Florence: Magnet for Artists, Geniuses and Weirdos

Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Monday, September 14, 2015

The first day I arrived in Florence — where many of the world’s famous artists, composers and Visionaries lived– I found out that humans have the same attitude toward creative peope as they had 500 years ago. When you think of Michealangelo, the most renknown sculptor in history….would you ever think that his father didn’t want him to be an artist? When Michaelangelo took an apprenticeship with a local sculptor, his parents frowned on their son becoming a ‘lowly stone cutter’. They wanted him to be a banker, and work in his family’s banking business. Can you imagine Michaelangelo NOT becoming an artist because most of his time was spent working at a bank? How much support does a rock star get when they’re trying to create music? Mostly zero, unless of course, they have a hit song after all thise years of putting up with people’s cynicism and doubtfulness. Jim Morrison’s father never approved of him being in a band, or simging. He wanted his son to join the navy.  Can you imagine Jim Morrison NOT becoming a singer because his father thought it was a frivolous thing to pursue?
How many people who want to passionately pursue art, creativity or ideas that seem weird get taken seriously?
Galileo, the “father of modern science”.. you know, that super smart guy who discovered that planets are round– not flat– and revolve around the sun, was charged with heresy by the Catholic Church and put under house arrest for not believeing in Aristole’s theory that the earth was flat. This theory was sanctioned by the Catholic Church, who even threatened Galileo with torchure if he kept publishing books to prove the theory true. There was Dante Aligeri, the poet who had a day job as a politician, and Mozart often hung out in Florence when he went on a drinking/ composing binge.

You can definitely feel that strong contrast between creating art and the pursuit of commercial wealth in Florence, where both occur simultaneously. It’s one of the design capitals of the world, (home of the Gucci meseum).  Plenty of people with far out ideas and creative impulses who visit there, never leave.

I can’t figure out why I’m addicted to visitng Florence. Its where ancient history meets modern technology. Where Midevil Castles are turned into trendy boutiques and restaurants. Where I buy a pair of skinny jeans and then a gelato in the same hour.  Avid health food eaters are also chain smokers. The cobblestone streets are too narrow for cars, but they’re always filled with traffic, squeezing through places where people Can barely walk. The city thrives on contradiction, and contrasts.

I rented a 1 bedroom apartment for 3 nights, and just ‘lived’ there to see what evey day life felt like. I bought groceries at the supermarket and cooked an italian dinner every night. My travel buddy, Michael, and I would soon part ways. He would be leaving for Rome, then grabbing a flight back home to San Diego. I was headed for Milan, to catch a flight to Barcelona, Spain. But first, I would stop in Bologna to see what all the hype was about.

Lost in Venice– a Liquid Wonderland

Venice, Veneto, Italy
Saturday, September 12, 2015

VENICESept 12, 13
Lost in Venice: Uncover the Mysteries, glass treasures, and  Liquid Labyrinths that Steal your Soul
After a dreamy visit to Verona, your first sight of Venice is a total MindFuck. What? No roads? No streets? Just water, water everywhere. If you want to go any place, you have to take a boat, or walk through a labyrinth of narrow canals and cobblestone bridges. Every road and street is a freeway made of liquid.  Everybody floats around town on boats and ferries. So my travel buddy, Michael and I, bought a i hour unlimited travel pass for the two days we would spend trying to figure out where we could go, and how we would find our way through this maze of a city that’s like no other place in Italy.

In Venice, even with a GPS glued to your face, don’t plan on understanding where you are or how to get around. The first time I was in Venice was 30 years ago when I took my Grandmother to Italy for her 70th Birthday. Cell phones and Internet did not exist at that time, and all we had was a shitty map that never quite led us to what we wanted to find.  Even now, with GPS, somehow we would end up in a dark alley that led to a bar that led to several glasses of wine and conversations with strangers who also had no idea where they were or where they were going.

The lady at the train station info booth showed us how to find our hotel and which Vaporatti boat to take. There’s like 12 different city boat lines that transport people all around the labyrinths and Islands of Venice, sort of like a subway or a bus line. Given the fact that Venice is a huge mass of Islands and tiny bits of floating cities connected by bridges and canals, you are instantly confused. We took the boat that the info lady directed us to, and Micheal’s GPS took us on a long winding walk through the aforementioned alleys, bridges and canals till we finally found the hotel, obscurely tucked into a courtyard that was at least 500 years old. When we tied to check in, the guy told us we were at the wrong hotel, and that our reservation was at their ‘other hotel’ somewhere else in town.

