Friday, October 31, 2008

Florence, with some thoughts

It's midafternoon in Florence. We've been walking since this am, and Linda is back at the apartment with her feet up. We like Florence A LOT! Tiny little streets filled with motor scooters, bikes, and teeny tiny cars. We found a car that makes a Smart car look big! photos coming.

I got the best night's sleep since we left Calgary. There's a bit of street noise, but the apartment is quiet. So with a nice breakfast, and a shower that is at least the size of the two previous showers put together, with some water pressure, I was ready to rock.

Imagine a bridge with gold and silver smiths on both sides. There have to be two dozen shops with incredible displays of gold and silver jewellry. I'm sure they compete. In one small square, there are more handbags for sale than in all of Calgary. I'd put money on it. All styles. All colours of the rainbow. All sizes.

Purple is still in, in a big way. Lots of purple stuff. Saw one purple dress that Susi wouldn't have liked, since it shows off too much leg, and too much bust, even on her, and it was on a girl much taller than Susi. Everything is available in purple, all shades of it. Saw a black and grey outfit that Becky would sell her soul for. Cheerfully. I think it was only 700 euros...

Seriously girls, the shopping here is to die for. Fabric, scarves, handbags, gloves out the wazoo, dresses, coats, accessories, hats, and I don't know what else.

You have to keep an eye on the traffic. The streets are tiny. A major road has one lane for parking, one lane for driving one way, enough extra space for two scooter lanes, with sidewalks on either side that are at best 18 inches wide. In North America the biggest streets would be one way alleys with no parking. Each scooter driver is acting out their belief in reincarnation. As in, they are Mario Andretti, and if they die in traffic they'll be reborn a real race car driver. In other words, if there is space on the street, in a few seconds a scooter will be in it. You cross the streets here with a spring in your step. The few stoplights and traffic signs are advisory only. Honking is a language of it's own.

We had a late morning snack in a newly opened store that sells north american coffee!!! Coffee here is in teeny tiny little cups, cappucino and expresso, and that's about it. There are pastry's galore, and fancy little cookies, but no muffins, bagels or other stuff. This cafe had them, and it was nice to hear colloquial english.

The apartment has satellite tv, so we even get english there. Watching Starsky and Hutch, Gunsmoke, McGyver, and Stargate in dubbed Italian is an interesting experience. They rarely mention the weather on tv.

The end of our vacation is coming up fast. Not sure what our plans are, but tomorrow is probably some of the tourista stuff. Then side trips to Pisa, Sienna, and Rome. I think Wed night we leave on the overnight train to Paris, then the Chunnel train to London. We'll stay in my brother's flat for another night, (thanks Rick!) then back to Calgary the next day.

Overall this has been wonderful. Not a quiet relaxing vacation like previous ones in Nova Scotia, but except for Torino, lots of fun. I expect by the end I will be thoroughly arted out. We toured one building in Torino that had more gilt picture frames, gilt furniture, gilt crusting on decorations, gilt everything, to the extent I probably tripled the gilt exposure in my lifetime to date. There's fancy art everywhere. You can't avoid it.

I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to get in another run. I was hoping for a path along the river, but haven't seen one. There have been some runners in the street, but I'm not up to dodging traffic, watching out for loose or raised paving stones, and trying not to get lost, all while running. My arm is feeling better, with the weakest part being my wrist. Perhaps I broke something there after all.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Milano Fashion Police

Thurs late evening in Florence. Shop about to close. Typing faster.... Everything is wonderful about Florence so far, apartment is FAB!!!

Took a day trip to Milano. Fashion police watching me, since I was wearing my yellow rain jacket. Tried to get into one store. Got told, "If sir will wear a jacket of that colour in public, sir will not find anything of interest in this store." Milano is otherwise ok. Purple everywhere, have some photos for Susi. Picture bright purple fuck me shoes, 4 inch heel at least, plus thick sole. Have a photo.

Torino was a horror show. We hated the apartment. The Food stuff was great. Some nice shopping in covered collenades. So happy to be out of Torino. Linda lost an amber charm and one earring that she really liked. I had the camera stolen. We are so happy to be out of Torino. If you ever hear me say Torino, you know I'm swearing.

There are three internet shops within spitting distance of the apartment, so I'll try to update a bit more often and maybe include some photos. Have taken more than 100 since replacing the camera.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Torino, doing better now

It's midafternoon on Monday now. Just finished up at the Slow Food Festival, or the Salone del Gusto. We did a chocolate workshop with beans from South America. The hot chocolate was simply the best I've ever had. The Best. Period.

Ran this am for 40 minutes along the Po river, in the fog and mist. There is a castle in the parko Valentino. Lungs were doing fine, legs are tired. Don't forget we're on our feet all day, averaging 10-15 Km walking.

As you know, we had a tough start here, but it's getting better. I don't think I want to come back, but Torino is no longer a swear word. Later today is touring and sightseening downtown. Tues or Wed is anothr day trip to Milan for the fashion shopping quadrangle. Linda wants be to be able to dress better than Becky, if I should choose. I think that's reaching more than a little. Still, who knows?

Oh, and Grant, I bought a new camera. Just after I downloaded the pictures onto a USB card, it was stolen from me on the bus. They got a 4 or 5 year old camera, with no photos, and nearly dead batteries.

Must run...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Torino Sat am

It's midmorning Saturday in Torino, and we've been having a few adventures. There have been a great many expletives removed, to make this suitable for a family blog.

We're both broken hearted to be leaving Venezia. We had a great time there, and want to go back. There was a brief bit of Grrrr when I mistook a route I thought I knew, but it all worked out.

The train to Torino was ok, then the descent into hell started at the station. Our instructions were to take tram 18 from outside the station. There is construction everwhere. Loud construction. As in can't hear yourself think loud. Read that as construction everywhere in Italy. There was no tram 18. De nada. There were a few unhappy phone calls, and we ended up taking a taxi. It wasn't far, 10 Euro. But that was grumpy making.

The apartment is a bit shabby, and noisy. Very echoy. And the neighbours are noisy, or were the first night. It's a small thing but there was supposed to be an iron, and Linda was looking forward to ironing some things. There was an ironing board, but no iron. They promised to bring it, but as of now, it hasn't come yet.

Then we went off to find the Salone del Gusto, or the Slow Food event. Our apartment contact said it was no further than 2 Km, and an easy walk, not worth taking the bus for. It's a long walk, even by our standards. And we didn't quite know where we were going, and didn't get much help. That was more Grrr. There was a mall the better part of a kilometer long, and I'm not kidding. It took us in the direction we wanted to go, at least, but we should have got out half way along because they closed the exits at the end closest to where we wanted to go.

Then we found it. Imagine a full trade show at the Big 4 builing in the stampede. Now double it, and you have the size of the main hall, and there's more off to the side. We got into our workshop ok. A taste of Honey. We had 8 different European honey's to taste, and a panel of experts to talk about each. They came in a wine glass, with a spoon. They supply translation, but the background noise was horrible, it sounded like someone was chopping veggies with a meat cleaver. As for the honey, each one was better than the others, and there was bread and water in between. We took the bus home after a brief stroll around the hall.

Friday, after some train adventures, (do not ask me right now to explain Torino Porta Susa and Tornio Porta Nuovo), we went to Milano. We liked Milan right off. We took the subway to the city centre, where there's a huge square and church with a zillion spires. Had a nice lunch outside beside the square and watched the world go by for a while. Inside the church, it's huge. HUGE! Strolled around, through some nice shops, then went to a nice park with a castle near downtown. And in the castle was a museum. Lombardi stone carving, furniture, art, musicical instruments, Egyptian stuff, oriental stuff. More stuff. More than you could look at in one day. I got art overload. Took the subway and train back to Turin. Found a nice little place for a late supper of pizza. Home, crashed.

Sat am, found lots of places for cafe (not coffee), a little supermarket, a bakery, and an internet point, all within a few blocks of our apartment. There's lots of services, really. We can walk to lots of stuff, and there's this huge park starting just across the road from us. Look up the parko Valentino in Turin, and we're at the south end of it. I plan to run in it later this week.

So far I haven't gained weight. Lots of small meals, and lots and lots of walking. Overall, except for the first bit of Torino, we're having a great time. I'm not sure what Linda is getting out of the people watching, but I'm having a great time. Italian style these days, for you girls that aspire to fashion, is to show off the leg. Small little shorts over top of hose or tights is very popular. Skirts are short. Wearing a long shirt over tights or jeans is popular. Italian women are very stylish, and colour conscious. Even the Italian men are mostly well dressed. Except for the ones that aren't, and they really aren't.

So all is good, more later...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Last night in Venice (sob!)

Wed night now. We have to leave Venice first thing in the morning to head to Torino. I'm going to miss Venice and am really sad to be leaving. I could stay here a lot longer. We've barely scratched the surface.

I went for a run early Tues morning. 40 min or so, walking from home, through the rialto market, then to S Marco square, then running along the waterfront. Up and down lots of steps for bridges. Not working too hard, just enough to remind my legs of what they need to do.

