Roman Rooftops

July 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Okay, okay, I know that I said that I will not participate in any more of these mandatory Weekend Beach Lounging sessions, but… in the end, it does allow me to swim, take infinite cold showers, and go through several buckets of ice for my water.  Also, I am forced to read and make art and talk to little kids in Italian, so maybe it’s actually more productive than I feared it would be.  Plus, it has gotten to that point where it is equally unbearable to be sitting at home and underneath a little beach umbrella; serious summer sizzling has started.

So, third full day on the beach, third couple of beachtime sketches.

Today, we are shifting from the eastern coast to the western coast of Italy: Roma!

More specifically, Roman rooftops:

Roman Rooftops

And Roman rooftops during sunset:

Roman Sunset

In the end, it’s always these Italian rooftop silhouettes that I miss the most.  I wonder if, one day, one of them will be mine?

Il Sud, pt.II: Simba non si è fermata a Eboli

July 18, 2014 § 1 Comment

Continuing my spontaneous travels that began with a weekend full of opera and world championships and lots of skeletons in Napoli, I woke up on Monday to grey clouds and a generous drizzle.  Which did not do much in helping to inspire me to linger in southern Italy, instead of getting on a train back to Ancona.

Still unresolved, but ready to leave the city, I put on my backpack and started walking to the train station.  About halfway there, the skies cleared out, and I took advantage of the momentary glimpse of blue to make my decision: maybe I could take a little detour around the Amalfi coast before coming back to Napoli in the evening and taking a night bus back to Ancona.  That sounded like a good compromise, so I bought a ticket to the endpoint of Napoli’s circumvesuviana, outwitted a pair of gypsies that wanted to steal my bag of change and cookies, and emerged in Sorrento an hour later:


Since I had already been there, however briefly, years ago and the place was swarming with tourists, I didn’t linger long, but instead bought a giornaliero, a 24-hour ticket valid for the entire stretch of the Amalfi Coast.  The first bus ride was spent talking to a boy from just outside of my former town of Monza; hah, had he gone to the other liceo in the town, I would have been his teacher.  After 45 minutes of chatting and weaving around cliffside roads, I jumped off at Positano:


Yes, it’s touristic and fancy and clichè … but for good reason.  It’s one of those places that seems surreal until you leave, and then it seems more real than the road you are walking on.

I did not know that the entire town is nestled in a steep valley, so I had a fun hike down zig-zag roads for an hour before a brief hop on the beach and another hour of zig-zagging back up stairs with my red backpack on.  When I reached the beach level, the black skies that had been holding off let loose and drowned all of the tourists out, so that was nice (though made for a slippery trek back up).


At the top of the next hill, I squeezed myself on a passing bus and got off at the next clichè -but-breathtaking stop: Amalfi:


First thing’s first: the mandatory stroll around the harbor:


And romantic gazing at boats off on the horizon:


The next two hours were spent seeking refuge in a restaurant on the sea as the skies let down another attack of rain.  This forced restaurant arrest was very much approved, as I ordered the best seafood pasta dish of my life, had a large glass of Vesuvian wine, and enjoyed an open view of the town with winds that blew and blew and blew and made it all seem a bit more real:


When the rain stopped, I put my backpack on again and continued walking along the coast for a couple of hours, falling under the spell of practically every corner and building:


But, how can you not, when you are walking on the edge of these cliffy shores?


After a couple of hours, it was time to stop the stroll and hop on another bus that took me to Salerno.  There, I accepted the fact that I was not going back to le Marche today, so I checked into a B&B, and then headed out to look for a granita al limone.  I found it, as well as a pretty atmospheric sunset over the harbor (and got caught in another downpour at the end of the pier, of course):


Early the next morning, I took a bus from Salerno, through Eboli, to Potenza, deciding to go back home a different route.  From Potenza, public transportation seemed to be non-existent and I felt restless anyways, so I started walking out of town with a cardboard sign that said MATERA on it; my next destination.  Within a few minutes, an old man pulled up and offered me a lift.  I get in, without any real idea of where he was taking me (as much I love the south, I still have a hard time understanding old southern grandpas sometimes).  I still am not sure where he took me, as he dropped me off in a place that could very well be described as the middle of nowhere in the Basilicata:


Without very much traffic.  But, hey, pretty views!  I was still amazed at how mountainous and green this region was.  After a while, a mechanic drives by and I pretty much throw myself into his truck, desperate to get to anywhere but there.  We stopped by his work to change cars and then he offered to take me to a larger intersection… a short drive during which we established a good friendship, so he ended up taking me on a detour to show me the diga naturale di San Gulliano and then brought me all the way to the Matera city center, which as an hour away and in the opposite direction of where he was going.  After buying me a cappuccino, he waved and parted ways, and I turned to the next stop of my day’s itinerary: Matera:


Another city that completely took my breath away; a huge hill of stone houses and caves carved into the side of the mountain:


So, I walked around for a while and poked my head into all of the little alleys:

And admired the architecture:


And went into the old cave houses:


And smelled the cacti:


From Matera, I took a kinda sketchy rail system from underneath the biglietteria to Bari.  Before getting on the night train back to Ancona, I managed to squeeze in one more adventure: sunset at Pulignano a Mare, a very quaint little town perched on drastic cliffs, about thirty minutes south of Bari:


It’s hard to think that this is the same coastline that Ancona is on, five hours to the north.  Completely different!


Then, a juice dinner from the main piazza, which was decorated and had a full-scale brass band performing some sort of symphony in it.


And then, back to Bari, train switch to an InterCityNotte, and back to my little town that drives me crazy, but yet I somehow love so much.

I can’t believe that I had only explored north of Ancona so far…  it’s like two different worlds, the north and the south.  I was absolutely charmed by all of the colors and the people, and am full of inspiration to go back and thoroughly explore.  Can’t believe that it took me so long to tread foot there, as it’s been on my Travel List for a while now.   I cannot wait for the next jaunt down yonder!

Il Sud, pt.I: Napoli

July 17, 2014 § 2 Comments

To satisfy my opera craving, I bought a couple of last-minute tickets to see the opening productions of Cavalleria Rusticana and Madame Butterfly at the Teatro San Carlo in Napoli.  Somehow (as tends to be the case with me), this little outing turned into exploring the hidden nooks of Napoli, strolling along the Amalfi Coast, hitchhiking through Basilicata, finding cliffs on the eastern coast, and then train-ing back up north from Bari.  I consider it a successful few days : )

Napoli Cuppola

First of all, let me say that I was completely amazed by the southern Italy.  I had imagined it to be lovely, but it was even lovelier than I imagined (and I didn’t even get into the heart of it).  Before this weekend, the only place I had been to in the south was Lecce, so I kind of expected everything to be a flat desert with pretty beaches.  But, no!

The entire train ride from Rome to Napoli, the Appenine Mountains kept us company on the left.  Pulling into Napoli was a shock; I had heard it to be a big, cluttered port city, but walking out out the giant train station, I was astounded and repulsed by all of the big, grey buildings.  Where did all of the cement skyscrapers come from?  I felt like I was walking around a dirtier Milano that moved to the opposite end of Italy.

Upon checking into my hotel, the girl working at the reception told me that “everyone cries two times when they come to Napoli. Once when they arrive-”, here I nodded in agreement and told her that I could already check that off my list; when is the next time, please?, “and once when they leave.”

I didn’t cry leaving, but only because I was excited to get even deeper into the south.  I was, however, a bit tempted to linger around Napoli a bit more, just to see all of its different quartiers and spent another week photographing cluttered alleys and stalking old ladies.

As cliche’ as it is, I have a soft spot for laundry drying outside, so I loved that fact that every day in Napoli is Laundry Day:


I have also developed a hopeless attachment to ports, so Napoli satisfied that passion as well, with its long stretch of boatlines:

And more boats lounging out in the waters all day, Mount Vesuvius framing them from behind:


My touristic attraction of this trip were the catacombe di San Gennaro, which were pretty cool (literally and figuratively):

And from there, it was a short walk through picturesque Sanità, a traditional residential neighborhood, to the cimitero delle Fontanelle.  This place blew my mind and gave me goosebumps, and I can definitely place it on a list of the Top Twenty Spots of my travel history.  Almost hidden, in the side of a mountain at the outskirts of the neighborhood, was a large entrance that leads you to a larger chamber turned into a labyrinth of skulls and bones, of hidden altars and headless statues, of little barred windows and overgrown wooden crosses.


