Kaffee Klatch

Little of this, little of that...from an avid coffee lover and wanna-be world traveler.

Location: Houston, Texas, United States

Would knit all day if my fanny and my hubby didn't get so sore.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Italy Redux

Looks like Ted is slated to go back to Italy in 2 weeks. There's no way I could go, but maybe I can live vicariously. He can take pictures everywhere he goes and email them to me each night. I want pictures of the car, each meal, the wine bottle he tastes, the gelato & cappucino. Mmmm...I can smell the cappucino now!

He'll want to take my new camera. Is it worth it? Where's the closest gelato shop in Houston? Closer than Italy, I bet. I actually tried to make a pizza the other day like the one we had in Salice Terme (see Torino Part Duo). I forgot the Gorgonzola...not something I generally have in the fridge. Also found out you should add the raddichio after the pizza's already cooked or maybe the last minute of cooking so it doesn't look like shriveled brown worms. Tasted good, but not like the original. Maybe if I made my own crust...yeah right!

Hopefully Mom can come down and visit while he's gone. She misses the kids anyway, and it'll be fun visiting.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Giornali Milano Finito

April 18

Only one more day in Italia. Can't sleep, can't rest, gotta catch a train! Had seen Sandra the previous night in hotel restaurant and she wanted to trek to Milano with me...brave girl! So we took the bus into Voghera and bought tickets. Luckily the train was 10 minutes late.

Sandra wanted to shop a little, so we headed on foot toward the guidebook's suggestion for inexpensive shops. No Gucci or Ferragamo this trip - ha! We walked for a good 20 minutes and window shopped a bit. But as we neared the shops (at least I think we were near), perhaps she thought we had too much walking still to do, so she said let's see the Duomo.

On the way, we strolled by La Scala, where Salieri (Mozart's infamous rival) reigned supreme and composed the inaugural opera. Next we entered the Galleria Vittoria Emmanuele II, a colossal glass roofed shopping arcade (okay we window shopped a bit more). Lunch at McDonalds was really, really crowded! Then we watched all the soccer fans parading with Italian & Spanish flags (I think Madrid won).

Around the corner, the Duomo soared above the city like a huge wedding cake with hundreds of spires and statues piercing the sky. It was truly the most magnificent sight on the entire trip. And the inside was every bit as impressive, like walking through a forest of marbled columns as large as redwoods.

My main goal in Milan was to see the Santa Maria della Grazie and Il Cenacolo or the Last Supper by Leonardo DaVinci. I knew that you had to order tickets in advance, but just felt I had to try. Miracle of miracles, as we were catching our breath from the walk to the tiny church, someone came up and said (in English, no less) that she had extra tickets for the next showing since her tour group had last minute cancelations. WOW!

We didn't even know if we had time to see it, and the tickets were $20 each for a 15 minute viewing! I offered to buy Sandra's ticket, since I felt she was more dubious than I. So 20 minutes later, we walked through the vacuum-sealed foyer into the darkened room and listened to the guide (an extra from being with the tour group) and watched as the lights came on. It was amazing to see something alive that you had seen in photographs, books, and framed posters your entire life. And that a poorly-done fresco (not even properly prepped) in a tiny monastery refectory has received so much attention all these years. All I can say was it was pretty cool to be there.

While we were waiting to go in, I asked about buses or metro to get back the stazione, so we made it easily to the Metro but how to buy tickets? The information desk was extremely helpful and so was the nice Armani-suited businessman who told us which stop to get off. Took us about 8 minutes to return from our 3 hour walk. Next time, I won't listen to those people who said the metro is dangerous. It was so worth it to get somewhere quickly. I didn't feel any less safe than in the Paris metro.

Ted and I had our own cenacolo at the hotel with a glass of champagne followed by a stroll about town. And at 6:30 am, my driver arrived to deposit me at the airport. Such a relaxing end to a hectic (and self-imposed) schedule!

Giornali Milano Part Quattro

April 17
Bone tired this morning. Looking forward to sitting in the car for awhile. Drove straight to Pisa, where all straight driving ended. We could see the tower, see the signs, but couldn't get to it. Finally found tourist parking and walked onto the Field of Miracles, Campo dei Miracoli.

It was absolutely phenomenal. The leaning tower, the cathedral, and the baptistry. And unlike every other tourist attraction, there was plenty of space so you could see these structures from all views, not crowded around by the city. And the leaning tower leans even more than I thought it would!

