Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finally home.

There are a number of reasons I know we're home; I can understand most of what people are saying, there are fewer scooters, and we went to Costco today.

It was a great trip. Lots of people to see, mostly Australians, and lots of sights and smells. Some good, some bad. The best part? Traveling with Belinda's Aunt Alice. I never had to go shopping while she was with us. And then Thomas showed up and it was even better. I think they will be our new traveling partners. I can just hear Thomas " Oh Gawd ! " I have posted some pictures at:  

This blog is a little different than the last one. Maybe a little more serious. Not sure why but maybe it's because we were not on a tour and my opportunites for picking on someone was much more limited. And it was a little frustrating trying to find an internet access point. By the time I did, much of my memory had faded. Right now, I'm still lying awake at night trying to figure out what train to take tomorrow or if it's a "down day". As I mentioned, my definition of "down day" and Belinda's definition are a little different. It turned out she merely meant fewer steps to walk down (AND UP !). I just wish she had said this was a "hill town tour." When she retired Belinda said she wanted to take the more strenuous trips first and so we started with the Machu Picchu trip, then Egypt. I think the "hill town trip" should have been first. Much more climbing than Machu Picchu. . . or is it that I'm getting older? Nah. Am I?

On one of our "down days" (I need to put quotes around these words because it's Belinda's phrase, not mine) we got caught in the middle of a service workers strike in Nice, France. But this was one of the days where we actually were taking it a little easy. Even so, Belinda still found steps to go down (and up).

Our last night was in Milan. A very big city with one of the most impressive duomos.

And we climbed to the roof. Well, actually we paid 8€ to take the elevator. Is that cheating? There were still some stairs left to climb. Eight or ten anyway. Then we jumped on one of the streetcars and rode it to the end. Then we took a bus and subway back to our hotel and went to bed.

Our flights home were uneventful. Tried to sleep as much as we could and now our clock is a little off. Still trying to organize our pictures and will be doing so over the next few weeks. I may post a few more and will note that on this blog.

One thing that really struck me was something right here in the U.S. As I mentioned, we had a 13 hour layover in Newark so we took the train into Penn Station in New York and visited the Brooklyn Tabernacle and Ground Zero. We especially wanted to see what the deal was with the proposed Muslim center, a few blocks from Ground Zero. (See above).  First of all, this isn't a just a Mosque, it's a Cultural Center. Something we've seen in other cities around the world. But even if it was a Mosque, don't they have a right to build where they want? Isn't that one of the main reasons we declared our independence from England - freedom of religion? What kind of message do we want to send to the world?  How we handle this issue really is "a test of our commitment to American values" as Michael Bloomberg has said.  In all our travels, it is so apparent that most wars, conflicts, killings, etc. are in the name of someone's religion. In Mostar, Bosnia, it was the Muslims against the Serbs (Orthodox Christians). God (Supreme Being, Allah, whatever) didn't create the U.S. above all other countries. He created all of us to be like him, in his image, to love one another. Do we have to go to our religious corners every time there is an issue? Those who flew into the World Trade Center buildings were radicals, as was Timothy McVeigh. We can not lump all Muslims together because of the WTC any more than we can the Catholics because of McVeigh or any of the other radical religious groups who kill doctors and blow up abortion clinics. These people don't represent the vast majority of their religious order. They are all radicals! And yet we continue to kill one another over our different beliefs. What possible difference does it make to someone what somebody else believes? It is obvious that killing someone with different beliefs has accomplished nothing. As one bumper sticker says "We are creating terrorists faster than we can kill them!" Someone has to say "Enough!" If you can't love your neighbor, at least tolerate them.

