Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Exploring Lake Bracciano

Lake Bracciano is a lake that used to be a volcano crater. I asked Laura if she was worried about the volcano erupting again, but she said that this particular volcano burnt out a long, long time ago. If you drink a glass of tap water in Rome, you're actually having a glass of Lake Bracciano, because it's the water supply for the whole city. This means that motor boats aren't allowed on the lake, and nobody throws any garbage in; Lake Bracciano is the cleanest lake I've seen in my life!

Even though October in Italy is much warmer than in Ontario, it was still too chilly for us to swim - but not for Polvere! Just look at how much fun he's having retrieving his tennis ball! (If you're wondering what his name means, in English his name would be "Dusty".) I was afraid that he might try to retrieve these ducks, but he was very polite to them.

The streets of Bracciano have cobbles instead of pavement, and the narrow windows often have wooden shutters on the outside instead of blinds or curtains on the inside. From most streets in the town you can see the castle where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had their wedding. It's more than 500 years old. A man named Paul Bril made a painting of the castle around 1620, when it looked like this.

Before we left the town of Bracciano, Laura asked Luca and me if we'd like some gelato. I thought that perhaps gelato was Italian jello, but Laura led us into a cafe with an ice cream counter. There were all sorts of flavours of ice cream, but much brighter than in Canada; it was as if a whole rainbow had fallen into the ice cream tubs. On top of each tub of ice cream was a bit of fruit, so that you could see what the flavour was. I chose peach gelato, and what a flavour it had! That first spoonful made me feel as if somebody had set off a blizzard of peach fireworks, if there can be such a thing, in my mouth.
I guess I was as wrong about gelato being ice cream as I was about it being jello. Gelato and ice cream aren't the same at all. Laura says that ice cream has twice as much air whipped into it. It isn't just the amount of air; gelatos have less cream sugar, and more fruit. They are intense.
On our way home, we stopped to visit some friends of Laura's. I loved their shaggy little pony, and picked handfuls of sweet clover to feed him. He ate them all, and then blew gently in my ears and tickled them with his soft whiskers. He looked lonesome with all those cows; I wish that I could have found him a pony friend to talk to.

Some of the cows have to stay inside all the time, so as to keep clean and tidy. They go to different agricultural shows and compete for all sorts of prizes. They win, too!.

Beside the pasture was an olive tree. I thought that the olives would be black and oily and salty, but instead they looked like this. I tried one, but had to spit it out again when nobody was looking.

On and off through the drive to Lake Bracciano and back to Rome, we saw these zippy little sports cars zooming along the roads. They growl like cougars as they speed up. Luca told me that they are called Ferraris, and are Italy's most famous car. One of them was parked (across two parking spaces), and you can see Luca beside it. Perhaps he's saving his money to buy one when he's all grown up. I've certainly decided that when I grow up, I am most definitely going to tour Italy by Ferrari. My Ferrari will be pink, though.
Meanwhile, it's time to say ciao to Laura and Mario and Luca and Polvere (and the gelatos), and climb back into my envelope after giving Polvere one last hug. Next stop: the island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain. Laura said that I'm going to meet a whole flock of ducks there.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Exploring Rome with Laura and Luca (and Asterix and Obelix)

Hermann bought me a little present before leaving Vienna: a book called Asterix the Gladiator to read in my envelope on my way to Rome. It taught me all about the Romans: they all wear dresses and sandals, like that little guy in a green dress over to the right. Even the soldiers wear dresses. They force prisoners and slaves to train as gladiators and then fight each other in the Coliseum. The Romans all have dinner lying on sofas with the tables in the middle, and when they aren't eating they're driving around Rome in chariots.

Naturally, I couldn't wait to ride in a chariot! When Laura opened my envelope and kissed me (the Italians are just as kissy as the Argentines ... who knew?), I asked her what colour her horses were. "Come and see," she replied. I hurried out of the post office, but no chariot was parked outside. There were no chariots anywhere in sight ... just more boring cars. Not one man was wearing a dress, either. This is what it looked like. All the buildings that Asterix and Obelix saw were there, but mostly they're in ruins and other buildings are in their place now. Laura explained that Asterix and Obelix visited Rome more than 2,000 years ago, and that it's changed a lot since then.

