Monday, April 21, 2014


I was so delighted to spend the Easter holiday with my friends in Cassano delle Murge, near Bari in the province of Puglia, Italy.  My friend Tina had written to me about the feasts she prepared for her extended family at Easter and Christmas, but I couldn't have imagined what it would be like to sit at her table.  I was happy to meet so many people in her family....everyone except her daughter was there.

In Italy, both Easter and the Monday after Easter are holidays.  On Easter, we had 10 at the table.  The guests were Donato's mother, his two sisters and their families.

I followed Tina through her garden in the morning as she clipped this and that, and a bit later she walked into the living room with this beautiful centerpiece for the table.

Tina is very creative and has decorated a number of plates, vases, and lamps, mostly in floral patterns.  She also paints.

We started Easter "pranzo" (lunch) with a fairly typical antipasto.

This was followed by a delicious lasagna.  After that came a dish of lamb braised in tomato sauce and fried artichokes.  Then a green salad, followed by a macedonia of fruit, and lastly an assortment of chocolates and Italian cookies.  A sweet tradition in Italy is to make a scarcellas for family members.  Tina had made them for Donato, her three children, and for her grandaughter.  It's a braided cookie with an egg in the shell baked into it (under the cross at the upper left).  It's decorated with sugar icing. candy sprinkled, and chocolate eggs.  We cut into Donato's later in the evening.

thought that was quite a feast, but it was nothing compared to the pranzo on Monday.  There were 16 people at the table--Donato's mother, one of his sisters and her husband, both their sons and their wives/significant others, the family of their daughter-in-law, who gave them their only grandchild, a beautiful little girl who was the center of attention the entire day.

There was a seemingly endless stream of food that came to the table, a dish or two at a time, and it was a potluck--everyone contributed something.  We started with some snack foods--chips, nuts, crackers and pretzels, and an appetizer I contributed made of a cream cheese mixture topped with cocktail sauce and shrimp.  

Then we had this very delicious dish called ciambella di pasta, which is a mold of tagliatelle pasta topped with ham and garnished with a pile of sauted mushrooms and ham in the center.  It was delicious.

It was served with a dish of peas and artichokes that was also delectable.  Next came a bowl of mushroom tortellini with cheese sauce.  These are typical "primi" dishes, but primi is usually one dish, not three.  Then came a huge plate of meat that was chargrilled--lamb, pork sausage, and beef sausage--which was served with a cold salad of roasted red peppers in viniagrette.  

I was pretty surprised at the next dish that came to the table.  It was lambs' heads, cleaved in half and roasted.  While a few enjoyed eating the brains and tongue, I passed on this one.

By now I'm filled to the gills, but we're not finished yet.  Another macedonia followed by a huge bowl of fava beans were next.  The fava beans were served raw in their long pods.

There were dolce galore.  There was Colombo Cake and two cakes in the shape of a lamb.  The Colombo cake is at the bottom and it was my favorite.

This "lamb cake" was made with almond paste and was really sweet.  

There were cookies and chocolates again--one was a giant hollow chocolate egg that had a toy inside for little Nicole who was the sweetest lamb at the party.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014



I'm back in Italy and staying with my good friends in Puglia.  I took an overnight ferry from Patras, Greece which was, including the bus trip tp Patras along the beautiful Gulf of Corinth, about a third of the cost of airfare.  And I got a bed to sleep on to boot!   I was amused by this sign over the toilet in the Ladies' Room.

Please don't throw your chips or newspaper into the loo?  Would someone really do that?

My cell phone survived its water bath!


The woman who shared my cabin on the boat snored all night.

The port authorities in Bari, Italy confiscated my favorite chef knife.  This knife has gone in and out of planes, trains, buses, and ferries on four continents and a dozen countries with no problem, but is considered a lethal weapon by Italy's port authorities.  It's flown into and about Italy several times with no problem.  When it's transported in the hold of an airplane, it's okay, but not in the baggage area on a ferry?  Does this make any sense?   I begged to no avail.  I'm going to miss that knife.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Today was the last day of my seven-day Greek island-hopping jaunt.  And it was pretty much a bust.  I arrived on the island of Milos after midnight and awoke at about seven to the pitter patter of rain outside my window.  I went back to sleep with hopes that it would pass over, but at nine, there was no sign of a let-up.  I went to get some coffee and watched BBC News, read and answered email, took a shower, and then packed my suitcase, because I had to check out at noon, rain or not.  I was filling my water bottle because you can't drink the tap water on any of the islands I visited, and the bottle slipped from my hand and fell into my open purse......certainly not an aupicious beginning to the day.  It's a cloth purse, so other than it getting all wet, there didn't seem to be anything in it that was ruined.  

I left my bags in the lobby and went out into the rain to get some lunch and at least take a look at the town.  I choose a nice-looking internet cafe on the harbor and discovered that, while they had an extensive menu, they were only serving toast and club sandwiches.  They don't start serving their full menu until next week.  I was comfortably settled on a sofa and didn't feel like moving, so I ordered the club sandwich.  While I was waiting, I decided to pass the time by playing a favorite game on my phone.  After about a minute, it froze.  So I did what I always do, I "rebooted", i.e., turned the phone off and on again.  The same thing happened.  I took it out of its case, and that's when the dripping began.  The phone had been in a pocket of my purse and hadn't seemed wet when I pulled everything out, but water had penetrated it, and when I took off the back, more water dripped out.  Oy vey!  I googled "wet phone" and followed the instructions on what to do as best I could considering what I had available to me, e.g., I didn't have a vacuum cleaner to suck out any of the water.  I won't know until tomorrow if the phone will work when it's dried out.  

