Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Year greetings

Not much actual news to report from here. Two days before Christmas we took a short trip to Cividale (in northern Italy, about 2 hours away), where we were – thankfully – out of the fog and cold at last! It was fantastic to enjoy the sun again. We brought Lucy with us and we stayed at a small agro-tourism place called Ai Casali, which is located about 3 kms outside the center. It was nothing special, but it was nice. They have both rooms and apartments to rent. It would be more remarkable in summer when you could use the pool outside. It’s also good for kids, with some swings and a few animals you could pet/play with (dogs, goats, ponies).

Cividale is a great old city, built on top of Roman building sites. A lot of Roman-era mosaics, jewelry, weapons, and other finds are housed in a very worthwhile archaeological museum in the center. Also worth visiting are the bakeries – yum! The local snack is a cake/bread called gubana, which is filled with raisins, cinnamon & other spices, walnuts, grappa, cocoa, etc. It is made in a roll, and this roll is then coiled up, kind of like a snake or a turban shape. Although I am sure lots of people make it at home and have their own twist on the recipe, Gubana has its own consortium to ensure that all commercial producers remain true to the original recipe and maintain specific quality standards. It is especially popular at holidays. I cannot confirm, but I think the recipe may have actually originated on the Slovene side of the border, with 'gubanca' being the version on the Slovene side -- 'gubanca' means "wrinkled" for the wrinkled, layered dough.

The area is also known for its white wine, so of course we stopped and bought some “sfuso” on the way home (this is the wine we buy in bulk – ‘sfuso’ just means ‘loose’ and it is the table wine they sell by the liter instead of bottled.)

Not that I am biased (well, maybe a little) but the landscape is a lot prettier on the Slovene side of the border. Cividale and its immediate environs are very flat and not terribly interesting, except for the mountains in the background. So we made a few stops in Goriska Brda just to enjoy the sunshine, and then we continued home. Of course, as soon as we got within 20 kilometers of Ljubljana, we hit the ever-present Wall of Fog. (*sigh*)

Christmas Eve we spent in Naklo with Ernie and Jozi and their families, and that was a lot of fun. We ate lots of different kinds of seafood, from sushi to shrimp to scungilli salad. Christmas Day we spent with one teacher we know from school, who coincidentally is dating a woman who used to live in the apartment next door to us (so we knew her already). Most of the people at that party were from Australia and were not people we had met before. We ate pork ribs, chicken, some deep-fried potato/veg balls, different salads, pasta, and some home-made ice cream.

I’ve managed to post the pictures from Cividale on flickr, so you can check those out.

I will leave you with best wishes for a happy and healthy 2009, and an Italian recipe designed to ensure riches in the coming year:

Recipe by Mario Batali
This is the most traditional dish of all for New Year’s Eve supper. The lentils represent the coins soon to come to all who consume the dish within an hour of midnight.

Makes 4 servings
Ingredients:__8 ounces dried lentils_2 cloves garlic, peeled_12 fresh sage leaves__ cup extra-virgin olive oil__ cup red wine vinegar_salt and freshly ground black pepper_1 large (about 2 pounds) cotechino sausage
1. In a medium saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil, and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the lentils, garlic, and sage. Cook the lentils at a gentle boil until tender yet still firm, about 20minutes. Drain and place in a medium bowl.
2. Add the olive oil and vinegar to the lentils and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Prick the sausage several times with a pin. Place in a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil over medium heat/. Reduce the heat to a very low boil, cover the pot and cook for approximately 1-1/2 hours. Drain.
4. Spread the marinated lentil on a large serving platter to form abed for the cotechino. Slice the cotechino into rounds, arrange over lentils, and serve.

Monday, October 27, 2008

September vacation - part 2

So, after a meager breakfast at “the lodge”, we got back in the car to head for Budapest. Mike suggested we visit the castle Visegrád along the way, since we could not check in at our hotel until early afternoon. This castle is a nice blend of preserved areas and reconstructed areas/museum. After the Mongol invasion, King Béla IV of Hungary and his wife had a new fort/castle constructed on the upper hill on the right bank of the Danube. This was built in the 1240-50s, near one that had been destroyed earlier. It has undergone some additions and changes since then, obviously.

