A visitor’s diary


A journal written by Kerstin Brown, who stayed at Casa Marconi in May 2011 with her husband Peter, whom she calls ‘the Cowboy’ on account of his playing that role on numerous occasions during his Hollywood acting career.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Salve Capena!!!

After 7 hours and 15 minutes (which felt like 20 h) we landed in Rome without any issues — it was a very smooth flight and I was as comfortable as I have ever been.… Still not perfect, but the foot rest really made a huge difference. Anyway, the passport control was non-​​existent — the guy just waved us through by the handfuls… Very strange, nor did anybody care at Customs. Then it was another scavenger hunt to find the rental car place and after 15 minutes we found it and pulled a number (felt like being at the DMV). Tons of people were renting cars for sure :-)

The little bambino

We had a choice between a Fiat Panda or a Fiat Cinquecento .… Well help me out here, it’s not like I know either of them so the nice ladies at Hertz suggested the Fiat 500. Sounds good.… Hook us up!! We found it right away and hooked our Garmin up. We had just brought a Europe map for the trip so it was programmed and ready (smart move… More on that later). The Fiat just fit our two small suitcases and backpacks BUT most important of all… It fit Peter! Tons of headspace and leg space — truly amazing.

Off we go, directions seemed easy enough, the Garmin at this time is just a backup (or so we thought) and right away the Italian drivers letting me know who’s the boss. My German driver’s training is kicking in and at that point the only thing I am worried about is that the signs on the freeway are making NO sense at all and I am just not getting it. That is new to me, ask anybody — I am good with driving in foreign and strange cities, countries and I am usually able to figure things out. This really frustrated me lol. So we got the Garmin into play as the main navigator and all of a sudden things fell into place. Cars were still on my butt and passing at formula one type speed, but that was fine with me as long as I felt good about where I was going lol.

The Garmin took us the non-​​toll route which also had some unusual scenic moments. At least 30 girls in very very short skirts on the side of the road, which were the kind that you guessed they were. I was warned about that and it was truly fascinating because not only was it around 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon but also, where the heck are the Johns parking to get their money’s worth?

Peter, perched on the front step of Casa Marconi

So we find Capena fine… Wonderful … Find the apartment too but one can’t park in front so I try to find parking close by as suggested. That’s when the stress part started. I didn’t find anywhere to park and had not really paid attention I guess to the directions, maybe it was just being tired that I didn’t get it at that time. Also — some of the streets are steeper than San Francisco and I had to use my skills of starting on a hill several times (yes, the car is a standard). Finally, after the Cowboy almost called the divorce layers (just kidding) I stopped in front of the apartment for 5 min to unload and then hurried to find some parking 5 walking minutes away.

Hungry and not satisfied about the parking situation we went to a shopping center to get some food (because everything is closed, of course at 3 pm… Deja-​​vu from London and Paris) which got us in a bit of a more upbeat mood since it included Nutella and sweet caramel Gelato. Then I got the scoop on the parking cleared up and moved the car and right away we are happy. Up more than 36 h but finally getting our Italian groove on.

Casa Marconi is very charming and clean and we are sitting with our open window upstairs watching some pre-​​French open tennis in Italian :-) . It is like a little love nest … I just went to the Piazza del Popolo which is 1 min by foot from our apartment and took some photos with my rented wide angle lens. This is also where we will have our breakfast cappuccino tomorrow morning.

It is an adventure. Tomorrow we just plan to get lost in the countryside towards Perugia and then have the Garmin guide us back to Capena :-)

Buena notche!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Exploring Lazio

Cappuccinos and cornettos

After a really good night’s sleep and sleeping in a little we went to the little bar around corner from our apartment at the Piazza del Popolo and had the best cappuccino EVER … It was so good, we had two :-) they are not as big as the American copies and just so much better — the Cowboy didn’t even need sugar for it. We also had some cornettos — basically a really good pastry they have in several style and flavors. Sitting at the piazza was great because we were the only tourist there.… Everybody else was local and it was so much fun to watch real Italian life in front of us, little bambinos playing, people talking animated.… Just a perfect spot and we absolutely adore it. The owner is wonderful and we can’t wait to go back Tuesday (as it is closed Mondays).

