Friday, September 28, 2012

Fall Begins.

9-28-12 SHORT HILLS: It has been rainy for a few days with only 0.4 inches of precip accumulated. Mostly overcast skies and tropical air persist. The leaves continue to turn and fall from the ash trees.

The Autumnal Equinox slipped by, and it was barely light at seven this morning.

I’ll put up a couple more pix from Italy and then stop boring you with our trip.

Monarch of New Jersey.

Fall wildflower.

More Italy, Positano, on the Amalfi coast.

Pompei, statue of a goddess in her temple.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


9-25-12 SHORT HILLS: It’s a catch up day. Judy said there were pix from Italy that I should have posted, so I’ll catch up with those and then catch up with the garden. First the pix:

Dazzled customer tries to choose.

Gnarly old olive tree, later we saw some far older.

Andria, a swallowtail butterfly on a butterfly bush, of course.

Trani cathedral frescoes.

That prominent limestone formation has a grotto enlarged to serve as a church for the 8th century Materans.

Church from the inside.

Frescoes from 11th century.

Another grotto-church, behind the first.

Frescoes in the second church.

Back in the yard: the dying oak tree is gone, stump and all. Frank’s Tree took it down using a huge crane to carry big pieces from the back yard to the driveway where the chipper was set up. The crane lifted big limbs over the house and set them down on the lip of the chipper. Everything was chipped but the main trunk.

They next lifted the stump grinder, a giant circular saw that moves on tracks like a bulldozer, and set it down in the yard because it was too wide for the gate. It ate up the stump in about an hour, down to a foot below grade. They took the chips away except for enough to fill the hole and then lifted the grinder back out. In half a day, a one hundred year old tree was gone, turned into sawdust.

Yesterday I topped off the hole with soil and seeded the area.

Wilpat was also here before we left and identified two leaks in the sprinkler system, one in the pipe to the pool water supply line and one in the seventh watering zone. That last was caused by roots of a big ash tree. They made repairs, and now we have only one other issue with the system, weak pressure in zone three.

While we were away, there was a storm that dumped a bunch of branches in the yard and 0.75 inches of rain. They day we returned, there was a T-storm that left another 0.5 inches.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


9-21-12 FIUMICINO, ITALIA: Yesterday we did Pompei which is fairly close to Sorrento, one more corniche and three tunnels and a little of the Autostrada. The ruins are on the southern flank of Vesuvius which erupted in 79 AD and buried the town under 20 feet of volcanic ash. Previously it had been severely damaged by an earthquake in 62 AD and was still in the midst of rebuilding when it was suffocated. The excavations were begun in the 18 C and continue.

The present site is extensive, covering many acres, and would take days to see it all in detail. We hit the highlights on a hot, sunny afternoon and have many pix. You will be subjected to only a few.

The day we were there, there were probably as many visitors as originally inhabited the city. We used a map and audioguides and felt that was enough. High points include the forum, baths, remnants of frescoes, bakeries, tavernas, villa Misteri, theatres, remnants of mosaic floors, and the street fountains. The grid of the streets and outline of the city with remaining building walls, some intact, some only knee high, give you a clear impression of early Roman life.

The ruins are surrounded by living cities and probably a million people—when Vesuvius awakens evacuation will be a daunting job.

Back to EWR tomorrow.

The forum, roughly football field sized.

Temple of Jupiter, on the forum, with Vesuvius in the background.

Street plan has modern grid pattern, note the high curbs.
Taverna, the marble counter held pots warmed by fire underneath the counter. They served perpetual stew or soup, when it got low the cook threw in more water and whatever else was on hand. Customers could eat there or do take out.

Statue of faun in a reflecting pool mark the entrance of one very up-scale house that takes up a city block.

Fresco survived pretty well.

Some mummified bodies have been recovered from the ash and a few are on display. They attracted a lot of interest.

Cave canem. Beware of the dog. A tessellated dog on the floor at the entrance of another house advised callers to beware, note the chain on the collar. The pictograph probably indicates a high degree of illiteracy.

Street fountains are present at many intersections to provide household water. Most houses didn't private plumbing.

The large theatre, there was also a small one for music and a larger arena.

Bakery. Those hourglass things sit on top of the conical things. Wheat is poured into the top of the hourglass and a donkey turns it, grinding the wheat into flour which collects on the flat surface under the cone. The pizza style oven was wood fired, and its type is still in use today.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Amalfi, Ravello, Sorrento.

9-19-12 SORRENTO, ITALIA: We left Polignano after breakfast and drove westward across the ankle of the boot. We left the Autostrada on the outskirts of Salerno and picked up the Amalfi coast road, a famous corniche from many films and stories. Unlike the Gargano corniche [my new word], the Amalfi road is packed with hotels, restaurants, pizzerias, B & B’s, shops, businesses virtually shoulder to shoulder. This adds elements to the drive, avoid the pedestrian as well as all the traffic and don’t get hit by a bus. Another contrast with Gargano is that the Amalfi is mostly at the same elevation, while the Gargano has big ups and downs.

