NYC in Italy: Day 2 The Dying City

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My friends Linda and Steve suggested we take a drive to Civita di Bagnoregio this afternoon. Said Steve, “It’ll blow your mind.” Sarcasm. That’s what comes of living in Rome and Orvieto for 14 years: You get jaded about living 20 minutes from a 2700-year-old town perched above a green Italian valley known as “The Dying City.” But I’m una turista so it actually did blow my mind a little.

It’s called the Dying City because of all the erosion, which really kicked in after a major earthquake hit in the 17th century. Over the next 200 years, the erosion increased to such an extent that the city became almost an island to itself, accessible only by a steep wooden bridge.

Now, not many people live there—only about 20 year-round—but thanks to a gushing nod from Rick Steves, it’s a tourist destination, particularly in the summer months.

After walking across the long bridge—the old wooden bridge has been replaced by a more modern concrete one, and climbing the steep path to enter the town, we strolled though the cobblestone streets to the main piazza. Just beyond, for €1, we descended into the ancient caves where olive oil was once pressed. It didn’t look like the most hospitable accommodations but people did live—and cook—here.

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But they had a pretty nice view.

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And wine was plentiful.

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Olio, vino e una buona vista…not a bad life.

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NYC in Italy: Day 1

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Sono qui! I arrived in Rome today at noon after a quick and easy flight on Alitalia. The quickest way into the city from Fiumicino aeroporto is the Leonardo Express train, for €14, which takes about 30 minutes.

My friend Linda met me at Termini, and after dropping my bags off at her family’s hotel, The Beehive (more on that in another post), we hopped a metro to the Piramide stop and had a delish lunch at Flavio al Velavevodetto (say that three times fast!). It’s an atmospheric ristorante built into Monte Testaccio, a big hill that grew over years when people in more ancient times threw out the old clay pots used for transporting oil, wine and other items.

Inside the restaurant, you can see the strata of pots of the mountain. Yes, it’s a mountain of trash! Only in Rome could a garbage dump become a tourist attraction worth photographing–and dining on!

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All the pasta at Velavevodetto was homemade and scrumptious. I had Ravioli Velavevodetto, with spinach and ricotta and topped with cherry tomatoes. Yum!

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After a quick stroll by the Colosseo at sunset…

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…we returned to Termini for the hour ride to Orvieto, where Linda and her family live. It was late and I was a jet-lagged zombie, but not so out of it I couldn’t appreciate the Duomo at night. Ciao a tutti!

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JFK Caesar salad

I don’t know why I thought the international terminal at JFK would have better food. But after a fruitless search down two corridors I ended up at the Medalist Bar having a Caesar salad. I have a feeling the real Caesar salads I’m about to eat for the next three weeks would laugh.

Now it turns out they’re out of the Caesars! And the southwest chicken salad. And Miller Light!

No wonder I first read the sign here as Mentalist Bar!

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Sabato in NYC

Here’s how semplice it is to have l’esperienza italiana on a gorgeous Saturday August afternoon….
1. Lunch at ‘inoteca on Rivington, featuring vino rosé and arancini

Yummy risotto balls with mozarella

2. Followed by steaming macchiato…

Mmmmm…

3. Winding up at Numero 28 on Carmine for a dinner of la capricciosa pizza di Napoli, across from Our Lady of Pompeii church at sundown.

Our Lady of Pompeii

Magnifico!!

Concert in the Park Evokes Memories of Trevi Fountain

Was the Trevi Fountain one of Respighi’s inspirations for his “Fountains of Rome”?

One of my favorite things about New York City is going to the free concerts in Central Park. I first moved to New York in January of 1999, and all it did was snow. I didn’t know anyone. I spent six months buying furniture for my new apartment and wondering why I’d moved from sunny Southern California to this miserable place.

Then June came around, and someone told me about opera in the park and symphony in the park. I met some of my new friends with a blanket and some cheese and crackers from Zabar’s, and all of a sudden I understood why New York City was so amazing. Sitting on the Great Lawn with friends among fellow New Yorkers and listening to the best of the best: the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic playing the greats from Puccini to Tchaikovsky while drinking a Solo cup of wine…it doesn’t get much better than that!

Tonight, I met my friend LaRue, and we listened to the NY Phil play Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and…here’s where the Italia comes in: They played Ottorino Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome” and “Pines of Rome.”

I wasn’t really looking for something to add to my new blog and I’m not sure I knew who Respighi was. But when I sat on the grass, started eating my St. Andre’s cheese with Trader Joe’s pita crackers (salty goodness!) and heard the symphony strike up the tone poem “Fountains of Rome,” suddenly I felt I could have been in Italy.

Born in Bologna, Respighi studied in Russia under Rimsky-Korsakov and “Fountains of Rome” reminded me of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” But Respighi was a traditionalist and this piece, composed in 1915-16, is part of what is known as his “Roman Tryptych.”

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Ottorino Respighi

The “Fountains of Rome” was inspired by—you guessed it!—four fountains in the Eternal City. Rome’s fountains help to define the city, and Respighi captured the grandeur and beauty of those fountains.

Following the symphony’s performance, came something truly American: Fireworks! Sitting closer to the East Side, we were not in the best position to see them—a tree blocking our view began to look like the Burning Bush!—but it was pretty spectacular anyway!

And don’t miss the next two outings: Symphony in the Park on Monday, July 16 and Opera in the Park, where Puccini’s Madam Butterfly will be performed at the Naumberg Bandshell on Wednesday, July 18, which happens to be my mother’s birthday—and she’s probably Puccini’s No. 1 fan! Who’s with me?

Helpful Hints: San Remo, Italy

San Remo, Italy:

You can buy a ticket from Nice through to San Remo, Italy, but you will need to change trains in Ventimiglia and get on a local Italian line for the 15-minute ride. The trains run often and the wait should only be about 20 minutes in Ventimiglia, but in both directions in Italy, the trains we took were more than an hour late, so be prepared to wait.

Helpful Hints: Nice, France

Nice, France:

The trains: Many of the trains aren’t air conditioned, so bring a hand fan and a bottle of water. If you’re there in the warm months, you will be warm!

Train tickets: While there are many automated machines at the Nice Ville train station, none of them will take your credit card unless you have a metallic chip on the front. Most U.S. credit cards don’t have them so you need to wait in line to purchase tickets from an agent. The line moves quickly but it does add time to your trip (in late June, we had to wait about 15 minutes each time), so get to the station early. Once you have your ticket, you need to get it stamped in one of the machines set up on the way to the track€s. That validates your ticket.

On the train: We never once had anyone check our tickets on the trains. That said, had we not spent the €3-4 for a ticket, we could have been charged a €35 fee if we’d been caught without one. Try to get away with it at your own risk!