Tag Archives: Travel

Dona Nobis Pacem

The Roman Colosseum, built between 72 A.D. and 80 A.D., is a symbol of brutality.

It is widely believed to have been built by tens of thousands of slaves. During some of the spectacles, it is said that 10,000 animals were slaughtered in a single day. Gladiators fought to their deaths and criminals were executed, all for the sheer entertainment of crowds of 50,000 or more. It is not my favorite place.

In fact, I never was very interested in Roman history, or in seeing the Colosseum. But when I was in Rome for two days in September with someone who did want to visit the Colosseum, I said, “sure, why not,” and went along.

It’s big. It’s old. And it’s kind of shocking to be strolling along on an ordinary cobblestone street, turn a corner, and there it is, looming over everything. Kind of spooky, actually.

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But for me, the most compelling part about the Colosseum was the fence around it — a fence that was covered with children’s colorful drawings calling for peace. I loved the contrast.

Maybe there’s hope for this world yet.

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This is post #3 for NanoPoblano2019. Click the link to read some other posts from a wonderful bunch of dedicated bloggers known as “cheer peppers.”

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Grandma’s Friendly Village

My grandmother Angeline was born in central Sicily, in a small village with the beautiful name “Villarosa.”

In 1910, at age 8, she emigrated from Sicily to America with her own grandmother, got married at age 16, quickly had five bambinos, and was widowed at 30. She later remarried and had a good life, but she never got to see Villarosa again.

Here she is at about age 30 (I’m guessing).

Grandma Armenia

I liked going to Grandma’s house. She always seemed cheerful, and she served us plenty of macaroni, ice cream, and raspberries, saying the word “mangia” practically as soon as we’d walked through her door. Her house was decorated with colorful starched doilies that she’d crocheted herself. I wonder if she crocheted the collar in the above photo. I have a special memory of the two of us sitting in a summer garden next to some pansies while she taught me to crochet.

Although Grandma never talked about her childhood (probably because I never asked), I’d always wondered what Villarosa was like. About a month ago, I finally got to see it for myself.

I’d signed up for a 5-day Italian language immersion program in Taormina, Sicily, mainly so I could learn about my Sicilian roots and visit Villarosa. Luckily, our group leader and two other students also were interested in seeing more of Sicily, so we rented a car on day 6 and headed for my grandmother’s home town.

Villarosa (pop. 4,824) is on the outskirts of Enna. The two cities couldn’t appear more different. Enna (left), seen from a distance, was a glittering city on a hill, while Villarosa (right) was its poor, dusty cousin. But Villarosa, as it turned out, was AMAZING.

I’d Googled “Villarosa” the day before we set out and learned a surprising fact: It’s kind of well known for its man-made lake, a popular fishing destination. And the man-made lake was the result of the building of Ferrara Dam. OMG, I thought. Grandma’s maiden name is Ferrara!

Here’s the dam, the lake, and me:

After parking in town, we looked around, hoping to find a place for lunch. Directly across from our car there was a restaurant, complete with group of Italian men deep in conversation. It looked like something out of a movie. Then I noticed the sign above the doors: F.lli Ferrara (Ferrara Bros.). And on the doors, the initials “LB.” Grandma’s maiden name, and my initials!

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We didn’t want to interrupt the men (OK, maybe we did feel a little intimidated) so we walked on down the block. Seeing a small, elderly man nearby, one of our group asked (in her newly-learned basic Italian) where we could eat. The man pointed down the street and rattled off directions in Italian. Then, probably realizing we didn’t capice, he escorted us all the way to tiny “Casa Mia.” It wasn’t open yet, but they welcomed us in. No one who worked in the restaurant spoke English. I ordered bruschetta and risotto (in Italian).

Suddenly, a family of about 20 people entered. It was an 80th birthday party! We smiled and nodded at them. A woman (angel?) from their group approached our table and asked (in English!) what had brought us to Villarosa.

“My grandma’s from Villarosa,” I said. “I was hoping I might find some family here.”

I’m an interpreter!” she said, handing me her business card. “I can help you.”

After I provided my Grandma’s name, and what I was pretty sure were Grandma’s parents’ names, she made a few phone calls, and within an hour I was sitting across the table from Gaetano Ferrara, owner of the Ferrara Bros. restaurant that we’d seen before lunch. His grandfather and my great-grandfather shared the same first and last names. It’s possible we’re cousins.

