Day 9: Mannequins in a Dungeon

There was tasty Bieletti brewed coffee while sitting on the porch this morning. A fresh nectarine and bread with butter and some amazing cherry preserves for breakfast.

And then we relaxed.  Get used to reading that quite a bit.

It’s actually amusing how much the babbies’ sleep/food schedule doesn’t align with non-siesta. Keeps us on our toes in terms of scheduling anything.

So relaxing happened until around 2:00 when we motored over to Pizzo (about 8 miles up the foot of the boot). Getting there was easy, until Waze decided to have a fit… Have I mentioned how I need to have words with Waze at some point?  She seems to have no ability to tell the difference between highway and murder road. Just the other day, as we returned from Marcellinara, she took us down this… well, it was literally a murder road complete with giant potholes, cracked asphalt and a couple major appliances abandoned in the dead grass.

I was thinking to myself as we drove down it, “Wow, P probably thinks I’m taking him down this road to murder him and the babbies.”  He, in turn, said to L, “Pretty sure Clay is taking us down this road to murder us all.”

So today’s adventure in WrongWaze had us trying to drive through a very skinny street that had pretty much been turned into a cafe, complete with DO NOT ENTER sign.  I had to do a 17 point turn to get turned around to get out, and then some asshat decided he needed to get IN before I did that, so I had to undo what I did, then do it over again.  I TURN BETTER THAN ALL OF YOU NOW!!!!

Anyway, eventually we got close to where we wanted to be and parked.  Of course there was a big hill between us and destination, but I was so gunshy about driving through someone’s lunch that I gave up and parked us anyway.

So we loaded babbies up and pushed them up and over the hill, coming down into the center of PIzzo.

Our intended destination: Castello Murat


Castello Murat was the prison of Joaquin-Napoleon Murat, King of Naples, leading up to his execution by firing squad.

For €3 a head, we got to take a quick, self-guided tour of the two levels that were open, which started with the dungeon. There were cells holding mannequins in military dress, a very tiny cannon, and a pretty awesome suit of armor along with maps and other cool, old stuff.

Upstairs were the more formal chambers, the balcony overlooking Pizzo bay, and the cell where Murat was held.

It was a cool little tour of a very tiny castle.  Unfortunately, unlike the castles I was in while visiting France, it wasn’t cool inside.

Luckily, P spotted a gelato place, so we sat down and had some GLORIOUS gelato and sodas before heading back to the house for a swim in the sea with mom and dad, followed by some pasta in a very tasty bolognese crafted by P.  P’s batting 1000 for food today. He was also responsible for the cherry preserves.

Post dinner, everyone adjourned a little earlier than normal, and before climbing into bed with my laptop to craft this missive, I took a photo of the sunset for you.


Goodnight, Sun…


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Day 8: And On The Eighth Day, They Rested… Sorta

In the aftermath of our visit to the city buried by the volcano, we were all pretty well tuckered out.  3.5 hours up, 4 hours there, 3.5 hours back. Heat. Walking. More walking… So, Saturday because a day of relaxing.

Mom and I started off with an afternoon swim in the sea.  The water was almost TOO warm.  But not really.

Mom and I swimming in the sea. Photo credit: Dad.

Quick grocery store run for supplies, afternoon naps, then a late dinner of meat on a stick.

Speidino Rustica: sausage, pork, pork belly, a sliver of bell pepper, and other unidentifiable (probably pork) based meats. On a stick.

I could have started the grill sooner… it’s this solid metal plate over the flames that took FOREVER to heat up, but overall, it wasn’t bad.  Nice, mellow dinner conversation, and (relatively) early to bed for everyone. There were about 45 seconds of tiny fireworks when the Football game ended, but not nearly as ostentatious as earlier in the week.

Overall, good recuperation day.

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Day 7: Run from the mountain!!! RUNNNN!!!

It’s a 3.5 hour drive from Localita Brace to Pompeii.  It’s a long drive. Introduced the parents to the Hamilton soundtrack on the drive. Tried, mostly successfully, to stay awake.  Successfully found the ruins. Successfully parked.  Successfully acquired tickets.