The Amalfi is on the southern side of a peninsula and Sorrento and the Bay of Naples is on the northern side. The land mass is long, narrow, mountainous and steeply sided and, again, composed of limestone. Erosion has created ravines, cliffs, islands, and alternating headlands and beaches. The road is carved out of the sides of cliffs, has several tunnels, and looks like a giant jigsaw puzzle piece. It is just one turn after another. The tourist buses are too big for the road and worsen the already heavy traffic. Parking any where is either expensive or sparse. All that said, it’s a fun drive.

Two towns in the center of the drive are the stars. Amalfi is a beach city with shopping, dining, resorts and congestion. Ravello is several hundred feet higher, on top of a mountain and slightly less congested. It features the Villa Rufolo and its gardens.

Sorrento is big with many deluxe hotels and shops with high style stuff. I am so informed by Judy—an unimpeachable source. I noticed some lady’s underwear on mannequins. It seemed quite stylish to me.

A typical beach village between headlands and under cliffs, full of resorts and pizzerias.

Ravello. A mountain top town with cathedral and the Villa Rufolo with very nice gardens and great views that enchanted many artists in the early 20th century.

View from Villa Rufolo, worth a tough drive.

Amalfi, center of the city, wall to wall cars, people, buses, tourist businesses.

The main street in Amalfi runs up a ravine that is a popular hiking spot.

Sorrento and the Bay of Naples south coast.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gargano Peninsula.

9-17-12 POLIGNANO A MARE, ITALIA: Today we did the Gargano peninsula. It is the spur of the boot that is Italy. The area surrounding the peninsula is marshy, flat land and the peninsula rises up more than 2500 feet. It is limestone similar to that we have seen in the rest of Apulia. There is a coastal road, a corniche, that we drove most of the way around the point. The road is a series of cutbacks, switchbacks, and hairpin turns that wind up ravines, over ridges and down into the next ravine. We did about 45 miles of it in two hours, and after lunch in Peschici on the north side, we drove over the top to Monte Sant’Angelo back near our starting point. The interior road was much the same, going down into valleys and up over mountains. We were impressed by the driving until we saw folks doing it on bicycles.

The coastal limestone is eroded into cliffs, headlands, and headlands eroded into islands, pillars and arches. At the base of the cliff, there are grottoes eroded by the waves. The coastal towns, once modest fishing villages, are now filled with resorts and beach clubs, some quite up-scale.

The interior is mostly the Parco Nazionale del Gargano, and a lot of that is the Foresta Umbra, several square miles of temporate forest, dotted with picnic areas and camp grounds. The rest of the park is partly in agriculture—cows, sheep and olives.

Monte Sant’Angelo is, was rather, a large rambling castle and fortress also built by our hero, Frederick II. The exterior limestone has been melted away by the weather in places and the interior largely restored. A great deal of it is open for exploring narrow dark passage-ways, large rooms and the battlements. The views of the sea and coast as well as the mountains and local valleys are wonderful, even on a hazy day.

Then we hairpinned our way back to the coastal road and the Autostrada to get back to our hotel for dinner in their restaurant.

Limestone erodes when battered by ocean waves leaving cliffs and islands.

Island arch.

Grottoes along the bases of the cliff are created by wave action. If they are later uplifted by tectonic forces, they become caves above sea-level and are then eroded by rainwater.

The old fishing village of Vieste is on the east end of the peninsula. The old town is out on the end of a limestone point. The rest of it is now an upscale resort area.

Monte Sant'Angelo is a fortress complex built on a mountain peak with dramatic views. It is deteriorating and partly restored.

View of the interior of Gargano from Monte Sant'Angelo. Unfortunately, it was fairly hazy in the afternoon today.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Trani, Andria, Matera.

9-16-12 POLIGNANO A MARE, ITALIA: The day started with another hotel breakfast, and then back in the Fiat for a run up the Adriatic coast to see the quaint fishing villages. They are all up-scale, large and busy resorts now. The last one, Trani, has a seaside Cathedral, named for St. Nicholas, as is at least one church or cathedral in each town in Apulia. For the sailors, the mouth of the harbor is marked by a red and a green buoy. As you look out to sea, the red one is on the right.

We turned inland to Andria, a medium sized town with an olive oil factory. Nearby is the Castle del Monte. It was built originally by Frederick II of Germany, son of Frederick Barbarossa, in the 1100’s, later torn down and re-built in the 1500’s on the original plan. The views go for miles, good for seeing if any strange armies are in the neighborhood. Inside there’s a big courtyard and around that eight rooms on the first level and eight more on the second, big rooms to be sure. The walls are perforated by many vertical slits for archers. For me, the use in construction of limestone, marble and breccia was interesting.

The road to Matera took us through a forested national park and agricultural zones. There were several dairy farms with black and white cows, and other farmers were plowing fields. We even got to spend a bit of time on the road observing large tractors from the rear. We saw more trulli near Andria.

