Our Italy Diary, 2003

Blog from our 6 months living in Trieste, Italy
(in reverse chronological order)

 

30 June - 16 July    Reunions in the US of A
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2
Venice

Our flights were thankfully unremarkable, and our reunion with the dogs was satisfyingly tumultuous. They had a wonderful time at "Camp Paduan." They endeared themselves to Jeff's parents and in return were well-loved and attended to. They were truly confused when it came time to decide where to sleep: with us or with their new parents? 

After an unexpected brake job on the car, we stuffed it full and headed west. The 65 mile an hour speed limit through Michigan and Illinois was painfully tedious after having become accustomed to the frenetic pace of the autostrada. This time we drove the northern route, I-90 through South Dakota and Montana, stopping at the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, Little Bighorn (site of Custer's last stand), and under an overpass to wait out a big thunderstorm with dime-sized hail, endless lightning, and sheets of rain, and which generated a tornado some ten miles away. We stayed several days at a ranch near West Yellowstone with Jenny's family, meeting Jenny's niece, Julia, who was born while we were in Italy, celebrating Jenny's Mom's birthday and our anniversary, and taking excursions into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Then we sprinted across Nevada and relaxed for a day at Lake Tahoe before arriving in Monterey for more reunions, exactly 3000 miles later.

 

26-30 June 2003     Finale: Trieste e Milano
 Link to photo album
Spanish steps

Back in Trieste, our house was receiving a facelift, the final step of the remodel that had made it such a pleasant, updated place to live. Stucco was being applied to the stone exterior. They were to have started - and completed - the project while we were in Croatia and on the "Tornado Tour". However, because of the record heat, the contractor decided it was too hot to work. We returned to find the house scaffolded, the majority of the windows sealed shut, and no parking. (The house had no air conditioning, of course.) We have been told it now looks very nice, painted yellow to make it "Casa Gialla" once more.

We finished packing and mailed some boxes off, leaving Jeff free to finish up work and for us to say "arrivederci" to our wonderful friends. We went to a "sagra", a small fair in one of the nearby Slovene towns with local wine and food, a band and dance floor. Afterward, we went to the town of Sistiana to a disco on the beach. Our last night in Trieste, Jeff and I walked, nostalgically, the length of "our town," and ate at a small restaurant at the foot of the medieval Tor Cucherna, along the old city wall above the 2000 year old Roman Theater. The depth of history in this country is palpable.

Saturday, we drove 4.5 hours to Milano and returned our leased car without a fuss. We highly recommend leasing through AutoEurope. Our only regret was that we had not requested air conditioning. We went to the Milano city center and just missed closing time to climb to the roof of the splendid Duomo. Disappointed, we walked through the elegant and busy Galleria and saw the famous opera house, La Scala, under renovation. Then we strolled up the main boulevard, Via Dante, through the Castello Sforzesco to the verdant, well-tended, and popular gardens of Parco Sempione behind. After a pizza dinner, we took the train back to the airport and our hotel. Sunday morning, we flew away. Grazie mille, Italia!

 

20-25 June 2003    Two last trips to Venice
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2
Venice

On the 20th we packed Mom and Dad's extra bags with our stuff for free shipping back to the States, and when we could no longer stand the heat, we went swimming along the waterfront Barcola of Trieste. Saturday June 21, we drove in to Venice to complete their "Tornado Tour." The traffic was terrible (long backups for the beach exits and an accident or two, scorching heat on the asphalt of the autostrada, and no air conditioning in the car.) Venice was very crowded with tourists, largely American (pun intended). And this was only the beginning of the tourist season!

Just as we arrived at the steps of the Basilica San Marco, the doors firmly closed. The occasion was a service for the ordination of new priests. So we toured the Doge's Palace and rode to the top of the bell tower (the Campanile) for a bird's eye view of Venice. We walked the long way to dinner in Dorsoduro, via the Rialto Bridge and a gondola ride.

Sunday morning, we hoped again to see inside the Basilica, and again were disappointed: it was closed all morning. So we headed out by vaporetto to the islands of Burano and Torcello. The lagoon was teeming with sail and motor boats, and hundred of boats were pulled up on the sandbars while people swam and sunbathed. We had one last chance to see the Basilica, as it was scheduled to open from 2:30 until 4. We hurried back (not easy, because the waterfront of Piazza San Marco was closed, and pedestrian traffic was bottlenecked on the back way from San Zaccharia to San Marco), and this time we succeeded. As we exited, we saw that the Basilica's balcony was still open. So we climbed the narrow steps and emerged on the balcony just as trumpets sounded the start of a parade, so we had front-row seats! The parade formally opened a celebration that climaxed in a race of 18-oared galleons along the waterfront. This regatta commemorates the rivalry between the four maritime republics: Venice, Genoa, Amalfi, and Pisa. They once fought bloody battles for supremacy of Mediterranean shipping. Now they stage this regatta every year in one of the four cities; luckily for us, this year it was in Venice. As the parade ended, we hurried a different back way to the waterfront and saw the race. Amalfi was victorious. Afterward, we savored our cocktails, surveyed the boating scene along the waterfront, and ate a leisurely dinner, caressed by the breezes along the wide Canale della Giudecca.

Mom and Dad flew out of Venice Monday, and we returned to Trieste briefly for some serious packing. Tuesday afternoon we made our last trip to Venice. We were invited to a delicious dinner with some of the folks from the CNR lab, at Jane's home on the top floors of a palazzo near Campo Manin. Wednesday, we went out to the research platform operated by CNR in the Adriatic about an hour's boat-ride from Venice, where one of their suite of HF radars is mounted. As we had come to expect, lunch there was a rather formal affair, and quite tasty. They kindly delivered us by boat to the train station; our last ride up the Grand Canal was nostalgic. With difficulty, we tore ourselves away and returned again to Trieste, one last time.

 

18-19 June 2003    Jenny's parents' visit: Siena and Florence
 Link to photo album
Spanish steps

On the morning of the 18th we took a bus from Rome to the Tuscan town of Siena and checked into a wonderful hotel just outside the city gates with a view of the Tuscan countryside. We were served a delicious meal in the garden, then ambled into town. We visited the Piazza del Campo, the Baptistry (where the frescos resembled those in Assisi), and the Duomo. A thunderstorm hit while we were in the library of the Duomo admiring the ornate frescos and illuminated manuscripts. After the storm cleared, we climbed the unfinished wall of the Duomo, then had dinner on the Piazza and limoncello in the hotel garden.

The next day we took a train to Florence and checked our bags at the station for a whirlwind day of sightseeing. Many, many tourists, and no pickpockets. We climbed the Duomo dome, and saw the mosaics in the Baptistry (Byzantine-style, by Venetian artists), the beautiful frescos at the Chiesa San Marco painted by Fra Angelico in the monks' cells, and the tombs carved by Michelangelo in the Medici Chapel. We walked to the Piazza del Signoria to see the statues on display, and to Santa Croce to see the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Rossini, Da Vinci, and Marconi among many others, and to walk through the cloisters. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace and climbed the hill in the Boboli Gardens, which are sadly unkempt. Then we took a comfortable Eurostar train home to Trieste.

 

15-17 June 2003    Jenny's parents' visit: Rome
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2
Spanish steps

After our sailing adventure in Croatia, Pierre, Jeff, Jenny, and her parents took a ferry to Ancona, Italy. In Ancona, Jeff and Pierre ran calibrations of the CODAR site, then dismantled it for return to Venice. While Jeff worked, Jenny and her parents took a train to Rome, continuing our "Tornado Tour" of Italy. The weather continued to be hot, dangerously so (41C, 104F).

We stayed in a hotel near Piazza Navona in Rome, in a relatively quiet part of the city with lots of restaurants from which to choose and within walking distance to all the prime tourist targets. The first day we walked up the Spanish Steps, to the Pincio gardens at the Villa Borghese, to Piazza del Popolo, and to the Trevi Fountain. The fountains were refreshingly cool to splash on our faces, wrists, and even to soak our feet (until the police came around).

The second day, we went back a little further in time. We toured the Vatican Museum, including the hall of maps of the Christian world in the 16th century, the Rafaello rooms, and the Sistine Chapel. Then we visited St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in the world (the length of other churches are marked on the floor of the nave) and home to the tomb of Saint Peter. The bronze statue of the saint has had its foot nearly worn away from worshippers touching it. There is a large circular marble stone where Charlemagne was coronated Emporor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800AD by the Pope. Michelangelo's Pietà is now behind bullet-proof glass since a crazed man bludgeoned it with a hammer several years ago. The baldequin towering over the main altar is made of bronze righteously pilfered from the Pantheon. 