Gaetano spoke no English, but, with the help of the interpreter, I was able to ascertain that his brother, Pietro, owned a gelato/cannoli shop in town, and would be there at his shop to meet us! Mamma mia! It doesn’t get much better than that. But then it did. On our way out of the restaurant, the owner treated us all to shots of grappa and limoncello, on the house.

When I learned that the limoncello was homemade, I asked if they’d be willing to share the recipe … and they did. And yes, that alcohol is 90-proof.

The hospitality didn’t end there. When we got to Pietro’s store, we were all treated to free gelato and cannoli. Here I am with Pietro Ferrara, another possible member of my family tree.

Connolo Cousin

After returning home, I discovered that Ferrara is a common name in that part of the world, so I’m not sure if Gaetano and Pietro are my cousins, but it doesn’t matter. It was an amazing trip, one I’ll never forget. I’m so happy to know that my roots include such a warm and welcoming town. And I’m still in touch with that lovely interpreter, who has offered to translate a letter for me so I can get in touch with the folks at the Villarosa town hall to learn more about my relatives.

For now, ciao until next time!

P.S. This is my first post for the 30-day November blogging challenge known as NanoPoblano2019. Our challenge is to write for 10 days, read others’ posts for 10 days, and share our posts on other blog sites for 10 days.

Please click this NanoPoblano2019 link and read some of the wonderful posts from other members of our little writing group.

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TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, continued

Episode 2: Eight Is Enough (but Four Isn’t Even Close)

It’s 4:28 a.m., and I’m wide awake after somehow managing to get 4 hours of sleep. Now all I need is a cup of coffee and 4 more hours of sleep, and I’ll be able to smile again.

I had tried to listen to a podcast before “bed,” but it wasn’t working. If you think your Wi-fi at home is slow, you should try it on a train. After several failed attempts at connecting to the internet world, I called it a night.

Then I gathered my toothbrush, toothpaste, and sweat pants, mustered up every ounce of courage that I had, and paid a visit to the rest room. Thankfully, nobody had urinated on the floor (see yesterday’s post), but it wasn’t a bed of roses, either. I changed into my sweats, brushed my teeth, and was out of there and back in my seat before you could say “aromatherapy.”

I put on my neck pillow (which happens to be red, hence I’m calling it my redneck pillow) and invented various new sleeping positions: The Foot Rest, The Fold, The Sitting Squat, and The Lower Back Torture. Oddly enough, I was not able to fall asleep in any of these positions. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that none of them even vaguely resembled my favorite at home, The Dead Man Float with Pillows.

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Hey, does that person have 4 feet?       Photo credit: Pixabay

I then moved my duffel bag and purse off the seat next to me and onto the floor and attempted to lie across both seats, which together span approximately 4 feet. This was a challenge, since I am a full-grown human.

First, I curled up on my left side. My head was pressed against the arm rest and my feet were sticking out a little into the aisle, so I switched to my right side. Now my feet were on the arm rest and my head was out in the aisle. Not any better, but at least I couldn’t be accused of tripping anyone as they stumbled across my head.

I curled myself tightly into The Turtle (or maybe it’s the Pill Bug). My head was now protected by the arm rest, which was digging into my scalp. I adjusted my redneck pillow to relieve the pressure. There. As snug as a bug on a train.* I hoped I wouldn’t uncurl myself in my sleep.

*Ew.

Soon, I felt myself slipping into an altered state of consciousness while listening to the droning voice of the man standing in the aisle one row behind me. He was speaking Pennsylvania Dutch. (He and about six other people in my train car are Amish.) I think it helped that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. It was like a lullaby.

It’s now 5:30 a.m. I have a slight coffee headache, a sore neck, and tired eyes. My earrings (which I forgot to remove last night) are being squished against my ears by my redneck pillow, which I am still wearing tightly around my neck even though I’m sitting up now. I think I’ll sign off and try getting some more shuteye. At least I’ll be in Chicago in a couple of hours. Hey, maybe I’ll miss my connecting train and have to fly home! Stay tuned.

 

TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two

(TRAIN TRACKER is a multi-post documentary about my train trip across the U.S.A. Click here for the prequel, a.k.a. Season One, and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!)

Episode 1: T-Minus Zero

I’m on the train, which has just left Schenectady, and we’re moving fast. T-Minus Zero has arrived!

In this exciting episode of Train Tracker, since I’m on a moving train and being jostled around a little, I might try writing in a stream-of-consciousness style, without a whole lot of editing. Sort of like Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” but not nearly as good.

