2021 blog

Almere to Amersfoort

Elburg, Harderwijk and Amersfort


After a few dreary days at the end of our stay in Almere, with its happy reunions with our Dutch friends who even invited us to use their shower and helped us with re-bedding our leaking aft cabin windows, we set off on April 25. We took the Hoge Vaart back to the northeast. It’s a boring 5 hour journey to the small, isolated mooring before the lock that lifts you 5 meters into the Wolderwijd, the body of water that separates Flevoland, the polder upon which Almere is built, and the old land masses to the east and south and where you find historic towns versus those born in the last century. The next morning we entered the very narrow, one or two boat lock.


It was cold but sunny as we navigated under the cover of our rainhood. It is a 20 kilometer trip to Elburg, a small and very old village. The earliest residents left behind Neolithic stone tools and pottery shards. There are pottery shards from the Roman era. The earliest written record dates from 796 CE.


At the end of the 14th century they built a city wall and a mote, laying out the city on a grid, with improvements coming late in the 16th. In 1367 Elsburg joined the Hanseatic League. The railroad passed Elburg in 1863 due to the high price of land, which left the town in the backwater in which it remains. It remained a fishing and farming center until the end of WWII, dying off after the construction of Flevoland. Now it is a strictly for tourism, for which the intact medieval town serves well.



Hardewijk dates from 1231, its defensive wall from the end of that century. The Grote Kerk (Great Church) came in the next century. The wall is largely gone and only one gate remains., the Vischpoort (Fish Gate). Harderwijk was also a member of the Hanseatic League.

Like Elburg it was once a fishing village. They still celebrate Aaltjesdag, Eel day. Today people come for festivities and the Dolfinarium. Larger and less medieval than Elburg, it is nonetheless quite charming, filled with old brick houses with steep roofs and bright red or black shutters. The plaza inside theVischpoort is lined with traditional houses, another voyage into the past.

Harderwijk gate sm
Vischpoort, pen and ink

Continuing to the southwest, we come to Amersfoort. The city’s name means the ford (foort) in the Amer River, now called the Eem. Records date from the 11th century. The city celebraed its 750th anniversary in 2009. Of course human occupation dates much farther in the past, with evidence of settlement to 1000 BCE.

The gorgeous Koppelpoort

The defensive wall was finished circa 1300, demolished late in the century to allow for expansion. The famous Koppelpoort is in the second wall. The houses on Muurhuizen (Wallhouses) Street sit on first wall’s foundations.

Koppelsgate, pen and ink. This sits to the side of the gate

The Onze-Lieve-Vrouwentoren (Tower of Our Lady), nicknamed Lange Jan (‘Long John’), is 98 metres (320 ft) in height. It was the middle point of country when it was started in 1444. The church was destroyed by explosion in 1787, but the impressive tower remains with us. It is now the reference point of the RD coordinate system, the coordinate grid used by the Dutch topographical service. There are several buildings noted as national monuments. In the Middle Ages it was was an important for its textile industry its many breweries.

kopplepoort amersfort sm
Koppelpoort, Water Gate, A4, 8.5 x 11″
Gofres (waffles) served to a disco beat. Ice cream and fries on every corner)

Of the three towns, it is both larger and generally more interesting, with more to do, although Elburg could easily serve as a medieval film set with not much effort.


Amersfoort is nicknamed Keistad (boulder-city). The Amersfoortse Kei is a a 9-ton boulder that was transported into the city in 1661 as a result of a bet between two landowners. The nicknaming embarrassed the town, so they buried the boulder in 1672. It was re-discoverd in 1903, then turned into a monument. Boulders are rare in the Netherlands.

2021 blog

Kampen to Almere

April 16, 2021

From Zwartsluice we navigated to Genmuiden for a short visit and a trip to the supermarkets, then we made our way to Grafhorst. This is a tiny town, so tiny it does not even have a grocer. Instead a large van drives into town, beeps the horn, and waits for people to climb in to shop for fruit, veg, meat, cheese and the like. This is now predominantly a bedroom community. Each house has a car.