. The concierge noticed the mind-fucked look on his ur faces and ordered us cocktails on the house, then called us a water taxi, which would have cost us an insane 50 euros. They sent us to Hotel Principe (a hotel with a completely different name that was on our reservation) that turned out to be only a one block walk from the train station. The Italian word for ‘late’ is ” ritardo”. I didn’t feel like I was late. for anything, but I did feel molto ritardo.
During a hallucinatory 48 hours we spent exploring this ancient city, I went on hunt for glass treasures in Murano, known for its one of a kind glass jewelry and sculptures,  discovered some insanely tasty Apertivo (small food plates)   at a local hole in the wall pub that was built in the 12th century,  and of course, MORE wine. Like the dark alleys and pathways that lead you into unknown places, Venice is brimming with people and conversations from all over the world. We met up a couple from Venice , California, who eagerly talked our ear off about everything from travel tips to their life story. The guy informed me that “he does alot of blow” which explains why he had so much to say. They showed us the ropes when ordering from a snotty bar tender who seemed really annoyed with us. “You have to be really aggressive,” he said with his hands flying around like an Italian. He was an Irish dude from Philly. “It helps if you act gay, and flirt with the bartender,” he added, before darting into the mens room for the 50th time. Wow thats so 80’s, I thought, as I gazed at an old photo of the Pope on the wall. I sipped my red wine under the blessing eyes of the Pope. He looked as if he was staring at everyone in the bar praying that all who passed through these ancient walls forget about condoms and birth control devices. Theres more Catholic  churches in Italy  than McDonalds and Burger Kings.
When you finally find your way out of the mazes,  it seems normal to consume an ungodly amount of gelato and cookies made of pistachio and chocolate. And maybe a Lemoncello, and, oh what the hell…another bottle of wine.  The cheesy sound of a karaoke type singer imitating John Lennon singing old Beatle’s song with an Italian accent drifted up the alley into our hotel window every night. I heard the his same setlist two nights in a row, which means the guy has probably been singing those same songs every night for the past 15 years, and if I come to Venice next year, Ill see that guy again. Theres a definite sense that nothing changes here. And even if there wasn’t wifi 500 years ago, people probably ate and drank in the  same places and did the same things under the watchful stare of statues of saints.
After a last hypnotic gaze at the turquoise green canal from my hotel patio, we packed up and headed for the Italo high speed train to Florence. oUr departing train was leaving “15 minutes ‘ritardo’, ” but after only 48 hours in Venice, my brain was at least 5 centuries ritardo. Which means Ill be back again next year, for another timeless journey in liquid wonderland.

Verona: Not for the Romantically Frustrated

Verona , Veneto, Italy
Friday, September 11, 2015

Romeo & Juliet’s VERONANot for the Romantically frustrated.
As I leave Milan, on the way to Venice, the countryside becomes softer and brighter, and, well…more romantic. The vibe there injects a shot of joy into your soul. The air feels infused dopamine and seratonin.  5 minues in Verona, and you feel elated. Who cares about evil in the world! Who cares about global warming or the fact that the planet will eventually blow apart from all the fracking and oil drilling. Who cares about the Rebublican candidtae debates! Who cares about Donald Trumps disturbing hair style! I suddenly don’t give a shit what people are thinking or doing or saying–I’m in Love! Not with anyone in particular. I’m just all up in that Romance land that’s called Verona.  It’s  one of those cities you have to stop and see if you like ancient castles, fortresses, balconies heavy with sculpture and endless waves of flowers.

The famous story of Romeo and Juliet happened  in Verona. The city seduces people with it’s rolling green hills, winding rivers and gardens. The it tells you to f*ck off with it’s menacing  fo
and foreboding gates that make any place impossible to permate. The whole place gives you the feeling that you can look, but you can’t go in. You can see and want, but can’t have. No wonder Juliet Killed herself. Those cock-blocking Capulets made sure that the dreams of Romance that blossom in Verona, just ain’t gonna happen. Sorry Romeo, try finding the love pf your life somewhere else. If match.com existed in the 12th century, there would be alot of appealing profiles, but never a relationship would happen. It’s just that kind of place.