Stepping off my soapbox now. . . . and ending this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. . . or at least tolerated it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bellagio, Italy and THE screwup

I'm referring to me, in the second part of the title.  I failed to cancel at least one reservation and so far it has cost us 97€.  1/3 the cost of the netbook I should have brought with me to make sure I could keep in contact with all our hotels.  I have certainly learned a lesson here and I've mentioned it before. NEVER leave the country without some form of communications device- web-enabled cell phone, netbook, tin can and string.  We've managed fine but it's been more of a hassle to keep in touch than if we had to carry a device.  Next time I will get a suitcase the size of the trunk in most small cars here and load it up with gear.  Netbook, cell, iPad.   It's been a great trip but we are winding down and looking forward to English, free toilets, and smiles.  The smiles are interesting here.  No one makes eye contact until you speak to them and then most have a big smile and offers of help.  Just like LA except for the offers of help.

We have a nice room here in Bellagio.  It is raining so we feel like home.  We met some ladies from Oklahoma City.  Jennifer, Candy, and Honey, celebrating their 40th, 60th, and 80th birthday.  Grandmother, mother and a granddaughter.  Sweet ladies.  We love the "stripper" names, as Jennifer calls them. 

And still no card reader so I can't post a picture with my blog.  I hate that !  Did I mention Bellagio is another damn hill town!  Gratefully not as steep as the others but their steps have rocks sticking out of them.  I'm sure it's for looks but don't walk on them when wet.  And it's wet.  Not too wet but slippery wet.  Belinda really likes this internet cafe.  She's sipping wine and eating a sandwich.  Me and my Coke.

I think we are going to head back to our room and watch Italian news.  Last night we watched MTV.  The Italian Top 20.  Interesting.  There were two videos that were in the top 20 twice !  Not sure what that was about but one was #17 and also #3.  Don't remember the other combination.

Of course, we leave Bellagio Wednesday morning and it was clear and beautiful.  We headed back to Milan for one night at the hotel where I had originally reserved four nights.  I must have done that before Belinda decided to add Lake Como.  Then I promptly forgot to cancel.  Fortunately they only charged us for one night.  I can live with that.  We get home Thursday night and hopefully Cheryl will remember to pick us up.  I'll email her to remind her but with jet lag and all the excitement of her trip, I hope she remembers her old friends.  I have my massage scheduled for Friday am which I do not want to miss.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pictures have been posted

I have just posted some pictures at: .  You may need to copy and paste this link in the address window of your browser

I will post some more info when I can get to an English keyboard.

OK, got a good keyboard.  As I mentioned previously, of course we couldn't just sit and look at the view in Nice so we got on a bus and headed to Eze and Monte Carlo.  Just a few hours away and the day was beautiful.

And of course ------------>

Friday, October 1, 2010

Nice is

Have I moved up the evolutionary ladder ?  Is the title a pun?  We are in Nice, France,  now.  Beautiful city but larger than I imagined.  About 450,000 people but mostly French !  Everything is in French.  Misenga where are you.  I don't like to make comparisons but since you aren't here, let me tell you some of the differences between France and Italy.  In Italy, most everthing is in Italian or English.  Thoughtful.  In France, they apparetnly are too snobbish to think there are other languages. Maybe that's just in Nice.  At least, that's what I was told.  In France, the trains and train stations are clean.  Italy, not so much.  But we do have the largest shower at our Le Royale.  Thanks Dave and Mary.  Right on the water.  All you see out our window is the Mediterranean.  Charming.  I thought maybe some of you missed that word.  The downside is that I feel like I have to keep my shirt tucked in.  Last night we ate at a nice little French Asian self-serve place.  Good food and inexpensive.  Then we headed for something I saw on the "tourist" row of restaurants - crepes!!!  Nutella crepes !!!  Oh I love those.  They weren't as good as Misenga used to make but they hit the spot.

Today is what Belinda calls a "down day".  That means we only walk for 5-6 hours.  Probably take a bus to Monte Carlo, Monaco, and Eze.  I see there is a city called Beausoleil nearby.  I used to work with a Beausoleil at Chemeketa.  Wished I had his email.  Maybe we could get a free meal.  So, we'll walk to the bus station and try to figure out what bus to take.  Then we'll walk around whereever we end up.  Walk back to the bus stop, back to our hotel, then walk out for something to eat, then back to the hotel for a nap, then back out for another mean (crepes !), then back to the hotel.  A nice, quiet "down day".


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Italian Riveria (Santa Margherita and Portofina)

Yes, we are basking in the sun on the Italian Riveria.  Of course, we are wearing our sunglasses so people look at us and wonder. . . Isabella Rossellini and Tom Cruise?

Yesterday, when we arrived at the train station in Rapallo, just a few km from Santa Margherita, I noticed a young girl, about 13 or 14, with an older woman get on the train.  I knew immediately something was awry as the young girl smiled at me.  So I kind of kept an eye on them and sure enough, during the short trip, I turned quickly and saw the older woman  reaching for the pack on my back and she quickly took her hand away.  Then a few minutes later, as we were shuffling off the train, the little girl stopped on the step right in front of me for no reason, which made me very suspicious.  I pushed by her and turned around to see the woman reach out for Belinda's pack.  I yelled at the woman and she acted as if nothing happened and I kept yelling at her as she got off the train.  "No comprende" she kept saying and I kept say "you understand very well" in my best Italenglish.  She knew she had been caught but no one else seem to care so I smacked her in the mouth and now I'm writing this from the Polizia Stazzion.  OK, so I wanted to smack her but didn't but what really made me mad was she included this little girl in her scheme.  Parents! 

Santa Margherita is a beautiful little town.  Nice little harbor, great places to sit and watch the water and tourists.  Today we took a short hop to Portofino on the bus.  We were going to rent a scooter but it was 50 Euro and they do drive a little crazy here in Italy.  Well, maybe just in Europe in general.  So we decided to take a bus for just under 5 Euro for both of us round-trip.  Really glad we didn't rent the scooter.  The road to Portofino varies from just barely room for two vehicles to just room for one.  A curvy road where the bus driver had to honk at about half the turns to let other cars and scooters know he was coming.  I could just see us as hood ornaments on a city bus.  Not an image I liked.  Portofina is a nice, beautiful little town.  Much, much smaller than Santa Margherita but very charming.  But we're glad we are staying in SM.  Many more food choices here.

Speaking of European drivers.  As I mentioned in a blog a while back, I do not like to rent a car outside of the States but we had to in Croatia as it was the only way to see what we wanted to see.  As I mentioned it was the smallest car they had and even Belinda said that next time we need to ask how big the tires were.  This one had 13" tires.  Like on a small trailer.  The thought of those tires spinning so fast at 110 km/hr apparently scared her as  much as me.  Anyway, I said never again but Belinda really wanted to see Assisi while we were in Siena.  She told me some story about having a dream and I fell for it. You know, sign from God.  Anyway, we tried Avis but they had no cars so we found this little bicycle, scooter, and car rental place.  I didn't have the best feeling about this place but they had a car for 65 Euro and it sounded nice.  They said it was a great little Opel, which I had been wanting to drive anyway.  I had only heard of the Corsa and they are cool.  Now I've rented some ify cars in the past but this one took the cake.  It was a 2002 Opel Agila !  Have you ever heard of an Opel Agila?  Well, it took me 15 minutes of Googling to finally find a description of one.  And I think that was all Opel ever made and we rented it.  It only had one sun visor.  Fortunately it was on the driver's side.  All the seats were sweat stained (eeeewwweeeeuuuu) and the rest of the interior was dirtier than any car I have ever driven, except maybe for my neighbor's last BMW.  And the exterior was not any better.  There really wasn't any reason to wash it because it had so many dings and dents that it just didn't matter.  But, it took us to Assisi, 130km away, at 110km/hr and back.  It made an interesting sound at that speed and Belinda says "Did you check the size of the tires?"  Well, not exactly but I think they were 14" so we were safe.  We went 10km over our allowance so they charged me an extra 2 Euro so 67 Euro to get to Assisi was well worth it.  We would have paid twice that much.  Assisi was fantastic.  Absolutely beautiful.  Sorry I'm using that word a lot.  I stopped using "charming" after Thomas and Alice left us.  The churches in Italy are breath-taking.  It really doesn't matter who the Saint is that the church is honoring.  They are just fantastic.  It does bother me a little that so much time, effort, and money went into churches in poor areas though.  I'm sure there is some Biblical quote that would sooth me but maybe they could have added free flush toilets or a spa or something. 

We had our first McDonald's food in Assisi.  It was called a . . . BELINDA, WHAT WAS THAT SANDWICH CALLED AT MC'DONALDS?  Oh, she's somewhere reading or using the toilet or looking at another church.  I'll let you know later but it was really good.  Super thick mozarilla cheese and a patty of some kind of meat on a thin bun with herbs.  Yummy.  Mozarillo or Armadillo or something ending in illo.

Ok, I'm going to go outside and sit in the shade and eat or drink something.  Everything is really good.  Alice forced us to eat black risotto.  It's pasta with squid ink.  Tasty.  We have eaten some of the best meals ever.  Belinda had some pork medallians in Siena that were to die for. And I had the best Tiramisu I have ever had....twice.
Tomorrow we are back on the train, headed for Nice.  The Jolanda Hotel here in SM has been great.  A step up from the 1 or 2 star places that we've been staying.  Not sure what the convent in Siena was rated but it was nice, clean, and blessed.

ciao ciao

Sunday, September 26, 2010


We arrived in Siena yesterday on the train from Rome.  We spent two nights in our worst room so far.  AND the most expensive.  Most of our rooms have been about 60€ but the Rome room (say that fast a couple of times) was 125€.  The room itself was okay but the shower was for all intent broken.  All of our showers were small, one person showers.  Now being from Oregon, I like to have at least one other person in the shower to save water.  Not happening here.  You can not bend over without hitting your head.  You know, like should you drop the soap.  Shame on you for thinking anything else.  So, all showers small.  But this shower had no doors.  Instead, a too-long shower curtain which covered the drain and eventually allowed water all over the floor.  If the water didn't get out through or around the shower curtain, it came out under the broken shower stall wall.  Now Rick (of Rick Steves) is going to hear from me about this one !!

About Rick Steves.  While he has had some great suggestions over the years, he has ruined most of the places he writes about because he wasn't selective about who he told.  I think if he had just given his information to those of us in the Pacific NW, I would be a lot happier.  However, he would sell his info to anyone who was willing to pay. So if you follow his suggestions you end up going to places loaded with Rick Steves people.  Not bad people, just a lot of them.  So I think for our next trip we are just going to throw darts and show up at those locations without any reservations.  Unless they are Rick's suggested places.  Then we throw the dart again.

You may have noticed that I am not posting as much or as often as the last trip.  Mostly because you people with iPhones and the like have run the Internet Cafes out of business !  It is next to impossible to find an "internet point" anymore.  In Lecce we were fortunate to find two nice fellows who allowed us into the Univeristy computer lab after we told them we were "University employees".  College, university, what's the diff.  Anyway, nice guys.  The next day, I found a Bibliotech (look it up) and the man running the lab allowed me to use a computer there.  Now, I am in a convent in Siena!  They are more connected than anywhere else. (And probably in more ways than one, if you know what I mean.  You know, God).  Fast internet running Windows  XP Pro (is there any other) and 1€ per hour !!  Flat panel monitor, ball-less mouse (I just like saying that) and some USB ports.  But no SD card reader so still no pictures.  Sorreeey.

Today we walked around Siena (I do not know what Belinda's fascination is with hills) and decided we might try to rent a car tomorrow to go to Assisi.  Something about a pilgrimage.  I have heard of St. Francis of Assisi but not sure why.  I guess I'll have to look it up !  Oh, we had the best meal of the trip last night. We shared Wild Boar with pasta and Belinda had the absolute best, most tastiest, pork medallions.  I had chicken, which was pretty good too but her pork was soooo yummy.  She gave me one bite and that was all.  Then we shared the best Tiramisu ever.  I mean ever.  A little spendy (55€) but jeez it was good.  We may go back tonight and I'll order the pork.

I have so many stories and so little time.  Oops, Belinda just sat down next to me so maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.  She says I can go ahead but that's like asking her if she wants to do something I want to do and she says "fine"!

OK, she left after that.  Without Alice around, I have had to go shopping with her.  She did get some really cute --------.  Not saying in case she doesn't give it to you.  Oh, about our train ride yesterday.  We had to take a train from Rome to Chiusiu and change trains.  About 30 of us get off at Chiusiu and find we have to wait about 30 minutes.  So we are all sitting near the tracks and a three-car diesel train pulls in and drops off a bunch of kids about five minutes after we arrive.  It has no markings to indicate where it is going but it is so early that none of us think it is our train to Siena.  So most of us are sitting reading and after about 25 minutes I look up and there is only one other couple and us.  We see no other train and finally I see a conductor loading some bikes on this diesel train and I asked him if this was the train to Siena.  "Of course".  I yell at Belinda that this is our train.  I decided to also mention it to the Asian couple waiting even though he was one of those who ruined the internet experience for me because he was using an iPad.  We scramble on and away we go.  No announcement, nothing.  But I love the train system here.  I guess that's because there is a train system here.  You can get just about anywhere, except Assisi, by train.  You could probably get to Assisi but only back through Rome and then back.

Just a reminder here about my writing.  I tend to be sarcastic when I write about our travels.  It's my style of humor.  I've been told sarcasim is the lowest form of humor and that a pun is the highest.  So here's my pun.  "What did Mrs Frankenstein say to Mr. Frankenstein when she first met him?  'Hello tall, dark, and handsewn.'  (I stole that.)  OK, about my writing.  I love the places and people we see.  I love the things that get screwed up.  That's part of the adventure of travel.  Rather than just write another travel blog, I make fun of things.  If our ferry had sunk on the way to Italy, I would have made fun of that too, if we had survived.  Anyway, understand that we love it all, except maybe the rain.  But I did buy an umbrella in Slovenia.  Who else can say that?

ciao ciao

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Back in Italy

One of these days I'll post some pictures when I find a computer that will do it.  If there's one thing I have learned is that one day in the future, we will all communicate via a hand-held device that fits in your pocket.  You will be able to call someone, like using a telephone, and also get data from the web, check arrival and departure times, reserve train tickets, etc.  I know, it sounds incredulous but . . . wait, I've just been handed a news bulletin. . . crap, it's already happened and I may have to change with the times !!!  The reason I have been unable to post much is that internet cafes, or internet points, are all but extinct.  Fortunately, yesterday we found a university in Lecce that let us use theirs for a brief email and today I am at the Lecce Bibliotech using theirs.  Nice of them to allow me to do this so I will be brief.

We had the best time in Split, HR (that stands for Croatia), and Dubrovnik was beautiful.  Took a side trip to Mostar, Bosnia (don't know the code for Bosnia).  We took an overnight ferry to Bari, IT (that stands for Italy), took a train to Lecce and had a great visit there.  We are waiting for our train to Roma (that stands for Rome) which leaves about 12:50pm.  We arrive in Roma around 18:30 (that's 6:30pm) and hopefully will hook up with Pam, Rob, Cheryl, and Sandra.  We spend two nights in Roma and then on to Siena.  As I said, I will post picts when I can but not today.

It's been relatively hot and humid since we hit Dubrovnik.  Damn that city has a lot of stairs.  A shout out to Belinda's aunt Alice.  She probably saved our marriage by spending time shopping with Belinda.  Like we needed to encourage that !  Anyway, Alice brings this collapsible bag with her just for her purchases.  Now that's not something I want to encourage Belinda to do but the first thing this morning she says "I've just got to get one of those collapsible bags!"  Alice, you may have been a life saver but you may also have created a monster.  And enjoy the seven pairs of shoes !

More later. . . ciao, ciao, ciao.   (That's the way the Italians say it)