There is a plaque in the park next to the river. It commemorates the deaths of Australian airmen whose plane crashed into the river during WWII. Viking is moored nearby. We stayed the night alone at the dock other than the unoccupied work boat qft. It was a quiet night under a few stars, the long cold sunset lasting well past 8 P.M.


In the morning, again with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, we set off for Kampen. Kampen sits on the Ijssel River, which flows into the Ijsselmeer, the inland sea that is closed off from the North Sea by locks and dikes. Kampen was a member of the former Hanseatic League, population of 37,000.


Kampen has a well preserved old town center. There are three lovely gates and many chaurches. Three modern bridges cross the IJssel. There is a local variation of the Sallands dialect, termed Kampers.

kampen town hall

The friendly and Bible quoting harbor master makes coffee for visitors. It’s a lonely job in the winter but the boating season is quite busy, especially on weekends. There is a fries shop across from it so we ordered two small fries which somehow turned into a humongous order. It’d been a good while since we had crispy fries like this.

kampen old map

The next morning, after another cup of coffee and some comments about the Gospel of Mathew having everything you could possibly want to know, we were off to Almere, where we will meet some old friends and a representative from Gebo, the manufacturer of the windows on our boat. The factory is in the town and the rep lives one minute from the town’s free moorings, and the friends just two minutes more. It’s another gorgeous day with very cold mornings. You emerge from the mouth of the river into some fairly open water before entering the Ketelhaven locks. Here you drop about 6.5 meters onto the polder. We did not have to wait long for the red-green light to come on, indicating they were preparing to open the gates. The first lock drops 5.5 meters so they have ropes that descend along the walls. You just loop a line around it and down you go. It is quite easy. The second lock is not manned. You have to push a button to get things going. We saw it on the right side after we had docked on the port side.

The 52 kilometer voyage from Kampen to Almere took about 7 hours in lovely sunshine. Slowly on.

2021 blog

First weeks on Viking

April 16, 2021

After a comfy night in a high tech shoebox at Schipol, with it’s colored lights operated from a control panel, we were greeted by our friends who live in nearby Haarlem. They drove us to our boat in Heerenveen, a 90 minute ride into Freisland. The boat was afloat and in reasonably good condition by all appearances.

Given the possibility of deep freezes, you have to drain your pipes and put antifreeze (a safe version as it goes into the canal) in the drains and the wet exhaust system. As they say in repair manuals, assembly is a reserve operation. That is what we did first thing. All went well until we tried to leave the dock to fill the water tank, as in this marina there is no water on the dock. Unfortunately the way the marina attached the electric chord to the pole made it impossible to remove the chord so we could not move the boat. We filled some plastic bottles from the rest rooms, a 2 minute bike ride from the boat, not convenient by any means, but manageable for one day. Tomorrow is Monday so they can help us out.

The next day we filled the tank. I found that the shower faucet had frozen in the deep deep freeze earlier this year. Fortunately the faucet came off easily and there are shops nearby. But here things get a bit complicated. Due to corona virus restrictions you have to make an appointment to shop in most stores, grocery and pharmacy excepted. But we have rented a car for the day so we hoped we could just get in without an appoinment. After getting groceries we stopped at one of the big stores. They would not let me in. They did across the street however and I even found the type of facuet they use here, which mixes the hot and cold together using a built in thermostat of some sort, and it was on sale. It installed easily.

However the shower drain pump was no longer operating. The shower water drain is too low in the boat to go overboard directly. It drains into a box with a float operated pump. So no shower aboard and no hopes of replacing it until we get to a marine shop.

With high winds, snow, sleet, hail and rain we were unable to make our Thursday appointment for replacing our 21 year old charger/inverter. Things gradually improved and on the 8th day we headed south in reasonably good weather. Our rain hood completely encloses us so we are protected from the still cold wind, with temperatures barely above freezing as we departed, having paid our electric bill for the winter and our week running the small heater which, along with the diesel heater, kept us warm while awaiting better weather.

After a night in the harbor near Bonsink, the company doing work for us, we were hauled out of the water and placed in a cradle. The boat was placed rather far from the rest rooms and there was no water for washing the boat. We did have electricity at least. The installations were completed the next day and the leak at the prop shaft as well, where the seal had just been there too long. We have a shower and a new Victron charger/inverter, which is about as good as they get.