Unsuccessfully tried to enter the ruins.

Turns out you can’t have professional photography equipment within the grounds, because they don’t want you taking professional photos (even personal professional photos).  And the tripod that was supporting Stanley on my camera bag was whatever the Italian word is for verboten.  The gate dudes told me I would have to check the tripod in the baggage/coat check area, but not before they all gathered around to get some Stanley Selfies.

As I was trying to re-arrange Stanley so he’d still stand up, I asked the guy who was checking the tripod, “It’s okay if I bring Stanley in, though, right?”  He stopped, looked at me, and said in a perfectly serious way, “Oh, you MUST bring Stanley in.”

I’m not going to do a big writeup on Pompeii, only because it was a bit too much to process.  The place is huge. What is left behind is amazing and mind blowing. And we only got to explore a fraction of it before heat and walking and time drove us back to the car.

I will say this, though: I had no freakin clue. The art and architecture are amazing. I may need to do a return visit just to spend a week exploring Pompeii and Herculaneum (with Stanley of course).

The guy in the bag check room asked if Stanley enjoyed his visit as we were leaving. Stanley did.

So enjoy the photos, I’m just going to bask in the memories.

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Day 6: Because We’re Like Family

Thursday, we packed up the babbies and the parents and hopped in the cars to head for the hills. The hills outside of Catanzaro, where Marcellinara sits.

Marcellinara is the town listed on my Great-Grandmother’s immigration paperwork as her home before departing Italy for New York. We believe she and her husband married there before heading across the ocean, and my great-uncle Giuseppe (Joseph) was most likely born there.

We wanted to take a drive up to scope out the town before we went up to do any research in earnest.

Waze guided us to big parking lot that doubles as a market on Mondays.  We wandered around a bit until we found our way up the hill to the actual town center, complete with Church, City Hall and an open plaza looking out over the valley below.

Town Center

There was a little old man sitting in the plaza pictured above who started speaking to us without hesitation.  Between apps and pantomime we explained that mom’s Nonna was from Marcellinara, to which he just kept replying “famiglia!” and making gestures of hugging.

Eventually we made our way over to City Hall and peeked inside.  It was empty, because we were there during the non-siesta hours, but our intent was merely to find it, and we did.  It also had bathrooms, so yay!!

Wandering back up towards the church, we stopped at a cafe that we weren’t sure was actually open. One of the young gentlemen outside (maybe in his mid-20s) said hello and immediately switched to English when we tried to speak.  We explained the reason for our visit, and he pulled out his cellphone to call his grandfather in order to see if he recognized any of the names we had.  Since Great-Grandma left here in the late 1890s, we didn’t expect him to. But the nice guy directed us towards the local cemetery (which we hadn’t been able to find on a map) to check there as well.

As we got underway again, previous old man blew mom a kiss as we wandered by, and the little cafe next to the church turned out to be open, so we sat in the shade and enjoyed some Cokes, chips, peanuts, and some tasty tasty spicy spicy chili paste on bread.

We headed back home for the day (via Vibo Marina for an early dinner) very satisfied with our first connection to family.

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Day 5: Four F#@#ing Kilos of Parmesan

Believe it or not, I didn’t take ANY pictures on Wednesday.

The day started out a bit lazy. Slow morning filled with babbie laughter and occasional shouts of “NO! DON’T CLIMB IN THE FIREPLACE!!”  Breakfast of those store packaged croissants. Lunch of ham, salami and cheese panini, smooshed on the panini-press. And some nice, general lazing about.

Mom and dad ventured down to the beach. I napped.

Then, when the non-siesta was over, P, L, the babbies and I loaded into the wagon and headed for grocery store #3.  The one that was bigger than #1, closer than #2, and closed yesterday.

Overall, it was definitely a step up from #1 in terms of stuff. The staff wasn’t quite as friendly, and it wasn’t as big as #2, despite being in the same chain. But it wasn’t an unpleasant experience, until my American got in the way.

