Friday, September 26, 2008


A day trip to Chiusi in Tuscany found us in 2000 year old Etruscan tunnels and looking at Etruscan tombs of about the same age. It also found us in a not so old tourist office with a very modern problem - the bank ATM machine ate our card. When you say it in Italian, it sounds so much classier, but the end result is the same - we are without Marty's ATM card and therefore totally dependent on my card which I always considered the backup card. What would happen to us then if my card was somehow compromised? Nicola at the Chiusi Tourist Office was very kind, very sympathetic, and very helpful but there wasn't a whole lot that he could do to help us at the time - it was Saturday afternoon and the bank would be closed until Monday morning at 8:20. We were suppose to be in Rome on Monday morning, not Chiusi!

So here are our new rules for ATM withdrawals that might be helpful when you travel:

1. Only withdraw money from ATM machines that are directly connected to a bank, not freestanding ones.

2. Only withdrawal money from ATM machines during hours when the bank is open, therefore if there is a problem, you can resolve it right away.

3. Withdrawal money from the city or town that you are staying in and not one where you have taken a day trip to. In this way, if there is a problem that can not be resolved immediately, you are at least already in that town and do not have to make a special trip back someplace in order to rectify the problem.

All of this requires thinking ahead more than just spontaneously withdrawing money when you need it, but it is probably worth it in the end.

The conclusion to the story...We packed up the car to leave for Rome and stopped in Chiusi on the way (fortunately at least it was in the right direction). Marty went into the bank armed with all the documents that we could muster while I stayed in the car to watch the luggage which was very visable (I couldn't see risking resolving one problem only to be replaced by another problem i.e. stolen luggage). About 45 minutes later, Marty emerged with his ATM card in hand. We drove to Rome returning our rental car about 2 hours late. We had to pay an extra 18E for returning the car late but that was nothing compared to the pit in our stomachs that morning wondering what the next step would be if we couldn't retrieve our card.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I LOVE CARS!!!! Anyone who "knows" me, even barely, knows that. I was raised in a small town in western Kentucky where "you were what you drove". I have had a love affair with the automobile since before I was sixteen. When we got to Europe this place was like a kid's toy chest for me, not so much for the big Mercedes, BMWs, or Jaguars that I see in the states, but the "unknown" Skodas, Citroens, Renaults and Fiats.

Almost all of the cars here are smaller than in the USA. Our Nissan Note dci is about the same size as the Toyota Matrix I own at home. The Matrix is considered small but that same size car here is a mid-size. What we don't see in Cincinnati are the very small cars. I correct myself: Smart cars are now invading Cincinnati. But the cars I see all over Tuscany and Italy are smaller than a Mini Cooper but bigger than a Smart car AND have a back seat. For example, here is my Nissan Note,considered a bigger car.

I WANT A NEW FIAT 500!!!! It is so cool. They are so small on the outside but big on the inside. The dashboards are the same color as the car. Nice design. Here, see for yourself....look at those sexy curves!!!!!

The next car is an older Fiat 500. It seems to be kind of a cult car around Italy. They typically have been repainted but still retain the "old" look. The interiors have been reupholstered in cool new fabrics. Kind of like a Old Volkswagen from the 60s or 70s.

I also like the Citroen C1. Our landlord, Giacomo, sometimes drives his Mother's C1 just so he doesn't have to pay the high price of fuel. I saw a billboard that quoted a mileage of 39 liters per 100 km. This equates to about 61 miles per gallon.
I don't doubt this because the Nissan Note (remember a mid-size car) got almost 46 mpg at the last fill up. Why can't Detroit get these numbers??? I didn't get a pic of this so I'm substituting a Peugeot 107. Sorry....

The next car really isn't a car. Its a three wheeled scooter called an Ape 50, made by Piaggio, the same company that makes the Vespa scooter. But it has a pickup bed on the back. When you hear it coming it sounds like a scooter, but its a "pickup scooter". This vehicle is certainly the utility vehicle of choice in the narrow alleyed hill towns of Tuscany. Ford F-150 and Silverado, regardless of how tough you are, you ain't going to make it here!!!

Lancia builds a very stylish Ypsilon. I see a lot of these around. The Ypsilon retains the same Lancia grill as other larger models. I could also own one of these. Has a funky velour dash to match the seats, but looks classic.

Luxury makers have to get in on the action. Mercedes-Benz makes a 100 series, starting at a bare-bones 140 going up to the nicely outfitted 180. Tell me this wouldn't sell in bunches in America to up and coming yuppies.

I am looking forward to the Range Rovers we will probably use in Tanzania on the safari. I am also looking forward to how Africans can keep an older car going after decades. More about that later.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Europe is often lauded for its great food, but nowhere other than Italy (except maybe France) is it revered. Americans in particular have had a love affair with Italy and its food for quite some time. So needless to say, I have greatly anticipated our month in Italy in order to partake of this gastronomic haven.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am a foodie. Others may call me a food snob. Whatever name you attach to it, suffice it to say that I love great food! While we've enjoyed some delicacies throughout Europe (wonderful Dutch cheeses, pierogis and potato pancakes in Poland, fresh calamari in Croatia and delicious artisan breads in Slovenia) it has been Italy that I have waited for. Now that we are more than 75% through our stay in Italy, my question is "What exactly was I saving myself for?"

