The Final Days

(7-3-17 – 7-11-17)

Hello friends!  Sorry for the lapse in posting during my final week in Italy – I was mostly relaxing with friends, so there wasn’t much to report.  I did get to spend two wonderful days in Pompeii with Chris and the rest of the project, experiencing a bit of that archaeology life.  They even let me move some really fucking old amphorae!  It was really interesting the see the other, non-digging, side to archaeology – everyone sitting around on laptops sorting through their own data.  Less glamorous, perhaps, but arguable more important.  

On July 5, I took the train back to Rome to spend some time there with friends.  I basically did nothing during the day but watch Downton Abbey on (Italian) Netflix, but then met up in the evening with my friends to see my favorite Bernini sculptures at the Borghese Gallery or to try a new gelato place near the Pantheon.  

Over the weekend of July 7th, we drove to Sperlonga, where Chris and our other friend Leigh met up with us for some beach time and a peek at Emperor Tiberius’ fabulous villa and dining grotto.  It was a fun weekend full of good food and new friends – we got to meet an American from Cincinnati who had recently retired to Itri, a town nearby, which was really fun!

After the weekend, I spent one more full day in Rome lounging around (i.e. finishing Downton Abbey) before flying home.  While I always have a hard time leaving Italy, this parting seemed less bittersweet than normal.  Perhaps it was because I had spent time with friends after saying goodbye to my husband.  Regardless, I hardly cried at all at the airport OR on the flight – last year I spent most of the flight just leaking tears.  Now I am back in the States, but not at home!  That’s right – after barely 12 hours in Cincinnati, I set out the very next morning for Carlisle, Pennsylvania, home to Dickinson College and to the Dickinson College Latin Workshop, affectionately known as Latin Camp.  Latin enthusiasts from all over gather for five days to do nothing but read Latin and enjoy each other’s company.  It is a wonderful experience – enlightening and rejuvenating.  This year we are reading Prudentius’ Psychomachia, an early Christian work about the battles between vices and virtues.  I’ve never read anything this late before (it was written around 390 AD), so this is a really fascinating experience for me. 

As much as I am loving being around my fellow Latin nerds, I am ready to be home to relax for a while.  But I hope you, dear reader, have enjoyed traveling with me this summer!  See you again next year!


Days 23-25 – Montepulciano 

(6-30-17 – 7-2-17)

I have never had a more perfect weekend than the one we spent driving around the Tuscan countryside.  Neither Chris nor I have spent much time in Tuscany, so it was wonderful to finally experience such a famous part of Italy.  

And it is easy to see why it is so famous.  Rolling hills giving way to majestic mountains, picturesque hilltop towns full of quaint medieval buildings and church spires, fields full of grape vines or sunflowers.   It was so gorgeous it was almost like it wasn’t real, just some dream landscape.  

We set out from Rome around mid morning and stopped in Orvieto for lunch.  I had studied abroad there ten years ago and haven’t been back since, so it was fun to revisit a town I had once known so well.  We had spaghetti alla carbonara at Mezza Luna, which is pretty famous for it and rightly so.  The plate was huge – two people should definitely split – and delicious.  Completely stuffed, we walked around for a bit before gettting coffee and gelato (of course!) and then once again hitting the road.  

Our B&B in Montepulciano could not have been more lovely.  Villa San Bartolomeo sits just outside the town, far enough for a spectacular view, close enough for easy access.  Our rooms were spacious and comfortable, and the breakfast buffet was different each morning with plenty of delicious variety.  

Then there was the wine.  We visited four wineries total, once Friday evening then three on Saturday.  It was so fun to drive between each one and explore different parts of the valley.  While we basically tasted the same wine – variations on vino nobile di Montepulciano – the experience at each was unique.  

Montemercurio – the first winery we visited ended up being my favorite. It was pretty small, started in the early 2000s by a nineteen year old whose grandfather had initially planted a small vineyard only to make wine for the family.  The grandson then planted more vines in addition to his grandfather’s with the intention of a commercial winery but still preserving his grandfather’s methods.  The wine was delicious, and the best part was getting to try some vin santo, a sweet after dinner wine, which the grandfather had barreled in 1990 – long before the start of the winery and with the intention of being only for the family (a bottle cost €100, just FYI, but it was the most delicious wine I have ever tasted).  

Villa Sant’Anna – we took a tour here, which was really interesting.  I learned that wine needs to “rest”, or continue to age, in bottles after the bottling process, and that vin santo requires a special yeast and ages for at least 8 years.  The tasting was excellent also, as it included a plate of meats and cheeses, to help show off how well the wine paired with food.  The best thing about Sant’Anna, however, was that it was owned and run by women – a mother and her two daughters.  I really admired her for being so successful in a very male-dominated field (at least in Italy), and it was really fun to learn about her history.  

Icario – this winery was really different.  The building was sleek and modern, and very minimalist, whereas the other two had been in old farmhouses that had been refurbished to accommodate the business side of things.  We soon learned that the winery had recently been sold to a German family, which explained the strict organization.  Despite what I thought to be a lack of charm, the wine was good and the woman leading our tasting was lovely – very friendly and warm and *very* happy to give us recommendations for the best pizza in town.  She also had agreed to come meet us on Saturday even though the winery is usually closed to visitors on that day, so we really appreciated her enthusiasm.  

Fattoria Pulcino – after a bit of a frenzy trying to get lunch (the recommended pizza place was closed) and an inability to find the winery at which we had made a 4:00 appointment, we ended up at Fattoria Pulcino.  This was absolutely the weakest of the three by far.  Though we sat on a nice terrace with amazing views over the valley, our tasting lacked any information about the wine and the wine itself was not as good.  It was definitely an establishment that catered to huge groups of tourists – their parking lot was enormous and there must have been 50 long tables, each with 2 dozen seats, inside.  There was also some grumbling about how we only bought one bottle, which definitely pushed us toward the negative opinion.  But, given the splendor of the previous majority of the day, we weren’t too put out.  

For dinner on both nights, we drove into town and just walked around until we found a place that looked cozy, and each night we were successful!  Both were delicious meals, though I can’t remember the names of the restaurants.  

Obviously the atmosphere was a major part of what made the weekend so great, but the company was what turned it into something truly wonderful.  Being able to spend time with Noon and Helena was a joy, and it was just so pleasant to have a weekend where we didn’t have to worry about ancient sites or timelines (beyond getting to the next winery!).  It was incredibly relaxing and I already can’t wait to go back.  🙂

Days 20-22 – Rome

(6-27-17 – 6-29-17)

Days 20 through 22 were a mishmash of things.  Day 20 was another relaxing day – we spent the morning in the apartment then walked up to see my favorite building, the Pantheon, before grabbing a drink at La Proscuitteria then dinner at Flavio al Velavevodetto with some friends.  

On Day 21, we drove up the coast to Cosa to see two fish salting vat sites.  One was on the beach by an industrial complex, which was a bit scary, and the other was in a sort of nature reserve full of pine trees, which was really serene and lovely.  We were gone most of the day but returned in time to meet the parents of my best friend Louise, whose time in Rome happily overlapped with ours by a bit.  

Day 22 was spent with Louise’s parents, Polly and Neil, seeing ancient Rome’s greatest hits.  We walked around the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, and the Forum, the visiting the Capitoline Museums.  They were absolutely wonderful – asking lots of questions and smiling indulgently when Chris answered with maybe a bit more detail than they were expecting.  We love showing people around Rome, so it was a joy to spend the day with them.  

For dinner that evening, we started Chris’s Epic Birthday Weekend.  Since he would be celebrating his golden birthday (turning 30 on the 30th), I wanted to plan an extra special surprise for him.  Part one of the surprise was meeting up with Chris Noon, who had been the best man at our wedding, and his girlfriend Helena for dinner (they are English and live in London, so it’s pretty easy for them to pop on over to the continent for the weekend, plus they are lovely people!).  

It was really touching to see the reunion of these two friends.  Chris and Noon (and I, actually) worked together on a dig ten years ago or so in the Sangro Valley and have been really close ever since.  Chris usually tries to meet up with Noon once a year during the summer since he’s coming to Europe anyway, but often the timing doesn’t work for one reason or another.  But despite the distance, both in space and time, the two are still really good friends and I love that.  