The rest of Tues was wandering around, getting lost, getting unlost. We found a nice park up near the train station. The shopping here is incredible, shop after shop of stuff. Lots of glass of course, some of it is tourista tickytacky, but mostly it's really nice stuff. Masks to die for. Lots of scarves and other fashion stuff, with colours that have to be seen to be believed. A 'man pashima' nearly found it's way into my bag, but I held out. It was a beautiful coppery gold orange bronze. hmmmm.....

Today was nice, more wandering around. I'm really intersted in seeing how they do things here. For instance, every day except Sunday is garbage day. Imagine that, they organize garbage pickup, sorted for recyclables I think, for every residence in a city of 60,000. I don't have the faintest idea how they figure out the efficient way of doing it, or if they just send out guys with their pull carts.

We've just finished checking email, and are planning to go out for a gelato for dessert and do some more strolling. It's a fine evening here. Maybe if we find a nice little trattoria overlooking the water we'll have some more wine. But we do have to pack, and get up early tomorrow. Then in Torino I have to find another source of internet, but it shouldn't be hard. This one is in the back of a funky clothes shop. It's a little arched grotto barely tall enough for me to stand up in. I think it was a wine cellar at one point. Or a tunnel. Who knows? ttfn

Monday, October 20, 2008

More Venice, continued

Now it's Monday evening, back in Venice. We zoomed off to Verona for the day, just for fun. It was ok, but I like Venice better. We climbed the bell tower. A zillion steps double time. I was breathing hard when I got to the top. This counts as a workout, by the way...

Yesterday was out to Murano, but it being Sunday, nobody was actually blowing glass. Sigh. We're losing track of what day it is. And it matters here. Like it matters to keep track of what you've been eating, and remember to go to market. The market is amazing. Some of the seafood was still twitching.

Oh, and Susi, purple is IN here. Everything is purple. Including the 100% silk Pashmina scarves for ten Euro, or about $16.

Weather has been perfect every day so far. Excepting the one day we were leaving London, when it rained. Venice is tough to dress for, since it's cool in the morning, and it warms up a lot when sunny. But then when you get onto the water, or into a small courtyard in the shade, and it cools down quickly.

The most astonishing thing about Venice is that you can be in the middle of a crowd, and then in a few steps down a side road, you're all alone. I was out last night wandering about for a bit in the evening. I was in the mood for a gelato. The gelato in Canada is a poor shadow of what we get here. I could eat this all day long. What's tricky about wandering around at night is that you lose some of your landmarks. And once you are'nt where you think you are, you're lost. And if you go much further, you're lost big time. Which is fun during the day.

When I don't have to be anywhere, being lost is fun. You discover the most amazing things. But it's annoying to be lost when you're trying to get somewhere.

So in case you were wondering, yes, we're having fun. Leaving will be hard.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

More Venice

Still having a wonderful time. Getting lost regularly, which is remarkably easy to do. Under time pressure, appear to have accidently deleted some Venice photos from my USB drive. I'm about to try to recover them.

Friday, October 17, 2008

London, then Venice

We made it to London safe and sound, and met my brother Rick no problems. That was after a walk that took forever from the departure gate. Customs was nothing. We took a cab to his flat. Just as well. Getting there is easy, once you see how, but I can see how it was hard to explain. Essentially, right out the back door of his apartment is a train station. From there, you connect to Waterloo Station, which is also an underground station, which takes you anywhere in London.

I'm going to rave about transit for a minute. Calgary Transit can't even dream of being this good. Above ground trains run every few minutes. From early till late. Every once in a while you have to check to make sure it goes to the station you want, and occasionally you have to make sure you're in the front cars for short stations. The underground is a total maze. I completely lost my sense of direction every time. But things are well signed, and you never have to wait for long. We had no problems getting around. The bus from Richmond to Hampton Court Palace was an eye opener. The driver took his bus into places at speeds I'd be relucant to take my car. Driving here is a much more co-operative venture than in Calgary because the space is so tight. I'd be a nervous wreck if I survived. I've got 30 some years of driving reflexes that are likely to lead me astray here.

It took us a couple days to get up to speed, but we saw lots of stuff. Lets see. In no particular order, London Tower, Tower Bridge, the light cruiser Belfast, Buckingham Palace, Chelsea Physic Gardens, Greenwhich Observatory, Hampton Court Palace, the Fan Museum, and a river cruise. In between, we saw lots of other stuff, such as Trafalger square, Sloane Square, Pickadilly, the Eye, and all sort of other places in between the above. Couldn't see Cutty Sark, it's being re-restored.

In addition to all that, I've enjoyed watching the people. Some are smartly dressed and completely put together as elegant as could be. Some shamble around like unmade beds. There are languages from all over the world. People walk down whichever side of the sidewalk seems convenient, and cross roads whenever there is a gap in the traffic. And BUSY!!! Just about everywhere we went there are more people on the sidewalks than just about anywhere or anytime in Calgary.

