A Hidden Treasure in Southern Italy




Anfiteatro, Santa Maria Capua Vetere, Campania...

Anfiteatro, Santa Maria Capua Vetere, Campania, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I originally published this post on my other blog, accidentally, since this is supposed to be my blog about travel meanderings. (Hey, I’m still new at this blogging stuff!)  So if it looks familiar perhaps you saw it there, earlier this week.  If there is a better way to do this (link to my other blog?) and you want to comment on how that could be done I welcome the tips.  Otherwise, if you’re considering a trip to Italy and are interested in history, read on …


If you’re ever on your way from Rome to the Amalfi coast, don’t miss a detour to Old Capua. Research and reading about ancient Rome as I prepared for my first trip to Italy I fell in love with Julius Caesar and Cicero and, in general, with ancient Rome. Many of the books written about that time mentioned Capua in one context or another, as it was home to gladiatorial combats and a famous gladiator school, and it was from this area that Spartacus came, back in 73 BC. The gate by which the Via Appia leaves Rome is even known as Porta Capena, as it leads to Capua.


When we told the Italian driver taking us from the Amalfi Coast to Rome that we wanted to detour to Capua, he thought we were crazy. “All my 17 years of driving people no one has ever asked me to take them to Capua,” he said. “Capua? Are you sure?” Assured that we did indeed want to pass by his suggested itinerary and go to Capua instead, he drove us up to the Santa Maria Capua Vetere amphitheatre, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. Santa Maria Capua Vetere amphiteatre


It cost a whole 2 euros to get in, and the old Italians in the ticket office were dismayed that there were two more of us visiting that day — they’d already sold tickets to at least 10 people, and couldn’t believe the crowd! While we were there we saw only two other visitors, and we were free to wander throughout the grounds to come and go as we wished. Which was great, but depressing as we thought about how this treasure was open to the elements and the whims of the visitors and lay unprotected. But the freedom to explore not only the upper seating levels but also to go underground in the passages where the gladiators waited their turn was fascinating and a never-to-be-forgotten experience.


I stood by myself underneath the amphitheater stage and imagined what it must have been like. As I closed my eyes to soak up the feeling birds started flying about and making mournful songs, as if the souls of the long-dead gladiators were speaking.


After exploring the subterranean passages and wandering the grounds, we visited the on-site Gladiator Museum, which had no English signs and was pretty hokey, but worth a quick visit. After wandering the grounds we returned to the ticket office and asked about the Mithraeum, which I thought was on the grounds, perhaps under the amphitheater. Our driver asked the man at the ticket office about it, and after an exchange in Italian none of which I could understand, the man closed the ticket office and headed to his car. We followed in our car, not sure what was going on. After a short drive into the town, the man parked the car near what seemed to be some old apartment buildings, opened a door in the wall and motioned for us to go inside.


We entered a small cave-like room with stairs. My husband and I started walking down, not sure where we were going or what we would see. After going down to the bottom level and turning the corner we saw a beautiful albeit faded fresco with faded but beautiful blue and red stars along the stuccoed side walls and a fresco in the center. The beautiful sanctuary dedicated to Mithras was discovered in 1922, and is believed to date from the 2nd century BC. It was small and there wasn’t much to see, but just the experience of being by ourselves in this ancient place of worship (it was used by followers of the mystery religion of Mithraism) was an amazing experience, and all for the price of 2 euros.


It helps if you speak Italian or have someone who can translate for you as the people who work there don’t seem to speak English, and there are no signs in English, but even without that it’s definitely worth an off-the-beaten-path visit.


Meandering Through Santa Cruz


After a relaxing morning at our beach house rental on 25th Street in Santa Cruz, my husband and I headed 2-1/2 miles away, to Capitola Village, a cute little beach area with your typical souvenir shops & restaurants along with hard-to-find parking.  After nabbing a great space due to my husband’s new-found parking karma, we grabbed a lunch reservation off OpenTable.com for Paradise Beach Grille, rated high for lunch spots on TripAdvisor.com.

Since I’m new to blogging I didn’t think to photograph our lunch for your viewing pleasure, but I did snap a shot from our table across a little inlet to a colorful beach hotel across the sand.

View from Paradise Beach Grille

After a refreshing glass of Chardonnay (I am on vacation, after all!) and a Turkey, Brie & Apple Panini we crossed the street for a delicious ice cream (caramel no sugar added is highly recommended as it was delicious AND felt virtuous) then walked down the beach and back up by the stores for a little shopping. At one store I found artistic items for the home but resisted all but a set of turquoise felt coasters and some handmade stone studs for my daughter.


The coasters are called Bierfilzl. Apparently, up until the late 19th century coasters made of wool felt were used in taverns across Bavaria to soak up not only any moisture but also to cover the beer glass while sitting in the beer garden on a beautiful summer day, to keep out unwanted flying guests. While the invention of less expensive paper coasters in 1880 marked the end of felt coasters, Bavarians to this day apparently call all coasters “Bierfilzl,” or beer felt. How could I live without them?

We loaded up the car and headed to Seacliff State Beach nearby. It’s a $10 day use charge but saving the $10 would have meant a long walk downhill to the beach so we handed over the money and headed down. There are plenty of bathrooms, a Beach Shack for lunch and snacks, lots of RV parking and a long beach with waves that looked good for boogie boarding but not surfing. It was filled with kids and dogs and folks enjoying the gorgeous day, as well as lots of folks making good use of the steep staircase up the cliff to run stairs, some even making use of the picnic tables for pushups afterwards. I got tired just watching them, and was more than happy to limit my exercise to a walk up and down the beach.

Seacliff State Beach is known for its fishing pier and concrete freighter which is not overly attractive except to the flocks of birds, apparently was good for fishing, but has since been closed to fishing but is in use as an underwater structure to support sealife.

It got hot, we were tired, and thus we headed back to our little house on the beach. Hubbie‘s on the couch & I’m in the shade on the ipad enjoying the sounds of the ocean and the nice cool breeze. It’s a tough life.

Tonight we’re dining at El Palomar — my favorite Mexican food restaurant in town — and then packing up to head home.

A lending library to help create community

securedownloadI’ve become more and more convinced that building a community is essential to enriching our lives. It isn’t enough to live isolated from my neighbors… to truly enrich my life I need deep relationships with a people and, ideally, with women and men, young and old, with varied interests and backgrounds. It isn’t easy when I spend most of my waking hours a 40-minute drive away at work to become close to my neighbors, all of whom are on acre lots in a neighborhood full of individuals who moved in at different times, in different stages of life. My first home was brand new, in a new community, and it created an instant community — aided in part by the developer. We had neighborhood celebrations at Easter and 4th of July. Most of us had young kids, and could bond over shared sports and schools and time outside with our children. Here most of the children have grown up and gone away, few people come out in their front yards and tall trees and bushes or fences obscure the backyards from view. So one way we’re working on creating a sense of community is by installing a Little Free Library, to share books with anyone who comes by and sees something of interest. It’s a start!

Just Experiment versus Be Judged On Your Best


This morning the preacher began his sermon with a story about two pottery classes.  In one, the students were told to make pots.  That’s it.  Just practice, experiment, see what works and what doesn’t … their job was simply to keep making pots and, ideally, to learn from that experience.  The second class was told that they’d be judged at the end of the semester on just one pot.  They could spend as long as they wanted on it, could make as many pots as they wanted, but in the end the only thing that mattered was That One Pot they produced to be judged.  The pots from the class tasked only with making pots were the most beautifully made — in fact were much better than the carefully crafted One Beautiful Pot produced by the students of the second class.  Maybe knowing they’d be judged on that one pot, that had to be made perfectly, was too much pressure.  Maybe those students didn’t allow themselves time to learn, they couldn’t relax and just enjoy the creative process.  I don’t know the reason, but I do know that the story struck home.  I couldn’t help thinking about this blog.

