Easter Memories

I Miss the Crowded Table.

What is it about holidays that makes me leap back decades in time? Four year old Midge races around her grandma’s kitchen until big hands pick her up and plop her on top of a sears catalogue on a chair. Aunt Julie is at Nonna’s stuffing a pie crust with rice, chopped up dried sausage, pepperoni, other pork parts, cheese and a bowl of scrambled eggs. Aunt Cat sits rolling mountains of meatballs. Nonna, grandma, punching a bowl of dough down tells me to help with the meatballs. Uncle Sal grins from ear to ear as he wanders around the kitchen holding a recently cleaned chicken by the feet. Little girl me sitting and getting meatball yuck between my little fingers feels loved, safe and happy. My meatballs have a particularly odd shape – quite artistic. I knew that a bunch of people would be coming, the kitchen table would be made bigger and anything we could sit on would be dragged into the room. All the food piled in the middle of the table will disappear in a nano second and the talking, laughing and shouting will roar out into the street. Many Easters later, Jack and I would be living in that old Flagtown farm house. On Easter I wanted to reclaim those feelings. Truthfully, ever Sunday I wanted to be back in that kitchen. I still wanted to be surrounded by – well everyone. To make that happen, what does the woman with the organizer gene do every Easter until the once wee ones rolled their now adult eyes —

Family and Friends Like Family Annually Raced for Eggs.

The tykes who gathered eggs now have babies of their own. Time marches on and yet, somedays I actually feel myself back in the white farm house. Last week, the olive branches that were being hung all over Pontelandolfo reminded me that it would soon be Palm Sunday. That triggered a visceral need to reminisce and question myself. Why did Aunt Julie put rice in that egg and meat pie? She called it pizzagaina – gain a million pounds when you eat it. The pizzagaina I find in Pontelandolfo doesn’t have rice. It is kind of a quiche with a pie crust top. Pastiera di grano – a sweet ricotta, wheat berries and dried fruit pie delish dish – kind of looks like it has rice. Then it hit me! Zap! Aunt Julie used the rice to stretch the filling. My elders lived through the depression and when I was a child were still on the lower end of the financial spectrum. They taught us to use every piece of every animal, mineral or vegetable. Then again Aunt Julie was Sicilian. Maybe where she grew up the savory pie was made with wheat berries and in Somerset County NJ in the 1950s you weren’t going to find them. Sadly, I should have asked the question sooner.

It is spring in Pontelandolfo and the lambs, baby bunnies and baby goats are dashing about happily. Soon, lots of folks in the village will be happily eating them. As a kid in Flagtown, I don’t ever remember eating lamb or goat for Easter or any day. I think it was because it would have made Aunt Cat go ballistic. She often told the story of her parents raising goats. Actually, some Flagtownians called the Guerrera subsistence farm “Goat Patch.” Piccola Caterina loved those goats. They would follow her about, play tag and give her big kid hugs. Every year just before Easter Italians from the “big city” – you know places like Patterson, Jersey City or Newark – would come to Flagtown and buy their Easter meat. As soon as the cars pulled up the baby goats started to panic. Aunt Cat would get as far away as she could but said she still heard the cries that every spring broke her heart. She swore that those kids knew their time was up and cried all the way to the back of the barn. She hoped those city people choked on their dinner. So no goat meat for us.

Easter Sunday, mom would have always figured out a way to get us new hats and outfits. We went to the South Branch Reformed Church. WHOA you weren’t Catholic?? Shhhh, don’t tell anyone. My grandfather caught a Catholic Priest flirting with my nonna and wooooosssshhh the Catholic Church became off limits. Besides, the South Branch Reformed Church was right down the road in the little village of South Branch. The village sat on the banks of the South Branch of the Raritan River and way back then still had the homes of famous folks like opera singer Anna Case, New Jersey Governor Peter Dumont Vroom and Diamond Jim Brady. For me it was a metropolis – there was an apartment house from the 1800s, Amy’s store and Post Office and lots of cute farm boys who came to buy soda or go to church. I still remember Sunday school, Easter Dawn Services and sitting on the front steps of the church because my mother forgot to pick me up. Sadly, the state was going to dam the river to build a reservoir so they condemned houses, Amy’s store and more. They never built the reservoir – errrrrg. Just f&*^ed up the area. Hmm, perhaps I should stop thinking about yesterday and look out the window at the Sannio Hills and start telling you all about the Easter Traditions in Pontelandolfo. I will – next week. I need to spend a few more moments in the past.

