Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hot Summer Review

Hot and Muggy, that is what we are experiencing right now here outside of Venice.  Venice, with all that water will be worse.  What I need right now is a nice cold frappe’, and a nice rain shower after.

Monselice Castle
Here’s a shot of our American cowboy burger restaurant, if you look behind it, you will see a castle on top of the hill above Monselice, a small town south of Padova.  You can see the grass is brown from lack of water.  Another lack of, is the ketchup we asked for.  
Cheap Burger Joint!
We both had fries and they brought us three packs of ketchup.  This was after I asked for molto ketchup…..a lot.  Served for a laugh from us.  They charge for each package, learning from McDonalds on this.

Open on Weekends
Another castle near Monselice and viewable from our home is this one.  Built much later by a man who was famous as a soldier for hire.  Behind this castle is the ruined building where they stored tobacco from their farm and made cigars, etc.  This is a paintable castle as it is in pretty good shape and set near a canal with a bridge.

There is another smaller castle west of our home which is famous for its land being an airport for planes in WWI and WWII.  There is a museum in side and a fancy restaurant with high prices.  We have never eaten there, so I cannot testify to the food.  I notice that they host a lot of wedding dinners, etc.  Sounds like we are surrounded by castles, which is kind of true.  We also have a famous house in the hills where the famous poet Petrarch lived.  I like going up there because of the super enoteca featuring some awesome wines grown from the volcanic soil of the  hills.  They have a terrace overlooking the valley below and Padova beyond, and we can sit and have an appetizer of local salami, cheeses and bread with our vino.

Soon we will drive to Austria for a few days and the temperature will drop from near 100 to mid 60’s.  That will be so nice.  Plus we are going to a beer hotel where they make many types of beer.  Austria is so different from Italy, it feels like a theme park to me, so clean and kept perfect.  

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For my web cam friends, this is one that features the view across the big canal towards the church where you can go up in the elevator for a terrific view of all the islands of Venice.  Today the color of the sky is a yellow green from the humidity, I hope the rain will clear it later.  Go view:


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Bird's Eye View Of Venice

Several people have asked me questions about visiting Venice, Rome and parts of Italy.  I am always glad to help them my bird’s eye view of Venice with advice on what to see, and what not to see.  Most folks have a limited stay, so that is important.  

Just this week, a dear cousin has asked me to help her friend at work who has planned a trip to Venice and Rome.  These will be the first webcams to get her feet on the ground.  There are many webcams which give people a good idea of what they will experience.  My plan is to start of with these with a small explanation.  Bookmark them and view them daily.

What I have found is that many people have no clue about the islands of Venice with the big canals and the many small ones.  They think it is one big gondola ride in  a small canal, but there is a lot more.  Take a look at the big canal just off St. Mark’s Square.  BTW, if you are making a trip here, it is fun to bookmark these and watch while you have breakfast.   Viewing this from the states, your breakfast will be mid afternoon for Venetians.  

That  big canal has several views, here is from another direction.
from other direction

Just across St. Mark’s is San Giorgio, which has a tall steeple which has an elevator to the top, with a great view of all the islands of Venice.  You see the island here.

Riding a gondola is not cheap, I recommend  sharing the ride  with others in order to cut down the cost.  80 Euros for one half hour is one big splurge for me.  However, when the gondolier takes you into a hidden tiny canal, you will experience a feeling of unexpected peace.  This webcam even has audio!

Men in Black

.   If you are lucky you will come upon a celebration by a club, a festival, or a type of garage sales (no garages in Venice, but they have neighborhood sales).  I stumbled onto this group of men, dressed in black, singing  their club's song to a piazza filled with onlookers.  This shot became a study for a painting recently completed.

Sturdy Shoes Needed, NOT THONGS

You will do plenty of walking in Venice.  It is not just waterways, but you will find sidewalks, and bridges.   You will have sore feet at the end of the day.  Kind of spooky at night, but safe.

