Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reaping My Reward!

Those of you who have been faithful readers of this blog will remember that I studied for over a year and a half to pass the dreadful Italian Driver Exam.  I truly believe that it was the hardest one thing I have ever had to finish in my life as I struggled to learn the level of Italian language used in the test and I finally managed to understand the tricky logical questions in the 40 question test.  (You can only miss 4)

Photo shot from autostrada
This weekend I received part of my reward for passing the test by driving up to visit Germany and Austria and enjoy the towns of Berchtesgaden and Salzburg. The weatherman did his best to produce weather quite unlike spring, but we did our best to remain positive throughout the weekend.  

The first day we drove from Padova to Villach, Austria, leaving right from where my wife is employed.  We passed hundreds of small farms and many small towns of northern Italy, and soon we saw  the start of the Alps where the autostrada cuts through a pass surrounded by craggy snow covered peaks of  Austria.  This part of the drive is very picturesque no matter what time of year it is.  

Reaching Villach we used the navigator to find our bed and breakfast located under the big castle, Burg Landscron.  (We use booking.com to find reasonably priced places of which  Orbitz has no knowledge.)  Our first Austrian dinner was nothing special, but was a good beginning to Austrian/German cuisine.  We also took a short drive on the north side of the lake, Ossiacher See, but it was difficult to get to the lake because all the property has been bought up, fenced off and made into residences.  This is typical of many lakes in Austria and Germany.  I felt like I was back in California!

While waiting for dinner I could hear the chef pounding out my schnitzel attesting to the fact that it would not be out of the box but the real thing.  Schnitzel is a tasty item that you should not miss if you visit Germany.  

The second day we drove about 3 hours on the A10 to Berchtesgaden. The weather began to worsen on the other side of a longest tunnel, several kilometers long.  One thing outstanding between Italy and Austria are the tunnels dug through the Alps.  You can really appreciate the engineering skills in these modern structures.  Between the tunnels there are only a few towns, but there are many beautiful scenes of farm houses perched on the side of the mountains.   

To use Austrian Autobahns you must buy a permit that you place on your front windshield which costs 8.80 euros and covers 10 days .  There was also a surprising additional 11.50 euro charge on a part of the autobahn about halfway to Berchtesgaden. .

Every time we exited one of the numerous tunnels the rain became more intense but finally we dropped down into the valley where we could see Berchtesgaden perched on the side of the mountain.  For some reason, after reading several accounts written by WWII  soldiers who were in Berchtesgaden at the end of the war, I thought the town was situated on a much flatter landscape.  Now I understand how a large number of inebriated US soldiers were killed in automobile accidents on the hillside.  (They had “liberated” all the German vehicles in the town and also “liberated” the huge collections of wines and barrels of beer found in the homes of the highest Nazi officials, including Hitler.)  There was a lot of celebrating the end of the war, and nothing else to do.  Later the commanders decided that army life should return and the men were assigned physical training and tasks to keep them out of trouble.  

Parking near the large church we began walking through the town, enjoying the murals on the front of buildings, and viewing the shop windows.   The town had lost its little village atmosphere being much larger, but its picturesque quality is remained.   A beer wagon pulled by two horses and loaded with beer barrels (probably empty props) passed us and we later found it being used as a tourist prop parked near a popular beer garden.  This beer garden with a large seating area was overflowing with local folks, many in lederhosen and peasant dresses enjoying a break in the weather while drinking a liter of beer in their grey pottery steins.  
History of the town in a typical mural

After our walk we settled on the indoor seating of a restaurant called Bier Brian passing up the impending rain storm looming over the lake.  The clouds were so low that we could not see the surrounding mountain peaks.  Luckily later, the sun pushed the clouds away for a short time and we could see amazing views of craggy snow covered peaks.  Truly this place is amazing.  It is no wonder the Hitler chose this place for his mountain retreat.   We did not go to Eagle’s Nest due to the bad weather….
Cold slices of dumpling in beer vinegar

The town is near a lake called Konigsee, (King’s Sea) and it can only be reached on the lower end of the lake.   There is no road around the lake.  A summer boat offers a ride to the other end, and I saw that the “family card” cost was 43.00 euros.  I guess you have to really want to see what is at the other end!  Instead, we tried a small highly recommended restaurant located across a wooden bridge.  Of all the places where we ate during the three days, this was my number one choice. 
Pathway to good food!
 The menu had a lot of choices and the atmosphere inside was unique.  Old skis, firearms, farm implements and stuffed birds were found throughout the dining areas.  There were two large windows to the kitchen and we made friends with the 5 men knocking out plates of great food.   We found out that if you call in early, you can order cheese fondue.

