Monday, May 30, 2016

Day 25: Modena to Amsterdam to E-ville, and Observations

Day 25:  Modena to Bologna to Amsterdam to E-ville

POTD:    Yes: Sim

Weather:  Very dark when we leave Opera02, and still warm. Pleasant in the Bay Area

Our ride to the airport is on time for a 3am pick-up at Opera02; we’re first in line to check-in at KLM and easily awaiting the opening of the business class lounge at 5am. We never get to the lounge: the pile-up at security is so extensive we go through as soon as we realize how many people are on early flights (security is pretty given how many people are being processed).

Free wifi, so THB is following game six of the W’s vs OKC. W’s down by 7, then by 3, then by 4…and finally…finally…the game is tied with under 3 minutes to go; DAMN! THB loses connectivity as they use buses to get you to your plane in Bologna.

Several hours later, 700 miles away, in an Amsterdam biz lounge, the W’s have won! THB will be home to see game 7….if he can stay awake!
Not bad!
The flight to SFO is delayed by customs taking over the plane for a thorough search and setting back the cleaning of the plane. Somehow, and this has happened before in Santiago, they call for business class boarding and then left us standing in line for well over 10 minutes. Strange way to treat their top customers.

When we arrive, we find that without a kitchen, missing one of the two bathroom sinks and both bathroom mirrors, and everything covered with dust or plastic, we’ll be migrating quickly to the beach.

DB's bike is on the right, unstolen

And, while we were gone pretty much all the bikes (maybe 30?) in the common area in the garage were stolen:  one of the four bikes left is ours. That’s sort of semi-karma, since THB’s 40 years old 10 speed with saddle bags is now roaming the streets with someone else in the saddle. 

Book Review #5: Dictator, Robert Harris (novel, third in a trilogy): In Harris’ own words, this is the story of the final fifteen years (THB: seems like it covers 30 so much goes on) in the life of the Roman statesman Cicero, imagined in the form of a biography written by his secretary, Tiro.  Tiro, a slave made a free man by Cicero, did exist and did write such a book. THB: The book covers the rise of Caesar, his death, and the immediate years afterward. Published in 2015, THB feels like he read this book before…déjà vu? Another book just like this one read years earlier? Also consider Fatherland, by Harris: it is a terrific book (THB did read that one years ago, not imagined he read it). Both these books resonate with the idea that you need a strong man to run your country (#donaldcouldbepresident)

THB was not making many notes along the way (actually, THB pretty much never makes notes anymore, it’s 100% winging it on travelsofthb).

1.   Stating the obvious: SA and DA were wonderful travel companions, as were the YTs in Milan. THB is pretty sure they are thinking the competition wasn’t too steep after reading about the Houstonians and Canadians. The moral of the story: you can pick your friends, you can’t always pick your tour mates.

2.     The Houstonians and Canadians sure made for some juicy stories in the blog. Most of the time they were just fine as tour mates. And yet, their sense of entitlement, crassness and the lack of forcefulness by the co-leaders got to be a regular sub-text of each day. One co-leader was too gracious and was taken advantage of, the other basically did squat and also took advantage of the other co-leader.  Not debilitating, just worth noting.

3.    Overall our hotels were good to terrific. In the week-long stay at Opera02 it felt good to not have to pack and unpack every few days. We did stay in some over-the-top terrific spots.

4.   The rain during the first half of the trip turned out to be a small impediment to enjoying the sights; the heat the last few days was more debilitating, especially since we were eating big meals, including lunches, with a lot of alcohol available.

5.     Italy is an easy winner in the food stakes, and THB and DB had some terrific meals in Spain and Portugal. Many of the meals included dishes we had not had before, adding to the enjoyment. We didn’t have that many noteworthy wines and the beer was pretty non-descript. In general, the prices for meal were a bit below to well below what we'd pay in the US for a comparable meal.

6.   THB could’ve used more time in the big cities. For sure in Lisboa, which was jumping; in Madrid THB is not so sure, we weren’t there long enough to get a good vibe on what else was out there that we didn’t get to; maybe in Porto, where the city life seemed centered within a short distance of our hotels. Milan was terrific, probably could have managed several more days. Bilbao didn’t have all that much to offer other than the world's greatest museum, and the day with Gabriela in San Sebastian was just terrific.

7.    In all five big cities we stayed in or near a lively part of town. That was fine in Madrid, Milan and Porto where the hotels were very nice. In Lisboa and Bilbao, the rooms were very small. Both of those hotels at least had excellent views from their terraces.