From there, we drove into Budapest to check in at our hotel. Based on the previous day’s experience, we were not too confident but it turned out to be a decent hotel. It was clean, recently renovated, and in a good location. It was an Ibis hotel, which is a French chain (part of Accor) having hotels at reasonable prices all over Europe. You can check them out here. It was just a few minutes’ walk from Heroes Square, which is a large (the largest?) square in Budapest, and also near the large City Park with its many attractions (castle, museum, baths, zoo…). There is a subway stop nearby, which made the rest of the city easily accessible. I should say something here about the transit system in Budapest, because it is fantastic. Budapest’s network of public transport services includes buses, trolleybuses, trams, underground trains (Metró) and over ground suburban trains (HÉV). Buses, trams and trolleybuses run daily from 4.30 a.m. until 11.00 p.m, sometimes as frequently as two minutes apart. You don’t buy tickets from a conductor or a driver – you buy your ticket at a station and then you have it validated. A conductor or ticket agent can ask to see your ticket at any time, but I don’t think we actually saw anyone checking. You can buy a single ride ticket, or a ticket that is good for all methods of transport for a specific amount of time. It’s quite a good system. I didn’t see any paper maps of the transportation system available, but they are on every station wall and every train, bus, etc., and they are easy to read. But you can also go here for more information.
Also, traffic is pretty bad so I don’t recommend taking a taxi or driving, unless you have to.

Budapest is lovely: beautiful buildings, interesting history, good food*, good museums, nice people…we’ll definitely go back. *But don’t eat at the Ibis hotel. Breakfast was mostly edible, but dinner was not good—it just went straight from a package to a microwave to our plates. But considering that everything else in the area was booked for dinner, beggars can’t by choosy…. The night before, we ate a yummy dinner at a place called the Owl’s Nest. You should go there! It’s near the fine arts museum and city park, around the corner from its pricier cousin, Gundel.

We also dragged poor Ceil, who had a terrible headcold, out to the hinterlands for a food festival where Joe and I ate a potato pancake so huge and delicious it should be illegal. This festival is called the Etyek Kezes-lábos, or the Etyek Gastronomic Festival. It bills itself as a slow-food festival, and although we didn’t see evidence of that, the food on offer was good and so were the wines (if a bit overpriced).

I won’t add much more here. It’s better if you go to the flickr site, where you can see pictures and also some more comments, including information about a great tour we took in Budapest.

September vacation - part 1

So, now I will tell you a bit about our vacation. In Croatia, we decided to stay on the mainland. We had thought about going to one of the islands, but the ferry schedule in September requires you to get up at 5 a.m., and we decided that none of us would be up for that (in either sense of the phrase). So, after some online searching we booked an apartment in a private house in Promajna, on the Makarska Riviera (across from the tip of Hvar). The house was about 500 meters from the sea, just up on the hillside. The beaches are beautiful there—small pebbles for the most part with an easy walk into the sea; the water is pristine (but wear shoes), there are cute little bars and cafes right on the beach, with showers and cabanas are conveniently spaced along the length of it. Pine trees grow on the beach providing some natural shade and also make it look very different from what you think of when you imagine a beach – no run-of-the-mill palm trees here. And the big gray mountain, Biokovo, looms over that whole part of the coastline. When you are in the sea, you have a great view of the beach with the pine trees, a little white church up on the hillside, and Biokovo in the background contrasted against the blue sky…it’s really very pretty. I’d go back there again in a second. Well, in season anyway. I hear it’s harsh in the winter. The only unfortunate bits are:
A: the food was nothing to write home about, as they say. But it’s worth blogging about…for the purpose of complaining. With all of that seafood right on their doorstep, most restaurants should be a bit ashamed that they don’t offer more of a selection. But if you personally were going to buy fish in the morning off of the fishermen and cook it later that day, that would let you get around that problem. We seemed to have that getting up early problem, though, combined with the fact that it took us a few days to discover where you had to go to meet the fishermen. Oh well, another time. And the wine offering – same complaint. Good wine is made not very far away, and what they were serving in the restaurants was poor.
B: On the islands you have all of these postcard-perfect little towns, each with a main square where you can linger over coffee, surrounded by beautiful old buildings, or opposite the sea…unfortunately this area on the mainland is not all like that. Oh, there are cute little squares and such, but it’s more congested and feels large-scale tourist-y (big hotels, etc). But of course we expected this, and so with that in mind, I have to say it was not disappointing.

We stopped for the night in Nin on the way down, which was cute. The beaches were not nice (trash!), but there was a very good restaurant just across from that mini-cathedral they’ve got there, so we had a great dinner. And we also made a pit-stop in Trogir, which is a place we like very much. It’s got charm and beauty by the bucketful. It’s a must-see in the area.