We did not have the inverter for long. We used it one night. The next day it was drawing 50-60 amps. It should not draw any more than about 2 amps to operate.

blog Blog 2021

In the Frozen North

After the complexities of our journey north we then faced a week of bad weather. The forecasts were highly accurate. Howling winds kept us in the safe harbor. We kept warm during the day with a small electric heater, just 750 watts, with the addition of the diesel heater that pumps hot water through radiators. The boat is well insulated, which helps a lot. The windows are not double pane so they have to be wiped dry a few times a day as they fog up. As we absorbed the moisture off the panes we gazed out at snow flakes, hail, sleet and the occasional blue sky.

View from Viking
View from our window in April, 2121
first boat pizza
First pizza of the year

We took the time to deal with any issues that arose over the winter. People were skating on the canals this year, for the first time since 2012 or so. This used to happen every year but the climate has been warming so skates spend long lonely years in the closet. We expected issues and found a few. The shower faucet froze despite having been drained by normal means. I should have removed it completely, apparently. The shower pump failed. A window leak worsened. It needs to be removed and re-bedded. Not bad overall.


We arrived on the 4th and left on the 13th for our annual haul out. You need to check the anodes that protect the boat from electrolysis. Sometimes there is stray current in the water. This current causes weaker metals to migrate to stronger metals. Unchecked you can ruin a prop, rudder and other parts. You can install a galvanic isolater, which we will do. It prevents DC voltage from doing its worst. DC can cause problems when the boat is connected to shore power.

Monday the 12th April broke at O centigrade but sunny. We have outside steering only but stay warm and dry under the rainhood. There was some wind, a bit of hale and a snow shower or two, so staying dry and out of the wind helps greatly.

Along the way I monitored a leak at the prop shaft. There is a grease fitting around that shaft that has probably never been renewed. Before we left I made arrangements for it to be repaired at the haul out.

We made it to the tiny town of Zwartesluice in the large lovely marina. The next morning we being a few days living on the hard, as we say. The boat is put on a frame, they bring a set of stairs so we can easily get aboard, and we plug into electricity. The only disadvantage is the walk to the toilets, as we can not use the one we have aboard. The morning temperatures are still around freezing.

The next morning we make progress on the repairs. In spare moments we made an appoint for temporary residence, required if EU citizens plan to be in the country for more than three months. With the number they give you you can get the covid vaccine. We made the appointment for the number. They are vaccinating the people in our age group now. I’ll report on that as matters develop.

blog Blog 2021

Adventures in Covid Travel

April came about and we are off.  Off our rockers, according to some, and not without just cause, given that our destination is in the midst of a third wave of the corona virus.  But I mean ‘off’ as in we are on the way north to Netherlands, literally the low lands, and to Viking, our floating home, for the next several months.

But first a word from our obstacles.  There were many between us and our destination in Freisland, the northeast part of the country, where our boat spent the winter well under the freezing temperature of water.

Obstacle one, we had to get a PCR test with a negative result within the allowed time constraints.  The EU rule, which the Dutch follow, allows you to take a PCR test within 24 hours of boarding OR within 72 hours along with an antigen test within 24 hours of boarding (an improvement over the 4 hour limit that had been replaced only a few days earlier. Whichever option you choose, you must hope that results get to you within 24 hours.    

Unfortunately, Peg made flight reservations over Easter weekend, so most labs were going to be closed. I spent hours finding a 72-hour test a day before the flight and a four-hour test in Alicante (our flight was from there, not from Valencia) on Saturday, the day our flight was scheduled, at a lab that would be open one whole hour that morning.

Three days before the flight, when the requirements changed, we had lunch with our neighbors and their niece, whose twin brother works at a laboratory. Not only was he able to get us into the lab within the 24-hour window, but at a “friend discount” of 55 euros each, about half of what we would have ordinarily paid. The clinic opened on time after lunch on Good Friday, we told the receptionist we were here on the part of the twin, we were on her list and we got our swabs, with 20 minutes to make our train to Alicante. The taxi ride took 5 minutes, which gave us time to buy tickets, buy bottled water, and jump on. We could also cancel the previously scheduled 4-hour before departure test scheduled for the next morning.

