Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 31, 2011 -- Bologna, Italy. We boarded an "EC" (Euro-City) train at 11:15 a.m. and arrived in Bologna at 12:20 p.m., about 20 minutes early. During the trip, I found there was an internet connection on the train, so I logged into their wifi system. It cost me .01 Euro -- one cent Euro, about 1.5 cents U.S. It was a neat experience being able to read email and check out my Facebook account while traveling from Milano to Bologna. My posting on Facebook was "why can't I do this in the U.S.?". It seemed to me that, as the largest, most advanced nation on the planet, something as simple as a high-speed train between cities, with internet, would be the easy.

Our first impressions of Bologna were that it is a small town with nothing to do. We were wrong. As we walked to our hotel, about 300 meters from the "Stazione Centrale", most of the shops were closed, there was very little traffic in the streets and hardly any people were present. We realized it was Sunday, so maybe that was the reason. Once we got situated in our lodgings, we headed out for the Piazza Maggiore (the main square) in the center of the city. It didn't take long for things to change.

Along the main street, Via dell Indipendenza, activity became more evident. Before too long we found shops open, a good number of people walking along the street and the bustle of cars and buses. By now it was around 2:30 p.m., so we decided to try the restaurant recommended by the front desk clerk at the hotel. the Osteria Dell Orsa Sas via Mentana. The desk clerk recommended that we order "pasta".

Trying to locate the restaurant was a bit confusing, so we asked questions from an older gentleman with a hand-truck full of "stuff" and a little dog. It turns out his "stuff" was for his performance as a street musician. He was a saxophone player. Once he gave us easy-to-follow directions he then proceed to give he details instructions about "something". Even though he spoke beautiful Italian, we only understood a word or two. We shook our heads yes and thanked him for his help. I think he was telling about the museums in the city, but I'm not sure.

Once we found the restaurant, we ordered a liter of beer and some food. Linda had eggplant parmigiana while I had pasta Bolognase.Our waiter was an interesting young man with with long hair in dred-locks, a t-shirt and shorts. I noticed he spoke Italian, English and French while were there. Before we received our food, he reminded us that "only HERE can you get Bolognase!! Nowhere else in the world. He gave me a knife, but reminded me that "I must NOT cut the pasta!" We followed his directions exactly. Needless to say, the food was delicious. All through our trip we haven't been able to find decent "Italian food" -- until now.

Finally, later in the evening we located the tourist information center near the main square. We found that a Jewish Museum is in the city so walked over to see where it was located. We'll be going there tomorrow. There are a variety of other sights we'll seek out in the morning, but it's apparent to us that Bologna seems to be a "one day' city!! There is lots of activity to observe and see, but not all that much to do. A number of museums awaits and, maybe, a tour bus is in our future.

I'll keep you up to date in tomorrow's blog post.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

July 30, 2011 -- Milano, Italy. After getting up a bit late, around 9:30 a.m., we had a quick breakfast and set out for the Duomo. This time we decided not to walk, and we decided to take the "underground" from the train station. Our first goal was to locate the famous "Odeon", the English language cinema, to see if we could see a film later in the day. After a look at the map and a question or two, we found it only to discover that it was being "remodeled" and was closed for the next few weeks!

OK, no problem, we saw on the map that the "Planetario" wasn't too far away from the theater, so we continued walking down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II toward the Giardini Pubblici where the planetarium is located. The "Corso" is a wide walking street with high-end shops all along the boulevard. It eventually lets into the Corso Venezia and then the public gardens.

We found the planetarium in short order and noticed one of the two metal doors was closed, so undaunted we headed through the open door and into the lobby. So, to make a short story even shorter -- the planetarium was "closed for remodeling" too!! Luck would have it that two workers were by the projector and we gained entrance to the theater. We took a couple of pictures of the projector and around the lobby. The planetarium projector is an older Zeiss, much the kind that was used at the Griffith Planetarium when I was a kid. I've found that, throughout Europe, there are large number of the old Zeiss projectors still in use.

We caught another subway train back to the Duomo and had a bite of lunch at one of the many cafe's along and around the Piazza. As has become our custom over the last couple of cities, we decided to take one of the double-decker buses around the Milano. The tour included 20 stops along two different routes. One stop was the Castle Sforza. Construction on the castle began in 1450 by Francesco Sforza. Over the next few centuries it was used in defense of its inhabitants, but now is the location of a museum which includes the last sculpture, the Rondanini Pieta.

In front of the castle is a large beautiful fountain. It's been a warm day, and quite a few people were sitting on the edge of the fountain, some with their feet in the cool water. Linda and I cooled ourselves with the water and had a minor "water fight". It was great fun.

This is our last day in Milano. We've found Milano to be a large urban city, more so than any of the other Italian cities we've visited so far. Even Munich seemed less "business oriented". Yet, there were thousands of tourists enjoying the Italian summer. The warm days bring them into the numerous squares to enjoy the city. The Piazza Duomo, the largest square in Milano is home to the large Cathedral of the city and brings what seems to be all of the many tourists to see its elegance.

Tomorrow we'll be in transit to Bologna. So, as always -- stay tuned!!

Friday, July 29, 2011

July 29, 2011 -- Milano Italy. We started out early in the day with breakfast at the hotel. It's the custom, in most of Europe, to include a "continental breakfast" during ones stay. A continental breakfast is different than we are used to in the U.S. It usually includes a wide selection of cheese, juices, fruit, lunch meats, toasts and coffee. It's a great way to start the day.

After breakfast we headed out on foot and tried getting reservations for our trip to Bologna on Sunday. The line at the train station ticket office was very long, so we headed into town vowing to wait out the line upon our return later in the day. As we wandered down the main street, Via Pisani, one can only notice that Milan is a mature, modern and vibrant city. Our route took us deeper into town through what appeared to be a mature business district with what appears to be a variety of banking and finance centers.

Our first stop was the Duomo. The Duomo is a Cathedral started in 1386 and completed in 1965!! It is an absolutely stunning building and is the fourth largest Cathedral in the world. While we didn't take the time to enter the building, one can tell it is exquisite in every detail. Taking a look at the picture at the top of this entry will make my point for me.

I noticed on the map there was a "Museo Astronomico Di Brera" a bit farther into the city, so we made our way in that direction. The museum is located in the Brera Academy founded by Maria Theresa in 1776. The astronomy exhibits are on the top floor and I found my way to the director's office. While he wasn't there, I did meet with an assistant director. He and I discussed the two observatory domes on the roof and the exhibits. It seems the telescopes were abandoned in 1917 because of the poor seeing conditions. I wasn't able to find out much more as my Italian nor his English was limited. We continued wandering throughout the exhibits, found our way to the roof to take a couple of pictures and then left.

Our next stop was the Museum of Science and Technology. It included exhibits on robotics, ore mining and use and and the generation of electricity. The museum seemed aimed at a non-science crowd and I got the feeling it would be great for kids from grammar and middle school.

By now it was pretty late, so we headed back to the hotel. We tried to find a laundrymat, but without any luck. We both wanted to take one of the antique street-cars heading back toward the Central Train Station. It was fun, and it reminded me of my experiences on the "Key System", the streetcars that went into Hollywood from the Valley. I used to take them as a kid on my way to the Griffith Planetarium.

Tomorrow we're going to explore the city some more, take in a couple of the museums, locate the Milano Synagogue and planetarium. We'll probably take a double-decker bus tours around the city. I understand there's an English language cinema called the Odeon near the Duomo, so who knows, maybe we'll see a movie!!

News at 11!!!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 28, 2011 -- Milano Italy. Our train was at 9:30 a.m for our transit from Innsbruck to Milano. It was an "EC" train -- a Euro City, which is a fairly fast train. Still, the trip took us 3 hours. We needed to change trains in Verano, but we only had an hour wait, so we were quickly on our way again. We arrived in Milan at 2:30 p.m. and quickly found our lodgings. It is the Hotel Casanova about a 2 minute walk from the "Stazione Centrale".

Interestingly at the station in Innsbruck I heard my name being called!! I looked around, wondering who the heck would know me in this part of the world. It was our new friend Charley Renaud, the law student who had invited us to hear Justice Sajo speak at the University of Innsbruck Law School. Charley is in a summer program in Innsbruck from St. Mary's University School of Law in Austin Texas. Linda and I spent a most enjoyable couple of hours talking, sharing some fruit and getting to know each other.

Milan is a city with a population of about 1.3 million and is the capital of a region called Lombardy. It's an older city, founded around the 3rd Century B.C.E. Today, though, it's a modern and prosperious city with an extensive infrastructure of street cars, light rail, buses and, of course, the Italian railway system. Commerce is everywhere. We're just getting started visiting the city and we'll be here for 2 days. I'm told it is a major fashion and design center with a major influence in finance, commerce, literature, music and sports. So, over the next couple of days we hope to see a lot of the city.

More to follow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 27, Munich Germany. Today we´ll spend the day in Munich. We left by high-speed rail at 10:30 a.m. It´s a 2 hour trip from Innsbruck. Along the trip to Munich, we met and had a nice discussion with a retired doctor. He has been in Innsbruck on a "geneology" trip for his family. I didn´t get his name.

Once in Munich, we made a bee-line for Starbuck´s and had our second "American-style" coffee since this trip began on July 6th!! I wasn´t used to the caffiene and it got my heart-rate going right off the bat. Still, it tasted good! Outside the station, the weather was sunny and warm, so we were pleased to be out of the colder weather of Innsbruck.

After a quick stop by the Tourist and Information Center, we made our way into town. Our first stop was the main square where the "Glockenspiel" is located -- Marienplatz. The Glockenspiel consists of 43 bells and 32 life-size figures. At certain times of the day there is a 15-minute "performance" put on by the "clock". Along the way, one can hard miss the activity and energy. The street, Neuhauser, was loaded with people. Shops were everywhere and people were enjoying the cafe´s and activities along the way.

It´s interesting to mention the street performers -- we found a pianist playing classical music for the crowd. He talent was more than evident and the crowd enjoyed the performance. Not too far away a young women and man were singing "opera" with a piano accompaniment. They were excellent as well, as we listened for a little while. Finally, there was an Asian group -- Chinese maybe -- playing three instruments I really didn´t recognize.

