Photo Friday 5/52

motorcycle goes down on an icy streetIt’s not the greatest picture but here’s a shot of a motorcycle that went down on the icy roads on Wednesday morning.  The snow started around 3 on Tuesday afternoon and while we ended up with just about an inch of precipitation, it was a fine, wet snow that morphed into ice on the roads.

I tried a few ways to reach the freeway but all were littered with disabled vehicles. Fearing what I might run into on more curvy routes, I came home. Within an hour of my return, I had word that my office was closed for the day.

I would be thrilled if this is the only snow we see this year.

Traveling Thursday – Be a good group member

Being a good traveler on a group tour or excursion means that you have some responsibility to both the others in the group and the guide. We know that you shouldn’t keep people waiting but you should also communicate if you are going to step away from the group.

During our time in Tuscany, one of the ladies in our group continually strayed away from the pack. These towns are relatively small but full of a winding streets and alleys that make it quite easy to get turned around. She had no idea where she was going or where our meeting point would be and yet she felt comfortable taking off on her own. At one point, most of the group was keeping an eye out for her. No one wants to spend their vacation looking out for a complete stranger.

So how can you be a good group member?
– Before signing up for a group tour or excursion, consider the group dynamic and make sure it blends with the way you want to travel.
– Don’t sign up for a strenuous excursion if you have mobility issues.
– Listen.
– Understand the tour itinerary. If you really want to see the inside of a site but it’s not on the itinerary, don’t assume you will be able to make it happen. Ask questions before booking the trip.
– If you need to take a break or step away from the group, talk to the guide. They should be able to make suggestions and at least minor accommodations. It will be far less embarrassing to chat with the guide than to have everyone searching for you.

What tips do you have for being a good group member?

 

 

 

Savory Saturday

Palmetto Olive Oil Co. and Bacon Brothers Public House have lingered on my list of places to check out. Thanks to some free time, a gift certificate, and indecision, we were able cross them both off the list on Saturday.

We started our day at Palmetto Olive Oil Co. on Augusta Street. The shop specializes in fresh olive oils and high-quality balsamic vinegar varieties. Upon entering the shop, one of the nice ladies who works there asked if we would like to sample. We said yes and were given a bowl of bread chunks and some general guidelines.

At first, we sampled the oils. The store stocks oils from both hemispheres depending on which area is harvesting. The oil we tasted was pressed from olives in November and December. Since this oil is very fresh, it contains antioxidants and other health benefits not found in grocery store oils. The flavor is also very different. The more robust oils take on the flavor on what grows around the olive trees. This can lead to a very fresh almost grassy flavor. I have to admit, this was not my favorite.

We moved into the flavored oil section. I found many things to like here. A few of my favorites were the spicy chipotle, a rich butter-flavored oil which would be great if you wanted to reap the health benefits of replacing butter with olive oil,  a delightful Herbes de Provence, and zesty blood orange. We wound up bringing home the blood orange olive oil. While I look forward to using it for entrees, I’m also interested in the idea of infusing brownies with a hint of orange by using this oil.

After sampling the oils, we moved to the white balsamics. A few of the highlights here were the fresh peach, Sicilian lemon, pineapple, and the original unflavored white balsamic.

We moved the the back of the store and exchanged our bread for a scoop of vanilla ice cream to use with the dark balsamic vinegar selections. Mr. McB loved the Tahitian vanilla and black cherry. We brought home bottles of both. I was a big fan of the maple, champagne, lavender, and raspberry. I selected a small bottle of maple and am looking forward to pairing that with the blood orange oil for what could be a delicious salad dressing.

After leaving the store, we decided to travel toward home and have lunch at Bacon Brothers Public House. This small farm-to-table establishment is located in a strip mall on Pelham Road. If Farmer Brown was a hipster, his house would look like the inside of Bacon Brothers. Functionally, there is a smoker behind the restaurant and a chamber inside the restaurant where their homemade meats and sausages are cured. Take the name as a clue, Bacon Brothers is not for vegetarians.