I confess that we have not been eating at fine dining establishments, but hey, this is Italy. We shouldn't have to eat in the best restaurants in order to have great food. We should be able to eat at the local trattoria with grandma cooking in the back and still get a great meal right? Don't get me wrong, we have had some delicious treats: amazing gelato in every flavor you can imagine, fresh pecorino cheese from Pienza, delicious pizzas with crisp crusts, panna cotta with caramel sauce, fresh pici pasta with truffle sauce, Proscuitto di Parma and great salamis. But overall, the food has been somewhat of a disappointment. Where are those incredible tomatoes that grow so well in the Tuscan sun? Hardy Tuscan stews that should make your mouth water and great artisan breads to go with your antipasta?

So while America often takes a back seat to the foods of Italy, I am hear to sing the praise of American food. No where in Italy have we tasted baked goods as good as what I can make or what I can find at the fine bakery in Cincinnati, the Bonbonerie. The breads at Shadeau Bakery at home surpass what we have had in Tuscany (especially with the absence of salt here). The produce even in our standard supermarkets at home is far superior to what is available in a supermarket here and is at least equal to what is available at the farmers' market. If you eat at moderate priced, non-chain restaurants in the States, you can often get food equal to what we have experienced here.

In 5 days we leave for Tanzania in Africa. Who knows, after a week in Tanzania, we might look back on our culinary experience in Italy with envy. In the meantime, we have 5 days left in Italy to see what all the hype is about.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Every country that we have been to so far we have had a different supermarket. This is a list of the supermarkets that we have bought food or other items at. WARNING! Your mouth may water at the thought of food. If this happens, you should read this blog with a plate of pasta (or other food) on your lap.

Holland- In Holland our food shops were close by. Around the corner, there was a butcher shop, but our main supermarket was down the street. It was called Deka Markt. Some of our favorite items we got there were, Nussa (a chocolate spread that you put on bread), Pinda Kaas (Dutch peanut butter, I don't like peanut butter but Avocet does), and Dutch cheese.

Poland- In Poland there were lots of little markets everywhere and Delikatesses where we did some of our shopping. Our main shopping was done at Carrefour in the Galleria (for more info. on the Galleria please visit the blog WHERE ARE WE?). Some of the favorite items we got there were, Maslo Orrechow (also peanut butter), Kielbasa (a Polish sausage), and perogi (a traditional Polish dumpling).

Croatia- in Croatia there were not many miscellaneous small markets around but one big one. In Korcula though, we did have a small market close to us but, for the most part we did our shopping for Korcula and Dubrovnik at Konzum. Some of our favorite items we got there were, a beach floaty, mayonnaise in a tube, Kiki Krem (peanut butter), and gold flakes (corn flakes with honey on them).

Slovenia- In Slovenia it was initially hard to find a supermarket, but finally we did stumble upon one - Mercator. Some of our favorite items we got there were, pineapple juice, cream cheese, and Petit Beure Biscuits (a type of cookie).

Italy- In Italy we have had a different market in each city. In Venice... well, I kind've forgot what the name was of the Venetian supermarket. In Lucca, we did our shopping at Pam. Here in Montepulciano, we shop at Conad. There is also a small market down the street from us that we sometimes shop at. Over all, in Italy our favorite items that we bought were, salamis, pecorino cheese, Nutella (a chocolate and hazelnut spread), and Rice Krispies.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Italy and Tuscany have been growing grapes and producing wine for many millenium. The sunny dry summers, coupled with wonderful soil is perfect for making not just good wine, but GREAT wine. You cannot escape the view of vineyard after vineyard as you look out the windows of our apartment, or drive down the roads through the Tuscan countryside.

This week we visited Salcheto Winery. We picked Salcheto because it wasn't huge but wasn't teeny-tiny either. The vineyard measures about 20 hectares. I'll bet only one out of a thousand in Cincinnati can figure out how big that is. Conversion: 2.47acres to a hectare... about 50 acres of grapes. We were met by our guide Ettore Carfora, an amiable man with a broad smile. He greeted us in very good English, especially considering he only started learning it in January of this year.

We started off in the vineyard and he explained to us how he could look at a grape (these were San Giovese) and tell if it was ready: color, sweetness, firmness. He also said that only 70% of grapes on the vine actually go into the basket to make wine. The remaining 30% are discarded because they don't measure up. Too many bad grapes and there goes your reputation. I had no idea. Also the rows have to be wide enough for the tractor and wagon to go through. That one's pretty obvious. He did say their best land for grapes was configured in a east to west configuration so the grapes had more sun exposure as it crossed the sky. Neat!!

We went into the processing area (extremely clean) and Ettore went through the process from harvest to maturation tank, to cask, then to bottling. Each stage had risk and reward associated with decisions as to when to transfer to the next stage, and how important it is to complete the movement of juice from one place to another in the right amount of time.

Montepulciano is famous for its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Salcheto produces 35,000 bottles of this per year out of their 100,000 total bottle production. It is very good wine. We have had some "Nobile" from other wineries but none as good as the Nobile from our wine tasting. Ettore poured tastings out of five bottles (Rose, Rosso, Chianti, Nobile and a special 2003 Nobile). They were all good but the 2003 Nobile merits special discussion. The owners are supporters of Medici Senza Frontiere (Doctors without Borders) and the production of this wine is in conjunction with their support. Even the labels on these bottles are of views of Afghanistan, Kosovo and Africa.

Our whole experience was handled slowly, with patience, and with grace. Some experiences give you goosebumps. Some give you a glow. Ettore and Salcheto Winery gave me a glow. And after a few glasses of Nobile I really had a "glow".

P.S. The girls get two hours of credit at WorldView Elementary for taking this tour. And you doubted we would be educating them!!!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Horseback Riding

Ever since visiting the Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia, Siena and I have wanted to go Horseback Riding. (See the blog SKOCJAN CAVE AND LIPICA STUD FARM for more details) When we got to Tuscany, Mom and Dad immediately began searching out a place where we could rent horses. Mom finally found Il Vecchio Maneggio and about a week later, we were out near San Gimignano with 4 horses for 1 hour. We were riding through the forests and sometimes next to a vineyard. My horse was named Re, ("King" in Italian)
Siena's horse was Rubina, Mom's was Luna and Dad had Rocky. We all rode 'separately', we all rode in a group but we were on our own to steer. Suzanne, our group 'guide', explained to us that we were riding English Style instead of Western (American) style. Western style has you pulling left to go right and right to go left while when riding English style, you slightly tug at the left to go left and right to go right. Luna had eating problems and Suzanne finally had to pull her (Luna) away from the grass. It was very fun, and afterwards we went to see the medieval town of San Gimignano; with all their towers to symbolize the wealth of former residents. We had a very fun time!

The horse at the very top is Re, the white horse is Luna, the gray one is Rubina and the very last one is Rocky.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Montepulciano is our base for Central Tuscany. It is not a "destination city" with all kinds of activities or excitement such as Venice, or Amsterdam. It's a small city (town, really) with only about 2000 residents within the borders of the old city - the rest of Montepulciano's residents live outside the walls of According to Emma at Rime, our gelato shop, most of the buildings here in the old city are now holiday homes for tourists. One wonderful fact about MonteP, as we call it, are the wonderful views looking down on the Tuscan countryside. Lucky for us, our flat has those same views.

As with our bases (Haarlem, Krakow and Ljubljana) there is a similarity in that you get comfortable with your surroundings, kinda like an old pair of jeans or that sweater that has holes in it. The umpteenth time you walk the same street, you feel more a "part of it", different than the "day tourists" snapping pictures of alleyways. Our pic taking here was on days one and two when we were new to the place. We "live" here now. You wave to the bartendress at the Wine Bar. You have a conversation with Antionella at the wine shop. You engage in "conversations" with Italians who know almost no English, like Mio, the owner of the gelato shop, who in fluent Italian described his shop as original from the year 1150. The restaurant recognizes lisa when she makes reservations. It feels good to know the town a bit better. Avocet got her haircut here, at Luli's. She had two hair stylists working on her at once. Nice doo, Av!!!

MonteP is a base....a base for day trips to Siena (see Siena's blog post), Montalcino, Perugia, San Gimignano and Pienza. Our car parked out front now has 1000miles on it from the time we left Venice. Sometimes having these day trips diminishes the desire to investigate new things to do in our base. As with other "bases", we will do an intensive sightseeing the last day or two to catch-up.

We have spent quite a lot of time in our flat. We have had three days of rain during our stay here and it's raining again right now. If it rains at home, we stay in. Same way on the trip. Our apartment here defines homeyness. A description... the interior walls of this place are about fifteen inches thick and the outer walls eighteen. Large beams, original to the building constructed in about 1700 (new by MonteP construction), span the ceiling with a terra cotta brick. The floors are also a terra cotta stone. Very nice and rustic furnishings. But also modern "nice" with a PC AND wi-fi, so we can have two people on-line at the same time.

We have needed this connectivity because we have had unexpected changes in future air flights (six to be exact), an almost failed attempt to book an African flight to replace a nine hour bus ride that we have decided not to take, Paypal rejecting our payment for a guesthouse in Laos, and major difficulties in booking a train out of Bangkok. Without two systems in place at once, how could the girls play on Webkinz??? lisa doesn't think of MonteP in my warm terms. She thinks of it as the place where everything blew up and had to be put back together.

This place is also where we hit the three month point. It lacks the newness that Haarlem had at it's early stage of the trip. It's also on the cusp of Africa, where we will arrive in eight days, a place we are all anxious to see. So Montepulciano lacks both newness and anticipation. Just like that old pair of faded jeans.


At the risk of dating myself, I remember pay toilets in the United States. You would go to a public restroom and there would be a contraption on the door of each stall in which you would insert a dime and turn the knob in order to be able to open the door. If you didn't have a dime, you were out of luck. Unless of course you were small, in which case you could crawl under the door, use the facilities, and then exit the normal way. The other option was to wait until someone else came out of a stall and hope that they would be willing to let you enter the stall without having to pay (even though they had to pay to get in).

