A Canal Tour of Amsterdam (A Photo Anthology)

Ciao Readers!

Today I am going to take you on a photographic tour of Amsterdam as seen through the window of a canal boat (and on a mostly sunny day no less!).  If you’re not familiar, the canals in Amsterdam (the Netherlands’ capital and largest city) were man-made, mostly during the 1600’s, and take up about 25% of the city’s space.  Many of the wobbly-looking houses with interesting shapes you’ll see on the tour also date back that far.  (We’ll also pass some of the even-more-wobbly 2,500 houseboats docked along the canals.)  To me, a boat tour is the most picturesque (and lazy) way to see this incredible city.

But before we begin our tour, a little housekeeping….  As you may recall, I had said we were going to travel to 3 countries; as you also may recall, I broke my little toe a few weeks ago.  It was originally our intention to go to Paris, Amsterdam and Brugge (it was also originally our intention to do this as a 2 week trip in December, but Italian immigration bureaucracy got in the way).   After arriving at our hotel in Paris (with me hobbling still) at about midnight on the first day of our trip, it was obvious we had too much planned for such a short trip during which I couldn’t do much walking.  While giving up the fabulous chocolate in Brugge was a tough call, both Paris and Amsterdam have much more to offer in the way of sights and food.  And, as an added bonus, they both have hop-on, hop-off boat bus services that let you see the city and major sites from the comfort of a boat, with little walking required.   So, I did some quick re-arranging, and with only minor financial consequences was able to alter the trip to stay in Paris and Amsterdam the entire time.  Okay, whew, now that the explaining’s out of the way, on to the tour…

Canal Bus has three different lines traveling throughout various canals and you can get on any of them whenever you want for the duration of your pass.  Between the three lines you can see most all of the main canals and disembark near most of the major sites (Van Gogh museum, Ann Frank House, and more).  We took a long boat ride on our last day, happy to be in a well-heated boat (it had been about a high of 30 degrees the entire time in Amsterdam) and relieved to be off my toe for a day.  We were actually the only passengers on the boat at the end of the day (the Captain called it our “private tour”), so we got to listen to music instead of hearing the pre-recorded tour tape for the third time that day!   Without further ado, here is what Amsterdam looks like from the vantage of a canal boat:

Thanks for coming along on the tour!  Stay tuned for upcoming posts about Dutch and French food, culture and art, as well as reflections on Italy….

Road Trip Reflections

Ciao Readers!

Did you miss me?  Well, I think you’ll find it was worth the wait.  Over the past week we took a fabulous “road trip” (can you call it a road trip if you travel by train?) and several hundred photos along the way.  It’s going to take me a while to organize my thoughts and photos, so for now I’ll give you a sneak preview of both…

Of course I have tales of wonderful places and experiences (the Orsay Museum in Paris, the free Wednesday lunchtime concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam).  And, you know since it’s me there’s gotta be food (from herring and french cheeses to hot Thai curry and an American grocery store!).  However, in addition to all of the fun and deliciousness to be had, there were also deep thoughts thrown in for good measure.  Traveling to other places in Europe really helped to put Florence in perspective, as well as my feelings about, and approach to, living here.  So, while I gather my thoughts I’ll leave you with just a little pictorial “taste” of things to come….

“The Puppetinos Leave New Mexico” (The Prequel)

Ciao Readers!  And Happy (early) Birthday Sachi!!!

Back by popular demand, today I again present “The Puppetinos,” starring in their very own prequel.  In this episode, we go back across the pond and see how it all began (thanks for seeding the NM idea, Tuscan Traveler!) (and thanks to my sis-in-law for the photo of Hurricane’s “Disaster Burrito”).  And yes, I know, I currently have too much time on my hands…

So, dear Readers, I will leave you with this video for now.  As Steve has time off from work coming up and we have a fabulous train trip through three countries planned, I am going to sign off for a couple weeks and come back when I have new and interesting things to say (you’ll get to find out which countries then….).  (Hopefully my toe will be healed enough in time for our trip!)

Feel free to send an old-fashioned e-mail in the meantime (wow – is e-mail already passé?).  Ciao for now!

The Puppetinos Move to Italy (the movie trailer!)

Ciao Readers!

