Thursday, October 29, 2015
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” ~ GK Chesterton
I've been a little under the weather for the past few days–well, almost a week. In addition, BLVDS has been in proof stage, and I've been working on that when I could keep my head clear enough to think. (No comments from anyone about that, please.) So, I did want you to know that the spirit was there, but the energy was not.
That said, I've been accruing stories.... Believe me. I have been accruing stories. True stories. When you travel with me, you have adventures, and there has been no shortage on this trip. Please allow me to give you just a taste until I can get to the real blog in the next few days.
INTERNET is always a problem when we travel, and this trip has not been any different. While Bologna was pretty steady in that department, Vernazza is not, and we are suffering without a good connection. Luckily, I bought an Italian sim card for my iPad, and I can get at least a little internet at times.
VENICE, as you may remember, is not one of my favorite cities for a number of reasons. Well, we can add at least three more to that list, and I'll explain those in detail soon. Let's just say it all comes down to the fact that I'm not wild about crowds of idiots, pidgeons, and cold.
Speaking of cold, we are currently in the Cinque Terre area. Our TRIP & ARRIVAL yesterday in the middle of a cold rain that soon turned to a complete downpour left us soggy and quite a bit put out. It
And, speaking of being put out, should I tell you about the BANK incident? Or about how we keep LOSING WAITERS?
And, there are the THREE WOMEN from Galveston (that's in Texas, you know). If there is a reason Americans have a bad reputation around the world, those three women would be at the top of the list.
Things always do work out. And if they didn't, I'm not so sure I'd like the adventure.
See you in Venice soon....
PHOTOS: Top-Vernazza an hour after our arrival Bottom- Monterosso al Mare today
Saturday, October 24, 2015
|Facade of Milan Cathedral|
“The world is my church."
― Steve Maraboli
The last few days in Florence and Milan have been so busy that I've been too tired to write anything. My apologies. I do, however, want to touch on something briefly tonight before I head to bed: religion.
Italy, as you probably know, is full of Catholic churches. Turn a corner, see a church. My grandmother's village (600+ residents) has five that I know of. Castrovalva, a tiny town of about 20 permanent residents, has three or four. Don't even ask me about a city like Bologna or Milan or Rome. As I said, turn a corner, see a church.
But, here's the question that really bothers me: Do we really need the huge basilicas and cathedrals to worship properly? OF COURSE NOT. It's actually pretty disgusting, if you think of it, of how much time and money have gone into these places from their inception to today. Let's look, for example, at the duomo in Milan.
Built in the Lombard Gothic style, the duomo took 582 years to complete. It is the fifth largest church in the world, second largest church in Italy, and second largest Gothic-style cathedral in the world. It actually sits on the site of older churches that date back to 350 AD.
|Side of Milan Cathedral|
What strikes me most about all of this is the waste of money. Let me be fair and say that it's not only the Catholic Church, either. I've been in plenty of large, ornate Protestant and Jewish houses of worship, so I bring this up only because I've been in the Florence and Milan duomos this week.
Where are our priorities?
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
― Neil Gaiman
When I was a kid, my Aunt Vera (one of my mom's sisters) used to make spaghetti every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Many weeks, she also made it on Saturday. On many days that she didnt' serve pasta, she served peas in tomato sauce. I'm sure a lot of you who never had it gagged at the thought, but I have to tell you I loved those peas and sauce.
The interesting thing was that, of all my mom's sisters, Aunt Vera was the only one who made peas in sauce. I never gave it any thought until tonight when le group and I headed to dinner at La Fontana, a Bolognese restaurant close to the apartments. Smack dab in the entree section of the menu was polpette in sugo con piselli—meatballs in sauce with peas.
As I was thinking about Aunt Vera and this dish, something hit me. Aunt Vera was married to Joe Villani, and I think I've figured out that Uncle Joe's family originated in the Emilia-Romagna region. First, the Villani name is an old one in the area. Several pastas and other dishes Aunt Vera cooked that her sisters and sisters-in-law did not cook are from this area...including the piselli in sugo.
So, I ordered it. I didn't ask, but I'm guessing that everyone thought I was a little crazy, but it was so good. So good. Of course, I think most things covered with tomato sauce are good.... except maybe donuts.
Definitely not donuts.....