During dinner, we revealed the itinerary for the weekend (Noon and I had been planning this for a while): driving to Montepulciano, about two hours north of Rome, then visiting a few wineries in the area.  Stay tuned to find out how the weekend went!  😉

Day 19 – Rome


Our first full day in Rome was another R&R day, though we spent most of the day doing laundry.  We hung around our friends’ apartment and Chris caught up on some work while I read.  

I haven’t gotten quite as much opportunity to sit around and read as I did last year.  Our trip this year is a week shorter than last and we visited significantly fewer sites, which meant that Chris didn’t have to run around and work so much but also meant that I didn’t get to sit around and read while he did.  But, I have finished two books while we’ve been on the road.  I read Mozart in the Jungle initially because I really like the show (a successful show about classical music and musicians?!  Yes, please!! ), but the book is so much more interesting than just an narrative of one player’s experience in various musical groups.  The author, Blair Tindall, gives a ton of info about the development of orchestras and interest in classical music in the United States and it is fascinating!  She also goes really in depth into the financial side of things, and that is also really interesting.  If you like the show and also want to learn more about how classical music really works in America, I highly recommend it. (It comes with a really long bibliography, too, which means I might be reading more on the subject!)

I also just recently finished In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri.  She also wrote The Namesake, which is about a boy growing up in America with immigrant parents.  I loved that book and was excited to read In Other Words.  It’s about her journey to learn Italian and was actually written in and published originally in Italian.  It seems sort of strange for an American born woman of Indian descent who is a successful novelist in English to want to write a book in Italian, but the finished product is sublime.  She narrates the story of her love affair with Italian, and I felt such a kinship with every sentence it was almost as if I had written it myself (not in Italian, though; and I also read the English translation, which had its own fascinating explanation). 

In the book, Lahiri talks a lot about her own relationship with languages – how she grew up speaking Bengali at home but English at school, and how she felt false in both languages.  For her, Italian was something purely of her own choice, and almost more real for her than the other two.  I feel like my language experience is very similar – my mother is an immigrant who grew up speaking a language different from English and who tried to instill a bit of her own culture in her children through that language.  I never truly learned to speak Thai, though.  My father, an American who never bothered to learn his wife’s first language, told my mother to stop speaking to us in Thai because he couldn’t understand what she was saying to us.  Due to his ridiculous insecurities, I do not have access to certain parts of my mother’s – and therefore my – heritage.  Later, when I was in my teens, he scolded me for not being able to speak to my cousins or grandparents and all I felt was confusion, frustration, and anger – wasn’t it because of him that I could not?  And now I have to figure out for myself – can I embrace the Thai side of me without knowing the language?  How?

Language is such a funny, fickle thing and I wonder if it can ever truly be mastered. I admire Lahiri’s journey ardently – she has done what I do desperately want to do.  People always seem to think I know Rome and Italy very well because I have spent a large part of my life traveling here.  On the one hand, it’s true – I have visited more ancient sites than most people realize exist –  but on the other hand, I can’t necessarily recommend specific places to eat or stay.  People always ask me what my favorite restaurant in Rome is and I have no answer; I’m always discovering new places.  

So every time I return, I feel that need that Lahiri must have felt – that deep desire to throw yourself headlong into this city and learn every inch of it, to become as familiar with it as you are with yourself.  I long for Chris to have the opportunity to live here for a year or two so that I can finally start, but in the meantime, these brief summer visits and DuoLingo will have to do.  


Hey lovely readers! Sorry for the long pause in updates.  Chris and I have been busy enjoying seeing friends in Rome and celebrating his 30th birthday in Montepulciano.  We are now in Pompeii – Chris for the rest of the summer as part of his whole archaeologist thing, and me for a few days to relax before going back to Rome for another week.  I hope to get caught up in the next few days, though I may be helping things get set up around here, as the season starts tomorrow.  If not, I will definitely use my last few days in Rome to focus on my posts!  Hope you all are doing well!  ❤

Day 18 – Lisbon to Rome


Day 18 was fairly uneventful.  We packed up, headed to the airport, then flew to Rome, my amazing home away from home. As I say almost every time I return – this place makes me happy like no other place on earth can.