So, it appears I broke my little toe last week and, while this is not a life-threatening injury by any means, it does make getting around (or even to school) pretty unmanageable (remember, 4th floor, no car).  This means I haven’t really gone anywhere or done anything of note, unless of course “going stir crazy” counts.  Yesterday, in an effort to ward off the urge to hop out of the house, in addition to baking the lemon-almond cake yet again (it is seriously good, you really should try it!), Steve and I started goofing around with our earlier “Puppetinos” idea.  (You may recall, when we turned down being on “House Hunters International,” we acted out a smart alek-y episode with puppets.)

So, dear Readers, without further ado….here they are, starring in their very first movie (well, trailer)……. The Puppetinos!!!

Easy Yummy Lemon Almond Cake (and why I miss my kitchen)

Ciao Readers!

Today I am going to share a delicious lemon almond cake I recently baked (well, figuratively speaking).  A couple of weeks ago we were watching Nigella’s cooking show and the cake she was baking looked so good I had to immediately get off the sofa and go in the kitchen and bake it.  While this used to be an almost weekly occurrence back in Albuquerque (seeing something on a cooking show and then getting up to cook/bake it), this was the first time since arriving in Italy that I’ve tried it here.  The reasons being that back in Albuquerque, unlike here, 1) I had a pantry full of ingredients, 2) I had a kitchen in which I was inspired to cook, and, most importantly, 3) I could turn the oven on without fear of tripping the breakers (which happens here if the oven and anything else is on at the same time). (And, well, maybe also because I watched more t.v….)

In any case, the reason this cake is so delicious is because instead of flour, its base is entirely almond meal and polenta, and in addition to lemon zest in the cake, it is soaked after baking in fresh lemon syrup.  YUM!!!   While I didn’t have almond meal on hand, I did have almonds (and a hand immersion blender); and while not exactly “polenta,”  I still had an entire bag of corn meal I had bought at Vivi Market (foolishly thinking I would make my own corn tortillas).  I cannot say enough about how delicious this very easy to make cake comes out (recipe here); try it and impress your friends with a scrumptious Italy-inspired creation!  While I tried to plate it all fancy-like, the photo doesn’t do its flavor justice:

lemon almond cake

This photo is actually from the second time I baked the cake (today as I write, probably two weeks ago as you read).  I decided to bake the cake today, but forgot and started a load of laundry.  I have no idea why, especially since the machines here are tiny (it’s next to the stove, pictured), but it takes at least 2 hours for a load to finish.  I have to admit, I was feeling a little grumpy for those 2 hours – I am still having a hard time getting used to (and understanding why) our little “easy bake oven” takes up so much electricity that everything else has to be off in order to turn it on.  It’s weird – it takes more electricity than the washer, than the air-conditioner unit, and even than my hair dryer.  And it’s tiny – and all the coils don’t heat up (which all adds to why it’s not much fun to cook here).  Since I’m on a roll venting about my current kitchen – the counter space is also tiny and most of the cabinet space is too high to reach (and while the counter looks like granite or nice synthetic granite, it’s plastic).  The stove top is so small I had to take the back/lid off in order to fit more than one pan on at a time (still can’t fit 3 pans on at a time).  And, while intellectually I understand that these are small complaints and people all over the world would kill for my current kitchen and the food therein, I’m only human and that thought does not change the fact that I get bummed out cooking here:

present kitchen

On the other hand, this is a kitchen in which I am inspired to (and have, and will again) cook up a storm:

kitchen

So, I suppose today’s lessons are 1) appreciate what you have when you have it, and 2) Nigella bakes good cake!  Have a nice weekend!

Expat Friendships (musings, a question to other expats, and a poll)

Ciao Readers!

I have been spending quite a bit of time thinking and reading about being an “expat.”  Now, what differentiates an “expat” from an “immigrant” is an entire other discussion, so for our purposes I’m using “expat” to mean someone who changes countries more from desire than need.  In any case, the psychology of expats is very interesting – why do we do it?  what are are psyches like in our our new country?  should we be a diagnoses in the DSM-5?  (I’ve actually been toying with the idea of eventually writing a scholarly paper on the topic.)  But for now, one area in particular has me puzzled….friendships.

