Day 12: Of Clothes Lines and Post Offices

I have a letter to the Pope.

Well, a letter to his household, at least.  We want to get tickets to the general audience that happens just before we leave Rome.  I tried faxing it from the US, and it just didn’t work. So I printed it out and addressed an envelope, and I have been forgetting to mail it for 12 days now.

So today, the mother, father and I headed out to Briatico to find the post office.

Here’s the thing about the Italian Post Office: It’s a post office, it’s a bank, it’s a place you can pay your utility bills, and it’s slow as all getout.

Only one of the three windows was marked with an envelope.  The other two were marked with Euro symbols.  I got in line for the envelope one, and as soon as the woman at the window had finished her transaction (and I use the word soon loosely here, because it was like 10 minutes), the agent at the window put up her closed sign and started doing things at her desk, leaving me and the woman in front of me wondering what was going on.

The OTHER two windows stayed open…

Eventually, we gave up and walked to the grocery store.  The grocery store with the ocean view.  The grocery store with THIS view…

Got some dinner fixins, and headed home.  When everyone was settled, mom and I snuck back out to hit the beach supply store (and I use the term store loosely, it was a small one room shop built onto the side of a shipping container.  We were looking for some rope to use as a clothes line, because between 4 adults and 2 babbies, we make a lot of laundry, and the rack isn’t enough to dry it all.

I made use of the magic translator app to convey “cord for laundry” to the little old Italian man who ran the shop.  He shook his head no, but then held up his hand and told us to wait a moment.

Scurrying out the front of the shop and around to the side door (which was the shipping container) he emerged with a length of plastic twine that he had been using to secure things to poles and tie up  piles of collapsed cardboard boxes.  With hand gestures and mutters he told us that he wouldn’t charge us for it, so we bought a hat for dad, and two Frozen themed floating rings for the babbies so that we didn’t leave without buying SOMETHING.  With a smile, we headed home.

P made like 5 or 12 different Pizzas with home made dough for dinner that evening, while mom and I tied up the new clothesline.  They were super tasty (the pizzas, not the clothesline).  I fried the brain editing work docs, and after like 7 hours in the same one I collapsed for the night.

Oh yeah, and there was this:

The sunsets here are just beautiful…

Categories: Calabria

Day 11: Adventures in Navigating a Castle in a Stroller

Up early, quick coffee and bread with jam, then on the road to explore Museo Archeologico di Vibo Valentia. While only about 7 miles away, it was a good 30 minute drive up the face of a mountain and through the town. Waze, yet again, tried taking me on a road that was impassible because now it was a building. Anyone know how to report that to them?

We arrived at the Museum, which is housed in a Norman-Swabian era castle.  Parking was sort of loosey goosey, so we just pulled up to the side of the castle and parked near the entrance ramp.  No one stopped us, so hey!  Winning!

While the babbies were unloaded from the vehicle, I walked down to the ticket hut and got us each a €3 ticket (the babbies were free) and we wandered in for our adventure.

Obstacle 1: Entry Stairs

You stand, looking at a castle. There are stairs leading up to the
doorway to the castle, but there is also a dirt ramp that, while steep, 
is not impassible.  Do you go:


We chose Ramp.


Obstacle 2: Stairs on the other Side of the Entry

SURPRISE!  You thought you got past the entry stairs! 
MUAHAHAHHA! NO! There are stairs right INSIDE THE DOOR AS WELL!  

(A)bandon this quest
(C)arry the stroller up the stairs

P and I carried stroller (containing babbies) up those stairs to the landing at the top.


Obstacle 3: Dirty Diaper

You have reached the top of the stairs. You see a small foyer.
Uh oh! Smells like someone pooped! Do you:

(C)hange the diaper right here
(F)ind somewhere a little less Foyer

We opted to find somewhere a little less Foyer.

From the Foyer, you can go:

(F)orward to an open courtyard
(L)eft to a room with exhibits
(R)ight to a different room with exhibits
(U)p to the second floor

We wandered out into the open courtyard, where it seemed they were setting up for some sort of event.

Obstacle 4: Little Italian Lady

But wait, we’ve not conquered Obstacle 3 yet!

Too bad.

A little Italian lady comes to greet you. You figure out that 
she is pretty much telling you that the museum is back inside 
and that you should go that way. Do you:

(U)se the magic translation app to say you need to change a diaper
(G)ive up and go back inside

I used the magic translation app.