In Salzburg we took the tram up to Hohensalzburg, a fortress built on a high hill overlooking the city.  Near the tram is a plaza where they were holding a Spring celebration with a beer fest.  Stalls were open where they were selling food, souvenirs and crafts.  An eye catcher was the pretzel booth, where they offered pretzels covered with many different flavorings.  There were even pizza flavored pretzels as well as chocolate.  I made a short video to show all the types of pretzels available.  click twice slowly to see the video. sorry the video seems to not be compatible with ipad.

Suddenly we heard a drum coming from a white beer tent and out marched residents dressed in army costumes from the past.  Women were dressed in Bavarian  peasant dresses.   click twice to see the video below. Not compatible with ipad, sorry.....

Led by a grey haired old fellow with a silver moustache he commanded them where to line up.  They then went through a sort of order arms complete with flag waving and lance/flag movements.  They weren’t very practiced which made it more real.   With each movement the old commandant ordered the drum to play a rhythm.  At the end he shook hands with a person in a long caped coat who appeared to be a representative of the Salzburg mayor.   Then he ordered everyone to break and go in and have a cold stein of beer.  Not one to disobey I followed the crowd and soon discovered the old guy  selling beer in his quaint costume.   

Venison Gulash (German spelling) and spaetzle

Some other foods we tried during our stay were these.

Gulash, pictured here.
Potato Salad
Cabbage Salad
Asparagus Soup
Garlic Soup (personal favorite)
personal favorite, garlic soup 

We managed to stay clear of these deadly German creations to die for!  And that was very hard to accomplish.

The weatherman did his best to make the day white, such fun to drive in snow!  Cars came through Berchtesgaden showing 8 inches of snow on top, and I began to regret choosing Germany in April.  We did drive through a snowstorm to get to the autostrada and as we reached higher elevations it became worse.  Luckily it was not sticking on the ground.  By the time we were back down to Villach the sun appeared and made us break out the sunglasses.  

We have plans for another drive back to Austria and visit Vienna, but only when it won’t be snowing.

One last look at the view from the fortress above Mozart's Birthplace, Salzburg.

City of the Sound of Music 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Going On Strike In italy

Yesterday in Padova I participated in a strike (sciopero) which was called  and organized by several unions that represent workers in factories.  They carried flags and banners and marched at the largest and most busy roundabout where they stopped traffic. It was a very peaceful demonstration and was reported in the newspaper and on television as such.

Patient Listeners
These three men were from my wife’s factory.  They are patient with my use of Italian and also speak English to help me understand what the strike was about.
They belong to the union with the red flags CGIL.  Previously all the strikers had massed around a truck with  a speaker system and heard speeches from the various union leaders.  i tried to listen but it was difficult with all the talking in the crowd.  (This is an Italian way...)Also  hearing Italian  is most difficult.  They speak with the velocity of a machine gun and the Veneto accent does not make it easy to hear the consonants.

There is a state wide contract (Italy) that is being renewed.  The workers are concerned that they are being offered a bad contract because there will be no raises for four years.  They have  worked hard since the 70’s for worker rights and this year some of those rights will be taken away.  If the owners of the factories have their way workers who are older will be fired without reason and replaced by younger workers at greatly reduced salaries.  A person just a few years from retirement,who loses  employment would find his retirement pay lowered because he did not find new employment that paid the same yearly amount.

