October 26, 2008

Night and day in Asolo

Filed under: food,travel — origamifreak @ 6:17 pm
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Last night I wandered around town and eventually had dinner at a nice bistro up a small street from the Piazza. It looked like it was run by a mom and her grown-up son and daughter.

They specialized in fish, there. I started with a prosecco-like wine from France that came with a small taste (I can’t remember what it was – sorry!) For food first I had herb ravioli with scallops and I think mussels, followed with a lovely fillet of John Dory over zucchini and carrots, with crispy shredded potatoes on the side. With that I drank a merlot/cab from nearby Valdobbiadene. I’m not much of a red wine fan, but I liked it. For dessert I chose the sampler plate which had 5 small ramekins, each a different shape, containing: creme brulee, flourless chocolate cake with a bittersweet sauce on top, a marscapone custard with blueberries, a custard with currant sauce, and a trifle with chocolate sauce. They were all nice, but I confess an intemperate fondness for creme brulee, so I’m afraid it won.

This morning after breakfast I went to see if the museum and information center were open, but they weren’t (I didn’t realize until I reached Venice that the time had changed). They were setting up a farmer’s market in the piazza for a festival celebrating local agriculture.

Next I went up the street to the bookstore and got some cookbooks of local cusine, a guidebook and some maps for when I come back with my siblings (my sisters have said they want to go). I went the long way back to the hotel.

At the top of Mt Ricco (the hill my hotel is on) is the Rocca, which was settled in the 10th century, with a 13th century fortification on it. My hotel backed right onto the path leading up there so I went.

…and up…

…past olive orchards…

…and up some more…

…to the top where everyone sits on the wall to rest and enjoy the view.

Next I paid my 1.5 euros and went inside.

More later. I’m tired and each photo takes about 15 minutes to upload.


OK, here’s the rest.

There were nice views of the town below:

Toward Monte Tomba:

The surrounding hills:


October 25, 2008

Morning in Asolo

Filed under: travel — origamifreak @ 5:39 am
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Blogging real-time, courtesy of the wireless. No more cut-and-paste from Word…

OK, here’s the promised picture of the tower, taken a few minutes ago:

Here is a time-lapse of all the activity you can watch from the terrace of the hotel:

As you can see, it’s noon. Both the computer and the camera batteries are almost dead, so it’s time to log off and go exploring!

More later…


Route: Asolo to Cavaso

Route: Cavaso up Monte Tomba

The view back across the valley between Asolo and Cavaso from a little cantina where I had an iced tea:

Memorial for the Italians and French who died defending the region from the Austro-Hungarian army in WWI and views from Monte Tomba:

The view north, toward the Austro-Hungarians:

Asolo da sola

Filed under: food,technology,travel — origamifreak @ 4:39 am
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10/24/2008 11:12 PM

Wow. I left S. Michele all’Adige around 5:30pm, and it was quite the Task to get to my hotel in Asolo. I arrived shortly before 8pm after having an unintended tour of Treviso, and ready to reach right into the GPS and strangle that British lady in there, who was trying to make me crazy. My friend Chris was not kidding, when she said the GPS doesn’t work so well on the little roads. The drive was supposed to have taken an hour and a half.

Everything was fine until I got off the A22 in Trento and stopped for gas. I kept encountering traffic circles in which the Annoying Lady Voice would tell me too soon or too late to exit or bear left, or turn right, etc. After passing the same area three times, I finally figured out how I was supposed to go, by process of elimination. I felt like I was in a real-time version of Adventure, in the part where the maze is of twisty little passages, all different.

Finally I found the A47 and drove past Padova to Bassano del Grappa, which was exciting because I’ve seen it on Treviso maps over the years. This is where things started to get really ugly, though. Because The Voice kept sending me up these tiny roads with no shoulders bordered by high hedges, and through tiny villages where, (and I am not kidding), the buildings were so close to the road that there was only room for 1 car, and if you wanted to pass, one of you had to back up. And keep in mind these are the really narrow little city cars.

The icing on the cake was when, after a very long, round-about path, the GPS Lady told me to turn up a road that was so narrow that it even had a sign, saying “no cars.” What was especially frustrating was that the GPS map said I was about 300m from my destination.