Buona Pasqua from the Guerrera Girls.
Ci Vediamo

It is not too late to plan your September 7 – 14th Trip to Pontelandolfo! We still have 2 spots open for the incredible culinary and cultural experience – COOKING IN THE KITCHENS OF PONTELANDOLFO!

Good Eats at Rome Train Station

Roma Stazione Termini has always been a drudge for me. Drag the suitcases, muscle through the crowds, strain to see what track we needed and if we were hungry, tired and waiting a while, going a bit outside the station to a steak house. (There is a wooden cow that invites you in and the beef is actually good.) Plus there are chairs! Now Roma Termini has a new place to sit, people watch and eat –Il Mercato Centrale Roma.  

No Kids With Markers – Actual Signage

Schlepping our suitcases down the right side of the station – through the department stores and shops – we found the entrance to Il Mercato.
Actually, having to wade through cramped shops isn’t the most comfortable approach to Il Mercato. Leaving the station and walking outside around the block would have been easier. When we saw the funky sign, we knew we were in for a treat. Giggles bubbled up and we entered the hall.

WOW! Being there at an off peak eating time, we were able to see the space in all of its utilitarian grandeur. There is a lot to see – seventeen food stalls, one restaurant, one pizzeria, one beer vendor and one large coffee bar. The restaurant, La Tavola, is designed for those who don’t want to wander around. It can be found one level up from the ground floor. Also, there is additional seating on the third level. (Note – what we would call the first floor is Piano Terra, second – Primo Piano, – third – Second Piano.) It was fun strolling past the stalls tempting us with interesting things to eat, cook with or grab for gifts. Even better was sniffing all of the great scents of Italian home style cooking. We grabbed two seats ordered drinks from the friendly cameriere, Jack sat with the luggage and I zapped from stall to stall taking it all in.

Love the scribble logo that is everywhere.

I roamed trying to decide what to eat first – we had three hours. Yup, it is one giant food court. Yup, it looks like a food court in a high end mall or in Grand Central Station NYC. Yup, everything we tried tasted pretty good. Unlike the tourist restaurants in places like Florence or Rome or Venice – the quality wasn’t dumbed down for out of towners.

Being ace detectives we uncovered an amazing truth as to why it didn’t seem dumbed down for tourists – Italians seemed to be the principal patrons! We saw folks coming in off the street for a quick lunch. Folks opening briefcases, grabbing food and having impromptu meetings. And yes, we did see people like us with suitcases. Even though we had been warned by Pontelandolfese that the place was for tourists only, our observation led us to disagree. First of all, they didn’t try to gouge us with super inflated prices. It is Rome so prices were higher than our village, however, the prices were better than we have found in Manhattan. Since we had a few hours to kill we each started with an obscenely large cappuccino – the four cup cappuccissimo cost €7 and took us about 45 minutes to drink. It was a ridiculous huge accompaniment for our €1.20 cream filled brioche. After walking that off, we rallied for lunch. I jotted down some prices. A filling plate of Pasta Carbonara €8, glass of white wine €5, and a small bottle of water €1.50. Have I mentioned they also had Free wifi for everyone? Have I mentioned gelato?

During the lunch crush, it was a really a crush, we didn’t feel comfortable hogging the seats. Too many folks needed a place to plop and eat. Having hoarded seats for about two hours, we felt guilty. When our lunch plates were empty, we gave up our chairs and ventured back to the main part of the station. This September when we head back home from studying Italian in Sardegna, we will drag our sand filled suitcases through the station and return!

Ci vediamo! Perhaps we will see you soon in Sardegna!

PS – Message me at info@nonnasmulberrytree.com and check out the cool opportunity to study Italian in Alghero, Sardegna! €1500 for two full weeks of classes, cultural activities, social events and HOUSING! Cheap and wonderful. September 28 – October 12 at Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.

Where Have All the People Gone?

Robotic Terminal C – Newark Airport

What? What is going on here??? We walked towards our gate in Newark Airport’s Terminal C – a terminal we never use – and I gasped. Tablets* to the right of me. Tablets to the left of me. Tablets on tables. Tablets at work stations. It had already pissed me off that United had us check in on a tablet. I of course asked for a person and eyes were rolled. Really, a person will be weighing and checking in my suitcase. Couldn’t the same person also check me in, scan my passport and talk to me? Tablets were everywhere – in every nook and cranny. Ohmmm – let us all stare at and pay homage to a silent tablet. Talk? Why would anyone bother to talk? Giggle about the characters in the queue with the woman standing next to you. Chat with a stranger about places unknown. Engage in conversation. Who would want to do that? I would. That’s who – ME!

Why have I not noticed this dehumanization of travel before? I am sure the tablet phenomena did not just happen overnight. How useful these little lonely centers are. One can order food – will that soon be delivered by a robot? Or perhaps play a solitary game. Log on and check what ever needs checking. Where the frig are we – at a freaking chain restaurant with fewer and fewer wait staff and consistency so boring that I cringe? Yup, just what our culture needs, robotic waiting areas, another way to ignore each other. There was a time when young people were sent off to do a European tour as a way to stretch their horizons. Letters of introduction were carried to far away places and young people would gulp, knock on a door, hand over the letter and hope that someone would welcome them. A conversation would ensue. Of course, all wore morning coats and top hats but hey the idea was a good one.

I’m a cultural dinosaur. If a store no longer has a cashier for me to chat with and expects me to self-checkout, I leave the stuff and go somewhere else. I am perfectly capable of using the scanner and sticking my credit card in the correct slot. I just won’t do it. Part of the joy of traveling, shopping, exploring are the people I meet. People are what make a new country interesting. Conversations are the cultural connection. Don’t you dare tell me I can text, e-mail, tweet or otherwise maintain a wi-fi connection. That is not a connection. It is a wi-fi wall between myself and other people. No one knows if I am being smarmy, sarcastic, ironic or honest. Real connection is seeing the smile, hearing the laughter, seeing the sadness in the other person’s eyes or getting pissed off at the tone of voice. Voice – I want to hear the voices.

When we got to where we were going, I looked around the very small international airport and sighed. Here too were the bolted down tablets – not as many – but scattered about encouraging isolation. If you are in an airport and see a woman in her second, hmm or is it third, act with tears slowly dripping down her cheeks staring at the robotic world. Go and talk to her. It will be me.

Ci vediamo.

*Full disclosure – I have had an iPad tablet for years and years. I love them and use one often for writing, reading, researching etc. I use them when I am not in a restaurant, not at the dinner table with pals, not in a social setting and not when I can strike up a great conversation with a stranger.

Check out our new permanent page – Nonna’s Events! There you can find out about all the cool stuff we are involved in like Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo or language classes at Pintadera in Sardinia.

An Experiment with 4 Suitcases

How can we possibly need all those suitcases??

What were we thinking dragging four – count them – four empty suitcases back to the USA? Well not exactly four empty suitcases. Jack has filled one to the brim. I leave clothes on both continents and am happy to schlepp nothing.  Why empty suitcases?  So that I can fill them with household goods we want to bring to our place in Pontelandolfo.

We have been flying Lufthansa which gets our full “going to Italy” suitcases to Naples where our best bud, Nicola picks us up. No suitcase angst. Jack, my frugal husband, discovered that premium seats on Norwegian Air from Newark, NJ was so much cheaper than Lufthansa.  Downside – you land in Rome with four full suitcases.  Upside –   the seats lie flat and you can sleep. Downside – you pay to stay in a hotel for a night or two.  Upside – it is Rome.  Downside – you have four freakin’ full suitcases!