We wander around the "platz" for a bit and made our waz to the Haufbrauhaus. This is a famous "bier haus" founded by Wilhelm V in 1589. Mozart, for instance, lived nearby and made the place famous in the late 18th Century. Other notables made appearances there as well, one of them too "infamous" to mention -- but you should be able to ascertain his name by my reluctance to even "spell it" in this blog!!

The place was packed, but we took the time to find a place to sit and got the waiter´s attention. A "liter" of beer was 7.60 Euros -- about $11.00 -- but it was well worth the investment. Linda and I shared the beer as well as a snack. We sat at a table with another couple and struck up a nice chat -- even though they onlz spoke Italian. A couple of guys at the next table toasted us and we bought them a beer. Great fun.

Once leaving the Hofbrauhas, we found the "Viktoalien-markt", an open market full of vendors of all kinds. Everything was available -- fruit, gelato, flowers, food of all kinds and clothing. Here again, the place was growded and the activity for an enjoyable visit. It was in the market that we saw the "opera singing" trio.

It turns out the market is close to the Jewish Museum and Synagogue, we we found them both and slowly walked through the museum. Its three floors explore the Jewish experience in Munich -- an experience that was troubled and difficult until after the Second World War. Across the plaza, we entered the Jewish Community Center and were able to visit the sancturary of the Synagogue. It´s interesting that one gains entrance to the synagogue through an underground tunnel -- but first it´s necessary to pass through a rigorous security check. We´ve noticed that the Jewish community in Austria and Germany is protected by an extensive security system.

Tomorrow we're going to transit to Milan -- a 7 hour train ride through Verano. A long day awaits!!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 25, Innsbruck Austria -- The plan today was to go to Mittenwald Germany as a day trip. Mittenwald is about 38 kilometers away from Innsbruck and is located in southern Germany. We boarded a train at 10:30 a.m. and arrived at 11:30. It´s a short walk from the train station to the downtown and shopping area. Mittenwald is a small Bavarian town in the Bavarian Alps with a population of about 25,000 people. It´s clearly a favorite place for people to visit, with lots of shopping and cafe´s for the tourist.

There are mountains and beautiful scenery everywhere. One highlight of the day-trip was a ride up the "Karwendlebahn" (cable car) to the top of a 2200 meter peak overlooking the city. I know I use this word too much, but the view was "breathtaking", with the city and countryside below. At the top is a restaurant and "biergarten". Here the visitor can enjoy a meal, a beer or just the majestic views of the mountains above and the city below. During our visit, there was a wonderful Bavarian "duo" singing songs as they played the guitar and accordion. Couples were enjoying their traditional dancing styles!

We headed back down the mountain after about 45 minutes. Since we had an hour before our train back to Innsbruck would arrive, we stopped off for a beer, some talk and people watching. Our return train was at 16:30 (4:30 p.m.) and, I admit I slept a bit on the return. It's been a long day with lots of walking -- and worth every bit of it.

We've extended our stay in Innsbruck by a day, so tomorrow we'll be off to Munich to see that city and all it has to offer.

Stay tuned.....

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011. Innsbruck Austria -- We spent the day wandering around Innsbruck so as to get a real feel for the city. Unlike the weekend, today is Monday and the city is bustling with activity. The stores, cafe's and offices are open and the familiar sounds of city traffic is everywhere. Innsbruck is the capital city of the "federal state of Tyrol" and has a population of about 120,000 people. There is an additional 30,000 students who study as one of the various campuses at the University of Innsbruck.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, we've been invited to the University of Innsbruck to a discussion and lecture on Human Rights at the university's law school. The speaker was Dr. Andras Sajo ( a justice on the European Court of Human Rights. Dr. Sajo conducted a lively discussion on the subject of "liberty and equality", and started with philosophical beginnings of the subject during the early Greek and then Roman periods. He brought the discussion forward to the 18th Century and the French and American Revolutions. After a robust question and answer period, the afternoon was completed with a reception in his honor. There were a variety of refreshments -- including BEER!!! How European??

Later in the afternoon, around 5 p.m, we decided to take a "bus tour". It isn't the double-decker bus we've seen in most cities, but Innsbruck has city buses for touring. Innsbruck is a magnificent city with lush greens, clean streets and beautiful buildings. At one point we went to a high-point overlooking the city. The view was breath-taking -- too bad we didn't have a chance to take any photos.

We sat in front so we could take some photos. It happens that the driver, Harry, likes to practice his English, so he gave us a running commentary about the sights of the city. This was in addition to the commentary we were hearing through the earphones. A most enjoyable hour and a half of sightseeing.

We finished our day by going to an English language theater nearby. We saw the film The Good Heart with Paul Dano and Brian Cox. It seemed that the majority of the theater goers were Austrian, so I'm not sure they were there for the English language or the subtitles in German!! Regardless, it's a great film and one you may wish to watch on DVD.

More to follow, so stay tuned.....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24, 2011. Dachau Germany. We started out the day at 7:30 a.m. and wanted to make the 8:30 a.m. train to Munich. Our plan was to visit the Concentration Camp museum at Dachau. It turns out our train was a "milk train", and what would have been a 2 hour rip to Munich took us just over 3 hours. We saw "every stop" along the way. All was not lost, of course, as we met an interesting couple from Hamburg who had just finished a 2-week vacation in one of the small Bavarian villages along the way. "Hans" is a simi-conductor engineer for Philips in Hamburg, and we had an interesting discussion about technology in general and semi-conductors in particular.

We arrived in Munich around 11:30 a.m. and made our way to the "underground". There is an extensive subway system in Munich and Dachau is one of the many stops along the S2 line. Once in the city of Dachau, we boarded a bus for the museum and arrived about 20 minutes later. As we walked toward the front gate of the "camp" we joined a tour group that was just beginning to take shape along the way. The tour guide spoke excellent English, so we felt we were pretty lucky.

The tour lasted around 3 hours and we covered the entire camp -- from the administration of the prisoners to the crematoria. I had been to Dachau in 2008, but again, I learned quite a bit more about the extensive concentration camp system the Nazi's created in the 12 years of their rule in Germany. Over its existance as a Concentration Camp, more than 200,000 people were held there with 46,000 killed through a systematic program of "slave labor". Our guide explained how the Nazi´s assigned prisoners tasks they could not possibly perform then punished them for the "infraction". Most of the deaths were a result of starvation, however. Additionally, in support of the war effort, prisoners were "sold" as slave labor to such companies as BMW, Krupp and Messerschmidt. It was a stark reminder of the kind of inhumanity people are capable of perpetrating on their fellow human beings.

We caught the subway back to the Munich station and boarded a high-speed train bound for Innsbruck. This time, the trip only took 2 hours. As always, we were luck to meet a couple of law students going to a summer school at the University of Innsbruck. We discussed a wide variety of interesting topics and in the end, we were invited to a discussion group and lecture on "International Human Rights" at the university tomorrow. It seemed a fitting invite after our day of learning about the human rights violations practiced at Dachau in the 1930´s and 40´s.

On a more positive note, as we wandered toward the train for Innsbruck, we spotted a "Starbucks Coffee" -- The FIRST Starbucks we've spotted since we've been in Europe. And the FIRST real cupa coffee we've had since we got here!!! Ah the American Experience!

After a late dinner, it's time to close, so as always my friends, more to follow.....

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 23, 2011. Innsbruck, Austria. Our train was at 11:50 a.m., so we started the day with a morning coffee and a trip to the Cyber Cafe. In Italy these are called "Internet Points". Throughout the country, so far, we've been able to find Internet Points just anywhere we've gone Verona is the exception, but as we walked the city, we saw an Apple Store and got our email and Facebook fix!

In order to get to Innsbruck, we needed to go back through Verona and then board the train for Munich. As mentioned, there was a railway workers' strike yesterday, but we learned that the train for Munich would be in Verona at :59 past the house. We arrived in Verona at 11:57 a.m., so we thought we probably missed the train for the hour. A look at the track assignments told us that the train would be on track #3, so just for the heck of it we made our way up there. The 12:59 p.m. train was still in the station so we jumped on board! It was a lucky moment as the next train would have been 2 hours later. As it is, we'll get into Innsbruck at 4:30 p.m., so it's a 3.5 hour train ride.

We found a couple of seats and settled in for the trip. The rail-car was very hot and stuffy, but we figured it'd get better once the train got underway. No such luck! The conductor told us the air-conditioning was out of order and the lights did not work. The entire car was asked to leave for other parts of the train. Linda and I waited for the crowd to "scramble" and then made our way toward the front of the train. It didn't take long to find seating and we made ourselves comfortable again. I saw a man walk past with a cup of coffee and learned the "food car" was 2 coaches ahead, so I went looking for a snack.

It was then I found the "first class coach". Our Eurail Pass qualifies us for first-class accommodations, so we moved again -- this time to the relative comfort of a much less crowded rail-car, reclining seats and electrical power for my netbook. Linda and I enjoyed a tasty lunch in the food-coach and met Horst, our waiter/cook. We had a nice chat. It turns out Horst is a Rod Stewart fan and follows Stewart around the world for his concerts. Horst will be in Las Vegas in couple of months for a concert or two. I gave Horst my card and offered him a sight-seeing tour of the Palm Springs area if he comes to town.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our travel, so far, has been the interesting people we've met.

We arrived in Innsbruck Austria at 4:30 p.m. and found our lodgings. It's located perfectly, near the Arch de Triumph, right downtown in Innsbruck and near the train station. After a bit, we went for a walk. This part of the city, I think it's the downtown section, is absolutely deserted!! Unlike Italy where people were in the streets, shops were open, entertainment was everywhere -- Innsbruck is a very VERY quiet place right now.

Our plan is to be off to Munich in the morning with a visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp. The camp is about 35 minutes away from the city of Dachau by bus. We'll also take some time to see Munich.

More to follow.....

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 22, 2011. Venice and Verona Italy. This was an interesting day. Our train for Verona was at 12:57 p.m., so we had some time in the morning to explore. We saw that the Gam Gam Restaurant, in the Jewish section of town, serves potato latkes so we headed out there for a breakfast. Once there, we found they wouldn't open for another 30 minutes, so we headed into the heart of the Ghetto. There we found an artist by the name of Rado Leon. His work is in pencil is quite beautiful. We discussed his drawing and the conversation got around to the use of the word "ghetto", particularly as it is used in the European Jewish community. He explained how it was an important "reminder" about the Jewish experience and to remember where the Jews "were" and where they are now. The discussion impressed me, such, that I walked over to the Chabad House and donned Tfillin with Eliezer acting as my tutor. I found it an emotional and uplifting experience!