By the time we left, after a week of absolutely gorgeous, hot, sunny weather, the tide was turning. A storm came through on our last night that left the entire area soggy and cold – it was about 20 degrees colder by the time we got back to Ljubljana! We were all freezing.

But we put up our umbrellas, put on our scarves and sweaters, and strolled around Ljubljana for the next couple of days. We also made a trip to Lake Bled, but were out of the car for only a few minutes when it started to rain (never mind that it was already blowing a gale and we were cold despite having worn lots of wooly things). Besides, you couldn’t see anything on account of the cloud cover. It’s a good thing that Lake Bled is on absolutely every tourist site or brochure even remotely connected with Slovenia, so that Joe and Ceil could see what it looks like under normal conditions.

After a few days’ rest and roaming around Ljubljana, the plan was to drive to Hungary. Joe and Ceil have a dear old friend, Mike, whom they hadn’t seen in 10+ years and we wanted to drive out to visit him. He lives about an hour north of Budapest. We spoke with him several times over the phone, and he was kind enough to give us directions (we hadn’t bothered to get a map of that part of Hungary—we figured we would just follow what he told us to do) and also to book a hotel room for us at a place near his house. Well. Those two small details sound so insignificant now, but in hindsight they prove we were a couple of morons. Let me explain the drive in brief. It should have taken about six hours to drive from Ljubljana to meet Mike in the small city of Esztergom. But the roads he sent us on were “highways” in name only. In fact they would be described more aptly as country roads. But the fact that they were small roads did not discourage the trucks from driving on them – it was one lumbering vehicle after another (all of them ahead of us!). And for sheer boredom, this ride can’t be beaten. It’s as flat as Kansas and equally riveting (nothing but crops on either side of the road). I would, however, go back there again if it were summertime. Why on earth?!? Because these crops are sunflowers. As far as the eye can see, there is field after field of sunflowers. I’ll bet it’s breathtaking. Unfortunately they were all brown and dried up by the time we drove through.

But I digress. We were supposed to meet Mike at Esztergom cathedral, in the parking lot, at about 1:30. But since we drove there by way of the wagon trail, we did not arrive at the cathedral until after 5:00. I should mention that Esztergom cathedral is absolutely, mid-bogglingly, eye-poppingly big. But the parking lot was deserted. And we hadn’t eaten all day, since we were supposed to meet Mike in Esztergom for lunch. Or perhaps dinner, given the late hour? So we skipped looking at the cathedral and then Mike met us in the parking lot. Hugs and hellos finished, Mike explained that we should follow him to his house, and then we would go right to the hotel where he had arranged for us to have dinner.

So. We stuff our stiff limbs back into the car and follow him. More single-lane roads. More dead sunflowers. We were all getting crankier by the minute. I think it took about six and a half years to get to Mike’s house, but my estimation may be off slightly. I was starving and things were hazy. But we finally got to his house, had a mini-tour, met his puppy, his niece, and then got back in the car. We drove through villages that looked as though they hadn’t changed much in 50 years (and probably won’t change much more in another 50). Then, driving on increasingly smaller roads, eventually we took a side road into the woods. We drove past several groups of small cabins (Ceil:“We’d better not be staying there!) and then to the end of the road. Then we turned down another smaller road and pulled up in front of what looked like a large lodge. Since there was nothing else in the area except trees, we figured that was the place. Sure enough, Mike got out of the car, and we went inside. He got us checked in and we went up to our rooms. They were freezing, and had no visible bed linens. We pointed this out to Mike, and he said that he would talk to the manager, and went with us to the dining room. They, thankfully, brought our dinner out right away, along with a much-needed bottle of wine. Dinner was a bit meager after not having eaten all day (just a chicken leg and a side of potatoes), but it was edible so it disappeared quickly. By this time it was about 7:30 or so. We wandered out to the bar area, but no one was there. Mike said that if we wanted something else we had better tell them now since they were closing for the night (!). We opted not to, with the selection being about as spare as dinner had been. We sat in semi-darkness in a small area next to the bar and chatted for a bit, but then Mike wanted to get on the road and drive home. So, there being nothing else to do, and it was getting late (8:00!) we figured we would go to our rooms. They were still freezing—apparently heat is not available in September. We asked for some more blankets, and the manager brought us each a blanket about the size and thickness of a tea towel. We figured this was going to be a long night in more ways than one.