We arrived in the early evening and hung out for a bit with our hostesses – we’re crashing with two women from Chris’ program who were gracious enough to let us stay for a few days.  After that, we went out for drinks, then out for dinner, each with a separate group of people.  It turned out that we were overlapping with some friends for that night only, so in a bit of a social blitz, we got to spend time with both!

That is certainly one thing I come to miss during these long journeys.  While Chris and I do travel very well together, he is pretty introverted whereas I am…not.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am an extraordinarily social person – I love hanging out with friends over a bottle of wine, and I also love meeting and talking to new people as well.  Sometimes, we happen to fall into conversations with fellow travelers (John and Sally, our Australian buddies we met in Morocco last year come to mind), but mostly, we keep to ourselves while on the road.  Chris is perfectly happy to only talk to me, and I also enjoy using our travel time as a way for us to reconnect and bond.  

At the end of almost three weeks, however, I start to really crave interactions with humans other than my husband, bonus points if they are English speakers.  So while it was hot and we were a bit tired from the flight, I immensely enjoyed our dinner with a woman from my high school whom I had not seen since we had graduated.  We just happened to be in Rome at the same time for this one evening so I asked if she wanted to meet up.  It turned out to be such a nice time, getting to know her again as an adult.  As we walked back to our apartment later that night, I could tell that Chris was exhausted, but I was strangely energized by the evening.  

That is one thing I love about Rome so much.  So many people from the field end up here over the summer that we get to see people we might not see otherwise during the school year.  It’s a way to catch up and hang out in one of the best cities on earth.  

Day 17 – Lisbon


Day 17 was another R&R day, which was good for me because I really needed a day to relax.  We spent our morning organizing and packing, getting ready for our flight to Rome the next day.  For lunch, we walked down to the Mercado da Ribeira, at which we had eaten twice last year.  This year, we ordered a plate with two types of cheeses and a large portion of pata negra, a high quality Iberian cured ham.  It was outstanding – so rich and delicate, it almost melted in my mouth.  The cheeses were alsmot both delicious, the perfect combination of tangy and salty.  After that, we ordered a fancy hamburger from an “artisanal hamburger” stall.  It was pretty delicious as well!  I feel like anything with caramelized onions on it has to be wonderful.  For dessert, we had a pastel de nata each – delicious custard pastries unique to Portugal.  

After lunch, we walked around the waterfront a bit.  There weren’t many people out, so it was fairly calm and pleasant.  We ended up going to check out a “bonus vat” that was nearby, conveniently located in a wine shop that had free port tastings!  Chris’ job is so hard.  

We spent the balance of the afternoon at a wine bar, Lisbon Winery, each ordering different types of wine so we could try more.  There was only one other table occupied – a tour group of some sort made up of an Australian woman, an English couple, and an American couple.  I will freely admit that I immensely enjoyed sitting there with my wine eavesdropping on their conversation!

 For dinner, we went to Clube de Jornalistas, a highly rated place almost around the corner from our hotel.  It was another fabulous experience – we sat on the balcony overlooking their garden space, and had roasted eggplant with miso caramel, asparagus risotto with pata negra, and sort of a duck egg roll – duck meat wrapped in a bit of pastry, served with barely and figs (and a delicious glass of wine, of course!).  For dessert, we enjoyed a chocolate cake with hazelnuts and a glass of port, and I don’t think there could have been a nicer way to end our time in Lisbon.  

We definitely ate much better both in Spain but also in Portugal during this trip.  I remember last year not being very impressed by a lot of what we ate, but I think most of that had to do with the location of our hotel.  Last year in Lisbon, our hotel was more toward the city center, so most restaurants were catering towards tourists, which usually means they don’t take their food very seriously (which we definitely experienced in Granada).  This year, our lovely guesthouse was a bit more off the beaten path, and was surrounded by really good food options.  We also used TripAdvisor a lot this year, which really helped, though I can’t remember if we did that last year also.  

Obviously for these trips, we travel to experience the Roman world as much as possible, but for us, food is another (THE other) huge reason for exploring new places.  We definitely identify as foodies, but not in a snobby way (I hope), just in a we-really-love-food way.  We cook a lot together at home and getting to experience a culture’s food traditions is so exciting and fun.  And just the act of eating together is important – it allows us time to unwind and talk, and ultimately brings us closer together.  Food and trying new foods are a really important part of our relationship.