We then made our way to the train station and boarded the Eurostar for Verano. It was about an hour ride in a modern, air-conditioned and comfortable train. Once there, our plan was to get our ticket for Innsbruck. B-U-T, it turns out that the railway ticket-agents had called a one-day strike, and getting a ticket was impossible. It also seems that the train for Austria is run by a different company, so we just need to show up, find the train, get on and see what happens! Wish us luck for our transit to Innsbruck tomorrow!!

We walked into the heart of Verona. It is a beautiful city, the main street of which would rival Rodeo Drive, Wealth Avenue or El Paseo. All of the high-end and expensive shops were there. We walked through the city a bit,
and located the Piazzette de 14 Novembre (my birthday). It was neat seeing the plaza with my birthday on it (see the picture on the left).

A bit deeper into the city we found the Juliette House and took pictures near the statue and her balcony. You probably know that this is the "Juliette" of Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliette.

Verona also has a coliseum similar to the one in Rome built in 30 C.E. and can host 30,000 spectators. Today, four productions are performed each year, including opera, ballet as well as popular musicians and performers. Lyle Lovette, for example, will be there soon. I'm told that the Verona Arena is one of the best preserved venues of ancient Rome. It was beautiful and is right in the middle of town.

Back at the Verona train station, we located our track and decided to head up there to wait for our train. There were a bunch of young guys drinking beer, singing loudly and have a great time. I said, "hey where's my beer" -- and before I knew it I had my beer and Linda and I were in middle of it all. It was really lots of fun. While only one guy spoke very broken English, we all understood that we all enjoyed each other's company. The fun continued until it was time to board the train, and we said our farewells.

We found our way back to Venice on the 7 p.m. train and had an interesting exchange with a street vendor. As I walked away from the train station, the street vendor "grabbed" my arm and roughly guided me to a model ship he wanted to sell me. I declined and went my way. The interesting part happened with we heard a siren and a police boat roared to a stop nearby. Two policemen walked up the very same guy who had grabbed me! They didn't seem pleased with him and some heated discussion took place. We left the area after about 5 minutes, but the policemen were continued talking with the guy. Hummmm, it seems I missed being in the thick of that by about 60 seconds or so!!

Excitement in Venice!!

Tomorrow we'll be making our way to Innsbruck, so stay tuned....

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21, 2011. Venice and Murano Italy. Today we decided to boat out to Murano, an island about 35 minutes from Venice. Murano glass is world renown, and glassmakers have been making glass in Murano since 1291 C.E. We took the "water bus" from the train station area to Murano and sat in the very rear of the boat. The view was spectacular as we left the inside of the city onto the more open water. On the way, we passed a variety of smaller islands, including "Isola de San Michele" or in English, San Michelle. It was originally a prison island, but since 1807 it became a cemetery for the people of Venice and surrounding areas.

Once in Murano I was interested in finding Vetri Artistici, the "furnaco" and show room I had visited during my trip in 2008. I remembered it was near the lighthouse, so we made our way in that direction. Again I was lucky and found the furnace and the show room in just a few minutes. Once there, I met Raffaele -- the same gentleman who had helped me on my previous visit. I reminded him of our meeting and mentioned that he had, at that time, taken me to the special showroom upstairs as well as a private viewing room for the furnace. Raffaele didn't remember me specifically, but my description of the venue let him know I was a repeat visitor. We were able to visit the upstairs showroom and the furnace. It was quite thrill.

After leaving the factory, we caught a bit of lunch and continued our exploration of Murano. One item I wanted to buy was a figure of a rabbi in Murano glass. I had seen these in the Ghetto, so I hoped I could find them in Murano and meet the artist if possible. I always enjoy pieces of art from the artist him/herself. As we passed a shop, Linda jumped and pointed out the rabbi figures! We went into the store, found the artist whose name is Simon. We had a chance to talk about his art for awhile, take a picture or two and buy one of his pieces. It is a rabbi holding a Torah with a Star of David inscribed in the front. It's quite beautiful and I think a unique piece.

After returning to Venice we waited in another long line at the train station and bought our tickets for a day-trip to Verano tomorrow as well as our transit to Innsbruck Austria on Saturday. Linda bought some jewelry in The Ghetto, we did a bit of shopping at the Coop and caught another wonderful Chinese dinner at our favorite restaurant.

By now it was 11:30 p.m., so it was time to get some sleep. One interesting note is that the dinner hour in Italy is fairly late, and many people are just starting their evening meal at 10 p.m. and later.

More to come!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20, 2011. Venice Italy. We started out the day with a stop by the local internet point. There are variety of these kinds of stores throughout Italy. In this case, the internet point was in a small bookstore near a local university about 5 minutes from the Hostel. We then set off for a walk toward the "Stazzione" and found a laundrymat on the way. We'll do some laundry this evening.