Matera was quite dramatic. The old town is built on the side of a ravine on the limestone bedrock. The limestone is riddled with caves and grottoes. The houses, some of them, are little more than walled off caves, others built out of the caves and newer ones made out of limestone. These houses are called sassi. Churches from the 800’s are basically grottoes with fading frescoes. The bigger, later churches are on top of the ravine as is the new city. Mixed in with the sassi are modern hotels and medieval churches. You can walk through the region going up and down the many flights of stairs again and again.

Trani, Cathedral of St. Nicholas on the Adriatic and the harbor. Do you think they keep the reindeer in the basement?

Andria, Castle del Monte has a great view of the region and interesting use of different construction stone.

Another trullo seen on the road to Matera. There were dozens, we thought we had been transported to Middle Earth.

Matera. The old town is built on a steep limestone hillside, and the houses, called sassi, are made of the limestone and some are built into it, basically enlarged caves. Later buildings, churches mostly, and new buildings, hotels mostly, are mixed in with the sassi. If you walk down all those stairs, remember, you have to come back up.

Matera. The oldest churches, 9th century are enlarged grottoes with faded frescoes. The ravine and sassi, newer buildings on top.

More sassi.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lecce, Ostuni, Alberobello.

9-16-12 POLIGNANO A MARE, ITALIA: We got an early start after a great breakfast buffet overlooking the Adriatic, and took the highway to Lecce. This old city center is swarming with churches made of yellowish-brown stone. There are remains of a Roman amphitheatre that sat 20,000 at one time, now it’s about the size of a theatre in your average cineplex. Lecce also has a castello built by Charles V, that would be in the early 1500’s, so you can see architecture for the last 2000 years displayed within a few blocks.

Tired of the highway, we exited and stumbled around on the local roads for the rest of the day, defying the instructions of our Garmin GPS. We found Ostuni, on top of a hill in a rain storm. The setting over looks the Adriatic. Most of the building are painted white, a Greek influence, giving "La Città Bianca" a dramatic look from inside and afar. After checking out the cathedral and the twisting, narrow streets, we sheltered under a restaurant umbrella for salad during another shower. A Belgian couple, also lunching, spoke excellent English, and we discussed American and European politics—they’re not Romney fans.

Back on the road, two lanes and some only one, we saw more of the olive groves and vineyards, grape harvesting, ruins and new buildings, and, on the road to Alberobello, we first saw trulli. The trulli are round, conical roofed, stone, one-roomed dwellings that may be grouped for multi-room houses. There’s an inside stone dome ceiling and an outside stone shingled roof, giving them a unique appearance. We thought of tepees and igloos as other simple, round housing. In Alberobello, there are two hillsides covered with hundreds of trulli, mostly white-washed and grouped together for more interior space.

We rounded out the day back at the hotel with a nap and then a late dinner in town.

Lecce has many churches, cathedrals, basilicas, chapels surrounding Roman ruins in the old town. This is Sant'Irene.

And this is the Cathedral.

Ostuni, the White City, sits atop a hill in sight of the Adriatic.

Ostuni, narrow streets, heavily flowered.

Truly unique dwellings are the trulli. Those in the countryside are rustic. [duh]

While the city trulli are all white washed.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On the Italian Road Again.

9-15-12 POLIGNANO A MARE, ITALIA: We did the usual over-night, red-eyed horror from EWR to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport [FCO], got off the bus just after the COD at FCO, staggered through Immigration, customs, the Avis office and to the car lot for our rental Fiat. We hooked up the Garmin and set out on the Autostrada for our 300 mile drive to the southern Adriatic coast and to our hotel, Covo dei Saraceni, in Polignano a Mare. We left FCO during morning rush, but had only moderate traffic, and made good time whizzing along in the slow lane at the speed limit of a zippy 135 km/hr. [that’s 81 mph for metriphobes] Other driver flew by us.

We drove south on the road to Naples, but turned off to cross the mountains in the center of the peninsula, getting up to 2000 ft and going through a bunch of tunnels. There are lots of wind turbines on the mountain ridges. The eastern coast is lower, flatter and the roads run near the Adriatic Sea.

We found the hotel with minimal delay and were checked in by early afternoon and set out for pizza. The old town is limestone from the ground up, including the old walls, and the ground itself. It’s filled with outdoor and seaside restaurants. The climate seems milder on this coast with eucalyptus, figs, bougainvillea, oleander, prickly-pear cactus and palm trees. Most everything shuts down for the late afternoon and opens up for the evening. At 8 PM, we were the first ones in the restaurant for dinner.

Domenico Modugno, native of Polignano a Mare, had a big hit with 'Volare' in the fifties and which still plays on the streets here. He was later a member of Parliament.

Our hotel, Covo dei Saraceni, is dressed in white on top of the limestone promontory to the left of the cove for which it's named. The cove was probably carved through the limestone by a river.

The old walled city with limestone streets, buildings, stairs, arches.

Central piazza in the old town, pretty during the day....

And jumpin' at night.