It's been many years since any of us have had to pay to pee in the US. That is not the case here in Europe. In fact, finding any public bathroom facility in Europe can be challenging regardless of whether you are willing to pay or not. It is always best to first follow your mother's advice and to pee before you leave the house - this buys you at least several hours. Using the facilities in any restaurant you eat in (only available to patrons) or museum you visit, is also a wise choice. But again, these still may not be free even though you have just paid for a meal or paid a large admission price to go to the museum.

Most pay toilets in Europe involve a person sitting at the entrance collecting money. The advantage of this is that exact change is not required. The disadvantage, of course, is that you can't pile you and your two kids into one stall for the price of one. You therefore have to pay 2E (.50E each) for your family of four to pee. That's $3.00 US for the privilege of eliminating the 12E ($18 US) worth of soft drinks that you had for lunch (yes, that is only one soft drink per person). Occasionally there is just a change bowl with a sign posted of how much it is to use the facilities. Then you have the moral dilemma of whether to follow local custom and pay, to pay, but less than full price, or to skip paying and deal with your conscience later.

The ultimate pay toilet we encountered was in the parking lot just outside the city of San Gimignano. It was a large structure, but only one toilet for men/women/handicapped. You inserted your .50E and the door slid open like one of the doors on the Space Ship Enterprise on Star Trek. Everything else was automatic as well. You used the toilet and then pushed a button for 10 sheets of toilet paper to come through a slot. You walked over to a trough looking area and stuck your hands in. Soap was automatically dispensed. Move down the line and water was dispensed. Moving down the line further, warm air was blown in order to dry your hands. In the end you pushed a button and the door slid open again. You had a total of 15 minutes to do your business. We were never quite clear what would happen if you exceeded your 15 minutes. Would the door slid open and expose you to the world if you were not yet through? Once you were out, you heard a flush of water - I think some type of system washed the whole bathroom before the next person. The whole think was rather bizarre and a little space age. The good news is that a family of four could easily fit in as long as no one was too modest. In fact, two families of four could easily have fit in the large space with a net cost of .06 1/4 E (9 cents US) per person. What a deal!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008



lisa and I met Craig Chung and his wife on the island of Murano, outside of Venice. We had a very nice conversation regarding travel and life in general. They live in a garden suburb of Sydney, Australia. We wanted to hook up with them when we got to Sydney. I tried to get a phone number but there are 97 C. Chung's in the Sydney white pages.

Craig, if you see this, please e-mail me at the address I gave to you previously. If you do not have my email address, please post a comment on this blog and we can figure out a way to reconnect.

Monday, September 15, 2008


You probably all know that there is a city named after me called Siena-excuse me - I am named after the city. Since we are in Italy, my parents figured that we couldn't go to Italy without seeing Siena. We decided to go there as a day trip from Montepulciano. Siena is actually a province and the capital is the city Siena. You may think that Siena is a hill town, but I am telling you when we caught our first glimpse, we knew it was anything but a hilltown, it was a hill city!! The streets were definitely not as crowded as Venezia (Venice) but during the Palio, the streets are even more crowded. The Palio is a famous horse race that is held on the also famous square, Piazza Del Campo. When we got there we walked around a little and then went to the bell tower, Torre Del Mangia, which is on the square. Torre Del Mangia is a very tall bell tower that has over 400 steps! The stairs were very squinched and seemed never ending. We went all the way to the top level, and looked around. From the top you can see part of the old wall, the Piazza, the dome of the cathedral, and a lot more. After we visited the bell tower, I got my hair cut!!! The person who cut my hair did a lot of work which I guess is all right since he charged us 22 Euro just to get a trim at the ends! He started off with getting my hair wet, trimming it, using a straightening iron on it (like my hair wasn't straight enough), then made me stand up so he could cut it perfectly across, then finally blow dried it. After I got my haircut we went to lunch. At lunch I discovered that I had left my glasses in the salon, so we had to run back and get them!! After that, it started to rain. I don't think the cathedral had ever been so popular before. Almost everyone(including us) went there to stay out of the rain. The cathedral was very pretty. The columns were striped black and white, and the Dome was painted blue with yellow stars. There were a lot of paintings and carvings, and even some graves in the floor. While we were in the cathedral, we visited the library. It wasn't very big but it did have some pretty pictures on the walls. After the cathedral, we got gelato!!! When we finished off our gelato, we decided to do some souvenir shopping. Both Avocet and I got t-shirts that say "Siena". It had been a long day, so we went home. We had a fun time in MY city!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Perugina Chocolate Factory

Here in Umbria, in the hill Town of Perugia, there is a large Chocolate Factory. It was started in 1907 when a man and his wife started making small candies to sell. It later came to making Candies, Chocolates, Cookies and most importantly, Baci.

Baci are small, Dark Chocolate kisses* with a whole hazelnut on top and a hazelnut nougat inside. They are the biggest product of Perugina, 1,500 a minute! They are also very popular throughout Tuscany; we see them here in Montepulciano! Perugia (the hill town) is crazy about them.

