Special Places for the Final Resting Place of Dominic Nozzi’s Ashes

By Dominic Nozzi

November 27, 2022

The following are the most special, memorable, loved places ever visited by Dominic Nozzi during his life. As a parting gift to those special people in Dominic’s life – such as Maggie Waddoups and those she chooses to help – Dominic’s ashes shall be deposited in as many of the following special, memorable, lovable places as possible. To maximize the number of places, an extremely small quantity of ashes (1/4 tsp or less) shall be deposited in each location. Those places near the top of this list are the highest priority and those near the bottom are the lowest priority.

While many of Dominic’s special places are scuba diving sites, none are listed as it is impractical to deposit ashes at such sites.

Mercato di Ortigia in Syracuse /Ortigia, ItalyPiazza della Signoria in Florence, ItalyPiazza Navona, Rome, ItalyPiazza San Marco in Venice, Italy
Piazza del Campo in Siena, ItalyPiazza degli Eroi (Heroes Square) and Lion Court in Budapest, HungaryGrand Place in Brussels, BelgiumOld Town Square in Prague, Czechia
Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, SpainRådhuspladsen in Copenhagen, DenmarkMercato La Pescheria in Catania, ItalyMercato di Mezzo in Bologna, Italy
Mercato Antiquario in Lucca, ItalyKoningsplein, AmsterdamMagic Fountain of Montjuïc, Barcelona, SpainDom Tower, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Old Town Haarlem, The NetherlandsPiazza IV Novembre, Perugia, ItalyPiazza Della Cisterna, San Gimignano, ItalyStradun, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Old Town Ostuni, ItalyCatacombe dei Cappuccini, Palermo, ItalyOld Centre, Delft, The NetherlandsGauley River, West Virginia
Betasso Trail west of Boulder, ColoradoAlexander Springs Creek FLMaroon Pass, Colorado (Aspen to Crested Butte)Boulder Creek, Boulder CO
St Peter’s Cathedral, Rome ItalyActun Tunichil Muknal caves, BelizeOld Town Orvieto ItalyArenal Volcano, Costa Rica
Siyeh Pass Trail, Glacier National Park, MontanaShelf Lake Trail near Gunella Pass, ColoradoYosemite Falls, CaliforniaThe Narrows and Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park UT
Econfina Creek (near Hamlin Lake) FLWest Maroon Pass trail near Crested Butte, ColoradoMt Ida Trail on the Colorado continental dividePenfield High School football field
North Main Street between McBee and Washington streets, Greenville SCSanitas Trail, Boulder COPowderhorn Glade Run, Eldora Ski Resort COLong’s Peak summit CO
Matera, ItalyOld Town Bari, ItalyScribner or Bay Trail School playing field, Penfield36 Horizon Dr, Penfield backyard
Old town Taormina ItalyOld Town Assisi, ItalyElison Park Sledding Hill, Penfield NYOld Town Toledo, Italy
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A Tribute to and Remembrance of My Father

The Baseball Career of Albert Michael Nozzi

My father — Albert Michael Nozzi — was born on July 10, 1931 in Dunmore, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. You were the son of Domenick Nozzi and Domenica Lalli.

He played shortstop for Perry’s Truckers and Trotta’s (Produce Market) Mud Hens in the Bucktown Twi-light League, and was the leading hitter in the league.

For three straight years (1948-1950), he was voted the Most Valuable Player in the League, and was placed on the All-Star team for those three years as well.

Al was signed by the Stroudsburg Poconos in the North Atlantic League and played for them in 1950 after leading the Bucktown League in hitting percentage, number of hits, runs batted in, runs scored, home runs, and triples.

The Stroudsburg Poconos, located in Stroudsburg, PA, was a minor league baseball team in the North Atlantic League from 1946 to 1950. Frank Radler was the manager. They were affiliated with the New York Yankees in 1947 and the Cleveland Indians in 1949.

Frank J. Radler (born c. 1920) was a minor league baseball player and manager who led two teams to league championships in the 1940s and 1950s.

A pitcher, Radler played in the minor leagues from 1937 to 1940, from 1943 to 1946 and from 1948 to 1952. He went 151-92 in his 13-year career, winning at least 20 games three times. In 1950, with the Stroudsburg Poconos, he went 21-3 with a 1.82 ERA in 35 games. In 1949, he posted a 1.59 ERA and in 1948, he went 20-8 with a 2.18 ERA.

He managed the Poconos from 1948 to 1950, leading them to a league championship victory in 1949 and a trip to the league finals in 1950.

The Poconos played their home games at Gordon Gifels Field. Their 1949 team was considered one of the top 100 minor league teams in the history of baseball. They went 101-36 that year. Following the 1950 season, the North Atlantic League folded and the Stroudsburg Poconos did as well.

In one game, Radler paid Al the ultimate compliment by letting Al pinch-hit for the Poconos against a left-handed pitcher. Managers almost never have a left-handed batter face a left-handed pitcher because it is so difficult for left-handed batters to bat against left-handed pitchers.

Al, a left-handed batter, rewarded his manager’s confidence in him when he lined a shot off the right field wall for a double against the lefty pitcher. The manager was quite impressed, and told Al at the end of the season that he believed Al could hit the higher level “A” League pitching.

While with the Poconos, Al attracted the attention of a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies professional baseball team. The scout asked Al how tall his mother was. The scout wanted to get an idea of whether Al would ever grow taller, as he was quite short at the time (Al’s mother happened to be very short).

Al was infuriated by the question and resented the fact that the scout (and, earlier, his high school football coach) thought he was too short to play against larger players. Al felt like telling the scout that he could knock the scout on his butt.

The encounter occurred because there was a Donato restaurant in Dunmore, PA, and the West Scranton coach and part of the family owning the restaurant — Sammy Donato — decided to take Al to Stroudsburg to try out with the Class “D” professional baseball team.

Despite the “height of your mom” question from the scout, Al was immediately signed by the Phillies to play for their Bradford Phillies farm club (based in Bradford, PA) in the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League (the Class D PONY League), and played for them in 1951. Frank McCormick was the manager of the team.

Al ended up batting against two pitchers that made it to Major League Baseball: Karl Spooner and Ted Abernathy. One day during the 1951 season, while playing in the PONY League, Al suffered an injury when he “threw his arm out,” which meant that he only faced Spooner in one game.

In that game, Spooner struck out Al three times. Al considered Spooner to be “Sneaky Fast.” Spooner, who threw a blazing 96 mile-per-hour fast ball, was the fastest pitcher Al ever faced.  Al was released from the team due to the arm injury.

When Al batted against Ted Abernathy, he was facing a “side-arm” pitcher (almost an under-armer). Abernathy averaged 13 to 14 strikeouts a game against Al’s Tarboro Tars team in the Coastal Plain League (based in North Carolina) in 1952. Abernathy was almost unhittable when he faced the right-handed hitters for Tarboro.

Al, however, was quite successful against Abernathy — batting better than .350 against him. “I owned him,” Al said. Abernathy never struck out Al. It would be Al’s only full season of playing professional baseball. Billy Long was the manager of the Al’s Tarboro Tars at the time.

At the end of that 1952 season, Al was then scheduled to play in spring training with the Scranton Red Sox (in the higher-level “A” League) in 1953 in Winter Haven, Florida, but he was drafted into the Army to fight in the Korean War. Being drafted cut short Al’s promising baseball career.

He was offered a shot at playing for a Pro League (“C” or “D” League) team when he got out of the Service at the end of the 1954 season for the upcoming 1955 season. However, Al turned this offer down because he said he was tired of playing “D” League baseball. It is likely that had he not been drafted to serve in the war, he would have played professional baseball for the Phillies.

Many times, over the years, my father would express deep regret over an incident when, in high school, he was playing guard on the offensive line for the Dunmore Bucks high school football team (he also drop-kicked extra points for the team). On one particular play, a scout for East Stroudsburg University (the Warriors) in Pennsylvania noticed that my father was outrunning the running back down the field on a running play. The scout asked my father to consider playing quarterback for East Stroudsburg. He turned down the offer (because he wanted to be done with school). And for the rest of his life, my father painfully described to me how he still kicks himself for turning down the scout’s offer.

Al Nozzi is Third from the Left
Al Nozzi Wearing Jersey #15 Above, Dunmore High School Football
Al Nozzi, Jersey #15, Front Row, Dunmore High School Football

In Appreciation for My Father and Fatherhood

Dear Dad,

Thank you for being strong, heroic, masculine, protective, generous, dependable, supportive, disciplinary, patient, forgiving, wise, sympathetic, loving, helpful, instructive, insightful, and trusting.

I will always be grateful for the essential role you played in raising your children. For being able to instill in your children…

•    leadership

•    physical and emotional strength

•    responsibility and accountability

•    masculinity in your sons and femininity in your daughters

•    the ability to be assertive in what we know and believe

•    financial and other forms of self-control

•    respect

•    courage

•    resilience and fortitude

•    accountability

•    a sense of adventure

•    competitiveness and having a work ethic

•    a desire to engage in a lifetime of self-learning and self-improvement

•    a willingness to take on challenges rather than running from them

You taught me how to play baseball, how to play football, how to play bocce, how to play euchre, and how to wrestle (you would hold me and your other children on the floor and give us a “shave” by rubbing your facial stubble against our faces). You taught me I should never give up. You were a loving husband and father. You would, for example, change shifts when you worked at Xerox to spend more time with your wife and children. You tried – unsuccessfully – to teach me how to play guitar and drop kick a football. You taught me how to swing a hammer, shovel snow, and paint a house. You taught me to speak up when I disagreed with something. You taught me to enjoy reading. You taught me how to be an evangelist for my passionately held beliefs. You taught me how to care for the natural environment and be a conservationist. You taught me to enjoy the music of Jimmie Rodgers and how to yodel. You taught me how to ask questions if I did not know. You never missed an opportunity to ask me if I had ever smelled anything as heavenly as a peach. You taught me how to ride a bicycle and drive a car. You taught me the importance of getting an education and finding a job that I enjoyed (rather than just a high-paying job). You taught me how to fish and camp and build a campfire. You taught me the joys of eating soft ice cream (what you called “custard”). You taught me to enjoy reading a newspaper. You taught me how I should be proud to be myself and not just follow the crowd. You taught me the need to kiss my significant other each day, and to regularly enjoy wine.  You taught me the importance of travel (by driving your family all over the nation for camping vacations), which gave me the courage to travel regularly on my own, and to pull up the stakes to seek to live in a better place. You taught me the importance of working hard. And you taught me how to be a kind, loving companion for my chosen life partner.

I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up in a time when it was more likely that you would possess such fathering skills, and worry about the decline in such skills (including a decline in the admiration for such skills) in contemporary society.

Thank you, Albert Michael Nozzi – my father, for being a wonderful, loving husband for 63 years to my mother — your wife — Sara Nozzi. She was exceptionally fortunate to have you as her life partner. And thank you for raising me and your other children so well. We could not have been the happy, successful adults we have become without you as our father.

You turned 91 years old on July 10th, 2022. As of September 26, 2022 – the day you died — you had fathered six children who have produced for you nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Happy Father’s Day and Happy Birthday, Dad! I love you and am very proud of you. As a father and as a man.

Words cannot express how much I will miss you and how grateful I am for your being my father. I hope I have lived a life that made you proud of me.

Because you will always live in my heart and the heart of others, you will never truly die.

Your Proud Son Dominic

An interesting aside: Early in my career as a town planner, I was fortunate to read The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Her influential book instilled in me a lifelong passion for urban design. Jacobs, like my father, was born in Dunmore Pennsylvania.

Cut Short but a Cut Above the Rest

As I noted above, while my father’s quite promising baseball career was cut short by the Korean War, and a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies major league baseball team worried he might be too short, my father was clearly a cut above the rest.

Having been an all-star baseball player for a number of years – stellar enough to have attracted the attention of major league baseball – my father was an exceptional athlete.

But he was more than that. He was an exceptional father, as my tribute to him illustrates above.

Many times, while I was growing up, my father would bitterly tell me about how he was often told he was too small in size to be a good athlete in baseball or football. Newspapers would refer to him as a “little bespectacled guy.”

He therefore was particularly sensitive when he heard me complain that I could not hope to compete against other players in sports because they were so much bigger. He would loudly tell me that “the bigger they are, Dom, the harder they fall!” And that “the only thing that stands in the way of Dom Nozzi is Dom Nozzi.”

My father taught me to run the bases, how to slide into a base, and how to swing a baseball bat like he did, which was left-handed.

Normally, a right-handed person such as my father and I would bat right-handed. In the reverse of batting right-handed, a left-handed batter holds a bat so that the left hand is above the right hand, and the right shoulder would be in front in a batting stance. This gave both my father and me an advantage when swinging a baseball bat, because when one swings a bat (or a tennis racket), the backhand (despite conventional wisdom) is stronger than the forehand, and since my father and I are right-handed, our strong and more coordinated arm is used for the stronger backhand in baseball, tennis, and hockey.

Since left-handed batters are between the catcher and first base, my father pointed out that batting left-handed also meant that I could reach first base faster when hitting, since first base is closer to a left-handed hitter than a right-handed hitter. A third advantage of batting left-handed is that nearly all pitchers are right-handed, and it is much easier for a left-handed hitter to get a hit against a right-handed pitcher than it is for such a pitcher against a right-handed batter (a ball thrown by a right-handed pitcher is more difficult for right-handed batters because the ball breaks away from the right-handed batter).

