Thursday, September 30, 2010


One of the nice things about living in Italy is the ability to travel to other countries without breaking the bank or suffering from jet lag. We decided to take advantage of this opportunity with a trip to Turkey. We left September 20 and were there for 8 days. While it seems that it should be quick and easy to get anywhere in Europe, it still took a whole day of travel. We left Naples airport around 10 am and flew to Milan. There we had a 3 hour layover. We enjoyed an airport lunch, then had a three hour flight to Istanbul. So, all things considered, we were in transit for a good many hours. There's no getting around airport wait time, unfortunately!
We were met in Istanbul by our driver. We organized this trip through One Nation travel. We had four days of small group tours, and the rest of the time we were on our own. This worked out fairly well.
Istanbul was such a fascinating city. It lies on two continents, Europe and Asia. There is a beautiful suspension bridge that connects the two sides of the city. The European side is much more industrial and business oriented, while the Asian side is more residential and luxurious. We visited the spice market, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, the Hagia Irene, another small mosque, the Basilica Cistern, the summer palace....and much more.
The shoreline of Istanbul is wonderful. For miles, this huge city of 18 million people enjoys a coastline that is usable and part of every day life. There are walking paths all along the lungomare, with grassy parks, trees, picnic places, benches to rest on, playground equipment etc. Every couple of hundred yards or so there is workout equipment for the public to use. They have outdoor versions of cross country ski machines, weights, sit up benches etc. It was wonderful to see them in use at almost every station. There are vendors carrying towers of pink cotton candy and balloons to entice the children, and bagel vendors carrying their trays of baked goods balanced on their heads. Chestnuts and corn on the cob are roasted and sold on the streets. It is wonderful to see a city where the coast is for more than just industry and commerce. It is an integral part of everyday life in Istanbul.
This city, and the entire country of Turkey impressed us with its cleanliness. We never saw litter on the ground in the city. When we went to Kusadasi where we spent two days, the Friday market was held on the street right in front of our hotel. We were amazed to see the variety of goods sold there, from 8 am until 9 pm. After such a long day, as vendors were packing up their wares and folding up shop, they all took the time to sweep up their area and put their trash in bags. The next morning, the trash was picked up and street sweepers finished the job. by 9 am on Saturday, all was neat and tidy. I wish the folks in Italy would learn from this example!
There were so many amazing sites to visit and things to see! Ephesus was such an interesting place, with so many ruins from millennia ago. Pamukkale was an incredible vision....white terraces formed by calcifications of mineral rich water, cooling and evaporating.
We really enjoyed the ride out to Hieropolis, through rural villages and farming country side. In one village we noticed several houses with Coke bottles in the windows. Our guide explained that that indicated a young woman in the house ready to marry. The young men in the village would break the Coke bottle to indicate that they were interested in a particular girl. In another village, we saw examples of their local culinary specialty....camel sausage! The butchers had big statues of camels in front of their shops, with sausages draped around their necks. We didn't try any of those products!
The food in Turkey was very good, for the most part. Lots of fresh veggies, kebabs, donner sandwiches, roast chickens, stuffed eggplant, stuffed peppers, turkish delight candies etc. One thing we were disappointed with was the fruit. At our hotels, the buffet breakfasts offered very little fresh fruit and most of it was past its prime. Even the juices were Tang! On the streets we were able to buy fresh squeezed orange juice and pomegranate juice, but the hotels offered only Tang or some orange colored beverage that had no resemblance to real juice! We had lots of good meals though, including a very colorful night at a fish restaurant. They were having a "Fish Festival" and we were picked up at our hotel by a van from Kalamara Restaurant. They took us to the waterfront where there were hundreds of tables set up on the street in front of all the restaurants. It was a madhouse! Belly dancers and traditional musicians entertained the crowds. We had some excellent fresh fish and some very fun entertainment.
One of the interesting things about traveling here as we did was the people that we met along the way. Sharing our vans and our tour groups were people from Brazil, France, Botswana, South Africa, Iran, Italy, Canada, the USA and others. We all managed to communicate fairly well, enjoyed meals together and realized that it's the politicians that mess things up. Dealing with people as individuals, we can all get along perfectly nicely.
I would like to go back to Turkey, as we saw only a small part of what it has to offer. I loved learning some of the language and using my phrase book to communicate with those who spoke no English. Perhaps in the not too distant future, we will find ourselves back in this lovely land.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Ferragosto is the major summer holiday in Italy. August 15 marks the beginning of the end of the summer vacation, so it is sacred for just about all families. The news is always filled with stories of traffic jams and crowded beaches. For the Raviele clan, Ferragosto means a pilgrimage to Cervinara.
This year, we had 19 people for dinner on the 15th, but only 16 slept over! It is always a challenge to accommodate such a crowd, and trying to prepare three meals a day in our woefully under-equipped kitchen can get crazy at times. Maria, my sister-in-law, is an amazing cook and she successfully choreographed and organized the cooking and serving of the pasta, fish, salads, veggies and desserts. She even made her own baba au rhum, her specialty. Everyone was licking their fingers after that treat!
Bedtimes became quite the event. We had cots and mattresses set up everywhere. Everyone was able to have access to some sort of one ended up on the floor! Bathroom time was fluid. There are two and a half bathrooms here...and for 19 people, that meant that there were backups from time to time. Patience prevailed and there were no "untoward accidents".