The third day, we stepped back more than 2000 years. We explored the Pantheon (used as a temple to all the gods - hence the name - and also as a solar calendar and clock), the Roman Forum (where early Christians had pulled down most of the columns and bashed the statues because they contained the souls of the gods), the Imperial Forum, the Colosseum (the passages and rooms beneath the arena's floor that housed the wild animals and gladiators, mostly slaves, have been excavated), and Palatine Hill (site of the legendary founding of Rome, and covered with ruins of enormous emporers' palaces). Shade was in short supply and high demand. Small bottles of water sold for as much as 3 euro from opportunistic vendors (where at markets they could be gotten for less than 60 cents). The ice cubes our waiter brought at dinner were enjoyed to the last molecule.

 

7-14 June 2003    Jenny's parents' visit: sailing in Croatia
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2
the sailors

We chartered a sailboat with my parents, Vedrana, Gianvito, Elena and Pierre to sail for a week around the rugged limestone islands of the central Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. Our boat was a Beneteau Oceanis 411 and our captain was Tony. Tony turned out to be an incredibly capable sailor (he sailed for Croatia in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and in other races around the world, including skippering in a recent race series where they won, beating the boat sponsored by Oracle and BMW by 12 minutes), friendly,  knowledgeable about the islands' wind patterns, histories, harbors, scenic places and swimming spots, and well-connected (with 2 cell-phones and friends calling to invite us to tie up next to them as we entered the busy harbors). 

Saturday, after we arrived in Split, Croatia, by ferry at 6am (not delayed any by our late departure the night before), we walked through the Roman Emperor Diocletian's fortified retirement palace, around which a medieval city grew and a busy farmers' and crafts' market was in full swing despite the heat. After groceries were purchased, we drove to the port of Rogoznica to meet the boat. We motored to a small island for a welcome swim, then to Primosten harbor on the mainland for the night.

Sunday, we swam at the island of Drvenik Veli in a shallow rocky bay, then sailed south to the island of Vis, accompanied by dolphins. We docked in Komiza on Vis, bought wine (dispensed from the barrel into our plastic bottle) and wandered through the town. Monday we climbed up to the church overlooking Komiza (the sulfur powder sprinkled on the grape vines made me think I was on a volcano!) Then we motored to the island of Bisevo and snorkled in the spectacular Grotta Azzurra, where ice-blue light played into the cave and schools of fish hung like clouds. We sailed back to Vis, and along the southern coast of the island, the 25 knot wind from astern abruptly died then immediately resumed in the opposite direction as we proceeded east, completely influenced by the presence of the high island. We screamed along upwind at 8.2 knots. In the harbor of the town of Vis, Tony skillfully dropped anchor and backed into a narrow space between two boats, all while reassuring our pissed-off Aussie neighbor who was unfamiliar with this routine practice of tight docking. The local officials, Tony's friends of course, agreed we were OK there. 

Tuesday we stopped at a small bay for a swim and sailed to Lastovo Island. It was a long passage, and when the wind began to die we swam off the stern, pulled through the water by a line attached to the boat, until we stopped the boat. We anchored in Zaklopatica Bay and enjoyed dinner on board, including fresh peaches steeped in red wine and crepes with Nutella by moonlight. Wednesday we skinny-dipped to wake up and motored to Arzenjak Island for breakfast and a swim, then past a chain of tiny islands to Mljet Island, where there is a national park containing two lakes, one with a converted monastery on an island, and a smaller lake where we rented kayaks. Our dinner in Polace, near ruins of a Roman palace, was a delectable variety of seafood served by a charming descendent of Marco Polo.

Thursday we sailed to Korcula Island, the birthplace of Marco Polo, and walked around Korcula town, while Tony tried to fix a broken toilet. The beautiful, tiny town had a modern marina, medieval walls and towers, a 15th century cathedral, a tree-lined promenade on one shore, and hot white limestone streets. It was 41 degrees Celsius (~104F) in Split all week, and not much cooler in the islands. Then we sailed to Hvar town on Hvar Island along a long peninsula of the mainland. The sea-breeze (the daily Bora wind) was high: with a reefed genoa we still went 8 knots upwind. In Hvar, we docked near the medieval city center, and bought wine from a Pompeii-like shop. We slept on deck because it was too hot below, but were kept awake by some Irishmen singing stupid songs as loud as they could until dawn. Friday, we walked up to the castle at the top of the hill, where there were displays of amphorae from 3 Roman shipwrecks, drafty prisons, a great view, and capers growing from the walls. We sailed north past Solta and Stipanska Islands, and visited the town of Trogir on the mainland. Many of the stone houses had Venetian windows (the Croatian coast was under Venetian rule for more than 400 years). We sailed to Rogoznica harbor for the night. Saturday was again scorching hot. We turned the boat in, took long showers, drove to Split (without air conditioning), and took a ferry to Ancona, Italy for the next leg of the "tornado tour."

 

3-6 June 2003    Jenny's parents' visit: Dolomites, Trieste, Bakar
 Link to photo album

Jenny's parents visit (to be later dubbed by Vedrana, "Tornado Tour") began 3 June. They flew in to Venice, and drove with Jenny north to the Dolomites. That afternoon, we hiked to the saddle at Tre Cime di Lavaredo for spectacular views, ever-shifting as the clouds passed. We stayed for the night at a wonderful hotel at Lago Misurina (not a bad place to decompress from jet-lag).  Next to the lake were the melted remains of the ice fountain sculpture we photographed with Carolyn's family in March. Wednesday we took the tram at Passo Falzarego, to the west of Cortina, to the top of the Laguzuoi, for views to the Marmolada and back toward Cortina. On the ridges at the top was an open-air museum of the tunnels carved by the Austrians and blown up by the Italians in World War I. 

Wednesday and Thursday nights we were home in Trieste. Thursday we went to the Castello Miramare, walked the length of the Napoleon Road, took the historic tram down to the city center, walked past the Roman Theater, the Grand Canal and Piazza dell'Unita, and had pizza at a favorite place in the medieval section of the city. Friday, we toured the Grotta Gigante and OGS, and drove to Bakar, Croatia, to catch the overnight ferry to Split for our sailing trip (next installment). The ferry's departure was relocated and delayed for the passage of the motorcade (which we saw) for Pope John Paul II's visit to the city of Rijelka, Croatia. 

 

27 May - 1 June 2003    Volcanoes: Sicily and Aeolian Islands
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2

For her birthday, Jenny completed her volcano pilgrimage and visited Sicily and the Aeolian Islands to see Mounts Etna, Stromboli and Vulcano. 3343m Etna violently erupted in 2001-2002, with an ash cloud that reached far across the Mediterranean, and lava flows that destroyed a ski-lift, tram and road and were deviated from even more destruction through human intervention. 918m Stromboli is one of the few continuously eruptive volcanoes in the world, usually with mildly explosive fountains of lava at the summit, however since an earthquake, landslide and damaging tsunami at the very end of 2002, it has been erupting steady lava flows from a vent on the flank. 500m Vulcano, the mythological forge of Vulcan, the god of the underworld, was most recently active in 1888-1889 at the 293m Gran Fossa crater. (INGV Catania's website)

Tuesday, Jenny flew to Catania, a large city on Etna's south flank (on the island of Sicily), and took a fast, easy, and airless bus to Taormina (tourist website), to the northeast of Etna. Tight hairpin turns overhung with lush, tropical flowers led from the sea up to the enchanting town, which is overlooked by a 9th century Saracen castle and a monastery on bare rocky promontories above, and the massive Mount Etna beyond. Etna was in the clouds while Jenny visited the 3rd century BC Greek theater (remodeled in 1st century AD by the Romans, and being prepared for upcoming performances of Medea), but cleared a bit later as she walked around town. Ash from the recent eruptions had been several inches deep and was still collected in corners. The local crafts include marble inlays, jewelry from coral and lava, and ceramics. The trinacria, which was the name of Sicily under the Greeks, is the symbol of Sicily: the three legs represent the three corners of  the island, and the Medusa was to ward off invaders (it didn't work, the islands have long histories of invaders laying siege to the towns, razing them to the ground, murdering most and enslaving the rest of the populations, pirating the shipping, settling and building with their particular architectural styles, and ruling with various degrees of ruthlessness or neglect).

Wednesday, Jenny took the train to Milazzo and a hydrofoil to the island and town of Lipari. It rained hard. The Aeolian Islands are named for Aeolius, the god of the winds, for good reason (tourist website). Specialties of the islands include pumice, obsidian, sulfur, Malvasia wine, and capers (growing everywhere). Above the center of Lipari town is the fortress, with castle walls, museums, churches, theater, and excavations of ruins dating to the Greeks. Jenny was joined by Vedrana, who had just disembarked in Palermo from a two week research cruise for OGS. We stayed at an apartment in the center of town. The first night, a Milan vs. Rome soccer game for the European Championship was loudly celebrated throughout the town for hours. 