So I turned around and tried again. And again. And kept getting sent back to the same goat track. Finally I back-tracked so much that The Voice decided to send me over to Monfumo and back. (I guess she didn’t like my swearing, and wanted to teach me a lesson.) Finally I pulled over, dragged the tiny tourist map of Asolo out of my suitcase, tried to match up the road names with the horrid little map on the GPS, and figured out where to go.

Now I understand why they put photos of the hotel on their website, because without them, I would never have figured out which building it was, or where it was, etc. The nice lady at reception spoke English, which was a Very Good Thing, because I was in No Mood to try killing Italian at her, after the ordeal finding the place.

This hotel is kind-of amusing. Perhaps they’re all like this, but they seem to be Really Proud of their 4 stars. They prominently display them on their bedside notepads:

On their sheets:

On their pillowcases:

And even on their bathmats:

They left the stars off the toothpaste, but it still has the logo:

I hope their rating never drops, because it could be a lot of work picking out all those embroidered stars!

It is also an old building. Here is the floor plan for the level I am on:

Notice the irregular shape. This is because the streets are there, so the building has nowhere else to expand, except up. There are 4 levels, where reception and the lobby are in the ground floor (-1), the restaurant and some rooms on the 2nd level (0), my room on the 3rd level (1), and more rooms on the level above that.

The Nice English-speaking Reception Lady offered to make a reservation at the restaurant for me, which I gratefully accepted, and suggested having it in half an hour.

Then, joy, of joy, even the Restaurant Ladies spoke English. And the menus had an English option. They put me at a table next to the window where I had a good view of the piazza and the fountain, and the tower with a clock on it, that Actually Worked. (This after having looked at it for over an hour, but not really paying attention.)

The reason I wasn’t paying attention to the clock was because this was one of the most elaborate meals I think I have ever eaten at a restaurant. It started with a glass of Prosecco, and a little accompaniment that had triangles of whipped egg (I think) sandwiching warm, melted gorgonzola cheese. Next came my starter, for which I’d chosen a poached egg, wrapped around the sides with prosciutto, sitting in a little pool of cream sauce, and (oh joy), topped with shaved pieces of white truffle. I thought I liked Wegmans truffle oil. Ahem. While the oil is good, the real thing is definitely better.

Next came my entrée, which was homemade pink gnocci (maybe colored with beets?), in a venison sauce, with little nuggets of freeze-dried coffee sprinkled around the perimeter of the plate. This I had with a glass of local red wine. And while I don’t generally like wine (especially red ones), this was actually quite nice.

A plate of interesting little bread nuggets and thin breadsticks flavored and colored variously with squid ink, pesto, and red pepper sat on the table and I used them to help recover the bits of sauce.

After this I was offered an intriguing choice of desserts. The one I selected was a marvel of thermal and chemical engineering. It consisted of: A scoop of pumpkin gelato resting on a bed of crumbled meringue bits (to insulate it from the plate), a warm muffin with candied orange in it, a rectangle of thin chocolate made by drizzling it and then cooling it, stuck into the top of the gelato, and (this was the real point of the dessert) a little metal tube (like the kind toothpaste comes in), with the hotel logo, containing nutella mixed with effervescent granules. These granules were like the candy we sometimes called “pop rocks” when I was growing up. They’d fizzle when they hit the tongue or sides of the mouth. I think a food scientist had fun coming up with that one. There were also 2 raspberries, 2 blackberries, and a small sprig containing little smooth red berries that I didn’t recognize.

I don’t know how much this meal cost, because they told me their policy was to just put it on the room bill. The starter and entrée alone were probably about 30 euros. (gulp)

Breakfast comes with the room and is in the same place. I’ll take a picture of the tower then and afterwards use the hotel’s wireless (yep, they even have wireless here) to upload this post. Now it’s 12:18:48 AM, and I’m whipped. Fortunately breakfast is served until 10:30am, which means I get to Sleep In. Yay, Sleep.