After lunch, I walked around town a bit in the rain, but after not too long, my feet felt wet inside my shoes.  I went back to the hotel lobby, where the owner said I could wait out the rain, and sure enough, my socks were wet.  So I guess I have finally worn out my favorite walking shoes...they're leaking!  And my other pair of closed shoes are in the big bag I put in a storage locker so I could travel lightly around the islands.

It rained until around seven.  I used my hair dryer to dry the inside of my shoes and my cloth bag and puddle-hopped my way to have dinner before my ferry left at nine.  It was very chilly because the wind was blowing.

So Milos was a bust.  There are some beautiful mineral rock formations here that I hoped to see, but there aren't any interesting museums or even many shops here in the port of Adamas, population 1,000.  

 I took a few photos of the harbor, but that's all I have to show for my day here.

When you travel this long, you're bound to have a crappy day now and then.  I've had a few, but there's usually at least one bright spot to offset the bad stuff.  The highlight of this day was Eleni, the very warm and gracious owner of my hotel, who let me hang out in her lobby all day, kept me company when she wasn't busy with other guests, and supplied with hot tea and cookies.  

She is a real gem and has a smile that lights up the room and lifted my damp spirits.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


From what I've heard, Santorini and Mykonos get the most tourist traffic of all the Cyclades Islands.  There are certainly a lot of tourists here considering the time of year.  With this kind of scenery, you can certainly understand why.  This is Thira, where I'm staying, the busiest town on the island.

And that small island in the middle is where the volcano erupts.  

My introduction to the island yesterday wasn't as pleasant as I hoped--had a problem with my hotel that put a bee in my bonnet, so to speak.  Then today, I actually got stung by a bee.  How this bee got under my blouse when I had a jacket tied around my waist, I cannot fathom, but it introduced itself rather suddenly and rudely with a sting as I was hiking along the cliffs.  Fortunately. I'm not allergic, so it was only a minor irritation as my blouse rubbed against the sting area.

One of the fun things about traveling is encountering the unexpected.  For example, as I was trekking along the cliff path, I saw these guys approaching.

Who would expect to encounter a pack of mules on a seaside walk?  They were carrying bags of stone to a building site I passed farther along the path.  I saw more crossing the major road through town later.  These donkeys looked like the ones that are used to transport cruise ship passengers up the steep caldera cliffs, 600 steps as many as 7 times a day in high season.  There is great controversy about this and other types of abusive treatment that these animals suffer from their owners, not to mention the dangers of traversing steps made slippery with donkey dung!  I can attest to the stench of these animals as they passed by me.

Walking can get painful after a few hours when almost every walkway and the roads in town look like this.  I need some thicker soles!  

But the magnificent views are worth sore feet.

These Greek churches are very picturesque.  This one had a beautiful clock tower.

My hotel is on the opposite side of the island from the caldera.  The view from my balcony isn't as spectacular, but I'll take it any day.  This is the beautiful sunset sky I enjoyed last night.

I took a bus to the town of Oia on my second day here.  I learned that this is where people flock to see the sunset, but I wasn't able to do that because I have a ferry to catch.  Oia (pronounced ē-aah) is smaller than Thira, and there weren't as many tourists around.  It's spring break time, so there are lots of young people on the island.

There are equally spectacular views here also.  That's Thira off in the distance where the cruise ships are.

I wandered into a pretty quiet part of the town where there were some older buildings with a little character.

I stumbled into the area where everyone comes to watch the sunset.  There are lots of restaurants and shops lining the walkway along the cliff.  I saw this church framed by a simple but elegant arch.

And, for the first time, I was able to get in.  These Greek churches are even more ornate than their Italian counterparts.

This unique and beautiful piece of art was hanging outside the gallery.

And I found another old boat high above the water.

This is the ferry I'm on as I write this.  It's huge...semis were loading their trailers into the bottom level when I boarded.

i'm sailing off into the sunset, literally, to my last island stop.  


If I could visit only one Greek island, I think it would be beautiful Santorini.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades group and its port city, where I stayed, has a population of about 7,000.  Again, there were very few tourists and I would only occasionally pass by anyone else as I wandered the streets of the Old Town of Chora.

As always, street cats abound.  I crossed the path of this one.

There's an old Venetian castle perched above the town that was built over the remains of the ancient acropolis.

There were wild flowers growing here and there around the old buildings.

Back in the day, Naxos was the center of Cycladic culture, and I went through a small archeological museum near the castle that had artifacts dating back to the 13th century B.C.  Out on a balcony, there was an old mosaic and an odd assortment of pieces just lying about.

This has to be one of the oldest houses still standing.

The views from the heights of Old Town were stunning.  That's the ruins of Apollo's Temple on the peninsula, its entrance the only part standing.

Here's a closer view.

This is a view of the port town of Syros taken from Apollo's Temple.

And this is the view toward the hills away from the sea.

And another interesting perspective on the walk back to sea level.

Except for the trash can, it's a lovely courtyard outside a small church.

Back at sea level, wandering the streets lined with shops, I saw this curiosity.  Yes, those are hats.

There's plenty of time for a leisurely walk along the seaside, where the water is crystal clear.

I really enjoyed my stop at Naxos.  I could get used to life on a Greek isle if it were always this peaceful!