* Baci in Italian means kisses

When we first entered the Chocolate Factory, we saw only pictures of Chocolate. A Chocolate sculpture, cacoa beans, even a Baci Scooter! (See sentence about craziness). Then, we went on a tour of the Factory.

It was huge! We only visited a tiny portion but from the outside, it was humongous! We visited the Candy, Chocolate Bar and Baci producing area. It was funny to see all the Baci come down the conveyor belt and see that there was one missing from the many perfect rows. We also saw the machines wrap the candies. Once in a while after they were wrapped, the lady picking out imperfect ones would miss one and we would all laugh. It was also cool seeing Easter eggs, another Perugina product, being packaged. They were more like footballs than Easter eggs!

At the end of the tour, we bought twelve Baci (they were delicious!) and then went to visit the town of Perugia.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


You know those fine dining restaurants that you save for special occasions? You go there maybe 2-4 times a year for birthdays or anniversaries and really look forward to them. Imagine going 3-4 times a week. Would you continue to look forward to them? Would you savor them as much as you do when you only go 2-4 times a year? That's a little bit how we are feeling at the moment - maybe a little too much fine dining! (Not literally) When you have a 2 week vacation that you have been looking forward to for a long time and you arrive in a beautiful city, you relish the site. When you arrive in a beautiful city after 3 months of one beautiful city after another, it feels a little bit like "Just another beautiful city." Activities that were once exciting like checking out the open air market to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables is now just a weekly food shopping activity and the ambiance plays second fiddle to functionality. Even now as we look out the windows of our incredible apartment in Montepulciano and see the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, we comment on the beauty but the moment does not take our breath away has it might have just 2 months ago. It's an interesting thought that maybe the number of moments that take your breath away are inversely proportional to the number of those special moments that you have exposure to in any given period of time.

At this point we are all also feeling a little travel weary. It's not a homesickness as I don't feel homesick in the least. It's more of a tiredness which breeds a laziness. A feeling that sometimes seeing this sight or that sight requires more energy than I have at the moment and may just not be worth the effort. A feeling of been there/done that/let's move on. A friend asked in an email "Are you tired of being a tourist?" Maybe that's a good way of putting it. Somedays we are just tired of being tourists.

Now understand, even though you read lots of blogs of our adventures, there are lots of days with no adventures. We call those down days or in days. Days where we do laundry (which takes much longer here since the wash cycles go for about 2 hours), read, journal, blog, catch up on emails, edit pictures, tend to personal business and tend to present and future trip business. We even watch videos if we can find a video rental shop in town (we are card carrying members of a video rental shop ("The Music Box")in Ljubljana, Slovenia). We actually enjoy these days just as much as our "tourist" days and they give our life some sense of place. They also enable us to "renew" ourselves. At times we almost feel guilty when we take those days as we feel "Here we are in _______________ (fill in the blank), we should go out and do or see something." But we quickly move on from those thought as we know that everyday can not be used for that purpose. It's much easier to move on from that guilty feeling when we are in a given location for a longer period of time.

So with 3 months down and 9 months to go, where do we go from here? Literally, to Rome. Emotionally, well, we're not sure. We're hoping that when we leave Europe in a little less than 2 weeks that there will be a renewed excitment as we hit the continent of Africa and experience something totally different than what we have had over the last 3 months. That difference will continue as we wind our way through India, Thailand, Laos and China. By the time we hit Australia and New Zealand, the "sameness" that we might experience might be a welcome relief.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Adventures of Pinocchio

* ~An Abridged version of the true story of Pinocchio~ *

Once upon a time, there was a piece of wood. Mr. Antonio had found this piece of wood and kept it as it would make a perfect table leg for the table he was making. When he was working, the wood would say things like "Oh, that tickles" or "Ouch, stop that will you?" Mr. Antonio did not know it was the wood speaking and when Geppeto, the carpenter came by looking for a piece of wood to build a puppet with. Mr. Antonio was glad to get rid of his piece of wood. Geppeto also learned that the piece of wood could talk. And run. Before the puppet got clothed, it ran out the door, only to be stopped by the police. Geppeto named him Pinocchio and told him that he would have to go to school. Geppeto did not have very much money so he sold his coat to buy Pinocchio an ABC book. Along the way to school, Pinocchio sold his school book for tickets to a puppet show. When he arrived at the theatre, the puppets onstage recognized him as their brother and leaped of the stage to see him. Then, Fire Eater, the director of the show came out and apologized for the commotion. He then took Pinocchio back stage. Fire Eater was not pleased with Pinocchio and decided he was going to use him as fire wood for his fire. Pinocchio begged for forgiveness and Fire Eater agreed. He also gave Pinocchio five gold coins to give to Geppeto. Along the way home, Pinocchio met a cat and a fox. The fox pretends to have a broken leg and the cat pretends to be blind. They see that Pinocchio has gold coins and they tell him that if he plants them in the field of Miracles, (where the Leaning tower of Pisa is), that in two hours there will be a tree full of gold coins. Pinocchio believes them and goes to plant his coins in the Field of Miracles. Pinocchio plants his coins and two hours later he returns. There is no tree of gold, no coins in the ground, and no sign of the cat or the fox. Pinocchio set out to find home. When he was going through the woods, he met up with two cloaked figures. They captured him and hung him from a tree. They waited and waited but Pinocchio did not die so they finally left. The Blue Fairy was in her house watching the whole event and she sent three messengers to tell her if Pinocchio was alive or dead. The first two said they were unsure but the third returned and said he was alive. The Blue Fairy sent the messengers to take Pinocchio into her house so he could rest. When he was well again, The Blue Fairy told Pinocchio to go to school and be a good boy and that he would become a real boy. Pinocchio set out for school and actually arrived there. He went for several weeks until one morning he met an boy nick-named Candelwick because he was so tall and skinny. Candelwick said that he and his friends were going to the Land Of Play where you could play all day. Pinocchio decided to come along. After being in the Land Of Play for one month, Pinocchio turned into a donkey, as did Candelwick and all his other friends. Pinocchio the donkey was sold to a circus to do tricks. One day though, Pinocchio the donkey tripped and broke his leg while running through a hoop. The circus leader threw him into the sea where the fish ate all the donkey fur off of him. Then, he became wooden again. When he was floating around, a fisherman caught him and was going to roast him in a pot when a giant shark came and grabbed Pinocchio. Inside the shark, Pinocchio found his Father Geppeto who had been swallowed looking for Pinocchio one day. They devised a plan to get out and that they did. They arrived on land safely and went home. From then on, Pinocchio always went to school and did very well. Then Pinocchio became a real boy, just like he always wanted.
The end

