Our lost together locations

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Buon Anno a Tutti!

Buon Anno from Bologna's Piazza Maggiore!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Some Thoughts

Okay, to refresh, we're in Italy AKA Italia, and we've been away from our fair Toronto for more than three months. It seemed like it was time for reflection on things we've encountered in different cities/countries and what I felt about them. You know me, I don't have too many opinions.

To recap, we've stayed in London (twice), Dublin, Galway, Tubercurry, Bundoran, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Carstairs, Amsterdam, Brussels, Brugge, Paris, Lyon, Bedheilac, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisboa, Porto, Lagos, Mijas, Sevilla, Milano, Roma, Firenze, Padova, Napoli and we're (currently) on the train to Siena, then Bologna for New Years, Venezia, maybe Verona, back to London, Tel Aviv, maybe Greece, probably Amman (going to Petra) and back in February. Not that you asked, but I do like to share. I'm good that way.

So, let's see. First? Alcohol. We haven't had any real ale in London yet. That's on "tap" for our next go-through in a couple of weeks. Ireland? we went on a tour of the Guinness brewery at St. James' Gate, and the beer isn't going to get any fresher than that! But, beer in Ireland, along with a lot of others things is expensive. Five euros a pint easily. Beer was less expensive in Northern Ireland, but the selection was somewhat lacking. We also didn't find that Irish whiskey was as challenging/interesting as Scotch whisky. (Note the "e" in whiskey is dropped from Irish to Scotch, which could be part of the reason why Glaswegian is such a hard "dialect" of English to understand)

Scotland? WOW!!! The beer was cheap as borscht and DEE-LISH! Sadly, we couldn't get to BrewDog, but we did have some super sexy microbrews that were DYNO-MITE! For about two pounds ($4) a pint. The scotch? YUMMERS!!! Great tour at Glenmorangie, where we bought some wee bottles that were gone by Paris, but the tour at The Macallan wasn't quite as stellar. I think it had to do with the woman at Glenmorangie really enjoying what she did, and she fed off the interest and passion of the people on the tour, and the woman at The Macallan just doing a job. The scotch at The Macallan is worth going for, as they really do have some of the world's best. That we missed our appointment for the tutored tasting is one of the disappointments of our trip. But hey, s**t happens!

There is some great bottled beer to be had in the UK, Amsterdam and Belgium, but the quality drops off quite a bit in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. It's not to say that you can't get some "good" beer, but there's not much GREAT beer to be had. The beer in Amsterdam was good, but nothing really stands out like Deuchars IPA or Belhaven's Best in Scotland. The France beer was particularly lacking in quality, but the inexpensive wine in the Pyrenees from Aldi (the German supermarket chain that owns Trader Joe's in the U.S.) is not to be scoffed at. VERY drinkable wine for one-to-two euros a bottle. 750 mL and sometimes 1 litre! Red was the preference, and has been along most of the trip.

The wine in Portugal was inexpensive, as it has been in Spain and Italy, and the port in Porto was HEAVENLY!!! Again, the tour at Taylor's was better than Calem, but one tour did a good job of filling in the blanks, or reinforcing a point/concept that was said at the first. The port/chocolate tasting at Kopke was really nice, and inspired more of the same back at our hotel.

Sherry in Jerez, Spain was an experience, as the Sandeman tour was a bit of a farce, and the Pepe Tio one was an adventure, but much better. Still, I'm not much of a fan of sherry, and wasn't much of a fan of French brandy (I prefer cognac) and Spanish brandy didn't move any more than the French has.

We haven't done a grappa or wine tour, though we're hoping to do both before we leave the country, but the wine has been PHENOMENAL!!! Again, red, but the prosecco has been very nice. ESPECIALLY in/on the first class cars while riding on our (now expired Eurail pass). FREE wine/prosecco is a perk that makes the ride that much better. Then again, so does the two or three euro bottle that gets opened with the Swiss Army "jack" knife, that has come in handy in the hostels we've been in. More on that later.

We hope to do some form of a wine tour in Israel, but we'll see about that.

So that's alcohol. I've been drinking a lot, that's for sure. But because it's not cheap to drink "out" in most places, we've been doing more buying of bottles (beer and wine) and having our drinks that way. I don't know that I've been "drunk" once. I've been legally intoxicated, but haven't been driving (other than the adventure(s) in Scotland and Spain), so I haven't had to worry about that.

Food. London: SPECTACULAR Bengali/Indian at Shampan (Thanks John Arvanitis!!!) and Jodi already knew about Wagamama, but HOLY COW! What a great place. Not to be missed. "Fast food", Asian fusion, relatively inexpensive and fun. 'Nuff said. The food in Dublin was pretty good, but not great. Galwasy was the Oyster Festival, and otherwise we ate a MASSIVE baked potato that was quite over-priced. But remember, everything in Ireland is expensive! Tubercurry was our WWOOF experience, and an "experience" it was. The food wasn't great, but hey, we didn't go hungry. LOTS of tea. If there's something we've learned, the English know how to make tea! For starters they boil the friggin' water, which my mom has always done. She probably learned from her Scotland-born mom.

Bundoran was an out-of-season seaside town, and I made some mean pan-fried trout on Jodi's suggestion. Belfast was a mish-mash of things, which included me making a pasta/salad that i didn't much like. Jodi said it was good, but maybe it's because we were sleeping in twin beds that she was feeling overly generous with compliments. I wonder if she was afraid of this becoming a sleeping habit, since she does dig the cuddling (WHO DOESN'T!?!?!) but doesn't dig the snoring.

Edinburgh was SUPERB fish 'n chips, but painfully disappointing salads, which is a theme that seemed to continue through much of the UK. They don't seem to place much emphasis on good raw veggies. Oh well. Live 'n learn. While the Scottish will (and do!) fry anything/everything, they do make some good food otherwise. Another GREAT curry experience in Glasgow at The Wee Curry Shop. So good, that I went twice. Once with Jodi, and once on my own, after the Hajj to Granny Grey Goose's (AKA Aggie Baggie AKA Grandma AKA Agnes Balfour nee McIntyre) first home. Which I'm not 100% sure I found, but the car was stolen/graffiteed and I wasn't jacked for my camera. So it was an overall success. Not to mention that I navigated from Carstairs to Shettlestone to Glasgow. On my own. (I'm currently patting myself on the back, with my damaged (?) left arm. I think it's from pickaxing in the Pyrenees. More on that later.)

Carstairs was Jamie...errr.....Alex's fine food. He made a tasty haggis and neeps, and I'm psyched to try to make haggis from scratch. When we're in our own place. Which we need to find, since we sold our place in Toronto. Alex & Zoe's place in Carstairs was fantastic. Great people, good fun, and they just got engaged. It's about time she made an honest man out of him. He loves Jamie Oliver (and even though a certain Brit living in the Pyrenees calls him a fat tongued f**ker, Jodi and I dig his style too!) and has some "fun" hair likes Mr. Oliver's.

Amsterdam and Paris were two cities were we didn't eat out much, but instead put the money into "culture". Museums and metro passes mainly. In fact, we didn't eat out in Paris, but for the baguettes we got daily around the corner from our apartment in Montmartre.

I don't remember much fantastic food-wise from Brussels and Brugge, but I do remember the tourist-trap restaurants in Brussels, pushing their mussels. The mussels in Brussels were good, but not great. Better than a Jean-Claude van Damme movie, that's fer sure!

Lyon was SPECTACULAR, thanks to Corinne, who took us out to dinner at a fantastic place called Les Olivier. SO GOOD! This was also when Jodi was recuperating from a bout of stomach issues, which started up again in Barcelona. Speaking of Barca, we didn't each much in Spain other than bocadillos (sandwiches) as we were trying to balance Jodi's stomach unhappiness with my need/desire for food. MUCH jamon and queso, AKA ham 'n cheese. BUT GOOD!!!! SOOOOOO VERY GOOD!!!

In Bedheilac, at the gite/B&B, we ate well. Lots of homemade yummy food. Between Jon, Deb, Joe (Joe's WORLD FAMOUS pasta!) and myself, there was no one going hungry. We were cooking and baking and eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine and working hard (sometimes) and having fun (most of the time).

In Portugal and Spain, there is a lot of fish to be had - well in the south of Spain - and we ate a lot of fish in Lagos and some in Porto and Lisboa. It's salty, but tasty. REALLY tasty. Simply prepared and inexpensive - along with the wine - at just about every restaurant we were in. The salads weren't much better in Portugal, but at least they were larger. MUCH larger, but with iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, carrots and sometimes egg and tuna. Ugh with the egg and tuna, but hey, it's food. So I ate it. Canned corn too!

None of us were overly impressed with the food in the south of Spain, but this could have to do with the English and Germans who seem to own a lot of real estate. Hipercor, the grocery arm of El Corte Ingles (just for you Gitta!!!) is HUGE and tonnes of fun. If you like to grocery shop. Their Scotch was cheap too. Oh ya. If you're going to buy Scotch in Europe, go to Spain. For some reason it's cheaper than France, which is MUCH cheaper than Scotland. Taxes are the issue. A bottle of $200 Cardhu in Ontario is $50 (30 euros) in France and $35 (22 euros) in Barcelona. Generally speaking though, the selection is lacking.