Each union had its own banner
Strikes in Italy are quite different that strikes in the United States.  Here they last only one day.  They do not try to encourage workers to enter the workplace, by force or other means.  In  fact, the strike demonstration occurs far from the industrial area, taking place in the center of the city.  The strike yesterday was also held at the same time throughout Italy.  It is a show of strength against a government that favors wealth, factory owners and has in the past few years reduced worker rights in the name of economy.  From what I have seen, the rights lost had nothing to do with economy.  The leaders of France, Germany and Italy have been trying to take away labor policies that favored the workers.
Each union has its own color for a flag
There are many factories in Italy which have 50 employees or less. Having less than 50 workers a factory receives a special tax break.  The great majority of the workers in the strike were male, I saw only a few females marching.  In the factories there are few females,  and worse, in my wife’s office she is the only female union member.  

More Security 
One of the disputes the unions have with the factory owners/government is that recently a law was passed which gives a huge tax break to factories hiring a person right out of the university and employing them for 6 months.  At the end of 6 months the tax break is lost, so the factories end up letting this person go and hiring a new person to acquire a new tax break.  My wife’s factory is a prime example, hiring numerous people and firing them even when they perform in an excellent manner.  Clearly, it is all about money and no concern about the person.  

The workers despair that in Italy there are  too many political parties and this reduces their voice to get things done in  government.  It appears that the same factor occurs with too many unions.  (In a recent election I saw at least 10 political parties represented on a poster in my city hall.  No wonder nothing gets done!)  
Italians don't seem to have the ability to call their representative in government and complain.  I never hear of anyone doing that here.   Elected officials seem further away from the general population.

The police were there to direct traffic away from the march of protesters.  I heard some of the strikers joking with the policeman that they were going to steal his motorbike.  
There aren't many traffic police in Italy.  They don't drive around and try to catch speeders, or stop bad drivers in hopes  to catch criminals like in America.  Italians in the north are pretty good drivers, except for one  thing......Italians go through stop signs all the time!  
(Only in the driving test! hahaha, do you stop at a sign.)  Read my previous blogs on this!
By the way, this  policeman does not have a pistol.

Don't mess with this guy!
Their were other forces out to make sure the  marchers behaved and there would be no trouble.  This fellow looked tough and not happy to be there.  When I looked at him, he stared back angrily.   He does carry a weapon,but with his attitude I don't think he would need it.    Besides, he had nothing to worry about as what I observed it was the most peaceful demonstration I have ever seen.  All the strikers talked amongst themselves and walked slowly through the street.  I did not see anyone raising their voice, calling out slogans, or even looking angry.   I think that most of them went to lunch and talked over the latest soccer match with a prosecco in hand.

                                        Maybe this is the Italian way……..

Monday, April 18, 2016

Finding Mussolini

                                                    The Touch of Mussolini
                                          Battle Memorial Fogliano Redipuglia 

Between Venezia and Trieste is an important memorial dedicated to the men of the Italian army who fought in World War I.  If you ask an Italian a question using the words “World War I”, they won’t know what you are talking about.  They call this the “Grande Guerra”, or great war.   Every village and town in Italy has a large plaque or memorial that has the names of the men who lost their lives in The Great War.  The names listed in my village shows that some families lost 3 or 4 men.

Carefully looking on the north side of the autostrada towards Trieste you will see a large cement structure as you drive by, but it is really better to exit off Via Terza Armata, near A4 Highway and take advantage of  a free visit.  The monument was ordered by Mussolini to be built in1938  and contains the bodies of 39,857 identified Italian soldiers, with  69,330 unidentified. Another cemetery close by  has 14,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers.  The structure was also built to memorialise the Battle of Caporetto, a huge defeat where over 11.000 Italians were killed, 265,000 captured and 20,000 wounded.  

View from parking lot
Two famous people were involved in the war here.  The first was Ernest Hemmingway drove an ambulance for the Italians, while the second on the other side  was Erwin Rommel, then  a junior officer.  The last battle at the end of the war was called the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, and it brought an end to Italy’s war with the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It’s quite a hike but you are permitted to climb to the top of the monument.  Trench fortifications can be seen next to the war memorial, as well as a display of large WWI artillery pieces.  (On a hot day, take a water bottle.)

