Friday, September 30, 2016

Cinque Stelle Anticipation

Reloaded and Ready to Go Again

Cinque Stelle Anticipation
Some years ago, Maria Elena and I took a trip out west here in the States.  Along with us were my sister and her husband.  Our trip would take us to Alaska, a place my brother-in-law was interested in seeing and also served to, let's say, break him in to travel before they'd accompany us to Italy.  The Alaskan portion of the trip would take up the later part of the jaunt by way of a cruise ship from Seattle.  All told, it would be a peak-to-peak adventure, for before venturing into Alaskan terrain, we'd enjoy a train ride through the spectacular Canadian Rockies from Jasper to the shores of the Pacific at Vancouver, British Columbia.  It was a five star (cinque stelle) adventure all the way, for we'd overnight in Fairmont hotels and resorts all along our route beginning in Banff.  We'd been promised a wow trip, where we'd sit with our noses pressed to the glass aboard the Rocky Mountianeer as it followed the Kicking Horse River and crossed the Continental Divide following railroad tracks that first united Canada, east to west, 125 years ago. 
But as they sometimes sigh alas in fairytales or alora in Italian, trees, mountains and dramatic canyons can only go so far.  For New Englanders like ourselves, who live in this type of idyllic landscape every day, the shine wore off quickly.  Oh, if we lived in some sprawling concrete and asphalt metropolis, where they have to think about where to group a few trees and call it a park, it might have been different.  Likewise, later-on in Alaska, we may have marveled at the sight of so much snow and ice if we hailed from someplace like Miami, but we don't.  You see, Maria Elena and I are surrounded by forests.  So is my sister.  My brother-in-law makes some of his living from timber sales and I keep busy keeping the forest at bay out of fear it may overtake my yard.  As for snow and ice, for my emotional wellness, I won't even go there.  I'd need to be coddled in a safe zone to avoid the potential distress of those “micro aggression” moments we hear so much about lately, triggered in my case when forced to see snow, especially when it’s out of season back home.  So maybe some of you can appreciate that after an hour or so with our noses pressed against the glass, we realized just how "seen that, done that" the rail part of the trip was.  For me at least, the wow part of the entire trip would instead prove to be the fabulous hotels along the way. 
Where am I going with this?  I sometimes find myself asking the same question, but there is a point.  We have another trip coming up, this one guaranteed wow certified.  Though not with my sister and her husband this time, I can't call it a precursor trip, for I doubt we'll ever get to duplicate it with anyone, not even ourselves.  With my sister and her husband behind to manage forest and snow as need-be, we will travel to Italy this time accompanied by our son, Christopher, along with his best friend and our “adopted son”, Stephen.  We have been to Italy now many times.  I can’t speak for Stephen, but for Chris, it will be his first.  Yet while for the most part we’ll be the guides, it is Chris who will be the facilitator.  It would not be happening without him, for as the Director of Corporate Business Development for a major travel agency in Manhattan, he has smoothed the way in advance of our arrival with a fabulous line-up of five star hotels, to include a resort.  For over a week we’ll get to inhabit the Condé Nast Traveler world of luxury hotels.  It definitely comes in handy to have a son in high places!  This will be an outing highlighted by such fine establishments that, unversed as I am in high society, I honestly wonder if it might be wise if Maria Elena and I  changed out of our travel mufti, shall we say, into something more 5-star appropriate, before we check in!
Arriving on separate flights, at different locations, and on different days, we begin with a rendezvous in Florence.  Again, there are trains involved.  Ours, hopefully a high-speed Italo version
that will whisk us there in about 3 hours, will be coming north from Naples, while Chris and Steve will arrive from Milan.  We will emerge from the metal and glass sky-lit roof overhanging the main passenger concourse of Firenze's Santa Maria Novella Station and head for our home for the next few nights in Piazza Santa Maria.  It is in Piazza Santa Maria where we will experience our first wow when we enter Grand Hotel Minerva. 