“Quarter kilo reggio parmesan, please,” I said into the translator app.

Quarto chilogrammo reggio parmesan, por favore,” said the translator app.

So, it turns out that a quarter of a kilo isn’t a thing here.

Mezzo chilo (half kilo) is TOTALLY a thing.  Less than that, though, you’re supposed to switch to grams. So deli guy interpreted my translator app as wanting FOUR KILOS of cheese.

Panic and mayhem ensued, because I didn’t figure out the grams thing until I was home, ashamed of not being better with the metric system.

Thankfully, at least, we were able to eventually get a small wedge of cheese.  But not until cheese guy was thoroughly disgusted with me.

C’est la vie.

Or, I guess Questa è la vita.

P made a great dinner of risotto with local veggies and some cured pork belly. I was trying to comfort the wailing girl-babbie while he finished up, because I figured I could do that better than actually cook risotto.  Boy was I wrong.  She wanted nothing to do with me in her agitated state, and got so upset that she projective vomited half a bottle of milk all over the both of us.

:: jazz hands ::

Questa è la vita.

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Day 4: The Holy Baby Grenade of Antioch

So Tuesday was the Assumption of Mary, which means, in a strongly Roman Catholic country, it was a holiday and everything was closed.  This was troubling as the other half of our party was arriving, and there was little to no food in the house.

P, L and the babbies got here circa lunch time, and we managed to get sandwiches into the two adults pretty quickly.  The babbies are adorable, and kept us entertained while P put together THEIR food (mashed apple, mashed cauliflower, and mashed carrots). Mom and Dad spent time getting to know everyone, and it was generally mellow.

I sat down to do some work, and managed to make it through my first call of the day without too much trouble.  Shared some photos of my office with my team, and made them generally jealous.

A panoramic view of my “office.”

Between calls, I chanced making a run to the localer branch of the big grocery store we found Monday.  I found it, right around the corner from the Supermercado from Sunday.  It even had PARKING!!  Also, it had a view…

You can almost see the house from here.

Unfortunately, it was closed for the afternoon.

The Supermercado was not, however.  So I was able to score some sausage, bread, olives, iced tea and gelato. A feast fit for, if not a King, some vacationers in a villa on the side of the sea.

It was another hot, beautiful day, as is to be expected.

Looking down towards the beach from the back yard. Photo by Dad.

The other thing we didn’t know about today’s festivities was that it included the time honored tradition of playing Ravel’s Bolero at top volume at about quarter of midnight, followed by 2 hours of disco, Gloria Estefan and other pop hits.

A message from P around midnight contained the threat that if the revelers woke the babbies, who had just completed a spectacular meltdown, that he’d be throwing a Baby Grenade at them.

Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. 

Eventually the music ceased, and everyone slumbered.

Good night, Stromboli.

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Day 3: Mayor of The Sun

It is hot here.

Holy poop.

And I can’t even say “It’s a dry heat” because it’s not.  It is, however, still beautiful despite the fountains of sweat.

My room opens up onto one of the back patios, and I can see the Mediterranean from bed if I leave the shutters open. But because I’m on the ground floor, the trees in the back yard cut the wind coming off the sea significantly, so it’s super warm.  So I leave those shutters open whenever I’m home.

I woke about an hour before sunrise on Monday, so I decided to get up and get a few sunrise photos.  We don’t get as spectacular sunrises as we do sunsets here, of course, because Italy is in the way.  But the illuminated storm clouds were pretty.

The day started off quiet. We got cleaned up, and then ventured out to the little local grocery store.

The produce section at Supermercado AZ

And I’m not kidding when I say little.  Most aisles should have been one way.

We successfully acquired lunch meat, rolls, fruit and some other sundries, and then proceeded to get lost on the way home because Clay didn’t turn on Waze as soon as he should have.  We got a nice tour of the dirt roads in the foothills.