Also, duty-free in Gatwick and Malaga weren't very good. Duty-free between Canada and the U.S. is VERY good, and I'm hoping that Heathrow's is as good as advertised by others. That said, because of the European Union, you can only buy duty free in Europe when leaving the E.U. Just an FYI.

The food in Sevilla wasn't super as Spanish cuisine, but we did have a very tasty (and annoyingly entertaining) meal with Wally & Gitta. We had some really good tapas in Marbella , disappointing tapas in Fuengirola and so-so tapas at El Plaza Mayor (an outlet mall with an enh Nike outlet).

Italia. Well....we've had SUPER pizza in Milano, ORGASMIC pizza in Napoli (we went back again because it was so good! 'A Pizzettata di Sandro e Peppe) and so-so pizza in Napoli. We've had feh risotto in Roma, and SPECTACULAR pasta in Roma (Ditirambo) and at 'A Pizzettata in Napoli (Gnocchi in a rose sauce). We haven't been looking much for salads, but their side veggies have been YUMMERS!!! Spinach, eggplant and escarole to name a few that come to mind.

Maya made a yummy Israeli curry in Padova, and I have now made my brownies in two countries on the trip. I think Israel is next. It's amazing how difficult/stressful it is to bake in someone else's kitchen. Corn syrup, cocoa, demerara brown sugar and baking powder are four ingredients I take for granted at home. Also, salted butter isn't always easy to find and not everyone has a Kitchen-Aid "mixmaster".

There has been a lot of panini (sandwiches) being eaten in Italy to go along with the pig 'n cheese theme established in Spain. In fact, it's very easy to eat carbs 'n meat 'n cheese with every meal here.

Speaking of meals, I would be remiss if I didn't mention coffee. The coffee, of which I am a big fan, has been REALLY wide in quality spectrum while away. Starbuck is a fave at home, but I do love to make a pot of drip coffee (I miss our old coffeemaker, but we'll get a new one when we're back. I hope that Em has been using it!) and enjoy it while doing whatever at home. Starbucks was a bit of a godsend in the UK, as BT (British Telecom) has a deal with them, that if you have a Starbucks card in good standing, that your WiFi is free at their locations. So, we bought one in the UK and one in Ireland, and we had WiFi if it wasn't where we were staying.

I don't miss the fact that I haven't had Starbucks in months. The coffee otherwise has been great. When it's percolated/brewed and not made with hot water and instant coffee. Homey don't play that!!! Caffe con leche in Spain is great, since they heat the milk, and I do love espresso, thanks to Sheila getting me on to it years ago at her parents' place in Bolton.

Sleeping. Hmmmm....there have been good and bad experiences, and just because hostelworld.com or booking.com says one thing, doesn't always mean it's the case. We have had better than expected experiences, like fresh/yummy pastries and coffee made for us in Napoli, great breakfasts and large rooms with great showers and bathrooms, and less-than-stellar experiences - musty rooms, noisy beds, tiny rooms, construction dust coming in, shared bathrooms, no toilet seats, flooding showers....

It's to be expected when you're traveling on a tight budget for 20 weeks.

People. If you're able to handle/enjoy Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, L.A., New York, you'll be fine in London and Paris. The only thing is that speaking (some) French comes in handy in Paris. Just as an FYI. Dublin and Galway had genuinely nice and helpful people, and what they say about the Irish and their charm and talking the craic ("crack") is VERY true. Belfast, because of it's long history of violence and religious/political issues was a place we were warned about, but it was GREAT! We met some great people and it was delighful. In a big city way.

I was psyched about Scotland and I wasn't let down. My enthusiasm for the country was evident/obvious and people picked up on it, which helped a ton. I loved Edinburgh and Glasgow, even if Glaswegian might as well be Swedish or Dutch as far as understanding what people are saying. The city is now employing translators to help native English speakers to understand what Glaswegians are saying. Now that's funny!

Amsterdam and Belgium were great, and the people were people. Not much to say. One thing I've discovered is that if you try to speak a few words in someone's native tongue, and ask if they speak English, you can usually figure out what you need to know. Even if it involves drawing pictures, writing down numbers/letters or miming.

Barcelona was a city that had us paranoid, as Jodi was robbed of her day bag 15 years ago, but like Madrid, it's a big city with charm. Like Paris or London I suppose, but with the edge of the fear of being pickpocketed.

The biggest surprise for me was how much I loved Portugal. I'm planning on going back there, as I consider it a "home", the way I do Toronto, Montreal, L.A., Chicago, New York and Scotland. I just belong there, because it feels "right". The people are fantastic! So helpful.

Italy's been interesting. GREAT people everywhere, especially the warm hospitality in Napoli with Andrea, and the way that people walk arm-in-arm and kiss like crazy. Guys, girls, men, women, kissing cheeks and making out like mad ALL OVER NAPOLI!!!! Napoli's a bit rough around the edges and chaotic, but an adventure.

I guess that's about it. I've been at this for an hour and I figure it's time to edit some photos. OH YA!!! Pictures. THOUSANDS of pictures. Some experimental, some planned. Some where I missed the shot(s) and some where I nailed it. Jodi's been doing a great job of finding more of a "photographer's eye" as the trip has gone along, probably having to do with spending more time with the D-SLR/Canon. She shot well before, but having more time, desire and better subject matter would seem to bring out the intangibles in most of us.

I've been shooting reflections, shadows, low-light for "movement" in the shot, urinals, bathroom signs and any manner of other nonsense that amuses me.

Transportation. Italians don't sign their Metro or train stations well. Ryanair was a rougher landing than Easyjet (but we still have an Easyjet flight to go!). Second-class trains in most countries are better than most Portuguese trains. Overnight trains aren't all their cracked up to be - EXCEPT for the breakfast coffee between Madrid and Lisboa. Don't automatically buy city passes for transit and museums until you're sure you're going to go to the sights AND they're open the days you want to go. Some countries aren't very diligent in checking tickets on the trains (Italy) or Metro (Napoli - open gates are GREAT, but the station employees who just wave you through and/or open closed gates for you when you either don't have a ticket or your ticket expired, are even better!) but it's a good idea to have them. Also, in Napoli, say you have the "Arte Card" but forget it in your room and you'll probably be able to travel for free.

Photos. No flash means no flash. That is unless you're everyone else who doesn't seem to know how to turn their flash off, or use their camera without a flash, in which case they just ignore the signs. No museum/gallery/church/sight seems willing to do anything about it, other than say, "No flash" or better yet (Sistine Chapel, are you reading this?) "NO PHOTO!!!" ('cause they want to sell postcards) UNLESS (that is UNLESS UNLESS UNLESS) the guard knows you, in which case you not only take a picture, but with flash no less. F**KIN' hypocrite jackasses.

Some people (Pompeii) thought it was a good idea to enter "NO ENTRY" zones to pretend they were back in ancient times. This is not only a foul idea, but a bad picture. Wearing modern clothes doesn't make you look like you're back in 79 AD. Maybe if you strip naked in the brothel and simulate a position shown on the wall. That might be a good shot! Otherwise, just stay on the "right" side of the barriers. After all, it's people like you that are destroying the art/monuments of the world.

It's not people like me, who take no flash shots of the Sistine Chapel, David and probably a few other famous things. Things that need to be shot and shared, so that people will continue to visit them and be in SHEER and UTTER AWE OF THEIR MAJESTY!!! Oh well, they probably need Saul Colt (AKA The World's Smartest Man - which isn't saying much since men are dumb!) to help them word of mouth marketing. http://wwww.saulcolt.com. Enh. Who am I kidding? The whole world knows about the Sistine Chapel and Michaelangelo's David. But the whole world doesn't know about the Cappuchin Crypt, so it's a good thing I shot that when i wasn't supposed to!



Oh ya, LET THE INGREDIENTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES! This is something I've learned in Italy, and will practice when the ingredients are good enough to stand up on their own. Otherwise, they'll need layering of flavours.

That's it for now.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

La Dolce Vita or Living La Vida Loca

First off, I left off on the way to Roma.

Roma, Roma, Roma.

The land of the Pope. By the time you're reading this, you will have heard for sure that the Pope was knocked down by a woman during Christmas services. It wasn't Jodi!

Our place in Roma was quite nice. The staff were great, and it was a few blocks from a Metro station, and around the corner from the Vatican. We did spend some good quality time at the Vatican, with Benny - who we had an audience with. It was kind of surreal to be there. Not just because I'm Jewish, but because I haven't experienced a high school pep rally religious event.