We're really pleased and having fun so far. Rick's flat is a great place to stay, and I really appreciate him opening it up to us. We'll be back here on the way home. There is so much to see here, that we could spend another month, and still have things to see. I think we'll be back.

I tried to update before leaving London, but it didn't work out. So this is actually from Venice the day after arrival. To bring you all up to date.

The Eurostar train from London is FAST! Very fast. Lots of wine if you like. Paris traffic is a nightmare. We swapped tickets for an earlier train, and just as well. We'd never have made it otherwise. The Gare de Bercy terminal was under construction. Shabby. Cold. Crowded. Not fun.

But the train itself was ok. Our porter has this great voice, rumbly and gravelly, and pretty good English. He took good care of us. I didn't hurt my elbow anymore than it already was rolling over in the bunk. We got into Venice in the morning, and promptly stood in line for local transit tickets. That was forever. The water taxi to Rialto Mercato to meet our apartment contact couldn't be easier, and couldn't be more scenic.


more later.....

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Last post before departure

We're off to see the wizard!

Wait, no, wrong song, wrong destination. But we are off at last. It's been a long road getting all the details sorted out, but we're good to go. Or as gooder to go as it's going to get.

Always a last minute adventure. We had some siding blow off the back of our house during the big wind the other day. I had a bad few minutes thinking about how to find a siding guy, and arrange the details what with our trip. Then I thought of Chris. He was the contractor for many of the internal reno's we did a while ago. He came over last night to eyeball it. He'll take care of it, and a few other odds and ends. Thanks Chris!

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

First spin session

Doing spin training with a broken arm is difficult. My core muscles are going to get a workout. I'm glad Estela is a light bike, because putting her into, and taking her out of the car is brutal.

Still, Greg took it easy on us, a bit of one leg drill, and some cadence pyramids. My butt hurt. Nobody threw up. I took drugs when I got home. Several people suggested taking drugs before the class next time. Hopefully, next time, my arm will be healed.

Oh, and my teeth. More xrays today, and my dentist thinks I've cracked one of them beneath the gum line. He referred me to a specialist for a few days after I get back from vacation. And how cool is this? My dentist knows a dentist in northern Italy. Says if I have problems, give him a call or email, and he'll set up a referral for me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I ran today. I HAD to, because

Because, well, I ate a dessert cookie at Milestones last night that was bigger than my head. Maybe not in volume, but certainly in diameter. It's chocolate, with white chocolate chunks, with a chocolate drizzle, and a scoop of Italian gelato. Very yummy, and we estimate there was a zillion calories in it.

If you scroll down a bit, past the x-ray, you'll see a map of the run I did. This is a good one, so I think for a while it will be my reference for runs about an hour long. Today I ran for an hour, and made the 8 K mark in slightly, very slightly, under the 60 minute mark! This was run 10, walk 1 at a pace my legs and lungs felt comfortable with. I could have kept going, though really, not for much longer. My legs felt good, and really enjoyed the run. Stretched for a long time after, legs and my arm.

Generally I was breathing easily, no gasping or panting ever, and breathing deeply but controlled going up hills, and just at the end. My heart rate though, I couldn't believe it. There I am, chugging up the hill out of Fish Creek breathing hard enough that it would be tough, but not impossible to chat, and my heart rate was steady at 164. I flat out didn't believe it. During one of the walks afterward I even did the pulse thing, and the math came out to match the monitor, within a few beats, at the low 150's level. Throughout the entire run my heart rate was much higher, at least 10 to 15 beats per minute, than I would have guessed from my breathing.

I've NEVER, and I mean never, seen my heart rate stay in the 160's for so long. Usually getting past 150 or so, and I think my chest is going to explode. My watch says the average was 145, peak was 167, and min was 104, and I burned 1245 calories. I honestly don't know what to make of those numbers. The minimum I believe, since that was after a brisk walk to my starting point. But the rest??? Help me out here Greg, is my watch fubbared, or are the numbers real, and what does that mean?

We're getting stoked for our trip. I'm planning to update the blog pretty regular. The idea is to fill up the camera with photos, then transfer to a USB drive at an internet cafe. I couldn't get a bigger memory chip for the camera, and a 2 GB USB drive is less than $20. That should be enough. I'll try not to rub it in that we're touring London, Venice, Turin, and Florence, going to the 2008 Slow Food Festival in Turin, and generally trying to have a relaxing good time.

Oh, and Susi, you can scroll down with confidence. The photos are gone. It's your own responsibility not to click on the article link titled "more Ow!! Graphic Followup."