When we landed in Rome with our four incredibly full and heavy suitcases – yes, you heard a WHINE –  the hotel’s driver picked us up and carried most of the bags. Then we used Mailbox Express to send half the bags to Pontelandolfo. We still had to drag two suitcases and computer bags on the train. Not fun. Oddio! I freakin’ hate it.

It was time to head back to New Jersey for a wedding – via Rome – with the same, albeit empty, four suitcases. I scoured for a car service – even a Bla Bla car – to get us and all our shit to Roma Fiumicino. The ever brilliant, Pasquale and Rossella, provided me with bus information. Flix Bus was cheap but took ten hours and left way too early in the morning.  Azienda Trasporti Molisana, ATM, had a bus that left from Boiano and only took the same three hours it would take in a car.  Hmm, I decided we would investigate.

I was telling my ex-pat pal in Ecuador, Marie, about my experimenting with bus transportation.  She promptly said, “ah, an experiment with four suitcases.”  Thanks Marie for the title!  Thanks for also reminding me that in Ecuador you have been using the buses forever.

An Experiment with 4 suitcases – 

ATM really had a comprehensive schedule.  But before I would investigate price, I sent a few e-mails to info@atm-molise.it.  (Dear proficient speakers of Italian – ignore my linguistic flaws. Non- Italian speakers will think I’m brilliant.)  Gulp, could I really drag 4 suitcases plus computer bags on the bus.  ATM responded immediately. (Damn, that impressed me.)

Me: Quante valigie possono portare ogni passeggero?  Grazie.

ATM: Quante ha bisogno di portarne? (I could see ATM rolling his/her eyes. How many do I need to carry – indeed!)

Me: Due (2) per me & due (2) per il mio marito.

ATM: Non c’è problema, buon viaggio. (Now ATM is laughing out loud and can’t wait to see us drag the suitcases down the street to the bus.)

Then I remembered a really important question.

Me: Dov’è ferma il pulmino nel Via Cavadini Boiano? The street is a long one.  How would we find the stop?

ATM: Davanti al vivaio La Ginestra, c’è il palo con l’indicazione ATM. Hmm near a nursery and there is a sign – sure there is a sign NOT.  This is Italy.

I moved on to the next step in the grand experiment and for €28.35 I booked two seats on the 9:55 AM ATM bus from Via Cavadini in Bojano (Boiano) to Fiumicino.  Jack and I often go to Boiano and decided we would do a trial run to find the alleged bus stop.  Shazaam – there was a clearly marked ATM sign right where they said it would be.  We were psyched.  This will be easy-peasy.

Trying to make the trip a wee bit easier I stuffed the duffle bag Jack usually packs into an oversized suitcase.  Great!  Now we are down to three suitcases, two computer bags and a purse.  What?  Jack promptly took his favorite blankee, I mean duffle bag out of the larger suitcase.  We are back up to four.  I whined again.  Jack then jammed, kicked and bullied a slightly smaller empty suitcase into the oversized one.  Four suitcases – pulling three and pocketing another. 

Rossella and Pasquale drove us to Boiano.  It had snowed.  The mountains looked fabulous.  The bus stop – full of snow.  How do you drag suitcases in the snow?  The bus arrived on time and stopped in the street.  Smart move.  We pulled the suitcases down the street and tossed them in the under-carriage storage bin.  The bus was modern and the seats comfortable.  The glass roof and wide windows provided breathtaking mountain views.  They also eliminated any large overhead storage.  My computer bag nested under my legs.

Happy Bus Riders!

After about an hour, I noticed the Lavazza Caffè maker ready to serve us and that there wasn’t a bathroom.  Suddenly, I had to pee.  Snow capped mountains zipped by.  I had to pee. I refused to think about peeing.  Olive groves, flocks of sheep and goats, plains prepped for spring plantings – those views and those thoughts filled my head. So did the many ways one could ask for a bathroom – C’è un bagno?  Dov’è il bagno? La toilette??  We arrived at Roma Stazione Tiburtina.  Our bags came out of the bottom of the bus and we were told to wait at the same place for the bus to Fiumicino.  I used my now longer list of Italian bathroom phrases and found the bathroom.  Paid the 50 cents to enter. Waited for a stall. Opened the door and found a marble hole in the floor with foot pads.  NOOOOOO!  I had on pantyhose.  That means taking off the pantyhose and putting my bare feet – noooooo!  I sucked it up and went back to get the bus to Fiumicino.  I could hold it another 40 minutes.  I am a strong woman.

The bus arrived and they loaded our luggage underneath, checked our tickets and off we went.  The wi-fi worked on this bus – it hadn’t on the first one.  It was a double decker bus and we chose the easy to get to bottom level.  We each took two seats and put our computer bags on one.  Most people went upstairs for the better views. Soon we arrived at Fiumicino’s international terminal.  They helped us with our bags and off we went to check in.  (Yes, I immediately found a bathroom.)

The bus company was easy to work with, ran on time, and was comfortable.  We have now discovered yet another way and another reason to get to Pontelandolfo!

Ci  vediamo!

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Snow Shut-ins

Can we talk? Sometimes life in my charming little Italian village makes me want to scream! Or if not scream, shake the powers that be until sense falls into place. It snowed. This is an anomaly here – especially in December. Last December it felt like fall. Those weather belts do keep changing. No one expects snow in December – maybe that is why I should have a kinder gentler feeling about… errrrrgggg.. that scream is bubbling up again.

We knew it would snow because I received numerous alerts from the town that said it might snow for three days – “make sure you have fuel for heat, food and something to keep you from going stir crazy.” Being from the North East of America where we scoff at snow, plows are out instantly and we drive in anything, I thought the alerts were a little over the top. NOT!

We had a house full of holiday guests and plans to go out and do holiday centered stuff – then it snowed. Day one – snow – about an inch – no one plowed or salted the local streets. OK, not a big deal. I know money is tight and we can drive over this. Downtown, no one had shoveled the sidewalks either. Hmmm, aren’t building owners responsible for that? Not a big deal – again only an inch. Local holiday events were cancelled and even worse news – restaurants were closed – hey, it was only an inch but still coming down.

A Gorgeous Inch of Snow Frosted the Mountains.

Day two – more snow – a lot more snow and we had to get my niece to the train station in Boiano. We heard the state highway was closed going west. Luckily, we had to go east. The local roads were not plowed or salted. Ice reigned supreme. We slowly left town and got to the highway. Now this is interesting. The highway in Campania was fairly clean and salted. The minute we crossed the regional line to Molise the highway had only been given one earlier pass with a plow, however the exit ramps were clean. Don’t the regions coordinate this stuff? We got to Boiano and back and cruised our village piazza. Nope, the sidewalks still had snow and ice and the piazza hadn’t been cleared. Shops were closed – I’m glad we had the necessities of life in the house – eggs, bread and wine.

Day three – lots more snow. I mean tons of snow. How would we get the last of our guests to their train in Benevento? Yesterday, the road was closed. First step, dig out the car. Done. Second step, dig out the top of the driveway near the unplowed road. Done. Third step – do we have to freakin’ dig out the street???? The train was due late in the afternoon, we figured we had some options. Sleds pulled by snow sheep sounded like the best idea. It stopped snowing – that was a good sign. Before the top of my head blew off, a back hoe started ambling up our road tossing snow off the middle of the street. Note, I said back hoe not a plow. He made a narrow path up the center of the road. We – OK not WE – Jack dug us to the center. We got in the car and wondered what we would find. Again, the state highway was pristine. The views were fabulous and since Benevento is at a much lower altitude it was an easy snowless drive.

Clean Highway and Luscious View

Later that afternoon when we got back to Pontelandolfo, we noted that the piazza still hadn’t been cleared and the sidewalks were awful. I asked about that and found out that building owners don’t have to clean in front of their buildings. So, obviously they don’t. Store owners only shoveled the boots width necessary to get into their shops. Don’t ya think it is time for a new piece of local legislation? The cobblestone piazza isn’t plowed, I investigated and discovered, one can’t plow on cobblestone – how about a snow blower or a shovel??? I don’t know the science but couldn’t they at least spread salt??? I do understand not plowing local mountain roads until it absolutely stops snowing – fiscal constraints and all that. BLEH, I really don’t but questa è la nostra vita.

There are somethings towns in Southern Italy do well. There are other things – not so well. The snow – well now I know – when you get the alert make sure you have heating fuel, food and lots of booze in the house. Jack just read this and pointed out – we did get wherever we needed to go. Get over it. Take a breath, look at the snow capped mountains and sigh at the beauty. Questa è Italia!

Ci vediamo!

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Buon Anno da Sesto Senso!

Buon Anno!  Happy New Year!   2018 seems to have galloped along the road of life bringing lots of good news, great friends and new vistas to explore.   Now, 2019 is guaranteed to be incredible – granting all of us health, happiness and good cheer.

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Jack and Midge glad to be part of the New Year’s party.

We greeted 2019 with family, friends, a bazillion courses of seafood, music, dancing and fireworks at Sesto Senso!  This great local restaurant tucked in a corner of Campolattaro (BN) tossed a rocking party.  Unlike the New Year’s Eve parties we have gone to in the states, the crowd featured party goers of literally all ages.  Babes in strollers to great grandparents danced to traditional music and rock and roll.  No one seemed to mind the wee ones giggling in their flouncy finery, twirling throughout the tables.

This is the first time we have ventured out on New Year’s Eve.  Last year we dined with family and friends too, but in our house and then raced to the Pontelandolfo Piazza to see the requisite midnight fireworks.  Not knowing what to expect, I encouraged our house guests Cindy and Les, my LA niece Alessandra and Pontelandolfo niece Annarita to come along for the ride.

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Alex and Annarita kept the wine and the laughter flowing.

 

The first hint that this was going to be a party that required our due diligence and staying power was the menu –

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The second hint included countless wine bottles that arrived full and seemed to empty and get replaced in nano-seconds.  Thank God we got to dance between courses.

The apertivo plates – lots of different fish but of course but I can’t remember what – were brought in to a musical fanfare!  Damn, this is just the apertivo tasting?  How will we get through all the courses?  We put on our big girl appetites and somehow we did.

Everything was presented so beautifully that for a scant moment we just stared, not wanting a fork to damage the look.

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Croccheta di Baccala – Almost too cute to eat.

At midnight we hadn’t quite made it through the menu, but that didn’t stop the bottles of prosecco from popping and the fireworks to start blaring.  We all raced out side to see the display.  Oooing and aaaahhhhhing I realized that the restaurant had organized the pyrotechnics. What a button to put on a great evening. But wait, we have more to eat – the night isn’t over!

Cotechino a pork based sausage and lentils are a traditional Italian New Year’s Eve course.  The lentils represent money that will be coming your way in the upcoming year.  We scarfed down those lentils – I actually made more the next day.  I wonder how many pounds of lentils I need to eat to get the cash for first class plane tickets??

2019 is firmly ensconced in our lives.  For each of us, that means it is time for a new adventure.  In 2019  I’ll be entering my seventh decade – gulp – my second act needs to be upgraded to include a chorus of triple threat actors to help me pull off my ongoing later scenes.  Hit me with my light – I’m ready for it!

Buona Fortuna!

Ci vediamo

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Love Charmsuite Roma

I love it when Jack and I discover a hotel that is reasonably priced, close to everything a city has to offer and managed by folks that make us feel like family. When we are in Milano we stay in our Milanese home away from home – Il Girasole High Quality Inn. Now, I am excited to have finally discovered such a place in Rome!  Our Roman home away from home will be Charmsuite.

Charmsuite literally found us. Isabella, a New Jersey pal of mine, invited us to meet her Italian architect friend.  Over dinner we discovered that the charming Ruggero Donati was not only an incredible designer/architect but was quite entrepreneurial.  He and a group of friends rehabbed a large space in a 16th century Centro Storico building. Raffaello Charmsuite has four rooms for rent that all include a kitchenette and are bigger than some New York City studio apartments. A painting of namesake Raffaello festoons each elegantly appointed room/suite.  Even though the rooms are large, comfortable and easy to hang out in, what makes Charmsuite a home away from home are the folks who manage it.

Alessandra and Carla answered all my questions in advance including alerting me to their pick up service.  Wow, having a driver that costs less than a taxi meet us at the airport, help schlep the bags and deliver us to the door made me feel like a classy chick.  Our driver was so helpful, he even found a Mail Boxes ETC for me and drove by it. (When we are taking a train, we ship our suitcases ahead of us.)  Alessandra warmly welcomed us and showed us to our room.  Ruggero has created unique room configurations.  The kitchenettes were concealed in furniture, beds float in the middle of the room creating a second usable space behind a half wall.  Some suites are large enough for families.  Alessandra speaks a number of languages.  Her English is perfect, yet she was willing to let me speak Italian and gently correct me.  She told us where to shop to stock our refrigerator, how to take the bus to explore areas further out and how to navigate the transit system.  When we left we exchanged numbers and I hope we see her again.

Charmsuite is located at Via del Banco di Santo Spirito, 21, 00186 Roma RM.  That means you can walk to just about any site you’d like to see or grab a bus and explore further out. Piazza Novana, filled with cafes, is a short walk away.  In three minutes we walked across the bridge to visit Castle S. Angelo and afterward made a quick right and found ourselves at the Vatican.

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We climbed to the top of Castel S. Angelo and loved the view of the Vatican.

We were in Rome the first week in December and friends who were on their way to visit us in Pontelandolfo stayed there the second week.  Cindy tells me that she loved the fact that she could spend the day walking and eating, eating and walking.  They walked everywhere, including the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps.  I will admit that after our flight I mostly slept, went to good restaurants and explored all the little narrow neighborhood streets.   We did discover a wonderful museum, Museo Napoleonico, that featured art and furniture from the Napoleonic period.  As we drifted in – it was free – we discovered a classical concert was to start! What a lucky day for us. We had a great Roman holiday.

Next time we are in Rome, we will stay at Charmsuite, our Roman home away from home.

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Cindy relaxes after a day of exploring Rome.

Norwegian Air Gets You There

Up in the air junior bird man.  Remember when flying was as easy peasy as putting your thumb and pointer fingers together to make a mask out of your two hands and then, with mask in place, singing and zooming around the house?  Sigh, how I long for those days.  Now it is surfing the web for air fares, thinking you found a deal and then pulling out your hair as your dates won’t work.  Errrrggggg.  With an extended family that we adore deciding they should all be getting married this year, we have been flying back and forth to Italy more than normal.  That meant one of us had to handle the insanity that is ticket buying.  Thank God, Jack enjoys the hunt and doesn’t cave under the price chase pressure.

This flight back Jack booked us on “low cost” (their website words not mine) Norwegian Air.  Compared to our usual flights in premium economy seats, we saved about $1500.  

WHAT A BIG LIE! – BECAUSE WE SAVED $1500 we promptly booked a hotel in Rome for four days, first class train tickets to Benevento and ate in great Roman restaurants – What?  Jack is reading over my shoulder AGAIN and says the air fare savings is the story.  Stick to the story.  Beh.

Norwegian Air now flies directly to Rome from Newark – a much easier airport for us to get to.  So for a base price of $959 for two premium economy tickets one way, Jack started shopping.  Of course the $959 number was only good after we wanted to go.  Our tickets form Newark to Rome cost $1293.  Getting back next year will cost us the $959.  Still pretty cheap.  Jack bought the $32 priority boarding privilege.  Not bad. Then you add on the airport fees – eleven different fees to be exact.  What the hell is Council City Tax (HB) or US APHIS FEE (XA)?  Smack the fees on and our price for two  premium economy seats  was $2535.