Nearby, I re-located an artists' studio that I had visited during my trip to Venice in 2008. The artist, Massimo Busetto, occupies a small corner store/studio not far from the Grand Canal. His studio is full of his works, many of which I'd love to own. We talked about my previous visit and while he didn't remember me, he did enjoy the fact that I found him again and took the time to stop by. We invited him to Palm Desert and the very active "art scene" there. It was an enjoyable visit.

We took the "Ponte Degli Scalzi" (this is the main foot-bridge by the train station) to the other side of the Grand Canal and turned right, looking for the Jewish "Ghetto" (the term "ghetto" in Europe refers to the neighborhood, and doesn't carry the negative connotation we associate with
the word). It didn't take long before we found ourselves in the Campo Degli Ghetto. Besides the Chabad House, there are variety of art shops, artists, music and restaurants. It's a small area, but seems vibrant and with interesting points to see for the visitor. I had a rather long and interesting discussion with Elisha from the Chabad House about the meaning of donning of "tiffilin" -- and while he invited me to do so, I have so far declined. Maybe tomorrow!! We finished up the visit by stopping by the Restaurant Gam Gam for a wonderful meal. The restaurant supports the Chabad House so we felt we were supporting their effort in Venice.

We continued our walk around the neighborhoods and continued farther into the city -- or at least we thought. It's interesting, but the Grand Canal circles around the city, so as we walked farther and farther away from the train station, we finally realized were were walking closer and closer to our lodgings at the Camp Del Toma! We found and crossed the Ponte Realto. This bridge was built in 1181 C.E. It went through a couple of changes, and in 1255 C.E. it was changed from a pontoon to a wooden bridge. It was surrounded by a market and eventually became part of the market itself. Today, it is a modern steel/concrete structure covered with shops of all kinds (see the last photo of this entry). It was crowded and fun, with hundreds of people buying and selling items of all kinds.

Later in the afternoon, we found the laundry and did a week's worth of laundry. Now, they tell you that Venice is an expensive city. I can now attest this is true, a "single load" of laundry cost us 24-Euros -- the equivalent of $36!! Wow, we coulda bought new clothes for that, right??!! Of course, any experience leads to another. We were having a bit of trouble understanding how the machines in the laundry worked, so a young man came to our rescue. His name is Sharif. Sharif is from Afghanistan and has been living in Venice for 2 years. While the rest of his family is still is his country, Sharif told us he was very glad to be in Italy and loved it here. He said he hoped to visit the United States some day, and we invited him to contact us. We'll exchange Facebook friendships.

Our final outing of the evening was for dinner. We walked toward the Ponte Rialto looking for a suitable restaurant and saw a Chinese Restaurant that looked interesting. We walked inside and looked around, not sure we wanted to stay. There were 2 couples sitting at a table who signaled us saying the food "was great". We had a enjoyable 10 talk to these folks from Manchester in the U.K. Lots of laughter and joking let to a delightful exchange between us. They said they were leaving for home in the morning -- my comment was "oh darn, we were going to buy you dinner tomorrow night"! With that, one of the guys said he'd "send me the bill". Great fun.

Oh yes, the food was great!!

So far, we've met interesting people from India, China, Afghanistan, Canada, Australia, the U.K. and of course, the U.S. So our trip has been more than just an Italian experience, but an international experience as well.

Tomorrow we plan to go to Murano, so stay tuned....

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 19, 2011 -- Tuesday, Venice Italy. We started out the day with a re-visit to the Academia Gallery and a chance to see Michaelangelo's David. After an hour wait in the "non reservation line", we were able to get a ticket and wandered through the Gallery. In addition to the Michaelangelo collection, there is a magnificent collection of works by Botticelli. We stayed for about an hour or more and went back to the hostel for our baggage.

One interesting experience of note is when we met Manuel and his family. He is a retired Filipino soldier now living in Austria. He and his family emigrated to Austria 14 years ago. In additional to Tagalog and English, he and his family speaks fluent German. More interesting is when, during our discussion, he said how much he really liked a film called The Sound of Music. With that, he began singing the song in its entirety!! So, picture this , a Filipino now living in Austria who speaks German singing the Sound of Music in English. It was great fun...

We found our way to the "Stazione" and boarded the train at 2:30 p.m. As luck would have it, it was a modern Euroliner -- a beautiful high-speed train with luxurious seats, free coffee and air conditioningIt took the train 2 hours to travel from Florence to Venice. Here again, Linda and I had the good fortune of meeting a delightful couple from India. His name is Shashank (we didn't quite get his wife's name), and for the next two hours or so, we all discussed a variety of interesting topics -- but especially a philosophical discussion on the subject of "truth". The most interesting part of this is that, coming from India, Shashank had an entirely different point of view -- one based in "eastern beliefs". Both Linda and I found it very stimulating and the time passed quickly.

Once we arrived in Venice, we found our lodgings and settled in. After a bit of dinner and exploration, we'll called it a night and will get an early start in the morning.

So, as usual, stayed tuned.....

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2001, Florence Italy. It's Monday and we decided to take in the "David " at the Academia Gallery. It's a relatively short walk from our lodgings, so we started out around 10:30 a.m. or so. About half way there I mentioned that "you know, I'll bet the museum is closed on Monday -- many of them are!!" And, sure enough it was. No big deal, we decided we'd see David in the morning before we left for Venice.

