Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Awful Leaning Tower

Let's face it, you can't bring your wife to Italy to see the country properly and not stop when passing by the leaning tower without taking a moment to see the damned thing. So we did.

To get to the Campo dei Miracoli one has to navigate a field of extra-community touts, desperate Africans of one sort or another selling cheap rolexes and the like. That was bad enough,

But the Tower itself was as always insignificant except for it's lean which they say is stabilized. Lucky for the visitors at the top.

We did not by a ticket. We stopped we looked...

...and we left.

Pisa has only the tower as it's claim to fame, an industrial town with a useful little airport and nothing else. But they don't make much of their heritage landmark. You can drive by the walls of the Miracle Field and not know it's there. Parking? Ask and hope for the best.
Pisa? Been there, done that and had an espresso in a tourist bar with filthy table cloths and Indian waiters. Italy is in such an economic crisis Italians won't even take table waiting jobs at the premier local tourist attraction.

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Isola Del Giglio Part Two

The island of Giglio is part of the chain of Tuscan islands that lie off the mainland, including Elba, most famous as Napoleon's first place of exile and the largest of the chain, then there is Montecristi, a real place and closer ot Giglio the is Giannutri, smaller even than thud island we chose to visit.

There are three villages on the island, Giglio Porto wher
e the ferry docks, Giglio Castello where the twelfth century castle sits on the hill in the middle of the island which measures about six miles long and four wide, and Giglio Campese on the west side where there is a large swimming beach and a small town. In all some two thousand people call Giglio home and each village has it's own very distinct character. We left the dock area in a hurry, as pretty as it was lined with pastel colored houses and thatch palms.

We rode up the steep hill and stopped at the castle where Giovanni took off for his beach aft noon sunning himself on the sand at Campese. He was in pig heaven. We looked for lunch and found a lovely little place with a terrace overlooking the water.

La Porta promised a fabulous seafood menu. Maurizio delivered a fabulous view:

And a meal to die for. We shared an appetizer of cooked pears wrapped in prosciutto ham and covered in gorgonzola sauce:

The dark wine in the background is locally grown and is 16% proof but not at all sweet. It was perfect for the hearty lunch to follow. We sat back and watched the ferry leave for the mainland:

Then a seafood risotto with slightly firm rice which gave it a delicious texture, with octopus and pieces mixed in, all infused with the flavor of the sea and slightly salty.

A mess of grilled fish, shrimp and lobster of which we ate all but the shells:

And for dessert a superb Crema Catalana, a type of creme brûlée though more delicate. Brought to our table flaming:

We bought a bottle of the wine and for about $110 we staggered out of Maurizio and Marcello's divine restaurant. They dismissed Key West as too noisy and too crowded. Oh well. Compared to this they have a point:

And we walked all round the little village of Castello, a mass of alleys, one more picturesque than the next:

It is really quite divine.

More to come in Part Three where we meet the basket weaver and take a ride across the island.

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July Seventeenth #3

By GarytheTourist.

July Seventeeth #2

Key Deer by GarytheTourist.

Quo Vadis

When my late mother took me to see the Christian catacombs outside Rome more than 40 years ago things were different.

The tombs back then had bones in some of the graves and I remember distinctly peering into the sarcophagus of a Roman matron dead these two millennia and amidst the collapsed shards of her long dead body one could see long black tresses of hair as well preserved as though alive. Our tour guide this time around said all such remains were removed from the tombs in public view 20 years ago. Such are the penalties of age remembering the past as though it were today.

There are several catacombs available for tours but I chose San Domitilla because they are the largest, they include an underground church unique among catacombs,

and they are slightly off the easiest path for visitors which meant scooter riders like us could still have easy access along the Roman road called the Via Appia. This was the place where St Peter met Jesus on the road and asked where he was going. "Quo vadis, domine?" and Christ said wearily back to town to finish the work you have signally failed to do. So St Peter trudged back and got crucified for his pains. Christ is a hard task master.
Unfortunately the usual restrictions on photography enforced by the 19th century strictures of the Vatican gorgons meant I could take no pictures. All pictures here from the underground tombs are pictures I took digitally with my camera from the tour brochure.

There may be eleven miles of tombs but we walked around a few hundred yards, well illuminated with electricity and easy to navigate though not accessible unless you are nimble on your feet. Our guide told us of flash light walks for hours to the furthest recesses of the corridors, filled as she said with spiders and darkness and sealed tombs, fantastic art and total darkness and silence.

The catacombs's role in the lives of early Christians have been debated and what we were told 40 years ago is no longer the accepted truth about these burial grounds. Te story used to be that we were walking through secret chambers hidden away by early persecuted Christians to preserve their faith. Nowadays it is said that these tombs were simply tombs and were apparently built by a corporation paid to do the work and expand the tunnels as more people died. No one lived here or hid here, indeed Roman law was clear in that once dead even a rebel was entitled to any form of burial preferred and Christians weren't allowed cremation on the curious grounds God may not be able to reconstitute the believer's body for the inevitable resurrection to come. Thus while Romans burned Christians buried and set up their not so secret tombs right up against the main roads out of town. Romans were nothing if not sanitary and bodies could not be stored or buried within city limits.Thus the catacombs.

Probably as much visited today as they were when in use, even though they then slumbered through centuries of neglect until they were dug out after the end of the Papal States in 1873. Historical curiosity or place of Pilgrimage? You decide.

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July Seventeeth #1

Key West Cemetery by GarytheTourist.