Surrounding the parking area are many artillery weapons are placed in a shady park.  Cannons of many sizes, and other armoured weapons can be seen along the dirt pathways.   At the edge of the parking lot one can find a restaurant/bar serving cold drinks,etc.

The battle lines were in this area and the Hungarians won a huge battle and routed the Italian line and pushed forward toward Treviso.  Here the lines finally held and were stabilized.  About a year later the Italians pushed back with the help of British Artillery and the lines went back to closely where they had previously been established.  After the war, the Allies decided to punish Austria and  gave the city and the area around Trieste to the Italians, thus cutting off all water access for shipping.  The Italians did not really use the  port of Trieste which threw the city  into a state of economic despair.  Now, however, the busy port is partially shared by Slovenia. 
Created By A Soldier

The residents of Trieste speak Italian but many know German and Slovenian quite well.   The food in this area can be of both styles, but is mostly Italian.  However, once you cross the border into Slovenia you will find more of a type of German fare.  


Dining On The Water

Following the coast around Trieste we like to visit the small town of Muggia for a leisurely lunch.   There are two dock side restaurants located next to the main parking lot in the center of  Muggia.   The fish served here are right off the boat, and I recommend both restaurants.  One has a nice area directly over the water and has a good menu featuring loads of appetizers.   The other, found up a set of stairs onto a large area over the dock, is run by fishing boat owners and so you know the fish will be fresh.  Perched on the second floor balcony,  the view across the blue water towards Trieste is beautiful.  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How Friends Help Surviving Italian Life

It is a good day.  The Well Fargo Wagon has arrived!

Have you seen the musical,  Music Man?  If you have you know that Wells Fargo used to make deliveries quite like amazon.  We are celebrating because our friend who lives at Aviano Air Base brought some nice gifts of American goodies.  All of them what we miss here in Italy.

There are a few blogs written by expats, and one of the questions we always get are, what do you miss?  So now you see what I miss, and have needed!

Some of this might seem silly to you, and I forgive you  for thinking that.  Only after you live in a foreign country for 7 years do you begin to appreciate certain things… here are some reasons.  Believe me when I say that some readers have expressed that I should just give up and get used to what the locals eat.  I could not do that.  I like to cook and I like choices. 

                                   The Collection  of Treasure

Quaker Oats… these oats are cut different than the ones we find in Italy.  They cook different.. And Oatmeal cookies are different with their oats.
Try to go several years without an oatmeal cookie if your mother used to make them when you were a kid.  Starbucks knows you WANT them!

Corn Meal made in America is quite different than Polenta which we find here.  Soon we will have corn bread with chili peppers on the table.  Beans and cornbread are around the corner.

Yuban coffee…Italian coffee to my taste is more bitter.  We can get Starbucks when we are outside of Italy, in Munich, for instance.  But it doesn’t last for long.  This YUGE jug of Yuban will go far… I hope.

Bloody Mary mixer, spicy…You cannot buy tomato juice in Italy.  They don’t believe that tomato juice is to be a drink.  With this many bottles, I am set for a long long time. :-)   I am not a big boozer, but I get a laugh when I have  a bloody mary for breakfast and hear my wife make comments!  (Also, the fruit juice in Italy is not very good.  It tastes like a fruit drink.  Flavored water.  some thing like that Hawaiian fruit drink.)

Pecan Nuts….Even the nut dealer in  Padova market has never tasted a pecan nut.  He does not know what they are.  You will never find them here in northern Italy.  I have seen them in Germany.  So if you are like me and want to make pecan rolls  or a pecan pie, forget it.  Unless you have a good friend who can make a delivery…and my friend is a queen today!  We are taking her to the best restaurant in Padova for lunch!

