Italians Wear Scarves

Ciao Readers and HAPPY FRIDAY! Since I am back from Italy and back to work I guess my blog will be still for a bit. But before then, I thought I’d re-blog the most-viewed post of all time (by more than 100%, though not sure why). I think I had the scarf-wearing (and confidence) down pretty well this time as two days in a row Italians approached me in the grocery store and started conversations about things in Italian, NOT English! Have a nice Spring…..until next time!

New Mexico to Italy

It’s just a fact.  Italians wear scarves.  If you want to try and pass as an Italian, wear a scarf (and don’t wear white running shoes).  Not only do they wear scarves (“sciarpe,” not to be confused with “scarpe” – shoes), but they wear them “in style.”  Last time we were in Europe, we learned to tie our scarves the way that was in style back then.  It’s hard to explain, but basically you make a slip-knot and put your head through the center (see picture, below).

I went to Italy this year all prepared with many scarves packed and started my trip tying them the “euro” way we learned in ’08/’10.  Here I am my very first couple of days (I started the trip in Milan, where my plane landed – this is on the top of the Duomo):

It soon became apparent to me that wearing a…

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La Cucina Italiana, A Trilogy (Part I, Shopping)

Ciao Readers!

Did you think I forgot you?  Never. I just got busy with language school, leisurely meals…and a cooking class before I left Lucca (and now I am busy with things we lawyers do – not very interesting or delicious blog fodder).  But before the glories of Italian food totally fade from memory, I thought I’d share some of the highlights….

First – and the focus of this post – there is grocery shopping in Italy.  And by “grocery” shopping I don’t necessarily mean going to a grocery store (though if you’re interested in the somewhat amusing “how to” of grocery stores in Italy, check out this earlier post); it will as likely (or more likely) be a cool little outdoor market selling whatever is fresh and local at the time (at this time it was artichokes and strawberries).  Admire some of the market offerings from this past weekend – fruits and veggies and cheeses, oh my!  I am already suffering pangs of longing for the strawberries and cantaloupe I had – why doesn’t the fruit here taste that sweet?!? Then, of course, you can wander into any of the little specialty shops – handmade pumpkin tortoloni, truffle tasting or pistachio cookies anyone?  And no day would be complete without a stop at a panificio (bread shop) for a daily loaf of fresh bread (mine would usually run about 50 cents). It was all so darn YUMMY! (And affordable!) I have to say, I went grocery shopping here yesterday and I was just sad* – look at the fancy lettuces I bought at the grocery store in Italy (last photo)…then zoom in and look at the prices – yes, that’s right – mere cents for fancy speckled radicchio and frisée and baby arugula….

*Of course, when we lived in Italy and ingredients to make Mexican food were nowhere to be found I was equally sad – as they say “L’erba del vicino è sempre piu verde” (roughly, the grass is always greener….)

Next time…join me in my cooking class!

Ack – I joined twitter!

Ciao Readers!

So, those of you who know me know I don’t (didn’t) buy into the whole social media hoopla…. Well, long story short, I decided I can’t accomplish everything I may want to in the travel-blogging world under my anti-social Luddite rock.  So I bit the bullet, joined Twitter (@HopeEckert), and almost immediately got retweeted by Bassem Youssef (known as “the Egyptian Jon Stewart”), who we saw in NYC last night – he has 9.2 million followers, so I think in the social media world that means something……?  A new adventure of a different sort…….

(inscription in book we got at the Town Hall last night, they were all different) #RevolutionForDummies:

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A: A lovely local lager, the world’s best chocolate, a ginormous yummy bratwurst, 8 oz. of water; Q: What does 5 bucks buy you in Brugge, Belgium? (or “A glimpse into the grumpier side of travel”)

Ciao Readers!  And Happy Birthday week to me (and Brian, and Joseph)!

Lest you think that my travel tales suffer from rose-colored-glasses syndrome, today’s post will only be partly about fun and deliciousness, with some grumpiness thrown in for good measure.  While it’s really hard to have a bad time traveling the world (seriously, you’re on vacation, you’re seeing famous sites, you’re eating yummy food – how bad can it be, even with the travel delays and noisy hotel rooms?!?), once in a while your mojo just gets off.