The little Italian lady absolutely refuses to let you use one of 
the benches in the courtyard. Instead, she directs a little Italian 
man to find you a chair somewhere more private.  Do you:

(S)tand, confused and do nothing
(A)ccept her offer

P accepted her offer and proceeded to change the diaper.


Obstacle 5: ALL the Little Italian Ladies

By the time you are done changing the diaper, a small group of 
Little Italian Ladies has realized there are not one, but 
TWO babbies in the stroller.  While Original Little Italian Lady 
explains that you should leave the stroller here, other Little 
Italian Ladies coo and fawn over the babbies asking questions 
of Original Little Italian Lady who, after getting their names, 
forcibly corrects New Little Italian Ladies that no, one is a 
boy and one is a girl.  Do you:

(T)ake the babbies in arms and explore the museum
(R)un for your lives

P and L each picked up a babbie and we began exploring the museum.


The museum itself was pretty cool. Only the first section, about the creation of pottery thousands of years ago, had English translations. But that was okay, because the rest was just dates and artifacts.  COOL COOL artifacts (see photo gallery below). They also mixed in modern art in each exhibit room.  Things like space-age looking chess boards, and crazy bent and knotted nylon filament that, if you actually looked at it, made the shape of a dog’s head in the middle of the chaos.

Overall, super cool museum.

Getting out was much easier than getting in, as P & L carried the babbies back down the stairs, and I off-roaded the empty stroller down on my own.

We finished the tour on the patio of the cafe/bar right outside the castle entrance, then headed home with a quick stop at grocery store for supplies.

I made an improvised Muffuletta for lunch, and P made a wonderful interpretation of a local pasta dish with garbanzo beans for dinner.

Om nom nom nom…

That evening, over dinner, L was telling us about a treat they give children from Schmetterlinglund (where she’s from) on their birthdays. Now, she said Dickmann’s, but we heard Dick Monsters.  Which, it turns out, is appropriate.

Dick Monsters

You see, the trick is to eat these little wiener shaped treats (which are filled with marshmallow fluff) without using your hands.  Just ponder that for a while…

Categories: Calabria

Day 10: Rainy Days and Bidets Always Get Me Down…

I woke about 2AM to the sound of rain. It was lovely, and stopped shortly after I rolled over to go back to sleep.

When I finally woke again, it was still overcast, and just before 10AM, the rain started again.  Big, fat drops falling down with enough force to rattle the leaves and make loud spattering noises on the paving stones.


Of course just after I finished taking that video I realized I’d left the car windows open slightly, so grabbed the keys and I bolted up the (now wet and slippery) tile stairs to the parking spot, jumped in the car and put up the windows.  I opted to hide in the car for a few moments, but then my mom came out to move the laundry and other things in the parking/patio area under the awning, and I felt guilty, so I got out to help her.

I don’t think the rain really lasted more than five minutes or so, really.  Then it got super nice (if a little more humid than normal) out.

When it cleared up, Mom, Dad and I hiked down the cliff to the beach and went for a glorious swim. P brought down girl-babbie, too. Much fun was had by all.

Thank goodness for SPF50 swim shirts! Photo Credit: Dad

We made a grocery run to get dinner supplies, and I came home and made a bell pepper/prosciutto cotto frittata.  Over cooked it JUST slightly.  The cheese on top was a bit more caramelized than I wanted it.  But it still tasted okay.

Bed pretty early.  Nice, relaxing day, overall.


What do you mean, “Is that it?”

Ohhhhhh… you’re talking about the post title.  Yeah.


So, at home, I have one of those awesome robotic toilet seats that self warms, has a night light, and washes your butt.  It’s amazing.  I highly recommend you getting one, it changes your life.

There are four bathrooms here in the house, and two of them have traditional, European bidets in them.

“Hey self!” I thinks to myself, “It’s just a detached version of what you have at home, like when the garage is separate from the house. You should totally try it out!”

And so I did… and… I couldn’t figure out how to actually get the job done.  There was no beeping, there was no warm, gentle washing, there was no blowdrying.  It was just a faucet that you turned on and somehow had to get your ass into position to use.  I failed, miserably.

So in my downtime, I decided to google “How the hell do you use a bidet?”

Here is the answer, people:

And there you have it. I still like mine at home better.

Categories: Calabria

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…


Categories: Calabria

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.

Categories: Calabria

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.

Categories: Calabria

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.

Categories: Calabria

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.

Categories: Calabria

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.

Categories: Calabria

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.

Categories: Calabria

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