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Parco De Pinocchio

You may not know this, but Pinocchio is no Disney creation. Pinocchio was created by Carlos Collodi (his pen name) or Carlos Lorenzini, his real name. He grew up in the town of Collodi (which is where he got his pen name) and that is also where he got inspiration for his story. In 1956, a park opened to commemorate the writer and the story. The park, was the Parco De Pinocchio (Park Of Pinocchio).

The Park Of Pinocchio is not a Theme park as you might think, (that's what we thought at first) but instead a park with a theme. As you enter, you see a statue of Pinocchio with Geppeto, his Father. Then, all through out the park there are statues and other artistic works to help tell the original story. For example, when the great shark comes and swallows Pinocchio and he finds Geppeto, the park has a Giant sculpture of the head of the gaping Shark. Yes, it was a shark and not a whale that swallowed them. You can go inside the large beast and see Geppeto trapped inside. Then you can see a sculpture of Pinocchio turned into a donkey and forced to perform in a circus. My personal 2 favorite things were the giant shark and the giant chess board, (even though we didn't get to play a game of chess!) All along the route of the maze of greenery, sculptures tell the story. There is also a theatre where every hour or so they tell the story of Pinocchio, a mechanical theatre where there are small puppets that move by themselves, telling the story of Pinocchio, with a booklet in your language to help you understand it, a crafts area where you can make a hat with The Blue Fairy or Pinocchio on it and last but not least, 3 things that resemble a merry-go-round. One you sit in a Gondola or a Sailboat, in another, different types of cars and also, a classic merry-go-round with horses. There is also a butterfly garden and regular garden you can visit but they are not connected to Pinocchio so we didn't go.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Our trip to date has consisted mostly of cities, large and small. They have all had their individual allure: Haarlem had its bikes, Krakow it's beautiful square, Dubrovnik and Ljubljana their historic areas. This must obviously be the case since that is where one finds accomodations. A focus on the beautiful nature of Europe has therefore been more limited - two or three days maybe at each location.

One of my goals on this year long odyssey is to hike where you can see tall mountains. Not hills, but real mountains. We saw the Julian Alps in Slovenia but it was after taking a cable car up the mountain. Our experience in the Tatra Mountains of Poland was similar to that of Slovenia. So far, only here in northern Tuscany in the Apuane Alps, have we been able to take a leisurely hike on a trail and watch the peaks above you.

We drove about 50 km north through winding roads to arrive at the cute little alpine town of Fornolasco. Here we took a trail for about an hour along a creek which at times was still and serene and at other times rough. The trail was well maintained with stones lining much of the way. Occasionally we could get a glimpse of Pania Secca, a pointed rocky pinnacle (about 6100 feet or 4500 feet above our heads) jutting out with its fellow crags. You would have to be a mountain climber to ascend that peak, but looking at it from a distance was very nice (and much safer). After having lunch on the trail, we headed back and found a place where you could access the stream we had been following. The temperature of the water was wonderfully cool (causing frostbite after ten seconds!!) so we stripped off our shoes and socks and dipped our puppies in. Very "cool" scene.

We finished up our day with beer, vino and two hot chocolates at the local tavern. Only italian was spoken amongst the locals relaxing, sharing gossip and playing cards. A nice end to a nice day.

I discovered from the tavern keeper that in 1996 the placid stream we hiked beside became a raging torrent that took out the church, several buildings and killed a person. The tavern we sat at was on the site of that church.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Viareggio Beach and Pisa

When we first arrived at our apartment in Lucca, the landlady showed us the laundry room out back. There were some beach chairs near the washer and she said we could take them to the beach whenever we wanted!! That caught our interest. We decided that on our second day in Lucca we would go to the beach. Since the city of Pisa was close by, we decided to go there on the same day as we were going to the beach.

