Volterra Prison with Moon

Volterra Prison with Moon

“Enhancement” project using Photoshop for my photography class. This is the castle of Volterra, Italy, which is actually currently a prison. I visited in November 2013. My friend wanted to see it due to the town’s relation to the Twilight novels.

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Road Trip: Barcelona to Florence, Part I

Twelve days and almost 2500km later, I have arrived back in Florence. I’m in the lounge at the top of the Hilton Metropole, feet up, looking out the window towards the Duomo where the last of the daylight is hitting it’s western side. As I watch, a little parakeet jumps out of the bushes and looks around nervously.

I have just completed a road trip from Barcelona to Florence, with sidetrips to Lake Como and Rome, in my old 1999 Peugot 106. I’ve driven for probably 40 hours in the course of this adventure. Quite a feat.

How do I feel? Relaxed. Tired. Accomplished. And…a bit lonely.

I’ve spent the last eight days with one of my good friends from high school. Her flight from Rome to home was early this morning. Almost immediately upon returning to the hotel, I could feel a hole where she had been. It is difficult to spend so much time with someone you know well and then return to your normal existence. It is the same feeling I have everytime a water polo tournament ends.

Yesterday, my friend and I took the A1 from Florence to Rome. While it spends a lot of time in the valley, it closes down to a two lane road and winds through the hills right before it drops down into Rome.

Throughout this road trip, I didn’t feel comfortable driving my car more than 100 km/hr. The speed limit on the Autostrade in Italy? 130 km/hr. It isn’t so bad when you are driving in the valleys, where the cars are spread out and there are often three lanes, but in that last leg to Rome? Not so fun.

There are always semis, but in that section they tend to pile up. They don’t go much faster than I am comfortable going, so it is easy to cruise behind them, or pass them when they are going a bit slower than I want to go. This easily allows everyone else to pass us on the left.

In the hills, though, I couldn’t easily pass the trucks. Not only was it difficult for my car to speed up around them going uphill, in the left lane there was an almost never-ending line of cars speeding past us. Getting in front of an Italian driver who wants to go much faster than you is never a good idea.

The turns are tight and the barricades tall. Semis in front and in back of you and cars wizzing by the left. Passing us were Audi after Audi, the Alfa-Romeo Giulietta (the only Alfa-Romeo we saw), and many other cars (VWs, Fiats, Range Rovers, Citroens), but none nearly as old as my car. It’s as if I shouldn’t have been allowed to drive there. Next time, however, I’ll be in an Audi or a Mercedes or even a Lambourghini, and I’ll get to experience the fun of driving in the midst of all that confinement.

On the way back

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Pools: Riviera Ligure

This is the first post in a planned series. I’ve tried to take pictures of every pool I have played in in Europe. Most recently I traveled with the team in Florence, N.G.M. Firenze, to Rapallo on the Ligurian coast (south of Genova). There we played two games, the first against Plebiscito Padova and the second against ASD Rapallo. Although Rapallo has many players from the Italian national team and won the league last year, we played better against them. It is possible that we were finally warm, and/or it was because they were missing their starting goalie.

As for the other pools, in 2009 I helped coach/tagged along on on a high school boys’ water polo trip, where we played at Camogli. At that time Rari Nantes Camogli was in the A2 division and was coached by Ricardo Azevedo. We also visited the pool at Recco, which is home to one of the best men’s team ever, Pro Recco. They have won the Italian League twenty seven times and the LEN cup seven. On our way to Florence, we hiked the first part of Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza. In Vernazza, we played an informal game against their local club in the waters of the harbor.

Later in 2009, I spent a week in Nervi (ASD Sportiva Nervi) training with their team. At that time they were coached by Massimiliano Ferretti, who won a gold medal in the ’92 Olympics in Barcelona. Last year I traveled to Bogliasco to tryout with Rari Nantes Bogliasco.

