Category Archives: Italy 2011

From Prague to sunnier pastures, hills, or beaches…we needed some sun

Efficiencies of European Accommodations

Bored by the end of the title…we’ll call that a new first.  Throughout our travels, both this year and last, we’ve encountered a few unique features related to personal energy and water usage that could really be handy in saving the world a bundle in wasted electricity.

Eerie feeling when this trained on you, and watching for when you leave...

Motion sensor in the bathroom.  How many times have you ever gone in the bathroom, have a seat to drop a deuce, and have the lights go out.  How about having to flail your arms wildly in the hopes that the line of sight from the sensor will just happen to pick up on your franticness?  Showering seems to be OK, but any activity in the bathroom that results in very little movement, such as Melanie putting on a little makeup, can result in the room going dark.  I am just trying to figure how much energy that glowing red eye mounted above the shower might be saving over the course of a year.  How about removing a few of those twelve bulbs and call it even?  By the way, I am fairly certain it’s a sensor and not a camera…only because the cloud on the lens would make it far too difficult to entertain anyone on the other end of that feed.

Keycard to the room, also required to trip main suite switch.  This one I like, where the RFID card issued at reception needs to be inserted into a glowing slot inside the door in order to trigger power to anything in the room.  The idea being if you aren’t in your room, why would you need electricity.  If that laptop or phone need charging while you’re out of the room…maybe you should have just charged the unit overnight.  It does make me wonder if the mini-fridge is on a different circuit though.  Further investigation required.

Maybe overkill for home use, but not a bad idea

15amp breakers as standard.  Not sure why an apartment would be limited to just that, but with our last place the heat was essential to keep our digits mobile to type up drivel such as this.  Cooking may have not been essential, as we could have just gone to the patisserie on the corner and grabbed a few overpriced biscuits to warm up over the warm air from the heating unit, but we attempted to heat up a few frozen meals and found that two burners plus heater on results in power outage.  Various combinations also result in the breaker being blown, such as lights and TV on…then turning on the stove.  Even lights and heater on after a shower when the hot water tank was recharging.  This forced conservation isn’t my idea of fun, especially if resetting the breaker requires walking across a courtyard in near freezing darkness, then descending two flights of stairs into a basement area or flipping of what you hope is the right breaker and not the neighbour’s.

Small hot water heaters.  If you don’t go easy on the hot water, well you better hope you’re travelling alone.  We found that one shower was all you could squeeze from the tiny tank before having to wait 4 hours for decent water temperature again.  Experiencing the wrath of ‘You used up all the hot water, again!’ is enough of a reminder that couples likely become more energy conscious just to avoid any heated discussion…oh yeah, this is Italy.  If the showers were big enough, then we might be able to squeeze in there two at a time to do a little ‘water conservation’, but no luck here.  I just couldn’t imagine having you average pasta and salsiccia lover squeeze into one of these stalls and wash out a little of that excess hair product.  It must happen, unless that is the whole reason for excess cologne.

These are just a few simple efficiencies.  The easiest is to just limit the number of electrical outlets to a room, and make sure the flat panel TV advertised on the website is just big enough to call itself a TV and not a digital picture frame.  Next time I am bringing an extension cord.

Internet Inhibited, and damn cold!!

It’s yin and yang.  Black and white.  Internet abundance and now none.  Yes, a decade ago, adding wifi to the list of requirements was unheard of in an apartment rental or hotel.  Now we can’t seem to live without it.  Heat might even come in second to updating my hockey pool roster.  It’s why we have made connectivity an absolute priority in selecting accommodations from week to week.  Besides, how else are we supposed to stay in contact with you all?

Here in Verona, our run of decent accommodation has hit a bit of a speed bump.  Sure we have had a few minor issues along the way with Parisian kitchen bugs or 1000 steps, but here it almost seems like we’ve realized our most critical of amenities.  The wifi noted in the ad is not actually in the apartment, but a slow city operated connection located a block away.  Outdoor cafe seated browsing would be great in the summer, but now that it’s near zero and there is a well lit Christmas tree sitting in the middle of the plaza where benches likely sat for your casual surfer.  The killer is that we can see the connection with antennae, but can’t connect to the damn thing.

A washing machine was also noted in the ad, but there is none to be found in this generously measured 40 sq.m. flat.  I would be willing to wear my clothes three times over, as long as I could tell you about every new pasta sauce stain acquired in the process.  I said heat could be considered a secondary amenity to connectivity…well the heat is on full blast to deal with the marble tiled floor and I can’t even touch the surface without shoes, yet it still is something we can deal with due to the hoodies purchased in Vienna for lack of heat.