The luxury Grand Hotel Minerva is a 100 room boutique hotel in Florence's historic center.  It shares the piazza with the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, begun in 1279 by the Dominican order though not consecrated until 72 years before Columbus discovered America.  We're told it has recently been refurbished and features wooden floors in each room along with soft color appointed walls that host the works of contemporary Florence artists - the newest crop of Michelangelos.  A rooftop terrace with a view across Florence, along with an adjacent pool, should be especially interesting.  Hotel Minerva is named for the Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of arts and trade.  In my high school days of yore, a statue of her stood in the hallway outside the language classrooms at the top of the main entry staircase.  No longer a school, where she might be today is anyone's guess.  A sentinel of learning, I like to think of her right where she was, holding her spear with her Greek helmet with its vacant eye-slits cocked back on her head.  I'll certainly be on the lookout for her in the halls of Hotel Minerva and be sure to investigate why this albergo is named in her honor. 
As an escape from the formality of Florence, we're next off to another temporary fantasy, this one deeper into Tuscany at Castiglion Del Bosco, whose beauty is the least of its assets.  Located
there in the rolling, multi-layered countryside south of Siena we’ll find, with Margaret’s GPS help, the world class Rosewood Resort.  It is not far from two of our all-time favorites, Montalcino with its Brunello wine, and the Benedictine Abbey at Sant'Antimo, thought to have originated with Charlemagne when he passed through with his army.  We may come to think of the Rosewood as an Italian getaway, equivalent to Maria Antoinette’s hide-away, La Petit Trianon, at Versailles.  This time, however, the queen for a few days will be Maria Elena. 
The Rosewood Resort was constructed from the ruins of a bygone farming community hamlet, Castiglion Del Bosco.  Located on a hilltop, overlooking a patchwork of fields and vineyards that stretch out towards Montalcino, the Borgo was the center of activity for hundreds of years.  Dominated by the ruins of a medieval castle that gives the estate its name, its main concourse is a place brimming with memories waiting to be
explored.  Within the Borgo, the historic manor house, old winery, stables, church of San Michele Arcangelo, the priest’s house, along with other buildings, have all been meticulously restored and repurposed.  The village now features two restaurants, a cooking school, an organic kitchen garden, 23 suites, a spa, an infinity pool and a fitness center.   We doubt we'll be able to take it all it during our three days there, but we're sure to give it a shot.  Just looking at it online, situated in those classic undulated Tuscan hills, peppered with cypress trees, you'd think we were stepping into a work of art.
We'll of course get to show them Calitri along with our home there.  It is our next stop after our stay at the Rosewood and a long day's ride into the Mezzogiorno.  We'll prowl its labyrinth of streets, explore its castle, and certainly sample its cuisine in familiar places like Tre Rose and Locanda dell'Arco.  Lacking room service, other than what mom can provide, and absent a doorman anywhere in our humble environs, I wonder what Chris will estimate our particular star rating might be.  A letdown from days of dazzle and glitz, maybe, but it will definitely be an interesting few days before we're off again, though initially not far at all.  Our next destination will be to the seething bustle and spectacle of love-it or hate-it Naples.
That "New City" of the Greeks, what we refer to as Naples today, is a curious place.  Forget about the sophistication and polish of Milan, the ever nascent appeal of Venice, or the refined Renaissance atmosphere of Florence.  In their place, the pulse of a flamboyant citizenry is everywhere in Naples.  Our sojourn in Naples will find
us in the Santa Lucia district at the Grand Hotel Vesuvio.  It occupies prime waterfront on Santa Lucia Harbor in the Gulf of Naples and lies just across the street from Castel dell'Ovo.  Along with the hotel, the castle, located on a former island (now connected by a causeway with the mainland) where 6th century BC Greek colonists founded the original nucleus of the city, has a colorful history.  We'll have to be careful not to have eggs for breakfast while there.  There is no telling where they may have come from, for legend says that the Roman poet Virgil, who had a reputation for predicting the future, put a magical egg into its foundations.  If the egg were to ever break, the castle would be destroyed and a series of disastrous events would befall Naples, but not if we can help it.