After breakfast we got ready for our trip to the Italian countryside and our first try at getting lost without getting lost. Navi got us out on the Autostrada fine and I started figuring out some of the signs, but some are still a mystery ha ha.

The little church in Montoro

We picked a random exit because there was a small hill town that looked charming to us from the road and we took a chance. I had heard and read about the toll booths and knew about the hand with the cash sign that means that there is a manned booth that can make change! What I didn’t know was that we would have to pull a billet first and then after a while when you exit the Autostrada THEN you pay… We are learning quickly. We made our way to the little town of Montoro and loved it.

Super tiny and since it was Sunday, church was just out and the piazza was empty except for a couple of people. After that we continued driving and Navi confused me a little and we ended up on a dirt road.

My biggest fear was that I would end up a ghost driver getting back on the Autostrada the wrong way. But Navi came through and got us back no problem.

We continued through several quaint small towns and then stopped in Monte­fiascone, one of many hilltop towns with great views and because i was curious to see the lake below. Gorgeous outlooks from the top and we also stopped at the Santa Margarita Cathedral. It was quite a warm day and the drop in temperature going into the cathedral was amazing. At least 20 degrees.

Monte­fiascone

After all this exploring we were ready to go home… We still haven’t gotten used to the lunch times here. They don’t eat lunch until 1 pm usually and we always find that when we are hungry, nothing is open. We had stopped in the little town of Tres Ponties at a small bar and the Cowboy had a beer and I had a tonic water and a sandwich. Not enough really for us and we started to get hungry. Little did we know what would wait for us being just 10 min from Capena.… Besides a huge thunderstorm on the drive back.

Our faithful Navi got us through the toll booth and told us to get right into the roundabout.…BUT some huuuuuge problem blocked said exit and all of the traffic in Italy seemed to be there at the same time. We were detoured and momentarily Navi got confused and we ended up in some little town just a couple of miles off the A1. When we stopped at a gas station to get our orientation another car stopped and some Italians were trying to get directions from us, we didn’t expect that ha ha.#

We got back on the A1 but towards Firenze and that’s when I freaked just slightly but at this point we had to depend on Navi and she was right somehow as we got into the biggest merge-​​traffic-​​jam (after the toll booths) we had ever seen. (we later found out that there was a big wreck and several closed off lanes that caused all the issues). It took about 45 min to merge about 7 lanes into one, people just pushing and sandwiching their way to the front. It really didn’t even bother me (besides that we were hungry) but my left foot being on the clutch all the time was terrible. Our bambino (that’s what we are calling our rental car) has this feature that when you are in neutral with running motor it actually semi shuts off the engine and it was a little unnerving for me that every time I did that and then put the car in first gear it would restart it automat­ically, just something to get used to.… Did I mention we love our little bambino?

Back at Casa Marconi

Finally we got home, parked at the car park 2 min from our apartment and sat down to open a bottle of wine. We called my mom in Germany and the Cowboy’s family in California to say hello, I downloaded my photos and posted some of them as we chatted about the day and then finished the evening with some cheese, salami, wine and a little lopsided game of dominos (there are two stones missing in the set that we have here at the apartment). Lots of fun though lol.

It was quite late when we went to bed (for our standards) but we fell asleep quickly after this fun first full day in Italy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Orvieto

Originally we wanted to visit Tivoli but thankfully I checked up front because Villa d’Este is closed on Mondays, so we decided to do Orvieto instead. Now that we are pros on the Autostrada it was no issue to find this amazing town on top of this big hill. Parking always confuses me here, and I guess sometimes doing so much research can backfire when you don’t find things the way you expected them.

We found a little place to have lunch when we got into the old town area and then walked towards the Duomo which was breath­taking to look at. The first peek we got through the small street was amazing and this also one of my favorite photos:

After that we made our way back towards the car but stopped at a little alley store advertising olive oil tastings. Spontan­eously we decided to step inside and it was a lovely store and the lady made us fresh bruschetta with their local oils, olive spreads and truffle spread — this also included wine (I only had a small glass because i was driving) — it was delicious and we bought some of the oils & wine.… What a lovely little discovery!