Brugge, Belgium has been (and still is) one of both Steve and my favorite places.  It’s got that great old world charm, it’s small and friendly and walkable, it’s quirky and quaint, and it has the BEST chocolate on the face of the planet.  We first came here in 2008 during our grand tour; at that time the movie “In Bruges” had just come out and Brugge really hadn’t been discovered by tourists yet.  Since then I think Brugge has started suffering from what I call “Rick Steves Syndrome.”  (For those of you unfamiliar, Rick Steves is a great PBS travel host, and we honestly owe a great deal of our travel skills to his guidance, though his following can be somewhat cult-like).  We first discovered this syndrome in the Cinque Terre in Italy – what used to be a sleepy gem on the sea that only locals knew about is now a place teaming with tourist, replete with “Rick Steves Recommends” signs hanging in restaurant windows.  Brugge, especially the prices in its restaurants, seems to be similarly suffering from its “outing” by Mr. Steves.

Syndromes aside, we did have a fabulous time here – we stayed in an apartment in a quirky historical tower, strolled (and ate at) the fun Christmas market, enjoyed a great New Year’s eve (future post), toured the windmills when everything was closed on New Year’s Day, hung out at a local pub, ate amazing fries (again – see Steve eat the same fries in 2008, below), and indulged in what we consider to be the world’s best chocolates (from Dumon Chocolatier).  We also hit a little bump in the road, in the form of an eight once bottle of water costing 4.50 euro (5 bucks).

Usually when we travel we mostly leave our food choices to serendipity, but when there are special things we want to eat, I do a little research and maybe even make a reservation (like at the place in Rouen). Since mussels is on my “must do” list in Brugge, I researched some places to enjoy them.  I found De Vier Winden, and even knowing it was located in the main tourist square, Frommer’s assured me it was “INEXPENSIVE” and has “amazingly cheap meals considering its location” (seriously Frommers, you have way too much money and too little perspective if you think this place was cheap).  Now, to be fair to this restaurant, despite being a touristy place, the food is actually quite good. Couple that with a waiter who speaks 7 languages (I tried out French and Italian with him) and a great view of the medieval buildings from the windows, and you have the makings of a lovely time. Until you try to order tap water (or more specifically, in very polite French, “l’eau de robinet”).

Now, you must understand that all over Europe people order and get tap water – it is a common occurrence (not just one of those things only silly American tourists do). While I was willing to fork over the way-too-high prices for our mussels and steak, I had to draw the line at 5$ for an 8 oz. bottle of water (and since it arrives with the cap already removed, I don’t think my suspicion that it IS actually tap water is completely unfounded). You can see the tiny bottle in the picture, below, behind my admittedly delicious mussels. It was at this point that the waiter informed me (in English) that it is forbidden by “the boss” to provide tap water, and why would you, seeing as they have such high quality bottled water (fyi, you can buy these same bottles of water at every convenience store for about 45 cents). While I was tempted just to cancel my order for water all together (and drink the bottle in Steve’s backpack), I could see that Steve was getting increasingly uncomfortable with my (admitted) further questioning of the denial of tap water, so I caved. At this point, Steve was left feeling (understandably) that I’d “harshed the buzz” of our one splurge meal in Brugge, and I was still feeling pretty grumpy about being gouged like a stupid tourist. Needless to say, a memorable meal for the wrong reasons.

So, we were compelled to have a heart-to-heart about “water-gate,” our respective reactions to it, and so on. However, once the discussion was over, I decided to turn this into a running joke the remainder of the trip. Every time we would eat something cheap and yummy, which was most things (the bratwurst pictured, herrings sandwiches (3 euros), frites, a kebab, etc.), I would say something like “Aw, I could have gotten 8 oz. of tap water for the price of this giant sandwich!” in feign disappointment (and laugh maniacally at my own joke). After a while even Steve had to laugh. Thus, the title of this post.

Photos of Brugge, the infamous water, the more delicious things 5 bucks brings, our cool apartment, and more – Enjoy:

 

Paris, afterward….before

Ciao Readers!  Happy Belated Turkey Day!

Yes, it has been quite a while.  Recently a friend and fellow blogger commented that I must not be blogging because I am busy at work. Honestly, while I am busy, I have just not been moved to write.  When we were living in Italy the posts just seemed to write themselves, now they come sporadically.  However, with our impending trip to Paris (and elsewhere) fast approaching, this post is writing itself (unfortunately for me, it decided to write itself at 1:00 in the morning).