After exploring Verona, I’m seduced into  a relationship–with Gelato. Sure theres more gelato shops in Italy as tcorn fields in the Iowa, but the deep dark chocolate with orange peel I got at a gourmet specialty shop there was so rich tasting and energizing I got a huge sugar/cocoa speed rush from it that kept me up all night. But who cares? Im in love. Even though I cant have everything that Verona makes you want, I can have a dreamy, experience of a lifetime in the one of the most beautiful cities in Italy

Party Down with the Ghosts of Gladiators in Milan

Milan, Lombardia, Italy
Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I jumped on the #73 city bus from Linate airport to City Center Milan.  Linate is a smaller airport that’s closer to town than Malpensa, the big airport. The entire area is recycled from old warehouses and military installations. It has an ancient industrial vibe–a fading world where the 21st century sweept the machines away with electronic technology. The warehouses morphed into glowing hotels and carparks. Like every century in Europe after it’s people are dead and gone, the places where they lived and worked remain, haunted by ghosts of a time gone by.

When I’m in Milan, The Piazza Del Duomo pulls me into a hypnotic trance. It’s a huge public square that wraps around a magnificent Byzantine Cathedral taht’s made of pink and white granite. I slide my flip-flops off to feel the cool grey marble under my feet. Duomo Piazza is the biggest one of so many outdoor gathering places in this stylish city where crowds of birds and people hang out. I call it the Woodstock of Pigeons and Saints. An enormous video screen looms over the cathedral. Nobody looks up at the screen, but we all look at the faces of Saints that stare at you from every angle of the Cathedral. They have a ghostly gaze in their eyes. I can feel them watching me, letting me know they’ve left this world behind. Each face has a different expression. Some of the watching eyes are calm, some astonished, and a few look pretty disgusted. Then I realize that these faces were just people, modeling for sculptors who were hired by the church. The essence of their souls  transcend the stone from which they’re sculpted.

Folded into the mix of tourists and fashionably dressed locals, are Entertainers strumming sad songs on guitars, people who levitate, ( or make you think they’re levitating) and guys selling selfie sticks, or handfuls of corn to feed the pigeons for a photo op.

The red double decker hop on hop off tour bus took me in a big circle around the city. I hopped off in time for Apertivo–or as Americans call it, “Happy Hour”.  Italian Happy Hour is nothing like the American version, where you get some chips and carby snacks and a few dollars off your over priced drink. In Milan, you get a huge buffet of amazing food free when you purchase 1 drink. It’s crazy. How do they make any money?

I have excellent gay-dar, so I set my controls to find the gayest neighborhood possible, which would insure that my friend Michael and I would  find the best music, the strongest drinks, the tastiest food, excellent pop art, and the coolest night clubs.

Sculptures of giant snails, super hot guys pondering where to go for a drink and the smell of spaghetti sauce and garlic told me I hopped off at the right place. The Navigli. This is where an endless string of bars line the banks of a river. Every bar has an awning in front of it, and lots of tables with seats facing the street for people-watching. For 9 euros (about ten bucks) you get a drink of your choice and unlimited food from a huge spread of unbelievably delicious dishes ranging from fruits and veggies, to meats, seafoods, salads, appetizers, and of course, pizza.  So, like…every freakin night for the price of a mediocre lunch in America you can get a gourmet meal with booze? And you won’t get fat? Really? Holy fuck.

I haven’t seen a fat person yet since I arrived in Italy. No one is rolling around on a scooter with their ass on a luggage rack. Yet everyone eats their face off every night. In Italy there is huge respect for food and eating. The way people eat here makes me think that if you shovel meals down in a huge hurry, you have committed a sin worthy of being cursed by Saint Luigi, the patron saint of food enjoyment. People eat slow. They talk, drink wine and bond with other humans. In other words, every meal is a party. Then, unfortunately they chain smoke. So prepare to choke during your meal unless you get used to second hand smoke flying up your nostrils at every outdoor cafe you dine in. So, for all of our American fatness…the Italians probably have bad breath and phlegmy lungs. Weirdly, the amount of people you see smoking in Italy makes you wonder…did anyone hear about the health hazard thing? Apparently nobody could care less.