The cathedral was very tall inside and out, making it airier and roomier than most, but the baptistry was inexplicable. At first I thought everyone was being SO irreverant, talking so loudly in a place of worship. How rude! When I realized it was the acoustics, I told Ted "Wow, I bet a choir would sound amazing in here". After trudging up more narrow stairs, we looked down over the balcony just in time to see someone sneak under the ropes and stand beside the pulpit, and everyone got quiet. She sang the most simple and melodius tune, almost like a monk's chant. And when she finished, she walked away. As she walked, for 5 whole seconds her voice reverberated around the room.

We shopped a little and got the kids some T-shirts. It was 2:30 or so and we were both tired of pizza and sandwiches, which is mostly what they had within walking distance. Ted wouldn't let me stop and McDonalds outside of town. So instead we ate at the AutoGrill on the AutoStrada near La Spezia. Hamburgers on hard rolls and a salade misto (with anchovies!). I bought some interesting cookies and chocolate for a snack later.

Ted refused to stop as we drove past all the picturesque beaches of the Cinque Terra. Finally, we saw the exit for Portofino and he agreed to get off and drive through (he didn't want to get back to the hotel after dark). We drove up, down and around the twisty roads past the beaches and multi-million dollar estates. There was no place to stop, park, or even turn around. Finally there was a turnoff to go down toward Portofino (which we had driven around so far). So we stopped and snapped some photos, since you can't drive into the town anyway, no cars allowed). Then we continued toward Genoa and then north to Salice Terme.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Giornali Firenze Part Tre

April 16

“Full” breakfast at the Ibis just another Continental breakfast, except they had an instant cappucino machine. We decided to stay another night in Florence, since there was still so much to see. The original plan was to drive through the Tuscan countryside and see Sienna, San Gimignano, or Volterra. Guess we’ll catch them next time.

First on the agenda was the Piazza della Signoria where the original David had stood for centuries, as well as many other notable statues. I still don’t get why Michaelangelo’s David is so celebrated. Personally I preferred the larger-than-life Neptune or triumphant Perseus holding Medusa’s head.

The only museum I really wanted to see was the Uffizi, but when we turned the corner and saw the lines filling the outdoor galleria, we decided to buy a coffee-table book from Barnes & Noble in Houston.

It was drizzling by now, but the crowds were multiplying, so we strolled among the vendor stalls toward the famous Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) with its elite, old-world shops clinging to the bridge like barnacles on a ship.

After climbing the long way up and down the hill looking for shortcut (which was definitely not a shortcut), we came to the Palazzo Pitti. This palace was built in Oltrarno (“over the Arno” or the wrong side of the tracks) when Cosimo Medici’s wife, Eleanor, decided the air was healthier there. Soon all the courtiers built their residences nearby as well.

We first toured the special exhibit, “Mytologica e Erotica”. This wasn’t nearly as raunchy as it sounds, although there were a few tiny carved amulets and ivory boxes that were quite risqué. I was so awed by the trompe l’oile, I hardly noticed the art. I truly thought the ceiling was filled with corbels and sconces, but it was all illusion created by shading and perspective.

After touring the Boboli Gardens for an hour and a half (we totally missed all the fabulous grottos), we hiked down the hill and ate a very late lunch on the Ponte Vecchio and strolled back toward the station.

Then, OOPS, we realized the busses stopped running at 1:00 pm on Easter Sunday, so we took a hair-raising cab back to the hotel. Then we popped open a bottle of Chianti I had bought in town and watched German TV in bed while Ted translated.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Giornali Firenze Part Duo

April 15 (Cont'd)
We began so energetically and ended up exhausted! We headed first toward the church of San Lorenzo and the Capella de Medicii, or chapel of the Medicis, which contains several of Michaelangelo's most beautiful sculptures commissioned for the famous family's tombs. We toured the Cathedral which, with an unfinished facade and dark interior, was beautiful but hardly compared to others we saw later. In fact, I can truly say that each cathedral I entered was more beautiful than the last, with the most spectacular being the Duomo in Milan.

We spent 2-3 hours shopping for souvenirs around San Lorenzo, not knowing what would be open on Easter Sunday. We eventually wound around to the Straw Market, and had a very late lunch/dinner at about 4:00 in an outdoor restaurante in the piazza. A couple of beers, salads, and a shared pizza really hit the spot.

Rested and replete, we walked the 6 blocks or so to the Duomo, which became more amazing the closer we got. At a distance, it looks as if it's punctuated with windows with black painted sills. A little closer and you see it is dark green rectagles against the white Carrera marble. Closer still, you see veining & realize it's actually green marble with pink marble accents.

Next we toured the octagonal baptistry across the street. It is particularly reknown for its bronze sculptured doors, the most fabulous by Lorenzo Ghiberti and nicknamed the "Gates of Paradise" by Michaelangelo. The dome inside is covered with mosaics of angels, saints, and demons, and a large image of Jesus dominating all. A vivid image of Satan devouring humans might shock a few backsliders back onto the straight and narrow.