Joe and I started to head downstairs to get a few things from the car (warm clothing…) and just catch the managers/owners as they are locking up. Locking up behind themselves. LOCKING US IN. FOR THE NIGHT. Joe yelled after them as we rushed down the stairs, “Wait! I have to get something from my car!” Scowling, they came back in and grudgingly unlocked a side door so we could run out to the car and grab a few things. Then they locked us back in again and left.

But since the cat’s away…..we immediately raided the armoires in the cavernous hallway upstairs and Joe found some musty, but thick, blankets. We split these up between our rooms and decided to watch TV, which each room (surprisingly) had. It was only about a 12” set (Color!! Things were looking up!) but, alas, no remote, the colors were a strange technicolor orange, and there were only four channels (all Hungarian). But we’ve been well-trained by our years in Slovenia (our motto for most outings to anywhere not in a major tourist center: “Prepare to be disappointed!). So, I put on my scarf and went to sleep.

As usual, photos are on flickr.

Next entry: On to Budapest!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Well, what do you know...

...there's something new here!

Hi! I guess I am realizing that I either have (or make) no time to update this blog. Sorry about that.

I have added pictures recently, though (on the flickr site). You can click on the last post and it will take you there.

There are some new pictures from the island Cres, in Croatia. At the end of June/beginning of July we went there with some of Joe’s students. One of them has an apartment there, and we stayed with her. The weather was perfect, the food was fantastic, and the company was great. We had a lot of fun and visited the really charming little village of Lubenica, we picked lots of wild herbs, and met some great people.

We also went for a weekend to Goriska Brda, which is the wine growing region in the western part of Slovenia. We went with another couple (Slovene) who, surprisingly, had not previously spent any real time in that area. I say “surprisingly” because they are really into wine, and this is the region where most of the good stuff comes from. And it’s gorgeous – rolling hills, the geometric patterns created by the lines of vines, fields of crops, the mountains in the distance – these all combine to make it one of the most beautiful places one can possibly visit. Our friends were impressed.

And there might be a few miscellaneous pictures from other times of this past summer. Everything is grouped by date.

We also had a visit from Joe and Ceil (hi! If you’re reading this..) which was a lot of work on their part, it being such a long trip, but it was really great to see them. We spent a week in Croatia (by the sea) and a few days in Ljubljana, and then in Budapest. I will write about that at another time, though. I promise. And as soon as I get pictures from Joe and Ceil, I will put them onto Flickr.

Right now I am back in the U.S. because I didn’t feel like I had had enough vacation after those three weeks I mentioned above, so I came here. Kidding, of course. Actually, I had to come and help resolve the current financial crisis. And to try to sell this bridge that has been in my family for years and years.

Seriously, I am here for my father’s knee surgery. Not in a surgical capacity (if you thought that, see previous offer for bridge).

In case you are not following this saga, in a nutshell, the infection that invaded my father’s body last spring (prompting my earlier trip here) took up residency in his artificial knee. Uninvited, of course. And as if that bit of house-squatting wasn’t enough, the infection’s little children decided the knee wasn’t posh enough for them. Too cramped? They wanted to get out of their hometown and spend a year backpacking through the circulatory system? (I hear it’s lovely in the spring) Who knows. Anyway, they emerged en masse, visiting the kidneys, the liver, all the hot spots…and, like so many teenagers on their first trip without their parents, wreaking general havoc along the way. They even invited their friend MRSA to join the party. So, the knee had to be removed. It was replaced with a very unfriendly piece of cement (which had been impregnated with antibiotics) which has been sitting in place of my father’s knee for the past two months. Now that it seems certain (knock wood) that the infection is completely gone, he is going back to the hospital to get his squeaky clean new knee. Because Michele had already taken off so much time from work to deal with all of the previous problems, we thought it was best if I came for this stint. So now we are just waiting for transport to RW Johnson, where he will be deposited into room 752 for this last leg of this journey (No pun intended. Well, maybe a little intended...) Then he will come back to the rehab center (where we are now) for physical therapy, and then back home at some point thereafter. I am sure it is going to be a painful recovery, but hopefully once it’s done, that’s the end of these troubles for him. On the positive side, he has lost LOTS of weight, and looks great!

Well, I will end here. I will post another update soon. Really. I have loads of time at the moment. You probably won’t even have time to read it all.