One thing for sure, Italy is for the enjoyment of eating quality food. no trans fats, no GMO’s, no chemicals, MSG or artificial colors.  Most of the dishes are prepared simply with just a little salt, pepper and olive oil…and the flavor of the food itself generates the taste. I keep thinking I’m not going to have any more alcohol, carbs or sugar..but thats crazy. So I ordered another slice of pizza with olives and anchovies, and a glass of red wine.

We took a late night stroll through the neighborhood. The shops you pass sell t- shirts with hilarious and clever slogans, and lots of fun pop art novelties. We wandered through a string of smaller Piazzas lined with ancient stone columns where crowds of college age people sat in clusters on the ground drinking wine and reveling the night away. The night was lit with dramatic colors that danced off the columns. This was a place where gladiators once fought animals as a form of public entertainment hundreds of years ago.

There were people all over the place, which I thought was a refreshing alternative to a night club. I thought my buddy Michael was going to get whiplash at the speed his head was turning to  check out all the beautiful women strutting by. The Italian guys were oggling the woman too.  “Mama Mia!!!” a guy said to Michael as their oggling eyes mutually agreed on a smoking hot female with long legs and killer shoes. Michael was at a loss for words, but thanks to this Italian dude, he found two perfect words to sum it all up…”Mama Mia!!!”

In Milan, women show off their legs. Even when they’re riding a motorcycle to the office, they want you to know they wear killer shoes. Before leaving town to head for Verona, we ordered one last drink and toasted to beauty, food and everlasting fun. To Milan, the fashion capital of the world I say, Mama Mia!!!

Next stop: Verona, Italy

Milan–A Colorful Parade of Cocktails & Toilets

Milan, Lombardia, Italy
Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I arrived in Italy carrying very little luggage, but a whole lot of stress.
My first destination in Milan was the hotel bar at Espresso Hotel, a short walk from Linate Airport.  I would  launch my vacation with a fancy cocktail to shake off the lingering stress of some really shitty events that had no business traveling abroad with me.  After I dumped my baggage in a room that had a square toilet I beelined to the bar and ordered a Negroni. As I watched the bartender pouring four bottles of booze at once into a tall glass, I had no idea what would happen after my first sip of this lethal concoction. It’s an Italian specialty that sort of reminds me of a Long Island Iced Tea, only with twice as much alcohol.  Who invented this lobotomizing mashup of Campari, Gin, Vermouth and Champagne? But as the Italians say, “Salute! You must drink a Negroni for all Occasions! ” Really? Well Negroni number one was for the shocking moment when I left  LAX airport and Eddie, my travel buddy couldn’t get on the plane due to passport issues. Negroni number two was for last week in small claims court when my ex landlord who kept my security deposit when I moved out tried to sue me for another $6,000 in damages– which I proved were fictitious.   Negroni number 3 was for the last-minute scramble at work dealing with contractors who were supposed to turn my closet into a restroom but couldn’t figure out where the toilet would go. And Negroni number 4, 5, and 6 was for feeling bad about my friend Eddie who was totally excited about going on vacation, but suddenly couldn’t because his passport hit some sort of homeland security type snag in the renewal process that would take six weeks to resolve. At least my other buddy,  Michael’ made it to Italy ahead of me, so there was two of us and not three like we originally planned .

We would forget about all the stuff of life and make the best of it. I was ready to forget, but after 6 Negroni’s …my liver would NOT forget that I can’t drink more than one or two without getting trashed. My articulate conversations with Michael about the importance of staying healthy by balancing stress turned into a boozy babble in bad Italian about the bartender’s pants and how his ass looked really great in them.

The next day,  I remembered the square toilet. I remembered getting a really good look at it up close and personal after that mind numbing, de stressifying parade of Negroni’s. Trolling around Milan hitting bars, (for strong coffee & pizza this time) we came to realize that Italy is a place where no toilet flushes the same way. Some have buttons on the wall, some are  on the floor, and some you just have to figure it out or never leave the restroom.  I came to realize that this is what Italy is…a place where there’s eight million ways to flush a toilet.

Chocolate & Cappucino before we Leave Torino

Monday, October 14, 2013

The last few days of touring Italy with my mom were decadant, especially when we reached Torino, or “Turin” Italy.  Over the course of the past 3 weeks in Italy we were up to 3 cappucino’s a day, and god knows how many Gelatos, and thick pudding-like hot chocolate. I heard there was an ‘all day chocolate tasing pass” you could get in Torino, where chocolate artisans took their cocoa seriously. The two days we spent there was basically an all day chocoalte rampage, an amazing ‘appertivo’ discovery, and the stunningly amazing exhibit of ancient Egyptian artifacts at the Egyptian Museum.

I’m not a museum person, and neither is my mom, who we lovingly call Ginny “the Shark” .  (yes Italian Americans usually have nicknames’ you’re dying to hear the story behind)  BUT we love Egyptian artifacts, and the display was like no other. Instead of a sterile white, brightly lit series of rooms that you encounter in every museum on the planet, this place was dark, like a theatre , with black walls and the sculptures were dramatically lit, so you could be transported through time to the land of the Pharoes and Pyramids. It was easy to spend hours staring at the faces of the dead. WHO WERE these people?  They definitely liked having their portraits carved in granite..the hardest stone on the planet. Amid these sculptures I saw what looked like the world’s earliest Cankles. (fat legs with fat ankles) One sphynx face looked exactly like Michael Jackson. Was he one of them in a previous life–incarnated into a pop star?  The Egyptians invented wigs and toilets… and those stone tablets were probaby gossip columns, maybe the worlds earliest version of People Magazine.

You never really need to go to any museum in Italy. The streets themselves are museums or architecture. ALot of red stone, clay and brick was used to build the grand creations of Torino. One building ( like many treasures all over the country) was restored to its original beuty. The restoration to 9 years!  Imagine working on the same project for almost a decade of daily care and perverence.  If only I could feel that way about going to the gym. If I could restore my fat flabby ass the way these Italians restired their crumbling blackened buildings, I’d be Miss  America by now.

By mid October the weather is getting shitty. It’s gray, with a little cold wind and drizzle. I wasn;t worried about it. We were leaving soon, and had one more day to take one last expedition.

After our time warp in ANcient Egypt, we wander through the streets to see what turns up. A huge piazza revealed guys roating chestnuts on pushcarts, a colorful outdoor market in a piazza with all kinds of nostalgic items like old phones and glassware for sale, and little coffee shops where we had to taste the famous “Bellini”. ( coffee, chocolate and cream)  The hot chocolate was essentially melted chocolate that you drank–well…sipped as if you were drinking hot pudding. Nearby crowds of protestors are toting signs and banners and shouting their cause. I have no idea what they’re upset about because my Italian sucks and Google Translate wasnt cooperating.  We think the people were against a bridge being built (or torn down?)  Whatever. Just remember, When an Italian is happy they just want to feed you . When thye’re mad they just want to kill you. We had that feeling that Somebody’s gonna get wacked. The police were everywhere. We could only do one thing. Find food. We discovered an amazing “appertivo” which is a huge spread of all kinds of delicious appetizers and main course type foods that you get “free’ when you buy one drink. Turin was like a dream that transported us from ancient egypt to an emotional uproar of the people to food and bev heaven in 48 hours.

The next day, we too the bus back to Milan and said goodbye to Italy.
You cant go to Italy too many times. It’s a place you have to go repeatedly to explore every layer, and detail.

Or to just meet the Pope. I hear he’s a pretty cool guy.

Turin, last stop Before Jersey

Turin, Piedmont, Italy

Sunday, October 13, 2013

When it started getting cold and rainy, I start taking a closer look at indoor things like, museum statues, books, antiques and hallucinatory decor. The hotel we stayed at in Turin looked like it was decorated by a schizophrenic with multiple personalities. Each personality decorated a different section of the hotel. It had more textures, colors, patterns and themes than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. It was visually much too weird.

Luckily, later we spent the whole day at the Egyptian museum staring at early statues of gods that might have been Michael Jackson and several other pop stars in previous incarnations. If you look at the pictures, some of the gods had too many nose jobs, and also grabbed their crotches. That cant be an accident. I totally believe in reincarnation. One of the gods was a dead ringer for Biggy Smalls.