For those of you that have followed this blog and our travels, you know that I love Paris. We’ve had a trip to France/Belgium/the Netherlands planned for almost a year now. Obviously, the pure joy and excitement building up to it took a turn on November 13th. Now, I hesitate to indulge my feelings about how such human tragedy personally affects my mindset going on a holiday trip  – it seems self-absorbed, putting it mildly.  But, in a way, the thoughts I have been experiencing connect me as an American to the larger world and the wide-ranging thoughts and emotions perhaps many of us share.

Since November 13th I have to admit feeling hesitant about our trip.  It’s (mostly) not fear that makes me hesitate; on any given day you are 7 times more likely to be murdered in Albuquerque than in Paris.   Honestly, it is mostly selfish id-centered thoughts of “this is going to harsh my buzz” (or, more apt, my joie de vivre). How can Paris possibly “feel” like Paris at this time?  One of my favorite things in Paris from our trip in 2008 was the Christmas Market along the Champs-Élysées.  It is wonderfully festive and charming – cute little Swiss chalets with all sorts of delicious foods and hand-crafted gifts, people strolling arm-in-arm…all blanketed by lights literally dripping from the trees all along the street….

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Earlier this week I found this picture of the market as it looks now:

Paris Market

Not quite as festive and charming, to say the least.

So, my first thoughts were that if this trip isn’t going to be all festivities and joy we shouldn’t go.  But then I started thinking about it from a different angle.  I remember what it was like to experience the primary between Hillary and Obama from Japan, and the election of Obama while in France.  While not exactly similar situations, there is something profound and incomparable about experiencing global history unfolding from someone else’s perspective.  Here at home almost everything I learn is through the very narrow filter of our media; everything I “know” about what it’s like to be in Paris (and Belgium) at this time is through the narrow lens of CNN or ABC footage. We’re watching Paris on t.v., and imagining what they are going through and how it feels to be there at this time in history, but to actually be there and feel how it feels will be a singularly enlightening experience.  And maybe this is my naiveté, but, while I never really felt this myself, any sentiments of “Ugh, American tourists,” may very well be replaced with “Yay, American tourists.”  I feel like being there will show our support – not just mine and Steve’s personally, but we as Americans.  What better statement of solidarity can we make than to go?   (If you want a professional traveler’s take on why Americans should not cancel upcoming trips to Paris, you can turn to trusty Rick Steves).

I have to admit, the preparation for this trip has taken a somewhat somber turn – in between reading French Yelp reviews of bistros in Rouen, I have updated our wills – morbid practicality and joyful excitement battling for control of my psyche.  There’s also a little Orwellian paranoia going on.  I have been wanting to understand more about the Middle East and Islam, a feeling intensified by our impending travels.  When I was curious about Western religions I read the Bible, so I was thinking I should read the Quran.  I then starting thinking that if I ordered one online right now we might end up on some list and have a hard time getting on our plane to Paris.  The weird thing is, I have no idea if that is a real possibility or a silly paranoid thought (I have decided to hedge my bets and wait until we get back from our trip).  Are we really in a collective head-space where earnest intellectual curiosity can be quashed by fear of Big Brother?  While these thoughts of Big Brother terrify me on the one hand, I have to admit I have thought many times that better intelligence (versus randomly searching little old ladies at the airport) is the short-term key to our safety.   Conflicted times for sure.

Honestly, I have no idea what this trip has in store, but I have a feeling it will be an enriching experience we will never forget.  And I am guessing several more blogs will write themselves (hopefully at more respectable hours).

Until then, dear Readers, I wish you all very Happy Holidays.  I look forward to chatting in the new year!

Fur Coats (or how New York is [and is not] like Florence)

Ciao Readers!

In my last post I mentioned a trip to New York we took in January.  Part of the reason I love going to New York is because (in some ways) it reminds me of Italy (most importantly the food!).   Which got me thinking, as I often do, about the similarities and difference between places I have been (I have even compared Japan to Italy, which on its face seems absurd, but I’ll explain in some future post).  My observations are completely random and superficial, but here are some similarities and differences I couldn’t help notice while wandering the streets of New York:

Similarities:

– The sidewalks are packed with people who seem to be oblivious to anyone but themselves, their companions and/or their cells phones; stop paying attention and you will surely be mowed down!!! (though you may find it more endearing when it’s by an Italian nonna and not a man in a $10K suit….or not)

– Fur coats!  That’s right, there are at least two places left on earth where wearing full-length mink coats is not only acceptable but apparently very fashionable.  Funny, I remember thinking in Florence during the winter “parade of pelts” that you could never get away with that in the U.S. as your coat would be unceremoniously doused with red paint (or worse) immediately upon exiting your home.  Was I wrong!  I had no idea that in New York fur coats are as common and as fashionable as in Italy – who knew?!?