Thursday, we visited the Museum of Volcanology on Lipari, and took a boat tour 22 nautical miles north to Stromboli. On the way, we passed the pumice mines on Lipari, and stopped at the island of Panarea. Sulfur fumaroles off Panarea had been occasional in the past, but when Stromboli changed its eruption style this year there was a burst of degassing with a large fish-kill, and since then they have been constant. We passed Stromboli's Sciara del Fuoco, the steep scree slope on the NW side of the island where the lava is flowing, and where the landslide occurred offshore. We circled the pinnacle of Strombolicchio, just off Stromboli, topped with a lighthouse. On Stromboli, we walked from the town several kilometers to the Osservatorio, a bar near the Sciara del Fuoco, from which we could hear the continuous rockfalls tumbling down the Sciara, and from where lava fountains would have been visible if the volcano had still been erupting in the old style (unfortunately the hike up to an overlook of the flows on the Sciara required more time, equipment and a guide). The tour boat stayed offshore the Sciara del Fuoco after sunset so we could watch the lava flows. The clouds parted occasionally, revealing two incandescent tongues, one many meters wide, streaming from the vent. Not far below the vent, the surface of the flows cooled to black, but as the flows tumbled down the steep slope, the rocks shattered open, red-hot inside, and looked like sparkling showers falling back to earth after fireworks have exploded. 

Friday was sunny for our boat trip to Vulcano. We first circled the island, motored into the Grotta del Cavallo, named for the seahorses found there, and saw the pool where Venus reputedly bathed after being kidnapped by Apollo. We landed in Porto di Levante. We climbed the Gran Fossa cone, which had a broad, easy path at first, that became slippery, deeply eroded clay, then loose footing to the summit, then an obstacle course through the sulfur fumaroles around the crater rim. Porto di Levante is on an isthmus to Vulcanello, a small cone that formed in 183 BC. The isthmus formed in the 16th century. On one side is a black sand beach, and on the other, sulfur fumaroles (which we swam through) and mud baths. 

Saturday we took a hydrofoil and train to Palermo on Sicily. There we saw churches in "Arab-Norman" style with Moorish domes and Byzantine interiors, and "Spanish-Sicilian" style with Baroque interiors, reflecting the architecture of various invaders of the city. Most had opulent weddings occurring. The cathedral had on display a beautiful crown from Queen Constance of Aragon (~1300), a large crypt, and a calendar on the floor modeled after the one in Naples so that the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Naples and Sicily) would have the same standard for telling time (the sun's rays entered through a small hole in the ceiling, intercepted the line at local noon, and swept along the line, marked with signs of the zodiac, through the year). The ruined San Giovanni degli Eremiti, in the Arab-Norman style built by King Roger II in 1132 with dainty 13th century cloisters, was a peaceful retreat from noise of the city. We walked to the waterfront, noted as a park on the map but not maintained, dirty, and overlooking the concrete breakwater of the port entrance. It was a disappointment, and reinforced what treasures the city of Trieste has in its Barcola and Piazza dell'Unita waterfronts. We had dinner outside next to the Giardino Garibaldi and its enormous banyan trees. A bit of trivia: a street near the train station is Via Abramo Lincoln. Sunday, we went by train to the airport, flew to Venice, and went by train to Trieste, where the weather was hotter than on Sicily.

 

15-21 May 2003    Tuscany and Ferrara
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2

Thursday evening at the Florence train station, we met Lisa, a friend from graduate school visiting for a week, and Gianvito, a friend from Trieste. The traffic in Florence was ridiculous, diverted from one end to the other for preparations for an upcoming Expo. In the Duomo, we climbed in the narrow curved passage between the ceiling and the roof  to the top of the dome, accompanied by organ music of a service in a chapel below, for a beautiful view of the city in the late afternoon sunlight. In both Pisa and Florence we were pick-pocketed by street urchins, but they found nothing they wanted in our packs, where we carried just guidebooks and windbreakers; fortunately they didn't get our money or credit cards, but I'm sure they could have extracted them from their hiding places if we had been more unwitting or they had been given more time. 

We stayed three nights at an olive farm owned by Gianvito's aunt in the Tuscan countryside near the town of Colle di Val d'Elsa south of Florence. Jeff and Jenny, Lisa and Gianvito were joined by Penny and her family, and later by Elena and Pierre from Trieste. Highlights at the farm included antipasti and vino under the olive trees, celebrating Penny's birthday, the playful, precocious cat who had to be in the midst of everything, the Arabian horse being brushed by Gianvito's cousin, and the silence of the sturdy old stone barn, now guest apartments. Friday, we went to the weekly market in Colle di Val d'Elsa and walked through the walled città vecchia on the hilltop, where they now specialize in crystal. 

We went to San Gimignano, famous for its many towers, where we climbed the Torre Grossa; toured the cathedral decorated with 14thC frescos; were horrified in the torture museum, a sobering reminder of the capacity man has for inhumanity in the name of justice or "the true faith"; and cheered back up with the help of gelato while sitting on the steps of the old well in the Piazza della Cisterna. 

We spent Saturday in Siena, once a bitter rival of Florence. Siena still has a tradition of the Palio, the dangerous, no-holds-barred horse race around the Piazza del Campo that occurs twice a year. The walled city is divided into districts called contrada, each of which has a symbol (such as snail, dragon, or tortoise that appear on their clothing, banners, church facades and windows, doorways, torch holders, lampposts, and fountains) and sponsors a horse in the Palio. We had coffee in the piazza, entertained by a man hilariously teasing passing tourists. The Duomo was designed to be larger than the Duomo in Florence, but when the plague of 1348 killed a third of the town's population, construction was scaled back to the current size. An unfinished wall, of which we climbed to the top, and marks for the columns on the cobblestone piazza indicate the intended size. 

Near sunset, we stopped at the hermitage and ruined abbey of San Galgano.The hermitage contains a sword that the saint plunged into a stone in 1180, no longer to be considered a weapon but a symbol of the cross, and the bones of the arms and hands of an "envious man" who tried to remove the sword only to have a wolf tear off his arms that night. 

On our last day in Tuscany, Lisa and Jenny visited Volterra, another fortified hilltop town near the farm. We toured the Etruscan Museum, containing a large collection of jewelry, painted ceramic vessels, and carved funerary urns found in nearby tombs. The remains of a Roman amphitheater and baths are just outside the city walls. The town's specialty now is carved alabaster. 

Driving home, we stopped in Ferrara to see the Duomo and Castello Estense by daylight, and for dinner, which of course took 2.5 hours. Then for the last couple days of Lisa's visit, we briefly caught the highlights of Trieste and Venice.

 

12-15 May 2003    Pietrasanta, Lerici, Cinque Terre, Pisa
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2

Sunday night we stayed with Penny, Peter, and son Colin, friends from Monterey living in Pietrasanta on the Tuscan coast for a couple months so that Peter can sculpt marble with the artigiani. We were joined for dinner by two other American artists living in town. Monday, we had coffee at the caffè frequented by Michelangelo several centuries ago. Then while Jeff worked, Penny took Jenny on a tour of the local mountains, which have been eviscerated for their perfect marble so prized by Michelangelo. For miles around the town, there are several-ton blocks, slabs, and tiles of all colors of marble, lined up in lot after lot. 

Monday through Wednesday nights we stayed in Lerici, on the Ligurian coast, while Jeff attended a NATO oceanography meeting. Lerici is a quiet beach resort town near the huge port of La Spezia. Jenny visited Portovènere (Port of Venus) with Elena one afternoon. Another day (inaccurately forecasted to be stormy), she hiked in the Cinque Terre (five towns until recently only accessible by foot or from the sea) with Penny and Colin. They walked from Monterosso to the picturesque town of Vernazza through the vineyards, and from Manarola to Riomaggiore on the cliff walk known as the Via dell'Amore. Wednesday evening, a dinner was held in the gardens at the Villa Marigola overlooking Lerici after the meeting concluded. We met several friends and colleagues there, many of whom are living in Lerici and working at the SACLANTCEN NATO laboratory. Unlike us, they are paid in Euro and are thrilled by the dollar's continued plunge relative to Europe's currency. Needless to say, we are not at all pleased (see the dollar's "performance" since we arrived in Italy).

Thursday after a smaller follow-up meeting, we drove to Pisa. The city, now quite far inland, had been one of the four maritime republics in the Middle Ages, competing with Venice, Genoa and Amalfi.  In the Piazza dei Miracoli, we toured the Baptistry and Duomo, which had facades and pulpits of the same designs as in Lucca, and climbed the famous Leaning Tower (Torre Pendente). The tours were the most expensive and highly organized that we've yet encountered (of course, reinforcements to keep the tower from collapsing have been astronomically expensive), but the restriction is probably for good reason as the stairs are narrow and climbing the tower gives odd sensations as the vertical references change. The highly worn marble stairs spiral up inside the tower, and for half a revolution the climb is steep and for half it is nearly level, and the walls alternate their tilt (the angle is approximately 5m off of vertical of its 58m height). The view at the top was terrific, but most memorable was just the experience of being able to touch those revered, miraculously intact stones.  

 

9-11 May 2003     Ancona, Gubbio, Assisi, Lucca
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2

We made a tour of central Italy, catalyzed by a meeting Jeff had scheduled on the "Italian Riviera" and some Monterey friends we wanted to visit who are living temporarily in that area. Friday, we drove to Ancona so Jeff could perform maintenance on the radar system's modem and data storage device, which unfortunately had failed. 

Saturday, we drove through the Apennines to the Umbrian town of Gubbio, a walled city which has retained its medieval character and today specializes in glazed ceramics. We continued to Assisi, home of San Francesco d'Assisi. The Basilica di San Francesco is actually two churches built on top of each other, with the saint's tomb in a crypt beneath. Colorful frescos by Giotto and his contemporaries and students decorate every arch and wall, telling stories of San Francesco's life. One section of the ceiling in the Basilica Superiore is undecorated: it had collapsed in an earthquake in 1997, killing four. We were there - without tickets - for the final day of "Calendimaggio," a pageant celebrating primavera (spring), with elaborate medieval costumes, music, dances, and pyrotechnics such as flaming weapons, drums, and fire-eating. We stayed in a hotel within the city walls with a very pleasant terrace on the roof and a parking spot out in front (which meant we had to part the pedestrians like pigeons to drive out of the city the next day!)

Sunday we visited Lucca, a fortified city in Tuscany near Pisa. The fortifications now serve as a popular passagiato for the residents and their dogs, with views to the Apuan Alps. Perhaps because it was a Sunday, or maybe the town hasn't been hyped like other Tuscan towns, but it was not crowded and seemed to be a real town, enjoyed by the locals rather than over-run by tourists. The main piazza is built where the Roman amphitheater had been until it was destroyed by barbarian invaders; the white marble stones were used to rebuild the churches, particularly nearby San Frediano. The church of San Michele in Foro is located where the Roman Forum used to stand; it has an extra-tall facade because the nave was intended to be higher. The 13thC facades of that church and the Duomo are Pisan Romanesque. Our favorite thing to do in a new city is to go up: we climbed the Gothic, curiously tree-topped tower built by the Guinigi family for views over the city to the mountains to the north.

 

1-6 May 2003     Lakes Como, Lugano, Maggiore
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2

Suddenly, it is summer weather! May 1 was a holiday (Labor Day, and the Italian, yet Slovene, town of Prosecco up the hill from us had red communist banners flying). We met Annette and Achim, German friends since graduate school, for a relaxing few days along the Italian and Swiss lakes at the foot of the Alps. We spent two nights in a wonderful albergo in the town of Cadenabbia on the west shore of Lago Como. We relished Villa Carlotta's colorful spring gardens in Tremezzo; took a ferry to the promontory of Bellagio for dinner outside on a steep, old street; hiked in the rain to the Capella di San Martino perched on a cliff overlooking the lake; explored the town of Menaggio; and enjoyed lovely views of the lake when the weather cleared. Saturday, we drove past the modern, Swiss city of Lugano and hiked on a ridge above Lago Lugano for distant views of the high Alps, and stayed two nights in the Swiss town of Ascona on the north shore of Lago Maggiore. Ascona has a small medieval section with a wide promenade along the shore of the lake and many shops and restaurants, and the pretty Madonna del Sasso church sits in on the edge of a rocky ravine above the town of Lucarno, but otherwise we were disappointed by the modern buildings engulfing the countryside in that part of Switzerland. Sunday, we hiked on a quiet, narrow road high above the shore of the lake, looking longingly over to the tiny towns of Italy on the other side. Monday, we drove south along the shore back to Italy, and spent much of the day on the island Isola Bella, where there is a palace of the Borromeo family, its fanciful gardens in full bloom, and took a tram from the town of Stresa for a misty view of the high mountains. Then we took Annette and Achim to the airport in Milano and drove back to Trieste.

On Tuesday, 6 May, we attended Teatro Verdi's wonderful production of Nabucco by Guiseppe Verdi, with an American singing the extremely challenging role of Abigaille. The chorus "Va pensiero", so beloved by Italians because they too had longed for freedom (the opera was written a few years before unification was achieved in 1846), received applause for several minutes and was repeated so we could hear it again and allow it to fade away as written. 

 

30 April 2003     Aquileia and Grado
 Link to photo album 1
Link to photo album 2

Aquileia and Grado, near Trieste, were once important Roman and Christian cities: Aquileia became the governing city for the Roman Empire's region of Venetia and Istria, and was a seat for bishops of the Roman Empire and later the medieval Holy Roman Empire. Grado was where the Aquileian population and bishops repeatedly fled and a rival bishop patriarchate was established in the 7th century. Now Aquileia is a quiet farming village besieged by tourists and archeologists, and Grado is a modern, popular beach resort sprawling beyond its quaint città vecchia.

Aquileia was founded in 181BC by being outlined with a plough in Roman custom. Ruins of a forum, amphitheater, circus, baths, houses with mosaic flooring, and market places have been discovered under farmers' fields. Earthquakes, destruction by invaders (including Attila the Hun), and dismantling for reuse of the building materials have left almost nothing but outlines (this underscores how fortunate we are now that the disasters preserving Pompeii and Herculaneum occurred in 79AD). The river port (now alongside a stream since the river was diverted in 361AD during a siege) has been excavated, including a 400m stone quay with mooring rings, ramps leading to warehouses, and paved underpasses leading to the city's road network. The Basilica of Aquileia was founded in 313AD after the Edict of Milan granted Christians the right to worship, but it was destroyed and rebuilt several times: the current structure was consecrated in 1031. The splendid 750m2 mosaic floor of the original, paleo-Christian church was preserved beneath a meter of mud upon which the medieval church's floor was constructed, and has now been exhumed. Excavations around the footings for the bell-tower (built with stones from the Roman amphitheater), reveal more mosaic flooring. The mosaic motifs are from numerous traditions and include biblical scenes (e.g., Jonah being swallowed by the whale), elaborate land and sea creatures, images of patrons, and even pagan icons.

Grado, a barrier island of a large lagoon beyond Aquileia, was developed in the 5th century as a refuge for the bishops of Aquileia, but nothing is left of the citadel except some gates now transformed into houses. The Basilica of Saint Eufemia was consecrated in 579AD, and also has an expansive mosaic floor. In the cloister is a lapidarium with Roman and medieval sculpted stone artifacts, and a large baptistery is nearby. Another church has been discovered near the beach; its baptistery is paved over again and marked by an outline outside a medieval palace (now a house).

 

25-27 April 2003     Croatia  Link to photo album

We spent the holiday weekend of 25 April (anniversary of Italy's 1945 liberation) on the Croatian island of Krk with Elena, Pierre, Francesca, Fabio, and Andrea. The rugged limestone island is in the bay formed by the Istrian peninsula, which from the time of the Romans until the end of WWII shared the same political history as Trieste, and the snowcapped mainland of Croatia. We stayed in a pension in the town of Baska. Saturday we hiked to the top of the nearby ridge on a trail delineated by stone walls built to enclose the sheep but perhaps more to clear the rocks so more grass could grow for them, and back down by way of a narrow flash-flood canyon to the sea. Then we sunbathed on one of the beautiful beaches. The day was warm but the clear, inviting water was still too cold for more than a brief dip. Sunday it poured, so we drove to the town of Krk for a hot lunch and headed home.

 

11-21 April 2003
Venice (ROW3), Ancona,
Bay of Naples, Trieste
  

After 48 hours in Trieste (to pay an outrageous utilities bill, to catch up on e-mail and laundry, for last minute organizational details for the upcoming meeting, to gather gear for a radar installation, and to pack for another week on the road), we returned to Venice. Jeff went by car on Saturday afternoon, while Jenny attended the ballet Giselle with Vanessa in Trieste and took the train to Venice, just beating a 24-hour train strike. 

The meeting was for oceanographers who use high-frequency radars for their research (ROW3) and took place at the Istituto di Grandi Massi along the Grand Canal. The first event of the meeting was a field trip to the WERA radar site at Goro. It was a delightful day, with a kilometer-long stroll on the beach to see the antenna arrays and an exceptional seafood lunch at the lighthouse's caffè. The most memorable part, however, was an attempt by the tour bus to cross a floating bridge on an arm of the Po River: with the bridge creaking and groaning and each pontoon sinking to a different depth as we advanced, we reached the barge at the center of the bridge, at which point the bridge attendant changed his mind about whether we should cross (the driver didn't know how much the bus weighed; an 18-wheeler sank the bridge last summer), and the bus backed off and went around the long way it should have gone if the driver hadn't gotten lost to begin with. While Jeff was at the meeting Monday to Wednesday, Jenny visited the Ca' d'Oro art museum, a special exhibit on the Egyptian Pharaohs at the Palazzo Grassi, and the peaceful islands of Burano and Torcello, where there are mosaics predating those in Venice.