Corn Tortillas….What  is Mexican food without a corn  tortilla?  Italians have never seen a corn tortilla.  There are flour, but tacos are truly made with corn tortillas.  Mexican restaurants here use flour.  I have only see one use corn and it tasted like dry cardboard. In fact, we NEVER go to Mexican restaurants in Italy anymore.  They are always a big disappointment.  
There is a place in Paris that makes pretty good corn tortillas, but they no longer ship to Italy!!!!! The dirty rats!  
 There is a guy in Ireland who is struggling to find backers to help in his corn tortilla factory that raises it own corn.  I cannot fathom corn growing in Ireland…and he  asked me to send 20,000 dollars to be part of his enterprise.  There is a smile in this, can you feel it?
Now we are set for a while in corn tortillas.  Most will go in the freezer which keeps them pretty well until you need them.  If you take a package out of the freezer you have to leave them on a flat surface inside the package until thawed.  
You cannot know how many of our Italian friends ask to taste Mexican food, now we can make them happy…. and we like happy.
When Will Doritos Come to Italy?

Ciao, Dave

Monday, April 11, 2016

Coffee For The Maladjusted

Yesterday a sign greeted me on the door of my usual bar stating that is closed for new ownership.  In desperation for my coffee Americano I headed to the bar I call “Old Farts”.   Frequented by the crotchety old men of the village, and a few socially maladjusted persons, I usually hesitate to go there because of its hole in the wall decor and the fact that they clearly use marginal food sanitation practices.  I also don’t want to admit that I am, one of them, a uomo vecchio, (old man) .   Upon arriving there,  feeling almost relieved , I found it also closed, for cleaning.

Two Young Ladies 
There are several other bars in the village and I quietly sat at another bar, one at the busy village crossroads,  a roundabout, separated in the middle by a statue of two young women.  (There is a second statue at another entrance to our village, one woman with a head in the long shape of an alien.  We joke that clearly the artist was at one time kidnapped by the same.)  I found that my coffee is served  in a smaller cup and with only warm water.  They also do not have wifi! 

A year ago my old bar had been owned by a young woman who worked hard to keep it going, her hours were long, 7 days a week.  She was there from 6:30 to 10:00 with shorter hour Sundays.  She knew the people who frequented the bar and patiently listened to their stories and tribulations of the day.  From this bar I watched the coming and goings for several years of the many people of my village.  Italians enjoy  a friendly place to go for a quick cappuccino and a sugary pastry.  Many would come back for lunch to have a sandwich or a micro waved pasta.  (Bars aren’t allowed to cook in Italy.)  She also provided what people needed to celebrate weddings, graduations, and birthdays.  She had built up a good business with a lot of work and care.

Having two squirrelly young boys, and a tired husband who worked nights, this took a toll on all of them and one day I sadly heard her tell me that she sold her bar and would leave the following week.  When she was gone I missed her and the bar felt sorely empty.

The bar was taken over by two fellows, one new owner, whose life’s goal was only to own a coffee bar looked, looked like a tall and skinny Nicholas Cage .   Both had the charisma of Karl Pilkington on a good day.  

They should have offered these
They clearly seemed not to be interested in the stories as related by the clients (This is an Italian way of life) nor did they ask questions to find out more (no social skills).  They served the coffees and went back to cleaning the surfaces, sweeping and shining the chrome of the coffee machine.
dogs are allowed in bars

I noticed business dropped off immediately.  Within one week at least half of the usual visitors were staying away.  School started the following week and the mothers who usually came in after dropping off their children were absent.  The school bus driver stopped coming.  The village police and the mayor stopped coming and the Carabinieri were absent.  The only village regulars remained to be the drug store owner, seeking to get away from his usual routine there and Mr. Opinion, an older bald headed fellow, who always had a loud opinion on just about everything.  It seemed that the only business that the bar had was the “drive by people” who stopped for a coffee because the parking was convenient and free.  

From the very beginning the new owner was having some difficulty with paying his bills.  Constantly talking on the cell phone and searching for a private place to talk, I would see him, shrugging his shoulders  and gesturing with his hands, as Italians do, in the air.   One day, which I wrote about in an earlier blog post, he and his female barista stood out in the street wishing and hoping for customers.  He started out with two employees, but after reality settled in one disappeared from the daily routine.   The owner began to hum to himself and scratch his nose while gazing out the front window.  The beer spigots became the shiniest in all Italy.

I believe his “over the edge day” occurred when the electricity was shut off for the whole village.  He didn’t know about it and as the customers came in he had to tell them that they could only order water.  Only two old ladies stayed.  It was Dead man walking, right here in Due Carrare. 
Saved By Dubai Souvenir Coffee

It is the way of business.  Clearly he did not have a plan.  He did not sit down and think about how he was going to keep his customers, and how he would be able to bring in more clientele.   My old bar owner told me that he claimed he knew how to run a bar and didn’t appreciate  suggestions.  He should have taken them. 

It will be more difficult for the next owner to make a go of it.  He or she will be starting from the beginning to bring people in.  I hope that they will be successful as this is the only bar in my village that provides wifi.  (Modern times? Not here!)  

I have walked by and they are making some construction improvements.  The bar was already quite new in furnishings and appearance, so I cannot imagine what they are doing.   Sunday they cut down a huge tree in front that offered shade for outdoor tables during the hot sunny summer.  People liked to sit in the shade when weather allowed it.  

This bar, where I sat with the statue of two slinky women does not provide wifi.  I will have to go to the Old Farts Bar, when it opens next month.  One that deserves complete destruction.   I dearly miss Starbucks today!
Add caption
That is life in my village.  There are few things to worry about besides the bar problem.  There is an election on Sunday to prevent drilling of oil off the coast of Italy (a gimmick is you vote YES in order to prevent drilling).  I see that the gelato shop has reopened for the summer.  


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Village Market Day

It’s market day and the good news is the fog is clearing.  Shopping in the warm sun is a lot more pleasurable than the usual foggy grey, dampness of the Veneto in spring, and  by walking faster, I can beat the crowd that is waiting for the sun to burn through the clouds.

Every village and small town has a market that occurs at least once a week.  We have ours on Thursday while the next town over has theirs the next day.
city hall is a few steps from the market area

The market is crowded with both pensioners and moms pushing baby carriages.   The passageways between stalls are crowded and exasperating as the older people stop in the middle of the  small lane and refuse to allow  passage.  They stand, talking to their friends and act as if they don’t see others.  Another complaint I have is lining up for service.  I  will wait patiently at the vegetable seller’s stall, while people take cuts in line, obviously feeling entitled to be waited on first over a foreigner.  It is frustrating that Italians do not like to form a line.  They crowd and many push or maneuver to the front all the while not looking at others.  I have seen people wait a half an  hour in a line and people arrive and walk and take cuts in the front of the line.  (Airport lines are the worst!)  There is no justice in an Italian line!

 The same market sellers keep the exact space they have for years.  If a seller is absent, they don’t fill in the space, they just leave the spot empty.  Apparently they must yearly rent the exact position.  The Carabinieri or local police check on who is selling, etc., every week by walking through the market with their clipboards.

Our market stretches out to be about an area of three basketball courts, and a drone’s eye view of the market would reveal:  4 vegetable sellers, one cheese, two fish, one roasted chicken, one salami, 4 women’s clothing, 2 socks and underwear,  1 nursery plants (edible), 1 flower, 3 shoes, 1 umbrella/wallet, 1 small hardware items, and 1 kitchen linens.  The marketplace is next to the middle school and just across the street from the bank and post office, which makes it convenient for those pensioners who keep their money in the post office bank.

I have been early several times before 8:00 and all the sellers are already set up and ready for customers, while by 1:30 they are packing up.  Arrive at 2:00 and the whole plot will be empty.  This is typical of most village markets I have visited except for the weekend markets.  I have been to the Saturday market in Monselice and it is both much bigger and the stalls are open in the afternoon.  

I usually pick up some vegetables at this stall, and this is where I feel a bit awkward when people cut in front, actually pushing themselves in front of where I am standing, or even worse, when the sellers says, “Who is next?” these annoying cast of old characters insist it is their turn.  They never, never turn around and look at me when this happens.  Even after they have their purchases they turn away from me in another direction.  I always hope they will look me in the eye after this, but so far it has never happened.