The Pope held court, well....as only the Pope or Queen (or a queen!) really could. He sat in his seat/throne, and there was cheering, signs (B-E-N-E-D-I-C-T-E!!!), balloons, flags and the like - much like you'd expect before an American high school football game. He read his shpiel in Italian, and then it was translated/synopsized by him into French, English, German, and then some other fellas did Polish and Portuguese. It's great that's he's able to do so many languages, but I wonder if people that speak Portuguese and Polish feel that he's giving them the shaft. And no, that's not a slam at the pedophile Roman Catholic priests.


Getting the tickets, which were free, was an adventure. Jodi said that we should see about getting tickets, on the Monday before the Papal address. I went online and found a website that said you should order them a few weeks before. Minimum. WELL...I played the newlywed card, and emailed them in the hopes of getting the tickets. Not that I'm religious, let alone Catholic or a believer that Jesus Christ was anything more than a Jewish fella who had a following. Much like me. I'm a Jewish fella that has a following, but I'm not able to walk on water, turn water into wine, or any of those other miracles Jesus is purported to have done, but I have some crazy mad skills in the kitchen.

But enough about me, my delusions/visions of grandeur, and sugar plum fairies dancing in my head.

They emailed me back and congratulated us on our wedding (I left out the Jewish part!) and told us that we could indeed come to the church and pick up the tickets. Which is great, except for the fact that we went to the Vatican to pick up our tickets. We spent some good quality time going through security checks and talking to several groups/pairings of Swiss Guards (Nice outfits fellas!!!) who had no idea what we were talking about.

We knew that we had to get the tickets before 6:00 or so, and it was almost 5:00. (That's 18:00 and 17:00 in European time, which they're fond of over on this side of the Atlantic!) So, frustrated, we went back to our B&B to check and see if I could find the website again, to see what we needed to do to pick up the tickets.

Not only had they sent us an email that had the address for the church (Santa Susanna), we also had until 6:45 to go find the church and Father Tom, who had the tickets. With Jodi's superb navigating skills (and I may give her the gears about getting us lost from time-to-time, she's got a REALLY good sense of direction, reads maps really well and dammit, is nowhere near as geographically challenged as I am!) we got there, found Father Tom, made a 5 euro donation to the church for the tickets - that and the money for the Vatican Museums and climb up the dome at St. Peter's Basilica is the last money the Roman Catholic church is getting from me until they realize that abortion and homosexuality are not wrong/sins, and that they need to enter the modern era.

Quick, fast and in a hurry. No worries. Flavor Vision ain't blurry. (This Public Enemy break has been brought to you by the word "Gay", the concept "Womens' Right to Control What Happens to their Body", and enough with the church not dealing with the problem of pedophile priests. There's obviously something wrong with the "system" if priests are molesting children/boys. Fix it, or perish in a fiery inferno of wrath and righteousness. But that's just my two cents worth.)

The audience was weird, in that I don't attend services as a Jew. Though, I have been going to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services with Jodi and her parents the last couple of years. It's interesting, in that I don't pray (I can read Hebrew, but I don't know what I'm reading!), but end up looking around and sort of spending time thinking about me and my life. That reflection is good and healthy, but I've been doing a fair bit of that while away on this trip and suspect that I'll be doing more of it when we return from our travels. It's part and parcel of being an educator, to be a reflective practitioner, and something that I spent a lot of time doing last year while in a difficult spot of having a tough class, in a different division (4/5 (junior) versus kindergarten) and obviously new curriculum, and teaching styles needed as a result.

I don't know that I have much place for religion in my life. I know that I was born Jewish, and that my grandmother was born Scottish Presbyterian. I know that I have cousins who are observant Jews and cousins who are living with non-Jews. I have a Jewish brother-in-law and a non-Jewish sister-in-law, and those of you who know me and my life, know that Jewish doesn't make anyone better or worse in my life.

So, me and religion are currently on the outs.

I think that churchs displays of ostentatious wealth - the gold, silver, marble, statues, paintings and the like - is disgusting. Don't stand up on the pulpit and preach charity when the killings and starvation that have occured (and continue to occur) in the name of relgion have left our world in a sad state of affairs. The wealth of the Roman Catholic Church (and the monarchies of several countries - England namely) would go a long, long, LONG way to help developing countries and continents, and aid with global warming.

It's beautiful, and nauseating, pretty much simultaneously.

The churches/basilicas/duomos are huge, yet barely get used. I'm not suggested tearing them down, but perhaps it's time to re-evaluate the role of religion in the world. I'm just throwing it out there. Believe me, I know that I'm not expecting people to jump up and applaud, but I think it's a dialogue worth having.

Roma was also the continuation of my leather bag quest. A satchel. A man bag. A murse. We had been looking at several places while in Milano, but they were either too expensive or not what I was looking for. It was the same in Roma. Except far too often we'd chance on a store with leather bags that looked like they might do the trick, but the store was closed, and we weren't returning to that neck of the woods again.

The showers at our place weren't great. They APPARENTLY had 50 litres of hot water, but there only seemed to be about 2 or 3 by the time I got in the shower. Morning, afternoon or night. So, shaving for my Papal audience involved a lot of cold water. Thankfully, I didn't cut my head, like I did in Malaga. Jodi made us some MEAN cappuchino. I didn't know she had the crazy mad barista skills, until she reminded me that she worked at Second Cup about 20 years ago. We had some yummy wafers from their "breakfast bar" - chocolate and vanilla - that I kept putting into a sandwich bag and we'd eat them through the day. And night!

We ate some enh to REALLY good food in Roma. We were looking for a place in our book that gave free wine with dinner. Maybe they went out of business for giving away the free wine, but we ate at the place that replaced them. This place was owned by the same people that had the place across AND down the street. In fact, Jodi had to go down the street to use the loo. In any event, there was us and an Asian guy in there. The food was enh. We at a super yummy place called Dititrambo (no connection to Sly Stallone so far as I can tell!), and started with our pattern of sharing a salad, and having a pasta/primi each. In Italy they serve a primi (starter) and secondi (entree). Some places have larger primis and secondis, much like you'd find places all over that serve larger portions. It was really hit and miss, and no matter what your guidebook(s) say, you only learn by experience.

TV in our room was an adventure. Once we figured out how to turn on the TV/satellite, we had about 1000 channels, of which about ten were in English. EVERY language under the sun, including a myriad of Arabic/Middle Eastern channels. We watched WAY too much BBC World News, but their programming is pretty good. Some good interview shows. A WWII POW who is 93 and a great interview (done by a new fave: Steve Sackur (sic), who also did the next one), and a chippy chap with a bunch of people involved with the Copenhagen talks - the head of the Maldives, the South African Environmental Minister, the Swedish (?) leader and Mexico's leader. I can never remember who has a PM and who has a President, so we'll go with leader and head. REALLY interesting panel discussion. My bottomline on the environment is that everyone needs to get their S**T together before we really destroy the Earth. We're certainly well on our way to do that. Those of you that know my love for Joe Rogan standup have heard my sandwich/bacteria analogy, and I stick to it. We're bacteria and the Earth is a sandwich. All we're doing is eating it up.

We're eating the freakin' sandwich!

There was also entertaining porn ad channels, that rotated between women talking on the phone (or pretending to talk on the phone) or women slowly taking their clothes/bikinis off. The latter was FAR superior to the former, but still painfully inferior and lacking in quality. In any event, if the BBC World News was something I'd seen - they also had a great piece on athletes and depression - then I'd flip channels. Oh, and the women talking/pretending to talk on the phone would often have pretty good music in the background, frequently from the 80s and 90s, which made the channels somewhat (SOMEWHAT!!!) more compelling.

We ate some good pizza in Roma - Hostaria Da Dino and Bafletto come to mind - and some KILLER gelato. San Crispino for sure.

We went to the Colisseum (the outside) and couldn't quite figure out how to get into the Forum or Palatine Hill - which is just as good, since I probably would have found them PAINFULLY boring. I'm not too good with "old stuff" that isn't overly interesting. Seeing something because it's old and famous is like going to see that older relative who smells like rose water or moth balls. Except you have to go see that older relative and that old thing while away isn't mandatory/the "right" thing to do.

But that's just me.

In Firenze (Florence, not to beconfused with "Mel, KISS MY GRITS!!!" Flo, from "Alice") we wandered around, and found THE LEATHER MARKET!!! But we didn't have any money. Which is where the adventure began, since I didn't want to find the bag, AKA THE BAG!!!!!, only to find that we couldn't pay for it.

Both our cards were not accepted in any bank machine. We probably tried a half-dozen, until we were outside the Duomo and found a bank machine that would allow us to withdraw money. Maybe it was divine intervention, or maybe it was just a good connection with our bank. Regardless, we had euros and went off in search of dead animal skin.

After looking at about 50 booths, Jodi bought a purple purse (the "in" colour in Europe this season, and both of our fave colour, along with green. Go figure, they were our wedding colours!) and I got a black satchel/man bag. (Thanks to Carly and Lavinia for suggesting Firenze's leather market on market day!)

It seems that Italy has a thing for toilets with no seats, in restaurants. It may have to do with men peeing on the seats, or something else, but it's something we saw quite a few times.

It was cold and snowy in Firenze. Even by Canadian/Toronto standards. Not quite by Montreal or Winnipeg standards mind you, which is why it's called Winterpeg by so many. And to think that we're possibly going to be house-sitting in Montreal in February! Since we sold our place in Toronto, we're homeless. YAY!!! We're not stuck with our place anymore. Mind you, we also have no place to go back to AND we're also going to need to go house shopping in a reviving market. Ugh and yay, I suppose.

We went to go see my namesake in Firenze. At the Academie is the original. There was also a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, which I really enjoyed. I've always admired his work, and to see his work compared to Michaelangelo's (side-by-side) was really cool and quite a highlight. Yes, I took a shot of David, as we were on our way out. It's strictly forbidden, but I still took one! That's how I role. Then we saw a copy in Pizzale Michaelangelo and also in Piazza Della Signoria. THREE DAVIDS IN ONE DAY!!! I had a lot of fun snapping all three of them, and got several shots of the copies, all in different light.
On our way up to the Pizzale Michaelangelo, the steps were SUPER icy, and that's when I found out that Jodi is afraid of walking/falling on ice!!! A Canadian woman who goes skiing, but is afraid of ice. Sure, none of us want to fall, but after a life in Toronto and Montreal I'm surprised by this.

Piazza Della Signoria was fun, as the Italian art seemed to be just as much art as porn. Well, in my mind at least. I tend to view things just a wee bit different from others. Those reading this should know this by now.

We had planned to go to Camucia, and another HelpX/farmstay, but unfortunately owing to the snow/ice they couldn't get the gas delivery through. That meant to hot water or cooking fuel, and not much by way of quality of life. So, we got in touch with Jodi's cousin Maya, who is studying vet meds in Padova (Padua), and she told us we could come to stay with her - which we were going to do anyway, after our farmstay.

So, we had a good time with Maya. Had a Jewish/Israeli Christmas dinner, which was interesting and fun, to say the least. We wandered around. Lazed around. Grocery shopped in the market - not cheap, but hopefully local - and like other markets, it was very tasty and fresh. The peppers liked delicious, the cabbage was crisp and yummy, the onions were ONIONY! Yum.

In Italy they have their own version of "Deal or No Deal", which is SUPER WEIRD, but it's weirder not knowing the language. In HD it's even more weird, as you see all the bad makeup jobs that the people did themselves.

And so now, we're on the train from Padova to Napoli. Going for pizza. 6.5 hours for pizza. Okay, maybe more than just pizza. We're hoping to get a HelpX with a couple in the south. REALLY in the south. If they're not interested in taking us, then we'll probably head to the Amalfi coast and figure our time out from there. We've been looking to head to Venezia (Venice) and maybe Verona, but that might be on the way back to Milano.

Who knows where the wind will blow us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Me and Spain, Spain and Me

Spain and I have a complicated relationship.

It started back when I first traveled there with my friend Rachel, in the heyday of our youth. We took an overnight train from Paris, and spent a sleepless night in upright seats, punctuated with a stopover in the Basque Pyrenees, on a tiny, freezing train platform waiting for a midnight connection – we did not know that France and Spain do not share train systems (still true).

When we arrived in Madrid, we experienced the culture shock inherent in moving from a country where you do speak the language to one where you start to rely largely on sign language. I still retain strong – and highly amusing – memories of a very helpful tapas bar employee who signed “pollo” (chicken) and “pescado” (fish) for us quite graphically. We stumbled around in the heat of siesta looking for a laundromat that was open; we stumbled upon a free open-air pop concert by a local star. We visited museums and I tried in vain to get a glimpse of the Guernica past a wall of oblivious Israelis on a guided tour they were paying absolutely no attention to. So Madrid was a bit of a mixed bag.

Seville was definitely a highlight, full of ochre-coloured winding streets flanked by romantic balconies and filled with patios of students enjoying glasses of tinto de verrano and sangria. Our little pension was adorable, and lively with like-minded budget travellers with whom we sought out, and found, small bars with spontaneous flamenco performances.

We spent only enough time in Granada to visit the Alhambra, which was magnificent, and my only other memory of that city was that they wouldn't let us sit on the grass in the parks; the police were very vigilant, but there weren't many benches as alternatives.

Then we hit Barcelona. The morning of our arrival from Granada, on an overnight train via Madrid, my daypack and all its contents were stolen from beside me as I sat on a bench eating, distracted by some gypsies playing with a newborn kitten in the square (yes, it's an old trick, but I was a new traveller). We had to leave ASAP to get my passport reissued, and we didn't return.

So I have mixed feelings about Spain. On the one hand, I know there are all sorts of things to love about it. On the other, it just doesn't seem to want me get too close.

This time, we arrived in Barcelona after an awesome stay in the Pyrenees. I was looking forward to giving Barcelona a second chance, but when I woke up our first morning with a crippling nausea that soon became a full-fledged bout with gastroenteritis, I came to the sad realization that Barcelona and I just aren't meant to be.

Sick throughout our short stay in Madrid, too, I was pretty glad to head to Portugal and give Spain a rest for a bit. We'd be heading back, with a focus on the southern area of Andalusia, when my parents joined us at the beginning of December.

David's recapped most of Portugal and some of Spain. I'll add some of the videos we took in Spain for some additional highlights. Fortunately, Spain mostly redeemed itself in those two weeks we spent with my parents, though I have to agree with Dad in that southern Spain's cuisine just doesn't really do it for me in the way that some other local cuisines do. But the weather was great, the scenery spectacular, and the cities definitely worth visiting. Just take our advice: don't try to drive there.

We stayed in a town called Mijas, about a 20 minute drive from Malaga, in a little place called Casita Janine. It was a cute little guesthouse up a very steep hill above the town, and the view was unreal – on a clear day you could see as far as the mountains of the Moroccan coastline. It also had its own little olive and orange trees. David tried the olives without realizing that they're not usually very good unless they've been brined. But he also decided to try the oranges, despite a disappointing encounter with the oranges free for the picking all over Lisbon, which were VERY sour (I kept telling him they were ornamental only, but he didn't believe me).

Among the things we did that I hadn't done on my last trip to Spain, we decided to go to Gibraltar, just for the novelty of it, and it is indeed a pretty odd experience to walk across a border where the guards basically just glance at your passport as you hold it up. It really is just a rock jutting up out of the ocean off the coast, and absolutely packed from stem to stern with people trying to take advantage of the shopping there. Truth be told, we didn't see much in the way of bargains, plus they give an awful exchange on the Euro and none of us had brought any pounds sterling.

The other main thing to see on Gibraltar is the “colony” of Barbary apes, which are really a species of tailless monkey. While signs all over the place warn you that they are wild animals, they're pretty tame, and wander past tourists nonchalantly, doing their own thing (much to the amusement of said tourists).

They play

and groom one another

and just generally frolic and are cute. And that was Gibraltar.

Seville lent itself most to video, although sadly there's none of the flamenco show we saw because we were specifically asked not to take video (though we were encouraged to photograph).

We had arrived in time for a major festival day – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I'm not really sure why it's an important festival, or why the Virgin Mary's lack of original sin would be cause for all the kids to be out of school, and all shops closed, but the major street was closed off for endless processions of marching bands!

The band that was playing when I took out my camera had a Mary Poppins repertoire, but they didn't oblige while I was filming, so you can kind of ignore the latter part of this first clip:

Check out the guys salsa dancing in the background in this one (starting at about 0:45):

And, just one more, cause marching bands are fun:

Seville also has the stunning Alcazar, a royal residence that's still in use. Its gardens sport one of two surviving hydraulic “singing” fountains in Europe. We were in time for a performance of that, too!

Our second night in Seville we went to a restaurant recommended by the clerk at our hotel. The restaurant itself was very nice, and the food quite good, the service attentive; however, the space was largely taken up by a family celebrating a birthday, and one of the family members was obnoxiously drunk. We gathered the birthday boy's name was Joe, and that he had turned 25, mainly because Drunken Lout Family Member kept toasting him with barely-decipherable but obtrusively loud cheers of "Viva Joe!" I tried to get some discreet video/audio, but he wasn't obligingly obnoxious during the few seconds I was filming. You can hear how loud he is, still.

At one point, he was so bad that I think the maitre d' went over to their table to express his concern, possibly about his getting home ok.

After they cleared out, the restaurant staff were very apologetic. But they didn't realize that, in fact, we'd been provided with some prime entertainment! Nothing like drunken locals for your local colour of the night.

Our local colour the next day came unexpectedly in the form of some UK football fans who had come down to Seville for a match that afternoon or evening. We could hear their chanting in the streets even from inside the Cathedral (which I'm sure thrilled the folks who like to keep their cathedrals nice and quiet and, you know, sacred).

On further investigation, we discovered that they were, to be precise, Glasgow fans, and David shared a bonding moment with them, revealing to one that he had Glaswegian ancestral roots.

I would have liked to get video of the dancing Andalusian horses we saw in Jerez, but they were very vigilant about cameras. I would also have liked to get video of our tour guide at the Sandeman sherry winery, but our tour guide was awful and self-conscious enough with her English already, I think, that to subject her to filming might have made her thoroughly unintelligible instead of just moderately so.

Cordoba didn't have much to film, though I bet the lady who had the grilled chicken stand would gladly have obliged, since she was very happy to give us an impromptu Spanish lesson with our order!

So anyway, our second (third?) go at Spain was clearly much better, but I still wonder if another try someday might improve my overall appreciation, or if, really, I should just let it lie and stick to other countries.

Like Italy! (Which is where we are now.)

P.S. - I've added a map to our blog so you can track all the places we've been to since the beginning of our trip. I'll try to update it each time we update the blog.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Portugal & Spain

It's been a long time.

When last we "saw" our hero, he was fighting off death in Lisboa. A lot has happened in the life of our fearless and intrepid protagonist. (Who the f**k am I talking about?!?!?!)

I can only describe Portugal as a must see for EVERYONE!!! What a great place with GREAT people. After I wandered around and almost died the day before (okay, GROSS EXAGGERATION!!!) I decided to try it again. I tried to find the Castelo. I'd read about the Castelo. I'd seen the Castelo. Could I find the Castelo? NOT A CHANCE!!! I wandered and wandered and circled and wandered. Up and down hills. Up and down different hills. Great exercise but PAINFULLY frustrating. Not to mention that I was walking some pretty seedy parts of town. But I did get a bottle of Super Bock and that made things MUCH better. I think it took about 15 seconds for me to drink it, and doing it while walking along a street made it that much more refreshing. Being from the prohibition-type state that is Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

SOOOO, after not being able to find the Castelo (more on that later!), I decided to find a lovely sounding African restaurant called Ginvinga. I looked at the guide book pages and saw that it was #14, and looked at the guide book map and found #14 and set off in search of it.

Now let's backtrack a bit. This is my first time being in a country where English is not the first language and without Jodi to guide me. I'm like a blind man without their guide dog (sorry Jodi, but that's the best analogy I could come up with!) or Chris O'Donnell to Al Pacino in "Scent of Woman" (Better?!?!).

So Blind Dave wanders off searching for #14.

I should have been looking for #30 where the street address was 14, but that's me.

So again, up and down the hills (different hills this time!), going through not-so-nice parts of town in search of Ginvinga.

No go.

So I wander back to our place.


Jodi's up for real food and we go to Nilo for dinner. I have two entrees, Jodi has one and we feel good.

The next day, we took a Lisboa bus tour as Jodi continued to recover from her stomach issues and we tried to take it easy for her sake. In fact, we took two bus tours. Since we got hosed on a LISBOA PASS (TOTALLY not needed, since we didn't do enough sightseeing to make it worthwhile), we figured we'd make use of it as best we could.

Saw lots of stuff (from the bus) and listened to the same 5 or 6 fado songs between the English commentary. Fado is beautiful and a genre of music I'd like to explore more. I suspect that some of Portuguese friends (probably their parents!) will be able to help me out with this.

Ginjinha is a BEAUTIFUL drink. Especially at about 10 AM. It's a delightful cherry brandy/liqueur of sorts that I suggest all should try. YUMMERS!!!

We went to Belem, which has certainly been one of the highlights of our trip. Paseis de Belem is heaven on earth. No word of a lie. If you like Portuguese custard tarts, it's a MUST MUST MUST destination, since this is where they all began. Like going to Scotland for scotch, or France for baguettes.....this is where you go to experience them.

Now it was a Monday, so a few places we hoped to go were closed...further adding to our Lisboa Card disappointment. Alas.

Jodi and I tried to find the Castelo. No luck! Even Jodi couldn't get us there.

Jodi and I tried to find Ginvinga. No luck! Even Jodi couldn't get us there. (Lisboa is a bit confusing with the street names all being similar in nearby vicinity to one another. Yonge Street, Yonge Avenue, Yonge Alley, Yonge Way, etc.

We went to Gaucho for churrasco and ribs and YUMMY olives and cheap wine (common theme in Portugal: We didn't pay more than 11 euros for a bottle of wine in a restaurant and got them for 2.5 - 5 euros in the stores) and a good blow-up of a fight on the street. Another common theme. I think we've had disagreements/fights in every country we've been in. In public. WOO HOO!!! Now Gaucho wasn't busy, but it was tasty and there was only two other tables the whole time we were there. I guess it really is off-season.

We went on a day trip to Sintra, 'cause Noam and Jen told us to. We like them, so decided it was a good idea. We went to the National Palace, the Moorish Castle (a real castle/ruins, that's a LOT of walking!!!), but didn't go to Pena Palace (and got s**t, but more on that later!) 'cause we were walked/steps/staired out.

We had lunch in a Chinese restaurant in Sintra. It's interesting that EVERY city/town has had a Chinese restaurant. EVERY single one! Obviously, people leave a country and go to another for better opportunities. Having a dear friend who is half-Chinese and half-Portuguese, I see there's a connection, but I'm wondering historically where it comes from. James/anyone, can you help me out? Why does someone from China come to Sintra, Portugal to open a restaurant? Then again, why does Rick go to Bracebridge, Ontario to open The Rickshaw Restaurant. Anyone know if that's still in business? I haven't been since '88 when on a Saturday (AKA Fight Night) night off from Camp Shalom, our cabbie got out of his cab with a baseball bat in his hand and told the locals to "Get the F**K away from my fare!!!"

So we headed back to Lisboa and wanted to find out how to get to the English Bookstore. Well, Jodi did, since I don't read. I'm not much of a readist, in that I read magazines and non-fiction and Jodi reads S-M-R-T people stuff. Mind you, she's an English teacher, so I guess it's par for the course for her to be able to be a readist and talk about books 'n s**t.

At the tourist office, the woman started every sentence with "It's like this". Which is fine, since her English is better than either of our Portuguese. She said there was no tram to go up the hill, so we took the bus around the longer way. We got there sure enough, and Jodi managed to find a book. MANAGED I say because there were mainly text and course books for students of ESL. At the British Consulate across the street! I saw lots of books I'd be interested in reading, if I was at home and could the book down for months. That's what I do. I buy books and don't read them. Can't do that when rucksacking.

On the way back, we saw the tram. The tram that wasn't working. "It's like this". YOU'RE FULL OF S**T!!!

We made contact with Marcos' cousin Pedro, who had given us several suggestions about Portugal, and made last-minute plans to meet up with him and his lady-friend Ana, for Indian. The place was down the street from where we were staying, and it smelled DEE-LICIOUS when we walked by previously. They were game and we met up at Gandhi Palace.

Pedro is a superstar of a guy and Ana is great. She understands English, but I suspect she's not fully comfortable speaking it, so Pedro was her interpreter. It was like being at the United Nations. It was a good dinner, with good food and good people. We were completely blown away with Pedro's English ability. He learned English mainly from a summer in Toronto 25 years ago, and by studying it in school, like we Ontarians study French.


That's a talented fella.

We look forward to his coming to Toronto with Ana in the near future and our having the opportunity to show them around and return the AMAZING generosity he showed by paying for dinner. TOTALLY unnecessary and unexpected and it just shows what a great guy he is. Mind you, he's related to Marcos, so how back can he be?

Pedro was flabbergasted we didn't go to Pena Palace, since he considers it a national treasure. We'll just have to go back to Portugal (I'm thinking about hiding in Marcos' luggage when he goes next!) and see it next time. Jodi says that you have to leave something to return for.

The next day we left for Porto, and in true heathen peasant form, I finished the first bottle of port on the train by drinking it straight from the bottle. YAY DAVE!!!

Our place in Porto was up a long hill. A VERY long hill. A REALLY REALLY LONG HILL!!! With all our stuff on our backs/fronts and in our hands. Ugh. But the place was nice and the breakfast was plentiful and included. It was a room that normally goes for 130 euros a night, that we got for 40, so we weren't complaining all that much. We had some issues with our metro tickets, which was a bit annoying, but we didn't get fined. The English on the machine stopped being English and we thought we bought two tickets, but we bought two trips.

So the station guard walked us up and I bought a second card and life was beautiful.

Jodi and I split a bottle of wine with dinner and she got tipsy. That's my girl!!! Back in the saddle and enjoying life. The stomach issues behind her and let's get on with the fun.

We climbed the cathedral the next day. I've been enjoying the churches on our trip, even though I'm not a fan of organized religion. The treasures, generally taken from other countries, should really be melted down and the money should be used to feed the hungry world-wide, but I'm a socialist that way.

Melt the (stolen!) gold, feed the hungry and stop the pomp and circumstance. People that are fed are more productive. This is how we can start to solve a lot of world problems. But that's the simpleton in me.

We went across the Douro to Gaia de Nova and were looking to do some Port tours. Truth is this is why I came to Portugal. I LOVE PORT!!! Unabashedly LOVE IT!!! Thanks to Jane Petrie (who I knew as a liquor rep at Walt's, who went from United to Churchill Cellars and I ran in to at a Food 'n Wine show in Toronto and she got me LOADED on port!) I dig it. I don't tend to spend a lot on my port (which is likely to change since the time in Porto), and Marcos says I should drink tawny, but I was there to experience.

We first went for lunch and had the Sister Sandwich. Really it's The Little French Girl, but Sister Sandwich sounds more fun and less dirty/creepty. "Ya, I ate the little french girl." Not cool for an elementary school teacher to be saying. Then again, there are a lot of things that this elementary school teacher says that aren't overly appropriate. Oh well.

We walked ALL THE WAY up the hill to Taylor's (known as Taylor-Fladgate in North America because of some American winery called Taylor's) and got a free tour with a free tasting. In fact, it was so far up the hill that I was pulling Jodi up 3/4s of the way up. It's something we've continued, as I like to help out my woman when she's in need. Or when I'm in search of food and/drink. We then bought a 10 and 20 year old taste and quite liked them. We also bought a bottle of 10 year old as a gift for Jodi's dad.

The tour was great at Taylor's, but we learned that by taking another tour (we paid for this one) at Calem, that we learned a few more things and also learned that we liked Taylor's better than Calem. Which is good, since Calem's not available in Canada. We got a sampler pack to taste with Jodi's dad, but all-in-all much more fond of Taylor's. Next was Kopke, where we sampled a few ports and got some dark chocolate to go with them. That was nice too.

Our first night in Porto was a fish dinner on the Douro that was quite touristy, and our second night was chocolate and port. Yep, chocolate and port. We've been buying VERY inexpensive 70-85% dark chocolate bars in Europe, and I bought a bottle of Kopke tawny for dinner.

We left Porto for a long day of travel. Train to Lisboa, bought food for lunch at the Pingo Doce in the station, took the train to Tunes (Tune-esh, not toons) and a train to Lagos (lah-goush) that sounded like a '57 Chevy in need of a tune-up. Loud 'n slow. Kinda like me!

Our place in Lagos was the Stumble Inn, and Jamie, the owner is a great Kiwi who has worked in bars and now wants to "settle down" a bit. He and his American g/f have opened this place. Cheap rooms, but the room was a bit musty-smelling and the shower was not overly hot (barely warm really) and with ZERO water pressure.

Oh well, it was cheap.


Jamie had great suggestions for meals. Dinner specifically. We went to a Forja for fish, twice. YUMMY!!! We had DELIGHTFUL "other white meat" and clams at Casinha Petisco that was big enough to be breakfast reinterpreted a couple of days later. Fine, the food is salty in Portugal. But in Lagos it was cheap and TASTY!!! Again, cheap wine. Tasty too!

We went to the beach. It was a topless beach. Well...we were the only two people there and I was the only one topless. Can't win 'em all I suppose. As we were packing up, some tourists came by and two of the women were wearing dresses. Not beach/summer dresses, but full-on dresses. Again, it's "cold" now.

We drank port and vinho verde on the beach. I don't remember if that was bottle #2 or #3 of port, but I'm thinking that I'll probably find another before we're done our journey.

We went to a trivia night at a pub and came in second. Not bad for the foreigners from the other side of the Atlantic.

We had yummy Indian in Lagos and on our last day there did a grotto boat tour that was fun. Dude who did the tour asked if it was okay if we left 15 minutes later, since there was going to be 15 minutes of rain. Sure enough, the rain started in about minute and lasted for....anyone? Anyone? Bueller? FIFTEEN MINUTES!!! The guy is the southern Portuguese Kreskin.

We got some pizza in boxes on the way out of town and JUST got on the train for Tunes. When we got there, we encountered a gypsy camp on the platform that was interesting to say the least. They were there for a couple of hours and we were in the station (TINY really. About the size of a big living room!) waiting for them to leave. They did, and in the meantime, we read a funny English-language paper written by/for ex-pats Brits. Some of them sure are a cranky lot.

We went back to Lisboa, transferred stations there, and got on the overnight train to Madrid, transferred stations there and took a high-speed train to Malaga. I watched a Spanish-language movie called "Cobra" (NOT Sly Stallone) that was funny. No subtitles, no nudity, but funny. Honest.

Jodi's parents met us in Malaga and we took the metro to Fuengirola, where the car was parked. We were in transit for 24 hours, and this time on the overnight train Jodi had her breakfast, since she wasn't suffering with stomach issues. YAY for her! But I only got one breakfast. Oh well. Sucks to be me. That said, the coffee is OH-SO-GOOD on the train between Madrid and Lisboa. Just so ya know.

We went grocery shopping, which I DO LOVE TO DO!!!

We went to our casita in Mijas and never did end up wandering around Malaga. Oh well.

Dinner was in Fuengirola and we continued on with this pattern of eating dinner out, except once.

We went to Ronda, Granada (The Alhambra), went "outlet" shopping at El Plaza Mayor(feh!), Marbella, El Chorro, Nerja (caves) and the beach (fun rocks/pebbles on the beach), Gibraltar (crazy cute/fun monkeys RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE!!!!), grocery shopping at Hipercor (THE BIGGEST GROCERY STORE I'VE EXPERIENCED THUS FAR!!!!), Marbella again, Mijas for dinner (a few times), Sevilla (TINY streets!!!!, flamenco museum/school/dancing, the alcazar and cathedral), Jerez (Andalusian horse show, Sandemans and Tio Pepe sherry tours) and Cordoba (another cathedral, SUPER cheap and DEE-lish chicken sandwiches and a wee Sephardic Museum (really the first floor of a house!), followed by an Arab tea house that was fun, if only for the fact that the guy couldn't light the charcoal on his fire-heater doodaddie).

We watched a lot of the Food Network UK and Iron Chef America, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson (what a sensually shot show), Chopped (interesting concept!) and BBC news.

Wally & Gitta got lost while he was driving. Me and Jodi got lost while I was driving. I drove into a fence while at the Alhambra, but GoldCar didn't care 'cause Wally's plan was all-inclusive. So there was front/right damage and it didn't matter.

The Ford Focus 1.6L automatic had no balls. It was a steep hill up to the casita and it moved VERY slowly.

Jodi and I had a few blowups, but like I said....it's been a theme. I guess it's bound to happen when you have a jackass like me and a strong-willed woman like her with each other 24/7 for weeks and months.

Wally & Gitta are great. Gitta gave us quite a giggle when she packed for our overnight trip to Sevilla and she had a VERY VERY VERY heavy bag. We're still not sure what she had in there, but we're thinking it was small children or gold buillion. Or what was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Wally is so very generous, and asks for nothing in return. Mind you, being with him, meant that the bottle that was usually split two ways now had a third person. But it was usually him that was paying, so how in the world could I complain in all seriousness?

He's so easygoing, almost all the time, and minus the fact that he doesnt't like tapas (UNLESS it's good tapas, like in Marbella), it's great to be around him. There was a 50-funniest movies of all time on and he was giggling to the juvenile humour in "Spinal Tap", "American Pie", "Blazing Saddles".....he's a fun guy.

Not a mushroom!

So now we're headed to Roma after a few days in Milano, where I either lost my wallet or had it pickpocketed. No biggie. Just my Ontario drivers license and Health card. No money or credit cards. Teacher ID, Student Hostel ID, that kind of stuff. Oh well.

The wine is good here too! It's also not so warm anymore. The south of Spain was consistently in the mid-to-high teens (Celsius) throughout our stay, and it's low single digits here AND WE DROVE THROUGH SNOW TODAY!!!! F**K!!!

I suspect that Jodi will have a blog post soon. She's good that way.

I'll probably add pictures and more thoughts at a later date.

Buono notte.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


That's it. That's the title. Lagos. (That's Lagos, Portugal, and not the one in Africa.)

As our hostel owner said, there's not much to do in Lagos but eat, drink, and hang out on the beach or do watersports.

So we did (everything but the watersports -- it's November, after all).

First, we sought out a beach. We found one. For some time, it seemed we were the only ones to find it that day. Then some other people came along. But in the meantime, there was only the sounds of the waves and the gulls. And us.

The sand was golden, the sky blue, the sun warm, the water... not too cold. (I didn't swim, though I might have if there hadn't been what seemed to be a respectable undertow. I just waded.)

Then, later, we went for dinner. Again, at the recommendation of our hostel owner, we sought out a local favourite where the two specialties we were told to ask for were prawns in the house sauce and a large dish of pork and clams. The former was apparently no secret -- we sat next to the open kitchen and a steady stream of platters filled with huge, saucy prawns came off the counter. We found them amazingly tasty, if salty.

When you order the second dish, the waiter laughs and warns you that there's a lot of food. No, really, a lot of food. Like, more than enough for two people (even though it's only priced at about 9 Euros, which is the standard price range for a single entree). We protested that David could eat his way through almost anything -- the night before we'd had two whole fishes (a grilled seabass and a grilled silver bream... mmmm...) and at a churrasquiera in Lisbon we'd had a whole grilled chicken plus a dish of spare ribs (though that had been shortly following my gastro issues, and I was, no exaggeration, starving).

The waiter shrugged and put the dish on the order. When it came up behind David on the counter, my eyes widened. "That's a LOT of food," I hissed. He glanced up over his shoulder. "Mmm-hmm."

To our table came a heap of saucy, salty, oily pork cubes, sausage, clams, potatoes, pickled cauliflower and carrot, and small black olives. We stared at it. We poked at it with our forks. We even ate some. It was delicious (if salty -- are you sensing a theme yet?).

At some point, David sat back, looked at the plate, and said, "Have we eaten any of this?" There was still a heap of saucy, salty, oily pork cubes, sausage, and potatoes (we had picked through the clams, veggies and olives by this point).

Laughing, the waiter wrapped it up for us. It's sitting in the hostel's fridge at the moment, and will make a good brunch all fried up again.

Chef grinned at us from behind his counter, madly flipping salty-meaty-seafoody ingredients in his pan and setting bursts of oil on fire for the benefit of me and my camera.

David watched, thoroughly enjoying the show.

After so much excitement (and food), all we could do was go to sleep. So we did.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, November 22, 2009


So many names for this post.

Tropical Storm Dumbass.

The Day I Thought I Was Going to Die.

Thickie Comes Alive! (Like Frampton, but I'm not sexy in that 70s way (unless you were into the cop or leather guy from The Village People), can't sing and I have a shaved head (though I am hiding/harbouring curls currently) and I'm not from Down Under.)

Stepping Out. (I sorta wish I was Joe Jackson. The singer, not the baseball player. But I think he has bad teeth, which is not something I aspire to have.)

I decided on Super Bock is the Best! because that was the one that was most accurate. More on that later.

Jodi's been having some gastro-intestinal issues, and thanks to our friend Brigit, Rachel, Zarya (alphabetically!) and Zisimos (a Greek doctor we met in Barcelona at our hostel), she's been taking it easy and getting activated charcoal and acidophilus into her system to help her get better. We didn't see much in Barcelona (where the problems started) and Madrid (they continued) and while I felt like I shouldn't be out/about whooping it up, I was feeling cooped up. My primary concern was her health and happiness, since a wise man (Oren Rozen! BTW: If you're looking for a mortgage in Toronto/area, get in touch with him. He can be reached at 416.917.2346 or orozen@northwoodmortgage.ca and will work for your business!) told me that if his wife wasn't happy, he had NO chance at being happy.

Sage words indeed.

For a married man they rank up there with The Golden Rule.

So, we took the overnight train from Madrid to Lisboa/Lisbon Friday night and got in early Saturday. I've been looking forward to Portugal for a number of reasons. I have several Portuguese friends, two of whom are among my favourite people in this world, or any other. Spending time with James and Marcos is such a treat, and something that I miss dearly. I wanted to experience the people, the food, the pastel de nata (sweet egg custard tart) where they started and the port. OH THE PORT!!! Not to mention that after some expensive cities along the way, it would be nice to be somewhere that wasn't.

After a relatively on/off sleeping experience on the train (ear plugs don't help with rocking/stopping/starting of the train!), and a bit of a nap/lounge/chippy chap (AKA chit chat) with Jodi in our room, I decided I would venture out on my own. Bear in mind, I like to go places in North America (my “area of expertise” up to this point in my life) and overhear other peoples' conversations, and talk to strangers. I seem to have not listened to much my parents taught me - talking to strangers and all! Well, I do always show up at a function with something in my hand(s), I try my best to wear clean underwear (they're called “pants” in England!), I do have very good table manners (but don't always use them!), and I do VERY good laundry.

The truth is that most people speak a little bit of English in Europe, and if not, as my pal (and long-term/former platonic roomie) Emily said, facial expressions, pointing and using your arms/hands wildly comes in handy.

That doesn't change the fact that I don't speak Portuguese, even though I'm pretty good at impersonating Pedro, Marcos' dad. Mind you, I've never met him, but I think I do a pretty good job of impersonating Marcos impersonating his dad. Taking into consideration that Marcos' voice is 3 octaves lower than mine. I also like to use the “sh” and “zh” sound for “s”. “sh” if it comes before a vowel and “zh” if it comes before a consonant. This is someting I learned from Marcos.

I think I'd love to be here in Lisboa with Marcos, but that's a different story.

In any event, I wandered out of the very nice (up three flights of stairs) hostel in the city centre near Baixa-Chiado station.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I had a tourist map and conferred with the hostel lady (NOT hostile at all. All the women here are VERY helpful and friendly. Jodi watched Portuguese Idol with one of them, but she can tell you about that!) I had my camera(s). I had my umbrella. It called for “Light Rain”. (foreshadowing)

I didn't have any money.

FYI: All the pictures from the walk are up on Facebook.

I LOVE LISBOA!!! I love the roads/sidewalks. Mind you, they're marble/cobblestone and REALLY slippery (“Slippy” if you're Dylan from our HelpX stay!) if you're wearing Nikes and it's wet. Remember, “light rain”.

I felt alive and invigorated to be out/about and wandering around. Much like I do in NYC when I was there pre-Jodi/traveling companion. Mind you, I've done it a few times since we've hooked up, as she will do things that I'm not interested in. Like getting her hair done with the girls. I “do” my own thanks.

I was planning on heading towards the Santos Design District. It seemed funky and fun and I could window shop. Something we've been doing a lot of on this trip, since I'm not about to buy stuff (minus the bottle of 12 year old Cardhu for 30 euro ($200 CDN back home) in the Pyrenees – which was 22 euro in Barcelona!) and carry it around with me. I did buy a 2 euro t-shirt in Glasgow. And a 10 pound (that's UK money, not weight) shirt in London. I don't think there's a picture of me with my Stonewall shirt. I'll have to do something about that at some point.

So, no REAL shopping.

At first I went the wrong way, which was the right way, but I went the wrong way after the right way and after going the wrong way after the wrong way after the right way, I was going the right way.

Got it?

I was now heading in the direction. Down towards the water. The rain was still “light”. The roads/sidewalks were still slippery and I was happy. (I feel like I'm writing “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. “And the tree was happy.”)

My Walk in Lisbon

My tourist map isn't the greatest map, but what can expect from a free map? Mind you, I'm not usually the map reader. Jodi's really good at it, and I'm usually driving, so she's usually reading the maps. This is something I should probably do more often. (foreshadowing).

I saw a bank machine and after fishing my new special travel wallet out – it's the velcro-closing, small-but-big-enough-strap-to-go-around-my-belt Eddie Bauer travel cutlery holder (minus the travel cutlery) and it goes in my pants (that's jeans/dungarees/trousers/MEC long-legged apparel and my not undergarments – unless I put it in too far, in which case it makes me feel “special” in a WHOLE new way). Getting it out at times can be a challenge. As I was trying to fish it out, a woman came up and said something to me in Portuguese. I did a Charlie Chaplin/Laurel & Hardy head/facial expression job, and waved her ahead of me. As I not-so-blissfully tried to figure out where my wallet was.

A-HA! (not the 80s Scandinavian (Swedish?) band) I found it! I felt like a baby that just discovered their feet. But different.

I got my money and was back on my way. After taking a picture or two of art work and palm trees.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

Palm trees. Tropical. Tropical storm?

As I walked I saw a bunch of big squares with statues dedicated to military folks (AKA men) and lots of street names that weren't on my map.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I wanted to get down to Avenida Vente e Quatro de Julho. I eventually got there. The sidewalks are quite narrow at times and it's pretty commercial/industrial and not so “window shopping” friendly.

I sensed that I should be “up” from the street I was on, but I saw IT. A bridge. When I'm in NYC, I love to walk across the bridges. LOVE LOVE LOVE to do it. That was what I was going to do. Get to the bridge (the one at Ponte 25 de Abril), go up and take pictures from there. So I was on a mission. To get to the bridge.

Lesson: Don't always try to duplicate what you do in one city/country when in another.

I saw “Banco BiG”. Big Banks really do exist in Portugal!

My Walk in Lisbon

I saw PAINFULLY crooked/messed up stairs. Several times.

My Walk in Lisbon

I saw fun graffiti – and I do love my graffiti! (not an example of the really good graffiti I saw, but it was fun nonetheless. Since I don't think of the Beach Boys as Portuguese, but there are beaches here, with boys.)

My Walk in Lisbon

I saw a really fun rainbow-type design on the side of an on-off ramp.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I saw a very amateurish looking street cover/plate/thing.

My Walk in Lisbon

I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going, other than chasing the bridge. The bridge that I couldn't get to. So I turned right in an attempt to get to the bridge, not noticing that the landmark that I wasn't looking at (The Museu do Oriente) was there, and I thought I was somewhere else. (Again, foreshadowing and crappy map reading and me just being....ME!)

My Walk in Lisbon

I figured, that much like Toronto, Lisboa would allow me to go north, south, east, west easily. NOT! I thought I was going north, but I was going north-east. I thought I was going east, but I was going north-east. Before I knew it, I was walking through a bit of a restaurant/bar area.

The skies opened up. And I mean they bloody-well OPENED UP LARGE AND IN CHARGE!!! The light rains were now heavy rains. And a bit of wind to throw in the mix. After all, Lisboa is on the Atlantic. So I was getting soaked. But I was prepared, in that the camera was in my Goretex MEC jacket (which held up VERY well thank you, for the second time on the trip in rain), I was wearing my lightweight MEC pants (MEC is Mountain Equipment Co-Op for those non-Canadians) which dry quickly, and I was wearing my Nikes, 'cause they seemed more appropriate/lighter/more comfy for walking than my hiking boots. But not as water resistant. Oh well. Can't win 'em all. Oh ya, there was also my wee umbrella, which held up well and my $3 hat that I figured I would have chucked by now, but it seems to be THE trip hat.

The smart thing to do would have been to go to a little restaurant/sandwich shop, have a sammich and a beer and then head back. Am I smart? NOPE! I decided I should walk along the road that wasn't going east, but north-east.

I went up a hill and to what I thought was a dead-end. I thought I was going to get mugged or hit by a car. I didn't. I went down the hill and ended up at the railway lines. I could have turned around, but figured I'd get mugged or hit by a car, so I crossed them. I looked both ways. SEVERAL TIMES. No trains. I remembered the third rail is the electrified one, but that's in Toronto. It was raining. If any of them were electrified, I figured I shouldn't step on them. I crossed. I went back to take a picture.

It seemed right.

My Walk in Lisbon

Instead of turning left and going back, I went right and carried on. Why go back the way you came in a city you don't know, with a map that doesn't show all the streets, when you can carry on going north-east when you think you're going east? Geez, DUMB QUESTION!!!

I went by what looked like assisted housing/projects/government housing/social housing, call it what you want. They were bright and pretty but looked depressing/depressed. (This shot is not the best example)

My Walk in Lisbon

They were in the middle of nowhere (where I was mind you), by highways and train tracks. People didn't willingly live in places like this. Since I teach in a government-housing neighbourhood that has a VERY bad reputation (some of it rightly deserved) I figured that as an outsider I was at risk. I was going to get mugged, stabbed, shot, beaten up. You name it. I was done for.

But I continued to take pictures. Like the bridge that goes over the road, the steps that lead up to the bridge and the grass worn away on the median where the people jay-walk to get to the bus stop.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

If I was going to die, I wanted to at least have a chance of my photo story being told. I know, it's overly dramatic, but hey...I have a vivid/active imagination.

I thought about how I needed to get over the next little rise, so that I'd see stores and restaurants and bars and city life. It didn't happen. I kept saying to myself that I should turn around. Not listening to myself shouldn't come as a big surprise, since I've never seemed to listen to anyone.

The sidewalk ended. Shel Silverstein reference #2.

I kept walking.

I passed places that weren't on the map.

I seemed headed for a highway on-ramp. This would not be helpful at all. I'm not about to try and hitch-hike (nor take the bus) when I don't know where I am, in a country where I don't speak the language.

I sucked it up and turned around.

I stepped in the same muddy patches I had going there, until I decided to run across the three lanes of road to get to the middle/median and the grass. There's no mud in the grass, but there sure is a lot of water ON the grass. My feet were soaked. My pants were soaked. My jacket was soaked. But the camera was dry and I walking fast. Why walk slow when you think you're going to die?

I thought about the fact that I couldn't die. No one would be able to tell Jodi. She'd be in the room, wondering where I was. That couldn't happen. I couldn't die because there was no way that my parents, ESPECIALLY my mother would be able to handle that. She's tough, but at this point, not that tough. I thought about how I couldn't die, because I hadn't bought any port in Portugal. How I hadn't had a tour in Porto. How I hadn't toured through Italy with Jodi. How we were both looking forward to her parents meeting up with us in Spain. How we were going to our family and friends in Israel. How we were going to Greece.

I wondered about the affect it would have on my friends – but I've always wondered about that. About how people in my life would react/be affected by my death. I'm not the lynch-pin for my friends the way that an ex-girlfriend's friend was in her social circle, and when she was killed in an accident it sent several of them into orbit. I know my death would affect my friends, the same way that their death would affect me.

How I felt like I hadn't done enough with my life.

My life started to get amazing at 30. I have/had a sense that my life was going to get better at 40. That's two months away. My aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player are gone. I wouldn't have made it at 20, and I'm not going to make it at 40. I have a few dreams that are VERY much alive. To do something with my baking professionally. To be involved in the opening of an Urban Nutrition Education Centre, so that I can really make a difference. More of a difference than I can as a classroom teacher.

I realized while walking fast, in the grass, in the rain, with my umbrella either over my head or closed up as a “weapon”, that if I return to the classroom I want to be the best kindergarten teacher I can be. Yes, I want to go back to kindergarten. I want to be Jean Rehder and Geremy Vincent and me – I can only dream of being Agnes Hanna – all in some super hybrid.

When I got back to the area of restaurants and bars, I took a few pictures. Some of the locals were really surprised at the time spent in lining up the shots that I wanted. Partly because of things in the way, and partly because I just needed to do that.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures of the street intersection where I turned the right/wrong way.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

The wrong way to get back to where I thought I was heading, but the right way for me at this stage in my life. I needed a bit of a wake-up call. Something to invigorate my soul and sense of self. Spending time in the Pyrenees with Jon and Deb and their boys showed Jodi and I that we could have some purpose in our time over here, without necessarily having to be in a big city. That was great for both of us. We're eternally grateful for them opening their doors and lives to us.

As I was walking on Av. de Ceuta 6 towards wherever, I wanted a Super Bock. Not because it was some kind of mythical beer that I had always wanted. Not because it was from a region of the country that was near and dear to me. This was not a hajj like I had been on in Scotland, in search of where my grandmother first lived. This was about my being alive and desiring a beer.

So, as I turned back on to Avenida Vente e Quatro de Julho, I wanted to find some place that I could walk into and say, “Ola, Super Bock per favor.”. Which is what I did. After a car swerving intentionally to spray me with water. I didn't care. I was alive and was already wet. All I could do was smile and laugh.

My Walk in Lisbon

The half-pint was one euro. Even better! It wasn't the best beer I've ever had, but it was one of the most satisfying.

On the way there and back I took a few pictures for Jodi's blog (her paying gig) about knowing the roots of words and how it can help you in multiple languages.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I continued with my theme of taking pictures of roads/the ground.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures that reminded me of friends.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures of The Beatles.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures of street scenes.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I took pictures to be a s**t disturber.

My Walk in Lisbon

My Walk in Lisbon

I'm still me, but I'm better for the experience of having done what I did yesterday. I don't expect to repeat the same thing. Mind you, I'll still chase after bridges and wander around cities, but I'll be a little less hap-hazard about it in the future. Hopefully.

As I was walking back towards the city centre I realized that I had left around 1:00 and it was after 4:00. I hadn't eaten anything before leaving, and I hadn't eaten anything since.

I saw a fruit/veggie store and headed towards it. I got a couple of apples and saw they had wine. I went in to the store. I asked if the woman spoke English and she grabbed her co-worker. I said, “Dry, inexpensive (not the best word to use for non-English speakers! DUMBASS!!!) port?” She pointed at two for ten euros. She showed that they had open bottles and sampling glasses. The first was really good and the second was even better.

Quinta do Infantado Joao Lopes Roseira Reserva Especial is the one that did it for me.

But I still didn't have any food.

I decided I was going to get something from one of our guidebooks. That just seemed right. After the day I'd had, to do something simple. I got under an awning – yep, still raining, but back to “light rain” - and looked up what sounded good/cheap/fast.

The winner was a few doors down from where I was standing on Rua Augusta.

My Walk in Lisbon

It just felt right. In Toronto, in Kensington Market, there's an Augusta Street. In Portugal, it's pronounced Aw-guzh-tah. I'm not sure if Augusta in Toronto was named by the Portuguese, but I don't care.

(The deep-fried fish pancake sandwich and pork/veal/mystery meat sandwich, along with a cod fritter and a hot dog fried log thing that tasted like liverwurst were delightful. The pastel de nata were heavenly.)

But I still didn't have sport drink and water for Jodi, as she had requested before I left. Nor did I have any sort of soup stuff, which also would seem to be a good idea. I spent an hour criss-crossing the neighbourhood, trying to find sport drink. Water wasn't too hard to find. Sport drink was PAINFULLY difficult.

Until I got down the street from our place.


I also found a couple of good Sagres beer. The Preta and Bohemia Reserva 1835.

Dinner in our room was GREAT! Jodi had some soup and I ate all the other artery-clogging/heart-stopping food.

And I started to dry off.

I haven't told her much of this story, other than I was happy to be alive, I had a Super Bock and I had an AMAZING day.

Now I feel like I need another kind of adventure. So I'm going to get ready to go out and wander somewhere. This time making use of the map a little more. It should be easier with a lack of rain.

Happy Sunday everyone.

It's good to be alive!