There are, of course, other pools and teams in the area. These include Savona, Sori, and Imperia. Always more places to go and pools to play in!

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Incisa in Val D’Arno: Part VI, Excursion to Arezzo

After riding on Sunday (read about it here), I needed something to eat. As it was Sunday, the only supermarket open was the huge Coop, and it had already closed. I decided to drive around and see what else was available. I ended up deciding to continue all the way to Arezzo. Now, I studied abroad in Florence for a month in 2007, and I took a few trips outside the city one weekend. Two friends and I went to two smaller towns on Saturday and two more on Sunday. I could tell you three of the four towns we went to (Pistoia, Cortona, Lucca) and could remember two well enough (Lucca because I went a second time two years later and Pistoia for god knows what reason). But I couldn’t say which of the other memories I had was of Cortona, or even what city the last memory was of.

Well, I quickly found out that the last city I had visited was Arezzo. So, here I was again, this time arriving by car.

The last time I had been to Arezzo I was taking a black and white film photography class. I had gone on a trip to Barcelona and lost my digital camera on the way back (losing, in the process, photos of a double rainbow over the Ponte Vecchio. Oh the agony!). Because of this, all the photos I took during these trips were on film in black and white. I was also doing everything on manual. Unfortunately, most of my photos did not turn out well. Of course, I felt that my photography skills must have been seriously lacking. Only later did I find out my lens was broken…

It was my lucky day! To arrive in a city I had been to before but this time armed with a much better camera and improved photography skills.

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Incisa in Val D’Arno: Part III, Horseback Riding

I think it has been about eight years since I’ve done any kind of real horseback riding. This is strange for me, since from the age of 5 to 20, I rode at least four or five times a week (except during water polo season). I knew when I entered high school that I would put horseback riding secondary to water polo until I was finished with water polo, but I have always considered myself a horseback rider, even through all the years I haven’t done it.

The break started because I decided to retire my horse. She was getting older and more injury prone. My mom had sold her horse and would no longer be at the barn to look after mine. It was a tough decision because I knew that it would mean my horseback riding career would be put on hold for the foreseeable future. However, it was also an easy decision because I knew it was the best thing for my horse.

At my level, it is difficult to ride without owning your own horse. Of couse, I could always “school” other people’s horses, as I’d done for many years, but there is a limit to what you are able to do and the amount of time you can spend with that horse. And owning a horse requires a commitment that I did not have time to give.

I have avoided riding for the last eight years, due to both logistics and grief for my horse who was put down in 2009. But recently I’ve decided that it may be the moment to return to an old love of mine, even if only in a small way.

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Incisa in Val D’Arno: Part II, The Hotel

Oddly enough, I’ve never rented a car while traveling. Of course, I’ve had to rent a car when visiting San Francisco or other places like that, but I wouldn’t consider that traveling. Not only am I just visiting a place I’ve already been, it is still in the country.

A little over a year ago I went to Santiago de Compostela, and what I really wanted to do was get in the Atlantic Ocean. However, there was no way I could visit using public transportation and still make it back in time for my evening flight. The hotel suggested that I rent a car, but for some reason I felt it was out of the question. For my own unknown motives, I didn’t get to do something I wanted to do. I vowed next time I was going to rent a car.

For all that I’ve travelled in Italy, I was nervous to rent a car. I’ve driven in Spain, which isn’t all that different, and I’ve always been excited to try my hand at driving with the crazy Italians. What was there to stop me? It sounded like fun. So, I did it. (Read about the car here).

It took me way longer than it should have to get to the hotel. Neither the GPS nor my cell phone was working properly, and I couldn’t figure out exactly where the hotel was. Eventually, I got the electronics working, and, as it turns out, if I had gone 50m more from where I originally turned around, I would have found the hotel. Ah well.