October 24, 2008


Filed under: food,language,travel — origamifreak @ 7:19 am
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10/23/2008 11:06 PM

Tonight a bunch of us went to dinner in Trento. My colleague noticed an interesting item on the menu:

Did you spot it? It’s the spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and shrimp. I’m sure it is very good, but perhaps they ought to have an English speaker spell-check the menu…

By the way, this same colleague said that I have to inform everyone in the U.S. that gondoliers in Venice do not sing “O Sole Mio.” So please forward this fact to everyone on your email list, and spread the word, as a public service. Thank you.

He also observed that in movies all Italian restaurants have red and white checked tablecloths, and he said he’d never seen such a thing on any table in a restaurant. At which I pointed out that the envelope in which his silverware had come had a vague green and red gingham pattern on it. He said that didn’t count because it was paper, not fabric. I rested my case.

I had the penne with ham and walnuts in a cream sauce, which was nice. Afterwards we walked a bit around Trento before heading back to our respective cars.

Tomorrow is my last day here, and tomorrow evening I head off for a weekend in the foothills of the Dolomites.

October 23, 2008

Poll Testing

Filed under: food,travel — origamifreak @ 9:28 am
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This place is apparently just like where I work in NY.  Every once in a while free food just shows up, and everyone gathers to try it and take some home.

The past couple of days there have been a couple of crates out in the hallway for apple tasting.  The varieties they had available:

  • Golden Delicious
  • Reinette
  • Granny Smith
  • Fuji

The Golden Delicious had a juicy, crisp texture and were sweet, but had very little flavor, just like the ones we get in NY.  The Reinette had a nice flavor, but a mealy texture.  The Granny Smith were crisp and tart, but I think they were actually unripe.  The Fuji were the best, according to most present, including me.  Good texture, juicy, crisp, and nice flavor.

La lavanderia a gettone

Filed under: food,language,travel — origamifreak @ 5:15 am
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10/22/2008 10:39 PM

I just had a Very Exciting Evening, in which I had a Laundromat Adventure, and then afterward had dinner all’ristorante. Last night I had pizza with Mickael and Lorenza and their daughter Sabrina, who is very bright and cute and about 2 or 3. We talked for a long time about jobs and families, and all kinds of things (well, Mickael and Lorenza and I did – Sabrina went to bed soon after dinner), and I’m afraid I imposed on their hospitality longer than I should have, because I was tired this morning, and I imagine they must have been, too! (Note to self: check the watch more often and scoot by 10:30 at the latest – especially when visiting people who are usually woken up early by a cheerful sprite jumping on them.)

While I was there, Lorenza kindly called the hotel for me and asked about laundry arrangements (I packed exactly enough clothes to get me through with one wash on Wednesday.) They confirmed that there is no laundry service, and Lorenza was pretty sure that the only laundry in S. Michele all’Adige is a dry cleaner. So, being the awesome person that she is, she raided their change jar and lent me a bag of 0.5, 1, and 2 euro coins (30 euros of them!) and explained where the laundromat is in their town, Mezzolombardo.

She also has been helping me to find contacts to see if my family can begin to locate cousins in northern Treviso. A friend of hers had supplied the phone number for the local parish priest, and she called and chatted with him about it. He gave her his email address, and said he’d ask around to see if anyone thought they were related to my grandparents. Although he offered to meet me on Sunday, he was unclear how it would work, since I don’t speak Italian, and that’s the only language he speaks (other than Latin, presumably). Too bad I didn’t switch to Latin when I started high school, huh? Anyway, the contacting has been started, and maybe by the time my siblings are ready for a trip back here, we’ll have real, live distant cousins to meet.

So this evening I left work around 17:45 and got stuck in a ?traffic jam? In which a usual 5-minute drive back to the hotel took 20 minutes. There were a lot of vehicles coming in to town, and a lot going out, and they were getting bogged down at the traffic circles. I wonder if something like a game was going on? I mean, this is a town, well, village, in which there are as far as I can tell exactly two grocery stores (one tiny, one small), and no laundromat, so how on earth can they manage a traffic jam?

Anyway, when I got back I was tempted to skip the laundry because I was tired and I *could* actually manage through tomorrow, but knowing that I was supposed to go out to dinner with the people from work, I wouldn’t have time to wash anything to wear on Friday. So I shoved all the dirty clothes in my suitcase and drove to Mezzolombardo and circled the little mall until I found the laundry. There were exactly two things in English about this experience: 1) The sign on the door that said “Coin-op Laundry,” and 2) the “Start Cycle” button on the washers. I’m starting to see that what my guide book blithely describes as an Italian love of borrowing words can really lull the traveler into a false sense of security.

When I got there a lady was finishing her laundry, saw me studying the instructional poster, and jumped up to help. Most everyone here is really friendly and helpful, especially the women, who are really kind and go out of their way to be friendly and helpful. So this lady, once I explained apologetically, “non capisco – non parlo Italiano,” actually pointed to each step on the chart, then ran over to the washers and acted out each step with exaggerated clarity. I asked if she spoke German? Nope. French? Nope. Spanish? Nope. ….. Japanese? Definitely not. J But she made herself really clear in Italian, and it helped me a lot. She was even able to convey that the machines include soap automatically, based on the type of cycle selected. (Wow, that’s pretty cool. I wonder if US front-loaders in laundromats can do that, now?)

She left and I sorted my clothes into a light and a dark load, and fed the euros into the slots. The instructions pretty clearly said to select the type of cycle, put in the money, and press “Start Cycle.” And yes, the little red button said “Start Cycle.” In English. But I couldn’t figure out why the machines wouldn’t start, and it didn’t seem like the door wanted to close, either. While I was puzzling over this, another nice lady showed up, and she didn’t speak anything but Italian, either. She showed me that I needed to slam the door to make it shut.

She stayed for a while and asked me how I came to be there in Mezzolombardo, and with the help of the pathetically thin dictionary in the back of my Berlitz book, I managed to explain that I was working in S. Michele all’Adige for the week, that I’d been here since Saturday, that I was leaving for Treviso on Friday, and flying home on Monday. Good thing I spent a couple of commutes last week going over and over the days of the week on the Berlitz CD…

She had a box of Friskies under her arm, and I couldn’t figure out how to tell her that I have cats too, and my cell phone that has photos of them was back at the hotel, so I couldn’t show her. I was sorry about that, because she was really nice, and I think she might have liked to see pictures of my American cats. Plus, I would have learned the word for “cat,” which is NOT in the Berlitz book. In a pinch if I had to, I would just say “due gatti” and hope that my Espanliano was close enough. It seems to work about 75% of the time, which is impressive, given that my Spanish is terrible.

While I had my nose in the book trying to figure out how to tell her I had cats too, she said “ciao” and left, and I was alone for a while studying the phrase book when a third lady came in. She brought some wet laundry from home to dry. Although by this time I didn’t need help, she stuck around and wanted to chat, too, and shared an espresso candy with me. When it was time to put my clothes in a dryer she insisted that I combine the lights and darks, so I did.

She told me her son goes to school in S. Michele all’Adige, and when I explained the kind of work I do, she wrote her email on my notepad, and said she’d write for Christmas, and I gave her a card so she could have my email. I think she asked how we’d read each other’s email, and I wrote on a notepad, “Google translation,” which amused her greatly. Her laundry bag was from Ikea, and I told her “me gusto Ikea” (there’s that Spanish again), and she asked if there was Ikea in America, and I said, “Si, molto Ikea.” Which I’m pretty sure is not grammatically correct, but she got my point.

After more attempts to talk about things, some successful, some not (Note to self: next time I go somewhere that I’ll need to talk to the natives, bring a real dictionary), her laundry finished, and she gave me another candy, a hug, and told me “arrivederci” before leaving. I’ve noticed that people make a definite distinction between that and “arrivederla which I think means a more permanent “good bye.”

My clothes were dry about half an hour later, and I drove back to the hotel. By this time it was 20:00, and I was tired. And hungry. Mickael and Lorenza had mentioned they thought the restaurant across the street was nice, so I wandered over there to see. What at first looked like the entrance was closed and dark, but next-door there was a parking lot with some cars, and a couple kissing, and on closer inspection, it was also the restaurant, and looked like the main entrance. I think the first door was probably the original restaurant.

Anyway, I went in, and the guy by the cash register was mildly frustrated to be faced with someone who didn’t speak Italian. I can’t say I blame him. There weren’t very many people there, and I privately wondered if I was too late to get dinner, although it didn’t make sense, because I’d understood from my guide book that Italians eat late.

He said to wait, and eventually went and got the main waiter named Pepe, who spoke enough English to manage me quite well. He started to give me a menu, then studied me carefully, and asked what I like to eat. “Everything,” I answered. “Pasta?” he asked. Carne and vegetale?” I asked back. Later I figured out that the correct word is “l’ortaggo,” and I’d probably asked for “meat and plants,” but he understood and suggested a grilled fillet over vegetables, which turned out to be delicious. Did you kniw you can grill radiccio? I did not. Now I do, though! He suggested a glass of local red wine, which I accepted, and I asked for l’aqua naturale, which is mineral water, not fizzy. A colleague told me that you can also ask for l’aqua lischia, which means “smooth water.”

I spent a long time eating and reading my phrase book, looking up nouns as they occurred to me, and verifying them, their articles, how to construct plurals, and making a stab at conjugating “to go.” (There are only 5 verbs conjugated in this book: to talk, to sell, to sleep, to be, and to have.”) Then I moved on to the food section, reviewing the names for fruits and vegetables, until I discovered the compiled food section (which has words that aren’t even in the dictionary in the back), and amused myself for a long time, guessing the meanings of all the food nouns. The restaurant started filling up around 9pm. I’m not kidding. 9pm, on a Wednesday. So they apparently like to eat REALLY late, here.

Eventually Pepe showed back up and asked if I’d like dessert. “It depends,” I said. “What do you have?” He started to describe something in Italian, and when I offered him the tiny dictionary in the back of my phrase book he indicated that there was no way he was going to be able to make out such tiny writing. He said, “I can bring you something very nice-a.” And I said, “OK, you bring me something nice. I trust you.” (He’d been right about the entrée, after all.) I went back to playing my “guess the food” game, and after some time he showed up with an amazing creation that was simple, but very tasty. I think it was crème fraiche sweetened and flavored with vanilla, in a pool of a tart apricot conserve and thin pieces of dark chocolate with treble clefs printed on them, broken and scattered over the plate, and two thin cookies, one between two scoops of the crème fraiche and one stuck in the top. There was a very light dusting of dark chocolate powder over all.

I finished this while continuing my food vocabulary game, and was amused when I got to gli aromi and guessed “something smelly,” which turned out to be herbs, and therefore exactly right. I was perplexed to learn that a pork shoulder is a bowl, i.e. la coppa. I mean, I think of a bowl every time I see a pork shoulder, don’t you? Not.

After I finished dessert a lady offered me coffee, and I counter-asked, the? And she brought me some, and then I had to say, “scuzi, latte, per favore?” and she brought that, too. While drinking these, I learned that there are two words for lamb, l’abbacchio and l’agnello, and one word for mutton, il montone. There are two words for “suckling pig,” il maialino da latte (which I’d guessed was a little pig associated with milk, having seen il maiale just above it), and la porchetta. I wonder if one word is for *male* baby pigs, and the other for *female* ones? After all, they distinguish between a hen, la gallina, and il pollo (chicken)… ( I didn’t see a word for capon, but I bet they have one.)

One thing that really annoyed me among this vocabulary is that Prunus persica (i.e. the peach) is la pesca, while il persico is a fresh water perch, and of course a fish is il pesce. I don’t know what they’re thinking, using those words for those things, because I’ll never be able to keep them straight.

Eventually I finished my the and after waiting for a while longer for the check and revisiting in my book how to ask for it, I saw two other diners who had finished and were waiting by the door. Pepe told them to go to the cashier at the front, so I did the same. The lady even took my carta di credito, and the tab was 31 euros. So, do I think that this meal was 6 times better than my unfiltered beer, 4 hot dogs, and 2 overcooked pea pods? Um, yes. Actually it was more like 10x better, so I suppose it was a comparative bargain. By the way, guess what I discovered tonight that il wurstel is? Yup, you’re right. “Hot dog.”

October 20, 2008


Filed under: food,language,travel — origamifreak @ 12:38 pm
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 10/20/2008 6:42 PM

Yesterday I spent most of the rest of the day sleeping and finishing up a short paper. Last night some friends from NY came to get me and I had an impromptu dinner at their house and we spent a nice time chatting – which was very kind of them, considering they had just returned from Prague that afternoon and were probably very, very tired!

This morning I had a quick breakfast at the hotel (it’s included, and the bread is fresh), and met my friends for coffee at the gelateria around the corner. Then we drove up to where I’m working for the week, and the rest of the day is pretty much a blur, so I’m glad I took notes. I met lots of nice collaborators, had a lunch and a long meeting afterward, and in the cracks even managed to finish and send off the short manuscript I’d been working on yesterday.

Tonight after being dropped back off at the hotel, I left my backpack (now considerably heavier, with the addition of a 2cm stack of reprints to read), and trotted with my camera back to the bridge over the local river before the light faded.

Next I browsed the local supermercato. I love going to grocery stores when I travel. It’s just so very interesting to see what they have. In this case it was a lot like the Madias store in Geneva, but with an amazing cheese counter (there were separate meat and cheese counters), lots of different kinds of olives, wines, liquors, all kinds of fruit juices, shelf milk and creams, a cleaning products aisle that tickled my nose with unfamiliar smells, a pet food aisle with familiar brands like Friskies, plus some that I’ve only seen on (kit-E-kat).

After that I walked back in the direction of the hotel and debated about whether to eat at the bar on my side of the street, or at the pasticceria on the other side. I picked the bar, and the guy there spoke some English, and some German. He offered me by name the same kinds of pasta that I ‘d had on Saturday night, and while considering the alternatives, he then suggested wurst. “OK, Wurst,” I said, and was seated in a vaguely Barvarian-themed dining room behind the bar. He asked what I wanted to drink and I asked for beer. “Piccolo” beer (meaning a small glass). I usually accompany this word with the thumb and forefinger sign I use for “Un poquito,” and people seem to understand.

The beer tasted vaguely reminiscent of my fruit fly cultures in grad school when they needed changing, that is to say, rather yeasty. It wasn’t filtered. I drank it anyway, and got used to it. Then the wurst came. Or, should I say, the four extra-long hot dogs that met at the bottom of the plate in a dollop of thick brown mustard, and fanned out at the top, the plate garnished with two very over-cooked pea pods between the two center hot dogs. I must have looked surprised, because they guy looked a bit surly after that, and asked if it was OK. I said it was OK, and dug in.

The pea pods were pretty tragic, but the hot dogs weren’t bad; about the same quality as the beef Hebrew National ones I like at home. He also put a basket of bread on the table and I had a piece. It wasn’t as nice as the kind the hotel serves at breakfast, but it was edible.

Eventually I finished, and after checking the Berlitz book, asked for the tab. The grand total? 1.5 Euros for the beer and 3.5 Euros for the meal. So at least I only paid for what I got!

I continued back to the hotel and stopped at my favorite gelateria and all in Italian asked for “uno gelato, per favore, senza panna.” This means one gelato please, without cream. The lady smiled at me, I suppose, for now knowing not only what the Zhane was, but also how to ask not to have it. In Italian. 😉 This serving was also piccolo, and the flavor I chose was “Fiordlatte,” which was actually vanilla. I guess I’d expected sweet cream, or something. They stuck one of those cylindrical cookies in it. Afterwards I asked for the check (still in Italian) paid my one Euro, and went back to the hotel. I hope that one Euro is sufficient payment for them helping me practice their language – I rather suspect not, but I guess it’ll have to do.

The people at work today said that this town is last one before they speak all German, even at home. Apparently 5km north of here there are places where they use German for everyday life, and only Italian for commerce. So although the political border is beyond that, apparently the language border is right about here.

October 19, 2008

And I thought the Fit was small.

Filed under: technology,transportation,travel — origamifreak @ 12:00 am
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10/19/2008 8:56 AM

When I got to the Budget counter at the airport yesterday, they assigned me a Citroën. For some reason I associate those with the 60’s and 70’s – apparently they still make them, because mine is a C1, and I saw a bunch more of them on the highway. I can’t believe it has 4 doors, it’s so tiny. The “trunk” area behind the back seats is about 10 inches deep, so I had to fold down a seat just to get my bag in there. It’s a manual with 5 gears and runs pretty rough in the first two gears. I think the timing needs to be checked, or something. The windshield has a red “OK” written on it in what appears to be nail polish, or something else red that won’t come off unless I pick at it with my fingernail.

My Fit is positively luxurious, by comparison. Each window is electric, but the controls are not centralized so I can only control my own while driving. The console is hysterical. It consists of a large round speedometer mounted above the steering wheel, with a little LCD window set in on the right that shows the fuel gauge.

There is a round tachometer attached by a little stalk to the speedometer at about 11:00. The arrangement functions, but it sure is bizarre.

At one point on the drive I passed a familiar-looking vehicle. It was a Honda Jazz, which is the equivalent to my Fit. It was actually fairly large, compared with the rest of the vehicles. I saw only a few other Japanese cars; most of those were Toyotas. And I’ve never seen such tiny Audis and Mercedes before. I think I saw about 5 US-sized SUVs in two hours.

On the advice of several friends I got the GPS navigation system too. This, I could get used to! It was just so very convenient to have the friendly British lady telling me when and where I would need to turn, bear left, etc. I did not need to consult the written directions, at all. I imagine this makes tourists much less of a hazard on the road for everyone else, what with them not trying to drive and read maps at the same time. It was also really helpful to have the ETA visible right there on the monitor.

The Citroën’s windshield is so small and angled that I had to really think about where to attach the GPS. Down at the bottom of the windshield I couldn’t reach it. Just about anywhere else would obscure an area I needed to see out of. In the end I settled for putting it up at the top, to the right of the rear-view mirror. Part of the windshield up there that is dark, anyway, to help block the sun. After about an hour of driving the suction cup fell down because the darkened glass isn’t as smooth as the clear part, so I had to stick it back up again, a little more to the right on the smooth glass.

I’d been warned by many friends as well as my guide books that the Italians drive like crazy. One friend qualified this statement by saying that while they are fast, they are also very aware of what they are doing, and therefore aren’t that dangerous. This seemed true, to me. Most of the way the road was three lanes, and for the rest of it, two lanes. They do go really fast, especially given the size of most of the vehicles, which, like mine, are little more than gas-powered golf carts. Most of the time I was going 110-135 kph, which was appropriate for the “slow” lane. However, in the two hours from Venice to here I only saw two examples of hazardous driving: one was a woman stubbornly going relatively slowly in the middle lane. Like most everyone else, I passed her on the right. The other example was someone in a white Formula-type sports car who was going so fast s/he made the people in the left lane look like they were standing still. The draft from this car was so strong it pulled noticeably at the Citroën.

It’s 9:30, and the church bells just started ringing. I wonder if this is to tell people to come to church, or if they’re ringing them at the end of the service?

October 18, 2008

OK, this is just sad.

Filed under: food,language,travel — origamifreak @ 7:39 pm
Tags: ,

 10/18/2008 7:39 PM



After arriving at the hotel around 1pm, I took a nap and woke up around 6. I got myself together and around 7 went to find something to eat. Nearby there is a café/bar/gelateria and they were open, so I went in to see if they had food. They did. There were a few clusters of people sitting around tables, having drinks. I asked if the guy behind the bar spoke English? Nope. Hmm. Well, all the signs in my hotel room are in three languages: Italian, English… and German.


So I tried the third option. “Deutsch?” I asked. “Ja, naturlich,” he responded. So even with my Italian phrasebook, here I am in the country of my grandparents, most easily communicating in the language of the very invaders that made them leave, in the first place. *sigh*

I did try, though. I used my pathetic, stilted “Italian” as much as I could, and only resorted to German when that didn’t work. So those kind, patient people had to wade through my poorly-pronounced hodgepodge of Italian/Spanish/French/Germanglish. And they did it while smiling and remaining friendly.

The food was OK. I ordered it off a standard bar menu and I suspect that they just have frozen entrees in the back that they heat up for people. The gelato was great. I had the wine-flavored one, with little pieces of grape skin in it. The lady offered me Zhane with it, which really confused me until she pointed to a whipped cream machine. Oh yeah. That’s right. “Cream”. It’s not like I’ve ever actually USED German for travelling before, so that was not one of the words in the forefront of my mind. I declined; the gelato was just fantastic without adornment.

I suppose it’s of necessity that people will use German here. In Denmark all the older people I met knew German, but they absolutely refused to speak it. Most of them spoke perfect English, so I didn’t need to use Danish much or look for alternatives.

The place I am right now was (temporarily) part of Austria until it was awarded back to Italy after WWII. The border has moved a lot over the past 200 years; so many times that I have lost track of the exact number. Given how ubiquitous German seems to be, it looks like they must come for vacations. So they’re *still* invading, just economically. In the grand scheme of things maybe it’s not so terrible that I can use German here. The population is mixed and judging from my surname, some of my own ancestors were probably northerners who came and settled within the last thousand years, so maybe I shouldn’t judge? It’s complicated.

October 5, 2008

Greens and Squash and Beets, oh my!

Filed under: food — origamifreak @ 5:54 pm
Tags: , , , ,

It’s definitely autumn around here.

Several times a week we get those emails at work saying, “Come get your free XXX. Bring your own bag.” This week it was peaches (unripe, so I passed), Gala apples (only 3 rotten ones left, so I passed), Beets (nice, big fresh ones, so I took), and Macintosh apples (good size & quality, so I took).

Meanwhile, the CSA is providing lots of yummy tomatoes and greens in my weekly tote.

And the local Mennonite store has bins of winter squash (specifically Buttercup).

What this means is that on the weekend I have to cook things and store them so they won’t go bad. The winter squash and apples aren’t so much of an issue because they store pretty well in the basement. The tomatoes are fine at room temperature for a week or so, but the beets and greens tend to wilt and get bitter, so they need to be taken care of within days of acquisition.

Today I started by cleaning the kitchen while talking to Lisa on the phone, so there would be space to do all this. I began baking two buttercup squash brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt (I tried to whack them in half equatorially they way Toy Lady’s Peeps did, but I wasn’t strong enough and the cleaver wasn’t heavy enough, so I gave up and did them longitudinally as usual.)

After the squash were done (375F, cut side up, 1.5 hours), I washed the beets, cut their heads and tails off, and put them on the baking dishes with salt and a drizzling of olive oil, and left them in at the same temp for the same time. Then I scraped the insides of one of the squash into a 4-cup storage container and put it aside for cooling and eventual refridgeration. The other squash was breakfast and lunch. Mmm. I ate it just plain with a spoon and “help” from the orange cat who still likes squash, although he hasn’t eaten it since last year. The skins went into a pot to simmer for soup stock.

After an hour and a half I decided the beets weren’t done, poured a bit of vinegar in the bottom of the dish and stuck them back in for half an hour.

Next I prepared the greens, which was a very generous bunch each of kale and collard. I chopped off the stems, and chopped the greens into 1-inch squares or so. I dumped these into a pressure cooker with about an inch of water on the bottom and capped it, on high until I saw steam. Then I dropped the burner to low.

While those were going I washed and separated the squash seeds from the stringy stuff and prepared them for roasting.

When the squash seeds were mostly clean I turned off the greens and took off the lid to let them cool. I took the beets out of the oven and transferred all of them and their liquid to one dish to cool. I dropped a tablespoon of oil into the now empty Pyrex dish, added the squash seeds, and spread them around with a spatula. Then I sprinkled them with salt and stuck them in the oven at 275F.

Then I transferred the now cooler greens to two 4-cup storage containers and set them aside to continue cooling. The beet vinegar went into a container to use for salad dressing.

Now the beets are cooling, the seeds are still roasting, the stock is simmering, and I am exhausted! That’s a lot of work when you’re not used much to cooking, anymore. (I hardly ever cook on weeknights these days – no time!)

The good news is that I’ll have lots of components handy for fast soups and other things.

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