Three cups for water consumption, no wine glasses, one coffee cup, two pots, and a breaker that blows if the TV is on with two burners on the cooktop.  It’s almost like camping, or maybe closer to that post-university accommodation when living in that basement suite…minus the carefully piled pizza boxes in the corner and line of ants marching from some point between the wall and floor to the coffee table loaded with week-old Subway wrappers and an empty Big Gulp cup.

Melanie is quick to point out the positives, such as a full-length mirror in the shower, better lighting for putting on makeup (not something I need to concern myself with until next Halloween), location…right in the middle of the old town, and a bottle of wine.  Add to that a makeshift loft with mattress on the floor with no box spring, and it’s almost like we’re in a tree fort.

So what do we do in a cold, internet-less world.  I can write a little offline, then walk out of the apartment and upload while standing on the corner…in the dark.  We can watch the Jeffersons, overdubbed in Italian, then flip the channel to Britney Spears music videos for our only source of English.  I guess we could curl up in bed with a good book and just enjoy our time in this cute little town.  Anyone not familiar with Verona, check out Google Images for shots of the Arena right in the middle of town, along with some well preserved old Roman gates as well as the newer ones that you can walk right up to and update your Facebook status.

This post will be uploaded in a similar fashion.  No pics, or links.  Typed up within the confines of our misrepresented apartment, and uploaded on the street corner in the dark.   When was the last time you saw a guy just standing in a poorly lit alleyway with the glowing Apple logo shining like a beacon in the dark as he frantically tries to upload his latest blog post before all feeling goes out of his fingertips?

Re-education in Modern Art

Smiling and joy in a sculpture? Stark contrast to the smug, sad or dead-eyed busts we've become accustomed to

Everything is relative, and yesterday was no exception with our visit to the Galleria d’arte Moderna.  With the expectation of geometric shapes mashed into shag carpet, then framed and  hung on a wall to evoke some emotion…I was a little surprised to find none of it.  Once again, no pictures were permitted to capture the day, so the few I have sneakily acquired are of poor quality and composition.

What is referred specifically to is simply the word ‘modern‘ being relative.  It always has been, with cars of the 20’s considered to be modern in design, and pyramids that at one time also would have been considered ‘cutting edge’.  It’s a label that has an expiry date, yet no definitions I have found, indicate just what that best before stamp might be.  ‘Modern’ seems to shift it’s definition from industry to industry, as technology or tastes are slowly replaced with a newer model that accepts the moniker.

The emotion I so expect from a visit to such a gallery wasn’t typical.  I wasn’t angry, disappointed, or inspired to whip up something similar to demonstrate the simplicity of such pieces.  Instead on departure from our gallery visit yesterday, I was quite happy and satisfied.  There was no questioning of each piece and how it was developed.  Only appreciation of those innovators breaking from the traditional painting at a time when Canada was just going through it’s formative stages under the British North America acts.  The ‘Modern’ title relates to the obvious shift in style from exhaustively detailed portraits and religious imagery depicting biblical stories, to pieces that are a little more light-hearted and fun.  Sculptures that are smiling, instead of sorrowful.  Paintings with historical relevance capturing events affecting the day-to-day activities of folks.  Multiple stories all simultaneously underway, denoting Napoleonic occupation or cholera outbreaks with the backdrop of Venezia.

I want to go over and high five the baby!

Adriano Cecioni’s “Le Madre”, mother and child both with smiling faces…happiness neatly frozen in plaster.  Artists such as Giovanni Boldini, Federico Zandomeneghi, Telemaco Signorini, Giovanni Fattori, Giorgio Belloni and Guiseppe de Nittis all had me captivated with their styles and protrayals of subjects.  Amazing pieces that didn’t complicate the final product with textural brush strokes or muting of the images requiring extensive interpretation of just what it was you were looking at.

After almost 3 hours in this mix of portraits and landscapes, we moved on to the dreaded Costume Gallery.  Dreaded only because of what we might consider to be ‘costume’ and a little resistance to wandering through musty hallways full of garments of varying periods.  Once again, not the case and my assumptions were way off.  Melanie was very excited to go from one glass case to the next and point out just what dress would look best on her.  The 1940’s and 50’s pieces we already knew would look pretty good on her.  Small shoe collections from the last century that have been dug from the back of palatial closets, long forgotten.

No pics of the classy lady that might have worn this. If we could have found a way in, Melanie was ready to try it on.

