Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Creepy Crawlies

Like some bad bug horror movie, I came across this freakish looking bug on Sunday that had all these legs and it was moving at lightning speed across the floor while I was cleaning the house. I quickly used the broom as a weapon and hoped to never see such a thing again. No such luck!

We have shutters on all the doors and windows, which serve the purpose to keep your house cool in the summer and warm in winter. It is very dark when you come downstairs in the morning with all the shutters closed. I opened up the back door and shutter and turn around to find another of the alien-looking bugs in the corner where the wall meets the ceiling of the stairs. Frozen in horror, I stared at the ugly, striped bug not quite sure what to do. I didn't want to go off to get my broom-weapon and have it scamper off.

Running to retrieve the broom, I squatted and killed it. Just to be extra sure, I smashed the paper towel I picked it up in with my foot. Now, off to Google what this monstrosity might be!

It is the common house centipede, or Scutigera coleptrata, and apparently likes to hunt and feast on spiders and roaches. I haven't really seen any other bugs besides the flies and mosquitoes that come in every time I open my shutters, so the centipedes must be doing their job.

Either way, I don't want any of these creepy crawlies in my house. Tim betting be coming home with a big can of bug spray today. For now, I am craning my neck on the lookout for these on the walls, ceiling, and floors.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Venice in a Day 7-21-09

We took the train from Pordenone to Venezia Santa Lucia, the only station on the island of Venice. Knowing we needed to be back home by late afternoon, we were on a mission to see the famous Rialto bridge and St. Mark's Cathedral. As soon as you emerge from the train station, you are rewarded with a stunning view of the Grand Canal. You will see the Ponte degli Scalzi (Bridge of Barefoot Ones) to the left and San Simeone Piccolo (the church of Saint Small Simeone) to the right. Here you can catch the Vaporetto (public water bus) to take you down the Grand Canal.

Opting to walk the 30 minutes to the Rialto, we set out across the Ponte degli Scalzi and quickly found ourselves in the narrow labyrinth that is Venice. Around just about every corner are signs for "Per Rialto" and "Per San Marco" with arrows guiding you in that direction. Closed in by tall buildings in a narrow alley way, there is no other way of knowing where you might be! Just follow the signs, enjoy the many bridges you come to along the way, and eventually you make it to your destination!

Passing restaurants, Venetian blown glass shops, and many wine shops, we made our way up and over many small bridges with narrow canals on our quest to find the Rialto.

The Ponte di Rialto is one of only four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. It is also the oldest and most famous bridge in the city. As you approach the massive bridge, you just know this is the Rialto. Suddenly the quiet of the narrow alleyways and peaceful canals gives way to the bustling center of the city. You look up to see three sets of steps leading up the bridge. There are two walkways along the outer balustrades and a center walkway lined with shops selling jewelry, glass, and other tourist trinkets. At the top, your climb is forgotten as you look out at the Grand Canal littered with boats, gondolas, and water taxis making their way up and down the river.

We continued on our way to San Marco. From the Rialto, the canal doubles back on itself along a stretch known the La Volta (the bend) and then it widens out. You are, of course, winding back through the labyrinth of tall building and narrow alleyways coming upon tiny canals. At these tiny bridges, stairs often lead down to elaborate gondolas moored in the waterway.

Finally the narrow alleys open up to the Piazza San Marco. Walking around to face the facade of the Basilica San Marco, you are enchanted by architectural and decorative styles of the East and the West. Directly above the main entrance are copies of the famous bronze horses brought from Constantinople in 1204. The original horses were removed for preservation and can be seen in the museum on the 2nd floor of the basilica.

Like many churches in Italy, you must be properly attired otherwise may be turned away. Women's shoulder should be covered and skirts must reach the knee. There is also no photography allowed in the cathedral. Looping around the cathedral, we admired the dome, mosaics, and the Pala d'Oro. The Pala d'Oro is the most valuable treasure of San Marco. It was originally commissioned in Byzantium in AD 976 and consists of 250 enamel paintings on gold foil and is embellished with pearls, rubies, sapphires, and amethysts.