Wednesday night we went to Padova and met a friend from MBARI, Jim, traveling with Megs, to see the colorful and complex Giotto frescos and have dinner. Thursday, Jeff, Pete from CODAR and a student at OGS, Riccardo, drove to Ancona to install a new radar system, and Jenny returned to Venice to show Jim and Megs around then took the train to Ancona to join Jeff. Friday, while Jenny and Riccardo braved the autostrada back to Trieste (a 6-hour, frenetic game of chicken), Jeff and Pete went to Naples to tour potential radar sites around the Bay of Naples, including the bellissimo island of Capri and the coast near Sorrento on Saturday. Capri was especially beautiful and both Pete and Jeff volunteered their time and expertise to come back and help the local scientist install a radar either next to the yachts in the harbor or at the idyllic, abandoned astronomical observatory on the cliff above the Grotta Azzurra.

Buona Pasqua! Sunday, we had a delicious Easter dinner with Elena, Pierre, and Elena's family, then walked on a pleasant path overlooking the "Grand Canyon of Trieste." Monday was also a holiday, and we enjoyed the first BBQ of the season at a wonderful summer cabin overlooking the Adriatic. Era molto tranquillo.

 

1-10 April 2003     Jeff's parents' visit

Jeff attended a meeting 31 March to 2 April on Isola San Servolo in Venice. The CORILA group includes various Italian research teams who seek to understand the circulation of the Venice Lagoon, the exchange with the Adriatic Sea, the effects of "aqua alta", and the dynamics of the ecosystems. Among other questions, they hope to determine how long the large dams, which are proposed for the protection of Venice from high water events, could be closed before there are damaging effects on the biology and chemistry of the lagoon. Jenny met Jeff in Venice after her trip to Naples. While knocking about there, Jenny was inspired to sketch a detail of a large monument in the I Frari church, of the lion of St. Mark covering a closed Bible with his paws. The lion is usually depicted with an open Bible, but in times when Venetians found themselves unable to follow the Bible's teachings of peace, the book would be closed so they could go to war with a clear conscience. It is a provocative analogy to what is happening now in the US. 

Jeff's parents arrived just as the weather changed from gorgeous to miserable: wind, heavy rain, and snow level of only a few hundred meters. We spent a couple days in Venice and in our namesake, Padova, dodging umbrellas and puddles and dashing inside the churches and caffès for warmth. Padova has a small medieval section, the Chiesa degli Eremitani with early 15th century frescos by Mantegna badly damaged by bombing in WWII, a chapel built by Scrovegni (to appease for past sins) along a wall of the old Roman arena with frescos by Giotto finished in 1305 and recently renovated (but we could not get in to see them this trip), and the Basilica di San Antonio, where the saint's tomb and relics (jawbone, larynx, and tongue) are on display along with many votives from people he "saved" from terrible accidents and afflictions. 

We returned to Trieste and the weather cleared. We toured Castello Miramare and the downtown Roman and medieval sites, and had a lively dinner at a Serbian restaurant with Italian, Croatian, and Bulgarian friends. We went north one day, past an immense monument in Redipuglia where 100,000 soldiers from WWI are buried, to Cividale del Friuli, a small town along a river gorge in the foothills of the Carnia Alps, where we saw a 3rd century BC Celtic tomb, Roman ruins, a tiny 8th century AD church built by Lombard invaders, a medieval house and walls, and the 16th century Duomo, then went on to the mountain-top fortified city of Castelmonte. To broaden his parents' experience further, we took them to Slovenia. We toured the dramatic Predjama Castle, where the "Robin-Hood" Erazem survived a siege of a year because the limestone caves allowed him free secret passage behind the castle, until in 1484 a servant pointed out to the opposing Austrian army his toilet on the cliff face and he was ignobly shot there one day; then we went to Postojna Cave, where we took a small train several km in to a series of stalactite/stalagmite-rich grottos. 

Wednesday, Jeff needed to go to Ancona (half-way down the western coast of Italy) to arrange details for a future radar installation. On the way, we stopped at the Pomposa Abbey, where the monk lived who developed the musical scale and note system. While Jeff worked, his parents and Jenny toured the spectacular 5th and 6th century AD mosaics in Ravenna at the Basilica di San Vitale, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, the Battistero Neoniano, and the Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (where mosaics installed in Theodoric's time were incompletely altered under the subsequent ruler, Justinian, to remove likenesses of Theodoric's nobles; look for the hands remaining on the columns). We also visited the tiny cliff-top country, Repubblica di San Marino (picturesque, but oriented entirely toward gleaning money from tourists). Then we all returned, via a beautiful evening in Ferrara, to Venice in time for their flight back to the States and for it to begin to rain again. April showers bring May flowers...

 

27-31 March 2003     Napoli
 

Jenny fulfilled a dream she has had since she was 7 years old: to see the volcano, Vesuvius. Il Vesuvio, as it is known here, looms to the east of Naples. The Roman towns it destroyed in 79AD, Pompeii and Herculaneum, are on its slopes. Other volcanoes are to the west of Naples, such as Monte Nuovo, the Phlegraean Fields, ("burning fields" or Campi Flegrei in Italian) and the island of Ischia. Besides the volcanic attractions, Naples has a long cultural and artistic history exposed in ancient ruins and extant buildings. It also is known for its pizza, anarchy of the drivers, and creative pickpockets.

Jenny flew into Naples on Thursday and took the wrong bus from the airport (after the conductor had told her it was the right one). An old man who she was trying to ignore kindly deduced her mistake mid-journey, fortunately. After finding the right bus and the right stop, she wheeled her suitcase to her hotel through the hectic, cobble-stoned, vendor-strewn streets of the città vecchia, which were not designed for cars but are busy with cars, scooters and delivery trucks. After decompressing from that experience, she ventured back out and wandered through the chaos, visiting a number of churches, cloisters, castles, and excavations of Greek, Roman, and medieval ruins beneath modern Napoli. That night she had a wonderful frutta del mare (seafood) dinner with Vanessa's friend, Alessandra, and her family. Friday morning, she visited some more of the above, plus the Museo Nazionale Archeologico, where the more vulnerable treasures from Pompeii and Herculaneum are on display.

Alessandro, a seismologist with INGV in Rome to whom we were introduced via a classmate in our Italian class in Monterey, generously provided vital assistance in Jenny's quest to see the volcano. They met Friday evening, upon his return from Stromboli where he was monitoring the seismic activity of that volcano (on New Year's Eve landslides caused a damaging tsunami, and since then its usual mildly explosive, classic "Strombolian activity" has ceased and there is a lava flow erupting from it instead). Dinners Friday and Saturday were with Alessandro and his friends, vibrant, in Italian, and around midnight both nights. Both the late hour and the large group outings are typical of Napoli: there was more traffic at midnight than at points during the day, and the restaurant tables were to set for no less than 8 people!

Saturday Alessandro and Jenny drove past the old Vesuvius Observatory (the first volcanic observatory in the world) and walked the rest of the way to the crater of Vesuvius. Monte Somma is the wall of an older, larger caldera to the north of the younger cone of Vesuvius. Lava flows in the Valle dei Gigante (Valley of the Giants) between them are from 1944, just as the Allies were entering Naples and the last time Vesuvius erupted. Fumaroles now vent quietly from the walls of the crater, which is about 600m x 200m deep. Otherwise it is dormant, presumably building up pressure for another catastrophic eruption; if an eruption like in 79AD were to happen now, an estimated 700,000 people would die. 

After leaving Vesuvius we visited Pompeii, a Roman city buried in ash on 24 August 79AD and forgotten. It was discovered when digging an aqueduct in 1600; early excavations were not scientific, but much has been learned about life in Roman times from this fortuitous time capsule. Pompeii was a large city, and to see everything we should have had a whole day. Despite this, we saw the Forum, the Temple of Apollo, several houses, graffiti supporting local candidates for elections, the theater (wooden seats are installed for summer events), and the Villa of Mysteries, where the most stunning frescos were found. Pompeii had been a busy and wealthy commercial center, and now it is all too serene. The magnitude of the disaster was something Jenny had not quite expected.

Sunday we drove to the Campi Flegrei, a collection of volcanic craters to the west of Naples. The region is reminiscent of Oahu in the crater shapes and vegetation, and in the extent of development. The town of Pozzuoli contains a Roman market that illustrates a phenomenon called "bradyseism", where the land experiences slow vertical motion. Many times in the last 2000 years this market has been submerged and lifted again above sea level (water levels and even boreholes from marine organisms are visible on the columns); as recently as 1970 it was flooded. The Solfatara is a crater with vigorous sulfur and steam fumaroles. Here the Romans built baths for inhalation of the vapors, considered beneficial for skin and respiratory ailments. We climbed Monte Nuovo, which built itself in 1583, for a hazy view of Capo (Cape) Miseno. Nearby, Lago d'Averno (Lake Avernus) was believed by the ancient Greeks to be the mouth of Hell. 