Our lodgings were a room in what had been a private home, 5 minutes from the train station.  Check-in was completely person-free. We phoned the owner, who WhatsApped us the instructions to open the front door, go to the second floor and the code to a real estate lockbox. The code opened the lockbox, which had a key to the door of the flat. The key was chained to the lockbox, so we opened the door, returning the key to the lockbox. The door to our room was open and two sets of keys to the building door, front door and room door were in it. Amazing!

Our flight was at 3:00 pm on Saturday, so we checked our phones for the results every 10 minutes beginning at about 10:00 a.m. No negative test results, no flight.  We had plenty of time to come up with a Plan B for a short term let in Alicante, just in caseTesting positive would have seriously hampered our plans for work on the boat that is scheduled for April 8.

My negative test results arrived via email around 10 a.m.  At noon Peggy’s had not arrived so I called the special number the receptionist had kindly given me for any problems. Speaking when masked, to someone who is also masked and speaking 90 kilometers a minute in Valencian, Spanish and English and who is sitting in a row of five people, all of whom are scheduling testing appointments and completing testing paperwork for people standing in front of them, is not all that easy. With Peg’s test number, we got to the problem rapidly, which was Peggy’s email address, which was missing a “K”.

When the report arrived at Peg’s email two minutes later, we did a little jig in the nice little bar two blocks from the Alicante train station, where the express airport bus stops.

At the airport, the only hiccup was that the Easyjet app lost my reservation after an update.  The friendly guy at the gate got it sorted. Peg’s sewing scissors were confiscated by security – to which she said, “Duh.”

Then came the obstacles between the airport in Amsterdam and the boat in a country undergoing its 2nd or 3rd wave of quarantine restrictions – I’ve lost track of that number too.  I figure we will be fine. Last year we traversed Netherlands and a good portion of Germany by boat, all the way to Berlin and back without getting infected.  I know. I have tested now 5 times for covid, three of which were the antigen quick type, now a PCR, earlier an antibody test, all negative.  No antibodies means you are not a symptom free carrier.   

We spent Saturday night in a high tech shoe box room of the CitizenM Hotel staffed by competent and light-hearted staff. Peg loved it – each room has an IPad that allows you to control everything, including options for full-spectrum of colors for the room lighting. The next morning our good Dutch boating friends drove us 1 ½ hours to the boat in less time than a train journey. He helped us get the rain hood installed and she brought sandwiches, ‘brood’ (bread) as they are termed here. The rainhood is a canvas and isinglass item that stretches across stainless steel tube frames and insulates the outside steering station from the weather.  It will come in very handy for the cold and rain/snow expected over the next couple of days.  I proceeded to de-winterize the boat. 

There is no end to the possible number of obstacles one might find on a boat that has been sitting in cold water for six cold months. Boat engines in the type of boat we own use diesel fuel. Unlike a diesel road vehicle, they have no glow plugs and so can be hard to start when cold. We don’t have a sailboat, so in our case, no engine, no going anywhere.  

2021 blog

Spain’s Jan 2021 lock down

January, 2021

Here we are again, with extensive lock down measures in place. Following the holiday season which sees gatherings on December 25th (Navidad), 31st (Noche Vieja), January 1 and January 5-6 (Reyes), we found ourselves with a huge spike in covid 19 cases. Streets, department stores and some shops were crowded with shoppers on many other days, adding to the spread. Bars and restaurants took a huge share of the blame, despite distancing requirements that were largely observed and the outdoor seating so prevalent in most towns and cities year round, even when temperatures dip to near freezing.

Here in Valencia orders came down by the third week of January. Bars and restaurants can offer take out services only. Businesses must close by 6 pm, other than essential businesses such as pharmacies and grocery stores which can stay open.

The only people allowed in your residence are the people who live there. Unlike the first lock down, you can take walks and sit on a bench if you wish, but accompanied by no more than one person, who need not be in your household, a boon to those who live alone. Golf courses are rumored to be closed while cinemas are open, which does not make sense given one is outdoors and the other indoors. We received an invitation to an indoor concert at the Opera House to occur on January 29th from the Banda de Valencia, the city’s official band, noting that one person can enter at a time and seating is 50% of capacity of the 4400 seats. This is still too close for safety, in my reckoning, so I am unable to see the justification.

These measures are in effect until February 15. Today’s Las Provincias reports that new cases have dropped by 21% in the past 7 days. While hospitalizations are still up. that should change in the next week or two as this is a lagging factor.

In the meantime the vaccination campaign struggles for lack of product. The Ministerio de Salud reports that 191,000 have been vaccinated. Non-citizen residents covered by private insurance are entirely up in the air as to where they stand in the line. Our insurer told us that the vaccinations are entirely within the realm of the Ministerio de Salud. What documentation will they require from us when it comes time to receive the vaccination? Are we in the same line as citizens and go with our age and risk group? There has been no guidance, but we are not alone. The Ministerio de Salud has only issued a phase one guideline, which is vaccinations for nursing home residences and medical personnel.

In the midst of all this a post circulated via Facebook that people in this situation need a SIP in order to get a vaccine appointment. The link led to a page that invited people without a SIP to request one. However it also said to do so if you had symptoms and you would receive a call. Later a post came out from the British Embassy stating that this site was not a place to get an appointment for a vaccine, and in fact there is no such thing for anyone in Spain aside possibly from people who qualify to be in the first phase. The Embassy said they were passing along a message from the Ministerio de Salud.

By way of comparison with the US, Spain shows 59,000 case per 1M population, with the US showing 79,000. Spain’s deaths per 1M is 1236 versus 1336 in the US. In Italy, that suffered the first severe invasion in the EU, the results are better than both Spain and the US in numbers of cases per 1M at 41,640, while the death rate is higher at 1446, perhaps as a result of being first in line, suggesting that those who followed learned something from the Italian experience.

I’ll report more once these restrictions are eased.

blog Blog 2020

Caravaggio, Influences and Followers

Michelangelo Merisi (Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio 1571 – 1610) is commonly known as Caravaggio. He is the subject of an exhibition at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Il tempo di Caravaggio (Caravaggio’s Time) that displays items from the collection of Roberto Longhi. Longhi was a Professor of Art History at the University of Bologna and later at the University of Florence. His 1911 dissertation was about Caravaggio. His exhibitions on the painter in the 1950’s spurned interest in Caravaggio, who had been largely forgotten.

Here I will show you examples of the work of Caravaggio and other artists featured in the exposition. Photos were not allowed so I had to use photos I found in the public domain. I did not note the names of the paintings so I used examples that show affinity to Caravaggio.

Otavo Leoni (1578-1630)

portrait of carravaggio Ottavio Leoni
Portrait of Caravaggio by Ottavio Leoni, included here just for curiosity’s sake

Caravaggio is a master of light. He did not invent the approach but he did it with great skill, igniting an international following. Here is a good example of his approach, allowing a good comparison to the paintings of his followers that follow below.

The Taking of Christ, Caravaggio 1602, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
boy-bitten-by-lizard-carravaggio in longhi collection
Boy Bitten by Lizard, Carravaggio, in the Longhi Collection. This work is far less dramatically lit than the works for which he has become so famous.

Battista de Moro  (1512 – after 1568) is one of few painters, perhaps the only in the exhibition, who came before Caravaggio.

Santa Nicola Agostino and Antonio Abate, 1535


Bartolomeo Passrotti (1529–1592) worked primarily in his hometown of Bologna.

Bartolomeo Passrotti Le Pollarole

Pier Francisco Mazzucchelli 1573–1626 

Beheading of St John the Baptist (Decollazione del Battista), Mazzucchelli

Angelo Caroselli or Carosèlli (1585–1652) 

Angelo_Caroselli, Singing Man

Domenico Fetti  (c 1589-1623)

Accademia - La Meditazione by Domenico Fetti 1618
La Meditazione, Domenico Fetti 1618

Valentin  de Boulogne (c 1591 – 1632) French

Valentin de Boulogne, John and Jesus

Gerrit Van Honthorst

Gerard van Honthorst, Granida and Daifilo

Gioacchino Assereto (1600-1649)

Gioacchino Assereto, Death of Cato

Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari (1598–1669)

Ferrari, Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon

Dirck Van Baburen Dirck Jaspersz. van Baburen (c. 1595 – 21 February 1624), Dutch and one of the group called the Utrecht Caravaggisti. 