The “drag bunt” was a technique my father taught me because this form of hitting was only available to a left-handed hitter. Yet another benefit to being a lefty hitter.

According to my father, professional baseball players today are spoiled crybabies when they commonly charge the pitcher’s mound and throw punches at a pitcher who has thrown a “brush back” fastball at the batter (a pitch thrown at the batter to intimidate him and force him to back away from the plate).

Back in his day, he would tell me, this was a normal, expected part of the game. Indeed, my father enjoyed telling me about how a pitcher once threw a fastball at my father’s head. On the very next pitch, my father would say with a glint in his eye, he hit a screaming line drive that nearly took the pitcher’s head off. That’s how to respond to a “back off” pitch, my dad pointed out.

A common baseball warm-up that my father taught me was “pepper.” Pepper is a common pre-game exercise where one player uses a “fungo” bat to hit brisk grounders and line drives to a group of fielders who are standing about 20 feet away. The fielders throw to the batter, who uses a short, light swing to hit the ball on the ground back towards the fielders. The fielders field the ground balls and continue tossing the ball to the batter. This exercise keeps the fielders and batter alert, warms them up for playing a game, and helps to develop quickness and good hand-eye coordination.

My father worked with me for long hours to teach me to keep my eye on the ball while swinging, and to swing our bat level (parallel) with the ground. He taught me how to stand in the batter’s box (our foot closest to the pitcher should be slightly closer to the plate than our back foot). And how to step slightly toward the pitch when swinging (instead of stepping back from it).

He also told me again and again to keep our eye on the ball to field grounders on defense (and to stay down and keep myself square to the ball). His instructions for fielding fly balls also started by insisting that I keep my eye on the ball, and that for both grounders and fly balls I should use both hands. He warned me that show-offs — “hot dogs,” he called them — who catch with one hand often drop balls. When having us practice catching (“shagging”) fly balls in our backyard, he would hit me fly balls and yell things like “This is for a double chocolate sundae!!” to give me more incentive to catch the ball. He never did buy me a sundae after those sessions, now that I think about it…

As an aside, I currently live in Greenville South Carolina, which has its own “higher-level” A League baseball team. That team plays against the Asheville North Carolina team. Since my father played for the Tarboro Tars (just down the road from Asheville), there is a good chance he once played against both the Asheville team and the Greenville team.

My father also taught me how to play football. He taught me how to block, how to catch a football, how to tackle, how to throw a football, how a cornerback or safety should defend against a pass (“Keep the receiver in front of you!!!”), and how to run pass patterns. He also tried (unsuccessfully) to teach me how to drop-kick a football. He taught me that it is nearly impossible to stop the “pass/run option” at the goal line. He assured me that Doug Flutie was the best quarterback EVER.

In sum, he did his best to teach me what he knew best about the sports he excelled in as a young man. A time when he was a Cut Above the Rest.

He continued for the remainder of his life to be a Cut Above the Rest as a father…

My father, Al Nozzi, holding me, Dominic Nozzi, on August 1960. I am six months old. My father is 29 years old.

I was fortunate to have been visiting him a little more than a week before he died and was able to tell him I loved him. He was a wonderful, spirited father and man who left a great legacy and great memories. Twice when I was visiting, he joined me in belting out the Dunmore Bucks war chant that he so proudly and memorably proclaimed throughout his life.

Cumma Veeva! Cumma Vyva! Cumma Veeva Vyva Vum!

Cumma 7! Cumma 11! Cumma rickety rackety shanty town!

Who can put ol’ Dunmore Down???


If you have any interest in a hardcover book about my Dad, here is a link:

I colorized several old black and white photos of my Dad and the rest of the family here:

Nozzi and Lupia photos from 1910-1959.

Here are short videos of me and my Dad, seven years ago, singing a favorite Jimmie Rodgers song (“In the Jailhouse Now,” a song that was performed in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”):

We also sang “The Women Make a Fool Out of Me,” by Rodgers:

His obituary, as prepared by my youngest brother Anthony.

A tribute video of Al Nozzi and his family.

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Dom’s Proposed Tours in Western Europe

Tuscany: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Gubbio, Arezzo, Monteriggioni, Volterra, Massa Marittima, Pienza, Monticchiello, Torgiano, Foligno, Montefalco, Spoleto, Todi

Northwest Italy: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Dolceacqua, Turin, Vigevano, Genoa, Recco, Camogli, Portofino, Chiavari

Southern France: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Carcassonne, Besalú, Saint Paul de Vence, Eze, Aigues-Mortes, Avignon, Gordes, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille

Portugal: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Porto, Guimaraes, Monsanto, Óbidos, Lisbon, Sintra, Azenhas do Mar

Central Germany: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Münster, Goslar, Quedlinburg, Magdeburg, Staufenberg, Gotha, Weimar

Ireland & Northern UK: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Edinburgh, York, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Chester, Galway, Dublin, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool

South East Italy: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Castelmezzano, Altamura, Ceglie Messapica, Oria, Galatina, Santa Maria di Leuca

Austria: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Lienz, Berchtesgaden, Hallstatt, Mariazell, Krems, Graz, Bled

South West Italy: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Paestum, Marina di Pisciotta, Maratea, Scigliano, Scilla, Herculaneum

Norway & Sweden: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Oslo, Geiranger, Hamnøy, Bergen, Stavanger, Gothenburg, Vadstena, Linköping, Mariefred, Sigtuna, Stockholm, Sognefjord

Central Italy: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Talamone, Sovana, Pitigliano, Calcata Vecchia, Tivoli, Sulmona, Cheti, Sermoneta

Eastern France & Switzerland: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Cluny, Annecy, Chamonix, Zermatt, Gimmelwald, Grindelwald, Interlaken

North Central Italy: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Cinque Terre, Porto Venere, Tellaro, Bagnone, Parma, Modena, Dozza, Ferrara

Denmark & Northern Germany: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Aarhus, Ribe, Odense, Funen, Faaborg, Lübeck, Wismar, Hamburg, Schwerin, Stralsund, Bremen

North East Italy: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Mantua, Vicenza, Tremosine, Rovereto, Trento, Guia, Treviso, Urtijëi, San Pietro, Vipiteno, Trieste

Southern Germany: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Dinkelsbühl, Nördlingen, Esslingen, Tübingen, Baden-Baden, Freiburg im Breisgau, Basel, Landsberg am Lech

Southern UK: Dom’s Proposed Tour: London, Cambridge, Oxford, Cotswolds, Bath, Winchester, Brighton, Rye

Sicily: Dom’s Proposed Tour: San Vito Lo Capo, Trapani, Marsala, Agrigento, Monreale, Cefalù, Calascibetta, Caltagirone, Palazzolo Acreide, Scicli

Western France: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Vannes, Guérande, Nantes, Vouvant, Rocamadour, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux

Northern Spain: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Ávila‎, Santiago de Compostela, León, Santillana del Mar, Burgos, Bilbao, Logroño, Jaca

Northern France: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Mont Saint-Michel, Vitré, Sully-sur-Loire, Paris, Troyes, Colmar, Provins, Vézelay, Rennes, Saint-Malo, Dinan

West Central Germany: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Monschau, Marburg, Luxembourg, Trier, Cochem, Rüdesheim am Rhein, Würzburg, Bamberg

Croatia: Dom’s Proposed Tour: Dubrovnik, Split, Motovun, Poreč/Rovinj/Istria, Zadar, Trogir, Pučišća, Hvar

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Return to Europe Post-COVID: Northern Italy and Bike n Barge in Northern Holland, April & May 2022

Milano. We start our trip with a first night in Milano Italy, on Saturday, April 16, 2022. The Piazza Duomo in this city is utterly overwhelming. “Overwhelming” was put on steroids for us, as today we are at this monumental cathedral on Easter Sunday.

We rent Bike Mi shared bicycles while in Milano. Very quick and easy to use.

Day two was is also in Milano. It was chilly in Milano, but warm enough for walking and bicycling. And that is all that matters. We enjoyed the obligatory, aesthetically pleasing walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II Milano fashion district.

Our dinner at Naviglio Grande is stupendous.

One curious architectural aspect of Milano is that a large number of homes and offices have balconies overflowing with trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Another Milano trademark: Cute, human-scaled, post-mounted traffic signals. Speaking as a slow-speed, human-scaled urban designer, I found this quite admirable.

Milano does admirably well in properly aligning their street and park trees in a photogenically formal way. City arborists: Please visit Milano and take notes.

Milano is full of charming cobblestone and paver streets.

I tip my hat in appreciation of the Milano train station. It is magnificent.

Departing Milano and trained to romantic, picturesque Venice. It is Maggie’s first visit to this special city, and I am eager to present it to her. As we emerge from the train station, the Grand Canal and the City of Venice are before us. “Maggie,” I say, “welcome to spectacular Venice!”

In my opinion, Venice is the most picturesque, romantic city on earth. St Mark’s Square in Venice is one of the most spectacular squares in the world.

Venice has streets with a perfect, human-scaled, lovable width.

For our second glorious day in Venice (and little-known Murano), the weather and the city continue to be wonderful. We meant to go to Burano, but somehow mistakenly end up in Murano.

No regrets, as Murano is lovely.

For our last night in Venice, we dined on an excellent version of Gnocchi Salmone and Squid Ink Spaghetti. When a friend learned of this meal, she cautioned me about eating too many carbs (I’m on a low-carb, high-fat diet). I told her that when in the Food Heaven of Italy, dietary restrictions must be turned down a notch or three.

One last latte as we prepare to depart Venice for Romeo and Juliet’s Verona. Of course, once there, Maggie and I ceremoniously and romantically kiss in front of the balcony.

While in Verona, I met one of my most cherished friends — Vince Greco — a man I had last seen 50 years ago in Elementary School in Penfield NY. He remains a generous, wonderful, fun guy. The 50-yr reunion was astonishing. Unforgettably enjoyable. We shared many memories.

Funny how many long-term memories one is able to remember.

During our tour of Verona, catastrophe strikes. Maggie jokes to me that she is worried about falling and getting hurt while negotiating the very tall (three- to four-foot) steps inside the Verona Arena. While she escapes these big steps unscathed, she does not escape the much smaller steps (one- to two inches) of the paver block piazza outside the Arena. There, she inexplicably and suddenly falls and breaks her foot.

When Maggie realizes she could not stand on her foot, we take a taxi to an emergency room of a Verona hospital. An x-ray confirmed our fears: Maggie has a clean break in one of her feet. She is fitted for a soft cast, and told she will not be able to ride a bicycle for at least four weeks. She must also self-administer daily shots of a medicine that would reduce the chances of an embolism.

This most untimely injury almost completely immobilizes Maggie a day before we are to start a week-long bicycling tour in The Netherlands. So to add to the extreme frustration of Maggie having to postpone the bike and barge trip in The Netherlands for two years due to COVID, she would now have to miss the entire week of bicycling during the bike and barge trip.


She ends up spending almost the entire week on the barge. She conducts an Internet research. She asks the barge and adventure staff. Astonishingly, she is unable to find a mobility option for her in many of the cities visited by the barge.

We look for a way to rent a two-person scooter, or a two-wheeled cargo bike. No luck at all.

As an aside, I tried but was completely unable to keep upright the two-wheeled cargo bike we did manage to find for rent despite a lifetime of bicycle riding.

We also looked for a bicycle taxi service. None of this was available. I guess this is because no one goes to such places with a broken foot.

Padua. Our trip to Padua and our second day in Verona are wonderful — even with Maggie breaking her foot. It is a town full of colonnades. St Anthony’s Basilica in Padua is overwhelming. One of the most spectacular basilicas in the world.

At the Verona airport, where we were to fly to Amsterdam, I was astonished by the extreme, costly efforts by Verona airport staff to board passengers with severe mobility restrictions. It was as if Maggie was an astronaut being loaded onto a spaceship.

Haarlem. After leaving Italy, we stay in a hotel in Haarlem. A friend of mine says “skip Amsterdam and go to Haarlem.” Turns out that my friend has offered excellent advice. Too bad that the “Amsterdam” name has the “coolness” factor, the “Haarlem” name has the anti-coolness factor for Americans, because it carries the same name as the infamous Harlem in NYC.

On my (solo) walk in Haarlem, I enjoy the stroll so much that I refer to it as my “Fall-In-Love walk in Haarlem.” I realize that it would be wonderful to own a home and live on one of the many charming, quiet, human-scaled streets in Old Town Haarlem. The side streets are superb. Enchanting. And so lovable. And the Old Town is full of friendly, convivial, fun-loving cafes.

Did I mention the cobblestone streets? Or the stunning architecture? Warning: the Haarlem suburbs contain some of the worst modernist architecture on earth.

The Haarlem region includes the impressive Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, which is full of sand dunes, walking trails, and bicycle paths.

During my bike ride on this day, I stop at a Zandvoort cafe for a cappuccino. I reach for my self-stick to take a photo of my enjoying the drink which allowed me – to my horror – to notice my backpack is not on my back! The backpack has been on my back for every one of my rides during the trip, which means that I can feel it on my back even when it was not there.

I experience the ugly panic of thinking I have lost my backpack earlier in this bicycle ride — the backpack contains my passport.


