Saturday, December 1, 2007


Went to Padova and saw the preserved tongue of St Anthony at the basilica. There isn't a lot to do (so far that we've found) in Padova, but it's a beautiful city.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Naples - finding enjoyment in a REAL ghetto.

Naples really isn't a place that I would highly recommend anyone visit. However, I enjoyed myself there thoroughly. Upon arrival at night, we were accosted by a very pushy, sleazy "taxi driver" at the train station. We sought refuge in a cafe across the street. Inside a man in a blue suit with brass buttons and a matching blue sailor hat served us a beer and gave us directions to the hotel. "Piazza Mercato?" a smile I later recognized later to be "amused" came across his face.
I had an unusually heavy bag, blatantly American traveling companions, and it was night and we were tired and it was a bad neighborhood, so naturally we got lost. Around the corner we found the harbor, empty dirty streets, and a cross dressing hooker. "We need to keep moving, whatever we do. Just keep moving in a determined fashion."
Shortly thereafter I called the Albergo.
"Hi. I'm lost."
"Where are you ma'am?"
"I don't know. Oh,! okay, I'm by a church." Suddenly I realized what a ridiculous statement this was being in Italy. Then I became aware that I hadn't even acknowledged to the receptionist who I was. "Oh, by the way. I am checking in this evening. OH! oh. I am at the Pi....azza Mercato. Oh guys I think we're here!!!"
"Yes, ma'am. We are right in front of you." *click*
"The guy just hung up on me!"


We climb the 34 steep and narrow steps to the lobby of our questionably three-star hotel.

"There are only three of you. The reservation says four. Where is the fourth person?"
"Um, yeah, he had to work, so he isn't coming."
"But the reservation is for four people."

After an awkward sign-in process, we were then onto the fun stuff: food.

"Okay, now I will read a list. You tell me if you want it for breakfast."
"muesli or other grain cereal?"
Clearly Deb and I were holding out to see what all was on the list to pick the most satisfying or expensive item. I couldn't quite read the list ahead of the man, so when he looked at me impatiently I asked "Do we each pick one from the list, or can we have two?"
"No! You get whatever you want. If you want toast and grains, you can have both. You can have all!"
(he seemed surprised and frustrated that he had to start all over again, but Deb and I were suddenly enjoying ourselves.)
Ryan pipes in, "hey, can I get an American coffee?"
"Yes, for you I can make this."
"I love this guy" I whispered over to Deb. Deb nodded in acknowledgment. Our young Indian man receptionist was suddenly quite lovable in our eyes.

"Do you know any place where we can get something to eat?" I ask.
"Now?" (It was late, 10pm)
"Yes. Someplace....nearby." What I meant was "someplace safe" but I think he got what I was implying.
"You go upstairs. I will call my friend. What do you want to eat?"
"I guess pizza. We are in Naples," I said brilliantly. "Pizza is good here, right?"
"Yes, if you like pizza."
*man calls and speaks in Italian* Yes, they just got here. They want to eat. yes, now. Just pizza.
Not wanting to limit my choices I pipe in "Or, anything, really. Maybe some meats or pasta." Okay, now they say anything. yes. yes. okay. 5 minutes, okay.
"Okay, my friend will walk here and take you to the place."
Ordinarily I would flat out refuse. I mean, this is the shit they warn you about in travel guides, right? but I didn't hear anything suspicious said in Italian on the phone, so I only hesitated "Um, why don't you give directions? We can find it."
"No, it's near, but it is complicated. No. My friend walks here and takes you there."
oh fine then, I'm hungry.... "Okay." I succumb easily.

Like clockwork, 5 minutes later, along comes our handsome and totally shady looking young escort.
"Okay, we go to my restaurant."
I look at him and just kind of wide eyed stare..and laugh what the hell. if we die, we die, right?

Along the way, down a dark and impossibly dirty alley Platt tries to make conversation. "So are you from Naples?"
"No. But I live here now. I am Russian."
I glance over at Deb and say "we're gonna die."
Platt: "Oh yeah? Yeah. I'm Russian too. Well, my family is. That is, my ancestors were from Russia. They're Russian....." *silence* "And Poland too."

Miraculously we arrive alive at the BRIGHTLY lit restaurant. There is just one old man, a regular, and the family there. The regular stops watching his game show and stares at us, decides to leave. We are now left to be served by Russian Momma.
"Ha un menu?" I ask politely.
"No. I am menu" she says proudly.
"Okay guys, there's no menu so, tell me what you want and I'll order it for you." ("I am menu" was all she could say in English)
"You want the antipasto dish? It has grilled stuff, from the ocean and the forest" Momma suggests.
"no, thank you. Just pizza" I reply.
"No antipasto? It's delicious" she insists.
"No, no thank you." Clearly this is no Have It Your Way place.
Platt: "I want a pepperoni pizza." (in english, directly to the lady, of course)
"Solo pepperoni?"
"No! no. He does NOT want a pepperoni pizza.....Ryan, pepperoni means, like, green peppers. It will come with only green bell peppers on it."
"Well, I want a regular pepperoni pizza." he says.
"Okay, well, he wants salamino piccante" I order.
"Good catch," she winks at me. "But, No. He does not want that. No good." Russian Momma insists he get a white pizza with spinach and sausage. And, that is what Ryan gets.
After our awkward bargaining for our order, we eat in silence as the family watches. Russian Momma is QUITE pleased with herself for our "choices." The kids clearly want to get the hell out of there. The young ones start to put the chairs up onto the tables and Russian Momma shoos them away, giving big eyes, like have some respect for our guests. And, then she goes back to watching us eat.

After dinner we hole up into our room and fall asleep watching a horribly acted show in Italian.


Graffiti reads: "Fire to Rome"

The next day we walk past....... I can't even describe it, really. And, sadly, I only have Ryan's random picture that totally cuts out the best part.
Trash is littered everywhere. There were "street vendors" who literally dumped out trash cans and began to sell what they could from the can. We traversed through a dumping area where people swarmed like seagulls, picking up metal scraps and other items they hoped to sell. A person dismantling a broken TV. Stepped on a few broken glass pipes.

"There is also the problem of the Camorra (mofia), which profits extraordinarily in the endless crisis over trash, much as arms dealers thrive in war." from NY Times article on Naples and their trash.

There were drug deals. Card games. Disfigured beggars. Young trashy lovers on mopeds. And little old ladies lowering baskets on a rope from their balconies to have someone put delivered groceries in them.
We visit our bellboy-bartender in his blue suit at the cafe again. An old woman, obviously homeless and insane and badly in need of a good scrub with lye soap curses into the cafe. "I want that beer! Give me a goddamn beer!"
"Does she come here everyday?" I ask.
"Yes," the bartender replies matter-of-factly.
"I thought so."
Our favorite bartender finally gave her a beer to the annoyance of the younger partner bartender.

Then we caught the train and visited Pompeii for the day.

On our way home (to the hotel room) from Pompeii, we walked through the dump and stopped at a literal hole-in-the-wall pizza asporto (to-go) place. From which we got the best pizza, deep fried mashed potatoes and rice balls. From our balcony we ate and watched 16 year old boys and girls cause trouble in the alleys. We figured out who was the leader of the pack, the up for anything sidekick, the chubby girl, the skinny girl in love with #1, the older girls (smoking in a corner away from the group) who the #1 liked, the young chubby brother of the skinny girl, etc etc. They lit off fireworks for us, with the ashes falling at our sides still glowing. We watched them fight with other kids passing by on mopeds (someone kicked at #1's moped). And we saw a 10 year old pop wheelies on his scooter back and forth down the alley (obviously trying to impress the older girls).
A fun night.

Naples: Throughly enjoyable in that sad and totally thrilling way.

The following is a painting done by Domenico Gargiulo (alias Micco Spadaro) called The Plague (or pests) of Naples at Piazza Mercato (where we stayed). An old painting, but stills holds some relevance to today.

I mean, clearly we weren't in the touristy area. I'm sure there are some nice areas of Naples, but we didn't see it. Only person we encountered that spoke English was the receptionist at hotel and our Russian escort.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


"No need for reservations. Just show up."
Become immediately suspicious if anyone ever tells you this. In fact, go out of your way to insist on a reservation and show up early.
We showed up at the train station on Sunday well slept and eager to catch an afternoon train to Rome. Surely not many people would be riding to Rome on a Sunday, it's sabbath! With all this buildup it goes without saying that the tickets were sold out for the rest of the day. This messed with everything, as we had a nice young man waiting in Rome to hand us the keys to his no-refund apartment that evening.
Humiliated and almost in tears from the sharp dissent from pure unadulterated excitement to the pits of despair, I sat down on my luggage in the middle of the crowded train station.
"I'm going to go get a slice of pizza, " Ryan exclaimed as he exited the disaster scene.
"I think he's going to get lost," Deb exclaimed as she excused herself to follow Ryan.
"Come on, honey. Let's just try." The surprisingly optimistic Matthew to the rescue!
"Yes, ma'am, there are no seats left on the train. But for the same price you can purchase a standing room only ticket."
That's a five and a half hour ride!!!!! "We'll take it," I said in desperation.

Once we got there, Rome was pretty stinking awesome. Our flat was fantastically huge, with three bathrooms and literally 7 beds (and two sofa beds). My room was the one that was set off of the patio, separate from the rest of the flat. We were two blocks from the Colosseo (Colosseum). So, yeah, pretty fantastic.

We pretty much saw everything. The most impressive thing to me was the Trevi fountain. (see above picture where I look like a man) We visited it at night, which is the only way I suggest seeing it. We bought 1 euro wine and beer, drank it on the benches, threw a coin over our shoulder to ensure a return visit, and watched all the tourists, local college kids, and the chestnut sellers mull about.

  • Colosseum: Matthew licked it.
  • Victor Emmanuelle Monument: Huge bronze statue of Victor on a horse, which had disproportionately HUGE balls (which were discussed in the description plaque about the statue). Awesome view of Rome from the top. Saw a man get out of his car and chase a pedestrian (who he almost hit) to literally kick him in the ass. "You're breaking my balls!"
  • Cesar's ashes spot.
  • Pantheon.
  • Caligula's palace ruins.
  • Arch di Triumph
  • The Sistine chapel. I got goosebumps going in there. I didn't think I was going to be impressed.
  • The Vatican museum. Matthew bought a fake Rolex. Sent some postcards from their special post office.
  • Spanish Steps.
  • Ate the best Indian food, followed by marzipan treats and gelato.
  • Piazza Navona
  • Roman baths
  • HUGE fountains
  • Borghese Gallery (Venus statue)
  • Hermaphrodite
  • The Discus Thrower
  • lots and lots of ruins, including where Julius Cesar was killed
  • saw a woman's purse snatched off her by a passing motorist "la borsa! la borsa!"
  • ate zucchini flowers (on my list of things to do in my lifetime, believe it or not)
  • saw the most attractive and fashionable street cleaner ever
  • saw a real Luigi (also street cleaner. green outfit and all)
  • and enough Romanesque art to last a lifetime

Proud of my planning so as to maximize sightseeing and minimize effort.
Proud of use of Italian.
Proud of ability to navigate the public transportation system (taxis, buses, AND trains without the use of english once).
Proud to be kicked out of the McDonalds(!!!).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ca Bruzzo Winery

Ryan and Deb, friends of Matt, came to visit us in November for roughly two weeks. We had a grand ol' time together, drinking and eating (in that order) like good little porky Romans. The more unusual or specific to the region the food was the better, as far as I was concerned. Granted, there were some things that were "off the table," (harharhar) like peacock tongues, which wealthy ancient Romans actually ate.
First stop was at the Ca Bruzzo winery in the Berici hills (where once before drove down a hiking trail). This was one of the highlights of the trip. We got lost trying to find the place (no surprise there). We ended up driving down several different driveways and a road that looked suspiciously like another hiking trail.
We arrived before dark though, so we had some time to walk through the vineyards at sunset.
Then we headed to the cellar to drink progressively older and finer wines and pretend we were actually absorbing information.
The winery is operated by a family from California who had extended family (ie, tour guide's grandmother) in Italy. They specialize in small patches of wine, using innovative techniques. This is a family-run, organic winery- no pesticides, no fertilizer, no irrigation. French oak barrels, unusual grafting techniques, and region specific climate make for some delicious wines!
After the wine lesson, we were welcomed into their entertainment room to enjoy cheese, bread, more wine, and talk about Lord of the Rings next to a huge hearth and a suit of armor. The conversation and laughing was ceaseless until MOM came in and busted up the party. We reluctantly left with numerous bottles of wine after drawn out conversations in the driveway.
We'll have to go together when you come to visit. The wines are about 15 euro each. If you find them in the states (unlikely) you'll pay about $45.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Current Exchange Rate

1 Euro = 1.4412 U.S. dollars

Vending Machines In Italy

At one of the gas stations we use... condoms, fine chocolates, air freshener, and beer available via vending machine 24hr/day. And, don't forget to take home a movie to wifey!! Credit cards acceptable.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Asiago Hike

Here are a few photos from the hike I did in Asiago.

It was my first european snow! I, of course, was improperly dressed, so I froze my butt off until the sun warmed up everything. My feet were soaked halfway into it, but I enjoyed it.
Afterwards I bought some Asiago cheese to share with Ryan and Deb when they visit in a few days.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Drivers License

I successfully garnered a drivers license which allows me to drive around Italy. $150 later I will have a European Union driver's license that will be valid for 10 years. I'm excited at the prospect of being able to drive legally in any European country for the next 10 years.
For now I need to concentrate on surviving an Italian traffic circle.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Can you believe that THIS is the Venice HOSPITAL? I found it amazing. The church next door houses, in glass, the perfectly preserved right foot of Santa Caterina da Siena.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tour of the Apartment

I probably should have cleaned the house first, but here it is anyway....

Thursday, September 6, 2007


Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy. It's an hour away from our house. I was DYING to be near water again, so I planned a little trip to Sirmione, which is this touristy little peninsula into Lake Garda.

First, we stopped off at this war memorial.

It's inside of this church called Capella dei conti Treccani, which means Chapel of the Counts Treccani. A church of Counts!! So the collection of skulls (and bones, which are not featured in the photo) are those of Italian soldiers who died in the second battle for the independence at San Martino della Bataglia (the town). "The outnumbered soldiers from Piedmont had defeated Austrians in glorious battle," which essentially won the war for the Italians... helping establish an independent country. Well, hell...... I'm REALLY bad at history, so I am piecing this stuff together from different websites using babelfish-type translation.

See the head injury???

Then we headed off to Sirmione p
roper. Non-local car traffic is not allowed. So we walked in through the castle wall...

The houses are, in the typical old Italian city style, close together. The alleyways were a great place to walk around and imagine living in such places. The apartments had interesting doors, and it seemed each place had their own unique plaque and name:

We took a nice walk around the edge of the town, on the water. It was too bad that Mateo and I were so tired or else we would have explored a little more.
We saw this woman.
.. now, tell me folks... does that look like a bathing suit to you? It seemed painfully clear to us that it was lace thong underwear. And, well, I shudder.

The town has random art pieces up everywhere...

I miss being near the beach..........

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Matthew was promoted to Sergeant today in a ceremony on post. He has been waiting for this promotion for awhile now, so this was a really exciting day for us.

There were a lot of people there (more than I expected!! I'm glad I brushed my hair). I, of course, did my part to spice the solemn ceremony by being the one to "promote" Mateo (otherwise it would have been his squad leader in uniform...only one other person was promoted by their wife). I ripped off the old rank and tossed it in the air behind my shoulder. Then I secured the new rank on his uniform and everyone made hoooah noises and chuckled.

The first sergeant and the company commander both said a few words about Matthew. Then Matt had the chance to speak.
He (Mateo) was really nervous to have to speak in front of people, but he came off as really eloquent, poised: thanking family, fellow soldiers, and giving the advice to others to work on their promotion now, etc.

What does the promotion mean? Well, he's now a non commissioned officer in rank, so he can strut around on post a little more. There's the pay raise, which is excellent. And, then there's that little "with increased rank comes increased responsibility" part that the commander repeated three times this morning.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lago di Fimon

Mateo and I went to Lago di Fimon (Lake Fimon) yesterday.

"I can't believe Google maps works in Italy!"
I just looked outside the passenger window and prayed that it actually did work.
"Turn here."

Getting there was easy. We both marveled at how the Italians figured that driving 100 kph on a windy country road with ditches on either side was a good idea.
This is Lake Fimon:

It was quite picturesque. We saw, across the lake, the biggest swan I have ever seen. I've been chased by swans before. This one was even bigger than that one.

Then we ventured onward. I noticed that the directions I had gotten told us to go back where we came from, but I didn't like the idea of backtracking. I had seen there was a road that went clear around the lake, and this is what we decided to find. So we started up this side road for about half a mile.
I'm super amazed at how lush it became. It reminded me of Hawaii.

Then the road got steeper and narrower, then finally, there was a sign that said "private driveway." So we had to manuvuer a 300 point u-turn on this road. There was no way we were going any father than the "attenti al cani" sign.
We finally got turned around and found a little side road into a corn field.
"oh THIS must be the road that goes all the way around!" After we passed a tractor that looked like this:

the road turned into a hiking trail/river bed. Fortunately we had the balls to just drive onto the private roadway intersecting with the trail and made it around the lake.

(Those grape and olive harvesters are totally trippy to come across on the road. They are super tall)

Then we ventured into the Berici Hills above the lake.

The Berici hills are awesome! I didn't know we lived so close to something so wild and romantic. I thought that finding something cool would be at least an hours drive from home. I'm really starting to get sick of corn fields. Kill me if I ever move to Kansas.

Here's the view, in the general direction of home, from the top of the hills:

I TOLD YOU!!! CORN! CORN! Nothing but CORN.
By the way, fresh rains have turned the usual AM horse shit smell into something far worse.

So then we follow the map down this road, which turns into another hiking trail. But we've gone so far and come so close to home, we don't turn around. There was a sign, after all, that said "public access" from April to October. So we drove down this white rock hiking/biking trail to the bottom of the hills. It took us about 20 minutes to traverse maybe.
It was wide enough for a car all the way down, but we didn't know that starting out. Talk about relief when we realized we had reached the bottom!!
"Do you see what I see?"
"OMG! Yes!"
"This is the place we got lost on our first drive in Italy. We turned around at this road because it dead-ended into a driveway. It's not a driveway! It's a drivable hiking path!"

This is a little Google Maps look of the trail:

And, yay. That's it. It was fun...sort of. I mean, it was fun once we realized it was over. Kinda like the whole "hahaha remember when we watched that horror movie by ourselves at night and got scared, that was fun" kind of way.

Lesson Learned: What looks like a road, and may very well be included in your directions, may not actually be a real "road."