Trash Boats Near The Big Market
Venice has the spirit of an artist, and even their trash boats are painted a pleasing green.  Hauling trash, providing fire protection service, police service and delivering goods are all things they do well to keep citizens happy.

Here is something I would skip, especially since I have been spoiled to go to a beach, plant my own umbrella, set up my cooler and pay no fee.  In Italy there are few places to do that, instead you rent a chair, and have drinks brought to your umbrella stand for a fee.  This webcam  is from Jesolo, a beach where people of the Veneto go to get cool from the heat of summer.  The Veneto is a province in which Venice lies.

Worth a Visit
I want to mention on island of Venice, called Burano.  Famous for the pastel painted houses, it is historically a fishermen island.  If you have time you don't  want to miss this beautiful place.   To get there you must take a boat and you might want to choose a restaurant here for lunch.  This excursion takes several hours, so plan accordingly.

Breakfast with a webcam is something I enjoy and I hope it gives you a better appreciation of Venice.  My next blog will feature foods of Venice. (Not spaghetti and meatballs!)



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Damn Jam At The Border

Rovinj, Croatia
This past weekend we took a pleasurable diversion on the coast of Croatia.   We have found a favorite place in the town of Rovinj, which sets peacefully on a spit of land protruding into the Adriatic Sea.  We have stayed in other towns along the coast but the view and the dining choices have won us over.

Many places have a pig roasting on a spit, sometimes two, and you can smell it from several hundred meters away.  Many of the restaurants feature truffle based cooking as this is a truffle area extraordinaire.  We have found some creative chefs who offer items such as smoked sea bass mousse, fried octopus, marinated fish salad and octopus salads.  Prices have risen this year but are still under what we would find in Italy.  It makes the three hour trip from our home  more worthwhile when you know what you will experience at the end of the road.

turn down the sound and watch the short video

However, this weekend, a weekend celebrated in America, Memorial Day Weekend, I, an unsuspecting American,  blundered into an exasperating bit of Europeacana—my words.  Without realising that Austrians have a four day weekend, due to some  holiday of theirs that the Italians do not have, I ventured forth into a catastrophe.  No problem getting into Croatia, the border guards were all smiles, quickly waving cars through without spending much time looking at passports.  But on the way back—Oh my, what a mess!

Back Up All The Way 
Part of the problem is due to the fact that Slovenia, which one must drive through to reach Italy, has been diligently checking passports and watching for people trying to sneak into their country.  Coupled with the four day holiday it made for a cast of characters, trapped in their tiny Euro cars, all feeling hopelessness over the tremendous traffic jam.

We were stuck in the lines for over three hours.  Much of the time we were not moving at all, and just when you turned your car off, you would have to start up and move ahead one car length.  A big part of the problem stemmed from the side roads that were also feeding into the main highway, and they were pushing back the tide of traffic.  We sat for two hours, studying roadkill, waiting, and angrily watching devious drivers ruthlessly passing  the  parked three lanes by  driving on the emergency lane to get ahead.  People with cars pulling trailers, camping vans, convertibles, and vehicles full of 20 years olds with loud music heartlessly drove past us.  Some people think they deserve to push their way past!  After you watch this for several hours, you begin to realise that these cheaters, who refused to wait like the rest of us, were causing the line to be stagnant and unmoving.   The reason being that somewhere up ahead the emergency lane was nonexistent and they had to move back into the normal 3 lanes.

The stagnant situation became so bad that people had to leave their cars and venture off into the forest in order to relieve themselves.  When there was no forest, we saw large towels being held by others as a fence for bathroom problems along the road.  This became a serious problem for some.  The only thing good about this was that is was not very hot, which would have made it unbearable and probably more hot tempers.  People here do not have pistols under the seat, thank goodness.

This is where I personally come in to the story.  Before I say anything I want you to know that I usually try my best NOT to be an ugly American.  I make an effort to be polite, not very noisy, and blend in with the locals.  I have been around American groups in Europe, and I know how people here regard their bad manners, stupid comments, and loud rude behavior.  I am not one of those.   I am horrified by the action of Trump shoving the Montenegro President aside and then standing and posing as if he was so special.  I try not to offend people.  However, this weekend, I stepped up to the plate in the name of all those people waiting in that traffic line, and not using that emergency lane to beat the system.