We then made our way to the train "Stazione Santa Maria Novella" to settle on a time and train for our transit to Venice.We booked a 14:30 (2:30 p.m.) train so as to give us enough time to visit the Academia. We both figured we had walked enough over the past couple of days, so we opted for one of the double-decker buses for an overview of Florence. We then spent the next 3 hours touring the city and listening to the on-going description of the city.

One of the stops was near our hostel, so we took 1/2 hour break and had a bit of lunch. It turns out that Italy is full of "falafal joints", a food that Linda and I both enjoy. After lunch we re-boarded the bus for the second half of the guided tour. We finally left the bus at the Ponte Vecchio and took a slow walk back into our side of town.

After dinner, we thought we'd see if there was another concert near the Piazza de Republica and found a trio featuring trumpet player Fabrio Morgera. He was accompanied by a keyboard and drummer. The drummer, Piero Borri, was one of the most extraordinary musicians I've seen. All in all, the music scene in Florence seems to be very full -- and, apparently, free to those who seek out these performances.

Each of the cities we've visited has its own charm and personality. Rome and its antiquities is a wonderful place to see. Tuscany, with its villages and towns is beautiful, serene and charming all at the same time. But Florence is a step up. This is a vibrant city, teaming with activities, sights and people. Where Rome has a fair amount of litter in streets, Florence is clean and well maintained. The warm nights bring people into the streets for a variety of activities -- even at 1 and 2 in the morning. Yet, one feels safe and welcome. So, if you've got a week or two and want to visit Italy -- Florence is my recommendation.

Of course, we'll be in Venice tomorrow, so my opinion might change. Stay tuned!!!!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17, 2011, Florence Italy. Today started out a bit late as we didn't get going until 10:30 or so. Our lodgings are in a great location and we found a nice little coffee shop around the corner. Our first stop, we thought, would be the Ponte Vecchio. You may know that the Ponte Vecchio is a Midieval bridge over the Arno River. The bridge started its existance in 996 C.E. and has been in use ever since. Commerce first started on the bridge in the 15th Century and is currently the venue of a variety of "gold shops" and other jewelry. it's quite the site.

But, before we made it to the bridge, we happened upon the Galileo Museum on the river front. The museum is home to a variety of science exhibits -- medicine, astronomy, electricity and the study of gravity just to mention a few. But, my interest was the fine collection
of telescopes, including the first ones used by Galileo. He first turned the telescope to the heavens in the 16th Century and the discovery that Jupiter had moons that circled its planet changed the modern world. There is also a very nice collection of Newtonian (reflecting) telescopes.

Upon leaving the museum, it was back to the visit of the Ponte Vecchio. I wanted to find a replacement earring for myself in 18K gold. The original earring belonged to my wife Portia, and I wore it as a memorial to her. During a surgery I had in 2010, the ring was somehow lost, so my goal was to replace the ring. I had always thought I would wait until I returned to Florence and get an 18K ring. So, it was fun to complete that journey.

Linda and I wondered around the neighborhood near the Ponte Vecchio for a couple of hours. The nearby streets were filled with all kinds of shops and cafe's. It seems that, when in Italy, one consumes a good quantity of food!! And wine. And beer!! So, we enjoyed the afternoon. At around 3;30 p.m. we went to the Picasso, Miro and Dali exhibit at home of the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation. The exhibit covered the period from 1896 and into the lives of these three men.

At 5:00 we went to the Teatro Oden and saw an English language film, the latest Harry Potter film. While the film was "so so", it was good sit in a darkened theater on comfortable chairs and enjoy some quiet time. Upon leaving the theater, there was another band setting up at the same venue where we enjoyed the performance the night before, so we decided to stay for awhile. We thought we'd get a drink and walked to a nearby bar where there seemed to be a private party in progress. I asked if it was, in fact, a private party -- we were not only told it was, but we were invited to join in the birthday festivities!!! It was catered and we enjoyed a good serving of delicious food and wine before the music began.

On the way back to the hostel, we happened on an enjoyable street performer who, dressed like Charlie Chaplin, was entertaining the crowd. We stayed for about 1/2 hour before heading back. One final beer ended the evening, and we shared a "Guinness" at one of the local pubs. We sat outside, soccer was playing on the TV, people were enjoying the warm evening and we had a great time. We didn't leave until around 11 p.m., so we had quite a full day.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 16, 2011. So, when you stay up until 1:30 a.m. looking through telescopes, drinking wine and enjoying good conversation there's every reason to assume you'll miss the 'direct train" to Florence. And that's just the way it went. We finally boarded a train for Florence at 12;22 p.m., but it went to Livorno and Pisa first -- entirely in the wrong direction. But, board the train we did, and we finally pulled into the Florence station at 3:30 p.m.

Our lodgings were a 30 minute walk from the station and our directions to the hostel were perfect. It turns out the hostel is in a 200 year old building on a cute side street not too far from the Florence Duomo. Cute cafe's and other shops line the narrow street in both directio
ns. We're on the 2nd floor, and looking down onto the passing crowd is fun and enjoyable.