After all of the deathly attractions, it was time to get lost in some more alleys:

before taking another metro (which I am utterly impressed by) to the Villa Floridiana, which has a generous view of the entire city:


, and then have a lunch picnic consisting of a real napolitano pizza on the rocks of the castel dell’Ovo:


Then, a stroll along the sea:


And back to the piazza del plebiscito:

Napoli Piazza PLeb

As for the Teatro San Carlo, I have mixed feelings about.


The interior is beautiful, but (a) I was ticked off that they promised to show the FIFA games at the theatre after the shows (kinda of what motivated me to go to Napoli), and they didn’t, and (b) there was something lacking in spirit that I cannot quite put my finger on.  The performances themselves were also not exactly what I expected.  The orchestra was practically perfect, and the lead roles were very nicely covered, but both productions used the same set, which was very minimalistic and modern.  I don’t know if this was because of the art director or the crisis, but it was kind of disappointing.  And then, some knit-picking complaints, but I didn’t have much time to longer on them, as the last two FIFA games were starting as the curtains drew to a close.


The semifinals went practically unnoticed in Napoli, but the finals were broadcasted on screens all over the city center.  I was very happy to find a group of flag-clad Germans to watch the game with and have my face painted from, as the other 99% of all of the people in Napoli seemed to be rooting for Argentina.  But, what a celebration it was for us when Deutschland did win!

Afterwards, it was time for one more nighttime stroll to the duomo and through more alleys:


, before heading back to the hostel and packing my bags- even though I had no idea where I would be headed the next morning.  But wherever it may have been, I was ready to start walking with the sunrise.

… and definitely content to leave Napoli with a lot of good memories, a list of places I was excited to come back to explore, and many adjectives that were more than just:

Napoli Trash Street
A chaotic kaleidoscope of people and colors, of buildings and sounds, of idiosyncrasies and smells: Napoli.


July 11, 2014 § 1 Comment

… and the living’s easy.

Before I get too comfortable in this routine of eating and drinking and making art, it’s time for another improv trip!

Tomorrow morning, off to Napoli for a weekend full of opera and FIFA games, thanks to the Teatro San Carlo, who is streaming the final two matches on a big screen after the shows (the idea of watching Deutschland squish Argentina into oblivion at one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious opera houses in Campania sounds like my sort of thing).

And then, probably a few days hopping around the southern coast, with a cardboard sign attached to my back and a desire to see some new waters in my heart.  So… it’s time to leave behind this view of the Adriatic coast:

Italian Summertime

And find something a bit more wild.  On the same note, today’s acrylic painting is probably the last one in this palette knife series– but I needed one more session with my knives and was in the mood for some blue hues.  Hopefully, more art inspiration to be found in the south of this country!

A dopo!


Centerless towns, tornados full of beach umbrellas, and electrifying art.

July 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

I found a city in Italy that made me ecstatic to get back to Ancona: Pescara.

Mr. Italian had a business meeting there yesterday, and I decided that it was a perfect opportunity for me to tag along and explore a new city while he does important things for a few hours.  So, another 5:30 AM wake-up call, picking up the company car, and zooming down the Adriatic coast.  We took the exit for Pescara, and there the adventure started… or, rather, didn’t.  I have never been able to not find the centro before, but, in this case, we were both at a loss of where it could be hiding.  I came to the conclusion that there is no centro.  So, Mr. Italian dropped me off at a random, slightly-sketchy corner, and kept zooming off to his appointment.  I twirled around in circles for a couple of minutes, and then headed in what I assumed to be east (at least there is the sea, right?).

En route, I had breakfast at an out-of-place-ly adorable bar, with a particularly chocolate-filled croissant.  The coffee shop was painted all sorts of bright colors and contained no shortage of quirky decorations and international books.  It even had a ‘shopping nook’ inside, which featured some of the owner’s creations:


After getting an energy boost from the cappuccino and GERMANY REIGNS, BRAZIL IS SQUISHED! newspaper headlines, I continued walking until I hit the sea.  Except that I was on the ‘wrong’ side of the city, so I had to cross over a desperately modern bridge over the port.  Coming down, I was greeted with a packed shoreline that stretched far into the horizon.  The last tip that you see should be Monte Conero (Ancona)!