As for pieces that should have been forgotten, some historians felt the need to dig up the bodies of the Medici family to check out what garments they may have been buried in.  Not my cup of tea, but any preservable scrap of cloth was stripped from these 500 year old corpses and laid out for preservation and public viewing in this gallery.  Not the clown costumes that I was half expecting, but much creepier when you read that these half decayed undergarments are now museum pieces.  Odd how skulls stacked into various arrangements back in the Parisian Catacombs was interesting…and the stains on these remnants of fabric are just off-putting.  This was just a minor stop in the Costume Museum, and shortly after seeing these ghastly pieces we found a New Year’s dress for Melanie from the 40’s.

Two museum/galleries down, with another 3 today before heading for parts north of here.  I expect a Silver Gallery to be just that…silver.  Royal Apartments…to be just apartments, maybe decorated in a fashion that I hope Melanie never starts into.  As for the last of these…the descriptors are vague which will make it all the more surprising.  Bring on the redefining, as I do seem to like this country more and more with each passing day.

Now if I could only speak Italian.

Aimless Walking of Florentine Streets

So a 4 hour walk today, with only a rough direction in mind, led us to Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Garden. The last time we looked at going into this garden, they wanted 10euro just to walk through the gate.  When was the last time you paid to walk into a garden?  Not only that, but it’s the off season. Flowers aren’t in bloom. Fountains have been decommissioned in advance of freezing pipes. Seems like a money grab because that reduced fare for kids and seniors isn’t graciously offered to the rest of us off season visitors.

Was it the artist or the model that had enemies set on this kind of revenge?

When your touristic audience is now 11 days into a two week stint, you know they’re looking for something to do.  This means we committed to a three day museum pass.  For 18 euro, it better at least provide the opportunity for a few included bathroom breaks since I didn’t see any complimentary mints being handed out by the surly looking guy checking our tickets on the way in.  This isn’t a widespread pass thing that will allow us into just any museum, but a select few locations, and only once.  Quite the racket these Italians have going limiting pictures, confiscating water bottles and insisting on quiet time in churches.  What’s next?  The renting of bowling shoes to tread on ancient floors?

Back to the park…yes, a park with sculptures undated and worn.  Genitalia smashed off the male figures and arms broken off the women, which may just be my opinion, but not a very satisfying way to spend hundreds of years in one place.  One sculpture of man with dog was also disturbingly damaged with both man and beast missing their faces and half of their heads.  Interestingly enough most of the remaining carved features of the statue were well detailed and intact.  Today, such a pieces would likely be considered modern art, but here it just seemed like abuse or lack of maintenance.

Can I request this pose for my memorial statue?

The park wasn’t limited to just the eroding detailed sculpture work from centuries past, but also these orbish marble structures placed in tree-shielded areas just out of the way of the main thoroughfares.  It almost seemed to be a treat for anyone willing to divert from the map and follow some of these leaf-covered pathways into grassy clearings.  These stone white blood cells were effectively driving away the hoards of camera-toting garden goers and their smooth, cool surfaces were attracting the select few to stumble upon them.  I’ll call that minor discovery worth the entry for the few minutes of fun we had taking pics.

We stayed for a full two and a half hours, squeezing every possible photo op from the place to make it worth every last cent.  With the sun setting at all of 16:00, we headed for the exits for fear of being trapped amongst headless statues in an unlit park.  The looks on some of the goblins or ghoulish figures solidified in Cararra can be a little unnerving to anyone with a wild imagination.  Maybe a good place to take a kid high on Halloween candy for a moonlight stroll to put a real scare into them.  Might require additional zombie sound effects.

These little galleries aren’t expected to be too exciting though. In addition to our expensive wander through a park preparing for hibernation, we found a porcelain museum to hide from the afternoon sun.  I am confident in saying I have zero interest teacups. Even lacey dinner plates do not fascinate either of us with the questions of “how did they do that?”.  I would even go as far as saying I was even a little repulsed by the dinnerware on display, which minimized the visit to less than five minutes before heading back into the blinding afternoon sun. Mom, make sure those collectibles go to the other siblings, because I sure won’t find the time or space for them.

So tomorrow, we will need to find some entertainment from a silver gallery and maybe the modern art museum.  We have access to some Royal Apartments which I will keep the expectations low on, as well as a costume museum.  Let’s hope there wasn’t a big clown era that the Medici’s went through.

Celebrating 1000+ hits! Who needs validation

Excitement in a museum stemmed from peeing on this water-washed wall!

I know, stats are boring.  It must be the continual manipulation of numbers into percentages that always seem to favor whatever argument the stats are used for.  A 50% shooting percentage is just that, but doesn’t tell you that over the course of 50 games, only 2 shots were taken and one happened to bounce off someone’s ass and into the net.  Today was a slow day, with another visit to a renowned gallery, the Uffizi Galleria, containing busts and paintings… no pictures allowed and my water confiscated.  Nothing much new to write about there, unless you count the waterfall wall in the men’s can intended for group urination.  How often do you get to pee on a well lit marble wall?

