Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 10, 2011 -- Palm Desert, California. Wow, after 2 days of travel we returned to Palm Desert at around noon on the 9th. We boarded the Alitalia flight at 9:30 a.m. for the first leg of our return on the 8th. As soon as the plane was boarded by all passengers, there was a medical emergency and a doctor was called on-board. The bottom line is that, instead of leaving at 10 a.m. we sat in the plane for 2 hours and finally left at noon. The result of that delay was a missed flight for the second leg of our journey and were forced to stay overnight at Ohare Airport in Chicago. So, making the best of the situation, we chose a hotel across the street from the airport, had a nice dinner and got some sleep.

The rest of our journey went flawlessly, and we arrived at the Palm Springs airport at 12:10 on August 9th. The temperature was 109-degrees F, but it was good to be home after such a long and exciting trip. So, of course, jet-lag is part of the reality of these kinds of trips, so here it is 1:50 a.m. on the 11th. I'm wide awake and ready to get busy. The rest of the "world" is asleep!!

Looking back on our travels for the last month, I think about the many places we've been -- but more importantly, the many people we met. Our stay with Francesco, and his wife Laura, in Tuscany was a highlight. Their hospitality was a wonderful gesture of friendship. Our visit with Carlo in Caserta was just as wonderful, and I'll always remember the lunch his mom made for us. On every day, and every where throughout the trip, we had serendipitous meetings with people from all over. Young people traveling throughout Europe and people of all ages on holiday from every part of the world. We met people from Canada, the U.S., Singapore, Slovakia, Russia, the U.K., the Philippines, Austria, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, China, Iran and Afghanistan. One highlight was meeting Dr. Sajo, a Justice of the European Court of Human Rights

Our favorite city was Florence Italy. The music, culture, food, activity and people there were beyond description. In every corner of the 3 countries we visited -- Italy, Austria and Germany -- we found friendly, engaged and happy people going about their routines of working and living their lives. We had the occasional "language barrier", but in every instance, we were able to make ourselves understood in one way or the other. We did find that Italy is going through it's own "financial crises", but for some reason, the people were engaged in the "moment". I think their "social safety net" helps them cope with these realities. In some way, the Italians seem assured knowing that they live in a society that invests in the "individual" through such programs as universal health-care.

So in closing, I can recommend travel to everyone who can find the time to do so. The benefits of going to different places in the world and meeting the people there are incalculable. As the old TV commercial used to say: "Try It You'll Like It"!!

How true.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Bocca della Verita
August 7, 2011 -- Rome Italy. It's hard to believe that our trip is coming to an end. We'll be catching an Alitalia flight at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. This has been quite the experience, and we've enjoyed every minute of it.

We did have a plan for today and set off around 10 a.m. to get a couple of things done. After an initial check-in at one of the local Internet Points, we found that it isn't possible to check-in on-line for our flight. I can only think it's because of the emmigration requirements. So, we'll get to the airport a bit earlier than planned to take care of checking in and getting to the gate on time..

One of the tourist attractions we wanted to see is the "Bocca della Verita", in English it's translated as "Mouth of Truth". It was made famous in a movie scene with Gregory Peck and Audry Hepburn in the film Roman Holiday. It is the image of a man's face and has been on the wall in the pontifco at the church Santa Maria in Cosmedin since the 17th Century. It is most "famous" for its role as a "lie detector". Tell a lie, and it is purported to "bite off your hand"! So, I was sure to tell the truth when it was my turn. Neither Linda nor I lost any fingers.

After we left the church, we noticed we were'nt very far away from the Jewish section of Rome, so we decided on a "kosher lunch". We found a cute restaurant called the Bocconcino Kosher and enjoyed some Falafal, beer and salad. While there, we had an "fun" exchange with a family from New Jersey. One last chore we accomplished was finding the train that'll take us to the airport. The Italian system is pretty efficient, with trains leaving at :22 and :52 minutes past each hour.

We finished up the evening with a nice "Japanese" dinner!! OK, so we haven't enjoyed the Italian food here that much, but it really doesn't seem to suit our taste. Go figure.

Ciao for now, ciao from, and "to", Italy.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Carlo IZ8GNR at his radio.
August 6, 2011 -- Rome Italy -- Today, was our day to head out to my "ham radio" friend Carlo Capola. Carlo lives near a city in southen Italy named Caserta -- not far from Napoli. Yesterday we had bought reservations on a "fast train" to Caserta and the trip was supposed to take 1 hour 15 minutes. Yet, the Italian train system has its own way of doing things and we stopped in the middle of no-where for 40 minutes. No explanation was given and we arrived late. Carlo was patient enough to wait for us, he found he is short order (I must look like to American tourist, because he picked me out immediately) and we got into his car bound for his home.

