisurely trail;  I opted to hike the entire network of trails. Hiking the entire length of the trail took about  8 hours or so. I went at an easy pace; it was bright and sunny except for the early morning fog, and temperatures were awesome for February. I had a lot of shit to sort out in my head. So I walked. And walked. And walked some more. Those paths are amazing. And snapped photos [2016 Michelle here: with FILM]

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I took the train back to my room after hiking all day and indulged in a massive plate of pasta, all the bread I could get my hands on, and a carafe or two of the most wonderful red wine ever. Of course I say that every day… today’s wine was the best ever… today’s pasta was the best ever… today’s gelato was better than yesterday’s gelato. But the hike… the hike was amazing. The towns are pretty cute too.

Also I am amazed at how green everything is.  You’d never know it was February.
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Fresh clementines rock.

The Olympics and an Adventure

I freaking love the Olympics… everything about them… pageantry, sport, and adventure all rolled into one huge event. In an effort to make 2006 a much better year than 2005, I decided to a few things differently. One, I’ve moved.  For the first time ever [other than as an infant or study abroad], I’ve moved away from South Carolina.  I love South Carolina, but right now, SC has too many bad memories.  Death of a parent, a lying, cheating bastard X 2 that I dated. Pretty much everywhere I went had some kind of memory attached to it.

The Olympics… in Atlanta… Cool

I also haven’t been on a vacation since 2002 when I returned to Mexico.  After having lived in Mexico, and traveling all over the country and dipping my toes into parts of central America, not going anywhere for the entire time I was in school was hard.  I have wanderlust so bad I can hardly stand it.  As a means to that end, in December, a mere two months ago, I decided that I wanted to spend my birthday in Italy.  Why Italy as opposed to *Spain*--where I’ve wanted to go since the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona?

The Olympics or better yet, the Winter Olympics which I’ve never seen.  Hell, until very recently I’ve never even seen a hockey game much less seen anything like curling, luge, bobsled, skiing, or any number of other winter sports.  But in only two months time, I’ve managed to snare a ticket to the opening ceremony in Torino, a plane ticket from RDU–>Zurich–>Roma–>GSP, a train ticket from Zürich to Milan, a train pass for Italy, and tickets to olympic events in Cesana and Bardonecchia.  Oh and a place to stay those first five days I’m in Italy when the world’s cameras will be joining me on my Italian adventure.

I CANNOT WAIT.

*Spain is still high on my travel list.  I would love to hike the entire Camino del Santiago or explore Andalusia.  Or Barcelona.  Or Galicia. Salamanca. Really, I’d love to find a way to move to Spain  to live for a year or so.

My 2006 Olympic Experience

I was lucky enough to attend the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia.  Don’t get me wrong; it was awesome, but it wasn’t the true experience.  I only live a couple of hours from Atlanta so I just drove down the day of.  I was able to get tickets for 4 events–baseball, soccer, rhythmic gymnastics, and volleyball.  Not swimming–which I would have loved, but still… it’s the Olympics.

Winter 2006 was a lot different… winter sports vs summer sports.  Torino, Itlay vs Atlanta, USA.  Olympic village vs my own house.  4 days + opening ceremony vs random days spread out over the two weeks.

2006-winter-olympics

Opening Ceremony:  There’s nothing quite like seeing the opening ceremony in person…The pomp and circumstance, the parade of athletes, the cool costumes, and the lighting of the Olympic flame—it’s all pretty amazing.  There’s such a feeling of hope and opportunity in the air.  It’s the only time–especially at the Winter Games when a lot of events are some distance from the host city–when everyone is together.  All [or nearly all] of the athletes, the spectators, the media–everyone is in one space for the opening.  After the opening ceremony, people scatter, and they don’t always meet back up at the closing.

Seeing the flame be lit  and watching the parade of athletes was awesome.  I always wanted to be an Olympian, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t have the competitive nature to push myself day in and day out.  Sure I always played sports… even went to college on athletic scholarship, but at the end of the day, I played sports because they were fun… and I enjoyed the camaraderie with my teammates.

Bardonecchia:  I stayed in Turin for the day prior to and the day of the Opening Ceremony and then next morning high tailed it up to the mountains courtesy of the free Olympic shuttle.  I based myself in Bardonecchia because 1).  Mountains…skiing…the cool winter sports 2) closer proximity to the other winter villages than Torino 3) free shuttles to and from the games and 4) It’s where I could find a place to stay that didn’t use up the entire monthly budget at one time.

The games:  I grew up in the south eastern part of the USA.  Skiing, ice hockey, ice skating, ect are not things that I could have participated in easily.  I mean we were always taught to never walk on frozen ice because it never gets cold enough to freeze solid and then we’d drown and/or get hypothermia.  SO that being said, winter sports have always fascinated me and I thought that had I grown up in the appropriate environment I’d would excel in biathlon.  I mean I can shoot like a champ and though I’ve never been on skis, cross country skiing doesn’t terrify me like down hill skiing does.

Biathlon does not get any love in the USA.  Its not fast or glamourous or shiny.  I mean they don’t even use real bullets when shooting, but for whatever reason, it fascinates me.  I was beyond thrilled to stand in the freezing cold and watch the biathletes ski and shoot their way to Olympic Gold.

torino biathlon

I also got to see some snowboarding…which terrifies the snot out of me…as well as bobsled and luge. No pictures from those events as they were whizzing past much too past for me to get a decent shot.

But bilathalon, though…it was beyond cool to see it.