At 6:45 p.m., I arrived at the brand new Schenectady train station, bags in hand. The fact that the station was constructed in 2018 gave me a feeling of confidence as I awaited the announcement to board the train, scheduled to depart at 7:33.

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At 7:00 p.m. I got antsy. I decided to kill time by taking a quick photo of the station. I grabbed my camera and duffel bag and went outside.

After snapping the above picture, I returned to the waiting room, only to find it less full than before. Had the boarding announcement come during the one minute that I was outside? Just to be safe, I headed for the track. Several other passengers were already there, and they didn’t look too happy to see me taking their picture.

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But a few minutes later, a flock of cedar waxwings landed in the tree right across the tracks from me. (I took their picture, but they look like tiny ants. You’ll just have to take my word for it.) Cedar waxwings are favorites of mine, and I rarely get to see them. I think it’s a good sign.

At 7:27, the 7:33 train pulled in. (I’m not usually such a time nerd, but I was impressed with my train’s punctuality.)

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This is my actual train.

We boarded quickly, and the train started moving before most of us had found our seats. The first car was full so we walked to the next one which, to my relief, was practically empty.

(I’m going to start writing in the present tense now. I’m not sure that’s good writing, but I have a feeling Jack Kerouac would approve.)

7:35: I take a window seat. It has a curtain, which is closed. That’s okay. It will be night time soon, and there’s nobody else in this row.

The conductor walks by. I ask if the train from Chicago to Tucson is a double decker.

“Which train is it?” he says.

“The Texas Eagle,” I reply.

“Yes it is,” he says. “But wait. You’re going to Tucson? The Texas Eagle doesn’t go to Tucson.”

“Yes, I believe it does,” I say.

“No,” he says. “I ride that train all the time. It doesn’t go any farther than San Antonio.”

I look up the schedule online after he leaves. I am right, at least according to the internet … but maybe I’m destined for a new life in San Antonio.

7:39: I change seats so I can take pictures of the sunset on the Mohawk River. Most of the pictures are blurry, and the train windows could use a little Windex.

7:45: The setting sun is right in my eyes and the curtain is stuck open. I return to my original seat, the one with the closed curtain. I try opening that curtain and discover that it is covering up a blank wall. I remind myself that it will be night time soon.

I take out my laptop and try typing with it on my lap, but the top of my lap is not made for a laptop. It’s too round or something. Also, the ride is a little bouncy. This has nothing to do with my lap. I’m sure it’s just the train that’s bouncy.

The tray table is about four feet away. I lean forward and lower the tray table. I can type now, but the position I’m in reminds me of one of the more difficult yoga poses. I can’t sit in this awkward position for long. Lucky for you, my blog posts may have to be shorter than I’d planned.

Suddenly, I come to the realization that my tray table can be pulled toward me. Problem solved. So what if it’s tipped at a 10-degree angle? I can type with one hand while I hold my computer in place with the other.

All kidding aside, I’m about 1.5 hours into my trip, and things are going great! No complaints.

9:45 p.m. I’ve been so busy writing that I hardly notice that the train has stopped. Now a whole crowd of people are getting on (including a large family and a crying baby). It’s pitch black outside, and in the car, too, making it difficult to type because of the eye strain I’m experiencing.

But first this announcement, from the conductor. I swear this is what he said, word for word:

“If you make a mess in the bathrooms, please clean up after yourself, and PLEASE do not urinate on the floor.”

There is now a foul odor in my train car. By the way, I have forsaken the Jack Kerouac no-editing method. You really don’t want to know my exact thoughts at this moment.

10:16 p.m. I was going to watch a movie, but I’ve brought the wrong kind of headphones for my laptop. Hopefully, I can buy the right type during my 4-hour layover in Chicago tomorrow. And maybe some noseplugs! I’m going to listen to a podcast on my phone now. Good night!

 

TRAIN TRACKER: Season One

It’s T-minus six. The countdown has begun. In only six days, I’ll board a train in Schenectady, New York, bound for Tucson, Arizona. Who will I meet along the way? What exciting adventures will I encounter? How many times will I beat my head against the window wishing I’d opted for a sleeping car?

I’m calling this trip a train-umentary, and I’ve given it a summer blockbuster name: “TRAIN TRACKER.” Maybe Netflix will be interested, especially if true crime is involved! I’ll be blogging, taking photos, and maybe even interviewing people while sitting upright in a train seat for 62 hours, without access to a shower or bed. That’s a true crime already!

TRAIN TRACKER, SEASON ONE

Episode 1: Why A Train?

I live in Tucson and my family lives in New York. Out of necessity, I’ve flown cross-country annually (sometimes more than once a year) for the past sixteen years. I’ve enjoyed flying, but lately, due to plane crashes and what not, I wanted a lower-to-the-ground option.

Also, I’d wanted to bring my guitar with me this time. That’s actually what had gotten me started thinking about the train in the first place. Most airlines won’t let you carry a guitar on board unless you buy it a seat. Trains, on the other hand, treat guitars like carry-on luggage.

Episode 2: Why Coach?

Articles I’ve read, and sane people in general, strongly recommend the sleeper car, but I chose coach. Why? Price. By the time I decided to book my trip (two weeks ahead of time), the cost of one sleeper car ticket from New York to Arizona was $800 to $2000 depending on the date and route, while my coach ticket was only $219. I guess you could say I was willing to put up with the high probability of loud rumbling, screeching, swaying, shaking, a stiff back, swollen ankles, screaming babies, and odd smells for three days because I was too cheap to spring for a higher-priced seat. But I’d say I did it out of a sense of adventure. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Episode 3: Shopping

I went online two days ago, Googled “train travel tips,” and realized I’d need some extra items I hadn’t thought of before, like a blanket, a pillow, and maybe lots and lots of deodorant (for myself, and as free gifts to my fellow passengers). Did you know that Amtrak does not provide blankets and pillows? Well, I’m pretty sure they don’t, but I’ll check it out on the train and let you know for sure. (This is just an example of the fascinating, not -to-be-missed information I’ll be reporting on in Season Two!)

Here’s what I bought yesterday:

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The blanket should come in handy if I sit next to a baseball player, or to avoid eye contact with the conductor while I sneak into a sleeper car. I could also use it to throw over my head to hide from a train robber.

The red neck pillow scrunches up and fits in a round carrying bag, which I could always use as a stress ball if needed:

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Today I thought about train food and realized I’d probably be stuck with a diet of steamed hot dogs, Doritos, and canned soda for three days unless I packed my own refreshments, so I bought a few healthy snacks (and toiletries). I know my $219 ticket makes me seem cheap, but, after all, I did splurge on Fiji water. The granola bars and cashews should give me energy for writing. More importantly, they’ll go well with any adult beverages that I might be forced to buy if my stress ball isn’t working.

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Episode 4: Packing

Tonight, I made a pile of everything I’m going to need easy access to on the train, such as: camera, camera case, pillow, blanket, changes of clothing, water, snacks, sweater, toiletries, laptop, phone, and chargers. The pile was almost as big (and probably heavier) than my large suitcase. I guess tomorrow I’ll go shopping for a backpack for my carry-on items.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of TRAIN TRACKER!

 

 

 

 

Off the Rails

In about a week, this blog will be coming to you from the inside of a train car. Wish me luck, because I’m riding that train for 2,500 miles. That’s three days and three nights of hearing the clickety-clack of train wheels — all the way from Schenectady, New York, where I’ve been visiting family, to Tucson, Arizona, where I live most of the year.

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I’ll be in coach class the entire time, without a shower or a bed.  I’ll bet you’ve always wondered what that would be like. But never fear: I’m going to be blogging about it!

And I’m doing this by choice. That’s right. I’ve lost my mind. Gone off the rails, so to speak. Or maybe I’m just taking the train, no big deal.

I do feel unsettled tonight, though. Maybe that’s because, after flying east from Tucson, I’ve been driving around New York State for almost a month: Tucson to Rochester, Rochester to Albany, Albany to Plattsburgh, and very soon it will be Plattsburgh to Schuylerville, and Schuylerville to Schenectady. Whew. I feel dizzy just typing that.

For the past sixteen years, I’ve been making this cross-country trip annually (by air) and I’m growing tired of the back and forth. Am I getting too old for this? Or just temporarily burned out? Maybe I’ll feel better once I’ve returned home and stayed put for a while.

Perhaps my long train trip will help me sort things out. Hopefully, sitting still while moving at rapid speed for three days and three nights will settle my mind. Hey, did I just invent a new kind of mental health treatment — train therapy?

Do you have any advice for the long-distance train traveler, or questions about train travel that you hope will be answered in my train-umentary? If so, please leave comments below.

I’m Living in a Children’s Book

My two-week Airbnb guest house in upstate New York comes with ducks and chickens. I didn’t know this when I rented the place, but I’ve discovered that I enjoy waking up to the sound of quacking and clucking in the morning. Sure, I have to be careful not to step in duck poop when I enter and exit the building, but I’m getting back to nature!

It had rained overnight. Good weather for the ducks, who were quacking up a storm this morning as they waddled around drinking from the puddles. Then the sun came out, and so did the chickens, clucking and pecking and watching me with their beady little eyes.

One of them came up to me and circled around my legs. She didn’t try to peck at me, so I put her to work as my model. I felt like a professional fashion photographer as I complimented her fine feathers and jaunty gait.

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The photo shoot continued as we headed over to the chicken coop. I was hoping the door to the nesting box would be open so I could collect an egg or two for breakfast. Sadly, the door was closed and latched. I thought about opening it, but I wasn’t sure all of the chickens were out roaming around.

Just then my model chicken started clucking like crazy. Apparently, she really wanted to get inside of the coop. I thought about opening the door for her until I noticed a pair of eyes looking out from an opening in the nesting box. It was a rabbit.

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What was a rabbit doing in the chicken coop? Guarding the eggs? Keeping them warm? Just hanging out? Maybe the chicken and the rabbit are BFFs. I’m dying to know. Could this be the inspiration for my next children’s novel?

The “Frog and Toad” books were a big hit. Maybe “Chicken and Rabbit” would be even more popular with today’s kids … especially if I include illustrations of duck poop.

Any illustrators out there interested in collaborating? If you act fast, I can pay you in fresh eggs.

My Airbnb Surprise

There once was a woman named Lori

who wanted to feel hunky dory

so she went on vacation

and to her elation

her neighbors were ducks, end of story!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yes, my suburban airbnb host raises not only ducks, but chickens. And the ducks in the picture were standing by the chicken coop having a conversation with the chickens when I arrived.

My host said I can help myself to fresh chicken eggs while I’m here. She has more than she can use. But how do I get past the ducks? And how do I open the coop without letting the chickens out?

To be continued.

 

Words You Never Want to Hear While Sitting on the Tarmac

“Sorry for the delay, folks … We’ll be here a while longer … There’s a little problem with the fuel gauge.”

I was leaving town on vacation, and I had a window seat. I’d been buckled in for at least twenty minutes, and I was getting drowsy. I was just starting to wonder why the plane hadn’t moved an inch when the pilot’s voice broke in.

“Sorry for the delay, folks,” he said. It’s about time, I thought, expecting him to say, “We’ll be taking off in a few minutes.” But instead, the next words he said were, “We’ll be here a while longer.” Hmm … I thought, sleepily. How much longer? And then I heard his crackly voice again, announcing that “there’s a little problem with the fuel gauge.” I was immediately wide awake.

I knew I’d heard him correctly, and yet what he was saying didn’t make any sense. Why on earth would we still be sitting on the plane if there was a problem with the FUEL GAUGE?

The pilot continued talking, saying something about how they had to use an alternative method to fuel the plane. I pictured a long hose coming from the nearest corner gas station, and the nozzle automatically shutting off when the tank reached the “full” mark. I was aware of how finicky those gas pumps can sometimes be, shutting off too soon. I also knew of some gas pumps that were so slow they seemed to be pumping molasses. I figured that an airplane’s gas tank had to be at least 100 times the size of the one in my car. I calculated that we’d be sitting there quite a while longer — long enough for me to decide whether or not to run for the nearest exit.

Suddenly somebody laughed, and my brain did this strange thing. It told me not to worry. It convinced me that the pilot must know what he’s doing, and that if it wasn’t safe he wouldn’t let us take off.

Looking back, I wonder just how safe it really was … but I guess I’ll never know. We made it from Tucson to Chicago, and on to our final destinations. But I think if I ever hear those words “a little problem with the fuel gauge” again, I won’t trust my luck a second time.

For now, though, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the rest of my vacation. I’ll try to post often and to include photos, too. And if you like trains, stay tuned. There’s a good chance I’ll be taking Amtrak for the return trip.

Happy Saguaro Sunday

This weekend, I opened my front door and saw snow. That’s right, SNOW, right here in Tucson, Arizona. And not just ordinary snow.

I saw:

  • snow in the desert
  • snow next to tall saguaro cacti
  • big, flat snowflakes. They were about 1 to 2 inches in diameter and looked like little flying saucers
  • snow on 9,000-foot tall mountains
  • an icy-cold stream flowing down from those mountains, and I waded through it!

Here, have a look:

Saguaro National Park:
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Saguaro NP Snow 2-2

Catalina State Park:

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Happy snowy saguaro Sunday!