Lunch is Served!!
Carlo lives in a farm-house in the Alvignano area of southern Italy -- about 30 minutes by car away from the train station and Caserta. Linda and I met his mom and dad and we were told we were invited for lunch. Meanwhile, Carlo took me to his radio shack for a look at his ham radio equipment. He has a really nice setup, and we discussed  the kind of activities he enjoys the most -- which is "chasing distant stations" on the radio.

It wasn't long before lunch was served and we joined his parents at the table in their home. Now, we were told we were "special" guests, so a multi-course meal was prepared! It consisted of "anti-pasti", followed by a main course of spaghetti, then salad and then ice cream! I gotta tell you, I don't have much of an apetite for large quanities of food, so by the end of the meal -- Linda and I were contentedly "stuffed". What a wonderful meal made by an Italian woman in the southern Italian countryside.

We returned to the train station at 3:30 for a 4:00 p.m. train and got back into Rome, also a bit late, a 5:25!! I have been having a battle with my "sinuses" for the past day, so  I made a stop by the "Farmacia" to get some anti-histamine. In Italy -- Europe I think -- the pharmacists are trained to prescribe some medicines, so I was lucky finding a young woman who seemed to know what I need. NOW, I just need the courage to take the stuff!!

News at 11..

Friday, August 05, 2011

August 5, 2011 -- Rome Italy. We boarded a train this morning in Florence for Rome and arrived at about 12:45 p.m. We reaquainted ourselves with "Riccardo", a new friend we made when we were in Rome a few weeks ago. Riccardo manages a hotel a few blocks away, so without much effort we found our way, got settled and set off for the Sistine Chapel at theVatican. We had 3 p.m. reservations, so it was easy to get there on time.

Linda and the St. Peter's Basilica
Once we were at the Vatican, we entered a bit early and wandered through the extensive collection of the Vatican Museum. Along the way, we had an opportunity to take a break and a cup of coffee on the Vatican grounds. You can only imagine at the majesty and beauty of the Vatican. Its lawns, flowers and hedges are beautifully manicured. Despite the thousands of people who visit the Vatican Museum on a daily basis, the grounds are spotless. There is an extensive collection of Egyptian relics, Roman and Grecian sculpture and artificates from the early history of the Vatican. Once we entered the Sistene Chapel, the frescoes are breath-taking. Michaelangel's work is amazing, and one can see why the Vatican  in general, and the Sistene Chapel in particular, is such a sought after tourist destination.

Oh yeah, and one more thing!!
After about 2 1-2 hours in the Vatican Museum, we hopped the subway back to the Roma Termini. I have an acquaintance in Caserta south of Rome by about 2 hours. Carlo Capolla is a ham radio operator who lives nearby the city. He and I made our acquaintance through Facebook, and Carlo will be hosting us at his home tomorrow for a few hours. It'll be interesting to see a new city and visit the ham radio "shack" of an Italian ham radio operator. So, stay tuned for that blog tomorrow night.

Once we were back at Riccardo's "Internet Point" cafe, we asked him about a good Chinese restaurant in the nighborhood. He and a co-worker put us onto a neat little place around the corner and we enjoyed "yet another Chinese meal in Italy"! We'll be getting some well deserved rest this evening, do some reading, watch some TV and get ready for an early rise for our trip to Caserta tomorrow.

So, as always, stay tuned.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

August 4, 2011 -- Florence, Italy. So, readers, first things first. Today is my son Ken's birthday. So, I want to wish Ken the best birthday ever! Take the day off, enjoy the wife and family and have a snack at Canter's Deli for me!! I love you.

Rowers going under the Ponte Vecchio
Today is our last day in Florence, and we're 4 days from returning to the U.S. We started out the day getting some laundry out of the way. We also thought we could rent a car and head for Lucca. There are a couple of car rental agencies in Florence -- one, EuropCar, had cars for rent but cars were 160 Euro's for the day. That's $240! On top of that, they didn't have a GPS, so even if I was nuts enough to rent a car for that kinda money, I couldn't find my way around. The next agency had cars for less, but a 2 hour wait in line deterred us from getting one. So, we thought -- OK, we'll take a train.

We were only a few blocks from the train station, so we made our way over there to check out the schedule. There was, in fact, a train for Lucca at 13:44. It turned out to be a "slow" train and the trip would have taken 2 hours plus to get there. So, in the end, we decided not to go to Lucca -- at least this trip. We saw on the map there is a Science and Technology Museum in Florence and decided that, after lunch and an Internet Point "fix", we'd make our way over there.

Planetarium in Florence, Italy
Lunch was at a nearby Falafal joint we discovered near the hostel. They have great coffee, my favoriate drink (Fanta Zero) and the best beer in Italy -- Birra Moretti. The Falafal is pretty good, too. About two doors down is a place called the "Internet Train", so we stopped in and used the computer to buy a ticket for the Sistene Chapel tomorrow at 15:00. We'll be in Rome by noon, so that'll give us plenty of time to drop our bags off at the hostel and make our way to the Vatican. We then set out for the Museum of Science and Technology -- and the planetarium there -- to see what we could see. Unfortunately, they were closed, and the building seemed completely shut down.

On the way back to the hostel we stopped at one of the local supermarkets, the Billa, to buy some fruit and drinks. It had been a busy day wandering the city, so it was nice taking a 30-minute break enjoying a cold drink, listening to some music on the T.V. and talking. We thought it'd be fun to find a Chinese restaurant, so we made our way over to the "InfoPoint" nearby. We learned there were a couple of good restaurants near the train station, so another hike over there was in order. We found a great little family-owned place and had a light dinner of noodles, won ton soup and rice.

At around 8:45 p.m. it was time to check out the music concert near the Odeon Theater in the middle of town. By now, we knew Florence pretty well, so we found the venue in short order. The quartet consisted of a drums, piano, base and "bongo". I would describe it as "modern jazz" -- and frankly it wasn't to our liking, so we left, making our way back to the hostel. On our way, we ran across a street guitar player/singer, Paolo Depa. He was better listening than the more "professional" group, so we stayed for a while. He sang a variety of popular songs from the 60's-90ìs, including the Beetles and Elvis!!

By now it was 11:15 p.m., so we figured it'd be prudent to get a good night's sleep and hit the train station early.

More tomorrow from Rome..

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

August 3, 2011 -- Florence, Italy. This morning we went over to the train station to get our reservations for Rome on Thursday. We've gotten a 11:15 reservation one of the fast-trains, so it'll be a comfortable ride on the last leg of our journey. While we were there we decided to follow through on some research we did last night and take a day trip to Cinque Terre (pronounced: chink-wa terry). We boarded the train for Cinque Terre at 9:30 a.m. and arrived around noon.

Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre is on the coast of the "Italian Riviera". The closest city, and the city we changed trains in is about 10 minutes away by train but through a long LONG tunnel through the mountains.. The literature about the area says that "over the centuries, people have built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm are the small family owned businesses. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, but cars cannot reach the villages from the outside".

The first train stop is the village of Riomaggiore. This is an amazingly beautiful village dating from the 13th Century. It is known for its unusual character and wine. We didn't see the vineyards but they are, we were told, extensive in the hills nearby. It seemed to me  the major industry was tourism. There were hundreds of people walking the narrow streets, looking in the shops and at the marina. I noticed, for example, a group of about 10 folks dressed in Scuba gear getting into a boat for a trip out into the harbor. There was a dive shop nearby.

While there are a total of 5 villages all connected, we decided that one was enough. By the time we walked up and down the hills, and climbed the hundreds of steps from the top of some of the streets to the bottom where the marina was located, we were "done"!  We made our way back to the train station and caught a 4:30 p.m. back to Florence thru La Spezia and Pisa. We finished up the evening having a delightful "kosher vegetarian" meal at Ruth's Restaurant in the Jewish section of town.

Ciao for now

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

August 2, 2011. Florence Italy. We boarded the "Frecciarossa" -- the 175 mph high-speed train from Bologna to Florence at 9:30 a.m. Our train was actually at 10:30, but a train came into the station and it was headed for Rome, so we boarded. Interestingly, no one asked us for our tickets or any other identification. These are wonderful trains. Comfortable, air conditioned, VERY fast and has internet on-board!  It only took us 35 minutes to get our destination.

One interesting event occurred when we were making our way to the train station in Bologna. We noticed much of the station blocked off and radio and TV crews setting up their equipment. Additionally, there were a fair number of Carabinieri" (police) at and around the station. Once we neared the front door of the station, I asked what was going on and was told that it was the anniversary of the 1980 bombing of the station which killed 85 people and wounded 200 others. The policeman told me it was the worst tragedy of its kind since the end of WWII. It seems there would be a commemoration later in the day. The picture at the right is of me and the policemen who said they were in their "dress uniforms". Very impressive, wouldn't you say???

