Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Sky Is Falling

The calendar says it is fall and although the temperatures outside have not indicated such, there are a few other things that let us know fall is here.

We live in  an area loaded with mature pecan trees.  When October hits, the pecans start to drop from the trees.  Don't look up, you might just get hit in the head with a pecan, especially on a windy day!  This must be a particularly good year for pecans because they are everywhere and they are huge!  Every green space is full of squirrels and scavengers hunting for pecans.  People are busy hauling off sacks full of pecans everywhere you look.  A couple of nights ago TJ and I took, Sadie aka Superdog, for a walk.  It had been a very windy day!  As we went down the path in the green space near our house we noticed that there were pecans everywhere.....!  We pulled out the plastic bag, that was meant for another purpose, and just picked up the pecans on and next to the path.  We never even had to get off the path and this was our haul!  Can you say pecan pie?

The other thing that tells us it is fall is the way people dress.  We are slaves to fashion!  Even thought it is still stiflingly hot we feel obligated to dress like it is much cooler. Why esle would anyone wear a wool jacket and long pants when it is 90 degrees outside?  Do you work in an igloo? My particular favorite has been the girls wearing their Uggs with jeans all for the sake of fashion.  The stores have coats, boots, sweaters, jackets, scarves, and  hats on the racks.  I can't even begin to think about buying this stuff right now even though I love winter clothes.  Maybe we are all just so sick of our shorts, tank tops and flip flops that we will suffer through and wear our jeans and boots regardless of what the thermometer says!  The calendar says it is Fall... break out the jacket... and sweat!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I have postponed blogging about the last part of our trip to Italy because.....
-I hate Italy and never want to think about it again
-we didn't do anything interesting
-the food and wine were horrible and not even worth mentioning
-if I blog about it then I don't get to think about it any more and then it will be over.

You probably guessed it...I just don't want it to be over. That lingering Italian "gioia di vita" will be gone once I put this chapter into the blog sphere. I won't stop every day at five and think about an outdoor cafe, a glass of Italian wine and a little snack of olives or chips and have to rest my weary feet until it is time to walk around and find someplace to eat dinner. I will have to swallow the harsh reality that I'm not in Italy and there is no outdoor cafe and my feet are only tired if it was my running day and the only dinner I will be eating is the one I cook. Reality is a harsh pill to swallow when you come home from a wonderful trip.

So here it is...the final chapter of Italy.

For the most part our entire trip was absolutely perfect except for that one day.....
Have you ever had one of those days when you had an idea of how it would all go and you set off in hot pursuit of that day and hit road block after road block? We had a day similar to that. I know...hard to believe but it happened, much to Rick's dismay.

Plan- drive around Lake Garda from the west side, heading north and then as we head south on the east side of the lake we will taste some fantastic valpolicella wines and then we only have a short distance to drive back to our hotel after tasting delicious wines. It all looked good on paper, do all the driving before we do all the drinking, right? After all, we are responsible adults.

We started driving, after the night of much wine, grappa and limoncello and I had the pleasure of riding in the backseat. I am prone to car sickness on winding hilly roads in the best of conditions, and believe me, these were not the best of conditions. Off we go! The scenery was lovely in spite of the dreary skies.

We drove and drove and drove. The road curved and twisted and climbed. TJ did a great job keeping us between the lines with his white knuckle steering. There were many tunnels and scenic vistas to enjoy. TJ saw very few of them. This is what he saw....

After many near misses with oncoming trucks in one lane tunnels we made it to the northern tip of Lake Garda, safely. Ahhhh, lunch time!!! And not a moment too soon if you ask me!

After lunch it was time for a little wine tasting. First thing, look for the tourist information center and get a map of the wineries in the area. Great idea! We found the information center.... it closed at 1pm, we arrived at 2:30! Oops! We decided to go it on our own, there are signs posted, just follow the signs. Easier said than done. We tried to use the GPS to find wineries but either we can't follow directions or the GPS does not know wineries. We found wineries that were open but did not offer tastings, we found wineries that were closed, but we found no wineries that were both open and offered tastings. We were very tired and getting thirsty and it was getting close to 5 and it was time to find an outdoor cafe and have a glass of wine, so we headed back to our hotel, unfulfilled.

The next day we had it all figured out...we found this

The day proved to be much more successful! We found wineries that were both open and offered tastings. A good time was had by all!

We found ancient olive trees.

We found a wine museum.

It was harvest time!

Patty and I scoped out the town on our bikes that afternoon and found a perfect place for our final dinner together.

I loved biking in Europe....

Seafood platter, Italian style!

We had to have one final gelato to seal the evening. Hey, we rode our bikes....I am sure we burned off those calories!

TJ and I spent our final day in Italy with each Milan....and a few other people.

The duomo in Milan and thousands of people.

After our relatively peaceful and crowd free, Italian vacation, we were met with millions of people in Milan. This was not the high point of our trip. It only hit me me midway through the day that it was Saturday and must be the day EVERYONE goes to Milan. We did manage to navigate our way to the hotel and the rental car return at the train station with the expert direction from the GPS! We ditched the car and hopped on the metro and saw the city. Not an easy task. Did I mention that everyone else in Italy went to Milan that day too? We managed to see The Last Supper , the duomo and the shopping streets. I have no idea who buys the stuff in those stores...I saw many exclusive shops with no customers in them, only sales people with pursed lips staring blankly out at the common folk, however there were many people walking around conspicuously carrying bags bearing the names of some of those shops. I did a lot of window shopping, along with a few other people.

Louis Vuitton and Prada....and

directly across the walkway.....McDonald's! Finally, something I can afford.

We managed a lovely dinner with the expert direction of the concierge at a nice hotel. Milan was huge and crowded but after reading some of the travel books upon my return home(I guess it might have helped to read those books before the trip!), I find that my initial impressions are commonly felt. Don't waste too much of your time here....move on!

And as they say....the rest is history. We wiped the dust of Milan off our feet as we boarded the plane, but the rest of Italy will remain in our memories until we meet again....Ciao!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Classroom Stereotypes

Who were you in school? Were you the class clown? The diligent student? The brain? The one who struggled? The incessant question asker? Or just a combination of all of these?

I have taught/instructed in several different venues and several different groups. I started instructing, when people wore leg warmers and headbands, teaching aerobics, when aerobics was in the 80's! I moved into substitute teaching at our high school, a place neither student or teacher wanted to be at the time. I lead Weight Watcher meetings for 8 years or more. Most recently, I have started teaching English to non-English speaking adults. It is something I have been considering doing for a while and now wonder what took me so long!

The point today is that in every group I have instructed the same stereotypes exist. There is always the person or people who just "get it". There are the ones who have trouble "getting it". There is the person who always has to talk and ask questions, sometimes dominating the class. There are the ones who sit and never say anything. There are the entertainers, the meticulous ones who follow everything to the letter and the ones who just don't really give a flip but show up anyway. Whether it be in aerobics classes, Weight Watchers meetings, school or learn English classes, they are all present. I guess there is no getting away from our real personalities!

As far as the English class is an absolute pleasure. They are so great! I love listening to them speak and watching them figure things out. The group seems so eager to learn and unlike many high school students (sorry high school students, but I was the "substitute", I always got a bum wrap), they all want to be there and learn. I guess if I can't learn a foreign language this fall I'll just have to teach one to someone else.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Budapest and Italy, Part 2.
This turned out to be very long, I recommend getting a great glass of Italian wine before you read this!

After 4 days in Budapest it was time for us to have a little vacation. Budapest was great, but for TJ, it was work. A nice venue for work but still work. Time for a little recreational wine tasting and sightseeing with friends.