We've decided to stay an extra night, so we'll be in Florence for 2 full days besides today. That'll give us 2 1/2 days of adventure in this most beautiful city. Upon our arrival, the desk clerk knocked on our door and presented us with a nice bottle of red Tuscan wine from the owner! A most surprising but welcome gift. Just outside our room is a refrigerator full of beer and water, and we were told to 'help ourselves".
For those of you who may be wondering, and noticed that I used the term "hostel" rather than "hotel" -- it should be known that Europe is full of hostels of one sort or another. Many people refer to them as "youth hostels" -- but the reality is that these dwellings are just another way for the owners to attract their guests. We have a private room, for example, and in this case, we share the W.C. with another room down the hall. The advantage is that one can obtain lodgings for 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of the average hotel
and still be in a clean safe environment. We're right in the middle of the city with attractions all around us, so it's well worth the perceived inconvenience of sharing a bathroom!!

After a bit of exploring and shopping we'll call it a day and get an early start in the morning. Florence is a city well worth exploring with lots of sights and activities to enjoy.

We had a lucky find as we were wandering throughout he streets near our lodgings. Besides the fact that there is a Picasso, Miro and Dali exhibit at the art museum (we're going there tomorrow), there was an amazing performance of "progressive jazz" by a quartet of musicians just outside the museum. The performance started at 9:30 p.m. and they played until 10:45 p.m. or so.

One really neat innovation was when the drummer came out from behind his drums and played the cello!! The sax and guitar player were able to make sounds I'd never heard in music before -- a truly wonderful exhibit of musical skill. I wish I could do that!!

So, as always dear reader --

Stay tuned......

July 15, 2011 -- Wandering Tuscany. Francesco and I spent the morning working on one of his telescopes. After disassembling the mountain and cleaning some of the worm gears (I don't want to get too technical), we were able to make the drives on the mount work nicely.

Francesco arranged for us to visit Villa Ferraia ( for an evening of food, drink and astronomy. Vittorio, the owner of the villa has a 14" Meade telescope in an observatory. We set out by car around 1 p.m. and headed into the country-side. Along the way, we visited a number of Medieval villages including Montancino, Sant' Antimo and finally Tocchi where the Villa Ferrais is located.

Vittorio's Villa is in a fairly remote part of the country-side and we drove over a rough dirt road for about 20 minutes. Yet, there were many visitors at the Villa, including people from Europe, the U.S. and "down under". There's a beautiful swimming pool with lush grounds and gardens.

After dinner, we set out for the observatory at about 10 p.m. The moon was up and pretty bright, but we were still able to see quite a nice selection of deep-sky objects.

Today we'll be heading into Florence for a couple of days of sightseeing and exploration. Among the sights we want to see is the U.S. Military Cemetery which is the final resting place to more than 50,000 WWII soldiers.s including the great globular star cluster in Hercules. We explored the skies, drank some wine and talked until we all agreed it was time to head home at around midnight.

More to come.. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14, 2011 -- SIENNA, ITALY. We set off for Sienna today by way of the train. Sienna is about 1.5 hours from Francesco's house in near Follonica. The station was very small with only a ticket machine to help us. With the instructions in Italian, it took us -- and Francesco -- a few minutes to figure out how to get a ticket. But get one we did, and were able to board the train at around 9:45 this morning.

Once we got to the train station in Sienna, Linda and I found the Tourist Information desk, got a map, had a bit of coffee and then set off for the city. It's about a 30 minute walk up and over a sizable hill. The city is quite beautiful and very modern. There is a combination of little streets winding through the city as well as wider more modern boulevards. We decided to stick to the smaller streets to as to see the various shops and people.

We wandered into the city and finally found what I think is the main square, the Piazzo Del Campo. There is a beautiful fountain in the square which dates back to 1419,
but the square itself was, once, as an open market that was established before the 13th Century. Needless to say, the surrounding buildings were beautiful and the square itself is an imposing space of commerce and activity.

Part of the adventure was to continue into one of the side streets to the left of the square. We continued exploring away from the Piazza up a bit of a hill and into a more residential part of the Sienna. At one point, Linda spotted a sign to a "Sinagogue" and we ventured in that dir
ection. The sign invited to knock on the door and ask for a tour, but there was no reply. We stuck around for a few minutes, knocked a few more times, but to no avail. So, we continued walking farther into the city.

At one point we found a neat fountain and took a bit of a rest. Right around the corner was "Conad City" which turned out to be a super market, so we went inside for some yogurt, fruit and cold drinks.

We found our way back to the train station about an hour early and visited a "Galleria" across the street. Lots of neat shops. Once we were back in the station, we met a couple of "kids" who has just married in Palm Desert!! They live in Irvine and were on their honeymoon in Tuscany and the rest of Italy. Small world, isn't it??

When it was time to get onto the train back to Montepescali, we were surprised that the train
one "one car only"!! About a dozen people got onto the train and we enjoyed a quiet ride back to where Francesco picked us up. All in all, our impression of Sienna is that it a most beautiful, cosmopolitan and charming city. The combination of shops, streets, history and people make it a perfect place to be. I, for one, felt it would be easy to live in such a delightful city.