I began my beach trek north at this wannabe-tropical establishment:


, and then walked about ten kilometers through crowded beaches with half of the world splashing around and laying there, sun-drying like sardines.  Hundreds of beach establishments that all look the same, except for the color of the umbrellas:


I do think that it deserves a mention that I did pass a couple of Santa Clauses instructing acqua zumba.  And then, I look up to see several dozen umbrellas floating in the air, spinning wildly in circles.  Initially, I thought that it was some sort of art installation, but then everyone started screaming and the life guards started evacuating the beaches.  I learned that it was actually a beach tornado, and that Italy is now in danger of being impaled by these huge beach umbrellas when they will fall back from the sky.  Lovely.

After that confusing interlude, I made my way back into the water and continued wading north until a river separated me from continuing along the lungomare.  While looking for a bridge to cross over, I found a creepy abandoned fairground:


, and a shady park that had a Poetry Garden inside.  It also had a Super Level bodybuilder who asked me to join in, and a dog pound right next door that took all of its inhabitants on an afternoon ‘walk’ in the park, and so I woke up from a brief nap on a bench surrounded by ten dogs sitting there and looking at me.  I took it as a sign to move on.

Crossed the bridge and took an alley down back to the sea that was clearly used for nightly business because, despite all of the Divieto di contrattare prestazioni sessuali signs plastered up, it didn’t stop cars from slowing down next to me.  Probably not the best day to wear an ‘I love you!‘ shirt.

But at the end of the road, I was greeted by a beautiful, secluded cove with clear waters and clearer skies:


At the end of this cove was a single shack (called il Sorriso, how perfect), nestled on some cliffs and serving plates of pasta di pesce.  It was one of the windiest and most delicious meals I have ever eaten:


Tummy full, I continued following the waterline for another ten kilometers north, out of the touristic hubs of Silvi, and into the quieter, more natural coasts of Pineto:


Finally, some fresh air!  Lots of it, actually… the waves were really impressive.  Between that and the white sand, I could almost convince myself I was back on a beach in South Carolina with the ocean in front of me.


Then I was joined back up by Mr. Italian, and after a gelato break, we moved the party north to Giulianova.  Since it has my name, it makes sense that I picked it as the city en route back home to explore ; )  It was a good choice though, as the entire hilltop portion of the city was setting up a city-wide beer fest, which included about twenty different beer stands, live music in every piazza, homemade crafts, sangria, and other goodies.  Though even without the festival, it was a charming city, with its buildings:


, and art covering up all of the electrical boxes:


All of them!

Tummies full again, we zoomed back up the coast, a very colorful sunset and old, cheesy music accompanying us the entire way home.  And though I eventually found some nice nooks during the day, I still felt very happy to return to Ancona.  Especially since I did it just in time to get into my pj’s, open a bar of chocolate, and watch Argentina vs. Holland.

(more) Art in Ancona

July 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

A week in Ancona, and I am starting to get pretty restless and think about what the “important parts” of life are.  I miss the nights full of dancing, and all of the outside afternoon activities, and theatre/music events back home (as well as all of the people associated with all of the above), but I do have much more time here to devote to art.  As in, all day, every day.

Which satisfies a different part of me… how to balance them both?  Find a middle ground that does not make me feel like a sedated slug, and still let me be in a part of the world that I would like to be in, with the person that I would like to be with?

Until then, I have been entertaining a few new art project ideas based on this little corner of the world that I am currently living in.  One of them is advertisements about businesses and their owners here in Ancona:


And the other series of watercolor/marker snapshots of Ancona expands every time that I am forced to spend a day at the beach.  This past Sunday was particularly hot and windless, so it was difficult to find the energy to lift paintbrushes.  In the end, I did whip up a couple of sketches though.  One featuring your average street here in Ancona:

Ancona Street

And the other one, sunflowers at dusk:


Maybe, if I find a way to paint while zumba-ing, I’ll feel better.  Or, they could just open a latino nightclub and a black box theater in town…

Non-Hungry Hungarians, Poofball Fields, and Kittens in Castles

July 7, 2014 § 1 Comment

Wednesday morning, I popped out of the house with the intention of briefly saying ‘ciao’ to my Anconian Mentor and taking a photo of him for an art series that I am working on.  Last night, I finally got back home.

