Sunday, September 30, 2007

Jogging in Florence

This morning we got up at around 8:30am and went for a jog. Jogging is more popular than I would have guessed. (I’m glad Mark insisted we packed running gear.) We see lots of joggers daily in Firenze. Especially on the south side of the Arno, with its shady streets and more residential feel, jogging is actually fun. Anyway, we went for a 10km jog. We could tell it was 10km because today was the day for the “Corri La Vita” (combatti il tumore al seno – walk for breast cancer, I think) and the course was being set up with signs for a 10km and 6km run/walk. Without intending to we ended up doing the 10km loop. We jogged from our apartment right up Costa San Giorgio to Forte Belvedere and through a back entrance into the famous Giardino di Boboli. The man at the entrance thought we were runners in the event (however, we were several hours earlier). We ran through the park and out the back side and made a huge loop back through the south hills of Florence to San Miniato al Monte and then to the Piazzale Michelangelo and then home again. There are hundreds of routes through the hills and this was just one of them. We are hoping to explore more of the routes in the coming months.

Hanging Out The Laundry

It's the second full day in the apartment and we've been catching up on laundry. We have the Hoover Ladytropic HX 44S / Zerowatt washer/dryer unit. It sort of dries. Clothes come out steaming and lightly damp. They definitely need more drying. We’ve been hanging them out on the line outside of our 2nd story window. They dry up nicely. It’s different than just relying on a dryer because now we have to start thinking about the weather and the timing of putting laundry out and taking it in.

The clothesline is right over an adjacent apartment entrance. The lady that lives there does not like low hanging items we were informed. Apparently some bed sheets put out by the property manager of our house went missing. Hmm. Guess, we’ll keep this in mind. Hope she can’t jump high.

Coin

Went to buy some household things at Coin in central Firenze. The basement has "bargain" items (well not really). We walked out with three bags of stuff which we carried straight through the heart of the main piazze on the way home. We had a bag (with a comforter in it) that was 4 feet by 2.5 feet and bright red. It was fun navigating it around all the picture-snapping tourists. The weather was beautiful and everyone was out (because it is European Heritage Days) with free admission to museums as we would later find out.

Later we passed by the Giardino Bardini and got in for free for some great photos of the city. The garden is really close to our house.

Taking the Trash Out

What if you had to take the trash further than your garage or curb? Would you use less? I think so. In Firenze, you take your trash to the nearest neighborhood garbage bin. Ours is located about 100 yards away. (There are also bins for recycling: paper, plastic/glass, and garden/kitchen waste. Each bin is a different color.) In just a few days, my thinking started to change. Every time we buy something I now think about how to get rid of or recycle packaging. We have two tiny trash cans: one under the kitchen sink and one in the bathroom.

We started taking plastic bags with us on shopping outings (stuffed in small day pack) because if you go shopping you could get charged for a bag (borsa) or worse, get a cheapo one. So, if you have a good strong one, bring it. Reuse. Canvas totes don’t seem hip here, yet.

Non è un cacatolo x Cani! Maiali!

Someone wrote this on a wall near our house. There were some dog droppings there and the graffiti was basically saying that it wasn't a toilet stop for dogs. The next day I went back, the worse of the droppings were removed. Cani = dogs. Maiali = pigs (really Italian equivalent of bitch). Please, Italian friends write me on this one. I think cacatolo should be caccatolo with two c's.

Addition: someone wrote to say it should be cacatoio. The person who wrote on the wall has bad handwriting.

Friday, September 28, 2007

We Moved In

We took ownership of the apartment on Friday afternoon. We spent a few hours with the property manager. Later we met the owner and his father. They were swapping refrigerators (long story). The dad was familiar with Seattle because we was a Italian (what else) clothes buyer for stores in Seattle. I'll just say the apartment (really a house) has good points and bad points. The good points are location location location and the fact that it is super quite (very important for us). The main bad point is that it wasn't quite provisioned the way we would have liked. But with a couple of small outings we can remedy that.