De luitspeler
Lute Player, Babur Compare to Caravaggio’s painting of a lute player below
Caravaggio_Lute Player_NY
Lute Player by Caravaggio

Matthias Stom or Matthias Stomer (c. 1600 – c 1653) was Dutch or Flemish.  He was influenced by the Utrecht Caravaggiasts.

Matthias Stom, “The Death of Brutus”



...  The Times of Caravaggio opens with four small panels by Venetian Lorenzo Lotto who inspired Caravaggio’s interest in bright light, and Bolognese Bartolomeo Passarotti’s canvas of a market scene, which possibly triggered his obsession for still lifes and portraits of “low-class” people. Of particular interest in this first of five rooms is Longhi’s canvas, A Boy Peeling Fruit. There are three other copies of this early work all dating to 1592-93, all believed by many scholars including Longhi, who included it in the 1951 exhibition, to be Caravaggio’s earliest work painted upon his arrival in Rome. …Longhi also suggested that Caravaggio borrowed the motif of the bitten finger from a Boy Bitten by a Crab, a drawing by a prominent Renaissance artist Sofonisba Anuissola.  As for the model, some scholars suggest Mario Minniti, Caravaggio’s companion and the model for several other Caravaggio paintings.  Others believe it is a disguised self-portrait.

blog Blog 2020

Palazzo Venezia over centuries

Palazzo Venezia faces Piazza Venezia and the monument to Vittorio Emanuele, the king appointed at the time of the unification of Italy in 1861.  It’s a huge building and not much to look at from the outside, and is surrounded by heavily trafficked streets and a huge number of bus stops.  It is now a museum.   It’s 162 steps up to the museum level, itself containing huge chambers, two of which measured 33 meters or about 100 feet in length.  There is an elevator for those unable or unwilling to make the climb.

We probably had the place to ourselves, except for the guy I thought at first was a security guard who wanted to tell us something about the palace.  But then he did not leave and provided running commentary.

Palazzo Venizia (1455-67) was built for the Venetian cardinal Pietro Barbo, later called Pope Paul II.  He continued to reside in it after election to the papacy.  They used travertine from the Coliseo (Coliseum)  and the Teatro de Marcellus.  Pope Pius IV gave the building to the Republic of Venice, thus giving the palace its name (Venezia is Venice in Italian).   In 1797 it became the embassy of Austria to the Holy See.  In 1929 Mussolini chose it as his headquarters and it is from the huge room decorated with chiaroscuro columns that he gave the speech from the tiny balcony seen in newsreels in which his smug expression and macho strutting are clearly visible. 


Mussolini address the crowd from the small balcony holding 1 or 2 people at a time
Palazzo Venezia

There is a library of archaeology and the history of art used by scholars from around the world.

Aside from large chambers of state and the tranquil papal garden, the museum houses terracotta sculptures by Bernini, a huge ceramics collection gifted to Mussolini, numerous portraits and other paintings, including one that I believe to be a good example of the style later perfected by Caravaggio. 

Due Amici, Girogio Castelfranco circa 1502
Cleopatra, Carlo Maratta, also using the light to focus the viewer’s attention
blog Blog 2020

Rome: It’s Only Us

Oct 27 2020

Rome is not a sea of tranquility but this gets close. Tourists are home sheltering in place or restricting their visits to more nearby locations. Many locals work from home or are out of work altogether, reducing the normally intense traffic.

st peters
The plaza in front of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome Oct 27 2020

We chose this time to come to get to enjoy Rome without the crowds of tourists, and when the streets are not quite so full of Romans in their cars and on the buses. Italians are normally friendly. They seem even more so now, not so pressured by crowds and traffic.

Looking towards the Gianolo, sometimes called Rome’s 8th hill

We breezed through security. There were just three people with us.

Berini’s Baldachino from the front entrance

St Peter’s never seemed so big. I had a relaxed 15 minutes in front of the Pieta- “relaxed” and “Pieta” have never before been in the same sentence except. Except now. It’s great for us. The empty shops and restaurants tell the opposite story.