We were supposed to take a tour bus around town to see the whole place, but after spending so much time staring at Egyptian artifacts. we missed the last bus. However, we did see several groups of protesters in the big Piazza, and a couple on their honeymoon in the small piazza on a bench under a huge chestnut tree.

My mom had fun snapping photos of the local police, who were out in droves, surrounding the protestors in case someone got crazy. We suspect that only attractive looking cops were called in to work, and the unattractive ones were asked to take the day off. All of them looked like GQ models in uniforms, toting radios, guns and ‘man-bags’ Apparently, Italian cops carry satchels that look like fashion accessories. No sense carrying deadly weapons without a nice, hand crafted leather tote bag to keep them in.

As the rain and cold crept over the sky, we caught the last shreds on sunlight at the flea market, where you can gaze at endless stalls hawking antique clothes and housewares and cha-cha’s. I even saw a booth just selling retro phones!

It got colder and rained MORE….so we scurried down the drizzly Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and hit the appertivo, a huge buffet of yummy food that you get when you buy a drink. Appertivo is light years beyond the common dish of peanuts in a bar. You can actually stufff your face with enough food to be full of a cheap, healthy meal for the price of a beer.

Theres really only one thing to do if you’re leaving Italy. You have to drink as much hot chocolate as possible. It looks like thick, crude oil…and tastes amazing. I tried the Becharin, a drink made with coffee, chocolate and cream, but I likes the hard core cup of chocolate better. Turin is a city where you can sample some insanely good chocolate. They give you a “choco pass” where you can just eat unlimited chocolate from the different shops for 48 hours. i tried a lot of chocolates, but I didn’t get the choco pass because I was afraid it would make me insane to the point where I would actually love the hallucinatory , schizophrenic decor in my hotel.

When it was time to leave Turin, I figured out the easiest way to reach Malpensa airport in Milan would be by bus. And it was true. The bus was nice and comfortable, and cheaper than the train. So the final roll to the airport would have been great except for the hyperactive group of Middle Eastern type guys sitting next to me and behind me, who either had ADHD, drank too much Turkish Coffee, were on speed and hard of hearing–or all of the above. They yammered loudly and rudely for the entire two and a half hour ride, never running out of subjects to shout to each other about. They smelled like Halston and lamb kebobs. After an hour, I felt like blowing them up. I wondered if thats why theres constant fighting in the Middle East–Cause of these irritating guys who won’t freakin’ shut up. I shudder to think about a world populated by loud, obnoxious guys who cant sit quietly for  even two minutes and they’re constantly ranting and yelling. The  answer to world peace. is simple: talk at a normal decibel level and stop being loud and irritating. I cant even imagine what they’d sound like talking on cell phones.

Finally we made it to Malpensa, ready for more chocolate, campari, vino rosso, and god knows how many kinds of carbs. I feel a little bloated. No. Totally stuffed with tasty treats and dishes of Italy. Tomorrow I’m leaving for the USA, feeling appreciative of my country, the English language, and of life in general. But  somehow the place got into my molecules. I feel the urge to learn Italian and go back there. I just might have to.

10 Thousand Cups of Cappucino–Wired in Lucca!

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy
Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lucca, and Montecatini Italy

Five weeks of traveling is the average European and Australian’s vacation. This is my third week in Italy and my eyes are bugging out from caffeine-fueled window shopping and sightseeing.

So far it’s been 1200 Cappuccino’s, 400 Vino Rosso’s, 300 bottles of aqua minerale’, 200 appertivos, and 8 million slices of Italian bread with olives and cheese, but who’s counting! The amount of saints here can fill a stadium, and the pizza and pastries still look appetizing but I don’t want to eat them. I’d rather just stare. So now I’m staring at a deeper level, beyond the surface. I’m looking at vending machines, where you can much more than snacks and cold drinks. You’d be surprised what you find on display here.