The olive oil store

The drive back to Capena was easy and we relaxed a little at Casa Marconi, me doing my photos and the Cowboy reading his book while listening to soft music. Getting into the groove with the late dinner we decided to go just up the hill to “The Fat Duck” which was recom­mended by our landlord and what a great place it is. We had some pasta and the best pizza I have ever tasted! And a bottle of prosecco .… Molto bene!

Back at the apartment we were ready to go to bed.… The heat and the walking was really wearing us out and we fell asleep immediately. Buenas Noche.…..

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Roma ? Maybe not.….

We were excited that our bar was open again for breakfast and we enjoyed our two cappuccinos and cornettos. The plan was to test drive Rome per our landlord’s suggestion and to see if it would be doable for the Cowboy, since he wasn’t feeling to great walking for a long time in the heat. Directions were perfecto but the car park was a little confusing… What else is new ha ha ha. Found a spot, got a day ticket at the automat and found the tram station. Now I just had to get metro tickets.… So I walked across the street to the tobacco stand and of course the guy didn’t speak English, but my baby Italian was enough to get a single ticket. I wanted a day pass, but ok.… Figured out which tram went the correct direction and got on it. I made sure to validate my ticket (I do remember that from Germany) but of course, something was wrong and it beeped and a red light came on and I was too scared to try again lol. Only 3 stops.… Let’s hope no controller is on the tram. I really didn’t do anything wrong but I also didn’t know what to do now. Thankfully nobody checked and the tram arrived at the final stop at the Piazza del Popolo.… Yes, they have those everywhere lol.

The Spanish Steps

Immediately I felt overwhelmed by the masses of people, crowds, noise, heat.… Made my way straight towards the Spanish Steps and Trevi fountain. The masses of people were crazy, tight streets, crowded and hot. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was me, but I didn’t enjoy it. I got a couple of photos at the Spanish Steps and finally found he Trevi fountain but then had enough.… There were at least a thousand people around the fountain. This beautiful spot.… I snapped a few pictures and left. This would not work for my Cowboy… Sorry Roma. And he had been here 50 years ago, so he has seen it before it got so touristy. I just couldn’t stand it and later Fernando told me that coming in this way (which is the easiest logical way I really could have come since I was coming from Capena) is just an overwhelming area. It wasn’t Rome’s fault I don’t think, but everybody is different and some things are just not meant to be.

Thankfully it was not difficult to get back to the car and faithful Navi got me back the way we came in.… Safe and sound in Capena we couldn’t wait for the bar to open at 5 pm for our first aperitif. Prosecco, Campari and a slice of blood orange.…yum!! And of course an Italian Sambuca for the Cowboy :-)

But before that the standard afternoon thunderstorm arrived. This has happened now every day since we arrived. And we have so far been able to either get home in time except for the first day where we got stuck on the Autostrada during this massive thunderstorm.

Inside the salt cave

At the bar we chatted with the owner who speaks English thank goodness and then all the other locals started to chat with us, some of them not realizing that we didn’t really understand Italian ha ha. Another neighbor lady (Angela) who we met the day we got here stopped by and helped to translate, and this nice gentlemen started to show us all of his memor­abilia from his friend in California who seems to be an artist. Then another neighbor joined in (and speaking English) asking us where we are from and what we’ve been up to… And then out of the blue asked us if we had head of Pink Himalayan salt. I said yes… We have it at home on our table and he said “I have a cave made of it… Do you want to see it?” Well yes, of course, so Angela, Fernando, Peter and I walked 2 meters to his spot and entered the cave. What a magical wonderful spot. His vision is for friends and some visitors to sit and enjoy this little cave and it’s healing Salt. It’s all about enjoying the moment and life and the beautiful things it gives us.

After 30 min in the cave and a glass of prosecco we left and sat back down at the bar to hat with Gabila the owner, that’s when the other neighbor (the one with the friend in California) came and gave us 3 chicken eggs and a goose egg — how wonderfully special!! I took them back to the Casa (1 min from the bar) and we finished our evening chatting with our new found friends. Italian vacation at its best!