Alessandro had to return to work Monday. Before departing Monday evening, Jenny took the train to Ercolano (Herculaneum), another Roman city destroyed in 79AD. It was a wealthy resort town next to the sea, much smaller than Pompeii. The mode of destruction was different than Pompeii (surges of incandescent gas and pyroclastic material killed the inhabitants as they tried to flee on the morning of 25 August, then a thick mudflow swept through, burying and sealing everything), and the materials preserved are therefore different (second stories of some buildings, furniture, clothing, and even food). The excavations are continuing but are slow and expensive due to the overlying dense, modern city. 

 

15-22 March 2003     Carolyn's visit: Trieste, Venezia, Cortina

 

 


Jenny's sister Carolyn's family visited for an eventful week graced with unpredicted beautiful weather. They flew in to Trieste and their bags followed 10 hours later. In Trieste, we walked on the Napoleon Road, toured the Grotta Gigante (the largest single cavern in Europe), rode the Opicina tram, saw the Roman ruins, the San Giusto castle and cathedral, experienced a grocery store, dined with friends, and hiked from the hill-top town of Contovello down to the Miramare castle.

Next we went to Venice by train; to beat a national rail strike scheduled for 9:01 to 17:59 that day, we left at the crack of dawn. In Venice we toured the Basilica San Marco, the Doge's Palace and the prisons; we stopped into every shop on the Rialto Bridge; we fed the pigeons in Piazza San Marco, and we ate "seppie nero" (black cuttlefish ink) on pizza. We took a gondola ride with a very informative, colorful gondolier (there are 8 kinds of wood in a gondola, 7 different oar strokes facilitated by a custom crutch, 15 gondolas are made by just three shops each year, there are 400 bridges and 400 gondoliers in Venice...). Wednesday we went by water taxi and vaporetto to the islands of Murano and Burano where they specialize in making glass and lace, respectively. We watched CNN anxiously as the war began to evict Saddam Hussein and liberate the Iraqi oil reserves. Opinions about the preemptive use of force may be mixed in the US, but the populace here is unquestionably against it: 88% of Italians and 97% of French oppose the war, for example. Pace (peace) signs hang everywhere. We haven't had any problems ourselves related to this, but it is hard to explain to the folks here that while people are dying in Iraq, US citizens are changing the name of french fries. 

Thursday we rented a van and drove to Cortina d'Ampezzo, where we took a tram up the Tofana massif for bellissimo views of the Dolomites. On Friday we walked beyond where the road was closed for the winter at Lago di Misurina, below the Tre Cime massif, then drove back to Trieste. The kids had more than enough prosciutto, pasta, pizza and Nutella by the end of their visit (although they weren't tired yet of Nutella).

 

1-11 March 2003     Venezia, Michigan  Link to photo album

On Saturday 1 March Jenny went cross-country skiing to Val Saisera again with Vanessa and Francesco, and ended up upside down while photographing unusually enormous ice crystals. That night we celebrated Carnevale in Trieste, and caught another night of Carnevale in Venice on Sunday. This time there were hordes of tourists, but fewer of the elaborate costumes than the previous Thursday. Monday we flew from Venice to Frankfurt and on to Michigan. 

In Michigan we were greeted enthusiastically by our dogs, Maya and Zoe, who are being cared for (and entertained, chased, spoiled, and adored) by Jeff's parents, sisters, nieces and nephews. Jeff's parents' 50th wedding anniversary was a grand celebration, with dinner, dancing, cake, and a lot of reminiscing with 225 family and friends. We also celebrated Jenny's dad's birthday and the drilling of the Paduan's new water well. (Their old well had self-destructed, of course at this most inopportune time. So for the whole week we relied on water from a very generous neighbor's hose, which miraculously survived a lot of use, frigid temperatures, and snow-plows). 

For a red-blooded American experience, we visited Cabela's, a huge hunting and outdoor gear store. They sell everything the carnivorous "sportsman" could want, including camouflage clothing, firearms, bird-call imitation devices, meat smokers and grinders, porta-potties, and funniest: a gasoline powered blender. They also have on display an extensive collection of exotic and endangered animals shot in North America and around the world...our renters in Monterey reported to us that a mountain lion has been seen several times in our back yard, and I wonder how long it will be before it joins the collection.

On our return, we flew over the Dolomites, with terrific views of the Sella Gruppa and the Marmolada where we had skied several weeks ago. We found that our Italian language skills had evaporated in the week we were away. We also discovered that the resident bugs are awakening with the coming of Spring. On the positive side, we finally got a telephone put in at the house, so we now have an internet connection on evenings and weekends.

 

26-27 February 2003     Trieste, Venezia Carnevale
 

Wednesday evening, Vedrana took us to a concert of Chopin's piano music at the University di Trieste. It was presented as a lecture, with a professor telling us about Chopin's melancholy that influenced his beautiful, sad melodies, and preparing us to listen for different musical elements in the variety of pieces, asking the pianist to play short examples as he spoke. Then the pianist played all the way through the pieces, many of which were incredibly technically difficult. It was bellissimo.

Thursday we went to Venice for the day. Jeff met with colleagues at the Istituto di Grandi Massi, and Jenny enjoyed the beginning of Carnevale, which, like Mardi Gras, is a celebration so that there will be something to repent during Lent. It being just Thursday and the celebration lasts for the week prior to Fat Tuesday, everyone greeted with "Buon giovedì grasso!" (Have a good Fat Thursday!) The costumes were magnificent. By the end of the day, even the tourists were sporting masks and hats, not just cameras. There also were very fine street musicians and performers, and stages were set up in campos throughout the city for events through Tuesday. 

We will attend a Carnevale party in Trieste Saturday, in costumes less elaborate than those we saw in Venice. We will return to Venice Sunday night, when we have been warned that there will be so many revelers that they make some of the streets, which are pedestrian anyway of course, into one-way zones. Then Monday morning we fly from Venice to Michigan for Jeff's parents' 50th wedding anniversary fête and to cuddle with our puppies. We have a long list of things to bring back with us, including a one-cup drip-coffee cone and filters (Jeff likes to linger over his coffee and espresso just doesn't lend itself to that, and these filters just don't exist here!)

 

21-22 February 2003     Croatia, Val Saisera
 

Friday 21 Feb we drove to Rovinj, Croatia (pronounced "ro-vin'-yee"; or Rovigno in Italian, see aerial photo, 127 kb) to retrieve an instrumented drifter of Pierre's, similar to ones Jeff uses in the Pacific, which had gone ashore along the coast of Croatia's Istria peninsula. It had found its way to the Ruder Boskovic (oceanographic) Institute in Rovinj, where we went to get it so Pierre can repair and redeploy it. At the institute, they kindly prepared duplicate letters in Croatian and Italian to help us get it across the Croatian, Slovenian and Italian borders, and let us see their small aquarium that was otherwise closed to visitors until summer. We then walked around the town, a small fishing village that is very popular with tourists in the summer, but is quite empty at this time of year except for numerous construction projects in preparation for summer. We found an enoteca (wine bar) that also served lunch. 

On our drive home, we stopped for the view at the tiny town of Visinada (the letters don't exist in my character set to type the name in Croatian), then detoured to the cute, hilltop town of Grisingnano (ditto), which has music and art festivals in the summer and is obviously prosperous, but again, was very quiet except for one bar. We got the drifter across the borders with no questions.

Saturday 22 Feb we spent the day with Vanessa and Francesco from OGS. We went cross-country skiing in Val Saisera, a valley above Valbruna near Tarvisio in the Carniche Alps, very close to the Austrian and Slovenian borders. Upon passing through each successive tunnel on the autostrada heading north, a bit more snow was present until we climbed to this steep, cold valley, where there was plenty for skiing; while we skied, the clouds enshrouding the mountains cleared. At the foot of the mountain range there are several towns, including Gemona, that were completely destroyed in a large earthquake in 1976. They were immediately rebuilt using the same stones, which were numbered where they lay fallen so that they could be reassembled with a little more reinforcement. Such is life here: earthquakes, plagues, sacks by barbarian invaders, and other disasters happen, and they deal with it and go on. 

 

11-15 February 2003     Dolomiti, Verona

Tuesday 11 Feb we drove to the Dolomites for a short settemana bianca (white week). We stayed in Arabba, west of Cortina by an hour on a steep, winding road past villages clinging to the cliffs. Wednesday we skied from Arabba over to the Marmolada, at 3342 meters the highest peak in the Dolomites (somebody's pretty summer pics), and part of the Italian front in the First World War. The 3-stage tram to the top was a 2-hour ordeal due to long lines but the views were exceptional. The final station is perched on the edge of an 800 meter (~1/2 mile) cliff...we skied down the glacier in the other direction. Thursday we skied the Sella Ronda, a totally new concept to us. The ski areas are all interconnected, so with one ticket, in a day, you can ski entirely around the enormous Sella massif, about 16 miles (map), including some World Cup runs and new and spectacular views in every direction. Friday we skied Arabba again, but this time took a tram from the village of Passo Pordoi up to the 2952m Sass Pordoi promontory of the Sella massif, and skied carefully down a rock-strewn chute to a wider, steep apron below.