We both ordered the burger which is made from ground chuck, brisket, and bacon. Mr. McB had the traditional two-patty version and added a fried egg. I went with one patty and added a side of onion rings.

bacon brothers public houseLook at the size of that egg hanging off the side of the burger. After one bite, he had a pool of rich, egg yolk all over the plate. The burger became a fork-and-knife food at that moment. He doesn’t normally like messy foods but the unique flavor of this burger made it worthwhile.

photo 2Before I get to my review of the burger, let’s start with the onion rings. They weren’t the crispiest rings I’ve ever had but, they were far from soggy. They were fresh and featured a very light beer batter. The sweet onion was really allowed to standout instead of being overpowered by a mound of coating.

photo 4As you can see from this photo, the single burger is pretty substantial. The flavor is very different from a normal burger. Here you are getting the sinful smokiness of the bacon and brisket. It’s like a barbecued burger minus sauce. The leaf lettuce, American cheese, pickle, and special sauce all complimented the flavor very well. They balanced without muting. As a bread-lover, I have to take a minute to wax poetically about these delicious house-made buns. They are fluffy but still substantial enough to handle this burger.

We look forward to returning to both establishments and enjoying more of what they have to offer.

Traveling Thursday – Expanded cell phone use on flights

The FCC is considering action that would give airlines the right to allow passengers to use cell phones during flights. While there is some debate as to what kind of service is available, it appears that calls do not interfere with ground-based networks which is part of the reason they were initially banned.

It might be safe but is it a good idea? I think not. Air travel is already a chore. Why give people another excuse to behave badly?

Some will say there is no difference between these calls and a live conversation between two passengers, I don’t agree. I suspect that service will be spotty at best which means we can look forward to being on flights with people yelling into their phones.

Others will remind us that phones are allowed on trains and ask why they should not be allowed on planes if there are no safety concerns. Many trains have quiet cars where talking is not permitted. Train passengers also have the flexibility to move around. This is not the best comparison.

What do you think of the prospect of cell calls during flight? Whatever your opinion, you can comment on the proposed FCC rule now through Feb. 14, 2014. Simply visit their site and search for proceeding number 13-301. Your comments will be public record.

If passed, airlines would have the right to allow calls but would not be forced to do so. For more on what some of the major carriers are thinking, visit this link. 

The Grand Journey – Return to Rome

romrrMr. McB mentions “the dream that was Rome” in his recap of our visit. Ah, the sweet naivety of a first-time visitor; that was me before 2010. I also had a dream that was Rome but that fantasy was dashed by the reality of this frenzied and often frustrating metropolis. After that visit, I echoed Gracchus, “Rome is the mob.”

Admittedly, I was working at the time so instead of just keeping an eye on my own belongings, I was responsible for watching over the wallets and purses of a group and that’s no small feat in Rome. There are pickpockets, gypsies, and aggressive street vendors surrounding the tourist attractions. Despite all of this, Rome is still home to many famous sites that you really should see for yourself if the opportunity is presented.

We chose the “Rome on your own” excursion which included a bus ride from the port in Civitavecchia to the drop off point at Piazza Del Popolo. We had a guide on the bus who spoke about Rome, gave suggestions for our day, passed out maps, and consulted with passengers one-on-one to be sure they were prepared for the day. We could have saved money by taking the train but that has its own dangers. Should the train schedule have been disrupted, and that’s a definite possibility, we would have shelled out $300-400 to cab it back to the pier. If we took the train, we would have also missed out on the helpful tips provided by our guide.

Shortly after arriving, we went straight to the metro stop at Flaminio which is just around the corner from the drop-off. We got a little twisted around in the tunnel and needed the help of a nice Italian man to operate the turnstile but we were soon on our way to the Colosseum. The trip involves a transfer but that couldn’t have been easier. Termini station was easy to navigate with all sorts of signage. We were both stunned at just how simple it was to take the metro in Rome.

As we walked toward the Colosseum, we started to encounter those street vendors I mention earlier. These were pretty tame but it was a good reminder to be alert.

We purchased tickets online before leaving home. The Disney Fast Pass has nothing on a prepaid admission to the Colosseum. The ticket line was terribly long, even early on a day in November but we didn’t even stop; we just moved forward in the special row for those with prepaid tickets. Buying a ticket at the Forum is also an option since it includes the Colosseum but that line was at least 30 minutes long. If you have one port day in Rome, you don’t have time to waste.

On my last visit, I wasn’t able to see the Colosseum from the inside. I was very eager to explore this site but wasn’t prepared for how it would make me feel. Built in the 1st century AD, the Colosseum held 45,000 spectators and was the largest Roman amphitheater in the world. The structure was built for gladiatorial competitions and other “games” meant to win the favor and allegiance of the Roman populus. I knew what happened inside the Colosseum but I still wasn’t prepared for the feeling of sorrow that resonates through the ruins. For me, there was nothing that spoke to the glory of Rome. Yes, the structure is remarkable but it was built to make a game of death and suffering.

rom11It is estimated that 500,000 people, including gladiators, and over a millions wild animals were slain on the sands of the Colosseum. The death toll for a single festival in 240 A.D. includes 2,000 gladiators, 70 lions, 60 wild horses and donkeys, 30 elephants, 30 leopards, 19 giraffes, 10 elk, 10 hyenas, 10 tigers, one hippopotamus, and one rhinoceros. The festival may have lasted for several months but does that make it any easier to comprehend?

rom1rom3It is also believed that early Christians might have been martyred here. There is proof that Christians were slain in other arenas in the Roman empire, including one that stood near the present day site of St. Peter’s so it is not unrealistic to think they were also killed in the Colosseum. For this reason, it is considered a holy site. The Pope conducts the Stations of the Cross outside the structure on Good Friday.

rom2The bodies of fallen men and animals were taken out of the death gate and dumped into a common burial pit. When workers excavated the site in the 1800s, they had to take frequent breaks because of the overwhelming stench that remained centuries later.

rom12rom10It’s easy to condemn those who created and watched this spectacle. As we walked through the site, I thought about football and the current state of player safety and head injuries. It was uncomfortable to think about this and draw the natural parallel between these games and those that we enjoy today.

rom24Gladiatorial games were outlawed in the 5th century. Games involving animals continued for another century but by 523 those were gone and the arena was unused and fell into centuries of disrepair. rom5rom20

The Colosseum was once covered in Travertine marble. This was removed after the arena fell into disuse. Much of the marble was used in the construction of St. Peter’s and other churches.

rom8Temple of Venus and Roma from the Colosseum

rom7This view of the Arch of Constantine is visible from the upper level of the Colosseum near the gift shop. After winning a key battle against Maxentius and attributing his success to a vision of Christ, Constantine converted to Christianity and declared that the religion was to be tolerated in the empire. This allowed for the end of persecution and the start of Christendom.

rom22After leaving the Colosseum, we made our way to the Roman Forum. Again, we avoided the main line and were inside the site in just a matter of minutes.

romforum

I regret not having an audio tour or guidebook as we made our way through this sprawling site.

rom27The Arch of Titus commemorates the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Arch de Triomphe is modeled after this structure.

rom31

rom29rom30rom32Part of the Basilica Aemilia and the larger Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Built in honor of a deified emperor and his wife, the temple is now a Catholic church.

romantoninofaustinaromromulusAnother former temple that went on to become a Catholic church. In this instance Emperor Maxentius devoted the site to his son Valerius Romulus, who died in 309. Maxentius is the emperor who lost in battle to Constantine. While trying to cross the Tiber during that battle, he fell into the water and drowned.

After leaving the Roman Forum, we set out for Capitoline Hill or Campidoglio. Our research told us this was a great place to get a view of the city and to see statues created by Michelangelo.

romcapoPalazzo Senatorio
The fountain features the gods of the Nile and Tiber rivers.
Minerva stands in the middle.

rombigstatueThe Nile

rom40I’m not sure who that fellow is but as you can see, he is enormous.
If we go back to Rome, I want to visit the museum here.

romcapstatueThis is a bronze copy of a statue of Marcus Aurelius. The original was saved because it was mistaken for a statue of Constantine. It is the only fully surviving bronze statue of a pre-Christian Roman emperor.

rommich1Michelanglo’s statue of Castor

rommich2Here’s Pollux with his arm outstretched.

Before heading to the Panethon, we stopped at Il Vittoriano or Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), a national monument.

rom41The monument is home to the Tomb of the Unknown. It also honors Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of a unified Italy. The structure is interesting architecturally, though not well-loved by most Italians as it is seen as a bit overwhelming given its proximity to the ancient ruins.

We made our way through the increasingly crowded streets and arrived at the Pantheon.

romfountrompant Now a Catholic church, the Pantheon began its life as a temple that was devoted to all gods (Pan-theon). The Pantheon is best known for its dome and oculus. Made of cast concrete, the dome is a perfect hemisphere resting on a solid ring wall. Michelangelo studied this dome before beginning work on the dome at St. Peter’s.

romocculusInside you will find a number of notable tombs including Raphael, the artist not the turtle, and Vittorio Emanuele II. It’s easy to forget that this is a church but keep it in mind and behave accordingly.

romvittorioemanueleWith an ever-growing rumble in our tummies, we soon sat off for the Piazza Navona to grab a bite. Our guide highly recommend this area of town and the tartufo, an ice cream specialty. After a short walk, we were greeted by a lovely square filled with artists and restaurants. Our guide said this is a spot frequented by Romans, and not just tourists.

romnav2romnavoFrom the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers

romtartM chose a vanilla gelato while I chowed down on the tartufo. This treat features a maraschino cherry and what tasted like a bit of rum surrounded by chocolate ice cream that is then coated in a hard fudge shell. It’s rich and really unlike anything I’ve tasted before.

After a nice sit, we were off to Trevi Fountain. After 20-25 minutes, we made it and found ourselves amongst hundreds of tourists. With a little patience, we were able to make it down the steps and sit by the fountain for a while.

romtreviromppTrevi Fountain is a pickpocket’s paradise especially with folks getting into bags and pockets to get coins for the fountain. If you go, have your coins ready before approaching. If you are wearing a backpack flip it around so the bag is on your chest. Be alert.

After seeing the fountain, we followed our noses to Pizza In Trevi, a pizza joint around the corner. These slices were fresh, delicious and a good value. I had thin strips of eggplant on my pie. Oh so yummy!

rompizzamromeggplantInstead of sitting down, we decided to keep walking toward the Spanish Steps. I missed them on my first trip and really wanted to see them. As it turns out, I didn’t really miss anything the first time. They are steps covered by crowds of people. It was interesting to see how people behaved (making out, leaving their iPhone unattended so it could be stepped on, lying on the steps…) but I wouldn’t go back. I cannot recommend them, especially if your time is limited.

romspanishWe continued on toward the Piazza del Popolo as our meeting time was drawing near.

rom45We stopped in to Santa Maria del Popolo. It is said that Nero is buried nearby and that his ghost haunted a particular tree that used to grow on the site of the church. After chopping down the tree, and evicting the devilish crows that lived there, the church was constructed.

Our guide recommended this place and I’m so glad she did. On the outside, the church is nothing special but the inside is very interesting. It also houses two Caravaggio’s. You cannot photograph these works but they are worth soaking up with your own eyes and forgetting the camera for a while.

rom47The high altar and the Madonna of Popolo

rommarFuneral monument of Giovanni de Castro

rommariagraverommary2With 45 minutes to kill, we walked away briefly to see the Tiber River. If we had enough energy, we could have hoofed it to St. Peter’s but by that point, we were both more than a little tired.

romtiberI was much happier with this trip to Rome. It’s still crazy and you have to be on guard, but there are many sites worth seeing including those that won’t make it to the “must” list in every tourist guide. Don’t be surprised if you’re a little disappointed with the famous attractions (Spanish Steps, Trevi) but there’s bound to be at least one little treasure (Piazza Navona, Maria del Popolo) that will make up for it.

romfinal

Photo Friday 3/52

doves eating in the backyard feederI spent much of my day off doing chores and running errands. That routine doesn’t make for the most exciting photos. Just when I thought I might have to resort to sharing a photo of my newly organized pantry, I spotted a dule of doves that was hanging out in the neighbor’s yard. With all their feeders and the bath, it’s a regular bird party most of the time.