Ciao for now

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Click HERE to see new photos

or cut and paste this URL:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

Yep, it was only a matter of time.

Today we are going to Hell. Hiking boots recommended, marshmallows optional.

Pictures to follow.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Unanticipated lane change!

Things have been a bit surprising lately. Or at least for the past month. This started when I sent an email to my sister, to which I received an auto-reply stating that she'd had to take a short leave due to a "family matter". So I thought, "Ahem, shouldn't I know about any such family matter?" So I sent her another message asking her what was happening.

To make a looooong story much, much shorter, my father had had a mysterious, rapidly spreading infection in his lower leg, and his local physician was treating it. And by "treating" I mean, prescribing some oral antibiotics and the application of some cream. Now I am not one to advocate the non-judicious use of antibiotics, but from what I have heard about the state of my father's leg at this point, I think the good doctor erred a few hundred miles too far from the side of caution. I speculate that perhaps if his lower leg had actually fallen off, he might have gone so far as to ask that my father bring the leg in so he could have another look at it and maybe offer a better ointment. Anyway, once my father described the state of his leg to my sister, she said that she would fly to his house right away, and they would go immediately to the hospital for better treatment. By the time he was admitted, his kidneys were already failing as a result of the infection.

Because I am giving you the edited version, it is now just over three weeks and two hospitals later, and he is being treated for post-infectious glomerulonephritis.
My sister has been here through all of it, not to mention the worst of it, and I came back to the US (Virginia) for two weeks to see what help I could offer. I have been here for just over a week now. We are hoping that he will go home on Friday. He still must have one more procedure, which he should have tomorrow. So his departure date will depend on his recovery from that. It is a relatively minor procedure, but with his kidneys not filtering properly, any sedation could have exponential effects. Although he will likely still be on dialysis at his release from the hospital, it is believed that his kidneys are slowly remembering what they are supposed to be doing, and will continue to improve after that time.

So, that is why things have been so quiet from over here. Poor Joe has been bearing the brunt of things at home, what with working all the time* and also running home to walk the dog. (*why do people say "working like a dog"? -- they really lead quite the charmed life, you know..)

A few observations from Virginia (in no particular order):
1. The climate is almost exactly the same as in Ljubljana.
2. I had forgotten that people have problems getting a signal on their mobile phones, but apparently they still haven't resolved that problem yet here in the US.
3. The Charlottesville area is as nice as I remembered it to be. Very Quaint (uppercase intentional)
4. I don't miss all of this driving.
5. My father, even in his 'condition' is astonishingly good at word jumbles.
6. If you are just some poor schmuck in a hospital, without any connections or anyone speaking for you, good luck with that.
7. Since I am in the 'bible belt' I have noticed a few clever Jesus-related signs, but this bumper sticker is the best so far:
"I hope you follow Jesus this closely"
8. Food (everything except meat and chicken) in the grocery stores is expensive here.
9. I cannot find any of the proper Spanish words when I want to use them. I had better get back into a class PDQ!
10. They sure do grow 'em big down here.

That's all for now. I'll keep y'all updated (see how I am picking up this lovely southern accent!)


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Much like Switzerland, Recycling, and some baking

I am remaining Officially Neutral on
both the declaration of independence by Kosovo, and
˝Barak or Hillary?˝.
Currently living in a not-too-far-from-recently-declared "independent state"
AND being a white female registered-voter (American),
I could claim allegiances and opinions based on inherent bias, but
--and this may be a first, Joe can attest--
I am shutting up.
Let's see where the cookie crumbles for now.

And what of the "recycling" comment?
(see title for those of you with short memory)
Aside from teaching "recycling" as English vocabulary and eliciting opinions stemming from such practices, rest assured, I, myself, am also recycling to the greatest extent possible. And in this spirit I have passed on this Vicious Mother of a Sinus Cold to anyone in close proximity, having previously received it from the petri dish transport company, or perhaps just some sniffly student.

For me, it is finally on the wane, but Joe is possibly stricken now.. (maybe, he WAS was sniffly today). Just in time for our trip to Munich. But maybe not. Again, we'll see how the cookie crumbles.

Speaking of Munich, we are meeting Lisa and Brian there in a couple of days. our own lovely, personal UN transport vehicle, Lisa&Brian are bringing much needed supplies (sudafed and pumpernickel pretzels and funnybones). Woo hoo!