Our past three days in Lucca have been a staring, oggling, coffee swilling window shopping fest on a quest for shoes made in italy. You can’t really appreciate shoes made in Italy unless you have some Italian in your DNA, and those Italian genes went straight to your feet. Shoes made anywhere else in the world just don’t feel perfect like Italian shoes do. Italians understand food, wine, art and FEET. We gaze at shoes, and stop frequently at a favorite cafe called PULTE. It has everything you could ever want; Wifi, Exotic snacks like Vegetable pudding pie, all kinds of coffees and cocktails, pidgins who parade on a red carpet, and clearly marked restrooms. if you ever crave shoes, shop in Lucca. I didnt take picture of the huge wall that surrounds the city, but you can probably imagine what it was like back in the day…in the 12th century. They probably sold a lot of sandals here.

Next we explored Montecatini, a pretty little posh resort town in the hills where people go mainly to soak in therapeutic thermal pools of water and get spa treatments. We soaked for an hour, and I to get into this strange hot tub contraption, where yu peddle while you soak in scalding bubbling seltzer water, , but an angry-looking gym attendant dude chased me out of there and just said, “NO! Extra!!” How do you say “I hate my job!” in Italian? Maybe he looked at my cankles and hairy legs

After our shoe shopping mission was complete we took the local train to Montecatini to explore this sparkly little spa town in the hills of Pistoia.

Cinque Terre Riomaggiore–Not for Stroke Victims or Skateboards

Riomaggiore, Liguria, Italy

Monday, October 7, 2013

Rio Maggiore Italy– Not Recommended for Stroke Victims & skate boarders!!!

At first I thought it would be absolutely a must to go south to the Amalfi coast, but then after chilling in Cinque Terre…a series of 5 towns accessible only by foot via steep vertical climbs– there is really no need to travel for hour and hours to see another Italian Riviera. The Cinque Terre is pretty much the best Riviera I’ve seen, if you don’t need to go swimming and do beachy stuff. It’s chock full of stunning views, friendly cats and dogs, delicious fresh sea food and wine shops, and cardio igniting hikes. Apparently Italy doesn’t provide much for the physically challenged aside from a small slot for one at the bottom of the hill.

After spending 3 days in Florence which included a hair raising drive through steep, narrow, winding, wild boar inhabited roads– we took the train to Rio Maggiore . I had to stand on line for an hour to buy a ticket for the local train to Riomaggiore, the first little seaside town in a string of 5 towns hanging over the Ligurian sea. From there, you can explore the other villages loke Vernazza, Monterosso and Portovenere..plus a tiny cluster of Islands called Tino, Tinetto and Palmaria. I know, these names sound like appetizers on a menu at an Italian restaurant…but hey, they could be the Italian equivalent of Alcatraz, or Rikers Island. Just don’t get arrested there.

There’s a hop on hop off boat that goes to all the towns, and the day we arrived it was pissing rain. So we slogged around with umbrellas, doing the best thing there is to do in a little village…eat hand made pasta with local mushrooms and local sea creatures…like octopus, shrimp…and a bunch of other tasty fish.

I’m excitedly sampling sea food dishes because I stopped eating fish since the Fukushima nuclear power plant explosion. On the west coast, you’re pretty much going to absorb pure radiation horrors from anything that lives in the pacific ocean. So it was fun to think about seafood that doesn’t have a third eye or fish and chips that won’t make your DNA produce mutant babies. Plus it was really tasty!!

Luckily it only rained for a day. The boat we took to the other Villages, Monterosso, Vernazza, and Portovenere, was PACKED with herds of chubby, lumbering guided tourists. Looking at them, I felt relieved that I can read a map and go places without the need to follow condescending tour guide holding up a paddle. Their cameras were bigger than their asses. I overheard some heavy New York accents, tawking loudly about the small portions…and about the pancho’s they bought, as they knocked back shots of Lemoncillo.

A gaggle of Italian ladies from Calabria who couldn’t figure put why we were American but looked Italian, grilled us about our ancestors until we explained came from Sicily. One lady sternly reminded us not to go to Calabria…because of course , the Calabrese and the Sicilians still hate each-other. Then they all giggled about it.

Monterosso, one of the few towns you don’t need a carabiner and mountain climbing gear to stroll through –had a surprise around every corner, all sorts of hidden shops and bistro’s, wine shops and friendly cats everywhere. These cats must have been runway models in a previous life. They enjoy getting their picture taken, and even strike sultry poses when there’s a camera pointed at them. I guess if I was a runway model, Id come back as a cat so I could eat, and still look pretty with a fat stomach.