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
|The Italian stand-off|
― David Milch
If I have one purpose in coming to Italy, I think it's to make God laugh. I make plans for my groups to do something, and we usually have the opportunity to experience some grand hiccup in a few of the plans. I figure God is having slow days and needs something to brighten them up.
Now that Group #3 has been here a few days, we decided to take a short train ride to Faenza, home of the International Museum of Ceramic Art. Before you laugh at that, let me tell you that it is a phenomenal museum and worth the trip to see it. First, however, we had to get there, and to get there we needed to take the bus to the train station and head out on the 10:35 east to Ancona (with stops all over the place).
We got to the bus stop around 9:50 about two minutes after the #11 passed by. Since #11 buses stop every seven minutes, I wasn't concerned. The next bus was due to come by in five minutes, so, we were safe. The #19 stopped, as did the #14. Even a #23 came by. The seven minutes grew to ten, then twelve.
Suddenly, we noticed a stand-off blocking traffic down the street from us (Photo above). A woman wanted to park in a space, and a man was guarding it for a car or truck that was not in sight. The woman honked, and the man turned his head. The woman inched forward, and the man just stood there. She honked; he glared. They yelled at each other. She shook her fist. He turned his head. The cars she was blocking honked at her, and she inched forward again. He didn't move.
|Piazza del Popolo where they hold the weekly market on Tuesdays....until 1:30|
I was concerned because it was, at this point, 10:07, and that was the last bus we could catch that would get us to the train station in time for the 10:35 train. Cars started going around the woman, snarling traffic now in both directions for a few minutes. Still no bus #11. Two #19s came by within a minute of each other, as did a #14. A woman who had been standing there when we walked up asked me where the bus was. I had no idea, of course. When a second #14 pulled up, she asked the driver, and he shrugged his shoulders and shut the bus door.
Meanwhile, the lady driver and the man were still caught in a stand-off over the parking space although the woman finally backed across the street and double-parked. She opened her window and yelled something at the guy who ignored her yet again. Finally a small truck approached, put its blinker on, and the man moved out of the way. The truck started to move to back into the space, and the lady started to pull her car across the street again. The truck won that race handily, and the lady backed up again and roared off as she shook her fist.
We had, at this point, been standing there more than 30 minutes when a #11 bus finally got through. Unfortunately, it was packed to the rafters with people, and the only way we were going to get on was to ride on the outside of the bus. We decided to walk to the train station to catch the 11:35 train.
|Snagglepuss snarled at me while I took his photo.|
Fast-forward about 10 minutes and six blocks, and we saw a bus #11 heading in our direction. The next bus stop was two blocks in front of us, but the bus was stuck in yet another traffic jam of some sort. We started to power-walk toward the stop. Two perfectly timed red lights and heavy traffic slowed #11 down enough that we actually made it and hopped on the bus. Unfortunately, the bus was quite full, so we were squished in there with two thousand other people, one of whom resembled Anthony Hopkins's character in "Silence of the Lambs." I looked to make sure he didn't have fava beans and chianti on his lap.
When we reached the stop where we had to get off to walk to the train station, two bus officials decided to start checking everyone's bus tickets. Of course, they stood right in the aisle and blocked the exit. (On Italian buses, one enters either in the front or back and leaves from the middle.) I had to push my way off. Twyla jumped out of the back door, and Ron and Kerri got swallowed up in a mix of young kids, mothers, the ticket checkers, and old ladies who refused to move. I ran to the back door, but people had climbed on, so Ron and Kerri could go neither forward nor backward.
The exit doors closed as the bus prepared to take off WITH Ron and Kerri still in limbo. Far be it from me to get hysterical (NO LAUGHING!), but I pounded on the doors. The driver didn't open them. Somehow, Kerri made one last push, and the two of them were able to get past the ticket guys and two little old ladies who didn't want to move.
"I was ready to push that lady over," Ron said.
"You looked panicked," Kerri said to me.
"I'm done with buses," Ron added.
"It was pretty funny," Twyla laughed.
I started breathing again.
|A busy street in Faenza|
I walked to the ticket counter and asked how much tickets cost.
"We just closed," the woman rudely told me.
"We closed at 1:30 today," she snapped again.
"The website said you're open all day," I pleaded trying not to beat my head on the counter.
"We closed at 1:30." She turned to talk to someone else.
|Twyla reading a great magazine in Piazza del Popolo|
"No, we went there. They told me it closed at 1:30 today," I advised her.
"Who told you? It's open all day." She showed me the pamphlet for the museum with hours clearly stating it is open 10:00-17:00.
"I know what it says," I told her, "but the rude woman at the desk told me they closed at 1:30 today."
She called the museum and talked to someone for a few minutes. "You're right. They closed at 1:30 today because there was a problem." Of course I was right. The brutish woman basically threw us out. "You must come back tomorrow," the ceramist continued. "The museum is wonderful."
Fat chance of that happening. Tomorrow we head to Florence. Besides, Faenza is now on my blacklist.
Monday, October 19, 2015
song above hoarded gold, it would be a
merrier world." ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
Cox Cable has been running the most annoying commercial to advertise their fast internet speed; taken from the Broadway musical, Oliver!, the song is "Food, Glorious Food," and what the heck it and 3-D printed food has to do with anything Cox-related is beyond me. I'm just grateful that for the next two weeks, I won't have to listen to the stupid thing as I want to throw my computer through the television every time I hear it starting to play. (And, because I brought it up, I'm going to be singing that stupid song in my head all night.)
At any rate, as much as I despise that commercial, I love food. And as much as I love food, I'm a pretty picky eater in some ways. Unlike my father (who never met anything edible that he didn't like), there are certain things that I just can't swallow—literally. As such, I do tend to miss out on a few things that I just might enjoy eating.
If you know me or have read this blog for some time, you might know that I won't eat fish. I do eat shellfish (as long as said shellfish is not staring back from the plate), but I usually eat only the shellfish I know—shrimp, crab, lobster (NO FACE), clams (only in soup or sauce), and scallops. As such, I have not had oysters, crayfish, marlin, salmon, tuna, mussels, or the like.
Actually, that all changed the other day. My good friends, Cesar and Lilli, took me to Gardenia, a Sicilian restaurant, for dinner. Cesar ordered cozze and arrancini (top two photos in respective order), two things that I had never eaten. I was a bit nervous when the waitress brought out two bowls of cozze because, quite frankly, I was afraid I'd lose my nerve (or lunch) when I ate one. (Cozze are Mediterranean mussels.)
"Do you like cozze?" Cesar asked me as he opened one and ate it. I hesitated.
"I've never eaten one," I probably mumbled. Both he and Lilli were shocked.
"You never ate one?" he exclaimed. I shook my head; they both showed me how to open the shell and slurp it down. I took one, opened it, counted to three in my head, and slurped it down. I not only survived, I liked the cozze and ate a few more.
The arrancini, or rice ball, was absolutely phenomenal. Named for the orange (arrancia) because of their size, shape, and color, arrancini are more of a southern Italian dish. They apparently surfaced in Sicily in the 10th century, but lately, they have become a fast food fad all over Italy. If you don't know, arrancini are stuffed rice balls that are coated with breadcrumbs and fried. The filling can contain meat sauce, ground meat, fresh mozzarella, peas, or any combination of them. The one we had was ground beef and peas.
|Pollo a la brace with salad|
"Do you think you'll have mussels again?" Mike asked me when I told him I'd enjoyed the ones we had the other night.
"I might," I informed him, " because they're just big clams, I think. I can tell you, though, that I won't turn down any arrancini that find their way to my plate."
And I hope some find their way to my plate again pretty soon.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
"A kod komse uvek pun frizider svega, Mortadela i Nutela..."
(And in Komsi, I always have a refrigerator full of Mortadella and Nutella..."
~ Cigo, the Croation One-man Band
i mentioned yesterday that there was a wonderful gathering in Piazza Maggiore raising money to plant fields of grain to help ease hunger in Tanzania, but that right around the corner, there was something that was completely different (Not that there's anything wrong with that).
You 've probably guessed by the photos that I stumbled upon a festival honoring the humble, pink sausage otherwise known as mortadella.
Perhaps it is just me, but I found it hilarious that one group was trying to raise money to plant grain for starving African children, while another was handing out pounds and pounds of the precursor to Bolgona (or baloney) just around the corner. Guess which group had more visitors.
As a side note, mortadella is the ancestor to American bologna (named as such because of the city where mortadella got its start). The taste of American bologna, while similar to mortadella, is a lot more salty and stronger. Mortadella is much more delicate in flavor, and as such, should not sit in the refrigerator too long after you cut it. It should not be too thick. Most Italians cut it paper-thin.
"This chardonnay has a butter flavor and cream-like texture which is reminiscent of a spoonful of mayonnaise." OR... "The massive and opulent taste of this merlot pairs nicely with a sausage of the same, large proportions." OR!! "The unctuous (oily) taste of this famous red is reminiscent of the blobs of fat in the mortadella."
here. He's actually very entertaining....and he likes Nutella. I won't hold the mortadella thing against him.
Domani: I try cozze and arrancini for the first time.....
Saturday, October 17, 2015
"...is there anywhere in the world as full of beauty as Italy?”
― Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera
― Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera
If you follow or know me at all, you know that there are very few places that I'd rather be than Italy. I love it to a fault, and that will never change, I'm afraid. It makes me so happy to be here and to be able to share its beauty and wonder with others.
After I arrived the other day, I said hello to Lilli at the bar, walked to the mercato to grab a few items, and lay down to rest a few minutes. I woke up about four hours later (7:30 pm), took my medicine, and went back to bed. Somewhere around 11:30 yesterday morning, I finally got out of bed. After I got ready, I had my cappucino with Lilli and then walked around town for a few hours. I was thrilled to see the Due Torre were still in the same place, but I figured since they've been there for hundreds of years, that wasn't going to change any time soon.
I walked back through the piazza and noticed that all of the plates were laid out and upside down (below). The whole thing intrigued me, and I figured it had something to do with hunger since I saw people wearing jackets that had sayings about fighting hunger.
As I rounded the top of the piazza, I noticed boxes (below) that asked, "Where will you be October 17? World Day of Power.... Fight Hunger in Kilolo with Us." The sign goes on to urge people to choose a plate and plant a field of grain fighting against hunger in Africa.
Kilolo, as I found out once I got home and googled it, is a town in Tanzania. From what I could tell, it is a dichotomy—a resort for the rich and famous, yet a neglected area for those in need. Hunger is rampant among its natives.
I walked back later in the afternoon and noticed that many of the plates were now right-side up, and balloons held down by seed packets adorned them. As I watched, more and more people (and their children) turned over a plate and put balloons and seed packets on them. (Plant a field of grain....Get it?) At the same time, a guy with a mic kept thanking everyone for fighting hunger in Africa.
By the way, the word for hunger in Italian is "fame" (fah-may). It's Latin root is the same as famished in English. (I'm geeking out on you here...)
Friday, October 16, 2015
“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
~ JK Rowling
Let me be honest from the onset: I love to travel (I bet you didn't know that.), and a lot of my whining is just getting the little agitations off my chest. To tell the truth, life would be quite boring if everything were perfect, wouldn't it?
As you might remember, this week, Aer Lingus upgraded me to business class for the overseas portion of the trip. It didn't come without cost, but the cost was minimal, and I was more than willing to pay it since my body is still recovering from my fall last week. All I could think of was the fact that I could stretch out and lie flat during the overseas portion of the flight.
Mike was a bit more concerned with what I was going to eat. In addition to the new 7:10 AM departure time, I also am still having a problem chewing. Mike packed me a few mini donuts that I could gum, but he was worried that I wouldn't find anything during the stopover in Chicago.
Well, enter the perks of business class with Aer Lingus! Included was the business class lounge (for several airlines) and a "help yourself to anything you want" allowance. Included were a bar full of breakfast items (that included hot soup) and coffee, cappuccino, latte, and espresso; two refrigerators stocked with drinks (soft, white wine, and beer), sandwiches, salads, yogurt, pudding, cheeses; a bar stocked with about 20 liquors, wine, ice, cheese, crackers, peanuts, and more; and magazines and newspapers from around the globe. Wifi was free, too, and the seats were comfortable.
(Note to myself for the next trip anywhere: Use the wheeled backpack and save your shoulders, arms, back, and neck.)
At any rate, being in the lounge was great for several reasons, not the least of which was people watching. If you look at the photo below, you'll see an older woman on the left, and a gal in blue shirt getting something out of the cabinet. They're both concierges in the lounge, and I swear that if someone took one pack of cookies or peanuts from a bowl, they immediately replaced it. There was another person who stocked the refrigerators, and when someone took a beer or sandwich, he immediately put another one in its place. When a passenger put dirty cups or dishes in the bin, one of the concierges grabbed them and took them away within two or three minutes.
The seats alone (with the Bailey's, of course) made the whole thing worth it for me. Apparently, Chicago O'Hare hasn't figured out that their long-haul overseas flights are pretty booked, and there are not many seats at the gate. When the people in the lounge announced that our flight was boarding, we walked to the gate and found about 100 other passengers sitting on the floor or standing against the wall since there weren't enough seats for them to sit on.
The business class seats on Aer Lingus are a little different than on British Airways, the only other plane on which I've flown business. My pod (above) had a side table (You can see my computer and other crap on it.), a storage compartment, a pull-down table, a TV screen (See photo below of seats across from me.), and a seat that not only reclines fully but also has massage capability. The blanket that they give you is actually a comforter, and the pillow is larger than the normal airline pillow.
As soon as we boarded, the flight attendants took our jackets, hung them up, and brought us champagne, dinner menu, and a wifi code. After we took off, they did bar service—anything we wanted, so I took more champagne—and gave us sushi which I didn't want. Aer Lingus touts its business class dining saying that its chefs are world-reknown and the great food comes to us on trays covered with linen and on "real china." The three entree choices that we had were beef stew braised in Irish whiskey with peppers and potatoes, cider-braised chicken with rice and peas, and salmon with something or other. Gumming chicken is easier than gumming beef, and fish doesn't pass my lips, so chicken it was.
Looks tasty, doesn't it? (See photo below.) No offense, but when the flight attendant put it in front of me, I thought Riley had been in the Aer Lingus kitchen and given them what he'd had for supper the night before. The stew, which the guy across from me had, looked like a huge hunk of molten dark chocolate on chunks of something (You thought I was going to say something else, didn't you? Admit it.). I think I got the better deal. I closed my eyes and took a bite of mine, and it wasn't as bad as it looked. I probably enjoyed the rice and peas the most since I couldn't eat the salad.
If there is one thing I can complain about, it's Aer Lingus's lack of video offerings. I think that, in total, they had about 40 movies (all pretty old ones) and some TV stuff. Air Emirates, which I flew in May and July, has more than 2000 selections in coach. During dinner, I watched the Bourne Supremacy for, as Mike laughed, the 100th time, and then went to sleep.
The flight over the Atlantic was only about seven hours, and I'm not sure how much I really slept, but when I woke up, it was already close to 3:30 AM in Ireland. They gave us a breakfast snack and coffee (again on real china and linen), and as they cleared service, the coast of Ireland came into view (below).
Dublin Airport is a charming little place (compared to Las Vegas, Chicago, JFK, Heathrow), and the connection and all were easy. What amazed me was the fact that every restaurant and shop that I passed on my way from one terminal to the next was open. Open at 4:30 in the morning.
"They're not mine," I assured him.
"Are you sure? They're right where you are," he continued.
I stink-eyed him, opened the zipper on my purse, and flashed my passport at him. "I'm quite sure," I said and softened. "Thanks for your concern."
As I walked to my gate (305A), I noticed an older woman following me. She was quite confused. There are three gates at 305—the main one, and gates A and B. The main one is upstairs, and A and B are down two flights of stairs. The little lady hauled her baggage down the steps and into the A waiting room after me.
"Is this the gate for Naples?" she (American) asked me and the other woman (Irish) in there.
"No," we both said. "Milan."
"Are you sure?" the lady asked. "I'm sure my gate is 305A. That's what the sign said."
"This is the gate for Milan," the Irish lady said.
"I'm sure it said Naples was here," the American woman said as she started to open her purse.
"I think you read the wrong line," I said. "Milan was just above Naples. If you want to go upstairs and check, I'll watch your luggage." American woman was pulling everything out of her purse at this point.
"Oh, my GOD," she screamed. "I lost my passport and boarding pass." She was frantic.
"Did you go into a little store down the main hall?" I asked her. She nodded while she tore through her now-empty purse. "It's still there on the counter," I told her.
She stuffed everything in her purse haphazardly and hurried back up the stairs, dragging the luggage up a stair at a time while she swore loudly. The Irish lady shook her head. I shrugged my shoulders.
And I silently thanked heaven that I was awake enough to not have done the same thing.
Tomorrow: Back in Italy