Friday evening, 14 Feb, we drove out to the west, covering the remaining tour across the Dolomites. We stayed the night in Verona in a small hotel (appropriately for Valentine's Day, named Hotel Giulietta e Romeo) in the heart of the città vecchia (old city) and toured the city Saturday. Verona has a large and well-kept historic district within the old city walls, which is surprisingly free of cars and pandemonium. It is most famous for being the home of the star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, and of course we saw Juliet's balcony in the Capulet's courtyard. The walls of the courtyard are completely covered with graffiti of the I U variety, the testimonies of many more lovers less poetic than Shakespeare.

We were most impressed by the Roman Arena built with pink Veronese marble and brick in the first century AD that could seat 24,000, one of the largest and best preserved from the Roman world. Today it is used for opera and other concerts; we could imagine its original use: the cruel fights of the gladiators. We climbed to the top of the Torre dei Lamberti bell tower for a wonderful but hazy view of the city. We toured several churches and finally found the most unusual and precious bronze doors from the 11th century hidden behind other doors at Basilica San Zeno, which is one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in the world. Our favorite bridge was Ponte Castelvecchio over the Fiume Adige, attached to the Castelvecchio (old castle).

On our way out of Verona, we observed a large peace demonstration and now have our own PACE signs. We fervently hope that a peaceful resolution is found to the current crises. Provoking Iraq, the entire Muslim community, and now North Korea cannot possibly "increase our national security" and can only lead to disaster of global proportions.

 

3-10 February 2003     Trieste, Udine, Trieste  Link to photo album

On Jeff's birthday, we celebrated by going to a Chinese restaurant. It took a whole month for us to break down and eat a cuisine other than Italian. The restaurant is down Strada del Friuli from our house, and was very good (even by our old standards). Oddly enough, its entire floor is an aquarium!

Wednesday, Jenny and Pam, an American she met at the health club, went by train to Udine (pronounced "oo'-di-neh") for the day.  This picturesque town is at the foot of the Julian Alps on the route between Venice and Vienna. At the center of town is the Duomo and the Piazza della Libertà, surrounded by Renaissance buildings and quiet, narrow streets. Sweeping up the hill is an esplanade with a Moorish influence leading to the Castello, of 18th century vintage. In the castle was a wonderful museum of Roman antiquities (a special exhibit), paintings by local 13th to 18th century artists, and early photographs of Friuli villages and countryside. We also went to an exhibit on the Ice Ages on the Friuli region, which was held in a beautiful old church. There was a full size woolly mammoth set up in the apse of the church and we tried desperately to photograph it, attracted by the sacrilege and anachronism of it, but the attendants watched us like circling hawks.

Thursday, Jenny returned to the sites in downtown Trieste that are only open Thursday mornings: the Roman Antiquarium, a Roman cemetery from 2-6 C AD, built on the ruins of a previous dwelling just above the Roman theater (it is next to a tower of the medieval city wall, Torre Donota, and downhill from Tor Cucherna, another 15th C tower, pictured in a previous photo album); and the tiny, sparingly adorned church from the 9th century, Chiesa San Silvestro. She also visited the neighboring, and much larger, baroque church, Santa Maria Maggiore, begun in 1627. Then she caught the historic tram straight up the hill to Villa Opicina and the bus to Borgo Grotta (OGS) and she and Jeff spent part of the afternoon working out and countering the Triestina chill in the Turkish bath at the health club. (Although clear, the last few days have been below freezing.) 

Saturday the inevitable trauma of a haircut in a foreign land ended satisfactorily for both of us. Jenny almost bolted from the chair when the stylist plugged in the dog-shears. "No, è la moda" to use shears here, in the way a stylist in the US would use scissors. Plus Jenny's hair was already wet and it was below freezing outside. We then attended the wedding of an OGS colleague at the town hall and the reception at a very old, beautiful trattoria nearby.

Sunday we found a way from our house up to the Napoleon Road, which runs along the face of the altopiano above us. We started up the steep stone stairs that provide the only access to the houses behind ours, continued as the path became overgrown among abandoned vineyard terraces. When that ended, we found a footpath through open woods that ended at a creek, which downstream is responsible for the hairpin turn on Strada del Friuli near our house. We walked upstream on top of an old stone wall that paralleled the creek, and found a marked trail that led us to our destination, now a popular walking trail.

Monday, Feb 10, Jenny's brother, Jere's wife, Lynne, had their first baby, Julia Kathryn! Thanks to frequent e-mails from Jenny's sister, Carolyn, we were kept apprised of progress, and thanks to cell-phones, Jenny talked to Jere just an hour after the birth!

 

27 January  - 2 February 2003     Palmanova, Trieste, and Miramare

Tuesday night we attended Rossini's Tancredi at Trieste's historic opera house, Teatro Guiseppe Verdi  (or as Philip translated, "Joe Green"). The theater is beautiful, built on the same elliptical design as La Scala in Milan and the opera house in Venice, with perfect acoustics and terrible sight-lines (take the virtual tour: in the default view, click twice on the highlighted door to enter the theater, and click the small square in the toolbar to make the view rotate). The music and singing were magnificent. But as expected, the story line was so out of date, and the use of a female contralto in the lead role of the knight, written for a male castrato, made it difficult to suspend disbelief. Ah, grand opera.

Thursday night we went to a showing, in English, of The Fellowship of the Ring (first of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) for some R&R with Vedrana, Gianvito and Philip.

Friday Jenny went to the Villa Manin, the 17th century palace of a Venetian noble family, west of Trieste by an hour. The main house is under major renovation but several rooms of the museum were open, as was the villa's park: an arboretum with lakes, statues, and hills fancifully named for mountains. 

She also went to Palmanova, a fortified town built on the plan of a nine-pointed star. The military museum gave access to the earthen battlements surrounding the city, with great views of the Dolomites and the Slovenian Alps. She also "misplaced" her car for a while, her usually accurate gyro having become confused by the spokes of the city's plan. She found the local carabinieri, or military police, very helpful, if a little smug.

Outside Palmanova is the location of the big box store nearest to Trieste, 40 minutes away. It is open Sundays, a rather rare thing, but it is closed Mondays until 3:00pm and closed every day from 1:30 to 3:00 for lunch. A box store! Despite the parking lot being jammed! We are beginning to think the lunch break is mandated by law. Downtown, most stores are closed from 1:00 to 3:30 or 4:00. Grocery stores are closed Monday and Wednesday mornings (plus the lunch breaks). Bread bakeries are closed all afternoons. Just about everything is closed Mondays, though a store may say, "Open every day," but oops! Sunday it is closed, you were supposed to assume that. Hours for museums are especially minimal. You really need to plan ahead.

Saturday Jeff and Jenny walked around Trieste. We visited the medieval Castello San Giusto and its museum, which has an arms collection dating back to the 12th century; the Orto Lapiderio (Stone Garden) and museum, which has a diverse collection of Roman, Greek and Egyptian relics; several churches; the Roman Theater; saw the Roman Antiquarium from the outside (open only Thursdays from 10-12) and the Tor Cucherna; and the Renoir exhibit "La Luce dell'Impressionismo" (The Light of the Impressionists) that just opened at  the Musei del Canale Grande. We found the Roman arch from 1C BC in the città vecchia, but it was completely covered up to protect it from the renovation of the adjacent house. The weather was clear but around freezing and la Bora was blowing hard. Hot coffee was very welcome. We slammed back espresso in tiny cups while standing at the bars of crowded, smoky coffee houses, just like had been predicted in our Italian class last fall.

Sunday Philip, Jeff, and Jenny walked from the tiny town of Contovello at the top of our street, Strada del Friuli, down to Castello di Miramare at the sea. We threaded through the narrow passageways of the town, along terraces of vineyards, down a long, wide, stone staircase in a forested ravine, to the wooded grounds of the castle. The castle was built in the 1850s to 1860s by the Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian, who was also Emperor of Mexico when he was executed there in 1867. It is grand and romantic, built on a rocky promontory so every room has a view of the sea. The interior decorations are original and ornate. The landscaping of the grounds reflects Maximilian's interest in nature. The castle grounds and a marine refuge offshore are now managed by the World Wildlife Fund.

Pierre and Elena left this week on a 4-week cruise in the Adriatic Sea on the Woods Hole vessel, R/V Knorr. Jenny and Jeff have joined a health club, the Avalon. Its by-line is "The art of wellness" and it has gorgeous spa facilities more focused on relaxation than exercise, but our purpose is to put the fitness machines to use and work off all the pasta and pizza we are eating. Right now, Jeff is working while listening to a CD of Andrea Bocelli. Tomorrow is his birthday!

 

25-26 January 2003     Slovenia: Ljubljana and the seaside
 

Saturday Philip (another American here helping with the radar project) and Jenny went to Ljubljana while Jeff worked (I know, the vacation aspect of a sabbatical hasn't yet had an impact on him!) It was sunny and windy in Trieste but snowing as we approached Ljubljana (pronounced "Loo-bee-a'na"), the capital of Slovenia. First we went to the castle high on the hill at the edge of the city. The footpath was treacherously icy, so we walked around to the other side and climbed the hill on the road, which had been cleared of snow probably for all the cars attending the numerous weddings scheduled for that day. The castle has been extensively shored up but the style of the renovations is quite modern, unfortunately. Then we walked around the medieval part of the city at the foot of the hill, had a warm lunch, found the ruins of a 1st century BC Roman wall, then drove back to Trieste. Though the historic section was small, the city was inviting and the drivers were sane. I hope to go back.

Sunday we went to the seaside towns of Portoroz and Piran, the Slovenian "Riviera". We swam in a large indoor pool at a hotel/casino in Portoroz while Vedrana and Gianvito had their cars washed as a service of the hotel. Then we drove out to Piran, a very scenic old town closed off to cars unless you are a resident or have a Mercedes, and had a wonderful fish dinner.

 

23-24 January 2003     Exploring Trieste  Link to photo album

Trieste was a trading center before the Romans settled here 1-2 centuries BC. Since then, the Romans, Greeks, Venetians, French, Austrians, and Italians have taken advantage of its strategic location as a crossroads between the eastern and western Mediterranean and the interior of Europe. The wealth from the trade, and the cultures of the people brought to area to conduct the trade, have had profound influences on the architecture and flavor of the city.

The "old city" is on the flank of a steep hill topped by the Castello and Cattedrale San Giusto, which were built on top of pagan Roman buildings, now ruins. The castle has commanding views of the city, including "our" lighthouse and the modern, triangular Monte Griso Sanctuary that dominates the skyline on the edge of the altopiano above our house. It also has an arms and lapidary museum that we will have to visit another time (the business hours are rather minimal, consistent with store hours here, in general). The cathedral has mosaics from the 12th and 13th centuries AD, a beautiful, clear rose window, and the relics of its patron saint - the bones and skull - in a glass case in a side chapel. Otherwise it is surprisingly not opulent. At the foot of the hill is a Roman amphitheater, which was only excavated in the 20th century and is used for events in the summer. There are also a 1st century BC arch that used to be part of the wall around the city at the time, which is farther around the hill, and ruins of a Roman natatorium (watch for photos of these in the future). 

The "new city" was constructed at the foot of the hill along the Adriatic in the late 18th to 20th centuries following the declaration of the city as a free port and the resulting boom in trade. The Piazza dell'Unita d'Italia is a large square open to the sea and surrounded by government and commercial buildings, including the City Hall and behind it, our favorite place, the Questura. The Grand Canal used to have swinging bridges to allow ships to offload directly into merchants' warehouses; now the bridges are fixed and the main commercial port is in a much larger bay protected by very long break-waters farther south.

 

16-21 January 2003     Trips to Bad Kleinkirchheim and Venice
 

Thursday (16 Jan) we got our permesso di soggiorno, which permits us to stay in Italy and is required in addition to having gotten a visa. This is obtained from the questura, which is the police station but is like visiting a DMV that handles immigration. They wanted letters of invitation, evidence of health insurance good in Italy, multiple photocopies of all our documents, our photographs, and our finger- and hand-prints. Thanks to Elena's translation and intervention, this miracle was accomplished in only one 3-hour visit. 

Friday we drove to Austria for a weekend of skiing and soaking in hot springs at the tiny town of Bad Kleinkirchheim (just 2 hours away from Trieste!) We skied at the Bad Kleinkirchheim and TurracherHöhe ski areas, on "firm" snow (ice to us spoiled Californians!) We stayed at the Natzlhof Gasthof, in "downtown" Obertweng to the west of the ski areas. It overlooked a foggy but pretty valley with a lake.

Monday was a work-day for Jeff. Jenny ran errands and took a walk on an old road built by Napoleon on one of his campaigns. This path traverses the face of the altopiano above Strada del Friuli (our street). 

Tuesday (21 Jan) we went to Venice for the day. Jeff attended a workshop, all in Italian, on the circulation between the Venice Lagoon and the Adriatic at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti in an beautiful old palazzo near the Academia Bridge. Jenny visited the Gallerie dell'Accademia, which has an important collection of paintings and sculpture by Venetian artists from the 14th to 18th centuries. 

 

13-14 January 2003     Visit to the WERA radar sites  Link to photo album

We "went into the field" for two days to visit and calibrate several of the WERA high-frequency radars that are being used in the Adriatic Sea project with which Jeff is now collaborating. These are similar to the CODAR instruments that he uses in Monterey Bay and are installed near Venice, but they are phased-array rather than direction-finding. The installations we went to are on Goro Island, which is on the delta of the Po River south of Venice, and a new site near Ravenna. We stayed the night in Ravenna, and Jenny visited the gorgeous 5th century mosaics in the morning while the guys worked.

 

8-12 January 2003     Arrival in Trieste    Link to photo album

We arrived in Milan on Tuesday, January 7. On our flight across the Alps, the scenery was spectacular: the Matterhorn appeared to be at eye level out the window. Two days earlier a snow storm had crippled much of Europe, leaving thousands stranded on roads outside Paris, killing several in avalanches, and delaying our leased car delivery from France. But for us that delay had a silver lining, because the road to our house in Trieste was closed anyway due to thick ice. Peugeot put us up in a hotel in Milan for the night (negotiated all in Italian) and we drove the 4.5 hours to Trieste the next day. We bought a pair of tire chains (le catene di neve) and arrived safely at our new casa

Our landlord gave us vague instructions to a grocery store, which we ventured out to find that night in case the weather worsened. After wedging our little car into a parking spot on the steep street and slip-sliding down the icy sidewalk, we found a teensy store crammed with tiny quantities of unfamiliar brands and the day's supply of bread exhausted (only fresh bread appears to be sold anywhere). We bought enough to survive, had a celebratory dinner, and slept uneasily, listening to the wind howl outside. 

Overnight it snowed about 6 inches more. Snow is so unusual in Trieste that they have only 4 snowplows. The next morning, Elena, Pierre, and Vedrana caught the bus (the only thing moving that morning) to our house, which is conveniently at a bus stop, and came with us by bus to the lab, Osservatorio di Oceanografia e Geofisica Sperimentale (OGS; the Oceanography Department website is http://doga.ogs.trieste.it/). We were some of the few there and the Internet was down. Never mind, we learned a lot from talking to them about our new work, friends, city, and country.

On Saturday, Trieste, which is known for the wind La Bora, experienced record gusts of 176 km/hour. The sea had no swell because the wind blew from the land, but the gusts whipped the surface to white steamy-looking froth and water spouts, like wind will do to powdery snow. It was bitter.

Strada del Friuli is an important thoroughfare, yet it is steep, it winds along a densely-populated cliff-face, and is hardly wide enough in places for two cars to pass. It goes from Trieste at sea level to the top of the high limestone terrace of the Carso altopiano (this is the formation from which the geologic term "karst" derives; not surprisingly there are a lot of sinkholes and caves, including the largest grotto in Europe right next to OGS). The views are tremendous. From our house, we can see the Adriatic Sea below, and the Dolomites in the distance on a clear day. Sunday, we took a hike with Pierre and Elena along a trail at the edge of the altopiano that was sheltered somewhat from the wind.

 

18 December 2002 to 7 January 2003     Our trip across the US for the holidays   Link to photo album

We drove to Michigan from California so that our dogs, Maya and Zoe, didn't have to endure the trauma of flight. So we all endured the 2485 mile, 4 day journey by car to bring them to Jeff's parents' house. We left a day earlier than planned to avoid a nasty winter storm and had clear weather the whole way, thanks to friend Chuck's accurate and emphatic weather forecast. The drive was surprisingly easy: the speed limit was 75 mph until the Iowa border and there was little traffic. Jenny's sister, Carolyn, turned the expedition into a geography project for her kids: she hung a map of the US in their kitchen and they called frequently on our cell-phone for updates: "Where are you, where are you?" They got a sense of how big the country is!

We celebrated Christmas and New Year's with Jeff's parents, sisters, and nieces and nephews and Jenny's parents. The dogs have equilibrated there so well that now that we're gone they not only have hearty appetites and sleep through the night, they appear not to miss us at all.