I put on my nightgown and had a little nap, and then we had a delicious supper of fish, mushrooms, salad, and aubergines. Laura and her husband Mario drank Sicilian wine, but I didn't really like it and asked for milk. Then I helped Laura reorganize her kitchen cupboards, and found fruit and currant tea and cookies and something called nutella. Laura gave me a spoonful of nutella to taste .... mmmmmm! Nutella is better than chocolate, better than jam, better than anything! Here's a picture so that you can try some yourself!

After being in the envelope for several days, I wanted to freshen up a bit. The Paragona's bathroom had a Sally-sized bathtub mounted on the wall, but when I asked for a stool to get into it, Laura explained that it isn't exactly a bathtub. It's something called a bidet. You can wash your feet in it, and you use it to wash yourself off after you use the toilet. In fact, here people think that just using toilet paper isn't very ... well ... hygenic.

Luca has a huge map on his bedroom wall, so I showed everyone where Canada is. We're the only country in the world with a giant bird (Hudson's Bay) standing on its head right in the middle!

The Paragona family aren't soccer fanatics ... but they do enjoy watching tennis on TV. Here's a Djokovic-Cilic match. I enjoyed it, but what I really wanted was to find some of the places that Asterix and Obelix visited, so Laura and Luca and I set off.

Our first stop was the barbershop, where Luca had a haircut. I tried out the chair, but decided to skip the haircut - I like my ponytail!

Then we crossed the Tevere River on the Ponte Sant Angelo, or Bridge of Angels. Do you see them all standing along the bridge?

Vatican City is a small city inside Rome, where the Pope lives. This is where the Catholic church is based. We didn't see the Pope, but this street leads to the Vatican. At the end of this street, you can see Saint Peter's Basilica.

We strolled around the Janiculum hill, topped with beautiful old pine trees, and found this lovely white lighthouse. It turned out to have been a present from people who'd moved from Italy to Argentina. They're happy in Argentina, but they wanted to give something back to their mother country.

You can see just all about all of Rome from Janiculum - look at the views!

This building with the clock tower is the City Hall, called the Campidoglio. It was only built a thousand years ago, so Asterix and Obelix never saw it.

They saw these places, though! The Circus Maximus was a racetrack, where up to twelve charioteers could race their chariots. I tried to get Luca to pretend to chariot-race with me, but he didn't really like the idea. Instead, we went over to the Coliseum. I tried to imagine it as Asterix and Obelix would have seen it, with the roars of the crowds, the cries of the street vendors, and the smells of food and animals. This trailer from the movie Gladiator gives you a hint, but I think the whole movie would be too scary for me.

This beautiful road, lined with stone pine trees, is the Via del Mare, or the Sea Road. The Romans travelled along here from Rome to the old seaport of Ostia. To get there, you had to pass through one of the arched gates in the Aurelian Wall. The Romans built this wall all around Rome and her Seven Hills, along with the Campus Martius. The whole circuit is 19 km, so it takes about five hours to walk the perimeter.

All this history made us very hungry, so we stopped at a restaurant and had pizza. After all, Italy is the country where pizza was invented! They make a wood fire in the oven, and then when it's nice and hot they push the embers to one side and pop in the pizza. It smells wonderful!!! On the left is a tomato-mozzarella-mushroom ham pizza, and on the right is a tomato-mozzarella-sausage pizza. The bakers slide them into the oven on a giant metal spatula, and then the pizzas cook right on the bottom of the oven.

Here are two of the bakers preparing the next pizzas. They have a bowl of tomato sauce on the shelf. Down on the marble counter they have the pizza dough, and they're scattering very thin potato slices and shredded mozzarella cheese onto the crusts. Maybe when I come home we can have a pizza party and try to make our own pizzas this way, even if we don't have a wood-fired oven.

I climbed this pomegranate tree to pick our dessert. Remember the story of Persephone taking one bite of pomegranate and having to spend the winters with Hades, down in the underworld? I took really good care that no seeds stuck in my teeth, just in case!

Tomorrow we're doing a road trip to Lake Bracciano, so I think I'll stop here. It's time to to bed and get my beauty sleep!

bacioni (that's Italian for big kisses)