For our part, we are bringing prosciutto and wine. Yah, yah, I know. We are anti-health convoys, the both of us, but when it comes down to what people genuinely want, is it REALLY 300 kg bags of rice?

Onto baking.
A lovely cookie recipe from one of Joe's students, Vida:

These are called kmečki kruhki. That funny č is pronounced like a `ch`. The name means "little baked loaves of bread", which is what they resemble after baking.

Here is the recipe:

3 egg yolks plus 3 eggs whites (separate them)
250 grams finely shredded (unsweetened) coconut**
120 grams powdered baking chocolate (unsweetened)
120 grams finely ground walnuts (if you grind your own, this is the final weight)
200 grams* powdered sugar


1. In one bowl: Mix egg yolks, coconut, walnuts, cocoa
2. In another bowl: Whip egg whites until stiff; fold in sugar
3. Fold egg white mix into egg yolk mix
4. Moisten your hands with water and then form the mix into 2 cm balls (it is important to keep them small, absolutely no bigger than the size of your fingertip)
5. Immediately put the cookie-mix balls into a bowl with some *EXTRA powdered sugar. Shake/roll to cover well.
6. Bake on parchment at 175 degrees CELCIUS for about 15 minutes.

* you will need an extra 50-75 grams or so of extra powdered sugar for coating the cookies. Do NOT deduct this amount of sugar from the mix/recipe.

**If you can only find sweetened coconut you will have to tinker with the recipe a bit so it is not too sweet.

Enjoy! Note: these keep well so you can easily make them ahead or ship them.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

*Ja. Shit! Si!

This phrase* was repeated countless times during our trip to Bologna over the Christmas holidays. We didn’t realize how fixed in our brains the Slovene had become until we had to speak Italian. All that would come out was the @!**# Slovene! If I had 5 cents for every time I started a sentence “Ali lahko…” (which is what we use to begin a request), I could have paid for half of the vacation. Well, maybe not half. But at least for the rental car.

“Rental car?”, I heard you ask yourself, quizzically, “But I thought they had that cute little Opel Agila.” Well, she ain’t so agile when she’s sputtering and gasping her way down the highway, a condition which thankfully occurred while we were still in Slovenia (albeit on our drive to Bologna). To sum up, the experience was completely angst-ridden and we’d not care to repeat it anytime soon. Also, it does not make for a particularly interesting story. So, to make this opus on the Opel somewhat shorter and more bearable, here’s the skinny: we limped to an Opel dealer on the border of Slovenia and Italy, and deposited our car into their knowledgeable hands (“Ali lahko fix it and not charge us arm and leg?” And, by the way, ali lahko rent us a car to use in the meantime?”) ..See how easy Slovene is?

At any rate, they certainly understood our plight because they did rent us a car, and we quickly stuffed all of our belongings -plus dog- into our replacement vehicle and got back on the road. They also promised to call and let us know if the part that needed fixing was merely the 250 euro part, or the 1500 Euro part (which would be saying something, since the book value on the entire car up to this fateful day had been about 1800 Eur…) So, with fingers and borders crossed, we enjoyed our Christmas holiday and barely thought about the car until we had to return home. More on that later.

Bologna was very nice. First, we were completely taken aback by the sheer number of people on the streets. Actually, to be completely accurate, we were first taken aback by the homeless (presumably) man who tried to wash our windshield while we were stopped at the traffic light on the edge of the ring road. This felt so familiarly New York-ish that we of course had no difficulty yelling NO! at the appropriate volume --and in, I should mention, --the appropriate language. This was the last “NO!” that escaped my mouth for the rest of the week, all of the others being, “Ne, oops, shit, I mean, no”.

Bologna. (by the way, click on any of the words shown in the color PINK and they will take you to a linked page)

The streets were TEEMING. When “they” talk about immigrants to the U.S. they always refer to the “teeming masses”. Well, picture those streets, and you have Bologna on the weekend before Christmas. There were people teeming all over the place. Teeming and peering and shopping and talking and teeming and drinking coffee and dodging motorbikes and teeming and gesturing and…. etc. We were a bit overwhelmed, having just come from our recent distress and also from Sleepy Slovenia. But we soon acclimated ourselves and were able to enjoy the lively atmosphere. That’s a big difference between Slovenia and Italy. Here, if voices are raised, one might automatically assume: “drunk Balkan-type, probably looking for a fight, or perhaps another schnapps will take care of the situation” but in Italy, if voices are raised, one might instead assume: “weather discussion taking place, and perhaps whether a second cup of coffee might take care of it”. Also, they have slightly better flea markets. And EXCELLENT food.