A large Austrian SUV pulls up along our car in the emergency lane.  Up ahead the emergency lane had jammed where it funnels into the 3 lanes of highway.  The driver’s window lowers, and a bleach blond, sunburned, face with hanging jowels leans out.  He points to the funnel and begins to tell us his sorrowful story of how they have travelled for two hours and need to take cuts in the line, asking us to let him in.  This guy had gumption!  He had already snuck by 1 1/2 hours of traffic jam by using the emergency lane.  What I said to him was not the color of love.  With the rash decision of a teenager I began to give him my thoughts.  “Who do you think you are?  Are you better than the rest of us, taking cuts, cheating your way to the front of this mess?  We have all sat here for over two hours, and you just think that you can push your way to the front, where ever that is? “

I didn’t know if he knew English well enough to understand me, but I had taken a “shot” and said what  needed to be said to all the cheaters sneaking by.  This man, an Austrian was a bit taken back that someone would actually speak up to his entitled behavior.  His face changed as he realised that he had met an ugly American who at an old age stands up for justice and against  people who think they are privileged.   BTW the police had an emergency and had much difficulty clearing the emergency lane, which couldn’t move.  A medical emergency of some type, they slowly sirened their way through the mess of parked cars.   Person like this Austrian could cause someone to die if they needed to reach a hospital quickly.

After another hour we crawled along and eventually saw the border at the bottom of the hill.  We finally escaped from the traffic after the border.  The Croatian border guards check your passports, and then at another stop the Slovenian guards do the same, running passports through an electronic device to catch those sneaky border jumpers.   I wonder the expense of fuel for those thousand cars waiting to leave Croatia?  

Palmanova To Udine

Later on the autostrada when people driving from Italy towards Austria, meet  people driving from Slovenia towards Austria we saw another HUGE jam up of cars. Miles and miles cars were stopped, and appeared to be not moving at all.  We were glad to be going to the south in the opposite direction and not back into that  holiday mess.  Next year I will be looking more closely to possible long Austrian weekend holidays in order to stay clear of 3 hour parking lots.

Here are some photos of the dishes mentioned above.   Keep in mind that I, being a person raised in New Mexico, had never seen this type of food when growing up.  Having a chance to try these dishes makes up for not being able to find good enchiladas, tacos and tamales in Italy  :-)  
To Die For Smoked Bass Mousse

I never thought that anyone would attempt to fry octopus.

Fried Octopus
My Favorite Main Course
marinated fish on left, octopus salad on right


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trading Pasta For A Tasty Burger

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I confess that I missed the invasion.  Many years have passed since I first noticed America has once again forced itself into the neighborhood.  People here get a chance to remember the past inside a large movie theatre just outside Padova, and  customers are forced to enter through the theatre before entering American Graffiti Restaurant and the  past glory of the 50’s.   I was not disappointed, which is unusual as I find attempts by Italians to make food of other countries many times miss the target.  Chinese food lacts the spicy/hot,   sushi is made by assembly line and without care, and Mexican food has terrible corn tortillas and badly made guacamole for example.  However, in this franchised burger joint, most of what I saw and tasted was above my expectations.

Customers are greeted with black and white checkered floors, and chrome chairs decked with plastic red covers.  Everything on the walls resemble items of the American past.  I lived in the 50’s but don’t remember anything quite like what I saw, it was more like a Hollywood creation, which is okay by me.

The menu is huge, brunch items, pulled pork, hot dogs, one whole page of beer choices,  I was confronted by making a choice of three different sizes of each type of burger, with a price comparable with Old Wild West, another competitor in a village nearby.  (Previously reviewed in the blog)  Since I was the driver, I chose a soft drink which was delivered Italian style with no ice.  Yes, Italians do not get ice in their soft drinks, you have to ask for it.   I ordered a burger with fries and we shared an appetiser made with jalapeño and cheese.

A happy addition to the table was two different bottles of Heinz hot sauce.  There was one of jalapeño and one from habanero.  I was surprised to see that the bottles were 3/4 empty as Italians are not champions of heat.  I looked at the other nearby tables and found that their bottles were also about the same fullness.  What country is this?

As you can see my burger looks genuinely American.  It was nice that the bun held up and didn’t fall apart like Italian burger buns usually do.  They had not applied an over generous application of mayo, and I instead used a bottle of Heinz barbecue sauce on the burger.  The only other difference I could find between this burger and Old West, is that I am not sure this meat patty was wholly beef.  Maybe this is why Old West makes a big point of claiming an all beef patty, made from beef of Ireland or Argentina.  

The bar even has Dr. Pepper!

I have googled American Graffiti and found that there are multiple restaurants all over Italy.  People needing a burger fix will not be disappointed.  Now if they can just open for breakfast.  Something like a Denny’s would be appreciated, that pile of eggs, bacon and hash browns……Italians do not know the taste of a Sunday breakfast!  


Monday, May 15, 2017

The Death of Allergy Season in Northern Italy

Pollen Makers of Rovinj, Croatia
It’s almost over!  Sufferers are rejoicing, and I am one of them.  Allergy Season is a real killer for me, and I am so glad to be able to breathe again like normal.  I only have a slight irritation in my eyes, something I can live with in comparison to the one week where I was coughing, wheezing, and unable to sleep well.  In the city of Padova there are quite a few cotton wood trees still dumping their cotton, but in my village there are only a few.  The mayor elected to cut most of them two years ago, and he was planning to replant with something else less harmful to allergies.  However, he lost the election and the new mayor (Sindico) has decided to keep costs down and not replant trees.  

This past weekend we spent a 3 day weekend in Croatia on the coast.  Their were some yellow flowers that were a small problem, and, of course, the pollen from the evergreen trees.  A big help was the thunderstorm that blew through the first night cleaning the air, making it crisp and clear.   There is nothing like listening to thunder in the night and knowing that the air will be clean in the morning.

Rovinj is a town not to be missed if you are ever on the Italian side of Croatia.  You can walk through the town and discover the shops, the small walkways and the big church on the top of the hill.  Almost completely  circled by the sea, it feels as if Rovinj is on an island.  It makes it a special place to visit.

 One of the benefits of living near Venice is that you can reach by car Croatia, Slovenia and Austria in a few hours.   Croatia gives us a nice change of cuisine from Italian.  Along the road, with the windows down, you will smell the big barbeques of the restaurants that are roasting whole pigs outdoors, as if to advertise their establishment.  But there is more!  This is truffle heaven.  You will encounter some great sauces with truffels, and some great pastas, too.  They make the most out of this being a zone for truffles.

Smoked Bass Mousse.................Tuna Tartar 
We made a great discovery reading  from TripAdvisor, finding a special restaurant with the name of  Barba Danilo, in a campground at the edge of Rovinj.  I did not believe that an eatery existed in a campground, but they made a believer out of me.   I took a chance on a mousse created with smoked bass.  Looking at it, it looks like a big tube of white cheese. This became my number one item of the weekend.  There were other specialties, so many that you have to make a second visit, which we will do in a few weeks. 
(Translation of Barba Danilo is beard of Danilo.  I am not sure that is what the owner intended, but maybe he has a sense of humor?) 

May can be a great month to visit Italy.  Here, the weather is changing to the good after only one week of rain and cloudy skies.  The lizards are back out in the sun after sleeping all of last week.  It will be 78 degrees most of this week.    The grapes are looking real healthy with lots of leaves, and northern Italy is covered with many shades of green with the trees and the farmer’s plantings.  We will have some thunder storms in the late evenings, but nothing major as we stride into summer.

A Sketch on an Abandoned Home Outside of
Chania, 11 X 15 Inches
This will be used for a half sheet painting later
I am not writing the blog as often as I did in the winter because I am spending time painting watercolors.  After a full week in Chania, Crete painting watercolors, I am now motivated to devoting more time painting.  I am thinking of having an exhibit in the September or October.  Finding a good place for an exhibit will be difficult.  Like anyone, I need to set a goal and keep at it.    It has been too long since the last exhibition.  

Ciao, Dave

Thursday, April 20, 2017

American Size Me

Today I was in my local post office (Post) to pay my electric bill.  Included in this bill is the national television charge of approximately 20 euros.  This is how the country squeezes the turnip and makes sure they get all the money intended.  It is all above the table.  One good thing I noticed was a sign stating that now free wifi is being provided while you wait in line.  This is a good thing!  Lines are long here, often stretching outside in the cold.  Bills are being paid, money withdrawn and packages mailed.  Nothing is quick here.

home made
It's market day in my village, always Thursdays.  Strolling through I found three vegetable sellers, two fish, one cheese, one roasted chicken, one shoe salesman, one florist, and assorted junky stuff made in China.  I bought two bottles of hot sauce spreads from the Sicilian guy, he is my source to stay spiced up a bit.  We are expecting visitors and maybe they will share my desire for a bit of heat.  I didn't expect  to see so few people on such a sunny day.   Sadly, absent for many months now is my accordion guy from Romania.  I miss his squeaky squeezebox sounds floating over the market.  Even though he knew few old Italian songs, I liked the Romanian ones.

                                           In my coffee bar

Lo and behold, I suddenly hear a British voice saying, "Well, I will call you tomorrow."  My head jerks quickly over and I spy a grey haired, jolly looking fellow putting his cell down.  This is a moment not to be missed and so I yell over to him, "Are you British?"  And we are off to the races.....Jim lives here in my village and writes a Friday column for a newspaper in Great Britain.  He is going to become a good friend....It is a good day!  I wonder if he likes Mexican food?  All this time I thought I was only one of two English speaking people in my village.
Mexican Plate

While Jim and I are talking, two old guys, my age, are sitting watching our conversation.  With a startled look like the discovered grandma is now roadkill, they seemed stunned.  I have talked to them before, but only in my slow Italian.  I am sure that they have thought I must be mentally challenged.  I have now been confirmed normal.  BTW, I am not normal!

When I first arrived at my coffee bar I had intended to sit outside in the sun.  The tables outsides had been rearranged and I had to look hard to find a place where I could actually even get a chair pulled back so I could sit down.  There was only one spot, and if I sat there no person could sit behind me as their chair would be straight up against their table.  This is a moment where I think, "Italians!"  Squeezing in is a good thing in their minds.   They like squeezing.  Crowded situations?........ no problem!    Touching..., up close and personal situations so tight you are  always worried about other hands sneaking to grab your  wallet while you stare at the hairy mole on someones neck.   You don't look into the faces of people, the rule is to stare off in oblivion.   (I cheat)   You get to know the locals really well in these situations.

 Italian furniture.    Bar owners in Italy always go cheap purchasing plastic chairs, or chrome designed chairs  so tight and uncomfortable that you know they want you to drink and "move on".   In approaching  a piazza we are always searching to find a bar with the best chairs.    Cheap bastardi!   Your vocabulary word of the day.
Italians  don't mind sitting in living room chairs where your butt is actually below your knees.  (Try to crawl out of that when you are old!) They don't mind little seats, and watch out in their movie theatres.  The seats are the width that would only fit a strutting fashion model.  The rest of us have to slide into a seating position shaking booty as if we are practicing the Macarena.  Getting out is worse!  I have often thought that Italians are related to the Japanese somehow.  Their beds are only raised a short distance from the floor, a real struggle for an old person to get out of bed and up into a standing position.

That's a short glimpse into village life for this week.
Ciao, Dave

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

John Kennedy, Nikita Krushchev and the Lucky Hand

Yesterday when I was in Padova I went to my usual bar where they have wifi and when I walked in I noticed that the owner had put up black and white photos of past historical events.  Almost in the center was a photo of John Kennedy shaking the hand of Nikita Krushchev, and I had to tell the owner that my hand had also shook the hand of John Kennedy.  I got a double take on that one and he asked me to explain, which I did in my elemental Italian.  

When I was 9 years old John Kennedy was making a tour of the United States before declaring his candidacy for President.  This was in 1958 and in June he  made a stop at the airport of Colorado Springs where my family lived.  My father knew of the Kennedy family because he had been stationed in New England after WWII, and he told me that we had to go to the airport and see Kennedy.  

We watched the plane land and taxi up to the terminal.  They used a moveable staircase such is now used for budget flights here in Europe, and  soon the door opened and men in suits deplaned.  John Kennedy stepped out of the plane and waved to the small crowd.  I remember that it  was less than a hundred people, more like 50.  My father told me to go up and get a closer look, so I pushed myself through the reporters and photographers and was soon face to face with Kennedy.  He was talking to everyone, and I just stood there watching but not having a political clue as to just what I was viewing.  BTW I was the only kid there, completely surrounded by adults.

Kennedy looked down at me and said, “Who are you?”  I told him my name, and told him that my father had brought me to meet him.  He was looking over the crowd, probably wondering what bigshot had brought his kid.  I extended my hand and said I was glad to meet him and he shook my hand.  He  said, “Who is your father?”  I pointed through the crowd at my father standing in the back. Kennedy said,” What does he do?”  I proudly told him that my father was a plumber.  A smile grew on Kennedy’s face and he shook my hand a second time.  I remember he said something like, “I am glad you came out.”  I was then pushed by the crowd as they moved away from the plane and I went back to tell my father what happened.  

That was my big moment in history.  Well, not the only one, thank goodness.  But it was one that I think of often and when I saw that photo of Kruschev and Kennedy I remember how Kennedy managed to remove the nuclear missiles that the Soviet Union had sent to Cuba.  Of course I remember how my entire high school was informed over the intercom of the assassination of Kennedy.

During my youth, there were times that I acted and thought like most teenagers, thinking my parents needed a ‘second education’, etc.  Later  I realized how wrong I was, how my father the plumber was so aware of history.  I was the only kid who got to shake Kennedy’s hand that day.    Bravo, Dad!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What's New In Northern Italy

Spring Brings More Business For Gondoliers
Spring is here in Italy!  We know this by two things, one is when we see leaves sprouting on the grape vines, and the other is when we see cotton floating in the air from the cottonwood trees.  Grapes are usually one of the last plants to show action, so when they show leaves we know the weather will change for the best.  The cotton makes allergies go nuts!

March was fairly dry, compared to other years, and April seems to be also the same.  We have temperatures reaching 70, causing Italians to shed those overused scarves and black jackets.  Standing in my coffee bar are four gentlemen, two with shirts and two with jackets.  It’s a mixed bag this morning caused by the overcast skies.

I made a visit to my family doctor this morning in order to get his signature that I am alive and well.  My teacher’s pension system needed assurance that  my descendants were not mooching off the system after my demise.  The office had only 3 people waiting to see him and it went quite quickly.  Only one person was coughing, the others had paperwork.  My doctor goes it alone, he has no secretary, no aides, no nurses, no people sorting paperwork.  This is the way in Italy for doctors.  He keeps a copy of my tests, but I carry my own copy and my X-rays.  It is my responsibility to not lose them.  By the way, in case you are an unbelieving American, my visit had no fee.  Doctor visits are covered by the health system in Italy.  Go in the hospital, it is the same, covered.  All people, poor or rich get a chance to stay healthy without going bankrupt over medical bills.

Monday the weather was  so good that I made my first outing to paint watercolors.  It was a bit of a shock to find that the waterwheel I intended to paint for several years, was now a construction zone for a new pedestrian bridge.  I had walked a distance with all my equipment so I made a go of it anyway.  Here is the finished product.   It is just a sketch I will use later for a larger painting.

I have also completed an acrylic painting of this old boat.  The size is about 4 feet by 3.

Quiet Sunset 

Greek Salad and Tzatziki
How to make Greek Yogurt Tzatziki below 
I have plans to fly to Chania, on Crete Island where I will  soon enjoy a week of painting.   Chania (pronounced Hawneeyah) is a quaint town with the center featuring Venetian architecture created when the Venetians ruled there.  They have a nice harbor with a small light house, and another boat harbor nearby.  We have enjoyed Chania several times, gotten to know some great people, and visited many of the beaches of Crete.  It’s not just the scenery, though, I really enjoy Greek cuisine.  Fotos next month!

home made rolled noodles and great sauce with meat
Croatian Specialty
Totally Awesome Calamari
Croatia is also on our travel list.  We will stay in a bungalow on the shore of the sea.  I will take my painting equipment.  Last year while painting a terrific thunder storm rolled in and the whole night the rain poured down in buckets.  I will pass on that this year!  Their food is also super.  Here is a foto from last year of the storm arriving. 
Storm Coming
The land looks like it is floating

I wish you a happy Spring, ciao.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Weekend Diversion To Amsterdam

We made a quick weekend trip to Amsterdam, using a budget offer, and I will made a few comments.

Canal Bridge 
Amsterdam, like most of the world, has changed a lot since my first visit in 1974.  The economy has taken off and the city has grown to be massive.  The effect seems to be that many of the original families that lived in the center have moved away to be replaced by the nuovo rich, much like Venice and even San Francisco.  
Huge Cheese Wheels
The Dutch Are Famed for Great Cheese
The center of the old city is frequented by the young tourists, some of whom just want a glimpse to see if there really are prostitutes in windows and marijana shops galore. Between these and the  souvenir shops one can still find cheese shops that offer a tasting before you buy.  

Where have all the hippies gone?
 In 1974 the famous Dam Square had some 25 hippies smoking grass without being prosecuted and a few tourists being what tourist do.  Today a gathering of hundreds visit the square each hour while the smoking of dope is in the coffee houses.  I felt overwhelmed by 35 year olds crowding the square while folks my age sat on benches and people watched.  Hundreds surrounded a guy who could pull his whole body through a tennis racket while balancing a large glass ball on his head.  This was a nice break from another type of circus we see in Washington.

We made a nice morning of it in the Van Gogh Museum, where one can see the painting left by the great painter to his brother after he passed on at a young age.  Many of these were stored under the brother’s bed, now hanging with gold frames on the museum walls.     Did you know the Dutch pronounce his name with a coughing sound at the end?  Not the usually hear "owe" sound....

Windmills of Holland

We made a follow-up visit of the R. Museum with a plan concentrate on Rembrandt, in particular his, Night Watch and other large paintings.  Those two museums made a morning it and we had lunch featuring foods whose designs and flavors came from the Dutch West Indies, a colony of Holland years ago.  I appreciate the chance to try something new, a nice change from pasta land flavors.  Another plus is a chance to try  locally made beer.  

An Enchanting Hour Cruise
If you are ever in Amsterdam, I would suggest that you take the night canal cruise.  The lights on all the canals and bridges are beautiful, plus you can look into windows and get a real look into the life style of the citizens.  Most of these windows along the canal have no curtains, and the Dutch are known to keep their windows squeaky clean.  You can also look into the boats along the canal, people are not afraid to let you look into their boat while they are dining or entertaining friends.  

For our last meal we decided to take tram 4 a ways out from the center and then look for an interesting “non tourist” place.  We do this sort of thing a lot and had good luck in Munich, Prague, and Lisbon.  What we found in Amsterdam was a Moroccan restaurant in an old church.  The food was excellent, reasonably priced, and the decor seemed a bit north African.  

Love those plates!  Mint Tea was relaxing.

It is difficult to deal with the fact that my country continues to spend a large majority of its budget on the military while countries in Europe are applying resouces to surpass our economy, provide free university to educate all its people, and a decent health care for all the citizens.  Since my first visit to Europe I can see HUGE progress, while America's roads and  bridges mirror what we think of moving forward in education and health care.  We have lost our middle class, while the Netherlands and other countries in Europe move forward.  All this with less crime, gun fatalities, and hunger.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Driving With Mario

I am not Catholic, and even though there are only Catholic churches here,  I decided to consider attending after last week’s hair raising bus trip.  The new driver, who had replaced my last,  who was a more calm and laid back driver, gave me a bit of the spectacular and unexpected.   Most bus drivers are exceptional and safe drivers.  Yet I began to believe, that Dale Earnhardt must have an Italian relative?  

I usually sit in the first seat so I can enjoy the view when leaving the city and reaching my village.  That was my first mistake!   I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, certainly not screaming and yelling like the passengers in my bus.  I had a front row seat feeling quite imperilled as the bus flew around corners, screeched to stops, and brushed by pedestrians who suddenly decided they should have stayed home.

He Always Got The Girls

I was reminded of the first auto chase movie I had seen as a child, the 1958 movie, Thunder Road, starring Robert Mitchum.  (Yes, I am old!)  Speeding his home-made liquor through the hills in his souped up jalopy, racing away from the authorities, screeching tires, he seemed to escape from the police at every attempt to deliver his hooch and get paid.  But here in Italy there are very few police on the roads, so there is little chance to catch bad drivers who violate rules.  And certainly there are no hooch makers evading the police.

 My ride last week was no donkey derby.  It was more of a hair raising Grand-Prix that started off when I boarded the bus.   When I stepped onto the bus the door hit my in the butt and  I grabbed a railing to hold on.  I struggled to climb the stairs and grab a front seat as the bus left two black stripes on the pavement.  From my seat the driver, hair combed back as if the wind trained it, leaned forward to adjust the his radio as he wheeled into a right turn and entered the city traffic, pushing his way into a circle and bullying the small Italian cars into submission.

One Handed/Half Brained
Every turn was taken too fast, forcing the bus to lean.  We heard tires screeching at every stop, some just in time, barely missing the car in front.  Speed was his object,  this guy lived like Mario Andretti, “If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough.”   I realised I had chosen the wrong seat as there was nothing between me and the big windshield.  The guy really had a control issue, and we were all part of it!   We even skipped one stop where 8 angry passengers waved their arms in a useless signal.  You win some, you lose some, you wreck some, this was my driver’s apparent motto, while I just wanted to finish above ground.  

It wasn’t the speed, or the turns that scared me the most.  It was the driving too close, the bullying of the cars in front.  It was the pushing them from the road.   Where were the police when you need them?   Who is going to challenge a huge bus in one of these tiny cars.  This bus would eat this car for breakfast!

Leaving the city only increased our speed.   It was a straight shot to my village.  This guy must have been a stunt driver in the Bourne movies.  He had no fear.  I had it all!  I grabbed my phone, wrote my wife while I invented several text abbreviations.  OMGIMDT, Oh My God I Might Die Today, and RMTHSDGOM, Remind Me To Have Sex,Drink, Goof Off More.   They seem long, but I was desperate!

An old joke came to mind about driving.  “My wife had her driver's test the other day. She got 8 out of 10. The other 2 guys jumped clear.” 

 We not only brushed past pedestrians but an old lady on a bike got a few more grey hairs when she had to stop in the middle of a crossing as our bus swerved to miss her.  (In Italy pedestrians have the  right of way, especially in a painted cross walk.)

I did not complain to the driver as I was afraid he would not stop at my village.  There are few stops outside of Padova, and it would be a long walk if he intentionally missed it.  I did mention to him, when we reached the finish line, that this must have been his personal best.  Then I sent a text to my wife, MNFA, Make No Funeral Arrangements!

You learn to appreciate the calm life of a quiet village in funny ways.