There’s a stunningly decorated side chapel with gilded angels by Bernini which is reserved for prayer. We have never gone in as we are not religious but it was empty and there was no guard although there is usually one. What a treat! I do not know who did the figures at the join of the walls and the ceiling, but they are fantastic!

Gilded Angels by Bernini

Masks are everywhere, people keep their distance, the businesses have hand sanitizer, even the Metro entrances.   They are trying.  


atac bus color
On The Bus, room to breathe
blog Blog 2020

A masked Mario at the wheel

As we prepared to leave for Rome, their pandemic numbers spiked, the country closed down bars and restaurants after 6 p.m., there were clashes between the police and those protesting the new restrictions. On the plus side the Ryan Air flight from Valencia landed 15 minutes early. And we know our way around.

Ciampino Airport is about 15 kilometers/9 miles from Termini, Rome’s central train station from whence you can get just about any where in Rome. You can get a bus from the airport that takes you directly to Termini. It had already left when we arrived and another was not due for over an hour, as they have reduced their frequency significantly given reduced demand. We knew what to do – get a local bus ticket which we needed to do anyway in order to get around town. Then you can take the public bus to the metro and get to Termini that way. Since public transport passes are available in weekly form, and we knew that, we ordered that at the window, which we got to after explaining to the policeman at the door why we wanted in. Apparently you now need good cause to enter. It helps to speak a least a bit of Italian.

There are two buses that take you to the metro, one takes you to the Metro A at Anagnina and the other to Laurentine on Metro B. The Laurentine was just leaving as we arrived. We waved him down. He let us in as he’d only moved a meter or two. We knew we could go to either of the metro stations. Off we went into the dark narrow streets of the countryside between Rome and Ciampino, not just an airport but a city on Rome’s southwest side.

The driver wasted no time imitating Mario Andretti, the famous Italian American race car driver who dominated the circuits over three decades. We lurched around the curves, then forward and back when he tromped on the brakes. Windows and doors rattled on the rough rode, a cacophony making conversation nearly impossible. He screeched to a stop in the middle of nowhere to pick up a lonely passenger. As we proceeded in the blackness I tried to put in our route to our apartment near the Borghese Gallery. It was quite a challenge just to hold onto the phone. I got far enough along with the task to see where we had to get off in order to ride the metro to Termini.

It was a piece of cake from then on. We even knew to take a bus from Termini to get to the flat, although our host recommended that we take a taxi or walk. We ended up with a 5 minute walk versus 20 from Termini. This gave us time to shop for dinner.

We would have to cook for ourselves without any restaurants to choose from, as we could not be sure if any offered takeout. We shopped at the Coop on the way, just two minutes from our destination. The procercy stores sell great bread, quite inexpensive and about as good as what you can get in a bakery. You get it at the meat/cheese/deli counter that almost all of them have. There are fresh pasta shops but in the grocery stores you get just a few choices. There are lots of choices for sauces in the pesto category, as tomato sauces are not the be all they are in the US. Red pepper sauces has became one of my favorites after stints in Italy.

As we were nearly ready to check out, we realized we’d forgotten garlic. I walked through the checkout line to go more directly to the vegetable section. Surprisingly there was no garlic. Or maybe not a surprise. They use it a lot. So I returned to the register where Peggy was placing items on the belt, and started messing with the bag. The woman at the register gave me such a look, like who am I to steal this bag. I laughed and told her, “Siamo insieme.” She laughed and did the rest of her job speaking English. It was a friendly “goodbye and thank you for coming.”

At our digs it was all in Italian. Anyone could figure their way through it though.

Tomorrow another visit to St Peter’s, from whence the Pope announced his support for same sex civil unions. It’s an improvement, and I could care less about what he thinks the difference is between so called sacred ceremonies and civil arrangements. Legally they are the same. Take the same ingredients and just add woo and you have a church wedding.

And that’s what it was like on our fist day in the land of Bunga Bunga – yes, Berlusconi is still holding an elected position, escaping prosecution still, as under Italian law elected officials are immune.