The location is here (actually a little to the right of this pushpin). It is up against a green belt. The street is so small that only scooters and smart cars can manage it. Therefore, it is quiet. Just a few click clacks a day from well-heeled Italians taking the street as a short cut.

The house has 2.5 stories. The first floor is kitchen, dining and living room. The second story has a bathroom and general purpose room with a small bed and armoire. The second story has a very high ceiling and you can see the beams and terracotta tiles. From this general purpose room there is a smaller one half to three quarter length stair that goes up to a loft with a bed and lots of storage. There is a skylight above the bed. It's a pretty good layout.

Gas Station Attendants

Outside of the big cities, gas station attendants seem to always be waiting around for you to pull up for gas. Their uniforms are pretty snappy – a jumpsuit with the company colors. There are both men and women attendants. There are self serve stations but they don’t seem as popular. Here is the web site of a popular gas station chain in Italy: Agip.

Cuccitiamo

Annoying graffiti that appears many times around central Umbria. It was typically written on road signs. Childish, even in Italian. It means “Puppy/honey I love you” – I think.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Kebab

We broke down and went to our first kebab shop this evening. There seems to be at least one in every moderately sized town. We walked by this one in Spoleto many times and decided that we wanted something quick for our last night. It was pretty good. For 3 Euros we got something that looks like a big burrito with chicken, lettuce, tomato, onions, and French fries (just a few). The place is very popular with young kids. We talked briefly with the owner to ask him about the tortilla-like wraps and he said he makes them fresh every day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Travel, Eyewear, and Kebab

These shops seem more numerous to us now than we remember in past visits to Italy. An Italian friend said because of rising income, people have opportunities for travel and the travel agencies (usually just once person at a desk) are providing nice package deals to meet the need.

Eyewear stores are also popular specializing in very trendy eyewear - usually with thick sides and sparkles.

Kebab, well, because it tastes good and is fairly cheap and quick I guess.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Vietato Fumare

Posted in restaurants: No smoking! Or more literally, smoking prohibited. It's amazing to us because last time we were here, smoking was allowed in restaurants. For us, the eating experience is vastly improved. For more info look here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What's Up?

We've had spotty internet connection in Bologna and now again in Umbria (Spoleto). The situation should improve when we relocate to Firenze on week's end. So far, everything has been awesome and Umbria is beautiful. The weather has been about 70-75F/sunny each day - couldn't ask for better.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Speramo che Lu Pado schioppa!

Loosely: we hope the Padua team blows up. A sign we saw in Spello. They take sports seriously here. Lu Padua I was told is dialect. Speramo = we hope.

Spello is a beautiful, peaceful little town. Thanks to Debora for showing us around and getting the chance to meet her two grandmas.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Squacquerone e Crestine

A type of cheese typical of the Emilia-Romagna area that we had for lunch. It was served with crescentine, a type of fried bread, and various salumi. In fact the appetizer looked just like this picture. You can see the crescentine in the foreground.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Scusateci per il disagio

Please excuse our mess. I like this phrase. I saw this in downtown Bologna.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Empty Fridge

Of all the symbols of packing up and moving away for awhile, the empty fridge hit home with me that we are leaving. We are shutting off the refrigerator so we threw away some things and gave others away. (Exceptions: we swigged down the last of the limoncello with a friend and put a liquer we brought back from Sardinia, made from myrtle, in the basement.)

We’ve been living with minimum provisions for a few days now and it really isn’t so tough. To think folks can’t live without two refrigerators these days.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Packing Board

We broke down and went to AAA and bought the packing board and some compression bags. Several friends mentioned the usefulness of these items so we came off our high horses to try them. I’m still skeptical, because I’m a “stuffer” as in just stuff everything in. None of my clothes are that special that I need to care about what they look like – or at least that’s what I tell myself. And no, we are still not packed. BTW, I just love what Anne can do with scarves.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What to Pack?

It’s getting closer to leaving and the question usually asked is “Are you packed?” Packing, clothes-wise, is not too bad for me. I can list easily the number of pants (3, 2 jeans, 1 pair black slacks), underwear (6, ex-officio travel), socks (6-8 smart wools), etc. Shoes are a little trickier, but still not bad. A pair of everyday shoes, a pair of hiking/cross trainers, and a pair of black dress shoes – is the minimum. If room permits, a pair of sandal-like shoes or running shoes (very *not* Italian).

The problem I have is what to pack data-wise. How many books to carry? How many maps to bring? What kind of supporting data? From past trips, I realized that we usually brought more guide books than we actually used. And, we typically used the books at night to plan for the next day. Carrying the books around during the day was typically not needed. A map or some documentation about finding a trail, yes, but not books. These usage patterns along with the fact that you can buy good guide books and maps (in English) at your destination made me feel like we were spending a lot of energy lugging this material around. On the last few trips I even started taking apart guide books and taking only the relevant sections to cut down on what we had to carry.

This trip (given the length) I’m going a step further. I’ve taken apart several guide books completely and scanned them to OneNote. (See previous post.) There are some gotchas to the approach. First, it can be time consuming depending on the size of the book and type of paper (coating and size) used which could make the automatic feeder a nightmare to use. Second, it is only on the computer so we can only access the info when we have the computer. The idea I’m going for is to get as much digital travel info as possible to maximize what is on my computer. Scanned books combined with browser pages (copy and pasted or printed to OneNote) of relevant articles can make a pretty complete off-line resource. I even found PDF of Italian bad words and dictionaries. When the scanned pages are in the computer the words are recognized so that you can search for text on all the pages quickly.

I looked around and there are no downloadable guides that are as useful as the books. I like the thought that goes into how a book is produced; I just want it digitally. So I have scanned guide books for Italy (general), Croatia, and the Greek Islands. About a 1,000 pages. Also, I scanned books about culture and language for another 500 or so pages. We’ll see how useful this is.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Practical Nomad


Subtitle: How to Travel Around the World. Author: Edward Hasbrouck. At first I was a little skeptical of this book, but as I flipped through the pages and read different sections I warmed up to it and found I liked what the author was saying. On Visas: “…on asking for a visa you are asking for a favor, not claiming a right.” On choosing destinations: “Your daily activities and the people you meet have more influence on the quality of your travel experience than the sites you visit or sights you see.” And then a small passage on independence versus interdependence – as in citizens of capital-rich countries often value independence while citizens of labor-rich countries often value interdependence - and to keep this in mind when travelling.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Prego! Scanned!

It may not be the best book for learning Italian, but the Prego (6th Edition) is the book we are familiar with, so I scanned it. Yes, all 500+ pages are now a searchable OneNote notebook. (I don't want to carry the book on the trip but I'm committed to carrying a laptop so I might as well maximize what is on the laptop.) It was relatively easy to do. Here's how I did it.
  1. Grab a dozen or so pages (each chapter is about 12 pages and much more gets you into trouble on our scanner).
  2. Put them into the scanner (ours is a HP OfficeJet 7310 All-in-one) feeder.
  3. Scan to PDF (not searchable)
  4. Open PDF and print to OneNote. You should get a column of even or odd pages depending on what you started with.
  5. Take the stack of pages and keep the same order but flip each page so you get the other side of the page.
  6. Scan to PDF again and now you have a column of pages that are the companion pages to the previously scanned bunch.
  7. Print to OneNote again and arrange the newly imported pages alongside the previously imported ones (move the pages together, don't do it one by one).
  8. Repeat until the book is finished.

I used an X-acto knife to remove the sections of the book.

I am impressed with OneNote's ability to recognize words in the scans. It isn't perfect but it can usually get you to what you are looking for. Plus, if you want to, you can annotate the pages for better searching.