Which leads to today’s topic…the exciting world of blog website traffic. Ooooo….considering this site was started up only 8 weeks ago, and contains relatively little content of informative value, it’s surprising there are this many page views.  Even more surprising now that I know any Facebook updating that was supposed to happen hasn’t really kept anyone in the loop due to changes in privacy settings.  That magical number of 1000 simply means that in addition to the regular 1-20 daily readers, a few trigger-happy browsers found the site and decided to start clicking through each article.  It surely couldn’t have been due to content.  I am guessing it’s the lack of censorship and excessive, and improper, use of commas and the dreaded ellipsis.

Guess which days Facebook was actually driving traffic?

I have noticed occasional search strings that have bought users to the site.  Not surprisingly, “stoner abroad” does seem to flood the search results with the numerous posts from this blog.  Also noted for searching is “stoner modern art”, “museum no touching”, and “german pork knee”.  I will need to look into a content writing course, because I know there has been some mention of combinations of the above noted terms…but by no means is the material I have put together near optimized for such focused results.  Now I bet ‘permissible wall peeing’ will lead people directly to this article and the picture above.

I did mention a number of posts ago that the whole point of writing this was keep those few readers from any real news stories.  Maybe give a bit of a glimpse into the world of being on the road for a few months with laptop and idle internet connection at hand.  Yes, my time could be better used for porn surfing or youtube viewing…but I have made it a minor goal to continue writing at least 500 words per day for the duration of this trip.  72 days, with 72 posts of 500+ words should make for quite the volume of material.  For those of you calculator friendly, that’s 36000 words minimum, translating to at least 144 pages of material for a not so exciting ebook.  Add some filler picture content and if printed it might fill that tiny niche in your bookshelf between those university textbooks you’re still hanging onto and the wall.  Hey, if the contents of this effort remained buried in the fodder of much internet writing…so be it.  For me, a minor miracle to maintain a daily focus for more than two months, and is very therapeutic for breaking up any monotony related to culture overexposure.

Beer fuelled blogs may not be as interesting as those powered by mezzo litros of house wine.

Right, monotony and numbers…focus people…focus.  Daily updates on pageviews show two days with near 80 views, and many others with less than 5.  Significant spikes in readership on rainy Vancouver weekend days…and Mondays, which make me wonder if readers are bored or wishing they were anywhere but in the rainy miserableness.  The dedicated readers, and commenters, provide that extra little bit of motivation to keep writing on a daily basis, even if it’s about simply numbers.  Accountants could at least get excited about the fact they are looking at the ebb and flow of dollars.

So I have covered the number of pages that Christmas ebook will contain.  Look for it in the spam folder of your inbox next month.  That 1000 view milestone may not be much, but seems significant at this point since we don’t have much else to aim for.  The 4.8% alcohol in the 66cl beer fuelling this daily blurb is likely more interesting than this blog, and here’s hoping tomorrow has something a bit more exciting to sum up the day.  Cheers!

Firenze Street Vendor Tycoons

I just have so many questions related to street vending. If there were a video game, or app, the streets of Firenze could be a great model…and now that I have said it, the moneymaking idea is likely already in development. A more active bazaar, such as those noted in Istanbul would likely be better but all I have to work with is what I see here. Where to start I just don’t know. It appears there are different categories and then levels within each category based on the cost of goods being sold and what these vendors can get for them. Notably missing from these streets are actual food carts. You see the odd guy roasting chestnuts over a gas burner but no hot dog vendors or some bready pastry. It seems like there might be more angles into this market than the goods noted below.
Next is a rough outline of what I have pieced together thus far…and by no means is this a complete guide, only an observational start.

Typically transformed into watercolour print, then for sale with genuine street dirt