Viareggio beach was a sea of umbrellas. There were about seven rows of them, colored to match the resort that they belonged to. It was a sand beach, so it made the ground comfortable to walk on. The water was also a great temperature, warm, but refreshing. Although we didn't take the beach chairs we did get an umbrella and two loungers while we were at the beach. We took a boogy board with us, so Avocet and I tried to surf - not much luck.When we were in the water, we kept getting stung by somthing!! We think it was a Portuguese Man of War (just kidding!)!! Anyway, we had lunch at the snackbar. I split a bowl of fried fish with my Mom. After lunch, Avocet and I made a sand unicorn. Then, we got the sand off of us with the beach shower, put on some clothes, and then got in the car to go to Pisa.

As most of you probably know, the city of Pisa is home to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. When we got there we bought tickets for the Cathedral, Tower, and Baptistry. We went to the Cathedral first. It was very pretty, and it's a shame that almost no one goes to it. After the Cathedral, we went to the Baptistry. The Baptistry wasn't as pretty as the Cathedral. It was kind've drab. In my opinion, the Leaning Tower was the best part. We got to go into the tower and there were a lot of stairs. At the top you got to walk around the top and see the bells. There was a great view of Pisa, and the other cities around it. The view and tower were both quite amazing. After we finished our day trip,we got in the car and drove to Andrea's Pizzeria Trattoria, where we had a very good pizza. It was a nice day!!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Our three weeks in Tuscany are broken into two segments - one week in the north, based out of Lucca and two weeks in the south, based out of Montepulciano. Our first stop - Lucca.

As we pull into town, Siena's first question is "What is there to do here?" The answer is "Nothing." A slight exaggeration, but the truth is, each of the cities/towns of Tuscany offer little "to do". You go to each of the towns because each one has it's own special square, it's own special church, and it's own special flavor. It is therefore difficult to stay in just one town for any length of time unless you just want to chill.

Lucca, being one of the northern most cities in Tuscany is not a hill town or even in the rolling hills that we think of when we think of Tuscany. The city is flat! Which of course makes it perfect for bike riding. The old city of Lucca is also completely walled which you can walk or bike on for a nice three kilometer jaunt. While not the biking experience that we had in Holland, we still enjoyed renting bikes and riding the wall as well as the streets of the old city.

Lucca is also the birthplace of opera composer Giacomo Puccini. This year is the 150th Anniversary of his birth and there is a major celebration throughout Lucca and other areas of Tuscany. While the museum (in his home) was closed for renovations (seems like a strange year to decide to renovate), we were able to take in an operatic concert with pieces by Puccini as well as other opera composers. Avocet and Siena swore going in that they did not like opera and their opinion was no different coming out - at least we tried. Marty and I enjoyed the event none the less.

We split our days in Lucca between spending time in the city itself and day trips to nearby places. Day Trip #1 was to the beach and the city of Pisa, Day Trip #2 was to the Garfagnana region to hike outside the town of Fornovalasco, and Day Trip #3 was to Collidi to Parc de Pinocchio. More about these trips from my co-writers.

Lucca itself is a lovely city but in all honesty, we didn't get to know it all that well. With only a week in the city and 50% of our time in other places we would be hard pressed to call the city home. I did however, have the opportunity to get my hair cut in town (my first Italian cut) and I also purchased a bathing suit in town since mine appears to have disappeared somewhere between Ljubljana and here (still trying to figure out how I managed that one). Buying a bathing suit is not an easy task for any woman under the best of circumstances but here I am, in a small city, the end of the season (all stores had fall clothes in them) and a limited amount of time. I set a record for myself purchasing a bathing suit after having tried on only three (that's all I could find in town in my size).

Friday, September 5, 2008


At some point we will all become superfluous. I hope that will happen later than sooner; like the ageless Daniel Schorr of NPR. Or maybe a minute before my ninety-fifth birthday. But that's the intellectual side. Your brain, being an organ, will work well into your old age. But your brain is only one part. A person has many different functions in their lifetime. These functions begin, mature and eventually are cast off as they either can't or don't work. For example, I was an athlete as a young person.. .I competed and did quite well, thank you. As I aged, I discarded this big part of me not because the muscles atrophied, but because other interests and responsibilities took its place.

I have been a father for a long time. I intellectually know that my job is to train Av and Si to be mature, responsible adults. Intellectually I also know that they will master the tricks of this maturing over a timeframe that has already begun. Just as I no longer have to help them stand up after they learned how to walk, I now no longer have to row the boat across Lake Bled. Av and Si did this while lisa and I sat on our butts. But I'm supposed to do that, my brain said. It's my job. It's also one that I could do and no one else could. You see lisa has a bad back and it would be stupid for her to row while I am around. It also is something I liked to do. Now “they” are doing it instead.

