Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

How terrific to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner. We spent a leisurely day free from worrying if the thermometer has been released by an overstuffed roasted turkey. On our way to dinner, we passed by Best Buy and saw people camping outside the closed store. These people must have had their dinner early or at the store's parking lot. They are serious shoppers who want to be the first to enter the store tomorrow when it opens at 5 a.m. and avail of the bargains on the first and biggest shopping day of the holiday season. It's been a cold night and it's unimaginable how they can sleep at the parking lot on Thanksgiving evening.

Our dinner table was filled with all the trimmings and more but before digging into the turkey, honeybaked ham, prawn cocktail, mochiko with Chinese sausage, cranberry, cheese and crackers, mocha cake, leche flan, apple pie, cashew nuts, and an assortment of chips, we said a little prayer of thanks. And it was this:
"Thank you Lord for this wonderful opportunity to celebrate together
Thank you for all the good things you've given us and for the bad
Which makes us appreciate the good things all the more
And thank you for the feast we are about to partake."

I might add a prayer of gratitude that Thanksgiving comes around just once a year else I'll grow out of my denims if I ate anymore.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

10 Places to see before you......

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

The proliferation of these books and blogs listing where you should go before you kick off is phenomenal. This is one of the reasons why tourists are sometimes disappointed with a destination because they had such high expectations after reading someone's overly enthusiastic and personal account of a place they visited and recommend you to see before your last breath. No book or magazine or e-zine can can give you a sense of place until you get there. So where you want to go is entirely up to you.

There are places we visit that linger in our minds long after the journey is over. Remember the ad, "Your Windsong stays on my mind"? Here are my Windsongs:
1. Yosemite National Park, California - When I first laid eyes on Half Dome, I had a frog in my throat. I thought of the artist whose hand sculpted it, painted the landscape with towering trees, sketched waterfalls and streams where his pets could sate their thirst and drew expansive meadows where they could play under big, blue skies. Ah, but there's more to feast your eyes on in this great museum of nature. But you'll have to go and pick the artwork you like best.
2. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada - I remember looking down at the Old Town and the river beyond from my room at the Hilton. It was a beautiful sight.
3. Sydney, Australia - As our plane made its descent, I caught a glimpse of the Opera House and thought, "I can go home now. I've seen it!"
4. The Grand Canyon, Colorado - The bus driver asked me if I took enough pictures after observing me clicking away. "I couldn't possibly take enough pictures to capture the immensity of the Grand Canyon", I replied. And he agreed.
5. The Inside Passage, Alaska - I can feel Alaska from where I stand on the front deck. It's quiet and peaceful, the islands are uninhabited and the chill pierces my bones but I am loving it.
6. Cairo and the Nile River - I suffered from sensual overload trying to absorb all the things I saw, remembering facts and figures from the lectures, tasting falafel and drinking hibiscus tea, meeting new people and making new friends, shopping in the souks, sailing in a felucca and speaking the few words I know in Arabic. Inshallah I will be able to cruise the Nile River again.
7. Venice, Italy - On my first trip to Venice in the 70's, I got lost in the maze of alleys looking for a church on a Sunday afternoon. I came across some nuns who were happy to show me the way, saving me from my predicament. That experience left a long lasting impression of bewilderment over labyrinthine streets with no way out.
8. Home - Where I can take a long hot shower, wash my clothes, rest in bed with crisp, clean and sweet smelling sheets and dream of the next destination.

What are your Windsongs?

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Panini e Torta

I know you're wondering why I would eat at a McDonald's after I've given you a list of fine restaurants where I had the pleasure of dining. Let me explain. I had just come back to Assisi at the end of a long day climbing one of those "mountain villages". I was tired, cold and was looking for a clean restroom. McDonald's was just down the corner from the train station so I ran over there and on my way to the clean Ladies Room, I passed by the display of tortas (cakes) and stopped to check out the goodies. There were cupcakes, doughnuts, croissants, and a selection of tortas. I was deliriously bewildered from the overabundance of choices. I finally settled for the Torta della Nonna (Grandma's Cake) which is filled with ricotta cheese and egg yolks and topped with confectioner's sugar and almonds. I could have had the Torta di Noci (walnut cake) or Torta Macao or Torta Caprese. Of course they offered cappuccino, latte, and café americano among other beverages.

I was surprised to see they had buffalo wings besides panini (burger) but alas, no pizza or bruschetta. This is half the fun in discovering McDonald's restaurants away from home. The menu will usually offer something different. In Hawaii I enjoy the saimin (noodle soup) sold at McDonald's.

I also noticed several McCafés. And depending on the time of day, most of these places were packed with people.

So if you happen to be at a McDonald's in Tokyo or Egypt or some other destination, please let me know what you find in their menu.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

This thing called "amore"


Traveling by train from one hilltown to another in Umbria, I was privy to amorous displays by couples saying goodbye to one another. If the lingering kisses were an indication of how long or how far the girlfriend, husband, or lover is traveling, then I can surmise that the separation would be for a prolonged period. I can't say that the traveler was going very far because the train ride from Florence to Rome is only 2 hours.

I didn't see any tears but lots of intense kisses and caresses which brought a smile to my face. I even saw a young man keep holding back his girlfriend as she tried to board the train. In the end, he went up to the train with her and delivered her to her seat.

It was touching to watch from my window seat the show of affection unfolding live and in color. How wonderful to see that love is alive and well. It made me realize that parting is really "such sweet sorrow". But I disagree with Shakespeare that "I shan't say goodbye till it be morrow". Rather I would a thousand goodbyes if I were to be the recipient of these delicious and bittersweet manifestations of love. Ciao, amore.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Room with a View - Saving Euros

Suore Svedesi, Assisi

With the dollar exchange vs. the euro at an all time low, I'm back to traveling as I did in the "hungry" years. This means staying at cheaper hotels without sacrificing clean and safe surroundings. I found this in religious hotels which offered not only nice rooms but in some, both breakfast and dinner as well. What a deal!

At the Suore Svedesi in Assisi, my room had a view of an olive orchard and church steeples behind medieval walls. It was harvest season and I observed some nuns picking black olives which were later taken to be pressed for olive oil. The nuns were having such a great time under unseasonably warm and sunny skies that I wished I could have joined them although I would not go up the tree. One nun's veil got caught in the branches and it was quite a picture as she tried to untangle her veil, laughing all the way. Only in Italy.
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Suore Svedesi
Via Moiano 1
Assisi, Italy
For other locations around the world:
Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vivere per mangiare


Umbria
Assisi
*Ristorante Bar Metastasio - Via Metastasio, 9
Bruschetta al Tartufo (Norcia truffles sprinkled over bruschetta)
Love the Braciola Erbe (grilled in aromatic herbs)
House Wine
Panoramic view of the valley from the terrace or eat indoors on a cold day in their rustic cavelike dining room.

Gubbio
***Taverna de Lupo, Via Ansidei 6
Prima Piatti - Sfogliantina al legere salsa bianca with tartufo, ham
Contorno - Timbale de asparagi e patate
Seconda Piatti - Trota in lemon sauce
Dolci - Assortment of biscotti
Wine: Prosecco

Perugia
*Osteria de Gambero (Ubu Re) - behind the Duomo
Antipasto - Bruschetta al tartufo
Entrée - Umbrichelli al persico del Lago Trasimeno
Dolci - Dolcetti delle Umbrie with Vin Santo
Dining room wall is filled with modern paintings.

Tuscany
**Kome - Via dei Benci, 41/R, Firenze
Sushi and BBQ restaurant near Santa Croce
Choose from the array of sushi, gamberi or chicken fry, noodles from color plates rotating around the bar. Or you can order the fixed menu which includes a variety of sushi for 14.90 euros.

*Wabi Sabi - Via Romana, Firenze
Japanese restaurant
The salmon steak was well prepared.
Stark modern setting in white.

All these restaurants, besides serving excellent cuisine, offered friendly and efficient service.
* 25 euros and up per person
** 30 euros and up per person
** *40 euros and up per person

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tartufo


It was an overcast day when I visited Gubbio. After sunny days, the cold November winter air claimed its due and it was reason enough to take shelter at a trattoria for some truffles and prosecco. For prima piatti I chose the sfogliantina al tartufo (Norcia truffles that are heaven). This was followed by trout from Lake Trasimeno with a timbale of asparagus and potatoes. The waiter, who lived in New York for a good many years, made sure my glass was always filled with prosecco. I had to say no to dolci (dessert) but he gave me a plateful of local cantuccini (biscotti). How could I refuse?
After all that climbing to the top of the hill to see the Duomo, I thought I could afford to eat and not worry about the calories. Anyway, those hilltowns are really mountain villages. The climb is steep and the descent is as much a workout as it pulls the knees, not to mention the cobblestones that are the bane of flat feet.
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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, November 10, 2007

In Umbria and Tuscany


I have an ambitious plan to see as many places in Umbria and Tuscany. I made Assisi my base to explore Perugia, Gubbio, and Spoleto. But after days of climbing uphill, my feet now feel like lead. At the end of the day, I sleep for long hours to rest my body and prepare it for another day of physical training.

Today I'm off to one more hilltown, Orvieto. It's a late start but now I've accepted the fact that I can't possibly see everything. Unless I stay overnight in each town, I can only cover so much. And perhaps have some time to savor the Norcia truffles which are the black gold of Italian cuisine.

There was a train strike yesterday so I spent the day exploring Firenze. As many times as I've visited this city, there are still more places I haven't yet seen. I chose to return to Santa Croce to see the Pazzi Chapel by Brunelleschi and was treated to a fresco of St. Francis by Giotto and a Crucifix by Cimabue. It was bitterly cold and luckily I found KOME, a Japanese restaurant off of Piazza Santa Croce. I was famished and ate a fortune in sushi, gamberi fry and chicken. It was well worth it.

From there I went to the basilica of San Lorenzo, the church of the Medicis. And here is a treasure trove of works by Donatello and Settignano.

On the way back it started to rain. That wasn't so bad but the lightning and thunder were worrisome. What a relief it was to be back in my hotel room and put my feet up and under covers! It felt good to have seen so much in a day and my feet held up to boot.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar