Castel del Monte

Today included a very busy morning planning the remainder of my six days in Italy.  We now have firm plans to see Naples, Pompeii, Florence, Siena and Bologna before I get a flight out of Rome to Athens next Saturday, November 13th.  Once that was all settled, me and the Piper family headed out to Castel del Monte to see the rather impressive 13th-century octagon castle that sits atop a hill above the tilled fields near to Corata.  While the castle contains little in terms of interior decorations, the architectural execution of the building is impressive.  It takes little imagination to remove the few modern embellishments of electric lights to step back and stand next to its creator, Frederick II, and envision one atop a rolling, lush greenery of bounty to serve as base for your gathering and hunting.

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Matera, Italy

Today Dave, his son Jay and I travelled a bit south to the town of Matera.  The area has been settled since Paleolithic times with peoples digging caves into the calcareous rock characteristic of the region.   The Romans allegedly founded what is now considered the city in third century BC.  Inhabitants to the area can lay claim to living in the same houses occupied over nine-thousand years ago. To say there is a few thousand years of history here is an understatement.  Over the many thousands of years the inhabitants of the area have dug and quarried and built upon the previous generations’ construction until now you discover a town of rock that seems more grown out of than built upon the hillside.  And for those who love trivia, many movies including maybe most famously Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ was filmed here due to its resemblance to ancient Jerusalem.

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Trani, Italy

I arrived in Trani, Italy last night by train.  My good friend Dave, who I am currently staying with, met me at Foggia where we traveled together to Trani.  Dave and I met at Boeing where we both worked as simultaneous Japanese interpreters. Dave has since moved on to work full-time as a lean facilitator with the company’s Lean Enterprise Office. In the years since he and his family have been able to live in Japan and now Italy with the company’s commercial suppliers.

Trani is a seaport city situated along the Adriatic Sea in the region known as both Apulia and Puglia.  It is a small city that is easily accessible by foot.  I was able to walk most of it in about 5-hours including a bit of watching the local Department of Transportation poor asphalt on a new road.  To be very specific, it was the road that connected the pier (which I was on) to the mainland and as such there was not much to do other than to wait.  I eventually decided to climb over the breaker rocks on either side of the pier when I finally realized I was not that Italian after-all and my American need to move-on overwhelmed me.

I found my way to the Cathedral of Trani where I was kindly “swindled” out of 5 euro by an elderly gentleman.  Upon arriving on the steps to the cathedral he came up to me speaking Italian.  In whatever Italian I do not speak I indicated I was an American. He then gesticulated for me to follow him into the cathedral where he introduced me to the catacombs, the two alters in the lower portion, counted out the number of pillars in each area, directed me to the various fresco and gave me appropriate dates, brought me up to the main area and again showed me various aspects of the cathedral in all its glory.  All of this spoken, of course, in what I can only surmise as a smattering of Italian, English and German.  At the very end he turned to me asked for enough money to buy a espresso, which in his economics, is 5 euro.  It may have been the most fun I have had in awhile and I must give credit for his enterprising tourist-oriented entrepreneurship.

Near to the cathedral is the Ghetto part of the town that dates back to well over 1000 years; much of the buildings remain unchanged from the medieval times.  It is a wonderful stroll through small streets shared by pedestrians and motorists alike.  However, nothing runs straight for long which makes navigating it a fun challenge.  Across town along the shoreline is a monastery dating back from the 14th century.  I enjoyed a bit of a rest in the shade of a building while teenagers blared an eclectic mix of Italian opera, Italian contemporary ballads, and American 80s music including Michael Jacksons’ Thriller.  Of the latter a teenager even went so far as to turn up the radio when the song began; some things are stranger than fiction.

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Rome, Italy

I find myself in Rome on Italy’s celebration of the end of World War I — 4 November 2010.  I arrived around 6:40 in the morning whereby I discovered that Italy has zero customs required for US citizens; at least, not today. One more country, one more pristine passport page. Granted, my passport photo so does not resemble me that it may have been a good thing, albeit it will catch up with me in Greece or Dubai, I suspect.  I basically walked off the airplane and out of the airport with nary an inspection.  I promptly got in a van with other tourists going to hotels in Rome proper.  It was a pleasant enough ride along the old Roman roads turned thruways.  I got dropped off at the central train station which is, per it’s namesake, centrally located in Rome.

Once I procured a train ticket to Foggia and dropped my luggage sans camera I started my trek to the center of ancient Rome to take some photographs.  I am very happy I left the telephoto at home. Instead, I brought along a Nikkon 35mm f/2D and Tokina 11mm to 16mm f/2.8 (super) wide-angle. Both have UV and circular polarizers, all from Hoya.  I found myself using the wide-angle for most of the day. There is some fringing starting around 14mm and is  noticeable at 11mm; nevertheless, it allows me to get shots that I believe compete with most guide books.

It is also some three years ago in January of 2007 that I was here with my then fiancé on our honeymoon; we traveling nearly four weeks through England, France and finally Italy where got bogged down with she with a flu and us in Rome for a week.  The weather may be warmer and sunnier this time around, but it does not mask all the memories. So much has seemingly changed in those years; maybe more so with my life than ancient Rome, though.

Whenever I am traveling alone, times of reflection are hardest when I am around couples sharing their time together.  I suspect this blog and accompanying photographs are a means for me to not feel cloistered from people. I can have others such as yourself live a little vicariously through me, and in some ways you add yourselves collectively to my experiences, rounding them out as it were.

That all said, while in Texas I was reminded how blessed I am to have such a loving sister and caring brother-in-law. I am also blessed to be able to travel like I do. Not as much as some, but certainly more than many (most).  Hopefully I never forget to be thankful for what I have and what I can afford to do.

The rest of the remaining two and half weeks will be one of new ground for me and thus is exciting to me. It has been nice to revisit a part of Rome. To reclaim a part of it as my own; but, it will also be nice to leave it behind and forge ahead to sights yet unseen.

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Downtown Seattle

Before going to INSCAPE yesterday with Tracy I walked around downtown Seattle between Pike Place Market and International District.  No matter the weather there is always something and someone to see.  Granted, we are no New York City; nevertheless, one can still see and experience much out of the ordinary.  For example, while enjoying a coffee and the Sun we chanced seeing a person riding a skateboard with an acoustic guitar strapped to his side: either he is one very confident skateboarder or he owns a rather worthless guitar.

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