The hotel’s name is Tenuta Il Burchio. It spreads across a one-lane-but-made-for-two-cars street. On one side is the hotel, a white-washed building with wooden window frames and an old tile roof. The other side has an extra building (one room, sided on three sides by glass windows) surrounded by a brick patio and tables. This is where breakfast is held. Behind it, reached by walking along some pine trees, is the 15m pool. Behind the hedges bordering the pool is the stable. That, however, is a separate property from the hotel.

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Incisa in Val D’Arno: Part I, The Vehicle

I came to Florence two weeks ago with the goal to play on an Italian water polo team. I arrived on a Tuesday, but had about a week before practice started. I spent three days sightseeing in Florence, visiting the smaller things I had never seen (read about that here). By Friday, due to the heat and crowds, I decided to get out of the city. Recalling a place I visited with friends four years ago, I searched out a hotel that would be in the countryside.

What I found wasn’t as remote, but it had it’s own charms. What sold me on the hotel, besides the pool, was the stable and the possibility to ride. So, I rented a car.

I thought I was getting a Fiat Punto Evo, which seemed like a decently cool car. Instead I got the Fiat Cubo, which felt more like a mini work van. And was decidedly uncool.

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The Best Gelato?

In my travels through Italy, I have tasted many different types of Gelato. I usually go for similar flavors at each gelateria. I often order cioccolata, strachiatella, canella, or nutella. It is because of my penchant for the same tastes that I can compare and contrast different producers of gelato. There are your basic gelaterias that are commonly found in touristy locations. These gelatos are often decorated with something related to the flavor they represent. The kinder gelato has pieces of kinder, the lemon has lemon rinds, etc. These shops even sell fancy sundaes and may offer more flavors than a Baskin Robbins. All of the flair is used to draw in tourists who are just excited at the prospect of eating any gelato. If you read tourist books closely, they will often point you to the ‘best’ gelaterias in any city. Here, the gelato is made in house, with better ingredients. It is not the mass-produced gelato you would find in the other shops. Each time that I read about a fantastic gelateria, I make it my mission to find it and taste it for myself.

In Florence, I was told that both Grom and Vivoli sold the best gelato. Grom is on a tiny street in the center of the city. Its flavors change on a regular basis and they often sell different types of chocolate depending on the percentage and where the chocolate came from. Vivoli is also on a small street, but in an area that is much less travelled. It was very close to where I lived and studied when I stayed in Florence for a month, so I had more chances to try it. I found Grom to be good, but nothing spectacular. Vivoli’s gelato wasn’t any better, but I did find their granitas to be particularly good. A friend of mine was also told about a gelateria right in the heart of the city. To me, this one looked just the same as all the others, and its flavors weren’t any better. In Rome, I heard over and over again about a mythical gelateria by the Trevi fountain. I heard about it from my first visit to Italy, during my most recent visit to Italy, and in various guidebooks. Every time I was near the Trevi, I kept an eye out for this supposed ‘best’ gelateria. Fed up with my inability to find this place, I went on to google maps and found out exactly where it was. Four years after first hearing about this place, I got my first taste. And, surprise, surprise, it was not any better than Grom or Vivoli. San Crispino, as the gelateria was called, was not as good as it was said to be.

Being quite disenchanted with the phrase ‘the best gelato,’ I was in doubtful when I was told that Nervi had the best gelato and that I had to try it. Always up for anything chocolate-y, I accepted my friends’ invitation. My ride parked her mini cooper illegally because there was no parking (this is Italy). We sat down to order. I was told that I should have canella and nutella, a combination I approved of heartily. I might have chosen it without being told to. This time, the gelato really was the best gelato ever. All of the others had very similar tastes, and I couldn’t distinguish a better one from a worse one. The taste of this gelato left me with no doubt that was superior. I wasn’t able to try any other flavors, but for me it didn’t matter. I would order these two flavors every time. I was tempted to order a second helping, but restrained myself. So, if you ever find yourself in the north of Italy near Genoa, make sure to visit Gelateria Priaruggia at Via Quarto, 1.

(written Fall 2009)

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