Happy and tired we finally went home, had the leftover cheese, salami and crackers for dinner and went to bed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Farfa & Casperia

The monastery in Farfa

Our day started as usual with our cappuccinos at the bar and trying to decide where to go today. We asked Gabila and Fernando and both had completely different views lol, but gave us some great ideas, We pretty much had decided that smaller countryside type things was more our thing and so we picked Farfa, as small town in the Sabine Hills and Casperia, also a charming town on top of a hill in the same area. The monastery in Farfa looked nice but somehow wasn’t open I guess…

We couldn’t figure it out because nobody spoke English, so we took some pictures and punched “Casperia” into Navi and off we went. The drive through the tiny villages and the views alone are breath­taking and we are having Andrea Bochelli accompany us with his beautiful voice in our little adventure.

Steep steps in Casperia

When we finally got to Casperia we actually found a nice parking spot in the shade and started walking towards the historic center, which is pedestrian only.… Steep steps in this incredible looking little town.

We took our time, sat down so the Cowboy could rest and I took tons of pictures, every nook and cranny of Casperia got me more excited and I have to admit that I am a little obsessed with taking picture of those cool lanterns and the flowers that everybody has in front of their homes.

Once we got our fill of the little charming streets we made our way back to the car. Of course it was our luck that the one little bar/​trattoria we would have liked to have lunch at was closed on Wednesdays.…. Go figure lol.

On the way back we found a charming pizzeria restaurant and had an amazing buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto and a gnocchi al ragu lunch. So yummy.

A car splashes through a flash flood on Via Marconi

Our timing for driving home couldn’t have been better as it literally started to rain when I parked the car and got to Casa Marconi. And this time it was a strong one. I unplugged the Internet because of power surges that happen here frequently during thunder­storms and we opened the bedroom balcony window and snuggled in front of it while listening to the loud thunder. And then the rain really started to come down and turned the street into a river – it was quite spectacular (well we were dry and safe… LOL.. Easy for us to say) and it even hailed at one point. I really got into filming the whole thing lol and taking tons of photos — it was fascinating how the water was running down Via Marconi like a river. The storm lasted for about an hour and it was over. Wow!!

1 h later most of it had dried and it was time to go to our bar for an aperitif. Thankfully none of Gabila’s flowers had gotten damaged during the hail. Sambuca & vodka for the Cowboy and Prosecco and Campari for me. After that we heated up the leftover gnocchi for dinner and played a few rounds of dominos before going to bed. Another wonderful day in Italy is over.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Monteleone Sabino & Colle di Tora

Now that we are in a rhythm we just pick a couple of destin­ations that are close by and grab our Navi and go. We have found that the small little things are what we like and forgo the tourist spots that are nice I am sure but this vacation is more about meeting the real people, seeing the real Italy and not checking off lists of to do’s like so many people. I know that there is no real wrong or right way but for us the slow pace works the best. Today we decided to stay in the same area as yesterday but a little more towards the east — we really love the Sabine Hills, it’s a very under­ap­pre­ciated area and beautiful.

The Sabine Hills produce some of the best olive oil in Italy. This advantage, and the fact that it was a malaria-​​​​free zone, made it a prosperous area in pre-​​​​Roman times and the Sabina is still full of very fine pre-​​​​Roman sites.

The flora and fauna are very abundant and varied, and organic food production is also popular in the area.

Chiesa di Santa Vittoria

We picked a couple of spots from the Casa Capena Website and punched them into our Garmin and off we went on another adventure. We really started to know the way out of town, the round­abouts and it’s a great feeling. Our first destination was the little town of Monteleone Sabino — just outside this town is a small church “Chiesa di Santa Vittoria”. It is a beautifully preserved Romanesque church and the small yard around it was buzzing with bees and birds were chirping. It was a really beautiful spot, although the gates were closed, but one could walk around it. I think we were always to early because things were either closed (and I am not sure if they just were always closed) or just because we were there before noon. This was such a small spot, that I assumed it was just mostly like this. It was beautiful though. One of those places that really are not on any tourist map — just locals can tell you about it.