We got out of Budapest a day before the sludge arrived. We were heading to Desenzano del Garda, Italy. There is no easy way to get there from Budapest. First, take a plane to Frankfurt, our 2nd time at the Frankfurt airport on this trip, then take a plane to Venice where we rent a car and drive for 2 hours to Desenzano. Just picture TJ and I driving along the autostrad with no Euro and wondering how we will be able to pay the toll at the end of the road. We decide to risk it and carry on.....FYI, they take credit cards! We thought they might, but you can't be too sure.

Italy! Sunshine! Finally! We even had a view of the water.....see? It's there, keep looking! Ok, it's not the Danube and Buda Castle but the sun is shining!

Lake Garda was beautiful. The water was beautiful blue with the mountains in the background. The small towns all along the lake were quaint and picturesque without being too touristy. I can only imagine how it would be in the summer though, full of tourists! Glad we were there for the off season.

Lake Garda as seen from Sirmione.


Then the fun began! The fun is in Verona....think Romeo and Juliet meet the soup Nazi meets the Amazing Race.

This is not Juliet's balcony, just a lovely building in Verona.

First, Romeo and Juliet. We did the typical Verona tourist thing and went to Juliet's balcony, but no one rubbed the statue of Juliet, we also made a stop by Romeo's door.

Juliet in all her bronze glory.

On to the soup Nazi....dinner was one of a kind. A true, authentic, no English spoken or written, Italian restaurant, Il Ropeton. Our waiter, Ropeton himself, recited the entire menu in rapid fire Italian and then looked at us with that "what would you like?" look. We deferred to the Italian speakers at our table and managed to order an amazing meal, plenty of wine,a little grappa for everyone and limoncello for the perfect end. By the end of the night we had befriended Ropeton and had him posing for pictures with our table! That's him at the end of the table!

Time for the Amazing Race! We had responsibly taken the train to Verona and planned to catch the 11:45 train back to Desenzano. We had to make tracks! The four of us walked the 2 miles to the train station as fast as we could. We got close to the station and TJ told Rick, who is ahead of all of us, to go ahead inside and buy the tickets. As Patty and I caught up to Rick who was trying to buy tickets at the machine, we see the next train to Desenzano leaves at 5a.m.!!!! at which point Patty bursts out laughing! We all burst out laughing in the deserted train station, it must have been the grappa, or the limoncello, or the wine, pick one. Turns out the last train left at 10:45, oops. We all walked out of the train station, laughing and carrying on, and looking for a way to Desenzano. Turns out the only way to get home at midnight was taxi....90 EU worth of taxi. We laughed the entire way home, all 30 minutes of it, poor taxi driver! We just could not believe our expert planning backfired. That's what we get for being so responsible!

The rest of Italy will have to wait for another post, it was just too much fun for one post. I will leave you with a few more pictures of Verona and Sirmione.

Soccer practice carpool

View across the river in Verona

Winery near Sirmione, beautiful place!

More of Sirmione

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Just a Word About Smiling

Do people smile at you on the street where you live?

When we went to Budapest we were told not to smile at people. Really. TJ sat next to a local on the flight from Frankfurt to Budapest, she was a very cute young thing and he seemed very interested in conversing with her....hmmmm should I be worried? Nah, I sat in another row and slept soundly for the entire flight. Anyway, she gave him some valuable information about the city but the most curious information was not to smile at people, "they will think you are a bit loony in the head." Seriously? Must be a hold over from all of that communist repression, the only people who could smile were the crazy ones. As a result, when we were in Budapest I dutifully walked all around town with a serious, unsmiling, look on my face as to not appear loony. I would catch myself similing or wanting to smile at complete strangers and remember her advice and put on my serious face. How sad is that? I am sure there are people in Hungary wondering right now where that loony lady came from and where she has gone.

Tonight I went to our church bazar. I smiled at lots of people and I don't think any of them thought I had lost my marbles. They might have though that I looked like I was having a lot of fun and most of them smiled back. I have definitely noticed that people in the south are much friendlier than people in almost any other place. You really can't appreciate this until you leave and come back. So chalk one up for coming back to the south. Smiles are allowed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Budapest and Black Holes

I am finally the US and online. These events did not happen simultaneously though.

First the ranting.
We arrived home on Sunday, it is now Wednesday and still no internet despite 1.5 visits (as I have been trapped at home for the last 3 hours waiting for them to show up for their second visit/effort to resolve the issue) from cable company. I'm beginning to feel like I live in a technological black hole. No phone, no internet and a very moody cell phone. It is one thing to be without our modern communication devices when traveling abroad. This is expected and something of a gift at times, no access therefore no pressure to engage in the digital world and an opportunity to engage in real life for a while. BUT, when I get home I expect to be able log on, call, text, chat and search at will, not sit at home waiting hours and hours for some dude to show up and tell me that he can't fix the problem so the more qualified dude needs to come back tomorrow to fix the problem. Still waiting......and have resorted to just typing up a draft of my most important travels and tribulations for all of you readers with the hopes it will soon be posted!

There, I feel better, don’t you?


Maybe a little bit of Budapest will make you feel better.

The Buda Castle on the Buda side of Budapest

Yes, that's just how I felt when I saw the view from our hotel room! Beautiful!I could look at that view all night long!

TJ and I decided to take a bike tour on our first full day in Budapest. It turned out to be pure pleasure. I highly recommend biking through any city you visit, except Milan, more about that in a later post. Anyway, we met our group at 11 in the morning and finished the tour at 3. We saw all the sights and learned a lot about Budapest. Our group was made up of a couple in their 20's from Venezuala, 40ish couple from Australia and us...who are younger than any of them, in our hearts. A perfect size group and our guide was very good.

This is me insuring that my writing skills improve, according to Hungarian lore. This fellow, named Anonymous, is credited with writing Hungary's history and if you rub the pen in his hand it will improve your writing skills. Bring it on!

There are many hot springs in Budapest and this is one of the bath houses. After riding our bikes in the cool weather, sitting in one of those baths would have been amazing, but who knew I would need a bathing suit in Budapest? Oh well, keep riding.

Apparently Hungarians are big on rubbing things on statues for various reasons. Here TJ is rubbing part of this horse, which I will let you figure out for yourselves, and it is going to bring him good luck. Again, bring it on!
See? The things you learn on a small bike tour!

This is just another beautiful church in Buda. We rode our bikes across the Danube over the Chain Bridge and up, up, up the hill/mountain, to this church and the Fisherman's Bastion. I am proud to report that I did not have to walk my bike up the hill/mountain and not that I am competitive or anything but I was the second in our group to the top. Take that, cute, young, girl from Venezuala!

Not all of Budapest is perfect. This is a building with signs of the many bombings Budapest has endured throughout their years. There are still signs of the turmoil the country has survived. They keep this building the way it is to remind them of the past.

Just for excercise the next day I walked about 1/3 of the bike ride from the day before. The entire time I was thinking to myself, I sure wish I was on a bike. I am sold on biking as a mode of transportation! Especially in big cities, except Milan, but another day.

Now for the food! I found the food to be delicious! I searched every pastry shop in town, and it was a terribly difficult task but one I was willing to sacrifice myself for in hopes of finding kifli and kolache. Alas, no kolache but I did find kifli! The Central Market Hall, pictured below, is very much like St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. Don't miss it if you go to Budapest! Beautiful market and great prices!

These cookies are like ones I remember my grandmother making and they were the best! I wish I had bought more!

The kifli had poppyseed filling and walnut filling. They made an excellent breakfast the next morning. Again, I was sad I did not get more.

To end our time in Budapest we went on a late night cruise of the Danube. The views were amazing from the boat and well worth staying up way past even my bedtime. That's late!

Final impressions.
Beautiful city, mini Paris as far as the city of lights, almost everyone speaks English, very user friendly city, very affordable with great food and shopping. Definitely worth a trip, but not a long one.
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