I started this blog two years ago to share my travel experiences.  But I haven’t kept it up.  Of course as usual there are plenty of very good excuses for that.  I’m busy … who isn’t, these days.  There are so many distractions.  So many demands on my time.  But the story my preacher told at church today brought home what is one of the biggest obstacles to my writing.  I Want It To Be Good.


I am ashamed when I read something I’ve written and realize how pedestrian it sounds.  I berate myself for such shoddy writing, get discouraged, find it easier to find excuses not to write.  But last week when I decided to steal time away from social media to pound out some blog posts on anything, without thinking they had to sound good or even, really, caring — and I ended up writing more than I have in months.  It was fun, I didn’t feel any pressure, I didn’t even re-read my posts after I sent them out into the universe.  They might suck but I didn’t care, because it was only an experiment to see how to find time to write and wean myself from my Twitter addiction.  To journal my random thoughts without worrying about how they sounded when typed and posted.

Just like those students in the pottery class that pounded away at their pots.  Over and over and over, throwing pots.  Learning what worked and what didn’t.  Having fun.  Getting their hands wet.  Learning the feel of the clay.  Not worrying how the pot turned out in the end, because it was the process that was moving them forward.  Not being so stressed about making one perfect sentence that I don’t put in the hours in just writing sentences.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll never being able to turn a phrase.  Maybe I’ll never bring a character to life, or touch a reader’s heart, or create a mystery people enjoy trying to solve.  Certainly I never will if I’m so afraid of sounding stupid that I don’t write anything at all.  And if I write and write and write and write and it never gets any better?  Well, I’m no worse off than if I hadn’t written at all.  So I’m going to just throw pots.  Experiment.  Have fun!



I read yesterday that our eyes don’t view greens as clashing, so you can mix and match all hues of greens and not be thought odd.  I’m not adventuresome when it comes to mixing and matching patterns and colors in my clothes.  Black is easy, elegant, slimming, professional … and what you’ll generally find me wearing.  But colors look better on me, at least near my face.  So I’ve become bolder in my color choices lately.  Not quite to the level of J Crew models, who find pink floral cardigans to go perfectly well with striped satin pants and bright heels.  But some color, nonetheless.  Apparently mixing greens is easy on the eyes because we’re so used to seeing a mix of greens in nature.

Take this picture, for example.



It’s in one section of the garden at Versailles.  Lights, darks, brights — a mix of green shades bundle together and all look beautiful, calm, peaceful.  So I’m taking a hint from nature … biomimicry is all the rage, after all, and mixing some colors into my wardrobe.  I guess I’m gaining confidence in my old age.


I’m a DNA addict. I love finding learning about my ancestry, but I don’t have the time or patience to do the hard work of tracking down historic records, visiting cemeteries, spending weeks in the library’s microfiche archives. Nor do I have the money to hire a professional to do the work for me. So I’ve participated had my brother swab his cheek for National Geographic’s DNA project. And I swabbed my cheek for my DNA info from Family Tree. And, now, I’m spitting into a test tube for 23andme. The feedback my brother received from National Geographic was interesting, but very general about our ancestors 20,000 or so years ago. I was wanting to know more about folks in the middle ages, maybe, or even ancient Roman times, but it’s hard to relate to 20,000 years ago. The Family Tree was more detailed but I find it very hard to understand. And I had dinner with a 23andme fan recently so I decided it was worth the $99 to check it out. This time I get not only geneology information but health information as well. After carefully following the directions on the box, I started spitting away. Fortunately I’m not very good at it, and filling up the tube looked as if it was going to take all day, so I stopped to open up and read the more detailed directions inside (as opposed to on the box itself). Discovering that I wasn’t to spit within 30 minutes of eating, drinking or chewing gum. And I’d just thrown out my gum. So my advice if you choose 23andme is to read ALL of the directions before beginning!

This Week I’ll Write, Not Tweet

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

I’m taking the March Challenge to write something every day.  To find the time, I’ve decided to try switching my twitter addiction to a writing one.  Every time I want to check twitter, I’m going to write, instead.  May be disjointed, random tidbits but at least I’ll be writing about life instead of reading tweets about others’ lives.

Unfortunately for anyone reading this, I have yet to learn how to do anything other than the basics in blogging, and even adding photos is a time-consuming challenge for me.  So these blogs are rarely going to be illustrated as I’m using my time to write instead of to figure out this blogging thing.  Maybe that will be the next step!

Dreaming of Vacation

There are so many places I want to visit, live in, explore … and so little time to take even a one-week trip, much less to stay someplace long enough to do more than make introductions.  Worse yet, my husband wants our vacation this year to be Alaska or tropical, and I want it to be Southern France, or the Loire Valley, or the Greek Isles, or Wales, or the UK, or Berlin.  And I’m ending up using my time off to participate in TEDActive, Qideas, my son’s graduation from college, Goddess Kamp and, to cap off the year, Rancho la Puerta.  It’s not like I have room to complain.  I’m blessed to be able to have spent most of the week at TEDActive in Palm Springs, hearing about ideas worth spreading.  And I’m beyond excited and proud of my son for graduating in four years, and the whole family’s coming to Santa Cruz to celebrate and renting a beach house for 5 nights from which we can explore the Boardwalk, Monterey, Salinas (Steinbeck museum), maybe even the wine country or Big Sur.  I’m also looking forward to what I’m calling my “Christian TED” experience at Qideas.  So it’s all good.  But it isn’t the year-long immersion in France or England I long to experience.  Guess I have something to look forward to; after all, anticipating and planning a trip is almost more fun than actually experiencing it!

Not much time t…


Breathe (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

Not much time today but I wanted to post a link regarding mindfulness and celebrating the miracle of life.  In many situations we are told to focus on our breathe and to breath from our diaphragms.  Scuba diving, for example.  I always end up with more air in my tank than anyone else when scuba diving because I focus on slow, deep, what-I-call-yoga breaths (mostly to ease my anxiety as I think of all the horrible things that could go wrong and cause me not to be able to breath while I am 80 feet under water).

Scuba diving in Elba island, Italy

Image via Wikipedia

Yoga, clearly…meditation.  Acting.  I’m taking a voice class (meant to help us with public speaking), and the first lesson and the first portion of each subsequent class we spend working on our breath, as without having good breath we cannot give voice to our thoughts or those of our characters.  As noted in the attached link, if we focus on our breath we can celebrate the fact that we are here, alive, able to breathe.  I sometimes imagine what it will be like when I take my last breath, or if, ailing, dying, knowing the end is near I will finally value the miracle that is my ability to breath in fresh air, and wish I hadn’t taken it for granted every other minute of my life.  If I am feeling down or anxious or worried, simply spending a few minutes to celebrate my ability to deeply breath helps remind me of how wonderful it is to have the seemingly simple pleasure of automatically taking in air.

Last time I was anxious and felt my stomach starting to get nervous, I forced myself to sit still for a few moments and relax and breathe, and it made all the difference.

When I gave birth without an epidural to my first child the only way I got through the pain was a combination of focusing on my breath, on his passage to life, and lots of good hot water from the shower pounding my stomach.

When I read an excerpt in my voice class and have to project to the audience in the back of the room, I can do that only if I focus on deeply breathing.

So my short blog today has lengthened by my random meanderings about the power of breath…it is one of those common miracles that is easily overlooked but well worth honoring.


Florence, Day 2

English: Michelangelo's David (original statue...

Image via Wikipedia

Ponte Vecchio shops

A young Italian girl at our B&B, Le Stanze di Sante Croce, fixed us a wonderful Italian breakfast with bruchetta, cheeses, hams and bread, served in the inn’s terrace.  Afterwards Jack and Brittany met up with our B&B host for a morning walk to the local Farmers Market and a cooking class.  Though a cooking class would do me good, Austin and I instead walked down Florence’s cobblestone streets to Piazza della Signoria, just a few blocks away, to meet our Context Walk guide for a 3-hour tour of the Galleria degli Uffizi.  Along on the tour with us was a family of four from the Bay Area…I guess we Californians like Context Walks!  We started with the art from the 14th Century — mostly of Madonnas with Jesus and abundance use of gold — through the art of the 1800s.  My favorite painting at the museum was Botticelli‘s Primavera, pictured below.  Not only is it beautiful, it also shows the “circle of life,” reaching up to the heavens and the heavens reaching down for you.  A close second favorite was Da Vinci’s The Annunciation… but then I like almost anything by or about Da Vinci.