We had a great lunch on the patio, and then adjourned to the tv room for couch naps.

Mmmm… naps.

Completely forgetting that everything shuts down between 1:30 and 4:30, we headed into Vibo Marina again in search of a bigger grocery store so that we could pick up some supplies for the babies before they got here.  The marina was nigh on abandoned at 3:30.  So we wandered around for a while, and found a church with a sign about a festival starting this week in honor of Maria of the Rosary of Pompeii.  There are church events and secular events for a few days.  Should prove to be fun.

When 4:00 rolled around, everyone started moving, on their way back to work.  The Sun, our gelato destination from the previous night, opened pretty quickly, so we got some sodas and sat in the shade.  I “checked in” to the location again using Swarm, and it turns out that I’m now “The Mayor” of The Sun!

I might as well be walking on the sun…

We were able to find a nice grocery store that had everything we needed. I tried to get at least the basics in with Google Translate. “Small container of olives.” “Quarter kilo of Napoli salame.” Those were pretty simple. But a few times I had to use Vocre, a translation app, especially at the deli counter. It’s kinda cool. You speak into it, and it processes and spits out the words in Italian (or whatever language you set it to).  I have no idea how accurate it is, but everyone I used it with broke out into a huge smile when I ended the conversation with “Thank you for your patience.”

We were also able to find a small electronics store to get a curling iron for mom. The first gentleman, when I tried with just the Google Translate, started rattling off Italian that pretty much ended with “my head explodes” before he waved his daughter over to help us.  I told her “ferro arricciacapelli” and she smiled, nodded, and dug through her shelves until she found one.  She plugged it in to test it, nodded again, and charged us ten Euro.

We got home without another trek into the hills.  Mom and I went down to swim at the beach for a bit. Then we made a nice, simple dinner of pasta with pesto and a salad, and we were all in bed by 11:00.

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Day 2: The Road Less on Fire

Finally, a decent night’s sleep… sort of.

They put a “roll away” bed in the room for me next to the king bed mom and dad slept in.  The mattress was SUPER comfy, but the bed frame was made of wooden slats held to a metal frame by plastic end cups that weren’t, shall we say, new.  So any time I increased pressure unevenly on a single slat from things like, oh, rolling over, said slat popped out and I had to lift the mattress and maneuver the slat back into place.

Eventually I gave up and put the mattress on the floor.

Still slept well, though.

Super tasty continental breakfast with bacon that was 80% fat and 100% awesome.

We loaded up the car and headed out, opting to take a quick detour along the Sorrento peninsula, because we could.

On the way, we got our first glimpse of Mount Vesuvius.

Mount Vesuvius – Photo by Dad

It shocked my system with some sort of instinctual excitement. I couldn’t tell if it was some sort of genetic fight or flight response, or just my reaction to years and years of hearing about it… but either way, it was awesome in the most basic sense of the word.  It inspired awe.

Sorrento was crazy beautiful.  There’s not really much more to say than that.

Sorrento from Above – A few more photos in the Gallery below.

It was Sunday afternoon, so the place was packed with traffic and insanity.  We also had a car obviously filled with luggage. So rather than park and wander, we just let the magic phone map lady take us on a tour of the city before heading south towards Calabria.

The drive down was long, and filled with rest stops. We ended up stopping at more than one because I couldn’t deal with the combination of crowd and not knowing what side of the car the gas tank was on.  But eventually we got gas, and continued on our way.

One thing that was surprisingly like home was the number of wildfires in the hills.  Lush, green, tree-covered hillsides with 1 to n-1 pillars of smoke rising from below.  Some of the fires were tiny. Some, however, were huge.  And it was a huge one that trapped us at the mouth of a tunnel for about 20 minutes while they put it out.  When we finally got to proceed, there were several fire trucks there, and it was still burning.  We could hear the crackle even with the windows rolled up.

Despite the delay, we made it to Localita Bracè.

“Where dat?” you say?  Lemme explain. No. Explain will take too long.  Lemme sum up.

This is Italy.

Look down at the toe of the boot.

This is Calabria.

Now look at the knuckle on the toe of the boot.

Here is Briatico, right at the top of the knuckle.

Right next to Briatico is Localita Bracè.

Localita Bracè – Our house is the little grey pin.

And that’s where we’re at.

Sunset last night was amazing.  We just sort of basked in it for a while before heading out for food.  Dinner generally doesn’t start till about 8:00 here. Around 8:45 we arrived in Vibo Marina, a little town about six miles east of us… it’s like someone took Sausalito, got rid of all the snotty rich people, and made it actually fun.

Dinner at Ciro’s

We dined at Ciro’s Pizze, a nice little family style restaurant where they served pizze and hamburgers, Italian style, which is pretty damned good if I do say so myself.  That was followed up by gelato from The Sun (oh yes, I’ve eaten food from The Sun), and a nice walk along the marina before heading home for some much needed sleep.

Gelato from The Sun.

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Day 1: Airports, and Rental Cars and Squid Ink, Oh My!

It was a long, long, long flight. Okay, so maybe only 8.5 hours, but still, it was cramped. Okay, so maybe we were in Economy Plus, but still, it was… actually over pretty painlessly. Staff on the flight was great. Biggest trial and tribulation was having to wait for my in-seat entertainment system to reboot.

They woke the plane about 8AM local time to feed us a light breakfast of Croissant and yogurt. Then everyone started opening their windows and realizing we were flying over the Italian alps.

We landed in Roma just about on schedule, and as the captain said, we were on a seriously long taxi route from the runway to the gate.  The bell rang, and everyone stood, as you do… and then we waited.  And waited. And eventually the captain came on and told us that they couldn’t seem to find someone to drive the jetway so we could get off the plane. They could see crew standing on it looking at us, but no one there could move it.  That was kinda funny.

Turns out the jetway was busted.  So NO ONE could move it. So they took us out the aft exit on the airstairs and then bussed us over to immigration (not as bad as it sounds), which saved us a long walk through the terminal.

Immigration and Customs was easy, and it was a (relatively, once we identified the right signs) easy trek to the car rental place to get our car, which is much too small for all our luggage.  It’s a good thing mom is skinny.

Fortune smiled on us, and we quickly found the highway towards Napoli, and sooner that I actually expected, we were on the road.

Rome, or right out side of it, near the airport, looks a lot like Redding. All three of us remarked on this separately at one point or another. But the scenery quickly turned to slightly less hot/burnt looking, and we ran into our first traffic snarl — turns out it was just the “take your turnpike ticket” booths.

It was about a 3 hour drive down to Baronissi, where we were stopping for day 1, so of course we had to make at least one pit stop. Much like the Jersey turnpike, the toll highway here has service plazas with gas, food and bathrooms. So about two hours in, we stopped for a bio break, and a leg stretching break.

The food in this “service plaza” all looked amazing. And dudes, all the Ritter Sport you could ever want.

Back on the road, and we had about an hour left.  We got to Hotel dei Principati about 4:00, checked in and immediately took showers, then a two hour nap.  Oh holy god, naps are amazing.

Around 7:00 we were all conscious again, so we made plans to just eat right here in the hotel.  Dinner service didn’t start until 8:00 though, so we had a bit of time to look out the windows while we waited.

Dinner was quiet and quite tasty.

Dad had Linguini and Clams.

Mom had Spaghetti with Sun Dried Tomatos.

And I had the Squid Ink Risotto.

All in all, it was an exhausting, but super good day.  Mom and Dad are already asleep, and I am fighting the head bobs right now, myself.


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1 Hour to Departure…

So at 11:55 last night I got a call from mom… their Redding to San Francisco flight had been canceled. Quick scramble and they made the 4 hour drive down, getting to my place around 4:30 this morning.

Quick nap, and I dropped them at the airport, ditching their car at my office and Lyfting back.

We’re at the gate now. Boarding in 15 minutes.

So far so good. Relatively speaking.

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