BITS and PIECES # 47

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May 20, 2014 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 47

Hello again from Luquillo,

Here, as promised a few weeks ago, is part II of the Turkey Trot Chronicles. Thanks to those of you who responded favorably to part I, and requested ‘at ticket to ride’ further along the road with us — it encouraged me to clean-up and edit part II sooner than I had planned. I hope you enjoy accompanying us on our further adventures…

THE TURKEY TROT CHRONICLES – PART II – MILANO/ROME/NAPLES/ATHENS

Driving along the A1 motorway (part of the excellent Italian autostrada system) from Milano to Rome was a pleasure. There were many agreeable restaurants conveniently located on highway overpasses every few miles. The detail that they served wine and liquor as well as pasta and sausage at these locations quickly became painfully clear. When coupled with the autostrada’s speed limit of 150 kph (93 mph) this mixture provided some challenging moments along the way. I discovered that Italian drivers eschewed horn honking, preferring instead to roar-up behind us at high speeds, flick their lights from high to low beam to indicate their intent to pass, and then swoop by, shivering our tiny Volkswagen with the blustery airstream of their passage. We took our time, plodding along at moderate (for the autostrada) 60 mph, glued to the far right lane, thus circumventing catastrophe…

Just after nightfall we approached the outskirts of Rome As the road brought us down out of the surrounding hills, I spied two signs, side by side, that seemed to have been purposely emplaced in discordant partnership. The first implored passers-by to ‘Vota Communista’ in bold letters above the familiar ‘Hammer and Sickle’ device of the communist party. The second requested motorists to ‘Bere (drink) Coca Cola’. It was printed in that ubiquitous American product’s familiar black script splashed on a red background, a decidedly capitalistic plea. Politics make strange bedfellows wherever one travels, I mused,

We had reserved accommodations at the Palazzo Cardinale Cesi, a former Roman Catholic cardinal’s palace that had been converted into a four star hotel. Amazingly, we found our way to our lodgings with minimal difficulty by consulting the city map in our recently acquired ‘Guide Michelin’. We had forsaken our well-thumbed Baedeker map book for this amazing compendium of European travel knowledge and its superb, full-color roadmaps. We were soon pulling-in to the hotel’s iron-gated courtyard…

We had selected the Palazzo Cesi because of its convenient location in Rome’s Vatican district, a short walk from St. Peter’s basilica…

We were greeted by a colorfully uniformed attendant who smiled widely and directed us to what appeared to be a row of stables, the stalls of which turned-out to be currently employed as tiny, individual parking garages…

After checked-in at the front desk, an elaborately carved construction of various highly polished woods, the clerk picked-up a bell and vigorously rang it, summoning an aged, stoop-shouldered bellman who silently guided us to the elevator and then to our room on the third floor. It was quite opulent, well-appointed with interesting antique furnishings with heavy brocaded draperies at the windows. We were delighted, except for our usually ebullient daughter Lisa, who seemed a bit put-out upon discovering that the otherwise luxurious bathroom equipment didn’t include the same bath for her dolly (a bidet) that she had been so partial to at our last lodgings, the Principe e Savoia in Milano…

After a refreshing night’s sleep, we arose early to have an elegant breakfast in the hotel’s large dining room, an equally baroque chamber with fascinating ‘old world’ appointments. Then we were off for a round of sight-seeing — we had two full days in Rome before we must get back on the autostrada once again to drive farther south to Naples in time to embark on the MV San Giorgio which would take us across the Mediterranean Sea to Athens and then over the Aegean Sea to Istanbul. Meanwhile, we could relax, explore and enjoy the glorious storied scenery and balmy fall weather of Rome…

We left our car in its stable stall, and did our exploring by foot, bus and taxi — we covered St. Peter’s basilica that morning, since it was within walking distance, then we took a taxi to the Coliseum (where we innocently picked-up and pocketed potsherds from the ground – a definite no-no, we discovered later to our embarrassment), the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill in ancient Rome. Then, after consuming a delicious lunch at a sidewalk café, we bought cups of delectable gelato (Italian Ice cream) from a street vendor.  We pressed on to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli so we could see Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.  Later that afternoon, we headed wearily back to the hotel for naps.  The Palazzo was filled with priests and nuns who were attending Vatican II (the second Vatican Council) convened by Pope Paul VI. At dinner that evening, a group of nuns seated nearby took great pleasure in watching our son Mike’s joyful consumption of an immense plateful of spaghetti. Several nuns stopped by our table, smiling, they gently patted Mike on his head in awed appreciation of his prodigious noodle consuming prowess…

As a side note, our waiter recommended a nice bottle of an Italian cabernet labeled ‘Est-Est-Est’ which Eileen and I enthusiastically put a considerable dent in during dinner…

The next morning, we set off again, our travels that day took us to the Piazza de Spagna and the famously misnamed ‘Spanish Steps’ and then over a few streets to the Trevi fountain, so Mike and Lisa could throw pennies over their shoulders into the water and make secret wishes as tradition required. Then we backtracked to the Vatican, this time touring the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. We craned our necks heavenward to take in the vaulted ceiling’s magnificent 16th century murals by Michelangelo…

