Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy Black Friday USA

I guess I missed the Thanksgiving post but I was busy!  My wife and I decided that we ought to do somthing for others this year.  Our town has a Community Dinner and we decided to volunteer.  I guess there are others who volunteer sooner  because we were assigned as drivers to take meals to the home-bound.  Actually it was great.  The people knew someone was coming around and were looking forward to their meals.  My three deliveries were to an older guy who wasn't moving around very well, a very old lady who was using a walker and a guy who was caring for another two people.  It was a great experience and I'm sure we will do it again.

Then we came home and started on our own Thanksgiving dinner.  Well, that worked really well even if it was after 15:00 when we ate.
Yes, pretty conventional but definitely good.  And my wife found a reciepe for a coffee-chocolate hazelnut pie that was really amazing.  The whole day was a 10.  And we can definitely recommend the 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau. 

Otherwise we are back in our groove.  It is 26F this a.m. (that's -3 to the rest of the world).  Brrr!  But it will warm up later and we will be able to take our walk.  We bought a couple extra things at the store so we don't have to go out; this Black Friday shit is just crazy!  Neither of us is much of a shopper so braving a crowd of people looking for bargains just doesn't work for us.  If I get all wild and crazy maybe I'll check out Amazon later.  How busy could it be?  LOL

Now that Italy is but a memory we are talking about Australia.  Now we just have to figure out what we want to see and how to manage it.  Of course NZ will be included.  Neither of us is all that hot on the island nations of the South Pacific so that will probably be it.  Ntext spring, fall for them, is the general target but we all know that shit happens!  Some day there will be photos but there is absolutely no guarantee!

Thanks for stopping by.  Have a good one!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Final thoughts

We've been home about a month and a half now and things are returning to whatever normal is.  Well, except for the election.  That was disappointing!  But that's another story.  I do have faith that this country can survive even The Donald.

Italy was really great.  It was horribly crowded but if that's my worst problem it's just another thing to 'get over'.  It occurred to me that I haven't posted any photos of our hotel rooms.  My wife is a great supporter of Trip Advisor because of that we would ordinarily find a hotel and make a reservation for the next day.  She mostly used the phone app but used the tablet on occasion.  This room in Siena is typical for us.
She ordinarily looked for free wifi and free parking.  That got us into the $120-$150 range room.  We did have smaller rooms a couple times but this is quite representative.  The parking usually kept us out of the city center which is both good and bad.  In Siena we drove to public parking so we could walk in the city.  In larger cities, we planned it so as to not have the car.

The bathroom is also quite typical:  sink, shower, toilet and bidet.  We had a couple showers that had a problem; most notably the one in Venice where the hot water would disappear for a few moments in the middle of the shower.  However Venice was it's own special place.

It was an old apartment and probably typical of Venice.  U.S. building codes definitely weren't in effect.  There was an inset in the hall floor that said 1863 F B; perhaps that is the year it was built.  The bed was a queen size but it worked and we enjoyed the apartment aspect of the place.  It was about 400 sq. ft. comprising living room, kitchen, bath and two bedrooms.  I posted a picture earlier of the 'street' which was certainly less that six feet wide.
Much of the furniture was old.  That's not bad just different.
The eat-in kitchen was certainly adequate and had a basic selection of pots, pans, etc.  The white cabinet on the upper right contains the instant-on water heater that also went instant-off during our showers.  We did make a traditional meal here once.  Otherwise it was used for breakfasts mostly.

For two weeks we rented a car drove about in the country and in smaller cities.  We had a Renault Captur.
Frankly we thought it was rather odd looking with it's two-tone look.  In this country I'd expect it to be a used police car but, no, it was nice and new.  We did see two or three other cars with the same paint scheme but I guess it's an acquired taste.  It was a six speed manual with a rather small, frugal engine.  We found it quite comfortable.  On the back roads we mostly used we would seldom exceed 90 kph.  Once we found the Italian version of Gas Buddy life got better.  Not just because we found cheaper gas but also we could find the station which was a problem once or twice. 

So that's the odds-n-ends of the Italy trip.  Since then life has slowed to it's usual pace.  We did go spend the night in Las Vegas a few days ago.  We stayed at one of the smaller strip hotels, Casino Royale, but I got a kick out of the view from our window.  
It seemed appropriate to be where we could see the Las Vegas version of the Rialto Bridge at the Venetian next door.  Thanks for stopping by.  Take care.



Tuesday, November 08, 2016

End of the trip in Venice

When we left Lake Garda we went north and down through the mountains towards a city called Vicenza.  This was for practical reasons only.  We needed to do some laundry and we needed to be close to the Venice airport so we could return our rental car the next morning.  The city had all we needed.  The hotel we stayed at was close to the motorway so it was really a business person's hotel.  We did have a small balcony though so spent part of the afternoon out there.  The view is mostly of the apartment buildings nearby but you can see the mountains.  You can also see our little rental Renault (black with a white roof) in the parking lot.
We decided to take the car on one last mission and went up to a small town called Bassano di Grappa.  They claim to be where the grappa liquor was invented.  It was simply a small but busy city.  We had lunch at a little 'British Pub' by the side of the river.  They had pretty good food, English beer and a nice view of the river, the ancient covered bridge and the Alps.  Not a bad stop at all!
The next morning we were off to the Venice airport.  That was kind of an experience.  There are three parking garages all with the same first number; I don't remember exactly but they were like 5A, 5B and 5C.  It wasn't clear to us which one housed the rental car return so we ended up going up and down 5A and 5B before finding the return at the very top of 5C.  Well, we made it anyway! 

So now we got the bus into town, which leaves you at the railway station, and went looking for our hotel.  The hotel advertised itself as being close to the railway station and sure enough, it wasn't hard to find.  My wife had opted for what they called an 'apartment' so we were eager to find out what we'd rented.  The folks at the hotel were very nice giving us a cool drink while they hunted up someone who could take us to our new digs.  This little gal grabbed my wife's bag and off we went.  I was expecting the 'apartment' to be two or three buildings away.  Well, it was more like half a mile!  We actually measured it using my wife's pedometer!  We went along across a couple canals across a couple small piazzas and finally down this narrow passageway.
In the end it was fine but it sure wasn't where we had assumed it would be!  It was a 2 bedroom apartment with a small eat-in kitchen, living room and bath.  The bath was sketchy but it was kind of fun living there.  And, what did we do in Venice?  We walked! 

My wife and I both love boating and have owned several.  I always assumed that we'd use boats to get around Venice but we never got on board a single one.  There are plenty of boats though.  Work boats are used to carry goods all around town.


Most tourists will be using the vapparetto which is basically a boating bus or a boating taxi.  In this photo you see both.  This vaparetto isn't very crowded but most of the ones we saw were packed!  The water taxi's looked pretty cool.
Even the police use boats.  These two cops seemed to be having a fairly nice ride.

However, as I said we walked everywhere.  Did I mention that Venice is a car-free zone?  Not a car in sight when you are talking about the interior of the city.  It's just not possible.  There isn't anywhere to drive them much less park!  Delivery of things is via boat until you have to carry whatever on the 'street'.  Then you use a specialized wheel barrow.  The front forks extend a couple feet and have little steel wheels.  You then tip the barrow back so the wheels are on the next step then slide forwards until the main wheels have support then repeat until you are on top of the bridge.  Going down is just going slowly!  Those guys earn their pay for sure.

Of course everyone wants to visit St. Mark's Basilica on the Piazza San Marco.  We wandered on over there in quite a round-about manner but here's what we found.
Talk about people!  My wife and I aren't ones for crowds and this huge Piazza was filled to the brim.  As we walked along we were just weaving between tour groups each with their guide.  Some of the guides had little radios that transmitted to their group only but lots of them just yelled.  Then we saw the lines for the Basilica and the Doge's Palace.  Suddenly finding our way OUT of the Piazza sounded like a great idea.  I did take a photo of San Giorgio Maggiore church across the water.
So what we did for the remainder of our three days in Venice was to just love the city and avoid all the tourist highlights.  If we ever decide we absolutely MUST see St. Mark's, we'll go in February or sometime.  We did cross the famous Rialto Bridge.  The interior walkway was being redone and was kind of a mess but the outside is still very beautiful.  It is also very crowded both inside and out!
On the Grand Canal is where the grandest homes were built.  They are still pretty grand.  This was across from a restaraunt where we had lunch.
That lunch was kind of a special one just because the place was on the canal.  When I say special, I mean expensive.  But it wasn't too bad and every once in a while it's good to try something new. 

So that wound up our trip to Italy.  My wife's pedometer got a good workout and we saw more churches than I would have though possible.  We flew from Venice to London and London back to Las Vegas.  Where ever we have lived coming home always feels good.  Coming home to Las Vegas was no exception.  It's good to be back.  I'm sorry I've been so tardy about posting these.  I think I'm getting slower with every trip.  Anyway, thanks for stopping by!




Thursday, November 03, 2016

Lake Garda and the town of Malcesine

The three great mountain lakes in Northern Italy are Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and Lake Garda going from west to east.  We decided to visit Lake Garda simply because it was on our way to Venice.  It turned out to be a very interesting choice.  The lake is quite long and narrow and the town of Malcesine is about half way up on the eastern shore.

Our hotel was about 2 km from the town center but there was a lovely walkway along the lake shore that you could take to the center.  That was great.  You will note that the town is long and thin because the mountain is right there.  There is a gondola ride that goes up it and every afternoon we saw para-gliders.

Looking across the lake you can see the buildings from the little towns on the other side.


The town center itself was BUSY!  We had lunch there but didn't want to stay.  The thing we didn't realize before we came here was that many of the tourists visiting were from Germany or Austria.  I think there were three German networks and two Austrian on the television feed; we had BBC World News.  When we were downtown every other car had German license plates.  It was kind of different.  One of the other reasons the town center was so crowded is because there are ferries carrying people up and down the lake.  The tourists are let off in the center of town, they wander around a bit then go back to the town where they are staying.  

Our hotel was quiet, perhaps because we were on the back side and we had a balcony!  You can see also how the mountain raises up with little shore line for building.

Given that we had a balcony and given that there was a little grocery store right across the street we couldn't help but have a picnic dinner out on the balcony.  Tough life but someone has to do it!



There was one thing I'd never seen before in the little store across the street.  Taps where the customer could get a plastic container and help themselves to wine.  Not bad!
My kind of grocery store!  And it was only 1.80 euro a liter.  Somehow I don't think Safeway is going to pick up on this marketing ploy. 

We are almost back to Venice.  Another stop in the town of Vicenza then off to Venice.  Thanks for coming along.  Take care.

Poking along in Italy

After leaving the cities of Florence and Siena we wanted to spend a little time by the ocean.  So we worked our way up from Pisa towards Genoa.  In the end we turned back inland prior to reaching Genoa but it was fun none the less.

Going to the beach can be quite the production.  Here we walked out on a pier to look back at the beach.  It is late in the season and during the week so there isn't a lot going on!  This is in a little town called Forte dei Marmi.  It has mountains directly behind it so is protected from bad weather.  Unfortunately it was rather cloudy when we visited so the mountains were hiding.

Then we went up to the town of Chiavari.  Again the beach was remarkably uncrowded.  One day we drove up to Ste. Margherita Ligure for lunch and a little walk.  It was a lovely little town built around it's harbor.
Finally we needed to start making our way towards Venice but first....  I have been a sports car fan since my 1959 TR3 so a visit to Italy obviously called for a stop in Maranello at the Ferarri Museum.

They did have a few red cars on display!  I must admit that I was disappointed by the museum.  First it is quite small and secondly there were virtually no new model production cars.  The newest cars were 8 or 10 years old.  Granted it is a museum but I know they sell the darned things.  They also had a number of race cars including F1, road racing and some lesser known formulas but again they were all pretty old.

On the way over to Maranello we kept to the back roads avoiding the motorways as much as possible.  We wanted to see Italy and you see a lot more at 60 kph than at 120 kph.  The road were generally excellent.  Well paved, well marked and with guardrails where ever one might be needed.  There were also roundabouts; hundreds of roundabouts!  If one needs practice using roundabouts, Italy is the place to go.  There were a few villages where the houses were too close together for two way traffic but they were generally handled well also.  This is a typical bit of road.

There was this one road however that had switchbacks where you are going north, you turn the corner and you are going south.  It had 15 of them, each one with a sign!  I suppose it was for bicyclists.  There was also this signl
15% Downgrade!  I think the most I've seen before is 10%.  I'm happy to say the car's brakes worked really well! 

We did get to see lots of little towns off in the distance then we would gradually get to them.  It was fun!






So that was our trip through Central Italy.  Next we are headed for the north and west.  Thanks for stopping by!


Sunday, October 16, 2016

On to Siena

So when we got the car in Florence it was time to start the roadtrip portion of our Italian trip.  The first step was to find a road to Siena.  We found a way to Siena but it wasn't the road we expected.  We aren't usually so inept but maybe we were simply excited.  However, Siena was quite lovely. 

We stayed at a hotel on the outskirts of the city.  These hill towns have been here for a long time and are basically pedestrian only places.  My wife wasn't feeling well so the first day in Siena I went into town on my own; the second day we went back together.  Siena isn't a huge city so walking around the town is no hardship.  There is parking outside the city wall so we would drive into town, park then walk.  Even the scooter riders are on foot.
Once in the town the piazza known as Il Campo is the first star of the place.  It is a huge space shaped like the letter D with restaurants and shops all around the circular parts and the Palazzo Pubblico and Museo Civico forming the straight portion.  It is in a natural depression so you walk along the street then descend into the piazza.  My photo here doesn't do real justice to the fact you are descending a couple flights here.  On the right you can see the tables of a streetside restaurant that are built out on little patio things.

Every summer there are horse races in Il Campo.  The various parts of the city sponsor different horses and while it looks pretty wild apparently a good time is had by all.  We were having lunch at one of those tables when a huge parade of drummers and flag wavers came by.  We think they were associated with one of the winning horses.  My wife took the photos so I managed to get into one or two of them.
As you can see, they are going down to Il Campo.  There had to be 30-40 drummers and an equal number of flag wavers.  Many of the participants were teens and young 20's in age but there were some who were maybe 10 and others who were closer to 60. 

They were headed for Il Campo.  This photo shows the restaurants lining the semi-circular portion of the space.
This is the museum on the flat side of the D.  This view is coming down the hill and is only part of the building. 


Of course every Italian city needs to have a cathedral.  The Siena Duomo is obviously very fine.

Finally, of course, Siena is in Tuscany.  Every movie you've ever seen about Tuscany talks about the beautiful countryside.  It's true, it is beautiful.  Even the view from our hotel pool area wasn't too shabby.
Now it was time to be leaving Siena.  Our first stop was to be Pisa.  I don't know enough about Pisa to really talk intelligently about it.  But you have to check out the leaning tower.  BTY, you won't be alone.

The Duomo doesn't get nearly the attention but it is a massive structure!  The tower is just hiding back there.
We saw the tower, saw the Duomo; it must be time to head north along the coast.  We aren't going to anyplace particularly famous.  We just want to enjoy Italy.  There will be more.  Thanks for stopping by.  Have a good one.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Etruscans and Florence

After our fun in Naples and Pompeii we hopped a train for Rome.  We didn't want to visit the city itself but had read of Etruscan ruins north of the city near Civitavecchia and Tarquinia.  There isn't a lot of evidence of the Etruscan civilization but there are ruins.  We thought we'd rent a car and go check out a couple sites.  Unfortunately we didn't account for the Italian desire for a day off and showed up on Monday when both the sites we wanted to visit were closed.  Bummer! 

We did get a little insight into driving in Italy and it paved the way for our second, longer, car rental.  The roads in Italy are generally excellent.  Even where we were driving on 'local' roads they were great with guardrails where needed and just in good condition.  The car we rented was a Nissan Micra which was pretty small but adaquate.  Speed on the motorway was in the 90 to 110km range (60-70 mph) and the car was comfortable if not quick to accelerate.  I have to admit it's been a while since I drove a stick but it comes back quickly if that's what you've got.

We spent the night in Tarquinia at a small hotel.  We started our dinner at a table out by the swimming pool but had to retreat to the dining room when a rain shower came by.  The next morning we returned the car and got a train to Florence. 

Florence is of course considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance and is filled with museums dedicated to that time in history.  We started out walking from the train station to our hotel.  It was a LONG walk let me tell you.  But it is Florence so you tell yourself to get over it!  My wife used Trip Advisor to book the hotel and when we arrived in Florence we used the mapping feature to lead us to the hotel.  That's another use of that phone data plan that we had and very handy it was.  In the end we were just about three blocks from the Galleria dell' Accademia and perhaps eight blocks from the Duomo.  There would be a problem with these places:  tourists!  This is the line for the Accademia.
 Then there was the line for the Duomo.  These people were standing in front of a sign warning that if you are standing in the line here it will be an hour and a half wait before you get inside.
The fun part for me is just walking down the street and seeing this in the distance.  It also gives you an idea of the not huge sidewalks!  Well, in the tourist areas people did walk in the streets a lot.


You can buy tickets from your hotel that will eliminate the wait but it costs an extra 4 or 5 euro for each person.  Well, we went for the Uffizi but decided to skip the others.  It wasn't the cost that swayed us but the crowds.  Here is Botticelli's Birth of Venus as it actually looks:
How can you enjoy something with 10 people in front of you?  Of course there was usually someone elbowing their way to the front of the group and taking a photo of it or even worse a selfie with them next to the picture.  Grrr! 

When it came time to leave we splurged on a taxi to take us to the airport.  It wasn't much of a splurge.  It was 25 euro and the bus would have been at least 10.  The Florence airport is rather small but they do have rental cars and that's what we were needing next.  We wanted to travel in Tuscany, Chianti, Emilia-Romagna and other provences by car so that's what we needed.  In the end we drove almost 1,200 km around central Italy.  That's for another post of three.

As an aside, the family accountant (aka my wife) tells me we spent approximately $8,400 on our month in Italy including the air fare, trains, the car and everything.  We are pretty good at keeping receipts so that's pretty close to correct.  I don't think that's bad at all!  Take care and thanks for stopping by.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Pompeii

Our visit to Italy started with a long train ride from Venice down to Naples in the south of the country.  Naples itself is a busy city and we did see some small part of it but the basic reason for our visit was to see Pompeii.  There is a modern Pompeii but the one we wished to visit was destroyed in 79AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted covering the city with ash.  Our friend Wikipedia says the town had about 11,000 residents at the time of it's destruction.  It was lost for many centuries and wasn't really found again until the mid-1700's.  Excavation and re-building is still going on.

We chose to stay in Naples near the train station since there is good train service to Pompeii.  Hotels are found in modern Pompeii as well but we got the impression they were quite some distance from the ruins.  The train worked just fine for us.  The day we visited was a beautiful sunny day; unfortunately warm though since we were both wearing long pants.  You pay your entrance fee then need to decide if you want a human guide, an audio guide or nothing at all.  We chose the no guide option.

You hike up this hill and come to a large open forum.  The roads are rough, large cobblestones and the sidewalks vary in height from a few inches to close to two feet (10 cm to 65cm). 
The photo of the street was taken quite early in the day before the hordes of tourists arrived.  As you can see we were hardly alone.  The forum is currently being used to display some modern bronze sculpture.  They actually fit in reasonably well but were a bit disconcerning.

 The town as it has been excavated consists of nine sections and you can pretty much wander around at will.  Some of the homes and buildings have been rebuilt using those portions of the original building that could be found and reused. 
It is really quite amazing that these frescos managed to last 2,000 years!  There are even some paintings that were done on exterior walls that have managed to survive.  There are buildings in all stages:  some like the frescos shown above that have roofs, some are shells, some are only a couple walls.
There is work being done to make the place even more of a tourist destination than it is already. This building had a history of being re-built several times prior to the cities destruction.  Now it is at least covered over while someone decides what further work should be done.


As a large Roman town, Pompeii had it's own ampitheatre where I'm sure all kinds of grisly games were played.
Before visiting Pompeii we had visited the Archaeological Museum in Naples.  It wasn't directly associated with Pompeii but gave a good overview of the Roman Empire arts and crafts.

I should mention one unfortunate happening in Naples.  My wife and I were returning from Pompeii when we were stopped by a young man who said we'd dropped something.  We said we hadn't but we were held up for a few seconds.  We walked on and a minute later arrived at our hotel.  I removed my backpack to discover it open and my wife's purse was missing.  Hmmm.  Pickpockets can do backpacks as well!  My wife is an unusual woman.  She carried nothing in the purse but her glasses and her camera.  Her credit cards, money and id are in her pockets.  It was a pain in the ass but not the worse thing in the world.  The next day we reported the theft to the police.  They were very nice but they can do nothing.  We spoke with one officer who spoke rather good English while another kind of followed along.  When we gave them our address in Nevada, the one following along pulled up our house on Google Earth!  They got a big kick out of that.  Yes, rural Nevada is just a little different from metropolitan Naples.

Next day we hopped on another train this time headed for Rome.  We wanted to look at some more ruins.  Stay tuned but I'll warn you now, it was disappointing.  Take care!