8.     We used a lot of private guides during the first two weeks, and the tour arranged for a lot of guided events the last week. Overall, that’s a pretty nice way to travel. It’s costly, and worth it when you get to something that you couldn’t do on your own, need a translator, or want to maximize your time because you not in an area very long.  In many cases on this trip, we hit the trifecta!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Day 24: Modena

Day 24:  Modena
Pictorial pop quiz: what is this?
POTD:    Madam: Senhora 
This must be a mis-reading, otherwise it's 120 degrees

Weather:  Warm, up into the mid-90s at times, no humidity, stays warm well into the night

Department of Corrections: THB was actually mostly in and around Bologna yesterday, not Modena. The name of the town that nobody (but our co-leader) shopped in is Vignola, not Vongale. 
How late was the co-leader? 5 minutes after a 15 minute extension
Department of Unmissed Opportunities: It appears that THB and DB didn’t miss much by skipping out on dinner. The same guy that overcooked the pork tenderloins a few nights ago did this meal as well and, from limited feedback, there weren’t many courses worth making a detour for…as it was, the group got back at 11pm, so we’re doubly thankful we didn’t make it.
Italian bale colors

THB and DB are up very early, after a long night’s sleep. Walk along the road, meeting up with two mountain bikers. Actually, they were meeting partway on the hill, on the gravelly section, one going up and then joining his partner who was going down.

They baled hay along the road yesterday: looks like the wrapped the bales in Italian colors.

While the group last night got the word that the departure time was set back 15 minutes, THB and DB did not. Not a big deal, at least they didn’t wake us up at 11pm to tell us of the adjustment.

And, true to form, even with the extra 15 minutes, two are at least 5 minutes late including one of the co-leaders.

Opera02 is very close by to the Ferrari Museum. We get headsets and after about 10 minutes THB realizes he would enjoy (well, tolerate) the tour a lot more if he just turned off the headset. THB is clearly not a car guy. The guide is not turning THB into one, either.
She's talking
And THB isn't listening
After the tour, our group has an hour reserved for “real simulators” where two members can “race” side by side. THB is also not a video game or arcade game guy, so passes on the “real” simulation (THB will ride a roller coaster….a “real” roller coaster).
The message: Ferrari is always innovating, just not always implementing

Hybrid: costs a lot more, doesn't save much gas

There must be a fake simulator AND a real real simulator somewhere else

Our lunch at Ristorante Montana is a short ride from the museum, and was highly recommended by Ferrari dealers in the US.

The first course is thinly sliced and steamed zucchini done the only way THB can think of to recommend with zucchini: drizzled with olive oil, pepper and salt, and toasted pine nuts. Recipe hint: this also works without the zucchini. Serve with good bread or hard rolls. 

The second course is also exceptional: a large crepe rolled up like a bag with a twisted top and tied off with a string of leek, filled with béchamel and then settled on top of a pea pesto puree (well, it was green, THB thinks it was pea). Rich and savory, and also should be served with good dunking bread or hard rolls.

It’s very good, however it is very hot in Montana and DB is not feeling well (tummy problems; it’s amazing that the entire tour group hasn’t fallen to the wayside…on other hand, this is our week four of eating like this and they are only on week one) and since it’s a short ride back to Opera02, Luigi takes us up the hill.

THB will find out later what the rest of the meal was like.  

Ed. Note: THB did not find out what the rest of the meal was like, going into slacker mode on day 387 of eating like crazy
LaVedetta B&B

DB and THB rest up, well needed, and are early for the departure for dinner. Three more join us: one co-leader’s parental units and the other’s hubby

Our last night’s event is at a nearby B&B, not exactly your normal B&B! It’s behind a gate in a very upscale development, includes a gorgeous pool, a big vista, a wood-fired pizza oven, and its own vineyard, cherry orchard, and veggie garden. A young couple (with young children/helpers) and the parents of the husband are on hand (with another family of friends) to aid us through the meal.

Goji  berries: tart

There’s picking of the salad greens, the making of pizzas (and the lightly topped pizza dough as appetizers), serving parmesan and their own balsamic vinegar, frying up those sopapillas, and several wines and a beer.

THB's pizza pre-oven

THB likes a dark bake!

THB rolls his own dough out, ladles on tomatoes, cheese and eggplant, turns his own pizza in the oven, and thoroughly enjoys the meal, chatting away with the parental units.
Luigi and a fridge inside a fridge

Around 9:30, THB requests a ride back to the hotel so we have a semblance of a chance of getting a few hours of sleep before the 3am pick-up. That gets the ball moving for a final-final goodbye. Around 10:30, we’re at Opera02 and saying another round of goodbyes, nobody is going to get up at 3am and wave us goodbye.

One more round of gossip: Among the Canadians, there is one odd couple: we can tell she’s older and he’s around 50. He’s doting on her to the point of infantilizing her. They live part-time in Ft Lauderdale, part-time in Toronto. From idle chatter, we gather that she’s actually quite a bit older (20+ years?) than him (though he may not realize it), extremely wealthy after selling her business to a VC outfit, has a huge architect-designed place on the waterfront of Ft L, divorced from an older guy and ended up with the house (and money), and that they may only be engaged, not married yet. Is he in it for the money?

Another rumor is that while they are on this reasonably expensive trip, she’s doing the paying…for all six of the Canadians? Just for two? The Canadians seem to be well-off and can afford to pay their own way, though at least one of the women was looking forward to shopping the outlet mall on Sunday. We think that is just old-style behavior.

Who knows! That’s what makes it gossip….

It's a lawn rumba: cuts the grass unattended

Bonus question: what is this?

Yep, you can wash your hands on one side and dry them on the other