We wandered into the gay neighborhood. The rainbow flag and Obama 2008 stickers in windows confirmed that you’ve arrived at the right place. Even the local church had a distinctive ‘Liberace’ touch–chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. Saint Liberace’ must have declared chandeliers obligatory in the Cinque Terre.

Any extra calories accumulated by the handmade pasta-to-go and the pudding-like drinking chocolate will instantly evaporate just walking to my hotel room–which is a vertical trek straight upward. How we found our ‘bat-cave’ like room in the dark I have no idea. Good thing there Was a pile of cement bags that marked the many twists and turns of stone stairs. Make a left by the cement sacks!

In Cinque Terre, there are no cars allowed. You can hike through the towns, take a train or a bus or a boat…or just pretend you’re a mountain goat and see what happens.

This a place where you can buy an expensive tasting red wine for about 5 euros. Wine tasting doesn’t have to happen at a winery. Just go to a local wine shop, and sample away. If you’re in a hurry, just randomly pick any bottle off the shelf with your eyes closed and it will taste great. In Italy, you cant take a bad photo, or eat a bad tasting meal, or have a bad tasting wine. EVERYTHING looks and tastes delicious.

You also cant have a bad cup off coffee. Its against the law. So far, I haven’t seen a single Starbucks logo (thank god!) This is the only time I feel like getting religious– when I have to thank God there’s no Starbucks in Tuscany. I don’t know about southern Italy…but here in the North, you can even get a fresh ground espresso in the laundromat!

Every time I travel abroad, I always love going to a local laundromat to figure out how to wash my clothes. The signs were pretty dumbed down, for us foreign idiots who don’t know how to operate machines with coins. The laundromat attendant was a large cat. He meowed in Italian, toward the signs that say it’s forbidden to wash shoes.

I guess your shoes can get pretty dirty if you’re acting like a mountain goat —trekking through Cinque Terra.

Attack of the Drunk Tourist Packs in Chianti!

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

Chianti, wine country Tuscany Italy
If you have the ballionies to drive in Italy, the next thing to do after wandering the church and gelato shop encrusted streets, is to rent a car and drive out to wine country. Our next base was a cozy B & B in Panzano– a little village in Chianti, where people leave doors unlocked and everybody knows each other.

There are things to fear here– though. Beware of drunk German tourists. They get so trashed tasting wine they cant even hold their cameras straight to snap a picture. Beware of menus in restaurants. We thought we were ordering a steak for 4 euros–what a deal–it was ENORMOUS, and delicious!! But I didn’t read the small print that’s written in Italian. When we got the bill…the steak was 65 bucks! Turned out it was 4 euros per gram! But it was a pre-historic steak that’s taking several days to eat. In fact, I’m still picking pieces out of it out of my teeth as I write this. The steaks around here scare me a little. I love vegetarian food, but every so often, grilled wilde-beast is quite enjoyable.

Aside from super sized beef, there’s massive amounts of grapes and olives, and every road we drive down looks the same, except for one country road that’s dotted with a few roadside hookers sitting in plastic lawn chairs on the side of the road. I guess these grape truck driver guys aren’t exactly chick magnets…so these women are out there taking away their tension and their money.

We had a false start…when I dropped the GPS and we couldn’t figure out where to go. The renta car company made us buy a new one. So we had an inside track view at a Mega Mall…I guess this is where all the locals shop. I didn’t have a problem buying the GPS after getting reamed for the steak! I figure..hey, why not grab a hooker while I’m at it? Will she throw in a pedicure?

I programmed the new GPS with a calming female voice named ‘Jane’ so I don’t have to feel like I’m getting yelled at if I miss a hairpin turn uphill…one of millions I gunned in first gear.

Next, we checked out San Gimignano and Pisa, then Lucca. Checking out the mideival towers in San Gimignano, can see where the architect who designed the twin towers got his ideas. All I can say is that if you’ve seen one medieval village that’s been turned into a shopping mall…you’ve seen em all.

But you still have to take those photos! In Italy…old is good!!