Webelos Weekend

Posted: under Traveling with children.
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Black Creek Scout Reservation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not, nor have I ever been, a Cub Scout.  It is with a fair amount of amusement that I find myself camping with my two sons who are Webelos on the annual Webelos Weekend. The event is designed to help Webelos make a smooth transition to Boy Scouts when they cross over in the spring.  I think it is a great idea.

 

So here I am, one of the few mothers in a sea of fathers and sons. Around the campfire I realized that my gender was out-numbered 11 to 1. Oh, everyone has been very gracious, and I am particularly thankful for the Eagle scout who helped me construct the tent.  It is a new tent. I had not put it together, nor watched my sons erect it.  So I was a bit perplexed.  Tentpoles are not Tinkertoys; there is only one correct way to assemble them. How thankful I was to get the tent assembled before the last rays of sunlight dissappeared.

A clear sky meant a cold night. Temperatures in the 30’s are unfamiliar to my Savannah-born sons.  We snuggled three of us into a two-person sleeping bag and were snuggly warm.

So where am I right now? It the tiny town of Sylvania,  eating a Veggie-delight sandwich, and recharging my electronics.  The Webelos were supposed to cook breakfast for the adults; they ran out of food and time.  Then the campfire-cooked pizza for lunch consisted of sauce on a bun; they ran out of cheese.  My body was craving something green, and I don’t mean relish!

Time to upload this post and return to the campfire. Not that I contribute much to the storytelling. I have never been chewed out by a drill sergeant. I have never ignited myself while wielding. I don’t know how to lubricate Gulfstream jets. But hey, I am learning a lot.

Good clean fun!

Comments (0) Nov 10 2012

Worth the Effort

Posted: under Hiking, Photography, Pregnancy, Scuba diving, Snorkeling, Travel, Underwater photography.
Tags: , , ,

Green sea turtle

I was pregnant with my eighth child when I last visited Hawaii.  Actually, I was about six weeks shy of my due date. (I didn’t tell my midwife and she never asked about  my unseasonal tan.)

It is not like my husband and I planned to vacation in the third trimester of my pregnancy. He actually had to attend a medical conference (critical care, I think), and I was determined that he was not going to Hawaii without me.

Essential: snorkeling gear, water, and GPS

Pregnancy prevented me from scuba diving.  Never mind the fact that I could  not possibly fit into my wet suit! I was so buoyant, it would have taken several cannon balls to sink me! So the activities of choice were hiking and snorkeling.

The trail begins with lush vegetation.

On Maui  our best experience was off of Cape Kina’u, on the leeward side of the island.  In my experience, trail heads are rarely marked in any of the islands, so GPS and a thorough guide book are essential.  The entrance to our path was vague. We were to find a path 7/10 of a mile before the second to last telephone pole, not visible by car.We found it, and entered a trail flanked by lush foliage which quickly gave way to a vast lava field.  This type of lava is called a’a (pronounced ah ah), no doubt because that is what you would say if you attempted to traverse it barefoot.

I knew my feet were down there somewhere.

The hike was not terribly long, but I had two particular challenges: an altered center of gravity and the inability to see my feet.

This cove was our goal.

It was very rewarding to reach the cove and don my fins, mask, and diving gloves. Gloves are essential! The shoreline is densely guarded by pin-cushion-sharp sea urchins.

We enjoyed floating about, gazing down upon colorful sea stars, sergeant majors, and even a few humuhumunukunukuapua’as. Then who should come barreling through a gap in the rock? Not one, but two enormous green sea turtles. It was immediately obvious that they had no intention of going around us, and we had better get out of the way.

Up-close viewing of these elegant creatures of the sea made the effort entirely worthwhile.  You may remember from my first post, Poppies in Provence  , my conviction that the sweetest moments in life are rarely planned.

A’a as far as the eye can see!

The joyful experience of my encounter with the turtles made my return trip across the a’a a little less daunting.

Comments (2) Nov 08 2012

Blue – The Way I Like It

Posted: under Photography, Travel.
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Grand Cayman Horizon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What are you doing?  What ARE you doing?  What on earth are you doing?”  My husband was growing increasingly perplexed.  How could I explain to him that I was photographing the HORIZON.  How could he possibly understand that in the horizon off the island of Grand Cayman I found AZURE PERFECTION!

That’s right!  Perfection. No matter how much I look at it, I never tire of the color of blue. How thankful I am (for more reasons than one) that God cloaked the earth in an atmosphere to give us a blue sky by day, instead of black like on the moon.  How soothing to the eyes and calming to the soul!

Lavender and Turquoise

When I was in college I spent a good deal of time studying theatrical lighting design.  There was a never-ending dialog about whether a particular fill light was “warm” or “cool”.  Non-techies just couldn’t get it.  They would think warm=yellow, like the sun, and cool=blue, like ice.  Color theory in lighting design bears only a slight resemblance to your kindergarten color wheel, so after a while, you shrug your shoulders and give up.

Yet another attempt to capture the view.

But there, on the horizon of the island of Grand Cayman, one can see a  “cool blue” lavender sky harmonize with the  “warm blue” turqoise water (color not temperature).  The combination is intensely satisfying and restful, and if you are reclining in a hammock in Grand Cayman, it is probably because you needed a vacation.

Blue is always a perfect backdrop.

Why aren’t the waters off of Tybee Beach, twenty minutes from home, this color?

Is it any wonder that Grand Cayman, home of the perfect blue horizon, is also the only native home of the RARE BLUE IGUANA?  Kinda makes you think, huh?

Cyclura lewisi, aka Blue Iquana

Comments (1) Nov 07 2012

Chicago

Posted: under Travel.
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Flag of Chicago

 

The flag of Chicago depicts two blue stripes, representing Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, and four red stars, representing significant historical events in the city.  I believe the Chicago flag should depict a phoenix, because out of the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871 arose a beautiful, modern city.

I had the opportunity to visit Chicago last year with my husband.  He had to attend training (advanced interventional bronchoscopy stuff.  Zzzzzz.) so I got to explore the big city of Chicago and  meet up with a high school chum, Melisa Wells.  I had not seen her since high school graduation.  Melisa sat in front of me in AP English, and we shared a fascination with British music and world travel.  Melisa wanted to become a writer; I wanted to become an exotic animal veterinarian and work in a captive breeding program in a large zoo.  Fast forward 25 years – she is a published author and I?  Well, many of you would say that I run my own zoo.

Best of all, Melisa has written a guidebook to visiting Chicago.  It is called Chicken in the Car but the Car Won’t Go: Nearly 200 Ways to Enjoy Chicagoland with Teens and Tweens.  You can check it out at www.chickeninthecar.com.  So one of the wonderful things about having an expert show me around the city of Chicago is that SHE KNOWS WHERE ALL THE COOLEST STUFF IS!

We started our day at the Rookery.  The Lobby, designed by Frank Lloyd Wrigh, was stunning.

The Rookery lobby, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

The next stop was the Willis Building, that extremely tall skyscraper known to most of the world as “the Sears Tower”.  The building is 110 floors tall, and on the 103 floor is the breath-taking Skydeck and, best of all, the Ledge.  The Ledge is a glass room that protrudes from the building.  Brave souls can stand on the Ledge and look straight down 103 stories to the street below.  I was mesmerized.

The view from 103 stories up.

 

The Ledge

Spectacular skyline

View to Lake Michigan, Grant Park, Shedd Aquarium

While the Willis Tower was literally the “high point” of my visit, Melisa knew where to find, in an unlikely location, one of the most dazzling sights my eyes have beheld.  In Macy’s department store on State Street, a location that was formerly a Marshall Fields, is the largest example of Tiffany favrile glass IN THE WORLD.  Right there!  On the ceiling!  She led me to the fifth floor, where we had to squeeze past the lady’s undergarments for a closer view.

Tiffany favrile glass

On the ceiling of a department store!

Right up there on the fifth floor, along with the undergarments.

Hard to take in all the beauty!

To see this beauty in the midst of department store clutter! What must it have been like in its heyday?

After a lunch of, what else?  Chicago-style pizza, we headed toward the Wrigley Building and took an architectural boat tour.

I suppose one of the things that stands out to me about the architecture in Chicago is that the designers seemed to be led by VISION.  They did not seek to merely build a big block to “get the job done”.  They followed inspiration.  For example, one building, the AON building, is constructed to that there are no corner offices. Another skyscraper (don’t remember which) has a design that creates LOTS of corner offices.

Some buildings seemed rather playful in their design.  Aqua takes its inspiration from the undulating waters of Lake Michigan.

Aqua

The Jewelers Building looks styled like a woman’s engagement ring.

Jewelers Building

Marina Building

The skyscaper, 77 West Wacker, was a modern take on a Roman temple.

Romanesque skyscraper at 77 West Wacker

Faux flying buttresses on the Tribune Tower

The skyline of Chicago is a feast for the eyes.  My son’s point-and-shoot camera does not do it justice.  Which of course means I need to plan another trip.  And hopefully, another personalized tour!

Friend and personal tour guide, Melisa Wells.

LOVE THAT CITY.

 

 

Comments (3) Nov 06 2012

Perhaps My Dumbest Purchase Ever

Posted: under Large family.
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You know how the saying goes:  “there are two kinds of people…”  I have my own take on that one.  There are two kinds of people.  There are those who, when hearing someone call, “Snake!”, run and hide.  Then there are those who run for a closer look.  I belong in that group.  My mother-in-law belongs to the first group.  She is physically active and an avid hiker. But she is terrified of snakes.  She limits her hiking season for when the snakes are dormant.   I recently stood, dumbfounded, as she described to me a hiking trail she could no longer take because, during a warm winter spell, a black snake crossed her path.  I just don’t understand.  It’s not like the snake was going to chase her down and bite her.   The  fear of snakes baffles me.  It always has.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I spent many a happy hour of my childhood in my suburban neighborhood taking apart the neighbors’ firewood piles in hopes of catching a snake.  And often I did.  Then came the day she asked me to stop doing that because it wasn’t “lady-like”, and so I complied until adulthood.  I’m a big girl now; I can do what I want.

A couple of years ago I changed homeowner’s insurance companies. The new company sent out an inspector who told me I had to trim back the vines from my porch.  Reason?  Because they might attract  SNAKES!  I thought he was kidding; he was serious.  I dutifully complied, but I didn’t tell him that already a nice black snake lives under my porch.  He is welcome there.

Let’s be honest.  I’d rather have a snake than rats or mice ANYDAY.

Of course, let’s be clear.  I am not talking about venomous snakes.  There are only six venomous snakes in Georgia, and teaching your children to recognize them is right up there with teaching them to swim or tie a bow knot.  It is a practical life skill.  So whenever the children see a snake in the yard, they call me, I identify it, and we try to catch it (another delightful skill, but not essential).  My husband is the other of the “two kinds of people”, and flees, nonchalantly.

Yes, I have been bitten before.  Always the palm of my hand.  No, it didn’t hurt. It was my own fault and it just made me mad.

But you get the idea, right?  A nonvenomous snake is welcome in my yard.

Which brings me back to the point of my story.

My sixteen-year-old son has a special relationship with my four-year-old.  Most nights he tucks his little brother in bed and reads him a story, with lots of animation and all sorts of crazy voices.  It is adorable.  In fact, the four-year-old calls him, “My-friend-Nate”, as if it were one name.  When Nate went on a mission trip to Japan this summer, the younger one wandered about the house rather helplessly, sucking his thumb, rubbing his belly with his silky blanket, and declaring,  “‘My-friend-Nate’ needs to come home.”

I was shopping with the four-year-old around Nate’s birthday, and he saw a colorful book about snakes.  “Could you buy this book for My-friend-Nate?  I want him to read it to me.”  I merely glanced at it.  A book about snakes.  Colorful illustrations.  Not expensive.  Okay, I tossed it into the cart.

Well I HAD NO IDEA the book was, essentially, filled with HORROR STORIES of venomous snakes attacking people accidentally or intentionally, and was filled with graphic illustrations of horrible deaths.  I shall include a few snapshots.

The herpetologist, bitten by a three-week-old snake, dies before completing his emergency call. Nice.

Man brushed against a resting snake and is rewarded with a fanged bite directly to the jugular. Sweet.

 

 

Oh, yeah. Everyone’s favorite nightmare. Especially the part about “sprawled in a pool of his own blood”.

The effects of the book were pronounced and immediate. Instead of one child listening to a bedtime story, all the little boys and baby sister crowded around.  They were engrossed.  Then it happened. Kids couldn’t sleep.  The two-year-old  needed a night light, the door open, and a white noise generator to make it through the night.  The seven-year-old, one of those kids who rolls all over the covers, started coming into my room around 2 a.m. on multiple nights to get me to tuck his covers back in because “they were lumpy”.  Everyone got nightmares.  Everyone was cranky and sleep-deprived.  I had no choice.  I had to confiscate the book.

Then my thirteen-year-old went to Uganda for a nine week mission trip with Teen Mission International. He spent about six weeks building “squatty potties” near Jinja, and worked on a film project about a village school.  Of course Uganda was one of those snake-infested areas described in the book.  Nick was fearful.

But we are a supportive family and mailed letters to my son daily.  Even my little boys added their “letters of encouragement” to the daily out-going mail:

“Dear Nicholas, Right to me if you get chased by black mambas. Or tell me.  P.s. If you do run for your life thier the fastess snake in the world.”

“Dear Nick, I hope you don’t get bitten by a black mamba.”  Complete with illustration.

Thankfully Nick returned home alive, well, and unassaulted.

Meanwhile, I have shelved the snake book high in my book shelves.  You’ll find it  right next to Poe.

Sigh.  Talk about unintended consequences.

Comments (1) Nov 05 2012

Youngest of the Youngest

Posted: under Large family.
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My father’s parents, ten years before I was born.

My father was just shy of forty when I was born.  He, too, was the youngest in his family and his mother was forty when he was born.  So when I finally arrived on the scene, half of my grandparents had already passed away, and I was a little-known grandchild in a sea of grandchildren.

I barely remember Granny Scarbrough.  I was young when she passed away.  In my memory, she always wore a blue dress, her silver hair in an elegant bun, with cat-eyed glasses.  She had a stately formality about her, reminding me more of Queen Victoria than a cuddly grandmother.  She was born in 1889, so if she were alive she would be 123.  To put that into perspective, when I used to complain about all the laundry I had to do, my father would regale me with tales of how his mother had to get out the giant kettle and heat up the water on laundry day, complete with washer board and wringer.

Granny Scarbrough with my older sister, 1958.

My mother’s father passed away when I was a teen.  He had outlived two wives, and seemed old long before he was old.   I’m not sure he could ever remember my name.  It seems like every time I saw him, he would ask me if my older brother had graduated from college yet.  (He was on the “extended” plan.)

My husband knew all of his grandparents well.  His childhood memories are filled with summers spent on the farm, adventures with Granddaddy Red, holidays shared at the beach.  I can only imagine.  Because they were a long-lived bunch, most of my children met a great-grandparent on his side.

Four generations on my husband’s mother’s side; 2005.

My children adore their Mima.

When friends who are much older than I am tell me about caring for their aged parents, I stand in awe (and a bit jealous).  The idea of a grandparent having a relationship with a grandchild holds a magical allure for me, and makes me resolve to stay fit and active, because I want to be an AWESOME granny.  (I’m banking on it.)

 

Comments (0) Nov 04 2012

Delights of iPhone Photography

Posted: under Family favorites, Large family, Photography.
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I am often at a loss to explain some of the images that show up on the photo stream of my iPhone.  I certainly am not in possession of it at all time, like I might think.  Some of the photos are obviously “special” moments.

The Birthday Cake

The Anniversary Trip

Great fun at the pool!

Collaborative construction at the Children’s Museum

Increasingly the phone plays a role in our decision making.

Should we get stitches?

Should we buy the suit?

My iPhone seems to play an important role in my children documenting their antics.

Thing 1 disguised as a Fairy Princess

The next David Yurman?

 

Captain Cowboy?

Sir Spider Hood?

My older children have put the iPhone to use in a bit of, shall we say, “photojournalism”.  I may call it “photojournalism”, but they would call it “evidence”.

Who pulled the buttons off the treadmill?

What happened to Daddy’s wasabi-soy sauce almonds?

How did she get into the Sharpie Markers?

But best of all is the convenience of whipping out that ever-present iPhone to capture that moment that REALLY lasts only a MOMENT.

The caterpillars that gobbled up my parsley plants emerge from the chrysalis as Swallowtail Butterflies!

I know the image quality isn’t the best, but it is the MEMORIES I want to capture.  And besides, can anyone every really take too many photos?

She puts a smile on my face and gray hairs on my head. Gotta love her!

Comments (1) Nov 03 2012

Nigardsbreen Glacier: A Blue Snowcone

Posted: under Hiking, Travel.
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Nigardsbreen Glacier, Norway

Hiking up Nigardsbreen Glacier was like hiking up a giant blue snowcone.  I was taken by surprise by the intensity of the blue ice.  In fact, I was entirely captivated by the unique beauty of the glacier.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Never in my life did I imagine that I would have an opportunity to hike on a glacier.  I was born and raised in the South. I had never even seen a glacier.  And my preferred vacation experiences usually take me hiking in the Mediterranean or scuba diving in the Tropics.  Please note: both are warm locations.

My husband, who usually flees cold weather, did something he had never done before.  He signed us up for a guided trip to Norway, organized by REI Adventures.  We spent nine days kayaking and hiking the fjords of Norway with 13 other adventurers whom I grew to adore.  The experience was amazing and the hike up Nigardsbreen Glacier was the climax.

The approach to the glacier is low key.  It merely looks like a blue bank of ice.  The distance minimizes the enormous scale of the glacier, and with an excellent camera lens, you realize that those smaller-than-ant dots are a party of hikers.

Approaching the glacier

Hikers, like ants, ascend the glacier on the right

Before climbing, each hiker is fitted with crampons and given an ice ax.

Crampons, a fashion necessity

On the ice, crampons are essential. But they are rather treacherous when standing on glacier-polished rock.

Waiting to be harnessed for the ascent

Mingma Tsiri Sherpa

Our group was guided by an honest-to-goodness sherpa from Nepal.  This man, Mingma Tsiri Sherpa, has summited Mount Everest 18 times, and he and six brothers hold the Guinness World Record for the most summits of Everest within a family.  For him, I am sure trekking across Nigardsbreen Glacier is effortless, but he was not at all arrogant or cavalier.  Instead he impressed me with his gentleness and humility.  On our descent he stopped another guided group to tighten a woman’s harness.   I think her risk of falling into a crevasse was slim-to-none, but I was impressed that he took steps to ensure her safety.

Crevasse

The sky was overcast, which was a mixed blessing. It prevented us from being blinded by the glare and obscured a blue sky that might have, otherwise, competed with the brilliant blue glacier ice. No, that isn’t a reflection of the sky.  That is ancient snow that has had the air squeezed out of it over much time and great pressure.

Peering back into time

The color was shocking, both in hue and intensity.

The last group photo of my dear hiking companions was taken just a few hours before we said goodbye, parted ways, and returned to normal lives.  I say “normal”, but you never return from an adventure unchanged.

 

Comments (0) Nov 02 2012

No Brainer Homemade Peanut Butter

Posted: under Family favorites, Homemade, Homemaking, Large family.
Tags: ,

Wholesome food for growing boys!

It was a memorable day.  My husband arrived at our home for lunch and I was assembling peanut butter sandwiches for our children.  I was three pounds down into a five pound container of Peter Pan peanut butter.  My husband walked in, saw what I was doing, and asked, “Are you trying to poison our children?”  What?!  “Haven’t you heard?  Peter Pan peanut butter has launched a massive recall for salmonella contamination!”  We whisked the container away to the office and pulled up the recall numbers on the computer.  Yep.  We had consumed most of a container of contaminated peanut butter.  Now we knew why, a week earlier, we all had , shall I say, “digestive distress”.

“We are not buying peanut butter anymore.  I want you to start making peanut butter again.”

Again.  That was the operative word.  I already knew how to make peanut butter.  When my husband was in medical school, I learned how to be a homemaker and how to make, basically, EVERYTHING from scratch.  I gardened extensively, made gallons and gallons of pickles, salsa, jams and jellies, ground wheat, baked all of our bread, bagels, pretzels, crackers, made yogurt and yogurt cheese, mayonnaise, you name it.  But my homemaking endeavors have been squeezed by the time pressures of homeschooling our rapidly expanding family.  Somethings I no longer have time to do.

But homemade peanut butter is a “no brainer”.  It requires little thought, little effort, and the reward is delicious peanut butter that actually TASTES like peanuts!

 

No Brainer Homemade Peanut Butter

1 food processor

1 large can of roasted cocktail peanuts  (avoid dry roasted, or else you will have to add oil)

Sugar or honey to taste

1.  Fit chopping blade into food processor.

2.  Fill 1/2 to 2/3 full with peanuts.

3.  Turn processor on, then cover your ears!  It will sound like a jet engine, or like teeth being sheared off of a gear.

4.  After 3 minutes, turn off the processor and let it cool for  a few minutes.

5.  Turn processor back on, and blend to desired consistency.

6.  Add sugar to taste.  For a 52 oz. can of peanuts, I use about 4 teaspoons.  I actually think it doesn’t require sugar, but adding sugar increased that “stick to the roof of your mouth” quality that my children prefer.

As you grind up the peanuts, the transformation is fascinating.  Big nuts become small chunks, which fracture into peanut dust.  Then, beginning at the bottom of the food processor, the dust seams to liquify.  There is a moment when you fear the contents will never blend, but then the friction of the chunks with the liquid causes this wave of peanut-butter-yumminess to blend the contents into peanut butter perfection.  It is hard to explain, but you will know it when you see it.  The point is this:  don’t give up when all the “butter” is on the bottom and the “chunks” are on the top.  Give the machine a rest, then let it finish the work.

I store the peanut butter in a plastic container in the refrigerator.  It improves the texture.  I do not worry about refrigerating it when I travel.  I have never had peanut butter turn rancid and I have never had the oil rise to the top (like you see with store-bought, fresh-ground peanut butter).

The salmonella/peanut butter contamination was five years ago.  I have been making homemade peanut butter ever since.  Once my family transitioned to fresh made, they grew to dislike the flavor of manufactured peanut butter, which is little more than peanut-flavored shortening.

Now isn’t that easy?

 

Comments (4) Nov 01 2012

Italy: Advice to the Traveler

Posted: under Hiking, Italy, Photography, Travel.
Tags: , , , ,

Ligurian Marina

 

 

I have just returned from a trip to Italy and a friend will be traveling there soon.  This was my fourth trip to southern Europe in five years.  While I recognize there are many variations from region to region, I offer this advice to someone who is traveling to Italy for the first time.  These are things that I have observed, read, and learned.  While most of my time is Italy has been spent on hiking and photography, I hope this advice will help the casual traveler.

 

 

 

 

EUROS (€)

  • How many Euros will you need?  Try to calculate, before you leave, whether or not you would need to spend a large sum of cash.  My husband and I prefer to stay in Bed and Breakfast Inns, and many require us to pay in cash.  If you know that you need several hundred Euros in cash, order it before you leave.  We found the best rate from Wells Fargo.  You order it online; they deliver it to your door.  If you just need a few hundred Euros for incidentals, try getting them from your bank.  They may not have it on hand, but they can order it for you.  AVOID exchanging money at the airport!  On my most recent trip, we rented a car and knew we needed small change for the toll road.  My husband exchanged some money at the airport.  The rate was terrible!  They pile on so many fees.  On that day, the exchange rate for €1 was $1.32.  Once all the service fees were added, it cost us closer to $1.76.
  • In Europe, the use of decimal points and commas in numbers is different.  $1.76 would be written $1,76.
  • When using a credit card, select a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.  Those fees can add 2 – 3 % to the cost of each transaction, which adds up quickly!  I have an American Express that charges no foreign transaction fees, but it is not as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard.
  • It is always worth asking the waiter if they accept your credit card when you arrive.  In Greece, time and time again restaurants had “credit cards accepted” signs in their windows, but then would claim that “the machine is broken”.  It happened SOOO OFTEN, that we concluded that they were lying.  They wanted cash.

 

The road a car must take to exit Montepulciano

CARS AND DRIVING

  • When renting a car, we always purchase the extra insurance.  I can not imagine a faster way to ruin a vacation than to get into a car accident and have to navigate a foreign insurance claim.   When we returned our rental car, I overheard two other couples saying that they were returning their cars fairly dinged up. They were shrugging their shoulders and hoping everything would be okay.
  • Speaking of cars, mind that speed limit!  If you are caught speeding, Italian police can fine you on the spot!
  • Driving in Italy is not for the faint-hearted.  In Naples, it is “everyman for himself”.  There were lots of traffic lights, but none of them appeared to be working.  My husband finds driving in Italy to be exhilarating!
  • You are not going to believe how tiny some of those roads are!  What we might believe to be a mere pedestrian pathway may actually be a two-lane road.  Well, maybe not “two-lane”, but “two-way”, and you pray and pray that you don’t meet a truck.

LANGUAGE

  • I took a year of Italian in college, which enables me to decipher most signs.  Many menus will also be written in English, but mind you, it will be British English.  I marvel how many Americans don’t know the British equivalents!  Here a few that are often encountered:  melanzane – aubergine – eggplant, zucchine – courgettes – zucchini, zucca – marrow – squash, patatine – crisps – potato chips
  • I recommend taking an Italian phrase book.
  • If you get lost, ask a German.  They usually speak flawless English, and always seem to know where they are going.

 

A perfect lunch

DINING

  • When seated at a restaurant, the water will ask you about what kind of water you want every time. The first thing he may say to you upon seating you is, “With gas?” and you may be startled by this inquiry.  He wants to know whether or not you want your water carbonated.  If  you don’t want it carbonated, say “no gas”, or “sensa gas”,  “still”, or “flat”.  Amusing, but you get used to sitting down and immediately saying, “No gas!”
  • Most restaurants will charge you a cover charge (coperto).  I have seen these range from € 1,50 to as much as  € 6, and that is charged per person!  A service charge (from 10 – 18%) may also be charged and included in the bill.  If there is a service charge, you don’t need to tip.  Otherwise, tipping 10% is customary.
  • In many towns, restaurant hours are short.  In Montepulciano, restaurants did not open until 7 or 7:30 PM and only seated until 9:30.  Ask your innkeeper about local hours, because if you are starving, you may want to grab a panini before the snack shops close.
  • A “bar” is not the same thing as it is in America.  A bar is more like a “snack bar”, where you may purchase all sorts of coffee drinks, sandwiches, and train tickets.  They will also serve alcohol, but if you are looking for an aperitif before dinner, look for an enoteca, which is a wine bar.
  • Bibite are soft drinks, and Italians never, ever, ever drink them directly from the can.  They will offer you a glass or a straw.
  • The menu will start with antipasto, which is an appetizer. Primo, the first course, is pasta, soup, or risotto. Secondo, the main course, is meat or fish.  Salad follows the main course and is served before dessert.  However, waiters will recognize that you are American, and will ask if you want your salad “before”.  That is fine.  They do not seem to be the least bothered by serving the salad “before” the main course.  You do not have to order all of the courses!  Any combination is fine!
  • The waiters do not care if you plan to share a dish.  Some will bring two plates and split it for you.  Others may bring one plate and two forks!
  • If you like wine, educate yourself on the local offerings  of the region you are visiting before you arrive.  If you try to sample every wine that the sommelier recommends to you, they will have to cart you home in a wheelbarrow.  One night we had the undivided attention of a waiter for 45 minutes.  He explained everything you ever wanted to know about the wine grapes of Tuscany, and summed it up with the explanation that in Tuscany, wine is the first religion, beef is the second, and Catholicism is third.
  • You will have to ask the waiter to bring you the bill.  He will never bring it to you unless you ask for it, and he will not do anything at all to hurry you on your way.
  • Italian bread is unsalted, so it tastes stale immediately after it is cut.  Skip the bread and save the calories for gelato!
  • Salad is always served with olive oil and vinegar (usually balsamic).  On the airplane I watched a movie which mocked an American couple (from Texas, supposedly) in Provence ordering “fat-free Ranch” for their salad Niçoise.  No one would really do that, would they? (Don’t remember name of movie.  It was forgettable.)
  • Liguria, where Cinque Terre is, is known for its focaccia.  Best focaccia I have ever tasted!
  • Tuscany is the land of wine, beef, and truffles.
  • Amalfi Coast, south of Naples, offers great pizza, seafood, and limoncello.
  • If you drink a lot of coffee in America, you will not find anything like drip coffee, but Italian coffee drinks are worth sampling.  Caffe Americano is a delicious coffee drink.  It is a serving of espresso which you thin with hot water.  It is so smooth, I find that it does not require milk at all.  A serving of coffee in Europe is 4 ounces, not 8 – 12 ounces.

Portovenere

WHAT TO PACK

  • Always pack a jacket or sweater! Hot days may still have cool evenings.
  • If you intend to do site-seeing in cities, do not wear shorts or sleeveless shirts if you intend to visit any churches.  I have seen women turned away from church doors for bare arms.
  • Weigh your suitcases and pack carefully! Air Dolomiti seems to delight is requiring passengers to repack their luggage right there at the check in line. I think every single person in line was asked to step aside and lighten their carryon.  They wanted to charge me €60 because my carryon bag was overweight.  So all I had to do was unpack my camera so that my bag was the right weight, put my camera in my handbag to carry it through security, then put it back in my carryon before I boarded the plane. Go figure. Made for a nightmarish line at 5 a.m.

Tuscany

Italy really is all those wonderful things you have ever heard.  The climate is terrific, the landscapes are breathtaking, the towns are charming, the food is delicious, and the people are warm-hearted. Lord willing, I will be back!

 

 

Comments (1) May 24 2012