Anconian Mentor invited me out for lunch, and so we closed up his art gallery and started the walk to his house.  On the way, we saw a young backpacker sitting on the stairs of a cathedral, a cardboard sign in front of him with NIRVANA written on it.  Anconian Mentor and I exchanged glances, smiled, and decided to adopt him for a couple of days.

The boy was from Budapest, on a six-month hitchhiking trip to Spain.  His plans in Ancona went awry (as so often happens in this beloved city), and he was contemplating his escape from the city when we came along and shattered those ideas.  First, we took him to a restaurant on the beach and treated him to all of the standard seafood critters of the region:

Then, two days full of all of the most beautiful sights and delicious tastes of this city and surroundings.  Poor guy, I think that he was forced to eat more in these two days than what he has eaten in the two weeks since he left his house.  But, that’s okay; it’s an acceptable price to pay for all of the sunsets we shared:

Friday morning, after breakfast, we bid adieu to my Anconian Mentor.  Then Mr. Stuffed Hungarian and Mr. Italian and I formed our own Terrific Trio.  The Hungarian’s next stop was Perugia, so Mr. Italian and I decided to accompany him part of the way.  Originally, we were thinking of driving out halfway to Genga and leaving the kid there.   However, fate was on our side and Mr. Italian somehow ended up with two free days, so we swung by the house, grabbed our toothbrushes, and decided to extend the adventure.

We started the day with horizons of blue water:


, and then moved inland through never-ending fields of chipper sunflowers:


, detoured through vineyards:


, did double takes of roundabouts when the center of them was particularly interesting:


, and even found these funny plants.  We’re not sure what they are, but we nicknamed them poofballs:


We spent a couple of hours driving through the Marche countryside, showing off its vast beauty and diversity.  Behind every turn in the road (and there are a lot of turns in the road), the landscape is different, but always impressive.  So, we started out with sunny fields:


, then added scattered villages and hills,


, and then added some mountains to the background:


We had our mini hike and not-so-mini lunch at Genga, and then continued off to Perugia.  Before settling down to watch the Germany/France soccer game, we took a stroll around the city, which always manages to amaze me with its rooftops (Jesus reception included):


, warm hues of Umbrian sunsets:


, and welcoming atmosphere:


We even found a very cute pigeon couple that couldn’t keep its wings and beaks off each other:


After sundown, Mr. Italian and I left Stuffed Hungarian at some park outside of the city so that he could continue his adventures.  With a silent sniffle, we stuffed chocolates into his backpack and drove off.

For the night, we stayed at Castello Valenzino, an old castle converted into a B&B about half an hour north of Perugia.


I loved it!  It was rustic and cozy and charming, in the middle of mountains and rivers that blocked out the rest of the world.  It even came with a jacuzzi bathtub!

But, the best part of the castle was two of these adorable creatures, which we spent all night playing with and cuddling vigorously:

The next day, after a long breakfast and spying on the four baby falcons nestling outside of the upstairs bathroom, Mr. Italian and I started weaving our way back to the seaside.  Out first stop was Gubbio, a hillside town:


, with a desolate little colosseum:


, more puzzle-piece rooftops:


, narrow stone alleys:


, and impressive castles:


Before continuing the rest of our trip through villages not on the road atlas and arriving back to le Marche and finishing the day up with seaside FIFA matches and grigliata‘s, we took a moment to reflect on the past few completely unanticipated, yet utterly satisfying, days.  Upon getting back to the car and opening the trunk, we found this piece of cardboard left behind:


And, as we looked around at the Umbrian sky and listened to the thick drawl of the summer insects, Mr. Italian and I realized that it was us, just as much as him, that are on a long trip.  A destination without a location, unexpected turns and detours, and endless memories to share between us and with the rest of the world.

Thank you,  Hungarian vagabond for bringing us to where we all hope to arrive one day.


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