The Starter Kit
Here you have a guy with the goods always carried with him. Maybe it’s a few fake knockoff watches, maybe it’s guidebooks along with some small packs of tissues to deal with that runny nose. In Paris it was those Eiffel Tower keychains. Novelty pens seem to be staples of this mobile inventory and clientele is always approached.
The Basic
Maybe a step up from being mobile, maybe just to allow some active hand waving while talking. Consists of staking out a space in a central plaza, or near the entrance to an attraction, then laying out the goods on a sheet or table cloth draped on the sidewalk. Last night there was even a guy set up outside the supermarket down the road and it was the same guy we saw there at 11am that morning. Goods include watercolor prints of the monument/duomo you’re standing in front of, random items possibly collected from a dollar store or wooden wheeled letters that can be linked together to spell P-I-S-A…or combinations thereof.
The Tabletop
Great for displaying cheap rings and too many options for aviator sunglasses and those neon armed sunglasses that only come out for ’80’s parties. These arrangements are all mounted to a cardboard table and precariously balanced on a frame of light tube steel. More inventory available for display. Usually located near a bus stop or train station. Your standard ‘Rolex’ can also be purchased from one of these vendors for a good price if you find something you like and pay in cash.
The Mobile Stand
Next appears to be the mobile stand. A cart that opens up during the day to allow the hanging of goods for sale. Includes a power hookup to connect lights for nighttime vending. Various products available and they seem to range in value, which must mean there are different levels of even the mobile stand. A rough list of the various carts with goods of increasing value seems to consist of
  • iPhone and iPad cases
  • Plastic and knockoff purses in synthetics
  • T-shirts, with the typical I Heart NY…with NY crossed out in favor of ‘Firenze’
  • Rings, Jewelry and Chains
  • Scarves, accessory quality as well as for retaining heat
  • Leather covered goods, cases for your reading glasses, lipstick case with mirror, change purses
  • Belts, with a surprising lack of belt buckle variety
  • Leather gloves, cashmere lined of course…none of that cheap material
  • Leather Wallets and leather-bound notebooks/journals
  • Purses and bags, all authentic and locally made of course

The ultimate in portable street vending...without going as far as a food truck

The Shop

After graduating from the mobile stand, why not have a shop carrying all the same goods you see on the street…only now with a higher price tag and hidden by the mobile stands out your front door? Oh yeah, these shop owners seem to double up having a mobile stand as well to not miss out on the constant flow of tourist buyers that can’t see the shop in behind all the hanging goods.
So, if you’re entrepreneurial enough…why not start gathering up a few items from your nearest dollar star and hock them from a bag slung around your shoulder. Offer ‘free’ friendship bracelets to develop a buying relationship, and slowly work your way into the position of shop owner.
And anyone requesting gifts/souvenirs on our return…our bags are already full of too many clothes. Remember?

A Sunday drive, train style

A beautiful Sunday here. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and started a mere 3 degrees above freezing. I know there may be a little envy about the weather here, but a scarf and gloves are definitely required for any kind of tourist wander about town. It’s not all Speedos and olive oil!

How could cottony clouds like these ever threaten the skies?

Today, another visit outside of the city though with Siena as the destination. Was a bit of a late start, but with a little hustle we did make it out and to the station on time. Four hours on location, with yet more pictures of old world walls framing newly painted shutters. More churches with cloud dabbed blue skies, and pigeon filled fountains. Wrap it all up with a one euro square of greasy Pizza Marinara, getting turned around twice before a mad dash, in the dark, back to the train…and it’s a full day.

We are nicely settled in our apartment for the week. A distinct lack of drunken foot traffic from outside, no dumpsters being emptied at 23:30, no construction or delivery trucks before 5am, uninterrupted Internet…conveniences which make it difficult to leave the place. Included was also a 4-pack of TP and a bottle of Leonardo Chianti! We made it out though, through the maze of halls and doorways that lead eventually to the street. We passed an artist in the suite next to us, focused on an oil painting underway.  Her windows open to a chilly but inspiring sunny courtyard, and Coldplay filling the air for her preference of soundtrack to the morning. This space was once a print shop, and now a relatively quiet and charming mix of commercial and residential. Now we’re only ten minutes away from the Duomo and Firenze SMN… let’s just sum it up as an upgrade.

The streets are also a little less busy. One way traffic has cars closely parked on one side, and fully on the sidewalk on the other. Day or night the walk back here seems more relaxed. I can’t say this place is truly pedestrian friendly, even with the dedicated zona pedonale a person still needs to be wary of the taxis and scooters zipping up behind you.

Seems easier to walk in the streets. No poo there!

I have previously commented on poo on the sidewalks. Similar issue here with a distinct lack of care here in Firenze for where dog owners will let Fido drop a deuce. How many city officials need to stop and scrape the bottom of their shoe off on the curb before installing those bag holders? It also brings up a personal dilemma for a dog owner…when your dog is taking a leak on a car, no hydrants noted in this city, do you stop him mid-stream… or allow that best friend to continue draining his bladder onto that new paint job? Guess which option we saw today?

So, a nice neighborhood, it’s chilly, and we have a great place to stay in Florence. A little hot and sour soup to finish a busy day of strolling around. Time to crack a beer, wash down that coffee-flavored yogurt, and figure out where we are off to next. Hopefully with even better accommodations…and maybe still at a better price.