My son’s ill-timed cold was getting worse after three hours on our feet of art history, as was my jet lag, so as soon as the tour ended we headed for the only place we could find with seats, which was the very small museum cafeteria.  It isn’t the best choice for lunch, given that the selections are minimal and fairly expensive —  Coca Cola light (dt coke) was 5 euros– but at least it gave us the opportunity to sit and rest on the terrace and enjoy a beautiful day.  After a light lunch we headed to the Ufizzi’s first floor — the tour can’t cover the entire museum, and there were a few things on the first floor we had wanted to check out, despite our tired feet.  We didn’t really do the art on the first floor justice, walking pretty quickly through to get to the  Caravaggio paintings I wanted to see.   I fell in love with Caravaggio’s work a few years ago in Rome when we spent a Sunday afternoon at the Borghese Gallery, and now I look for his art in every City we visit.  After a short visit to his paintings Austin and I were more than ready to head back  to our B&B for a nap.  There, we found Jack, Brittany and my newly arrived stepmother, Anna Marie, sitting down to the meal they had shopped for and made in the terrace of our B&B.  They invited us to join them for some pasta with pesto sauce along with other dishes they’d created.  So Austin and I sat down for a 2nd lunch, this one much better than the first.

Cooking Class at Le Stanza di Santa Croce

To the left is a picture of Brittany rolling out the pasta on the terrace of Le Stanze di Santa Croce.  It was a long process but the results were well worth it!  She bought her Dad a pasta machine earlier this year she enjoyed the class so much, and Jack used it just last night to make he and I a wonderful meal with fettucine and homemade red sauce with herbs from our organic garden, complete with thin crusty slices of bread on which we had learned in Tuscany to rub garlic cloves and then top with homemade olive oil and a little kosher salt.  Delish!  To the right is the picture of Jack with the owner of the B&B, leading them in their cooking.

After our lunch we headed over to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David in all its glory.  We’d had the B&B owner reserve us tickets, which cost a few more euros but was well worth it.  The line for those who hadn’t reserved stretched around the block, and had to have taken 45 minutes if not an hour in the hot sun.  In contrast, we were able to walk right up to the lobby and wait only a few minutes for the crowd inside to clear before making our own way inside the Galleria.

Once we walked in and handed over our tickets, we turned to the left to go into the 2nd, main, room, and there, down a long hall lined with other sculptures, stands David, under a glass dome built especially for him.  It’s a majestic sight and well worth the visit.  We walked past the other statutes and stood, transfixed, staring up at David.  We took the guide’s advice and walked slowly around, looking intently at each portion of the sculpture.  The stone is so lifelike I couldn’t help but be amazed at how Michelangelo was able to carve life into cold, hard marble. The right hand is bigger than his left, thus drawing attention to the stone David is holding as he prepares to put it in his slingshot and slay the giant.  His expression looks different depending on which side of him you’re on.  After we’d all finished our walk around Michelangelo’s majestic work we heading back down the hallway and stopped at the various sculptures that line both sides, and then briefly toured the adjacent room, before heading off to dinner of pasta, pizza and red wine.  And, of course, a walk to get gelato for my daily nightcap.  I am somewhat obsessed with gelato when I’m visiting Italy, and insist on a cone after lunch and again after dinner as the perfect ending to the meals.  Yet despite that, and wine with lunch and dinner, and loads of pasta and pizza, I have never gained weight on my trips to Europe.  It’s all the walking, I suppose, versus all the sitting at my desk I do at home.  My perfect diet, then, would be to spend most of my life on vacation in Europe!  Definitely sounds like a good plan to me.

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