I also somewhat relinquished my role as “technology Dad” by having the girls figure out how to set up the DVD players in our apartments. Avocet has taken an interest in taking pictures and now says “hey, I set the time on your camera to match “Athens-Helsinski” time. What? What's she talking about? I introduced her to the camera just a couple of weeks ago. How can she know that? Well, I guess I'm glad I can take a better picture at night, right? Nah, she showed me a pictute taken showing a candle on a table at the sidwalk cafe with lights showing on the bridge in the background. Rats, foiled again!!

Siena now washes the dishes. Avocet and Siena pack their own suitcases. I'm just a superfluous father. Oops, I just figured out that I can carry the thirty pound suitcases up and down the several flights of stairs. Thank God, something I'm still needed for.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gondola Watch 101

As said in Daddy's last blog, our flat had a large window overlooking a Gondola canal. As soon as we realized this, we immediately took to watching them go by. There was a suprising number of them, considering the high cost of a Gondola ride. After our first day, we started saying "Ciao!" to the Gondola drivers that passed by; not to the lucky people taking the ride. After that, we set up little stools everyday to say "Ciao" and watch the people go by. Siena and I called this Gondola Watch 101.

~written by Avocet

Before I write my part of this blog I would like you to take an Italian lesson.

Ciao Bella- hello beautiful
Ciao Amore- hello love

These were some of the responses from the Gondola Drivers.

After we started to get use to Gondola Watch, whenever I saw a Gondola I would yell out to Avocet (or she would yell out to me) "Gondola Watch 101!!" and the other would come running. Then we would sit by the window and say "Ciao!" Sometimes the Gondola Driver wouldn't say anything, and if this happend we would turn to each other and say M.O.M, which stands for, mean ol' man. Sometimes they would say "Ciao" back, or sometimes they would say "Ciao Bella" or "Ciao Amore". We actually got to the point where we could recognize some of the Gondola Drivers and after we said "Ciao" they would say "Ciao Ciao" or "Ciao Meow Meow". Some of the people riding in the Gondola would notice us too and say "Ciao" or sometimes take a picture of us!! When they said "Ciao" to us we would always say to each other, "They're trying to act cool and Italian; the Gondola Drivers are cool and Italian!". Some Gondolas have a hired accordian player and singer; once we heard someone singing Oh Solo Mio. Some people bring wine on the ride. It was fun to see the Gondolas go by and say "Ciao!".

Written by~ Siena

P.S. If you would like to hear Oh Solo Mio, go to and key in Oh Solo Mio in the toolbar.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


On the 26th of August we arrived at the train station in Venice having come from Ljubljana, Slovenia. Upon exiting the station we went to the taxi area, water taxi that is. The hustle and bustle of people getting on and off the boats was amazing. It was true organized chaos. The Grand Canal was wide and surrounded by beautiful buildings right up to the water's edge. Beautiful, but old and worn in a Venetian way. We arrived at the water taxi stop, Rialto, to meet Maria Antoinetta, our "landlady" who proceeded to give lisa and I big hugs. Passion, Italian style!!! We snaked through alleyways narrower than Dubrovnik's to arrive at our flat, adjacent to one of the smaller canals. Though small, the two room flat was well laid out. Siena and Avocet gravitated to the large open arch in the family room and proceeded to start watching the gondolas go by.

Venice is a city of streets in a maze. So far we haven't gotten lost on this trip, (well except for that one time in Dubrovnik...and another in Krakow...) but here we were constantly "lost" the first two days. Even though we had two detailed maps we had a difficult time finding our way through the alleyways. We eventually got our bearings to and from San Marco Square and Rialto Bridge but had to constantly look at the map to get anywhere else. I still didn't feel secure in my directional capabilities when we left. lisa is never secure in my directions - but I am a man!

We visited San Marco Square more than anyplace else. It contained the Doge's Palace, San Marco Church and the square itself. It was historic and well restored...."but". The "but" is that the entire area was congested with tourists. You were always in a crowd, like Macy's the day after Thanksgiving...yuk! It effected not just getting around but the moods of the shopkeepers. They seemed tired and out of sorts. I'll bet the "off season" (if Venice has one) improves their moods.

The restaurants had the same issue. The waiters were not necessarily friendly, the food average at best, and EXPENSIVE. We knew Venice would not be cheap, but we were unprepared for 2.00 Euro per person cover charge, ($12.00 US just to sit down) 12% service added, not to mention the 5 Euro soft drinks. I talked later to a waiter on the island of Burano and his comment was that all Venetians wanted was money. The comment seemed to have some merit.

In addition to the San Marco Square area, we visited the Jewish Ghetto (the first in Europe), the islands of Murano (know for their art glass) and Burano (know for their lace making), "road" (pun intended) the canals and spent an afternoon shopping for Venetian Carnivale masks (which you could easily spend days doing if you were up to it).

The girls liked Venice better than lisa and I did. They have been buying a "tipical" doll in traditional dress from each country we visit. They each bought their dolls here and paper mache masks as well. They loved the shopping experience. After four days, I was ready to move on to a more sedate place where we could get a "real" feel for Italy (Lucca and Montepulciano in Tuscany are our next two stops) without it being overly touristy.

Like the title, I knew Venice would be as expected, a place you MUST see but where three to four days is plenty.