Soon after we arrived and I started attending events with other expats, I noticed people seemed to be fairly concerned with figuring out whether I was a short or long-termer.  Apparently, as I’ve discovered from talking to enough folks, this is a pretty common phenomenon.  In the world of expats people come and go and some folks are very weary of “wasting” time with someone who might be gone 6 months from now.  I find it really strange, though I have read about it on several people’s blogs I like/respect (some examples here and here).  Nothing I’ve read however really explains it in a way I can fully wrap my brain around – it’s usually about the pain of people leaving, but there’s got to be more to it than that (or not?)….

Personally, I have already had this experience happen twice – I have met two lovely women, each of whom was just here for a short period of time.  While they were here we had great fun – walks and talks and lunches and dinners and soakings in the rain.  Maybe you’re different, but I don’t have a zillion friends, so when I meet cool people I want to hang out with all I can think is “yay!”   They are both gone now (one home to CA, the other to continue her/her hubby’s adventure in Turkey, now Botswana).  Do I wish they were still here?  Of course!  Am I sad they are gone?  No doubt!  Would I ever turn back the clock and un-meet them?  Not in a million years!!!   How amazing to have made new friends, have more folks to commiserate with on Skype, get to learn about countries I know nothing about, get cool little gifts from California and Turkey, and so on.  So, here are my queries to expats and non expats:

Expats:  If you subscribe to the “I only make friends with people staying _____ long” philosophy, can you help me understand that point of view?  Or if you have any insight at all, would love to hear it!

Non-expats:  What do you think:

A Trip to Pisa (complete with kitchy leaning tower photo)

Ciao Readers!

Today I am taking you on a trip to Pisa.  And, as a very special treat, I am taking you on a sunny day (yay!).  We took this trip the Saturday before last in order to catch the Kandinsky exhibit there before it was over.  Of course we weren’t going there to do the cheesy tourist thing and see the leaning tower – we were going there for intellectual/artistic pursuits.  But ya know what…the leaning tower is cool!  And the Kandinsky exhibit…not so much.

Pisa is about an hour train ride from Florence and also sits on the Arno river (so the photos of the buildings along the Arno may have a familiar look to them).  Since you can read more about it online, and I took a ton of photos since it was finally sunny out, I’ll just point out the highlights of our trip.

As with many of the smaller cities in Italy, Pisa was pedestrian friendly, though it didn’t have quite the charm of Lucca (it has a large University, so more of a college town).  The famous leaning tower sits in a piazza with several other buildings, including the Duomo (cathedral), pictured.  Entry to the church (unlike the other buildings) is free, though you can’t just enter – you have to walk across the piazza to the ticket office to get a free ticket (it wouldn’t be Italy without some unneccessary hoops to jump through).  The inside of the church is amazing, as with most old churches in Europe (I commented to Steve how the first time we saw one it was awe-inspiring, but now that we’ve seen at least 20….).  The tower itself (started in 1173, completed in 1350 though it had already begun to lean) is very cool.  I’m not sure how it looks in the photos, but in person, it doesn’t look a little tilted – it looks like it might fall over at any moment!  (It was actually closed for a time in the 90’s so it could be stabilized).  And, what visit to the leaning tower would be complete without an obligatory photo of me pretending to hold it up?!

We stayed and enjoyed the piazza and took a walk along the Arno as this was the first sunny day we’d had the pleasure of experiencing in…. (so long I forget).  We enjoyed a typical leisurely Italian lunch and when it started getting later/cooler, we decided to head to our original destination – the Kandinsky exhibit at Palazzo Blu (pictured).  Honestly, it was the anti-highlight of our trip.  First off, the museum was hot (while Italians have an aversion to air-conditioning, they have no such aversion to heaters) and packed with tour groups blocking most of the artwork.  Also, while there were a few pieces we found interesting (pictured), the truth is….  Have you ever been to a museum and you know the art is famous and you know you should be impressed and “understand” it, but what you’re actually thinking is “really?!?!?! any 5 year-old could have done this” – it was like that (my apologies to any hardcore Kandinsky fans).  (I would have taken photos of some of those, but as usual, I got yelled at taking pics [though I actually thought it was permitted].)

The more interesting piece of art we got to see was a mural (“Tuttomondo”) by Keith Haring, painted in 1989, just a few months before he died in 1990.  We had no idea before going to Pisa and looking at our tourist map that it was there, so it was a nice surprise ending to our visit!

Since the sun was out I went a little bit photo happy….enjoy!

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