The Grand Hotel Vesuvio, constructed in 1882, has an equally colorful history.  Remodeled many times since, it retains the height of unrivaled luxury and impeccable elegance that made it an important stop for international tourists arriving in Naples for centuries.  It has experienced the ravages of war when in WWII it was destroyed by allied bombardment, only to be rebuilt.  The famous have walked its hallways throughout the years.  Included among its world-renowned celebrities are Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wilde, Grace Kelly, and legendary tenor Enrico Caruso, who along with movie mogul Alfred Hitchcock made the Vesuvio their Neapolitan home.
Today, the Vesuvio has retaken its place among the ranks of prestigious hotels as a member of the "Leading Hotels of the World".  I've poked my nose inside the Vesuvio's lobby as a curious passer-by in the past.  This time as a guest, my special interest will be in its roof-garden restaurant named after Enrico Caruso, since the tenor was once its frequent treasured guest.  I'm sure that sometime during our stay in its old-world opulence, there in the midst of stunning rooftop views of Sorrento, the island of Capri, and Mount Vesuvius, I might get to hear the crackle of a 78 rpm recording of Caruso’s voice originate from an old Victrola record player while enjoying Bucatini alla Caruso (with San Marzano tomatoes of course).  It would certainly be a fitting treat.
The final leg of our cinque stelle odyssey will see us once again race north by rail, this time to Rome, where ancient collides with contemporary.  For a final time we'll steep in formal luxury.  Passing through an ancient looking portal, we'll enter the modern confines of Palazzo  Scanderbeg in
Piazza Scanderbeg, only steps away from the Trevi Fountain.  What better way to conclude our “Grand Tour” then to be able to throw a coin or two into the fountain in hope of return.  This Renaissance palazzo, first built in 1465 as home to a famous Albanian nobleman, skilled general and wily diplomat, has been sympathetically restored into luxurious townhouse rooms and seven grand suites.  One of these suites that will be our Roman home during our stay.  Just a little overboard, we
understand our suite, The Victory Suite, in addition to featuring a balcony, will include the services of our own butler.  That alone should prove interesting.  While we can't expect a Jeeves as we might in the UK, maybe a Maurizio will be at our disposal.  In addition to unique individual arrangements like these, we understand that the suites feature exposed beams, original architectural details, and views over Piazza Scanderbeg.  As with our other temporary stays, all this can lead to distraction and give us pause.  Instead of exploring Rome's sites and streets, for instance, we just may be reckless enough to stay inside, content to bask in contemporary luxury.  
This adventure will certainly be our Grand Tour, albeit scaled down considerably from the Grand Tours by men of means in the 18th century.  A cingue stelle getaway like this most likely will be something we'll never get to experience again.  Frankly, it wouldn’t be possible without Chris’ business acumen and travel connections.  I can't speak for all of our troupe, but after having sampled living in such privilege, by the conclusion of our tour, the bourgeoisie in me will be in danger of having evaporated, a champagne taste developed on a beer budget.  Instead of five stars, the scatter of stars, millions of them, overhead in the clear unpolluted night sky above Calitri, will suffice.  Needless to say, for my part, stuck as I am between expectation and anticipation, this certainly has been a blow my horn brag, a cinque stelle brag.  Am I expecting too much over-the-top stroking, luxury, and subservience?  As I read the hotel descriptors, are they simply the razzle-dazzle of commercial hype?  Need I throttle back on my keen anticipation?  I think is was Goethe who once said something to the effect, “All that has been written is as nothing compare to the reality.”  Like all visions of the future, including weather forecasts, we'll just have to wait and see how things actually work out.  For my part, beyond these braggadocios words, I'll be sure to do my adjective-heavy best to write about it.
Well, I'm off.  Must pack for this upcoming, starry debut of ours, all the while wondering if I'd be better served if I brought along a suit, if not a tuxedo.  

From That Rogue Tourist