Thursday, May 28, 2015

Our trip to Rome and Umbria

It has taken me forever to get all my photos culled and cleaned up.  Now it is time to update the blog.

To start with, this is the longest trip Julie and I have taken together.  We were gone for 20 days, two of which were essentially spent on airplanes.  We wouldn't have been gone quite that long but we had to tweak our dates to match the frequent flier ticket opportunities on Delta.  Did you know a first class ticket from Salt Lake to Rome runs between $5000 and $8000?  Who can afford that? First class is nice, but it sure isn't that nice!

We spent two days wandering around Rome before we met the rest of our group at the airport. From there, we drove two large vans about 3 hours north into Umbria where we had a villa rented as our base camp.  We were there for two weeks, making day trips out to towns like Montone, Spello, Spoletto, Assisi, Gubbio, Pietralunga and Perugia.  It was great having a large, comfortable place to settle into and not have to pack up and move over and over.

At the end of the two weeks, we drove back to Rome.  Everyone left the next morning except Julie and I.  We had one more day to kill, which turned out to be fabulous luck.  More on that later.

The trip was organized by Richard Philpot (front, flowered shirt).  We have skied with Dick and his wife Cosette over in Europe and here in Park City.  The group, roughly from left to right:
  • Terry and Bob from the UK
  • Ilona from the DC area. We have skied with her in France
  • Eireann, a professional tour guide for Italy, although she lives in the UK
  • Cosette and Dick
  • Julie
  • Bob and Laurie from Durham, NC
  • Jennifer from Pennsylvania.  She is also part of our French ski group
I have to say that the group was spectacular.   Dick did a good job of inviting people who would work and play well together, were interesting, and traveled well.

I wish I had taken a picture of the vans we used. They were large and fit our group and our luggage easily.  The downside was that they had fairly bald tires and a manual transmission.  Bob (from Durham) and I did most of the driving and  Dick was our navigator. It has been a while since I have driven a manual and I struggled getting this beast out of the tight parking deck.

Once we drove a good ways up the highway, we turned onto a winding little road.  About every kilometer, we ran into enough warning signs to scare you senseless.  Slick roads.  Snow. Soft shoulder. Deer crossing.  Rock slides.  Whatever the one is that looks like bumps in the road.  The road wasn't that bad.  I am guessing there is some kickbacks going on with the road sign industry.

After driving about a half mile up a twisting, narrow gravel road, we arrive at Villa Cavagnetti, home for the next two weeks.
 We were up on the side of a big hill, surrounded by lots of other big hills.  This was our view.
We had a pool in our backyard, surrounded by blooming wisteria. It was beautiful and nice to sit by, but still pretty chilly to swim in.  Several of us gave it a good try.
We had a nice little outdoor patio that was the gathering spot almost every morning and evening.
And the dining room table was big enough to fit us all comfortably.
And who knew that the place came with a dance floor?
We had "neighbors", but they were a long ways off.

Here's our closest neighbor.  What a dump!
Almost every morning Julie and I would head up the gravel road for either a walk or a run.  It was a beautiful way to start the day.  This is the view looking back at our villa.  You can see a small building to the left of our place.  That is actually a very old church.  People used to walk up the hill from the little town of Carpini to go to church there.  Even though I am an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, we didn't hold any services while we were there.
I didn't fully appreciate how lucky we were until we got back to Park City and had 9 straight days with rain.  In our 20 days in Italy, we had about 10 minutes of drizzle.  That's it.  It rained a lot before we got there and it rained two days after we left.  For us, perfect!

You can kind of tell from the photo above, but the Umbrian countryside was every shade of green you can imagine.  It was as green as any land I have ever seen.  Just beautiful.


Julie and I started our trip in Rome.  We wanted to go out and find a nice breakfast to start our day of hiking around.  It took us a while to learn that in Italy, breakfast is some sweet doughnut or croissant and a cup of espresso.   No big cups of coffee and if they offer you eggs with bacon or sausage, you should be really suspect.  We finally gave in and did sugar and caffeine with the rest of them.
Our meal plan was fairly consistent.  We had breakfast at the villa, lunch out in the town we were visiting, and then dinner back at home.  Dick and Bob did most of the cooking, but lots of people pitched in. 
This is Bob, doing that chef thing.
I saw this outside a restaurant one day and thought it was gorgeous.
Wine and appetizers out on the patio were a key part of our sustenance.
In fact, wine was a fairly big part of everything we did. We went to the grocery store every two days and had to buy 1 or 2 cases of wine.  This also meant that every two days we were hauling stuff down to one of the recycling drop-offs.  The good news is that Italy has some really tasty reds and whites for $5-10.
Two of the nights we had a pair of very nice Italian ladies come in and teach us Italian cooking.  We split into two groups and each night had a big feast. This was my group starting on our spinach ravioli.
We made enough of them to feed an army and they were quite tasty.
Jennifer and Ilona are arranging the sliced apples for an apple tart.

While I haven't included any photos, one of the most consistent dining patterns we adopted was the afternoon gelato.  What a wonderful taste treat.  We found a fantastic place for gelato early in the trip and the rest of the vacation was spent hunting for its equal.

Lots more pictures and topics, but I will end this post here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My new Phantom 3 drone

I got my Phantom 3 when I got back from Italy and I have spent a few hours trying to learn to fly it and use it for both photos and video.  I am a long ways from proficient, so it will be a while before I try to show something serious.  However, here was one of my practice sessions.  They are part drone skills, part wear out the dog.  I like the drone.  Jasper loves it.

Click here for the Youtube video.  Best to watch it in some higher resolution, ideally HD.  The first minute is me flying from our hilltop down closer to our condo.  Then the dog show takes over. I will try to do something more interesting to watch in the near future.

By the way, these latest drones are an absolute miracle of technology, and that means something coming from a computer geek.  The only thing I can compare them to is the technology they have packed into a smart phone.  My drone can fly over a mile away from me, all the time receiving my instructions and sending back streaming 720p video.  It records HD video, 12M photos, has a very accurate GPS, sonar to figure out ground height, video tracking of the ground to detect drift, and much more.  It can go about 1500 feet high and fly at well over 30 mph.  Damn!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I haven't quit

I haven't posted in quite a while.  The bulk of that was being over in Italy for three weeks.  Now I am back, catching up, and filtering through 2000 photos.  Awesome trip, but it may be a while.

One other note, I now own a real drone with a good camera.  Haven't flown it yet, but that should be interesting for future entertainment.