Prosciutto. It melts in your mouth. A man in front of us at one shop opined that the piece left at the end of the ham, nearest the foot, is the best, most delicious bit. We concur.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. This is, of course, the internationally respected “grana”, or hard, granular cheese produced in this area (Emilia Romagna). By the way, this designation is a protected designation of origin, meaning that all TRUE Parmigiano Reggiano must originate in this area. ( much like Budweiser. The Budweiser beer that you buy here is not that watery beverage in the red, white and blue-labeled bottle, but is instead a Czech beer. This is because Budweiser is actually a designation of origin, not simply a brand name). But I digress… Did you know that in 2004 Parma was appointed the seat of the European Food Safety Authority? And why not? They take their food VERY seriously here.

Amazing seafood options. For Christmas eve dinner we opted for canocchia (in English, the Mantis Shrimp.) over some pasta and a salad.

There is an excellent open-air market in Bologna. We were a bit concerned going in about what would be open on Christmas Eve day, but most shops were open until late afternoon. In this marketplace, most shops were small and specialized in one or two types of foods. In separate stalls you purchase fruits and vegetables, fish, cheese, and meat and salumi (cold cuts), depending upon what is in season (although, since it was Christmas you could find just about anything). The shops are open from morning until 1:30-ish (some close a bit earlier, some a bit later) and then they re-open at about 4:00 or 4:30. One shop that has everything is the alimentari (grocery store) where you can get bread, cold cuts, cheese, and packaged foods. There was one supermarket, PAM, in town where you could shop mid-afternoon hours.

For Christmas day dinner we roasted some vegetables and made a lovely guinea hen
,faraona in Italian. (Then we cooked the carcass and made some stock and made a nice risotto the next day.)

We had many delicious desserts that we picked up around the city..some chocolate, some with apple and a custard-y rich cake, some that were more of a cookie…. But for Christmas dessert we brought with us a dessert wine from a Slovene vineyard, Persolja. Mr. Persolja recommended drinking this wine along with a nice piece of well-aged Parmigiano cheese drizzled with some honey. It was a very good suggestion. The saltiness and the bite of the cheese balanced well the sweetness of the honey and the rich wine.

The town, of course, was decked out for the holiday. There was a large Christmas tree in the main square, and lights were hanging everywhere. There were Christmas markets set up all around, and you could easily spot a Santa or two if you were out for a stroll (one of whom even played the accordion.) There were many, many beautiful churches but I particularly liked Basilica St Stefano, which was built atop and incorporating an Egyptian temple. Bits have been added on throughout the years, making it a very interesting mish-mash of churches and courtyards and centuries of tile work. In one of the courtyards they have a large stone baptismal-type font where had claimed Pontius Pilate had performed his historic ablutions. This claim was disproved however. It was determined that the thing was a mere 1500 years old, and probably only used for baptisms in its early years. It has been relegated to the courtyard where it is once again in use, albeit as a large birdbath. Also, the Basilica of St. Dominic was rather nice, which I understand may be in stark contrast to the man himself. To give him his due, he did come up with the idea of the rosary, which is beautifully depicted in a series of paintings inside one of the chapels, but he also was allegedly instrumental in the start-up of the inquisition. And he was just a teensy bit masochistic – think of the monk in The DaVinci Code and you’re right on the mark: hair shirt, leg iron at the groin, walked about shoeless & such…so he probably wasn’t very cheery either. I imagine him as inspirational, but certainly not a warm fellow. An apt description for more than a few significant historical figures…. But I digress.

To wrap up an already long story, I recommend visiting Bologna, and by all means rent an apartment if you enjoy cooking. We rented through Halldis, and it was a very good experience. We also drove out to Modena one day to visit an acetaia, Villa San Donnino, which is where they make balsamic vinegar (the real stuff, not that sweet-ish liquid you buy at the grocery store). I can write more about that another time. But more importantly, I am going to post this darn thing so that you can read it. It does you no good sitting here in my document file. You'll have to stay tuned to find out what happened with the car. (Oooh! HowEVER will you get any sleep with a cliffhanger like that?)

PS: to look at new pictures on flickr, CLICK HERE
There are 3 new sets, and I also put them in a collection called Oct-Dec 2007, and I hope to get some snaps from NY Eve up there soon, too.