Fortunately, I find the backpack under my bed on our barge at the end of the day.

Overwhelming relief!

Later, I bicycled to the old Cruquius steam pumping station. It is thought to be the largest steam engine – and certainly the largest steam pumping engine – ever built. It pumped Haarlem Lake dry in three years of work. Since Holland is full of water, managing water is an enormous, ongoing task for this nation.

On one of my first bike rides during the bike and barge phase of our trip, I enjoy a glorious, very Dutch bike ride in The Netherlands. Homes are impossibly cute and surprisingly immaculate – even in Holland’s farmlands.

I stop at a square for a cappuccino to add to my happiness.

The next day I went on a 40-km bike ride exploring the northern areas of The Netherlands. Vreeland, Nieuwersluis, Breukelen, Maarssen, Oud-Zuilen, and Rotterdam.

There were many lovely, traditional, ornamental new-build homes along the way in this part of Holland. Modern architects in this region, in other words, are relatively well-behaved. Unlike in the Haarlem suburbs, as noted above, where they seem to have world-class skill in designing the most hideous modernist buildings on earth.

I fall in love with bicycling on the many slow-speed, human-scaled streets found in the region. They are typically one narrow lane wide, yet carry two-way car traffic. US traffic engineers think such a design leads to countless head-on collisions.

They are wrong.

This attitude by the engineers helps explains why – after a century of allegedly striving to make roads safer — US roads are more dangerous today than they have ever been.

Rotterdam. Rotterdam’s port has the largest shipping volume in Europe. Unfortunately, Rotterdam has the ugliest, most hideous, most bizarre modernist buildings on the planet. One reason: the City actually will not approve a new development or building unless it is sufficiently “innovative” or “bizarre.” In other words, they reject building design submissions that are not ugly enough. Many of the ugly ducklings have nicknames: “The Pencil” and “The Swan” and (what I call) “The Tumbling Dice.” Their downtown public library is known as “The Vacuum Cleaner.”

On the following day, I enjoy bicycling from Rotterdam to Delft.

One oddity I notice in this region (Groot-Ammers in particular) was that many farm animals are kept in relatively high-density residential areas.

Nieuwpoort, a slight diversion from the recommended bicycle route given to us on the barge, turns out to be an exceptionally cute, captivating, charming, romantic medieval town, as is nearby Schoonhoven.

This is followed the next day by my bicycling from Rotterdam to Gouda.

Next day, I bicycle to a Dutch cheese farm to sample cheese and tour the farm. The Ruyge Weyde Cheese Farm is one of only 10 of the 16,000 cheese farms in The Netherlands which continues to make organic, non-pasteurized, authentic Gouda cheese. How could I resist not buying some of their cheese?

I bicycle Gouda to Utrecht on the following day. Maggie at this time is mostly hobbling and staying on the barge. But today she is able to go without crutches after buying a stiff boot. In effect, she had a “Fatima” experience in the sense that she is able to toss away her crutches for much of her mobility efforts. Today, she was able to take a bus to see the beautiful tulip fields (with a friend pushing her around in a wheelchair).

We need to schedule an active trip soon after she heals!

While Maggie was becoming more mobile, I was enjoying bicycling in Haarlem and in the impossibly colorful, vibrant, and surprisingly expansive tulip fields.

A first for me during today’s bicycle ride: enjoying a cappuccino from a cafe located inside a church in the town of Broek in Waterland.

Zaandam to Amsterdam is my last day of bicycling on this trip to The Netherlands. As MacArthur once said, “I came through and I shall return!”

In this region is Zaanse Schans, with its open-air museum. Next door to the museum is a large collection of cocoa industrial buildings. There was a powerful scent of delicious chocolate in the air. I’m sure the residents don’t mind this form of “air pollution.”

Following the bike and barge trip, we board a train for a trip to Groningen — said by some to be the best bicycling city in the world.

Maggie gains bicycle mobility for the first time since Verona Italy more than a week ago, as we are finally able to rent a cargo bike!

My initial impressions of Groningen are that I find it pleasant enough to be happy living here, but it would be awkward because I think I will never be able to correctly pronounce the city name.

Groningen – true to its reputation as a great cycling city — features free downtown underground bike parking for what seems like millions of bikes. The parking is available 24/7, and includes moving escalators for a descent to and an ascent from the parking.

In the morning, we opt for a cappuccino, a latte, and breakfast at a cozy little cafe attached to a Groningen cathedral. This is another design aspect I notice in Holland: It seems common for large churches to have retail, restaurant, and café buildings attached to the side of a church.

Our second day in Groningen features not only great architecture, but also impressive parks/gardens. We stop at a brewpub for a flight of Dutch biers. Double, Tripel, Quadrupel, Barley Wine, and Groningener Prael. There is a swing dance club at the pub.

Being an avid dancer, I cannot resist. I have a great time showing off my Western Swing skills with willing Dutch dancers. I squeeze in five fun swing dances. One of my partners is Ukrainian.

Groningen’s main train station, by the way, is exceptionally impressive.

Our last day of enjoying The Netherlands is a pleasant surprise: We discover the unknown (at least to us) town of Amersfoort. Noticeably quiet, romantic, charming, and bikeable. Maggie completely falls in love with this town. She has a big smile on her face all day as she hobbles around.

Our hotel (Logemont de Gaaper) and its proprietor are both lovely. The hotel fronts the main square in town and is next to the main cathedral.

The main square (hof) is a former parking lot.

If only they could return this space to car parking! (sarcasm). Indeed, the new square was created by people who admirably understand that a city must be designed for happy people, not happy cars.

While we are in Holland, the nation celebrates “King’s Day,” a big event in The Netherlands. Orange color is everywhere, as we see in the main square in Amersfoort.

The name “Gaaper” in the hotel name relates to the English word “gape,” which is how doctors long ago assessed the health of patients. The hotel was formerly a pharmacy. Gaping heads loomed above us while we ate breakfast in the hotel lobby on our last morning.

Amersfoort still possesses impressive remnants of fortification walls – once used to protect against marauding hordes of thieves.

It is wonderful to experience so many brick, paver, and cobblestone streets in European cities. Despite conventional wisdom, studies show brick lasts longer than asphalt. I’m sure it is costly to repair them, though. Not an excuse to avoid them, however! Many cities are uncovering brick/cobblestone paved over, as it is increasingly recognized as an economic engine and is far more charming, attractive, and romantic than asphalt.

On this trip to Holland, I once again note that bicycling here is the safest bicycling in the world. Well-designed recent studies confirm there is safety in numbers (the more bicyclists on the streets, the safer it is to cycle).

While this trip was, on balance, quite enjoyable, my travels are significantly more enjoyable when I am enjoying them with someone important in my life. So my enjoyment on this trip was muted by Maggie being unable to join me for the bicycling. One of my most rewarding experiences is taking a friend or significant other to a place that I absolutely loved in the past but that person has never experienced before, and then observing their reaction.

When I travel in Europe, I make it a point to spend as much time in old, medieval town centers as I can, and as little time as possible in suburbs. As an American, I’ve seen enough suburbs for 800 lifetimes.

Many say they never go to a downtown.

I’m the opposite.

I spend as little time as possible in the suburbs, and close my eyes during the brief times I am hurrying through them as fast as I can.

I must visit every European Old Towne I can, as they are utterly delightful, human-scaled, slow-speed, convivial, and friendly. So unlike the car-happy horror that US cities inflict on us.

I shot well over a thousand photos during the trip. There is a strong positive correlation between how many photos I shoot and how much I love the place I’m visiting. Fortunately, great places make it easy to shoot great photos.

One form of adventure I occasionally experience in my travels in Europe is the difficulty of needing to read words in a language I do not know. For this trip, the most amusing example of this was a day when we needed to buy a creamer for our coffee at our hotel room.

At a grocery store in Holland, I opt to buy a pint carton in the milk section of the store. Without being able to read Dutch, I guess I’m buying cream or half and half or milk. When I later “pour” it into my coffee, it is unusually thick and settled at the bottom of my mug of coffee.

Turned out to be chocolate pudding. Not one of the better things to add to coffee…

I tally my total mileage of bicycling in The Netherlands over the past week. Total biked miles: well over 250. Almost every one of those miles took me through staggering beauty and astonishing charm. I am so grateful for the experience, and so sad that Maggie was forced to miss it. I’ve gained a much fuller appreciation of the cute and gorgeous nature of the towns and architecture one finds in The Netherlands. I had not fully appreciated how cute, ornamental, and charming Dutch architecture was until this trip. I’ve fallen in love with their homes.

After this trip, I realize that Haarlem is the city I would most enjoy living in in the world. I also love, among other historic places in Europe, Delft, Utrecht, Amersfoort, Ortigia, Lucca, and Siena. I’m surprised to realize that my top four places to live are now Dutch, not Italian.

I suggest to Maggie that we consider renting a little apartment for three months in each of these highly desirable towns as a way to better evaluate them. Or just enjoy life while living in these magical places.

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Boulder Skyline Traverse

September 9, 2016

Today I managed to cross off my list a Boulder Bucket List item.

The famed Boulder Skyline Traverse.

To accomplish the Skyline Traverse, I summit the five peaks that flank Boulder’s western mountain ampitheatre.

My group starts at 5:45 am on the Goat Trail in North Boulder. We summit Sanitas Mountain at 6:40 am.

We use the Red Rocks Trail to get to Settlers Park, Boulder Creek, and EB Fine Park.

Next, we take the Viewpoint Trail to Panorama Point Trail, which leads us to Flagstaff Mountain — which we manage to summit at 9:30 am.

The GM Greenman Trail takes us, by 11:40 am, to the Green Mountain summit.

The Green Bear Trail brings us to Bear Peak, which we summit at 2:00 pm.

Our final summit is South Boulder Peak, which we top at 2:55 pm. We then take the steeply descending Shadow Canyon Trail to the South Mesa Trailhead near the Eldorado Springs Canyon.

We arrive at 5:45 pm.

In total, our epic hike takes 12 hours of half-awake boulder scrambling, and being rewarded with dazzling views into Boulder Valley to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west

Our traversing requires a formidable 6,000 feet of elevation gain.

Our average gradient of 13 percent is not for the faint of heart, either.

Click here for the photos I shot during this hike.

Route for Boulder Skyline Traverse Sanitas, Flagstaff, Green, Bear, South Boulder, 16 mi, Sept 7, 2016

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The Return to Sicily, December 2019

Our travels in Sicily are my second experience here, as I previously toured Sicily in November of 2006. For Maggie, a person with a Sicilian father, this is her first trip to Sicily. It is the land “of her people.” A return to her original roots.

We start our two-and-a-half-week trip by taking a train from Roma to Napoli. In an “only in Italy” experience, our train ticket checker is a high-class woman with four-inch-long red glossy fingernails who looks like a model for a high-priced magazine.

An early stop for us on our trip is the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum, found on theHerculaneum Nov 30, 2019 (50) western Italian coast. The town was founded in the 6th Century BC. Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD. While Herculaneum was almost entirely preserved by being caked with a shell of solidified mud (it is one of the very few ancient Roman towns preserved almost in its entirety — including much of its woodwork), Pompeii (which I visited in 2006) woodwork was consumed by fire.

Both towns are well worth your visit.

Our first full day and night find us in the very pleasant coastal town of Sorrento. Like so many charming Italian cities, Sorrento is a “Christmas Town” in December, as its lovely and romantic old streets lend themselves to be sweetly decorated with holiday lights and ribbons. So that is exactly what is done in Sorrento. Of course, it is irresistible to walk in Sorrento Italy, Dec 1, 2019 (26)Sorrento, which means that we notice a great many residents walk in this little town.

This resort town has a character much like Old Towne Key West Florida. Streets are very festive — particularly during the winter holidays. It is very much one of the charming Italian Christmas Towns.

The very picturesque town has been the home of many notable authors and musicians over the years. A delightful, romantic place to stroll.

Sorrento is a worthy place to visit along the impressive Amalfi Coastline in southwest Italy.

We always make it a point to spend all of our time in the “Old Towne” or historic center of the city, where one invariably finds the most charm, romance, lovability, and walkability that the city has to offer, and Sorrento does not disappoint in this regard. We find that Sorrento has many “walking streets” in its historic quarter, and particularly at this time of year, these streets are very enjoyably festive with happy people out and about.

Having forgotten my belt in security at the JFK airport a day earlier, we check prices and see that most street vendors are selling belts for 20 euros. But then we come upon a vendor who is selling her belts for only 5 euros. Not only is her price very low, but she is happy to quickly cut the length of the belt for me when I discover it is too long for my thinner waist due to my low-carb, high-fat diet.

The views of the Mediterranean Sea here are outstanding!

Our next day is a three-for-one day, as we visit the romantic, charming, storybook Amalfi Coast towns of Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. Each of these towns is set straddling deep coastal ravines, which adds immeasurably to their delightful, unspeakable beauty. Once again, as an indication of how beautiful the cities are to me, I cannot stop taking photos. A reliable measure: The more photos I shoot, the more I love the city. Which is a bit of a tautology…

Wikipedia has this to say about Positano, our first stop today: Positano was an essential Positano Dec 2, 2019 (23)stop for the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians on their expeditions to western areas. It is said that the coastal village was named after Poseidon, God of the Sea.

Like many other places along the beautiful Campanian coast, it was a favorite site for wealthy ancient Romans to build rich and grand villas.