Perhaps the funniest moment we had was when 7 year old Luca got chased by Totti, the little dog next door. Luca tries to be all macho, but he is really quite a timid little fellow. He had been working up his courage to approach this little beast, and had actually petted him a bit. So when he decided to head over there by himself, he wasn't prepared for Totti's reaction. The dog started barking and then chasing after Luca. We were sitting in the courtyard chatting when suddenly Luca comes running in screaming "Aiuto!". It was like out of a cartoon...his knees were practically hitting his nose he was running so fast. The neighbor's door was open and he just ran right through it and out into the back yard. I wish we had a video of his face! Totti is a tiny dog who barks at everything but who wouldn't hurt a fly.
By the 18th, we were down to just six people in the house and things began to get back to normal. All the youngsters went off to the beach and just the senior citizens were left to hold down the fort. We enjoyed a week together before the group finally dispersed.
As nice as it is to have everyone around, we were certainly ready to enjoy some peace and quiet again when everyone finally left. We have gotten used to our privacy and our quiet little lives here!

The Dolomites

The Dolomites are part of the Italian Alps that border on Austria, and they are without a doubt some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable. We were fortunate to be able to borrow a condo from a good friend of ours (grazie Francesca!) and so we enjoyed a week of hikes, walks, breathtaking views and a pretty scary ride up a glacier.
The town of Campitello is in the Val di Fassa region of the Dolomites, about mid-way between Bolzano and Cortina d'Ampezzo. It's a small town that can be walked from one end to the other in about 20 minutes, but it is blessed to have a funivia that takes you up to the Col Rodello, for my money one of the most beautiful spots in the world.
Each mountain area is serviced by a funivia or some sort of lift that takes you way up into the mountains with no effort at all. From the arrival point, there are trails of various difficulty levels that will take hikers from one pass to another. Along the way are "rifugi", a type of lodge where you can get some good home made food, use bathroom facilities and even spend the night in hostel type of lodgings. Invariably, there is a deck from which to enjoy the view. Some have hot tubs that are put into action during ski season.
We aren't experienced hikers, so we kept to the main trails for the most part. There can be some very steep climbs, but with our trekking poles we managed to handle them without too much difficulty. For the really adventurous, there are trails that aren't much more than cow paths, with steep ups and downs and walks that can take 4-5 hours to complete.
Our last day in Campitello, we went up to the Marmolada, the highest peak in the Dolomites. The lift wasn't a nice funivia or even a chair lift; it was a basket, hanging from a pole, into which we had to run and jump on while it was still moving. The attendant slammed the gate shut and off we went. It took almost 20 minutes to get up to the rifugio. The actual peak was well beyond where we got off. Only experienced and well-equipped hikers were allowed to complete the trek. We contented ourselves with making snowballs in August and reveling in the beauty that surrounded us.
I will never forget the majesty and beauty of this wonderful spot. I doubt we will go back; there are too many other places to visit. I regret this, because I think that I could make an annual pilgrimage to the mountains and never get tired of all they have to offer.

Don Giorgio's 50th Anniversary

Don Giorgio Carbone has been the priest at San Nicolo church since 1966. This summer, he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest, and the celebration was indeed memorable. All summer long, there were events in his honor; proclamations by the mayor, a visit from the bishop, fireworks, concerts etc.
This past week marked the culmination of the celebration and we were so happy to be a part of it. Evening mass changed times, from 6:00 pm to 7:00. Priests from nearby parishes all came to celebrate mass, a different priest every evening. Each one spoke so highly of Don Giorgio, the noble way he has spent his life and the importance of priests in the community. My favorite was Don Antonio Raviele, a distant cousin of Mike's. He baptized our daughter Marta back in 1982, when he was still a very young man just starting out his career in the church. We have a video of a slim, dark haired youngster, and now he's a chubby, gray haired man...time does take its toll on everyone.
On Saturday night, after mass, Don Giorgio hosted an outdoor dinner for the whole parish. Tables were set up in the piazza under a beautiful night sky. A variety of hors d'oeuvres were served, followed by "pasta fazool", grilled sausage, salad and bread and then some sweets. There was entertainment provided by a talented musician/singer, and then fire works at 10 to top it off. It was so much fun being part of this celebration! The next day at Sunday mass, Don Giorgio thanked the parish for all their support over the years and for all that they had done to help in the celebration of this milestone. He broke down in tears as he spoke, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. At 78, he is beginning to show his age, his voice fails him often and he sometimes loses his place during the readings. I don't know when or if he will retire, but for now he is still an anchor in our community.