- This is going to be interesting for me… Jun 9, 2015
For visiting purposes, I am not the Europe kind of guy – I am the South or Central America guy. I have never been much into castles, forts, architecture, famous paintings… or for that matter anything else that has to do with long dead people. I love the beaches, mountains, oceans, forests and anything to do with nature. Plus they let you drink your wine more freely there 🙂
But here we are, on our way to Italy – I being completely outvoted by three girls in the house. On the other hand, I hear there are some nice bottles of wine there with my name written on them 🙂
- We are in for trouble… Jun 9, 2015
- Ready to take off!! Jun 10, 2015
- The art of speaking Italian Jun 10, 2015
- The real fun of visiting a country Jun 10, 2015
We have a couple of hours drive from Milan airport to the resort outside Bologna. Our driver understands zero English and my Italian is nothing!! One hour into the journey, the girls are all sleeping and so far I have learnt all the numbers and about fifty words for daily use from our driver Renzo.
Now comes the fun part over the next seven days as I mix up all my newly learnt words and make a fine mess of it. Past experience has shown that actually these mess ups make for some memorable moments.
Already, I mixed up “amore” and “amigo” leading Renzo to believe that the owner of the resort (an old business and personal friend of mine) is my “lover” 🙂 (I was trying to say “friend”) 🙂
- Interesting sight Jun 10, 2015
- I do not make these things up… Jun 10, 2015
Flew in with the family to Milan and then a few hours of drive to Bologna. And then another half an hour drive to the top of the mountains in Varignana to reach an old castle recently converted to a beautiful resort.
Our other vacation friends – Sunil and family from Dallas – reached us later in the evening. After walking around the beautiful property, taking in the beauty of the valleys from the mountain top, we settled down at the restaurant bar to try out some Italian wine.
As unlikely as it might sound, I thought I spotted somebody – even in this really distant spot – that I might have met before. After excusing myself from my table, I walked to the other table and politely asked if I could interrupt. And that is when the yellings started!! There was not one but two friends from my past who were having a company meeting there!! Made a few new friends too!!
Remember how I met Cindy in a remote resort in a bar in a small place in Costa Rica? Or how I ran into Suman from school days while laying by the pool at a resort south of Kolkata? It appears, that streak continues – this time with Patricio Remon and his team!!!
- Where I agree with Italy 🙂 Jun 13, 2015
- Colosseum… Shmolosseum… Jun 13, 2015
- Sometimes it is about learning a new language… Jun 13, 2015
… and sometimes it is simply about getting water.
As the family and our friends were busy visiting the places that you evidently come to Florence for, I took a different path and made friends with random people on the streets and took some random pictures. So, if you are expecting to see all the grand stuff that Italy is famous for, you will be disappointed. It is probably going to be more like seeing Italy thru a completely different (and uninteresting) lens.
Once the family and our friends went off to Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, I hit the streets to check out the rest of the city. The first order of business was to relieve myself. Which was not the difficult part – since most restaurants in Italy seem to have restrooms.
The more difficult part was to cajole the water to come out of the tap to wash my hands. As you can see from the tap in the picture, there was nothing untoward about it, to begin with 🙂 And then you realize that there was nothing very toward about it either 🙂 since there was no visible way to get the water to flow.
I did what I would do in US. I assumed it is an automatic one and tried to keep my fingers/hand close to it and started gesticulating wildly to see if it would trigger the sensor. Next, I closely inspected the tap and came to the realization that in reality, there was no sensor. I was truly stumped. I tried quite a few things – including tapping the tap on the head and even tried to move the whole tap up and down. More deperate than thoughtful, I even pretended to walk away and then suddenly turned around to see if I could fool that particularly obstinate tap 🙂 Nothing doing!!
Almost ready to give up on my fight, I tapped into (apologies for the bad pun) my Indian “jugaad” and asked myself what would I do if that was my restaurant and the tap was malfunctioning. Of course, I would close the valve at the bottom of the sink to stop water from flowing at all.
Quite confident of myself, I stooped down to check for a valve under the sink. And it is then that I noticed a funny looking stick sticking out on the floor – almost looking like a pedal. Unconsciously, I pressed it with my foot. At that point I would press just about anything to see how to make the tap work. It was not about the water. It was an issue of my prestige versus that of the tap 🙂
Speaking of which, prestige was indeed restored! That was the pedal!! Turned out, pressing it with your feet was the way to get the water flowing!! Who knew???
Later I found out a few more restaurants that had the same contraption (not all though). One even had a hot and cold water controls – one pedal with a red shoe and one pedal with a black shoe !!
One more thing learnt during this trip…
- You have to come to Rome… Jun 13, 2015
- Young ladies of these days… Jun 13, 2015
Watching all the folks on the streets of Rome (waiting for my family and friends to complete their tour of the Colosseum), I have another observation to make – Young women of today are sure to have three things – (i) an iPhone (ii) a very tight pair of jeans and (iii) a rectangular imprint on their right butt cheek … 🙂
- When in Rome, do as Romans… almost… do Jun 13, 2015
“The valiant gladiator Habeaus Mobilus throws down his trusted gladius graecos – that would be his dagger – and in a final offensive push, reaches behind his waist and unleashes his… errr…. errr… mobile phone???”
As the old Roman game show host Nefarius Purpus once said … – The Pen might be mightier than the sword, but your best option is “Phone a Friend” … 🙂
P.S. Anybody remembers the reference to Asterix?
- My kind of vacation…. Jun 13, 2015
Enough of all forts and castles and old buildings and long dead people. Can we now just throw stones in the water? 🙂
This one was in a small place called Sermione on lake Garda. Most people would not know about it. I asked our young driver what would he cite as a great place he had taken his girlfriend to in the last one year. And that is where we went. Very beautiful place. After throwing stones, we sat down and had dinner on the lake.
- I wonder if Romeo was aware of this…. Jun 13, 2015
… found some interesting notes on the board signifying Juliet’s house in Verona while waiting outside for the family and friends to come out of the historical house of Juliet of the famous Romeo and Juliet fame!!
In case you had not guessed it already, “Casa Di Giulietta” is Italian for “Juliet’s house”
- Random shot of a web Jun 13, 2015
- Run in 12th country Jun 14, 2015
- Second shot of the run… on the top of the hill here Jun 14, 2015
- Running up the steps.. Jun 14, 2015
- Dinner with two great families.. Jun 14, 2015
- I need to meet my kindergarten teacher.. Jun 15, 2015
Once in my kindergarten class, we were asked to draw houses. At a very early age, I had shown unambiguous signs of utter lack of artistic talents. That particular day, I drew ten boxes (purportedly houses 🙂 ) and colored them each with different colors. I was certainly constrained by the fact that I had only ten crayons with me 🙂 My teacher, thoroughly unimpressed with my sense of conformity, gave me some gentle reminders that I should not feel compelled to use up all my colors 🙂
Next time I see her, I will ask her to visit an island called Burano off Venice 🙂
- I was wondering where all the color for Burano houses come from Jun 15, 2015
- The Italian sojourn might be coming to an end… Jun 15, 2015
… but running into old friends continues! Just ran into another colleague from the yesteryears in this far corner of Italy! Josh reminded me that the last time he saw me was in a meeting room in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I am really liking this whole phenomena of Intersection Points and my sheer luck in running into them…
- Some window dressing… Jun 15, 2015
After the run, I went out for a walk with Sunil, both of us duly accompanied with our respective glasses of wine. We were busy discussing the intricacies of the “bin-packing” algorithm when we got caught by some quick, sharp showers. Not having too many options, we just shoehorned ourselves into the narrow window openings of a building and continued with our wine and discussions! I don’t think the algorithm got any better 🙂
- Unexpected sight in the streets of Rome Jun 16, 2015
Near the Pantheon in Rome, among all the Mediterranean fruits being sold on the streets was this vendor selling stripped coconuts. Which I thought was distinctly tropical. In any case, I cannot think of any other country than India, where the white of the coconut was being sold on the streets like this.
By the way, Anastassia, should I get you some? 🙂
- Now, this is what I mean by a vacation 🙂 Jun 16, 2015
I doubt I will remember any of those stuff from the long dead in Italy. Fortunately, I avoided going inside any of them. But I will remember all those numerous people I made friends with and some indelible moments spent with my and Sunil’s family. Here is one such moment guaranteed to evoke a smile in the future, way after the kids have left home, just to recollect how the street clown himself picked the pose 🙂 This one was somewhere in the streets of Verona.
- The Roys in Italy Jun 16, 2015
- Some quality time with a long time buddy of mine… Jun 16, 2015
- Happiness still is… Jun 16, 2015
Reliving that walk in Costa Rica in pitch darkness – the four of us singing old Hindi numbers – just like college days – and scaring the beejujus out of the hapless iguanas (check out http://www.rajibroy.com/?p=4160), this time too, we sat out one night, way past midnight singing our favorite old numbers. There are no iguanas in Italy and there was some faint light in the vast green lawns… Like last time, the most voluble chorus was for “Pyar hamein kis mod pe le aaya”…
- Real life puzzle from Italy Jun 16, 2015
Here is an interesting puzzle that we faced in real life a few days back. We had come back after a beautiful day in Verona and finally we were all ready to retire. Next day we had to leave for Rome early in the morning and that posed a logisitics issue. We had four rooms in our resort – one for our daughters, one for Sunil’s sons and one each for the set of parents. Now the resort we stayed in gave us only one door keycard for every room. Once you entered the room, you had to put in the keycard in a slot next to the door and that triggered the power in the room. Without this, the lights and AC wouldn’t work.
The issue was that while the adults were ready to sleep a little after midnight and wake up early, the kids were notorious for sleeping much later and showing no signs of getting up till 10 am. No amount of knocking on the heavy doors had helped in the past.
The puzzle was how to wake up the kids early next morning. We needed to enter the room. But the keycard was required to be inside – else the power would not work. Thus we could not possibly enter the room.
So, as a first shot, I yanked out the key from the power slot and put in a paper card of the same size. That would not work. I put in a credit card. That would not work either. (If it actually worked, obviosuly, the parents would keep their kids’ room keys with them and use them to enter the kids’ rooms next morning and wake them up). Later I found out from the resort folks that indeed only a hotel card would work for the slots. Apparently the hotel cards had a chip inside (not the magnetic strip) – which is what they programmed when they gave us the keycard. The door cared about the room coding. The slot reader however, did not care how the chip was programmed – it just needed to detect a chip in the card at the right place.
We were way too lazy to come out of the building and walk up across the resort to the lobby to pick up extra cards.
BTW, Sunil had a bright idea that let one parent sleep with one kid that night – which would have worked, but the kids immediately voted the idea down. But we did find an elegant solution.
Can you solve it?
- That was an interesting route we took today… Jun 16, 2015
In twenty years of transatlantic flying, this is the first time, we did not take the Great Circle route. In fact, on our way to Italy, I remember the route took us thru the familiar arc and over London. Today, it appears that we are taking a “straight” route back !!
All the frequent fliers over the pond, has this ever happened to you? What could be a possible reason not to take the shortest route of Great Circle? Possibly very strong winds? Anything else?
- Have not seen this in quite some time Jun 17, 2015
Early in the morning all three are up!! And dressed up!! And walking outside!!! Not a very common thing.
That is one advantage of body clock being six hours ahead I guess!! Also the attraction of all the dogs they knew they were going to see in Central Park!!
Last leg of vacation started yesterday in New York…
- What good is a trip to the Big Apple? Jun 17, 2015
- Making random friends on the way… Jun 17, 2015
We were on our way to Verona. On the way, somebody needed a bio break. So, we took the first exit off the highway. It was a totally old, broken down village. Most of the buildings were dilapidated and it was clear that the best days of the village were behind it.
As we casually trolled the streets, we found one small place with a sign saying “Bar” and even more enouraging sign saying “Open” (in Italian). Why a bar was open so early in the morning was something beyond me.
In any case, we went in hoping to find some clean bathrooms. And I am glad that we did. Not only did we find clean bathrooms, but also we got to make friends with the owners of the bar. There was really nobody there other than them. I depserately wanted to find out more about their village – so I went up and tried chatting them up. But there was a problem – they could not speak English at all. And I could not speak Italian or the language they were talking to each other in. I gave “Ni Hao Ma” a shot in the dark and they excitedly responded!! So, I figured they were Chinese – but that is pretty much where my knowledge of Chinese ended too 🙂
Eventually, I got our driver to be the go between (to translate between English and Italian) and found out that they were from Hanzhou district near Sanghai. Husband and wide emigrated to Italy seventeen years back and after learning the local language, started a small coffee bar. Which has now become the bar that we were all at. Apparently, most of their business today is from the workers from a couple of old factories nearby.
We all had some Italian capuccino and took some pictures of them. Unfortunately, they did not have any cards for the store (yes, it was that remote a village in Italy!!).
If I ever go back to Italy, I would love to go back there and spend more time with them. Very nice people.
- My good deed of the day… Jun 17, 2015
I know this looks like an Italian painting (except for the modern lady handbags, perhaps) but it is a real photo taken with my phone. The backdrop of the story goes in the following way:
Natasha, who goes and stays in a dorm and takes classes in different colleges every summer often makes friends from very different cities and countries every year. Being a person who values people and relationships with people over just about anything else in this finite time on this beautiful earth that we have fashionably named “life”, I am always a little bothered when she does not keep in touch with many of those friends after summer.
Conversely, you can only guess my excitement when she declared that she was going to meet a friend that she had not seen after one of those summers – I forget whether it was Duke or Brown – when we visit New York. Karina (called “Karina with a K”) was going to visit her wherever we stayed. Except the whole plan fell thru at the last moment due to her dad’s office travel plans.
I was not feeling too good about leaving Sharmila and Nikita to visit Time Square by themselves but I did tell Natasha that I will take her to wherever her friend lived. Which, as it turned out was a two hour hike with three trains involved in between. But, it was okay with me – as long as she realized that life is all about the human relationships. Everything else is too materiliastic to be worried about.
The train finally pulled into the Ridgewood station. And we arrived at the agreed upon meeting point. As soon as we started coming out of the tunnel, she spotted her friend at the top of the flight of steps. They ran as fast as they could towards each other and hugged each other hard.
Separated by a year in age, brought up thousands of miles away, they came together for a few weeks a few years back and then this afternoon, there was the moment where they saw each other again!!! The tunnel lighting was not good. But that is the best picture I could get of that powerful moment of strength of human relationships.
And here I am waiting at a nearby bar, biding my three hours as they catch up with themselves…
- Meeting old friends and making new ones… Jun 18, 2015
- View from Varignana resort Jun 18, 2015
- Interesting contraption Jun 18, 2015
Saw this right in front of the Colosseum. This was an interesting way to feed hay to the horse in a self contained feeder without anything spilling over. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like this before. I have some doubts though if the horse eventually learns that to reach the bottom of the feeder, it needs to put the feeder down on the ground…
- An interesting new friend from Verona Jun 19, 2015
My family and friends were all roaming around Verona – ostensibly visiting Juliet’s house and Arena and all that – as I was going from street to street talking to people and whenever possible, downing another glass of Barbera d’Asti. Then a shop caught my attention – it was a fountain pen shop. A very small one at that.
Anyways, I went inside and looked at the pens on display. None of them caught my fancy but I did strike up a conversation with the elderly gentleman sitting there. I asked him if he had any true original Italian fountain pen in a fine tip. I also showed him a picture of the collection I have. It was immediately evident that he did not come across fountain pen dieahards too often.
Before I knew anything, he locked up his shop and took me for a walk to another place – and there was a much bigger fountain pen shop there. He introduced the lady inside as his wife and introduced me to her as a “collector” (first time ever I felt vaguely cool about myself). They sat me down and told me the story of his family over a cup of capuccino.
I got to know how Rudi’s – that was his name – father had applied for a license to open a fountain pen shop in 1939 in Verona. Italy, under Mussolini, was in the middle of the World War that time and it took him a year to get license to open a shop. And he dedicated his rest of his life to making pens and selling them. His son and daughter in law later expanded on that business. They do not make any pens now but sell high end fountain pens. manellapens.it is their website.
He then handed me a book on history of fountain pens from Italy and refused to accept money for that. I did land up adding two more to my collection – an original Delta (which is I think the only real Italian fountain pen company left – it is like the Alfa Romeo in cars) and a MonteVerde (which started in Italy but is now produced in USA also).
Finally, I took a picture of them and promised to stay in touch!!!
- Random pictures from Italy… 1 Jun 19, 2015
I was generally observing people and talking to random folks on the streets as my family and friends finished up seeing all the stuff to be seen in Florence. I saw this gentleman come out of an office building with a nice leather office bag in his left hand. And a trash bag in his right!!! As far as I could see him, he clutched both and kept walking…..
- Random pictures from Italy… 2 Jun 19, 2015
This was in Rome. I was waiting for my friends and family to come out of the Pantheon. And also waiting to see if this homeless lady would look up. I toyed with the idea of striking up a conversation with her just to get to know her. I was going to ask her if she would let me take a picture with her and give her money to respect her time and for the picture. Unfortunately for me, she never woke up or looked up…
- Random pictures from Italy… 3 Jun 19, 2015
This one was in Venice. I was waiting for friends and family to come back from their gondola ride when I struck up a conversation with this gentleman (Alessandro is his name). He is the manager of the hotel you see behind us. As I settled down for a glass of wine, I got to know the history of this gentleman. Born and brought up in Venice, he has fought his way into managing two different hotels in Venice. He explained how he found tourists from US to be the most polite in Venice (which, actually surprised me a little). He also said that US tourists tip better than any other tourists. (I suspect this is because US might be the only country where most service people are paid a small amount and depend on tips to make up the minimum wage or whatever wage they make???).
Alessandro was nice enough that after I paid for the wine, he arranged for free to and fro water taxi to Murano – on the house (for his hotel). All he wanted me to do his refer my friends to try out one of his two hotels in Venice some time.
So, here is to keeping a promise – if any one you ever visit Venice, let me know. I know the phone number of a really nice guy who can take care of your stay and arrange for free rides…
- Shout out for our friends at Palazzo Varignana Jun 19, 2015
A couple of hours more and we conclude our summer vacation in Italy and New York. The best decision we took was to stay at my friend’s resort in Varignana. The location was outstanding. The facilities were to die for. But the best part of the whole resort was the staff.
Incredibly friendly and helpful staff. We are going to miss Vito and his out of the world sense of humor and antics for a long time. Regardless of the work pressure, he always managed to make time for us at the restaurant and take customized requests. A sommelier par excellence, he regaled us with the stories of the different kinds of wines. It was very encouraging to hear about the story of his life that started in England and finally found him in Italy.
We will also miss the ever present smile of Anna from Romania who went out of her way every single time to make sure the kids and the adults were fully taken care of in the restaurant.
Then there was Sauhaib, Carmelia, Carlo and others.
Maybe it is in the culture of Italy but the front desk was another example of impeccable service. Sara, Irian and the rest took unbelievable care of us.
Not sure when we will be back in Bologna next. For sure, we will miss them till then…