Gov't Building at Palazzo Vecchio
Once in Florence, it was easy to find our hostel since we had stayed there before. I made a reservation for 2 full days at the Alex House on "Borgo de Grechi.  We were surprised to find, this visit, that our accommodations is an "apartment", with a living-room, dining-room, kitchen, private-bath and bedroom -- and, of course, the balcony overlooking the city! Really neat. The Alex House is centrally located and very near most of the interesting spots in Florence. Not far away is the Ponte Vecchio and Galileo Museum. Florence is still full of life, with tourists everywhere. There are large numbers of groups walking throughout the city with tour-guides speaking all sorts of languages. We were also told that August is the month that most Europeans take their vacation, so people from all around the continent are coming here for their holiday.

Synagogue, Florence, Italy
In the early afternoon, we found the Jewish Museum and Synagogue not too far from the hostel. We enjoyed an hour going through the museum and spoke with one of the docents. Her comments were interesting, noting that Italian Jews don't use the word "Jew" or "Jewish" to describe themselves. Rather they use "ebraica" (and variations of the word) to describe their community. She said it was their way of putting a distance between the connotation of "Jew" (Juden in German) and all that it implies about their experience in Italy. Down the street from the museum is  "Ruth's Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant", and we made reservations for tomorrow evening at 7:30 p.m. That should prove to be interesting, I think.

We finished the evening by dropping by the "Odeon" to see if any English language films were on the play-bill.  We saw Roberto Benigni's It's a Beautiful Life. It seemed to punctuate our earlier visit to the Jewish Museum. Just outside the theater, the Cafe Odeon was offering its Happy Hour and for the price of a beer, we were able to enjoy a nice dinner in their outside seating.

We have two more days in Florence to go. So far, we haven't decided what to do as yet. Maybe a day trip or some other interesting activity. We'll know more in the morning after asking some questions and doing some research.

Ciao for now.

Monday, August 01, 2011

August 1, 2011. Bolgona, Italy. Well, it's hard to believe that it is August 1st!! We've been in Italy, Austria and Germany for the last 22 days, and we'll be returning to the U.S. on August 8th. But, we're still in Bologna and still enjoying our stay. We arose early this morning and enjoyed the hotel's continental breakfast. As usual, it was delightful. It turns out, also, that the hotel has a neat little "modem" that one can rent for 5 Euros a day. Just plug it into the A.C. and enjoy broadband internet connectivity in the room. Having high-speed broadband is always enjoyable for me -- I get to check into Facebook and read my email regularly.

Last night, when reading about the various museums in the Bologna area, we discovered many of them are closed on Monday. This being Monday, we figured we had chosen a "bad time" to spend our only day here. But, undaunted, we set off for the Jewish Museum we discovered yesterday. As we approached the museum, after a 10 minute walk from the hotel, it looked closed but some windows were open, so I knocked loudly on the door and asked if "anyone was there". Some one came to the window and motioned us to "pusha the buttona". We did and gained entry in just a few minutes.

The Jewish Museum of Bologna is located on Via Valdonica, in the area of the former ghetto. Information at the museum states that it was formed to conserve the Jewish heritage and culture that has been part of Bologna for centuries. There are few artifacts in the museum, but a rather complete description of the Jewish experience -- both in Europe, Italy and Bologna. The story seems to be the same everywhere one goes in Europe. The Jews were accepted, rejected, expelled and ghettoized in every country. Italy is no exception. Now Jews are accepted once again and in most instances somewhat "protected". We finished our time at the museum with a look in their gift shop and left after saying our "good byes" to the curator.

Once again, we decided on a double-decker bus tour of the city. It turns out that Bologna is a much larger city that we first thought. It is the 7th largest city in Italy with a population of more than 1-million. Bologna is famous for its towers and porticoes, its many churches, a historical downtown and, of course, its food. The city even has a "leaning tower", built in the 12th Century. The bus took us around Bologna, up into the hills overlooking the city and into the fancy residential and shopping neighborhoods. The open-air bus was comfortable and we enjoyed the time we spent seeing parts of the city we didn't know existed.

Tomorrow we're on the way back to Florence. We've made a reservation at the same hostel as before. It's comfortable and centrally located. A couple of days later, we'll be back in Rome for the remainder of our trip. Time -- I can attest -- passes too quickly!!

Ciao for now, i miei amici!!

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!!