Tired out, we wandered wearily back to the Palazzo to nap, eat dinner and then retire early,  as we were to re-embark, this time on the autostrada’s A2 motorway for the 120 mile trip to Naples early the next morning…

The miles passed quickly as we sped down the A2 to Naples. We had to find and board the MV San Giorgio by late afternoon. The ship would sail in the early evening, and our car had to be picked-up and stowed on the ship’s deck. By noon, we were hopelessly lost once more – we wandered the streets of Naples searching fruitlessly for the waterfront. When we stopped to ask directions of a passing caribineri, I mistakenly said to him that we were searching for San Giorgio. Misinterpreting my query, he sent us up into the hills above the city to a village named San Giorgio!  When we got high enough into the hills, and finally realized our mistake, we could see the entire panorama of Naples (including the waterfront and the ships at their docks) spread out like a relief map below us. It was now getting late in the afternoon, so we sped down the winding road back to the city and the waterfront, arriving just moments before the gangway was retracted!

Screeching to a halt, I quickly ushered my family to the gangway, Eileen opened her purse and grabbing a fistful of Italian Lira notes from within its depths, pressed them into the hand of the,porter I had summoned to help me unstrap our luggage from the baggage rack and carry it onto the ship.  I hurriedly moved our car near the crane that was loading the last of the cargo from the dock. I showed my papers to the sweating crane operator, and he swiftly and efficiently wrapped canvas straps around the car, skillfully brought the crane’s hook in place to snag the ring at the top of the straps, and suddenly our car was airborne, soaring into the sky and swung aboard the ship’s foredeck to be tied-down securely, just as the San Giorgio’s steam whistle announced the ship’s imminent departure! 

I ran up the gangway as the crew prepared to retract it, and stumbled breathlessly toward my family, who had been watching all of this anxiously. I got directions from a steward, and herded us all toward the ship’s lounge — we all needed to relax and get some refreshments — and I was desperate for a shot of scotch to calm my frazzled nerves…

Our first-class cabin was a spacious room on the port side of the ship. It had a large portlight window that afforded a panoramic view of Naples and the surrounding countryside as we stowed our belongings and the ship got underway. The first leg of the voyage took us overnight around the ‘boot heel’ of Italy to the city of Brindisi on Italy’s east coast by the next afternoon, where we paused briefly to embark more passengers and take on more cargo. Leaving Brindisi late that afternoon under sunny skies, all went well until nightfall, when a sudden Mediterranean storm appeared out of nowhere and enveloped the ship just when we had finished dinner and had moved to the lounge to watch a movie. The ship began to pitch and roll under us with the rising wind and seas, and the lounge was soon emptied due to multiple cases of ‘mal de mer’, our family included. I escorted Eileen and the children back to our cabin, and administered Dramamine pills that I had procured from the steward. The children were soon asleep, and Eileen was semi-comfortably curled-up with a book. So I went back to the lounge to finish my drink and watch the rest of the movie (fortuitously, I have seldom suffer from sea sickness). The lounge steward was looking a little green around the gills himself, so I offered to turn-off the projector and lock-up when the movie ended — he gratefully agreed and swiftly departed…

The next morning the storm had passed and the remainder of the voyage to Athens passed by serenely, under sunny skies and calm seas. We tied up the following morning to a pier in the Plaka, the city’s storied waterfront district, and prepared to disembark, looking forward to a day of sight-seeing and visits to as many of the ancient city’s treasures that we could squeeze in over the course of a day, before we departed for Istanbul. We swiftly cleared immigration, hailed a taxi and were soon headed-up the winding road to the Acropolis. It sat regally atop a steep-sided promontory, with its crown jewel, the temple of Athena that is the Parthenon, glowing brightly in the morning sun. Just after I had paid-off the taxi, we were fortunate to hook-up with an excellent professional guide, an extremely energetic, middle aged Athenian lady named Irene (pronounce ee-ree-nay in the local vernacular), who steered us expertly through the ancient temple, while entertainingly instructing us (non-stop) with stories describing its fascinating history. A photographer took pictures while we followed our guide, offering to develop the films and send them to our hotel. When I told him that we were leaving by ship for Turkey later that evening, he pledged to send them on to us. Although doubtful that we would ever see the photos, I requested that he send them on to us, in care the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, paying him the equivalent of $30 in Grecian currency, while my wife looked on skeptically.  Amazingly, the packet of priceless black and white photos of our Athenian excursion caught-up with us a few months later!

We returned to the Plaka around noon, had a lovely lunch of stuffed vine leaves at a waterfront café and then did a little browsing in the local shops (we bought a brass scale) before reboarding the San Giorgio for the final leg of our shipboard journey to Istanbul…

© 2014 – Alan Mowbray Jr.   

   

 

 

 

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 47

  1. Michael Dowaliby says:

    In 1952 to 1956 enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and somewhere along the way, I thought I met Alan Mowbray JR. ? Next Month I will be 82 (born 1933). Any of this possible. There was an interesting story re: the time? Mike Dowaliby

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