Just down the road from the Chiesa di Santa Vittoria was the Trebula Mutuesca. Again it was closed up, but I was able to take photos through the gate.

Our Garmin took as back through the smallest streets and alleys (how does she even know about these little roads) to the main road. At one point the Cowboy was saying… I think this is a one way — but it wasn’t. One just makes space when they can or backs up if needed. Just like our little street at the apartment.

Lake Turano

We continued our little adventure trip to Colle di Tora which is located at Lago del Turano. This breath taking fairy-​​​​tale lake, reached over precipitous mountains, is actually a reservoir. It is ringed by enticing little restaurants and offers very good fishing. Allegedly, eels are exported from Lake Turano to Anguillara (famous for its, erm, eels) on Lake Bracciano. The fish I saw in the water where huge (I think they were catfish). The water was so blue & green it was breathtaking!

We found a little bar where Peter had a beer and I tried some strange non-​​alcoholic lemony aperitif — it wasn’t too bad, but his beer was much better LOL. The little tiny bar was the only thing open and alive at the city center and I think the few people that saw us were wondering if we were lost. I doubt they guessed that we actually picked this little sleepy town LOL.

We really enjoyed the views of the lake and took our time walking back to the car, but it was also time for some lunch and so we made our way back through the curvy mountains without encoun­tering too many cars, but a couple of cows on the road.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Our Last Full Day in Capena

It is Friday and I can’t believe this week has flown by so fast. We decided to spend it comfortably in Capena even though some people may think we are crazy not to take advantage of one full day to drive somewhere. I think we have done quite a bit of driving and I wanted to take advantage of the leisurely day to explore the Rocca, take pictures do some possible last minute shopping and a nice good bye aperitif with our friends at the bar.

The night before we had purchased one of Rosina Wachtmeister’s art at the bar and Gabila told us that her mom would be back in the morning and could sign it for us. We were so excited about the picture we bought we decided the next day to buy another one and possibly a floor mat with her art on it too.

Gabila, Rosina and Kerstin

So after our morning cappuccino Rosina came to the bar for breakfast as well and we chatted a little and she signed the back of both our pictures we bought. Since Rosina is from Austria she speaks German so it was funny that we mixed and matched so many languages to get by. Gabila’s son also spoke German (funny thing I didn’t find that out until the last day) and he told me that he studied for several years in Germany. He is also an artist and he showed us his beautiful store.

Rosina had just returned from a trip to Switzerland, so that’s why we had not seen her earlier. It was nice that we did meet her on our last day.

After breakfast I grabbed my camera and we strolled through the Rocca — what an amazing place, so much history and of course I got my fill of beautiful lanterns and small alleyways :-)

I also took the opportunity to wander up the hill and see a little more of Capena by myself while Peter was reading at the Piazza.

Then it was time for me to organize and pack our luggage so we could enjoy the rest of the afternoon, of course looking forward to our aperitif and dinner. We went to the shopping mall to see if there are any little last minute things we wanted to get (shoes for me.…. LOL) but ended up only getting a bottle of champagne and some snacks for lunch at the large supermarket.

Night view from the window

After 5 p.m. we made our way around to corner to have our good bye aperitif and presented Sandro with a 3/​4 full bottle of Tequila we had purchased in NY at duty free, but didn’t really drink too much of it (not like we did in London LOL, but there we had the help of our friend Tony) and we didn’t want to carry it all the way back to the States. He was very excited and the first aperitivo was on the house. We bought the floor mat with the Rosina art on it and Gabila explained that this mat is an extremely well made, durable and antiallergenic floor mat that can be put in the washer and dryer. I love it and it’s in our guest bathroom now that I am planning to re-​​decorate to match the Rosina art and also put our Italy pictures on the wall. I will post a photo once I have finished the project — I promised to send a picture to Gabila too!

Slightly tipsy we returned a couple of hours later to Casa Marconi where we played a few more rounds of dominos, had the leftover meats and cheeses and grapes for dinner and finished the prosecco and wine. What a finish to this vacation LOL.… ;-)

We will miss this view out of our window.… especially after dark!!!

Text, video and photographs reproduced by kind permission of Kerstin Brown