We then made our way up to the 2nd floor where mosaics and the original bronze horses are on display in the Museo Marciano. Here you can also see a view over the inside of the basilica and then wander around the balcony for views over Piazza San Marco and the pier.

Leaving San Marco, we headed down the pier which is lined with gelatarias and shops. We walked all the way to the Campo Arsenale (Italian Navy zone) and looped back around to the pier. From here we headed in the opposite direction toward the Accademia. Tired and ready to head back, we again followed the signs "Per Ferrovia" toward the ferries and train station.

Back up and over the Rialto then many more bridges and finally collapsing on the train to take us back to Pordenone I made a mental note to invest in one of those massaging foot baths! Even though it was 90 degrees, it was a spectacular day in Venezia!

Monday, July 20, 2009

What Does 3 Kilowatts of Electricity Mean?

The basic electricity contract in Italy is set up to provide approximately 3 kilowatts. Tempting fate, I attempted to wash a load of towels while a load was drying in the dryer all in the comfort of my air conditioner. Non in Italia i miei amici! Alas, the power went out as I was in the shower. The legend of the 3 kilowatts appliance struggle is true!

Towel on my head, or what Tim refers to as my turban, and some clothes thrown on, I began the hunt for the elusive breaker which is not conveniently located in the house like in America. Oh no, I am outside with my turban and all trying to decipher which box is gas and which is electric and even more importantly, which box belongs to my house. Finally just taking a chance and flipping a break, I chose right since the electricity was restored.

Experimenting, I have determined I can wash laundry while running 2 AC units, heating my flat iron, and blow drying my air.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My first Carabinieri Lollipop

I had my first experience with a Carabinieri lollipop (as we call it here in Aviano) driving home from Croatia on Sunday night.

The Carabinieri are the Italian defense, intelligence, security and military police who police both civilians and military.

We were literally within a 1/4 mile of our house, it was really dark, I was tired at this point, and Tim was asleep in the backseat. Suddenly a man in dark clothes (their uniforms are a dark navy) just walks calmly out into the middle of the road. I realized in just the nick of time that he held out his lollipop (picture a white stick with a red circle on top) to slam on the breaks. You must stop for these lollipops otherwise the other Carabinieri officer holding the M16 is authorized to shoot at you. I pulled off the road and into the small gas station as requested. My heart was pumping in my chest as I gathered my stateside driver's license, my international license, the insurance, and registration. All my documents in order, he went off to his car to check my credentials. After what felt like an eternity, the officer handed everything back over and told me to have a good night. "Grazie, signori!" Yep, thank you very much for giving me a stroke!

Croatia & Slovenia 7-19-09

After about a 4 hour drive skirting the Adriatic and backed up traffic at the Slovenia-Croatia border, we arrived in Pula. Pula is a town dotted with Roman ruins in the Istrian region of Croatia. We first located the Roman Ampitheater and found a great lunch spot nearby, the Coliseum Grill. Lunch was a terrific! Tim had the mixed meat plate with different sausages, kebab, and pork chop. I had the linguini with scampi, which had various types of shrimp, crab, and langostino in a creamy red sauce.

With our palettes satisfied, we made the short walk back to the Roman Ampitheater. The Ampitheater was started during the reign of Emperor Augustus (31BC-14AD), enlarged under Emperor Claudius 54AD-56AD) and finally completed under the Flavius rule (69-96AD). It's the sixth largest amphitheatre in the world with space for 22,000 spectators. The Ampitheater was set up with chairs and a movie screen for the town annual Pula Film Festival, which was going on. We wandered around the giant Ampitheater and then underneath, where many ancient artifacts of pottery were strewn about.

Next we found Hercules' Gate, which is the oldest Roman monument in Pula. Hercules' Gate is the first gate to the city and at the top of the arch is a carving of Hercules' head and his club. Close to the club is a damaged inscription, most interesting in the historical context since it contains the names of two Roman officials, Lucius Calpurnius Piso and Gaius Cassius Longinus, to whom the Roman Senate had entrusted the duty to found a Roman colony at the site of today’s Pula.

We were then ready to hit the beach! A few kilometers down the coast, we began following signs for a Shark Diving School and ended up at Koral Beach in Medulin. I picked up an awesome beach blanket for 100 kuna (the Croatian currency) at one of the many stands lining the beach and was set to scope out my speck of sand among the packed beach goers. We wandered down a little farther to a spit of smooth, flat rocks where many were staking their prime piece of beach real estate and settled in. Tim was immediately checking out the water temperature in the Adriatic whereas I wanted to soak up some rays and people watch before braving the sea. Finally wanting to take a dip in the Adriatic, I braved the rocky shore barefoot (next time I am totally bringing my water shoes) and waded in. You could wade out with water only up to your knees quite a bit before it dropped off. Basking in the sun, we had a relaxing nap. Before heading off for the day, we of course needed gelato! I had the kiwi and Tim had a banana split.

Happy after a fabulous day in Croatia, we began the drive back home. We breezed right through border control this time but hit some traffic leaving Slovenia to cross into Trieste. Instead of sitting in traffic, we decided to take a short drive into the city center of Koper, Slovenia. What a great stop this was as we came upon quite the evening scene! There was a small orchestra playing near the waterfront and other performers down the marina walkway. Even in the evening, the beach area was still packed and people were enjoying libations at any one of the many outdoor bars.

After checking out the scene for a bit, we found a great snack cafe to get dinner. The doner kebab and insalta hit the spot! Almost ready to hit the road for home, I sipped a cafe latte as we watched the last remnants of the sun dip into the sea. It was truly a picturesque end to a day filled with stunning sights.

Austria 7-18-09

Up bright and early on Saturday morning, we piled into the car with the goal of visiting Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgarden, Germany and the Ice Caves in Werfen, Austria. The rain had started in the early evening Friday and hadn't let us since. The sheets coming down made for slow moving on the autostrada (freeway) and the fact that Austria limits the number of cars that can drive through the tunnels at once did not help us arrive any faster. We must have passed over 100 hundred waterfalls in the mountianous drive and even in the rain, the Austrian hillsides appeared illuminated against the gray skies.

Hungry, we all got somewhat excited when we saw a McDonald's just off the autostrada. Now, I must say that this is by far the nicest McDonald's I have ever been to. You could order some of the McDonald's staples we are familiar with in America but you could also get beer, calamari fritters, or an Italian burger. They also had a whole seperate area for the McCafe. Here, you could get any variety of coffees, lattes, cappuccinos, and pastries all served in real cups and on real plates.

After many narrow and winding roads, we reached Berchtesgarden. The rain had let up to a drizzle and we were excited to get on the bus and go up the mountain to Hitler's Eagle's Nest Retreat. Imagine our disappointment when the ticket office informed us that the retreat was closed for the day due to too much snow from the night before and the day. What?! It's July! How is this possible?! Double checking with several others to make sure we understood correctly, the retreat was indeed closed due because of the snow. The museum was open and we settled for that since we had come all this way.
Walking into the museum there is a portrait of Hitler and to the right is probably the most disturbing photograph I have ever seen of skin and bones bodies just piled on top of one another. Throughout the museum, you could witness the horror that was the Holocaust in the photographs of firing squads performing mass executions and Nazi dictatorship.

Checking online we realized that the Ice Caves were already closed for the day and not wanting to head back in the traffic quite yet, we decided to head for Salzburg, Austria.

After more narrow streets, we found a place to park and began the 30-minute hike up the steep hill to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which can be seen in the Sound of Music. The 900-year-old Hohensalzburg Fortress, the city's chief landmark, is the biggest and most fully-preserved fortification in Europe. Built by Archbishop Gebhard during the investiture controversy in 1077, it served to protect the clergy and the population.
In the fortress, you could wander the streets, see exhibits on the Sound of Music and string puppets, and enjoy a meal and drinks at the bar. All with stunning views of the city rooftops below. After Tim quenched his thirst with a German beer and I sampled an Austria white wine, we were ready to make the descent back down the hill and head back to Italy.

We decided to have dinner before leaving Austria and stopped in Villach at a restaurant called Josef. Muddling through pointing to the menu and making hand gestures (guess we better learn some German phrases), we were pleasantly surprised when my veal cordon blue and salad arrived along with Tim's mixed meat plate and garlic bread. Josef's was one of the best meals we have had since living in Europe and it was the perfect way to end a rainy, yet wonderful day in Austria.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Road Trip to Trieste 7-11-09

Tim and I took a road trip to Trieste over the weekend. After waiting for 45 minutes in traffic to get through the tollway, we were rewarded with striking views of cliffs and the Adriatic Sea!

Trieste is a sea side city on the Adriatic Coast with awesome views of Slovenia across the bay. Our first stop in Trieste was the Acquario Marino in the Pescheria building. The aquarium was deceptively small and not worth even a quick visit.

Next we wandered through the streets. The Mercado Coperto, which is open daily on Carducci downtown, sells all types of fruits, vegetables and other local food products. After a brief stop in the Piazza Unità d'Italia and marveling at the Palazzo del Governo, the Palace of the Government, built in Neo-Renaissance style by Emil Artman in 1905, we were ready to settle on a place to have lunch.

We wandered just outside of the Piazza (go right if you are facing the square with your back to the ocean) and had lunch at an outdoor cafe. I had the spaghetti vongole (von-goal-ay), which was outstanding! The spaghetti was in a white wine and butter sauce, with diced roma tomatoes and white wine steamer clams. Tim had the pizza diavola (spicy salami) but the center was soggy.

With our tummies full, we made our way back to the car and made the short drive to Castello Miramare, built by the Habsburg Archduke Maximiliam in 1856 as his summer retreat. We toured the interior of the castle, then wandered through the gardens and park.
After our GPS took up us a very steep road, which was closed at the top, we followed the signs out of Trieste and to the Grotta Gigante, the world's largest show cave according to the Guiness Book of World Records. In order to see the huge cavern, large enough to hold a cathedral, you must descend 500 stairs down into the cavern. We had a tour in both Italian and English before ascending the 500 stairs back up out of the massive cavern. No pictures are allowed as the light causes moss to grow in the cavern.
Tied from a long day of walking, climbing, and sightseeing, we headed home. The rain even held out until the drive back making for a glorius day in Trieste!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Hot Water Chronicles

June 18th: Tim went to Home Fuels to request the gas service be turned on to the house. (Home Fuels is the Base liaison between the customer and the gas company.) Home Fuels will contact us to set up the appointment.

June 30th: Still have not heard from Home Fuels to set up the appointment. Tomorrow is move-in day. We go to Home Fuels to find out what's up. The first lady says "Oh, you know the Italians. Everything is domani, domani (tomorrow, tomorrow)!" Then another lady recognizes our name and actually goes to check on the status. Whoops. Gas has been on since June 23rd and no one from Home Fuels bothered to let us know.

Tim meets the plumber at the house and we have hot water. No cold showers for me!

July 1st: Ah, nice hot water!

July 2nd: Enjoyed a nice hot shower after organizing what we do have in the house.

July 3rd: WTF?! Why did I only have hot water to barely get my hair shampooed? Quickly finish shower while shivering.

July 4th: Nice hot shower! Yesterday must have been a fluke.

July 5th: What the hell? I only get a hot shower every other day?

July 6th: Nope, hot water is not every other day otherwise my shower would be hot today. And my landlords are on holiday in Spain.

July 7th: Hot water is remains elusive. Take cold shower and then tinker with hot water heater. Crossing my fingers for hot water tomorrow!

July 8th: Tim claims to have had hot shower. I did not have a hot shower. Very annoyed and also mastering the art of quickly showering while avoiding cold water streaming down me unless absolutely necessary.

July 10th: I have now had cold showers for a week. This is crap.

July 12th: See neighbor Chris and ask about hot water. He comes over and tries to help but after an hour of trying to release the pressure, ect. he says we are going to have to talk to the landlords. Spot landlords returning from trip to Spain! Quickly run outside and complain about broken hot water heater.

July 13th: Plumber comes. Doesn't speak any English. Use translator to tell him it is broken. He spends 4 hours replacing something or other then tells me ciao! Ah, enjoy nice hot shower.