Then Ted decided we should climb Giotto's campanile (bell tower) and get a nice view of the city. Since the tower closed at 6:00, we didn't have time to "catch our breath" much on the ascent. 440-something steps to the top! But the awesome view was very much worth the wheezing.

After that we were done for. Ted had some gelato and I drank about a gallon of water, then headed back to the hotel.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Giornali Firenze Part Uno

April 15
After being warned not to drive in Florence, we had no choice since the train tickets were sold out. But we felt lucky (plus we had “Genie” the GPS lady), so we took off after an early breakfast. The drive down was beautiful, even on the Autostrada. We went through Parma, Reggia, and Bologna (nice sandwich, huh?). The closer we got to Bologna, the more pastoral the landscape became. Little farmhouses nestled halfway up the hill, villages snug up against a mountain stream, a country chapel dominating over all.

As we got into Florence, we quickly realized our mistake. Genie the GPS led us straight to the hotel (okay there were a few wrong turns, but she got us back on track). I had picked this hotel specifically for two reasons…the terrazzo overlooking the city and onsite garage. But Easter weekend traffic was so bad that Ted wouldn’t let me get out to ask how to find the garage, afraid he’d never find me again. So we thought we’d park at the stazione and carry our bags…but the sign at the stazione garage said “Complete” and they weren’t letting cars in.

After much discussion, we let the reservation go and drove out to the airport, where I had researched some hotels before leaving. This is where Genie the GPS led us astray. The thing about computers is they keep doing the same thing even if it doesn’t work the first time, or the second, or the third. And Genie couldn’t see the sign that must’ve said “road closed” in Italian.

Finally we got to the Ibis hotel around 1:00 pm and checked in. The nice lady at the desk agreed to phone the other hotel to see if they would refund our money, but no luck. To be honest, I missed the Hotel Derby terrazo (right) more than the money!

So we dropped our bags & hopped the bus into town for our first full day together in Italy.

Giornali Torino Part Duo

After lunch, my feet were too sore to walk much further, so I headed back toward the stazione. Shortly after entering the outdoor shopping galeria, a very nice-looking boy (maybe 25 years old) started talking to me in Italian. "No parlo Italiano". He said "Oh, Americano!", and then keeps talking...in Italian! Again, "No parlo Italiano"! Instead of leaving me alone, he told me his name and asked mine. Since I wouldn't answer, he starts guessing..."Maria? Natalie? Angela?..." Meanwhile, I'm trying to ignore him and walking faster, looking over my shoulder. I was watching out for a co-conspirator trying to pick my pocket.

So he's talking to me for about 5 minutes and finally he asks me a question. No idea what it was but he says "blah blah blah, SI?". So I said "NO!" Finally he said "Ok, ciao bella" and gave up on whatever his intention was. Who knew a 40-yr-old with no make-up, sore feet, and frizzy hair could attract a virile, handsome, 20-something Italian man! I felt like I was Frances Mayes in "Under the Tuscan Sun". I was a bit smug the rest of the trip!

Adam & Eve at the entrance to Via Roma at the train station in Torino.

Practically crawled the rest of the way to the train station about 1 1/2 hours before departure. Luckily the train was already there. I wandered through some shops and bought my first Coke Light - Heaven!!!

An elderly lady sat across from me on the train reading the paper, while a family of 10 on a weekend getaway sat behind me. The whole way to Voghera, they had the window open and everyone in the back was getting wind-blown and very annoyed. And one little boy was squealing and jumping on the seat while his mother chastised him, "Chito! Comportamenti bene!" or something like that..."Be good" Of course, Chito ignored her.

The lady across from me and I exchanged looks of aggravation every few minutes and sighed. She was primly dressed and proper, (but even she answered the phone "Pronto"). She had tried to strike up a conversation earlier and found I didn't "parlo". At her stop I surprised her by wishing her a "Buona Pasqua", Happy Easter. Thank you James for the language tapes!

For dinner, Ted and I ate at the Pizzeria 2 blocks down in the center of Salice Terme. Best pizza we had the entire trip! A nice, thin crust with chicken, Gorgonzola, asparagus tips, raddiccio, and mozzarella. The ensalata misto (mixed salad) was a tasty blend of bitter greens. Italians only use oil and vinegar for dressing, so by the end of the trip I couldn't wait to have a Ranch, honey mustard, or even a Caeser!

I really don't know how Italians stay in such good shape. The waitress thought we were nuts when we ordered uno pizza por duo persone. Everywhere we went, the Italians ate twice as much as we did, yet they were all thin and tone. Must be all the walking...I know I lost 3 pounds on the trip! "La Dolce Vita"!