Positano became a wealthy market port from the 15th to 17th century and has only continued to grow in popularity over time.

Positano was a port of the Amalfi Republic in medieval times and prospered during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Positano began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s, especially after John Steinbeck published his essay about Positano in Harper’s Bazaar in May 1953: “Positano bites deep”, Steinbeck wrote. “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Amalfi is the second town we visit on our Amalfi Coast tour of towns. Amalfi is a lovely, Amalfi, Dec 2, 2019 (33)historic village. It was easy for us to see why this town has long been a place to visit and live in by many luminaries. Like other towns in the vicinity, Amalfi is set in a deep, dramatic, scenic ravine. Amalfi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Long, romantic, ancient stone stairways weave throughout the town, like other towns on the Amalfi Coast.

Of course, like almost every town I’ve visited in Italy over the years, I fall in love with this splendid, breathtaking town. We highly recommend visiting Amalfi.

These are the photos I shot while we strolled in Amalfi.

The lovely village of Ravello was founded in the 5th Century and splendid enough to draw a large number of famous artists, writers, and musicians over the years. Ravello offers a seemingly endless network of ancient, romantic stone walkways and stairways. Ravello is an easy town to fall in love with, and enjoy with a loved one.

Next, we summit the mighty Vesuvius Volcano. It is an easy, 20-minute walk on a wide, ash-filled path. The crater at the top is enormous, and steam continues to issue from it. Vesuvius, you see, remains a grumpy mountain. To celebrate our visiting the volcano, Maggie and I toast at the rim of the crater with a glass of wine.Maggie and Dom Vesuvius hike, Dec 3, 2019

According to Wikipedia, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae, as well as several other settlements. The eruption ejected a cloud of stones, ashes, and volcanic gases to a height of 21 miles, erupting molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 7.8×105 cubic yards per second, ultimately releasing 100,000 times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. More than 1,000 people died in the eruption. It was one of the most catastrophic eruptions of all time.

Vesuvius has erupted many times since and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. Today, it is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of the population of 3,000,000 people living near enough to be affected, with 600,000 in the danger zone, making it the most densely populated volcanic region in the world, as well as its tendency towards violent, explosive eruptions.

Our plan, designed to save some time and lodging money, is to take an overnight ferry from Salerno to Catania in Sicily. Our walk to the ferry dock starts out leisurely, as we are hours ahead of the departure time for the ferry. But our little walk turns out to be a HUGE, hours-long ordeal, as it turns out that one must traverse for miles and miles in an industrial, parking-lot-choked area full of 18-wheeler tractor-trailers. With no signs informing us of which direction to take, we are obligated to ask for directions several times. Each of the first three times we ask for directions, however, leads us astray, as the Ferry Sorrento to Cantania, Dec 4, 2019directions are wrong each time. Finally, after a great deal of stress and worry, we happen upon an entry. There are no signs. Only huge trailer trucks streaming toward a hidden dock. A man in a security booth ushers us to a shuttle van after he learns we are looking for the ferry, and the van drives us through an obstacle course maze of big trucker rigs.

It turns out, in other words, that it IS impossible to walk to this ferry! Unless one is a lunatic. The area where the ferry is found is in the middle of an industrial freight container truck zone packed with hundreds of massive tractor-trailer trucks (our ferry was so huge that it must have held 2,000 18-wheeler trucks).

We discover that we seem to be the only non-truckers on the ferry. Our room, thankfully, was clean and adequate for the journey.

We arrive in Catania and soon travel to Ortigia in Siracusa, where we dine at Osteria La Gazza Ledra. After finishing our first course, I wait over 90 minutes for my second course only to learn that the reason for the very long wait was that the waitress had never taken my order! Good thing we asked, because had we not, I would STILL be waiting for my second course!

Soon after Catania, we find ourselves in the medieval neighborhood of Ortigia in Siracusa. I love Ortigia perhaps more than any other place on earth. We spend glorious Piazza del Duomo, Siracusa, Dec 4, 2019 (8)days enjoying Ortigia. On one particular day, we engage in one of our favorite activities in the medieval town centers of European cities — bicycling! In Ortigia, the food market and deli are can’t-miss experiences.

As these links to the videos I shot show, one finds a lot of singing and shouting and endless food in the outdoor Italian food markets.

The castle at the south end of the Ortigia peninsula is overwhelming and seemingly impenetrable based on its many fortifications. The ancient Greek Theatre (Teatro Greco) is also quite impressive. Because it is so charming, human-scaled, and romantic, Ortigia is happy to show itself off as a “Christmas Town” by festooning its streets with festive holiday lights.

The Ortigia historic quarter is FILLED with stupendous streets that make my heart sing every time we encounter and stroll on a street here. I feel as if I can barely stand the joy. BIG smile on my face the entire time we are in Ortigia. I am like a kid in a candy store. I Siracusa, Dec 5, 2019 (9)could visit this place every month and be as happy as a clam (or live here permanently!).

In sum, I am in love with Ortigia.

Ortigia has the full package, which explains why I love it so much. It has overwhelmingly spectacular food, wine, happy and attractive people, architecture, and sightseeing. It is also a festive place.

Here, we come upon a telling quote at what is perhaps the best food market on earth in Ortigia: “I don’t envy god heaven…because I’m happy to live in Sicily.” – Frederico II di Svevia. Exactly, Frederico…

We train from Siracusa to the lovely little medieval hill town of Ragusa Ibla. So lovely that even though I had first visited it in 2006, I feel it worthy to visit again — breaking my travel rule of not visiting a place more than once. I tend to live by that rule because there is so much I want to see in the world that I don’t have time to see places more than once!

According to Wikipedia, Ragusa Ibla was founded in 2 BC. The town was devastated in the 1693 earthquake. Historically, it was conquered by the ancient Romans and the Byzantines, who fortified the city and built a large castle. Ragusa was occupied by the Ragusa Ibla, Dec 5, 2019 (11)Arabs in 848 AD, remaining under their rule until the 11th century, when the Normans conquered it.

The town is home to a wide array of Baroque architecture, including several stunning palaces and churches.

According to Wikipedia, the Cathedral of San Giorgio was started in 1738 by architect Rosario Gagliardi, in place of the temple destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, and which is the only place in the city a Catalan-Gothic style portal can still be seen. The façade contains a flight of 250 steps and massive ornate columns, as well as statues of saints and decorated portals.

On a narrow winding street connecting Ragusa Ibla with Ragusa Superiore lies the church of Santa Maria delle Scale (“Saint Mary of the Steps”, built between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries). This church is particularly interesting: badly damaged in the earthquake of 1693, half of this church was rebuilt in Baroque style, while the surviving half was kept in the original Gothic style (including the three Catalan-style portals in the right aisle). The last chapel of the latter has a Renaissance portal. The chapels are adorned with canvases by Sicilian painters of the 18th century.

One of our day trips from our four-day base camp of Siracusa was to visit Noto and Modica. We tour the wonderful town of Modica central area of Sicily on December 5th. Modica is known for many things, and one of the most obvious to us was their fame for Modica, Italy, Dec 5, 2019 (42)chocolate. We see it everywhere in Modica.

Another noteworthy attribute is the endless stairs one must climb in Modica.

That night, we are fortunate to serendipitously stumble upon an enoteca wine bar in a quiet little alley. The proprietors bend over backward with their generous kindness and offerings of fantastic platters of various meats and cheeses, as well as having us sample their special wines.

We have a fabulous time there.

We have a lot of fun in Ortigia Siracusa and Modica. Noto, however, does not quite meet our expectations. The town is cute-ish and has some nice architecture. But during our December visit, it was too lacking in street life and seemed too quiet. Still, in 2002, Noto and its church were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We arrive in the beautiful, wealthy resort town of Taormina on December 8th. Here, as I still recall from my visit here 14 years ago, we enjoy the many stunning views of the sea that Taormina offers.

At our first ristorante here, we sample pistachio expresso for the first time, and a Arco Rosson Enoteca in Taormina, Dec 8, 2019 (110)pistachio crème liquor (southern Italians and Sicilians are very big on pistachios, probably correctly boasting that their nut is the best in the world). We also enjoy a very nice half carafe of local Rosso wine along with two absolutely delicious plates of assorted cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, and meats.

By this time in our trip to Italia, by the way, it seems that I have been eating crazy delicious food and drinking fabulous vino, almost continuously, morning, afternoon and night since our arrival.

On our second day in Taormina, we visit the spectacular Teatro Greco, Taormina’s ancient Greek Theatre, which is said, rightly, to be the most impressive in all of Sicily. One of the things I’ve always been impressed by at this theatre is how the designers set up the venue so that spectators would have an incredible view of the picturesque bay and the imposing Mount Etna on the horizon just above the stage.

After visiting the theatre, we ascend the nearly endless stairs to Chiesa Della Rocca, a church that offers huge panoramic views of the region beyond Taormina. We then ride the cable car (Funivia) down to the charming little cove in Taormina Bay, where one finds little coves and a beautiful island (appropriately called Isola Bella).

One finds the three-legged Sicilian flag all over the island. The three-legged ancient symbol of Trinacria is the head of Medusa (a gorgon with a head of snakes) overlaying three legs – interspersed with stalks of wheat — conjoined at the hips and flexed in a triangle. It was first adopted in 1282 by the Sicilian Vespers.

We arrive at Mount Etna on December 10th. Our guide (“Mr Excursions”) is very Mt Etna hike, Sicily Dec 10, 2019 (7)knowledgeable about the region, and takes us on a very impressive hike on the slopes of the volcano, including ash/cinder fields, volcanic cones, volcanic craters, and a long underground volcanic tube. While hiking, we hear Etna growling loudly several times. The volcano remains actively angry and is talking to us during our hike. Even our tour guide gets nervous and wants us to pick up our pace.

The guide then takes us to one of Mount Etna’s best wineries. Gambino Winery provides us with six bottles of vino to sample their product, along with a fine selection of local meats, cheeses, tomatoes, and fish. Our winery guide provides a very thorough summary of their product. The winery, we learn by tasting, produces outstanding Rose and Rosso wines. Gambino wines, like other wineries near Mount Etna, produce wines that benefit from the rich volcanic soils they grow on.

After Taormina, we bus back to Catania. There, of course, we visit the obligatory La Pescheria. As you can see in the video I shot in this link, the place is so boisterous, raucous and fun that crowds of people stand along a balcony above this world-famous fish market just to enjoy the action below them. At La Peschericia, we feast on the famous Sicilian street foods of boiled tripe and boiled beef cheek (barbacoa), and the vegetables of roasted red pepper and roasted artichoke, among other similar delicacies. We have eaten none of these street market delicacies La Pescheria fish market, Catania, Dec 11, 2019 (3)before, and enjoy them so much that we vow to prepare them when we return home.

We walk the impressive, Baroque street named Via Crocifori. From there, we stumble upon a medieval neighborhood just west of the main city train stazione. Surprisingly, the neighborhood – despite very impressive urban design “bones” – is a festering sore in the city. It is a skid row full of drug pushers and prostitutes. I wonder why it has not gentrified, and decide it must be partly due to opponents of gentrification.

In sum, we recommend visiting Catania, but we suggest not allocating more than a few hours to walk the city.

Our next base is the little hilltop medieval town of Enna. Enna has the highest perch of any of the many Italian hilltowns, which provides it with spectacular panoramic views of the central Sicily landscape. In Enna, we go to Tommy’s Wine, which gets RAVE reviews from our Enna apartment proprietor as well as many online reviewers. The reviewers were SO RIGHT! His wine is one of the best I have ever had in my entire life (a Nero d’Altura Lombardo). And Tommy’s food is out of this world. Tommy has a very tiny place (only five tables), but it is perhaps one of the world’s best examples of how one must Enna, Italy, Dec 12, 2019 (43)prioritize quality over quantity.

It is cold and rainy while we are in the clouds of Enna, but I manage to squeeze in a morning town perimeter walk. Enna is worth a few hours of your time to walk it. Shockingly, we are awoken this morning at 5:30 am by an outdoor marching band! What marching band performs at that ungodly hour? We are informed that it was likely part of the annual celebration of one of the many Catholic saints.

A day trip from Enna brings us to nearby Piazza Armenia, where we encounter fabulous building architecture and wonderful streets.

The Duomo itself is worth the price of admission.

While in Piazza Armenia, we take a taxi to the overwhelming Villa Romana del Casala. This Roman palace is immense in size and nearly all of its floor space is covered with highly impressive mosaics that tell stories about hunting and other aspects of Roman life at that time. According to Wikipedia, excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest, and most varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, for which the site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villa and artwork contained within date to the early 4th century AD.

The mosaic and opus sectile floors cover some 3,500 square meters and are almost unique in their excellent state of preservation due to the landslide and floods that covered and therefore preserved the remains.

For me, the most memorable and astonishing aspect of the palace is a mosaic of women of Ancient Rome wearing what appears to be an ancient version of a bikini. The Villa Romana del Casale, Piazza Armerina (75)inscription at the palace informs us, however, that this is a depiction of female athletes wearing athletic attire.

We recommend allocating at least two hours to the palace.

After the palace, we are fortunate to visit Siciliartegusto, a fun enoteca run by a father and son. We arrive too early for their hours, so we opt for the palace visit and promise to return after the palace. Our taxi driver, conveniently, knows the enoteca owner, so when he drops us off in Piazza Armenia after the palace visit, he calls the owner to inform him that we are waiting for his shop to open again. We are greatly amused when, while we walk to the enoteca, the owner passes us in his car and shouts out the window that his shop is open again after the Dom Maggie at Sicilartegusto Enoteca, Piazza Armerina w proprietors, Dec 12 2019afternoon siesta!

Probably because it is the off-season, the enoteca father and son bend over backward to offer us generous kindness at their shop. They insist we sample their best wines and their many fresh foods.

That night, our nightcap is at the very good PaccaMora wine bar in Enna, which has been recommended to us by our apartment proprietor.

For our first night and day in Palermo, on the northern Sicilian coastline, we experience a drenching rain. We walk the polished limestone streets regardless of their being slippery rivers under these conditions.

Palermo is quite a monumental city – comparable to Rome in that regard. I find the architecture here to be similar to what is found in Barcelona.

We dine our first night at the highly-rated Palazzo Sambuca, and now know why it is rated so well. They are known for their fish and seafood – particularly their swordfish. We sample their grilled calamari, and it is the best calamari we have ever eaten in our entire lives. After that remarkable antipasti, I opt for their homemade gnocchi, which is combined with swordfish. Superb. For secondi, it is squid stew, which I thoroughly enjoy, as it is highly flavorful – a taste for big flavors and spices I have learned earlier in the trip by one of our hosts is something the Calabrese (like me) are known for.

After dinner, we encounter — in this video I shot — street music in a piazza.

Tragically, too many of the ancient polished limestone streets in Palermo have been covered with dull, crappy, crumbling asphalt. Now, instead of the timeless, durable, beautiful charm of the original limestone, these routes have become ugly, litter-strewn alleys no one loves or cares about. And again, the new asphalt is much more of a maintenance headache and cost than the limestone. Who needs enemies when we have ourselves to degrade our streets?

The next day, under sunny and warmer skies, after peeking into a few overwhelmingly Church of St Catherine of Alexandria, Palermo, Dec 14, 2019 (3)ornate Palermo churches (St Catherine of Alexandria is particularly mind-blowing), we visit the Monreale Cathedral, said to be one of the most important sights in all of Sicily.

Earlier in the day, we have lunch at Mercato del Capo, one of three fine outdoor food markets in Palermo (all of which are well-known for their outstanding street food). Mercato del Capo turns out to offer many fantastically delicious street foods, which are both highly flavorful and extremely affordable. I opt for a tray chock full of several different fresh seafoods sprinkled with lime juice (squid, octopus, clams, etc.). Large enough for two, it costs me a mere 5 euros. In combination with other accessory items we buy, it is my most wonderful lunch ever.

One of our favorite treats, when we visit an Italian town, is to encounter the much-loved evening community stroll. The ritual is known as “la passeggiata,” Each evening, between the hours of 5 pm and 8 pm, Italians take to the streets, to walk and socialize. Sociologists label la passeggiata a cultural performance, and on Saturdays and Sundays entire families participate, this frequently being the main social event of the day. Afterward, everyone heads home together for the evening meal.

The passeggiata in Palermo mostly occurs on their main walking street (Via Maqueda), and it is an unforgettable, inspiring sight to see. This link is a video I shot as we joined the stroll.

Via Maqueda is a large street, yet like our recent experience in Bologna, la passeggiata so fills the large street that it is a Passeggiata in Palermo, Dec 14, 2019 (2)gridlock of congestion by strollers that one normally only sees with a road clogged with cars.

But in contrast to car congestion, when everyone is angry with everyone else on the road, stroller congestion adds to the sociable joy of being on common ground with other people. As Dan Burden once said, cars are happiest when there are no other cars around. People are happiest when there are other people around.

One of many things that makes me proud to be an Italian is the Italian tradition of la passeggiata.

As I understand it, the size and popularity of la passeggiata on Via Maqueda have been growing over the years (it became a walking street in June 2018). I believe that is because such an event benefits from being a self-perpetuating virtuous cycle. That is, because humans are a social species and our world tends to isolate us from each other, something that draws people to sociably be with others is so enjoyable and such a “people-watching treat” that others in the city start learning about the enjoyable event and join in. And this growing number of participants induces even more to join as word about it is spread (or people encounter it on their own). And so on and so on.

La passeggiata is, in the words of urban designers, a “social condenser” that most humans seek out to enjoy.

In my view, all cities, to be healthy, should have a nightly passeggiata.

We bus to a suburb of Palermo, which contains the extensive and utterly fascinating Catabombe dei Cappuccini. Highly morbid, but extremely interesting. DO NOT MISS THIS!Catacombs dei Cappuccini, Palermo, Dec 15, 2019 (5)

For lunch, we first stroll through Ballaro Market in Palermo and then return to the culinary delights of Mercato del Capo. Our wine for lunch was simply stupendous! And again, highly affordable. This is a video I shot as we walked through Ballaro.

Tonight we visit an enoteca on the Via Maqueda walking street (we can’t resist!)

All in all, Palermo is highly enjoyable – particularly on the Via Maqueda walking street. Such a delightful city that we are anxious to return again, despite my “rule” about not visiting a place more than once.

We enjoy a delicious meal of typical Sicilian dishes in Piazza Armerina, topped with a superb Sicilian Nero D’Avola wine at a remarkable wine shop in Piazza Armerina. We spent the day wandering the streets and visiting Villa Romana del Casale and popped in here to warm up and have a glass of local wine. The hospitality Giusseppe and his father show us is unmatched. The food and wine are superb but their generosity is beyond our expectations.

We notice a number of times in our travels on the Amalfi Coast and in Sicily that many ancient buildings have a great deal of plaster flaking off the exterior walls. We see this happening on so many buildings that I wonder if it is being flaked off deliberately. After all, the medieval stone under the plaster looks much more impressive and interesting, and ancient than the plaster. In addition, the underlying stone surely requires less maintenance than the plaster. Here is to more flaking!

Our newly-discovered loves from this Italy trip include Frappato wine, Nero D’Avola wine, grilled tripe and grilled barbacoa (beef cheek), and fried chick pea flour.

Our trip to the Amalfi Coast and Sicily highlighted tradeoffs for off-season travel that our December trip exemplified. On the one hand, prices are lower, proprietors starved for customers bend over backward to serve you (indeed, to treat you like kings and queens), and crowds are smaller. On the other hand, some retailers and restaurants, and services are closed for the season, and the smaller crowds make the cities less festive.

Categories: 2011-Present, Beyond North America, Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Five-Country Bike-and-Barge trip in Europe, August 2019

By Dom Nozzi

Tuesday, August 13 and 14. We arrive at Paris airport and high-speed train to Strasbourg at the border of France and Germany. In Strasbourg, we tour the Notre Dame Cathedral, which I find to be gray and dreary inside. Remarkably tall ceilings, and a massive Notre Dame Cathedral Strasbourg France, Aug 13, 2019 (31)amount of stained glass windows. We visit the once-daily Astronomical Clock inside the Cathedral. An enormous crowd assembles to see it. I manage to squeeze my way into an area that gives me an unobstructed view of the Clock, only to realize that by doing so, my view of a video screen is blocked by an enormous masonry pillar, which means I miss a detailed 40-minute video describing the history of the Clock. The animation itself is highly disappointing, as a mechanical crow flaps its wings a few times and a few mechanical human figures rotate a few times. After 50 minutes of waiting, this is what 3,000 people have assembled to see?

We climb the 330 steps to the top of the Cathedral spire, which offers a superb view of the terra-cotta-roofed city. We also enjoy a 90-minute boat tour on the River Ill.

We are fortunate to have an opportunity to rent and ride bikes while in Strasbourg because in 2017, Strasbourg was rated the 4th best city to bicycle in the world.

Strasbourg is a party-till-late-at-night city, which means that bedtime for many does not start until 5 am and places do not open until 9 or 10 in the morning (including Starbucks).

I would give our Bed and Breakfast in Strasbourg a negative five rating (on a scale of one to ten). No soap. No shampoo. No waste can in the bathroom. No spare keys. No closet space or fridge space (because it is jammed with his clothes and food). The water heater closet is stuffed with fire hazard clothes and towels. And because the proprietor does not provide a user name, and has chosen an impossibly long password with handwritten letters making it impossible to know if the letters are uppercase or lowercase, it is impossible to log into WiFi.

Strasbourg is mostly a city containing one prominent feature: A charming shopping street main street. Even as a one-important-street city, the city is lovely and contains an outstanding walking street full of pedestrians.

The fabulous historic main train station for Strasbourg, very sadly, is now criminally fronted by a Modernist glass blob. A disgraceful design blunder.

According to Wikipedia, Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament. In 2016, the city proper had 279,284 inhabitants and both the Eurométropole de Strasbourg (Greater Strasbourg) and the Arrondissement of Strasbourg had 491,409 inhabitants. Strasbourg’s metropolitan area had a population of 785,839 in 2015 (not counting the section across the border in Germany). Strasbourg’s historic city center, the Grande Île (Grand Island), was classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city center.

The Roman camp of Argentoratum was first mentioned in 12 BC; the city of Strasbourg which grew from it celebrated its 2,000th anniversary in 1988. The fertile area in the Upper Rhine Plain between the rivers Ill and Rhine had already been populated since the Middle Paleolithic.

Thursday and Friday, August 15 and 16. Our initial plan is to drive our Eurocar rental car to Mannheim for a visit. Fortunately, during our drive, we opt instead to visit the charming medieval village of Heidelberg.

According to Wikipedia, in the 2016 census, the population of Heidelberg was 159,914, of which roughly a quarter consisted of students.

Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, “Heidelberg Man” died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907. Scientific dating determined his remains as the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of worship were built on the Heiligenberg, or “Mountain of Saints”. Both places can still be identified. In 40 AD, a fort was built and occupied by the 24th Roman cohort and the 2nd Cyrenaican cohort (CCG XXIIII and CCH II CYR). The early Byzantine/late Roman Emperor Valentinian I, in 369 AD, built new and maintained older castra (permanent camps) and a signal tower on the bank of the Neckar. They built a wooden bridge based on stone pillars across it. The camp protected the first civilian settlements that developed. The Romans remained until 260 AD, when the camp was conquered by Germanic tribes.

Heidelberg has what looks like many newer buildings that mimic historical and ornamental styles. My hat is off to the city and its architects for at least making an effort to design lovable buildings rather than unlovable Modernist buildings. But lacking the patina of age, the buildings looked too new. And therefore a bit sterile. The many newer buildings are a sure sign that many historic buildings were lost during World War II.

After Strasbourg and Heidelberg, we tour Nuremberg Germany – mostly on rented bikes. A great many historic buildings have been replaced with awful mid-century Modernist buildings. Again, a sure sign of the many buildings tragically lost during World War II. The Modernism severely detracts from the former charm of the city streets.

According to Wikipedia, Nuremberg has a total population of 787,976 (2016), while the larger Nuremberg Metropolitan Region has approximately 3.5 million inhabitants. Nuremberg was the site of major Nazi rallies during WWII.

We have dinner on a town center island at the Restaurant Trodelstuben, which served me absolutely delicious, authentic German food. I opt for “pig knuckles,” which is a very fatty, buttery meat (when served boiled). I also enjoy knockwurst Barbarossa, which consists of three types of knockwurst in three different types of sauerkraut beds – a total of nine knockwurst. To top off the meal, I enjoy a delicious glass of smoked dark bier and an unfiltered bier.

There are a good number of walking streets in town center Nuremberg. But nearly all of them are too wide and are degraded by too many Modernist buildings of recent decades.

Saint Sebastian Church in Nuremberg is stunning, as I learn upon entering. In a design I had not seen previously, the main alter of the Church is set far back from the parishioner seating.

We enjoy a wonderful museum in the Nuremberg Castle, and we cross “Hangman’s Bridge” to reach a café where I opt for “Gunpowder” tea.

We then visit the still-functioning Nuremberg courtroom where the famous Nuremberg trials were held for Nazi war criminals at the end of World War II.

It is a very moving experience to be in that courtroom – a courtroom that tried. Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Alfred Rosenberg, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, and Arthur Seyss-Inquart were all hanged after being convicted here. Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess were also tried here. And Hermann Göring committed suicide before he could be executed following the trial in this courtroom.

Nuremberg Trials Courtroom 600 Nuremberg, Aug 16, 2019 (79)

We have lunch at the Behringer Bratwursthausle (the original, serving traditional German food). I opt for Nuremberg bratwurst, and delicious dish of cured tongue and smoked sausage.

Saturday and Sunday, August 17 and 18. We visit Regensberg Germany. Dom Saint Peter’s Cathedral contains amazing stained glass. And Saint Emmersam’s Abbey (Benedictan) contains ornamentation that is so busy that it makes one dizzy. We try somewhat St. Emmeram's Abbey Regensberg Aug 17, 2019 (60)unsuccessfully to avoid disturbing a wedding ceremony while there.

Regensberg contains a gratifying number of great human-scaled streets. And the city is attractive in part due to the playful pastel colors used to paint many buildings.

According to Wikipedia, Regensberg was founded as a hilltop fortified settlement about 1245 by Baron Lüthold of Regensberg.

Later, we arrive in Munich, where we again rent bikes and later dine at Haxnbauer Restaurant in Old Town Munich. This restaurant is said to serve the most loved and popular veal and pork knuckle in town.

According to Wikipedia, Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg. The name of the city is derived from the Old/Middle High German term Munichen, meaning “by the monks”. It derives from the monks of the Benedictine order, who ran a monastery at the place that was later to become the Old Town of Munich; hence the monk depicted on the city’s coat of arms. Munich was first mentioned in 1158. Catholic Munich strongly resisted the Reformation and was a political point of divergence during the resulting Thirty Years’ War, but remained physically untouched despite an occupation by the Protestant Swedes.

The first attempt of the Nazi movement to take over the German government in 1923 with the Beer Hall Putsch was stopped by the Bavarian police in Munich with gunfire. After the Nazis’ rise to power, Munich was declared their “Capital of the Movement”. During World War II, Munich was heavily bombed and more than 50% of the entire city and up to 90% of the historic center were destroyed. After the end of postwar American occupation in 1949, there was a great increase in population and economic power during the years of Wirtschaftswunder, or “economic miracle”. Unlike many other German cities that were heavily bombed, Munich restored most of its traditional cityscape and hosted the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Marienplatz in Munich is MONUMENTAL!

Unfortunately, our hotel is situated in a town center Munich location that seems to be a Middle Eastern skid row.

Also unfortunate for Munich is that there appear to be regular competitions held in which architects compete with each other to see who can design the most hideous, ugly building. It is agonizing that there have been many winners of this “contest.”

Munich, for me, turns out to be the most disappointing of the German cities we visit on this trip. The streets (now roads) are too wide – including the walking streets. There are too many Modernist buildings. And too many parts of the town center are run down.

The English Garden Park in Munich is extremely interesting. We come upon a grassy field packed with Woodstock-like sunbathers. Streams flowing through the part have such a strong current that several swimmers float down the streams without using tubes or life preservers. The park also contains a wave park, where several SURFERS took turns surfing the waves. Who knew you could surf in Munich?

Dom w 1-liter dark Bavarian beer Hofbrauhaus, Munich Aug 18, 2019 (3)For dinner, we are at the Hofbrauhaus, where I opt for boiled pig knuckle and a ONE-LITER glass of dark Bavarian bier. It is the largest glass of bier I have ever been served.

Monday and Tuesday, August 19 and 20. We arrive in Passau Germany, our gateway city for the bike and barge trip we are to embark on. Our first bicycling day after barging down the river a bit starts in Engelhartszell. Here we climb stairs after passing by the lock system along a pathway that crosses the Donau River. We find nice, flat, paved trails for our 30-mile ride this day.

Along the way, we cycle through vineyards, cornfields, plum and apple orchards, and forest.

According to Wikipedia, Passau is also known as the Dreiflüssestadt (“City of Three Rivers”) because the Danube is joined there by the Inn from the south and the Ilz from the north.

Passau’s population is 50,000, of whom about 12,000 are students at the University of Passau.

In the 2nd century BC, many of the Boii tribe were pushed north across the Alps out of northern Italy by the Romans. They established a new capital called Boiodurum by the Romans (from Gaulish Boioduron), now within the Innstadt district of Passau.

Passau was an ancient Roman colony of ancient Noricum called Batavis, Latin for “for the Batavi.” The Batavi were an ancient Germanic tribe often mentioned by classical authors, and they were regularly associated with the Suebian marauders, the Heruli.5-country tour

During the Renaissance and early modern period, Passau was one of the most prolific centers of sword and bladed weapon manufacture in Germany (after Solingen). Passau smiths stamped their blades with the Passau wolf, usually a rather simplified rendering of the wolf on the city’s coat-of-arms. Superstitious warriors believed that the Passau wolf conferred invulnerability on the blade’s bearer, and thus Passau swords acquired a great premium. According to the Donau-Zeitung, aside from the wolf, some cabalistic signs and inscriptions were added. As a result, the whole practice of placing magical charms on swords to protect the wearers came to be known for a time as “Passau art”. (See Eduard Wagner, Cut and Thrust Weapons, 1969.) Other cities’ smiths, including those of Solingen, recognized the marketing value of the Passau wolf and adopted it for themselves. By the 17th century, Solingen was producing more wolf-stamped blades than Passau was.

In 1662, a devastating fire consumed most of the city. Passau was subsequently rebuilt in the Baroque style.

At Niederranna we and our bikes are ferried across the Donau. Upon finishing our bike ride, we rejoin our barge at Brandstatt.

Wednesday, August 21. We enjoy a self-guided walking tour of Bratislava. Here we find very nice ornamental architecture and smooth paved stone streets and sidewalks.

For lunch, we dine at the Bratislavska flagship restaurant. I select Klastorny Leziak Tmavy – a half liter of tasty, dark Monastic bier. We also sample one of Slovakia’s trademarks: Currant wine – which to me tastes a little like a light, sweet cough syrup. For food, I select Pecena Klobasas Oblohou (a roasted homemade sausage).

Bunker at Slovakia border Bratsilava Slovakia Aug 21, 2019 (13)

Biking Old Town Bratislava is a treat. We start with a diversion that takes us to the location of the former Soviet-block wall that the Soviets told the world was needed to “protect the peaceful Communist nations from the decadent capitalist aggressors.” Only tiny remnants of tall, barbed wire fencing remain at the Slovakia border, along with several grim, heavily fortified concrete bunkers. We also find time to visit the Bratislave Castle.

Overall, a very good day.

According to Wikipedia, the first known permanent settlement of the area that includes Bratislava began with the Linear Pottery Culture, around 5000 BC in the Neolithic era. About 200 BC, the Celtic Boii tribe founded the first significant settlement, a fortified town known as an oppidum. They also established a mint, producing silver coins known as biatecs.

The area fell under Roman influence from the 1st to the 4th century AD and was made part of the Danubian Limes, a border defense system. The Romans introduced grape growing to the area and began a tradition of winemaking, which survives to the present.

In 1968, after the unsuccessful Czechoslovak attempt to liberalize the Communist regime, the city was occupied by Warsaw Pact troops. Shortly thereafter, it became capital of the Slovak Socialist Republic, one of the two states of the federalized Czechoslovakia.

Bratislava’s dissidents anticipated the fall of Communism with the Bratislava candle demonstration in 1988, and the city became one of the foremost centers of the anti-Communist Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Thursday, August 22. We are in Budapest Hungary.

According to Wikipedia, Budapest is the capital and the most populous city of Hungary, and the tenth-largest city in the European Union by population within city limits. The city has an estimated population of 1,752,286.

The central area of the city along the Danube River is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has several notable monuments, including the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Gresham Palace, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Matthias Church and the Liberty Statue. Other famous landmarks include Andrássy Avenue, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Heroes’ Square, the Great Market Hall, the Nyugati Railway Station built by the Eiffel Company of Paris in 1877 and the second-oldest metro line in the world, the Millennium Underground Railway. The city also has around 80 geothermal springs, the largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue, and third largest Parliament building in the world. Budapest attracts 4.4 million international tourists per year, making it a popular destination in Europe. The first settlement on the territory of Budapest was built by Celts before 1 AD. It was later occupied by the Romans.

On a guided bicycle tour. Our guide has a very heavy French accent, which made her extremely difficult for us Americans to understand. In addition, despite her soft voice, she used no voice amplification, nor did she do well in keeping the cycling group together. To top it off, she offered very little information about what we were seeing on the tour. Overall, the tour was so disappointing to us that we successfully got a refund from our barge tour operator afterward.

Bizarrely, at the start of our bicycle tour, a German tour leader was trying to stop vehicles so that cyclists could cross the street and start the tour. One car fails to stop, which infuriates the guide so much that he angrily tries to slap the car with his hand to show his unhappiness. But his slap turns into vandalism, as his hand, shockingly, knocks a side view mirror off the car! Immediately, the two in the car slam the brakes on the car, open the doors, and – red-faced – angrily storm toward the guide to confront him with their understandable rage. The guide gets in their faces and SCREAMS at them for not stopping. It is an ugly scene of fury.

Known as the “City of Baths,” Budapest sits on a fault line, and its thermal baths are naturally fed by 120 hot springs. The city is home to an impressive selection of thermal baths, many of which date to the 16th century.  I convince my companions that an obligatory part of any visit to Budapest is to visit the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.Budapest Aug 22, 2019 (23)

Budapest always provides delights. Everywhere one looks, there is a statue or monument that is over-the-top in splendor. The same is true with the stupendous buildings in the city.

Friday, August 23. Our 60-kilometer bike ride today takes us through the very pleasantly charming little villages of Visegrad, Vac, Veroce, Nagymaros, Zebegeny, Szob, and Esztergom. Esztergom, we are surprised to learn, contains a spectacular Cathedral that is the fourth largest in Europe.

Saturday, August 24. We are in Vienna. Immediately we can see we are in a monumental, world-class city with spectacular architecture. The city is also a very good place to cycle, although as is the case with many large cities in the world, car infrastructure has gone too far – particularly with the monster roadway widths and oversizing of intersections.

Saint Stephen Cathedral and Hofburg Palace are remarkable.

On a guided bike tour, we visit an artistic smokestack, the Gaudi-like Hundertwasser painted apartments, Saint Charles Church, the Vienna Opera House, the Hofburg Palace, City Hall (WAY more spectacular than city halls in America), and Saint Stephen’s City Hall Vienna Aug 24, 2019 (86)Cathedral.. But we miss the famous Narchaet Food Market.

For lunch, we opt for the delicacy that Vienna is world-famous for originating: Strudel. We sample both apple and plum strudel. So good that one has not eaten strudel until it is eaten in Vienna.

According to Wikipedia, Vienna is the federal capital, the largest city, and one of nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria’s primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million (2.6 million within the metropolitan area, nearly one-third of the country’s population), and its cultural, economic, and political center. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today it is the second-largest German-speaking city after Berlin. In 2001, the city center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger. Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psychoanalyst – Sigmund Freud.

Vienna is known for its high quality of life. In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the city first (in a tie with Vancouver and San Francisco) for the world’s most liveable cities. Between 2011 and 2015, Vienna was ranked second, behind Melbourne. In 2018, it replaced Melbourne as the number one spot. For ten consecutive years (2009–2019), the human-resource-consulting firm Mercer ranked Vienna first in its annual “Quality of Living” survey of hundreds of cities around the world.

The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013. The city was ranked 1st globally for its culture of innovation in 2007 and 2008, and sixth globally (out of 256 cities) in the 2014 Innovation Cities Index, which analyzed 162 indicators in covering three areas: culture, infrastructure, and markets. Vienna regularly hosts urban planning conferences and is often used as a case study by urban planners.

Between 2005 and 2010, Vienna was the world’s number-one destination for international congresses and conventions. It attracts over 6.8 million tourists a year.

Evidence has been found of continuous habitation in the Vienna area since 500 BC, when Celts settled the site on the Danube River. In 15 BC the Romans fortified the frontier city they called Vindobona to guard the empire against Germanic tribes to the north.

Sunday, August 25. We bicycle from Wachau to Pöchlarn, Austria. We bicycle through the very sweet little villages of Mautern, Forthof, Durstein (which has an exceptionally charming main street – so charming that we wished we had a day or so to enjoy it), Spitz, and Melk. Our day ends with a pleasant Austrian wine tasting near our barge in Pöchlarn.

Monday, August 26. We drive our rental car from Passau to Frankfurt. On the way, we stop in Erlangen to stretch our legs and enjoy this German college town. Frankfurt has the unfortunate distinction of having an enormous number of glass and steel skyscrapers.

Town center Frankfurt turns out to be very quiet at night. I was not awoken by sirens or scooters.

Random, general observations about this trip…

The older the city we were in, the more lovable it was. The more recent the cities and the more recent the buildings, the more awful those cities and buildings were. This has been true in my travels throughout the world, but most strikingly in Europe, where one finds extremely ancient settlements.
Many German cities have been ravaged and degraded by Modernist buildings that are destroying the lovable charm that once graced these cities for several centuries.
Nearly all of the cities we visited on this trip had outstanding bicycle path and bicycle lane infrastructure.
We found that many larger German cities contain a large Middle Eastern and Muslim populations. We were surprised by the overwhelming number of burka-wearing Muslim women we saw in German and Austrian cities.
German cities, in general, tend to be late-night party cities, where vast numbers of citizens seem to drink and dance and laugh into the wee hours of the morning. And not just on weekends.
We found ourselves driving at speeds at or above 140 kilometers per hour on the German Autobahn (about 89 mph). And yet we were regularly passed by motorists driving 200 kph, which made it seem like we are standing still.
Our barge traveled through countless locks on the Donau (Danube) River – some changing our river height by 60 meters.
The Donau River is very wide, and is milky green in color – a sign of eutrophication caused by agricultural fertilizers.
For many of the eight days of our cycling and barging, we experienced very warm, muggy, humid weather.
Interestingly, the Hungarian language contains many words that are extremely long and mostly use seemingly random letters that make for a daunting effort to try to pronounce. Hungarian, our barge guide told us, was about the most incomprehensible language in all of Europe. Amusingly, our guide informed us that the Hungarian word for “kiss” is “puszi,” which is pronounced “pussy.”

An Unfitting, Agonizing End to an Otherwise Remarkable Trip

Two big, crushing lessons learned on this trip from severe brain damage and stress associated with not learning this lesson previously. First, I must never again go on a trip to Europe where travel from city to city is by rental car. With our rental car, we experienced agonizing levels of stress and rage from one-way streets, lack of parking, a rental car company that sought to force us to pay for damage we did not cause, and the stress associated with driving in both congestion and crazy high speeds on highways.

Second, I must never again fly with Air France or through Charles de Gaulle airport. For our flight back to the US from this airport and with Air France, I experienced the most enraging, stressful, unpleasant airport debacle I have ever suffered in my large number of airport experiences.

Unbeknownst to us, Air France now has a punitively low maximum limit for luggage weight. At 12 kilograms and FOUR trips through a baggage weighing line, I was compelled to THROW AWAY three-quarters of my belongings in order to get under 12 kilograms and be allowed to proceed to security (shirts, sandals, pants, food, underwear, socks, etc).

Because airport staff could not speak English, and because they were utterly incompetent, I spent almost two hours being sent on an almost infinitely-looping wild goose chase. I circled between baggage weighing and passport clearance FOUR times. During that entire time, I had no idea what I was supposed to do, nor was the airport staff able to provide correct, consistent information. I repeatedly lost my temper with the incompetent, power-drunk, bureaucratic staff. In fact, the staff threatened to call the police to have me arrested, to which I responded that I would be grateful to be confronted by the police as maybe they would allow me to proceed to the security gate.

It was miraculous that I did not miss my flight, and was only able to catch the flight because my girlfriend heroically called Delta Airlines (the sister of Air France) to have a staff person guide me through the impossible, Kafkaesque infinitely looping quagmire that I was trapped in. It became obvious that the prime qualification that Charles de Gaulle airport looks for when hiring employees is that they must be utterly incompetent. And they must love exerting their paltry, lower-level power whenever they can as a way to punish air travelers. A useful tip for Air France: Please inform your passengers BEFORE THEY REACH THE AIRPORT that there is a draconian weight limit so passengers have a chance to retain possessions at home before being forced to dispose of them as a way to board your plane. Of the hundreds of flights I’ve taken in my life, I have never had to weigh my luggage at the airport, which means this is a very rare requirement.

News flash to Air France: the rarity of this sort of policy should make it obligatory that you notify passengers of this far in advance.

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Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking in Colorado, Summer 2019

By Dom Nozzi

The snowfall for the 2018/2019 ski season in Colorado is so epic that it leaves a snowpack that is 529 percent of normal. And as several media sources and whitewater vendors trumpeted several times in the spring, that epic, enormous snowpack means there will be an epic season for whitewater rafting and kayaking as well.

And that gives me a golden opportunity to sample some of the wild-eyed whitewater that rages in Colorado.

On June 7, 2019, Maggie and I ride the 12-mile Mishawaka Falls section of the Upper Poudre River with Wanderlust Adventures. The river on this day is relatively high. Which allows us to be rewarded with turbulent, churning, chaotic, hair-raising fun, at about 1500 cfs.

The Poudre is the only designated National Wild and Scenic River in Colorado, and flows through a beautiful canyon. We were fortunate to spot a group of longhorn sheep along the way.

The big surprise: I am prematurely flung out of the raft at a notorious rapid called “Guide Hole,” where the raft guide – as suggested by the name of the rapid — often falls out. This angry maneater is just a short distance upstream from another demanding rapid called “Customer Hole,” which is where you would think I would be falling out.

I blame Maggie for not grabbing my arm to keep me in the raft. :^)Maggie and Dom Poudre River whitewater June 2019 (1)

In any event, it is the first time in my storied, infamous rafting career that I am the only occupant in the raft to fall out. I’ve fallen out a number of times in the past on whitewater trips, but only when the entire boat flips. On this unfortunate day, I’m ashamed to say, others in the boat have to rescue me by pulling me back in. Because falling out in a big rapid is so exhilarating, that one event makes my entire rafting trip worthwhile.

Still, the overall trip was a lot of fun.

In fact, Maggie was surprised by how much she enjoyed it, after initially thinking that Dom was going to once again lead her into something too scary and way over her head.

Tragically, the photographer — who had shot many photos of our day on the raging Poudre — learns when he gets back to the shop that all of his photos and videos are corrupted, so we don’t get any pictures or video of the rafting. It was the first time that had happened to him in his three years of being the company photographer.

Our next Living-on-the-Edge ride is battling Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River in Central Colorado. It is a warm-up for taking on the roaring, churning, ferocious Clear Creek whitewater in a few days. Browns Canyon is at a very high water level (3720 cfs), but we avoid casualties and no one “goes swimming.”

This short video shot with my helmet-mounted camera shows us early on at Browns. https://youtu.be/kh8fFvQyux8

Next up a few days later finds Maggie and me rafting the “Advanced Express” run on Clear Creek just west of Denver with the Clear Creek Rafting Co. The Creek, which is quite demanding at high water levels due to the large boulders and narrow channel, is running at a relatively high level of 700 cfs. We conquer the following rapids: Upper Beaver Falls, Lower Beaver Falls, The Nixon Rapids. We then paddle hard as we drop into Guide Ejector, Double Knife (particularly nasty), Hells Corner and Terminator.

I shot this video with a chest-mounted camera. https://youtu.be/mafm77QAoUU. And here is a photo montage I assembled with photos shot by the Rafting Company during our wild-eyed ride. https://youtu.be/pGThwtp6tB0

Before we even have a chance to catch our breath, we storm down the rampaging Boulder Creek, which is running at about 235 cfs. It is the maiden voyage for the 2-person Inex inflatable raft we have recently purchased.

It takes us a while to get our whitewater skills honed, as Maggie has never whitewater kayaked, and my whitewater kayaking skills are very much at the beginner stage, as my 25 years of kayaking experience includes 20 years of flatwater kayaking in Florida — which is nothing like whitewater kayaking — and a few very short and very tame whitewater kayaking forays in Colorado in recent years.

Dom and Maggie kayaking Bldr Ck, June 27, 2019

It was truly a trial-by-fire experience.

Adding to the difficulty is that Maggie is sitting in front of me. This means that most of my view of approaching rapids is obscured by her back. In addition, at 235 cfs, Boulder Creek is rather swift, and as a very narrow creek, there is very little margin for error. In ski difficulty terms, it was running as a black diamond.

Our Inex raft, fortunately, behaves well for us in the swift wave trains and drops on Boulder Creek. Its upturned head and tail make the kayak ride successfully over and through each of the rapids we encounter.

I shot this video of our kayaking starting at the kayak playpark just upstream from Ebon Fine Park to the Justice Center. https://youtu.be/GReOZNZejHk

This video shows us kayaking from the Justice Center to the Library: https://youtu.be/xvFRF1PMkbY

The swift, narrow creek finally catches up with us near the end of our ride. Seconds before our Whitewater Waterloo, I am boasting to Maggie about my superior kayaking navigational skills and how the most fun to be had is when the boat flips in the rapids.

Maggie has never been in a flipped boat and does not believe me.

Sure enough, soon after my well-timed comments, we approached a drop that is creating a powerful rapid and I am unable to keep the nose pointed downstream. Instead, I commit the cardinal sin at a hydraulic of entering this churning water with our kayak sideways. As we hit the hydraulic, our kayak quickly and somewhat unexpectedly flips, sending us into a “swim” mode. I come up under and inside the upside-down kayak, and Maggie is alarmingly floating downstream out of the kayak.


Overall, though, we have enough fun that we plan to saddle up again for another kayaking ride down Boulder Creek in a few days.

We had planned to kayak again on July 1st, but the cfs was at 565 (!!), which is the highest, fastest water level all year.

Insane, death-zone conditions on the Creek.

Not even Dangerous Dom is willing to take such a plunge.

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Paddling | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Whitewater Rafting the Upper Poudre

Maggie and I took a wild-eyed whitewater rafting ride on the Mishawaka Falls section of the Upper Poudre River. The Poudre is the only designated National Wild and Scenic River in Colorado, and flows through a beautiful canyon. We were fortunate to spot a group of longhorn sheep along the way.

The water level was a relatively high 1500 cfs, which made the river particularly hair-raising.

The big surprise was that I was flung out of the raft at a notorious rapid called “Guide Hole,” where the raft guide often falls out (just a short distance downstream there is another demanding rapid called “Customer Hole,” which is where you would think I would have fallen out). I blame Maggie for not grabbing my arm to keep me in the raft. 

In any event, it was the first time I was the only one in the raft to fall out (I’ve fallen out a number of times in the past on whitewater trips, but only when the entire boat flipped). Others in the boat had to rescue me by pulling me back in. Because falling out in a big rapid is so exhilarating, that one event made my entire ride worthwhile, although the overall trip was a lot of fun. In fact, Maggie was surprised by how much she enjoyed it, after initially thinking that Dom was going to once again lead her into something too scary and way over her head.Maggie and Dom Poudre River whitewater June 2019 (1)

Sadly, the photographer — who had shot many photos of our day on the raging Poudre — learned when he got back to the shop that all of his photos and videos were corrupted, so we didn’t get any pictures or video. It was the first time that had happened to him in his 3 years of being the company photographer. 

As I pointed out to my rafting group yesterday after we defeated the Upper Poudre River, the most dangerous part of even a big water rafting trip is the drive to and from the river (and our driving in general), not the trip on the river.

Categories: 2011-Present, Colorado, Paddling | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Pleasurable Puglia, Italy. March 2019

By Dom Nozzi

Our plans originally point us to western Tuscany for our 2019 Italy trip, but I serendipitously learn on the Internet about the Puglia region in Italy. Having not heard of Puglia previously, I am stunned by the charming, romantic photos of the towns in that region. Our plans quickly change.

We depart Denver at 5:30 am on a Monday. We revel in a fantastic view of the snow-peaked Italian Alps outside our plane window. They are golden in the morning sun. We arrive in Bari, Italy about mid-day on Tuesday.

With four to five hours of time to burn in Rome before our train departs for Bari, we opt to have fun and shoot selfies in Ancient Rome. Trevi Fountains, the Pantheon, Piazza Dom and Maggie, Pantheon in Rome, Feb 26,2019Navona (the best piazza in all of Rome), Campe di Fiori. While strolling, we buy delicious Sangiovese vino, prosciutto, and three cheeses for the train to Bari.

Our airbnb in Bari is embedded in a neighborhood with astonishing medieval charm. For dinner that night in Bari, we visit La Locanda di Frederico Ristorante, where we enjoy very rustic bread, authentic and big flavor olive oil. For the first time in my life, I try horsemeat (“Brascioladi Savallo al Ragu con Pezzetti”). In a red sauce. Stringy. Tastes just like chicken…

Two of the more interesting things I learned about Bari is that it was first settled in about the 7th Century BC. It was also the only European city in World War II that suffered from chemical warfare.

We enjoy a day of enjoyable bicycling in the ancient quarter of Trani (first settled in about the 9th Century) and Bisceglie (inhabited since prehistoric times). We would have loved to spend more time exploring the fantastically narrow and shiny surface Bisceglie Italy, Feb 27, 2019 (12)cobblestone streets in Trani and Bisceglie, but we need to rush to catch our train (trenitalia) back to Bari. Unfortunately, we do not rush fast enough (the ticket machine refused to accept Maggie’s credit cards), so we miss the train. Fortunately, the trains are frequent enough that we do not need to wait long.

Back in Bari, we find ourselves at Opus Pistorum, a bohemian, quirky, incense-burning wine bar. It is here that we first learn that Puglia produces an enormous amount of wine. We see it sold everywhere. It is reliably delicious.

After the wine bar, we opt for La Tana Del Polpo (octopus) Ristorante for dinner. La Octopus is so world-renowned that reservations must be made days in advance. Since we did not wish to miss it, we opt to be seated at a table in a tiny side room that serves as a supply room and credit card cashing place for the wait staff. It was like being in a broom closet, but the ristorante is so divine that we thoroughly enjoy our “broom closet” experience. Don’t forget to bring your dustpan to La Octopus when you visit Bari!  And yes, there is a giant polpo hanging from the ceiling…The place is lively and impressive. The homemade black ink spaghetti with seafood is out of this world, as is the homemade spaghetti with red sauce and a huge fresh fish in the middle of it (Puglia is also a very big producer of seafoods). We top off the meal with a large carafe of a yummy house rosso vino (for 4 euros!).

The next day is a fiasco. I forget my backpack on the train (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). This huge blunder ruins our day. I am infuriated with myself. What a disaster. But we still find a few snippets of joy. The ancient quarter of Putignano is lovely, and the tiny, gnome-like “trilli” homes in Alberobello (“beautiful tree”) are very cute.

Our dinner at Paglionico ristorante to end the day is scrumptious. Highly authentic and noticeably local: no menu, very fresh seafood served with homemade pasta, excellent antipasta, and wine served with a ceramic pitcher poured into tumblers rather than wine glasses simply oozed authentic and homey. I have a HUGE fresh octopus as part of my meal.

Maggie displays absolute heroism. She goes way beyond the call of duty when I realize I forgot my backpack earlier on the train.

She completely takes charge – seeing that I am so stunned and enraged at myself for forgetting the pack that I am helpless to problem-solve a backpack recovery plan.

If it were me, I would have just written off the pack as a loss. What are the chances of recovering a pack on a departed train? Even in the US the chances are nearly zero. But here we also have to contend with the fact that we have a severe language barrier with those who might help us.