– Delicious Italian food (of course I have to talk about food!).  Is it wrong to travel across the country for a really good pizza? Okay, before you answer that, have you ever had a John’s pizza in New York?  Seriously, I have no idea why, but only New Yorkers and Italians know how to make really good pizza (I’ve been trying like crazy, complete with a pizza stone and “peel,” but without the 800 degree stone oven I think it’s hopeless).  And then of course are the salumerias, the lovely little places with cheeses and meats and wine (while we did enjoy a fabulous meal at Salumeria Rosi in NY [and previously at Eataly], Italy wins hands down in the availability and affordability categories).   By the way, did you know that Italy also has several “Eatalies”?  Strikes me as weird to have a specialty food shop specializing in the food of the country you are in (at thrice the price of the salumeria down the street)!!!

Differences:

– Food choices.  In Florence you can get Italian food, between the hours of 1:00p.m. and 2:30p.m. and 8:00p.m. and 11:30p.m.  Monday through Saturday.  Period.  Okay, you could also get some really sad Chinese food or a hamburger if you hunt them down (see my old “foreign food” post).  Even if you are craving a pizza, in Italy, you will likely have to hold tight till 7:30 p.m. when the pizza shop begins to come back to life (this was a regular ritual for us in Florence).  In contrast, in New York you can get whatever you want whenever you want it.  AND, you can have it delivered to you!   When we were in New York, one morning it was just too darn cold to venture out (recall it was 8 degrees), but I was craving a good old-fashioned egg bagel with cream cheese and lox.  Googling my options for close places to bundle up and run out to, a revelation hit me – these places deliver!  And viola – about 20 minutes later I had exactly what I wanted brought right to the comforts of my hotel room.  (I am fairly confident if my craving was more exotic – tom yum soup or lamb curry, that would also have arrived at my hotel room with very little fuss.)

– People choices (“diversity” as they say).  New York is truly a melting pot; people come in every shape and size and color and background and financial status…and any other category you can think of.  Walking through NY is like walking around the world, all within several city blocks.  It’s what makes New York, New York.  And – and maybe I’m being naive here – New Yorkers like it that way (technically I am a native New Yorker and I like it that way).  In contrast, Italy is populated mostly with Italians (not counting the tourists of course) and Italy would be just fine (and likely more happy) peopled with nothing but Italians (this is actually one of the ways Japan and Italy struck me as similar).

There are many more similarities and differences, but I’ll leave those for you to discover and debate.  We need to get on to the photos afterall!

I never had the chutzpah to walk around talking pictures of people in their fur coats (either in NY or Florence), though I wanted to many times.  So, instead, I thought I’d give you some more food photos (I do that a lot huh?) and let you guess which ones were taken in New York and which ones where taken in Italy (answers at the bottom).  Man, I always end up making myself hungry….

Okay, so here’s how it goes…I did a NY/Italy comparison for the first 10 photos (NY, then Italy) (btw, the Grom hot chocolate in NY is not even a close cousin to the ridiculously yummy and thick Italian cioccolata calda); the next 3 photos are all Italy (how did I not take ANY pictures of our John’s pizza in NY, especially since we ate it more than once?!); the last one is a trick question – that was our dinner in the middle of nowhere Croatia – a roasting pig….and a mystery animal….

Cheers!

InterNations Magazine Article (featuring ME)

Ciao Readers!  So, I am trying to write this on an iPad as I am out of town and I can’t actually see what I’ve typed (weird)… So I will make this short…. My friend Bobbi, who I met in Florence through her blog http://www.goal42.wordpress.com, had the idea to write an article about our respective expat experiences, in the form of a series of interviews. She submitted the article to InterNations, an organization that helps expats all over the world (she single-handedly dealt with the editor and all the emails, edits, etc.)….and what do you know, they published our article today!!!   Now, fair warning, you will need to subscribe to InterNations to access the article, but when you get the email confirmation with $ choices, just click “no thanks” in the bottom right corner and you’ll be able to access the article (and more) for free! And, yes, we know it’s long – the intent was a 4- part series….  Enjoy!

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