That’s my jolly fish lady where I buy fish.   She is always making an attempt to teach me Italian.  She plays religious music and opera to attract customers, and now she has a plastic bird that sings on the countertop.  She has a home in our village so she is quite familiar with the older people.  There is considerable joking between them, but I usually don’t understand it.  The reason is that they speak Veneto, a dialect close to Italian.  Veneto, when you hear it, sounds like someone speaking while in a dentist chair.  Sort of like.. kahoooeeeoio mehoooeeaheh…I cannot hear the consonants much.

People who do not have a car (yes, there are many here), cannot get to a big supermarket, so visiting the fish lady is their chance to get anything that swims.    She has a good selection, shrimp, calamari, octopus, bass, cod, small crabs, some other types of fish and some little squiggly things I would not eat, based on their appearance.  In Italy the sellers are required to post where the fish came from, and you find the same identification in the vegetable stands.  Because of this I know that my garlic comes from Spain, China or Greece, and the shrimp comes from Italy, India, or Vietnam.  With the latest information on how these things are raised, this is important information before choosing.  Do you have this where you live?  Hope so.

This is where I buy my peppers, sometimes hot and sometimes sweet.  Northern Italians are not big on spicy, so when I find hot peppers, I buy more than I would need, and freeze some of them.  I can then grate the frozen ones to apply in my cooking.  This fellow has connections with Sicilian suppliers and always has citrus from Sicily.  He also provides me with a fantastic tasting bruschetta in a jar made in Sicily.  Do you know bruschetta is pronounced in Italy with a “k” sound instead of a “shhh”?

The friendly flower people are always busy.  Italians love to have flowers in their homes.  When you have a small house, flowers make life more pleasant.  We try to have lot of flowers in our windows and on our terrace.  This week I will be celebrating spring by planting some.  

Next to the Sicilian guy there is a  fellow who provides my hot pepper plants.  Last year he had several types.  He also has basil, oregano, thyme, tulip bulbs, onion bulbs and lettuce plants.  I got my strawberry plants from him a few years ago.  I have always teased him about having not having enough chili pepper plants and I have given him seeds to plant, but he knows that I would be the only buyer.  For this reason I plant and grow my own.  

This is where the accordion player usually sits.  He has not been in attendance much this year and I miss him.  You would expect an Italian to be playing accordion in our small village, but he is Romanian.  Several times we have discussed music and I brought him music a couple of times.  He was appreciative, but I have never heard any of my songs played, it might be because he cannot read music.  At any rate I think he brings something romantic to our village and I always drop a euro or two in his hat.

So today, you have been to Italy and had a realistic view of life here.  For those of you living near a Safeway store, I hope you appreciate how convenient, how many types of items are available and your big shopping cart full of good stuff. 

Here is my cart…. pulled  all the way home…walking nearly one mile.  Ciao!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Short Trip to United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi

They have smog and haze, too
We are constantly watching European plane fares throughout Europe, but lately in particular, we were looking to trade the fog and cloudy days of Venice with something hot and sunny.  There was a cheap fare to Dubai, taking us through Istanbul on Turkish Air and we jumped on it.  We like Turkish Air, mostly for the food, as they seem to have to best food of any airline and served with a guy who greet you in a chef hat.  

Orietta & Ayesha 
Our friend Ayesha, who lives in Sharjah, wanted to show us around.  She ended up doing a huge amount of driving.  One thing about Dubai, when you look  at the map, the distances between Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi appear much shorter than they really are.  It is 180 kilometers or just over two hours from Sharjah to Abu Dhabi, much of it mesmerizing desert scenery broken by a few oasis of giant buildings in the cities.  After two days, Ayesha was pretty tired.  She was a real trooper.
Right Through The Center of the City
Driving around Dubai you see a great contrast between the rich and the poor, the modern, very beautiful skyscrapers and  the dormitories provided for  the workers.  Architectural students should visit the Emirates to see these buildings.

Making Repairs
The stark differences are there to see:  the racing camel drivers and the resorts accomodating tourists from abroad, the  boat drivers and the well dressed,  and the laborers in the hot sun next to  a horse track packed with people attending the World Cup. The freeway is loaded with expensive huge SUV’s, while along the road the workers and their families walk the streets at night for just for something to do. 

First stop along the way was to see where they race camels.  We didn’t get to see a race, but saw them exercising the camels and they stopped to let us take photos and ask questions.  These camels are well taken care of, and the drivers were very friendly.  

500 yards away
Second stop was a game preserve where they have flamingos.  They were some distance away and visable better through a telescope from which I took this shot with my camera.  

Third stop was the waterway and boat docks.  There are numerous wooden boats which give rides to tourists wanting to relax and see Dubai from the water.  Ayesha bargained with one boat captain and we hopped aboard. 

Ayesha knew a great place to try Pakistani food.  In the Veneto, unfortunately,  there are no Pakistani restaurants, so this was a treat.  As you can see, we didn’t go hungry.   Along with the grill of meat, there was a pot of curried chicken in green lentils that was to die for.   
smoking grilled meat
Some restaurants have alcohol but this was not one of them.  A specialty drink was one of yogurt and lemon juice, called lassi.  Doggie Bag in her fridge!

It's huge and beautiful
That evening we headed to the Global Village Expo, which turned out to be a colorful Disneyland type experience.  Along with the usual amusement rides, each country had its own pavilion filled with rooms of spices, clothing, honey, coffee, foods, rugs and tea.
All Colors

Lit up at night like Las Vegas, with streets clean as a whistle, the whole appearance was fascinating.  We  were two of the few western dressed people there, and when we talked to people in the pavilions they were shocked to learn I am American, asking, “What are you doing HERE?”  Apparently not too many Americans go to the Expo.    We didn’t see any, nor hear English spoken by others.  

Tea Anyone?
 Our dinner  there was a sit down to more Pakistani cuisine and  I needed to sit as my Garmin told me I had already totalled over 14,000 steps.  (My feet are too old for this!!)  

There is a boat ride in a canal, small taxis for tired feet, numerous stands for fast food, women giving cooking demonstrations and selling their food, and amusement rides for the thrill seekers.

My favorite attraction was the Kuwait pavilion where they had a great band with super energy.  They attracted quite a crowd and I wished I could have stayed there much longer.  I especially liked the drummers who noticed I was watching them so they began to ham it up.  

Their drums were made of camel skin stretched across the round rim ands  I wish I could have brought one of those home. 

It’s too bad that tourists in the Emirates miss the Expo, it was my number 1.  The video is not great quality, I am sorry my camera does not record sound well.  They were a hundred times better than the recording.  If you are interested you can see it at the end of this blog.

Chatting Away In The Shade
The next day we drove all the way to Abu Dhabi to visit a park where they displayed the old ways of desert life with displays of crafts and a museum of relics.  It was located on the waterway where across we could see the huge buildings and resorts with boat marinas dedicated to the needs of foreigners.  There are few small boats here!  
After this we saw a museum dedicated to stitchery art and jewelry and then drove to the huge mosque that you see here.

On the right you can see part of an exhibit to show the style of clothing for women.  (We did not see any styles for men. )  There were also old coins, swords, rifles, photos, cannons, basketry, and cooking implements.
One of the largest mosques we saw

My last mention is the massive air conditioned mall in Dubai. 

With a view of the largest building in the world (remember Tom Cruise hanging on the side), this mall is multilevel, with a waterfall, an aquarium and Bellagio like dancing waters.  The builders seemed to think of everything you could put into a mall.  Every corporate name seems to be there, with P.F. Chang and Texas Steak House type restaurants. You see all types of foods, even the very  popular cookie makers are there.  I've never heard of Ben's Cookies but it looks like Arabs seem to enjoy a good cookie.  P.F. Changs is just to the left of this photo.
I wonder if they like peanut butter or oatmeal
 You want to go skiing?  Yes, a whole ski run is inside the mall.
How about Ice Skating?  It’s there.  You can even take a miniare jeep/taxi to get from one area to another.  

Umbrellas hanging in the mall
 and…I want to mention that I saw a lot of Americans shopping.  Too bad they missed the Expo!

Here is the video of the band from Kuwait.

Please leave a comment by clicking on where it says, "no comment"  below on the right.  I appreciate hearing what you think, and want to hear any suggestions, etc.

Thank you, Ayesha!  It was such a great experience!  Now come to Venice!