Magnificently, Maggie engages in dizzying four-way cell phone conversations with a train representative, a local policeman who speaks not a word of English, and our hotel proprietor. After a few hours of extremely difficult – seemingly hopeless — effort, I miraculously get my pack back.

But it means our day of planned bicycling in the beautiful Puglia landscape is severely truncated. In any event, I am enormously appreciative of how much Maggie did to recover my pack. She is probably the world’s best problem solver. I cannot begin to tell her how grateful I am for her sacrifices to do everything she could to help. I am SO FORTUNATE to be with her!

The next day, after we enjoy a walk in Bari, we train to our next base city: Ostuni. Ostuni is known as the “white city,” as nearly every surface in the city is painted white. The city has been inhabited since the Stone Age.

Here are the photos I shot while in Ostuni.

For dinner, our choice is a ristorante that is so famous – so outrageously good for food and ambiance – that it is perhaps by itself a place that makes Ostuni great. Osteria Tempo del Peso Ristorante. DO NOT MISS THIS PLACE WHEN YOU VISIT PUGLIA!! The ambiance is stunning. The ristorante is inside a cave with ceilings and walls of stone and stone blocks. My meal – slow-cooked ribs – are easily the best ribs I have ever eaten. As is the Primitivo house rosso vino we have. This wine is so good that I immediately realize that Primitivo is now my favorite wine grape. It is that good. This turns out to make sense. I have always thoroughly enjoyed Old Vine Zinfandel. Genetically, the Zinfandel and Primitivo grapes are extremely similar—it took some DNA fingerprinting to figure it out—but Primitivo and Zinfandel are actually both clones of a Croatian grape called Crljenak.

The next morning, we walk to the adjacent “new town” section of Ostuni to enjoy the very lively, festive Saturday outdoor vegetable, meat, and fruit market. Here, there are Ostuni Saturday Market, Mar 2, 2019 (3)countless stalls of food. At several, very loud hawkers are shouting for customers to sample their wares.

After the market, we somehow miss TWO van runs to the train station (oddly, the Ostuni train stazione is not within walking distance of town, which makes it highly inconvenient for those without a car). We therefore get a very late start to Polignano a Mare and Monopoli.

We arrive in Polignano a Mare, and it is spectacular as advertised. The coastline is incredibly picturesque, particularly the famous cove one finds near the porta to Old Towne. After going down to the beach in the cove, we stroll Old Towne (first settled in prehistoric times), where we find the streets to be delightfully charming and romantic. Even more so for our stroll in Monopoli Old Towne (first settled in 500 BC).

Here are the photos I shot while in Polignano a Mare and Monopoli.

As an aside, one of the statements that is regularly seen on shop and ristorante signs is something we have not seen elsewhere in Italy, or in Europe for that matter. A great many places will seek to lure you to be a customer by assuring you that their food or vino or product is “tipica” (or “typical”). The Puglianese seem to realize that a great many tourists are seeking authenticity. Tourists want to sample what is common (or “typical”) for the region. Not something that can be found anywhere.

The next day was a “T” day!

Today we Trek Thru The Traffic and The Trullis via our Twizy To Tre Towns! (Cisternino, Locorotondo, Martina Franca). A “trilli” is a very cute, ancient little round stone hut that is found throughout the Alberobello region of Italy. Gnomes or elves or Hansel and Gretle apparently live in them.

A “Twizy” is a tiny little rentable electric car. So tiny that the passenger must sit directly behind the driver. This compact car is about a quarter of the size of a standard American car. Or maybe a coffee table.

We have a lot of fun zipping through small medieval Italian towns and the Puglia countryside with the very adorable ForPlay “Twizy” rental electric car. The Twizy is so notably cute that everyone we encounter stops in their tracks to look at it. So much fun that it is no coincidence that the company name is “ForPlay.” We originally planned to rent electric bikes to visit three towns in the countryside, but then learned that the bikes would cost twice as much as the Twizy! Also, Maggie went on an obsessed mission to drive the Twizy after seeing it parked around Ostuni.

Dom and Maggie with their Twizy near our Ostuni hotel room, Mar 3, 2019Locorotondo — one of our destinations today — has a population of about 14,000. The city is known for its wines and for its circular structure which is now a historical center, from which derives its name, which means “Round place.”

Here are the photos I shot while in Alberobello, Cisternino, Locorotondo, and Martina Franca.

Today we will rent the Twizy again and cruise along the dunes and beaches of the Adriatic Sea near Ostuni.

One amazing thing about the easy-to-drive Twizy is that it is very narrow (one person wide, so that the passenger must sit behind the driver). That means the Twizy can squeeze through the tightest spaces — like medieval Italian cobblestone streets (see photo below). A noticeable delight compared to driving the typical space-hogging American car.

By the way, Italian drivers have no patience for slow pokes. I typically would drive at 75 kph on these Puglia country roads with a 50 kph speed limit, and pretty much every driver passed me as if I was standing still.

We arrive in Lecce and tour Old Towne by bike. I cannot stop taking photos. The Baroque architecture is overwhelmingly richly detailed. A spectacular place to bicycle or walk. Because of the rich Baroque architectural monuments found in the city, Lecce is Lecce, Mar 5, 2019 (27)commonly nicknamed “The Florence of the South.” The city was settled at least as far back as the 3rd century BC.

Here are the photos I shot while in Lecce.

Our first dinner in Lecce is at Tormaresca Ristorante. The meal is a wonderful 3-course meal paired with 3 wines made by our Tormaresca ristorante here in Lecce. Homemade pastas, ricotta, fresh cheeses, anchovies, fresh greens. Our BnB is literally next door to the ristorante.

I have never eaten or drank so well over the course of our several days so far on this trip as on any European trip I’ve ever gone on.

Our plan to daytrip by train to Francavilla Fontana and Taranto is, to some extent, a disappointment. Francavilla has had far too much of its medieval architecture lost and replaced by utterly unlovable mid-century modernism. The Internet reviews of Taranto are so hideously awful that we decide it is not even worth a visit, so we backtrack by train back to where we came from. Instead, we visit Mesagne and Brindisi. Both towns have medieval quarters that are reasonably pleasant but not in the “wow” category.

Brindisi was an Ancient Greek settlement predating the Roman expansion.

Brindisi played a role in the slave wars of the Roman Empire. Spartacus, the slave who led the slave army, had intended to march his army out of Italy and into Gaul (now Belgium, Switzerland and France) or maybe even to Hispania to join the rebellion of Quintus Sertorius. But he changed his mind and turned back south, under pressure from his followers, for they wanted more plunder. Although it is not known for certain why they turned back when they were on the brink of escaping into Gaul, it is regarded as their greatest mistake. Perhaps their many victories made them overconfident, or perhaps they believed that they would escape to Sicily as planned, and could plunder more in the meantime. There are theories that some of the non-fighting followers (some 10,000 or so) did, in fact, cross the Alps and return to their homelands. The rest marched back south, and defeated two more legions under Marcus Licinius Crassus, who at that time was the wealthiest man in Rome. At the end of 72 BC, Spartacus was encamped in Reggio Calabria, near the Strait of Messina (the “toe of the Italian boot”). Spartacus’ deal with Cilician pirates to get them to Sicily fell through. In the beginning of 71 BC, eight legions of Crassus isolated Spartacus’s army in Calabria. With the assassination of Quintus Sertorius, the Roman Senate also recalled Pompey from Hispania; and Lucullus from northern Anatolia where he was campaigning against Rome’s most obstinate enemy Mithridates VI of Pontus. Spartacus managed to break through Crassus’s lines, and escaped towards Brindisi, but Crassus’s forces intercepted them in Lucania, and the slaves were routed in a subsequent battle at the river Silarus. After the battle, legionaries found and rescued 3,000 unharmed Roman prisoners in their camp. 6,600 of Spartacus’s followers were crucified along the via Appia (or the Appian Way) from Brindisi to Rome. Crassus never gave orders for the bodies to be taken down, thus travelers were forced to see the bodies for years, perhaps decades, after the final battle.

In the 1960 blockbuster movie Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas, the slave army attempted to escape Italy and return to their homelands via the sea, and Brindisi was their chosen port of escape. Spartacus arrives in Brindisi with the fifty million sesterces to be delivered to Tigrane Levantino, leader of the Cilician pirate naval army that ruled the sea at the time. However, when Levantino reaches the slave camp at Brindisi, he claims that Crassus has paid the pirates more than Spartacus has offered. The higher Crassus offer convinces the pirates to abandon their earlier agreement to bring ships to Brindisi to allow the slave army to escape.

Here are the photos I shot while in Francavilla Fontana, Mesagna, and Brindisi.

The next day finds us taking two very slow trains from Lecce to Otranto (also known as “OH! Tranto). The trains are so slow, I call them “snail” trains. They are the opposite of the bullet trains found in Italy.

Part of the history of Otranto is grim. In 1480, Mehmet the Conqueror sent an Ottoman fleet to invade Rome under the command of Gedik Ahmed Pasha. This force reached the shores of Apulia on 28 July 1480 and the city was captured in two weeks on 11 August 1480. Some 800 citizens, known as the “Martyrs of Otranto,” were beheaded after refusing to convert to Islam.

Nevertheless, despite our slowness, our snail speed gives us time to better enjoy the pleasant, interesting views one finds along the way in the rural, southern Italian countryside.

Otranto Italy, Mar 7, 2019 (5)Otranto turns out to be as cute as a button. In this city we are at the easternmost point of Italy. Otranto has an adorable little medieval old towne and a large castelle. We are on the waterfront of the Adriatic Sea. The water is crystal clear.

Here are the photos I shot while in Otranto.

We also learn, during our travels in Puglia, that Puglia is a place where a little tubular round cookie known as a “tarralini” is found in pretty much every stop and ristorante.

Our last dinner in Lecce is at “00” Ristorante. Very tasty eggplant paragiana and sausage in a very friendly ambiance.

We train to Bari from Lecce. We train from Bari Centrale to Bari airport. We bus 1.5 hours from the airport to the UNESCO heritage site of Matera, Italy – home to the sassi cave dwellings.

It is the final destination for our Italy trip. Matera is extraordinary. Every little cobblestone street and medieval building is divine. The views are breathtaking. Maggie and I would call this one of the most important cities to visit in Italy. Our bnb is amazing and the location puts our front door across the piazza from the duomo. Our view of the ancient town from our balcony must be seen to be believed!

A worthy conclusion to an unforgettable trip.

For dinner, we dine at the highly recommended La Lopa Ristorante. We enjoy supremely delicious homemade fettuccine with sausage and Italian mushrooms, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin parmigiana. The cave ambiance is, of course, spectacular. A very popular place that filled up quickly after we arrived. We probably set Italian records by arriving at the ristorante at the unheard-of early time — 7:45 pm — and leaving at the unheard of “brief” length of stay — “only” 90 minutes.

Thought to be one of the world’s oldest towns, Matera dates back as far as the Paleolithic times. There is evidence that people were living here as early as the year 7000 BC. Matera Italy, Mar 8, 2019 (2)Fodor’s notes that Matera is the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago.

In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. Beset by extreme poverty and riddled with malaria, the unhealthy living conditions were considered inhuman and an affront to the modern new Italian Republic of Alcide De Gasperi. However, people continued to live in the Sassi.

On Saturday, we walk the extraordinary medieval Old Towne Matera. We enter a number of homes and churches that are large holes dug into the limestone rock within the city walls. Very damp and cool inside. We stroll quite a large number of highly photogenic, charming cobblestone stairways.

For dinner, at the very local and authentic Taverna La Focagna, we enjoy a spectacularly delicious cutting board of veggies, Bufala cheese, and olive oil, as well as homemade pasta with sausage and sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms. Their Primitivo house vino is superb!

The stroll to and from the ristorante was heart-warming, as we were delighted to find ourselves embedded in the wonderful Italian tradition of a “passeggiata,” where huge numbers of citizens in the community walk together along city streets. Such a thing gives Passeggiata, Matera, Mar 9, 2019 (2)me hope for the future of humanity. Tragically, Americans are a nation of loners that utterly lack such an experience.

The next morning, we check out the four wall tiles on a street next to the Duomo showing representations of rebellious citizens attacking and killing their ruler, a count who they had grown to despise. We then opt for a guided walking tour, which turns out to be impressively informative and enjoyable. The tour ends with a Primitivo tasting at a town shop. We then ride a van to Belvedere on the other side of the canyon next to Matera, where Mel Gibson had filmed the crucifixion scene in his The Passion of Christ movie. We hike along rocky cliffs and sandy paths to inspect several cave dwellings formerly lived in by monks.

That night, we dine at La Gattabuia Ristorante. We eat their utterly superb Beef Tartare, their supremely delicious homemade pastas, and their Aglianico wine – which is a big, bold, hearty red wine said to be like Nebbiolo. Again, on the way to our ristorante, we find ourselves with the wonderful community passeggiata!

After dinner, my entire body was smiling.

Here are the photos I shot while in Matera.

For our two weeks, we are very fortunate to enjoy sunny weather in the 60s. More challenging is the ristorante hours, as on several occasions, we learn that our target ristorante is closed – particularly on Sundays, when hours tend to be very limited or the place is simply closed that day.

In sum, do not miss Puglia in your travels to Italy. Much splendor and joy are to be found there.

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