 

Why not cram four bags and two computer bags into Tony’s car?

The Norwegian Experience —-

Tony and Andrea once again drag our suitcases to the curb and kiss us good-bye.  We were there the requisite three hours early and were the only folks at the Norwegian Air counter.  The woman who helped us was charming and fun.  We dumped our luggage and headed for the included Arts Lounge. This is the “First Class” lounge for a slew of low cost airlines.  We discovered that Premium Economy is also considered First Class by Norwegian air.  Actually, they only have two classes on a plane – couch and premium.  The lounge was incredibly full of furniture and people speaking a babel’s worth of languages.  The chairs were comfortable and they had a hot buffet.  Did I mention that our flight was leaving after 11:00 PM?  Snacks, wines, sparkling wines, beers, hot food and comfortable seats – hmmm next time we should come earlier.

I read our tickets and realized that the flight was operated by Privilege Style.  A quick google resulted in our knowing that this was a charter company that offers flights on behalf of other companies.  Gulp.  Maybe we need to cancel the flight or just walk to Pontelandolfo.  The ever tranquil Jack brought me another glass of something alcoholic and said it was an adventure.

We easily got through TSA and went to the appropriate gate.  At 11:00 PM I noted there wasn’t any plane at the gate.  A glance at the call board didn’t even have a flight listed.  I had to restrain my Jersey girl bully and started to get up to find out the story.  Suddenly, an announcement was made to the 100 of us sitting at the gate.  “Norwegian Flight 7194 was leaving from the other f%&^ing side of the airport – RUN.”  No, they didn’t say that but they should have.  We all got up and power walked to the other side of the terminal.  There this line of pissed off people calmly – NOT – went through the TSA drill for a second time.  Our priority boarding fee wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.  By the time we got to the right gate they were boarding everyone.

Then we turned left into the plane.  Our seat – my God our seats – they were the size and shape of Business Class seats on other airlines.  There was a security screen that Jack could raise between our seats so I couldn’t talk to him.  The seats reclined flat and bed like.  There was tons of leg and wide butt room.  Cozy and comfortable.  Each of us was given a very Nordic throw to keep us warm.  Pillow?  Nope.  Headphones to watch the video screens?  Nope. Cute little bag with earplugs and eye shades?  Nope.  But hey it was cheap and I carry all that on anyway – well not the pillow.   I put on my eyeshades, plugged up my ear and slide the seat down to bed.  Ahhhh – what is that I hear – a cocktail cart.  Whisk, I was up and had my hand out.  Sorry no Scotch.  They had wines, beer and sparkling wines.  I sipped my Prosecco and went back to sleep mode.  About an hour later my nose woke me up sniffing hot food.  I vowed since this was a red-eye flight I wasn’t going to eat but the smell – – –

We both had pretty tasty salmon, salads and I don’t remember – oh year a funny messy bunch yummy potato thing.  All was served in a cardboard box with plastic cutlery.  Remember this is a low-cost carrier.  Since my earplugs weren’t compatible with the entertainment system, I popped open my iPad and watched the movie I had downloaded.  Actually, I will make sure to always do this.  Than, the choice is really mine.  After the movie, the mask was back, ears were plugged and the big snooze happened for a few hours.

At 11:30 AM Italy time, we were all woken up to the scent of coffee.  Instead of breakfast, we got a cardboard box of a brunch thing – teeny tiny pigeonesq eggs, salad, salami, salad covered in crumbly cheese and mild Nordic cheese.  Not the best food – remember this is a low-cost airline.  Correction – Jack said the food was good!

Would we fly them again?  Hell yeah – the seats went flat and were big.  Will I let Jack convince me to drop a bundle on a mini Roman holiday?  Hell — maybe.

Ci Vediamo!

PS – This is the time to register for 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo!