Last night in Santorini

Mom and I spent the better part of the day on the black sand beach of Perivolos.  Now back to Oia, a place from which, once again, the very stereotype of the Greek Islands may have been derived.  It looks like this:

That's a photo I took, not one from the global worldwide interwebs.  Mom and I spent a long time marveling over the fact that these places actually exist, in reality, not just in postcards.  I have not altered that photo AT ALL.  I mean, seriously!!!

We arrived here via Athens, where we had a lovely 24-hour stopover made all the sweeter by Argentina and team U.S.A. World Cup wins!  Slightly awkward: loudly cheering in a taverna as Argentina scores against the helpless Greek goalkeeper.

Visited in Athens the incredibly well designed new Acropolis Museum  before heading to the Acropolis itself.  I have a hard time capturing in words what it's like to stand in a place that you've read about in history books, and that you know represents the beginning of so much of Western culture.  Understandably, they are incredibly strict about acropolis-related activity, so, sadly, I have no jumping picture there.  But I did fall in love with the caryatids, both in and outside the museum.  They're the ladies, that are columns, that are ladies.  You know, these gals! :

After doing the historical stuff we did some shopping stuff, happening upon Kourbela Ioanna, the shop of the eponymous designer whose clothes-who-do-tricks are exactly my favorite kind of thing.  Also bought myself some komboloi beads to swing around and make noise with.  At lunch, the table next to ours, occupied by 6 men drinking ouzo or raki or something (very obviously) alcoholic, was clickety-clacking with the sound of komboloi beads.  So I got a tutorial from Alexander (he doesn't have email, so I promised I'd mail him the following photo) and went on my merry way swinging my komboli beads and feeling quite the local.

Had an excellent dinner at Psaras Taverna in Plakas, upon the recommendation of Stella (sister of designer Ioanna) and made our way to the port for our ferry to Santorini.

Well.  Our taxi driver, Jorogos, have an entirely different komboli strategy!  So I've been practicing both ways and will be developing my own method soon.  Got to the port, only to find out our ferry was "at least" 2 hours delayed.  The whole ferry experience was an unbelievable adventure, worthy of its own blog post.  Met a lovely couple from Canada to pass the time with as we waited...and waited...and waited...finally boarding the ship well after 2am and making our way to our adorable/terrifying little berth.  Anyway, we awoke in Santorini and that's a good thing.  Car rental.  Finding hotel.  Hating hotel.  Switching hotel.  Loving new hotel.  Loving new hotel manager, who suggested some great activities including a walk down to the port at Ammoudi to watch the sunset and enjoy delicious fresh fish.

Whew!  That's a lot of blogging.  Gotta save some for later.

I've been regaling mom with stories of my travels and realizing how few of them I've shared here on the blog (tsk, tsk)...I think because I'm reluctant to post about things that happened weeks and weeks ago.  Hey, all you commenters our there: still interested in events from the (not terribly) distant past?

Until soon then.

I'm all for Amalfi

If it feels like I've had a stream of nonstop visitors...I have.  And it's wonderful! Mom arrived this week and we've made it from Rome to Amalfi in the course of a 2-week trip together.  A bit longer in Rome and then off to Greece where, rumor has it, we can ride donkeys. 

I don't want to forget my incredible-beyond-words several days in Tuscany...watching Italy play Paraguay at Fifa Fan Village in Villa Borghese...Naples (well, maybe I could forget Naples)...and our firecracker of a hostess Rina at Villa Rina here in Amalfi.  I will write more about them later.  

Meanwhile, I must say that Amalfi itself strikes me as highly improbable.  It is a place out of a zany storybook - pebble beaches, near-misses on drives along perilous cliffs, and buildings that stack up like staircases glued onto the cliffside.    

Today we spent the morning in Ravello, looking at beautiful (albeit a bit British) gardens...and the afternoon in Amalfi, watching "Mundial" (the World Cup!).

Tomorrow, off to Lecce!


Dogs of the world

Happy International CouchSurfing Day!

June 12, 2010 is the second annual International CouchSurfing Day...and while I am not officially CouchSurfing right now, I am thankful today and every day for the incredible people who I've met and the incredible people I haven't met who make CS such a warm and vibrant community.

To you skeptics out there, I was one of you...and then I had one really really positive experience...then another...and then far, so GREAT.  I could go on for hours.  If you want to know more, ask me!

Off to finish weeding the garden...then to learn a secret family recipe for insalata ai frutti di mare...
Con amore e pagine del passaporto extra,

Tutto bene

I’ve been promising a newsy blog post for a while now, and what better time to write one than in the breezy pre-breakfast hours of a Tuscan morning. I sit on the steps of the home of Diane, a childhood friend of my dad's; she lives and farms here with her partner Dieter and their adorable Gordon Setter, Gordon (!), who lies patiently at my feet waiting, just waiting for me to throw a stick.

A few days ago I posted about my departure from Rome for this place with some ambivalence; now I’m sure it was exactly the right thing to do.

“How,” one Miss Ali Schechter beseeches, Facebookishly, “did you get to Italy already?” My response: “Very easy. One 11 hour Aeroflot flight to Moscow, seated next to a Vietnamese septuagenarian who's never been on an airplane before and needs help with his seatbelt (I helped him!), with cranky flight attendants wearing orange lipstick. Then a 2 hour layover in Moscow airport where the only restaurant open is a TGIFridays. Then a delightfully short 4-hour flight from Moscow to Rome! Easy peasey.” After spending just under a month in Southeast Asia, I found myself longing for many things: not being stared at as I walked down the street (gasp) alone…paying the same price as the locals, and not a “special” astronomically higher tourist price, for anything and everything…weather that allowed me to walk at a normal pace without literally dripping sweat unto the sidewalk below…pasta…

All attempts at clever writing aside, I am learning as I go what this trip is about, and that means learning the difference between challenging myself to be in/stay in/seek out uncomfortable situations and challenging myself to change: “Self, you are gong to do something different now.” (To any PACIE reading this, I can’t help but imagine Martie, calling upon Monty Python, saying, “and now for something completely different!”)
So without much fanfare my plane landed in Rome, and I boarded the train for Ostiense Station (Termini is sooooo for tourists), and I met my fantastic CS host and his friends and we – yep, you guessed it, stayed out til 4am local time, dancing. That’s 10am Vietnam time, which would mean that I should’ve been exhausted, except I don’t believe in jet lag.

The next few days I spent wandering the streets and laughing, out loud, at the sheer Italian-ness of Italy. In front of thousand-years-old buildings, the buildings’ architects’' great-great-great-great-etc. grandchildren, gesticulate wildly, their towering mound of gelato in one hand coming perilously close to toppling from its dubious perch atop a tiny cone. A Vespa roars down an alley, slows, and stops next to a Franciscan friar who gives the driver directions. The Coliseum…is.

I had time to spare while waiting for mom who is meeting me in Rome on the 14th, so when Diane wrote that I could hop on the train to her Tuscan villa/working farm…I did! Correction: I know I said the train cost 10.55 Euros, but actually…it was 9.40! (Thank you again, Ostiense Station.)

So I show up Diane and Dieter and Gordon the dog greet me, welcome me to their should-be-in-a-magazine-perfect home, give me a towel and a bicycle and point me in the direction of the beach. I meditate under the slanting rays of Italian sunshine that are unlike any rays of sunshine anywhere. We have dinner and drive into Marina di Grosseto for the best gelato I’ve ever tasted. I sleep like a baby.

Day 2 in paradise: “Do you want to go to Siena or Florence?” Well! I’d never been to Siena. The Duomo there is huge and gorgeous, and I was literally moved to tears by the beauty of the Biblioteca di Piccolomini. Wandering out the back door of the Cathedral Museum, a display of tiny, 2-inch-square watercolors caught my eye. The little, brightly-lit cave of a shop was filled with the original artwork of, according to the business card, Silvia Tanganelli. “Are you the artist?” I asked the woman sitting behind the desk. She was. I told her how much I loved the little paintings. And the big ones. And asked her to translate a few of the ellipses-enclosed one-liners that she’d scribed in pencil below the images. “Perhaps you can help me translate? I want to do also in English some paintings.” So we sat, for hours, discussing the most appropriate poetic version of things that sound much better in Italian than they would translated literally into English. “Anche noi” – literally, “also us” – became, after much debate, “We are with you.” Silvia bought me lunch and wrapped up a few of her paintings and we said our farewells.

Then I went and lay under an olive tree and watched the clouds pass for an hour.

And now I will go and find Ticciano (sp?), the manager of this magical place, and, if I understood correctly, learn to make mozzarella. If this is a dream, let me sleep just a little longer…

With love and cheese.

Saying yes

Or perhaps I am saying si...

Today I will board a train for Grosseto, to work at a villa where no one speaks English (I bought an 'I Speak Italian' phrasebook yesterday).  The ticket is 10.55 Euros, so why not.

I will try to collect and organize my thoughts on the train and post them later.  This blog has been great, because it kickstarts the motivation to process and share, and that in turn helps me understand what the heck I'm doing!

All in due time.

YMCA in the EU

Late last night I arrived in Rome...met my CouchSurfing host...dropped my bags...and accompanied him and a group of friends to a decidedly non-tourist disco in Transancho.  Good music, good people.  The evening turned into early morning, ending with everyone singing and dancing the YMCA.  I laughed a lot.

A longer post is brewing in me, telling you all about leaving Asia...why Rome...etc. etc.  For now, a Roman barbeque calls.

With love and my first stamp on this trip from a country I've already been to,