Tales from the road: TripAdvisor calls the Acropolis the #2 thing to do in Athens. The Acropolis Museum is #1. Now I get it!

Our first day in Athens, we walked through a park to reach the acropolis site. Enroute we saw a ruin requiring admission. However, the agent told us if we waited till the next day, it would be a national holiday and all ruins and sites would be free.
Thinking frugally, we decided to wait on the real Acropolis and just go to the Acropolis Museum. But even though there was an entrance fee that day, we claimed to be EU Seniors and got in for 3E apiece. We had the place practically to ourselves! The gorgeous glass museum is at the base of the Acropolis with reflections and vistas throughout.

What we discovered in our two hour visit is that all the really beautiful statues, friezes and other archaeological treasures are kept in the museum, not at the Acropolis site. We thus could  get up close and personal with Greek gods, famous citizens and mythological creatures. We learned a ton about the construction and restoration of the Acropolis, this seminal democratic complex, its society and its turbulent history. And all that delicious discovery took place in the beckoning shadow of the massive Acroplis which teased us from every window view.

Afterward, we visited the Monastriki area with its multicultural mix, great souvlaki joints, flea markets and secret passageways.

The next day, we set out for the Acropolis itself. As promised, there was free entry and we strolled right in. But even better, the grey skies made for extraordinary light and the threat of rain and the hilltop climb kept the holiday hordes to a manageable level.

I was blown away. You cannot imagine the scale of these buildings:the  stately parthenon, the scenic Dionysian theatre or the sexy temple of Athena. The Acropolis is a huge hilltop fortress. It looks down on the city of Athens the way the gods looked down on humankind from Olympus. After yesterday’s deep orientation at the museum, the whole complex made total sense as we marched around, filling in the missing statues and friezes in our minds eye and taking  pic after pic.

We were wandering the stones and steps of our most ancient democracy. I was humbled by the strength and also the fragility of their culture and its contradictions. While Athens valued only male leaders (and naked athletes), women mainly peeled the grapes and kept their clothes on!

Still it was a free and innovative society where drama, comedy, political parties, fitness and philosophy flourished. There are obvious parallels to our sad pre-election politics but i’m going to leave that up to you.

It couldn’t have been more beautiful and moving to be on top of this Athenian hill on the same day the whole city celebrated standing up to Italy in world war ll. They looked Mussolini in the eye and said no. They celebrate their freedom annually on Ochi Day.

Later we visited the wonderful boutique Museum of Cycladic Art where precious ancient fertility statues evoke modern masters like Modigliani and Moore. Back several milennia BC, the Cycladic ladies ruled the art scene! Plus, there was an exhibit by acclaimed dissident artist Ai Wei Wei with striking, provocative pieces reflecting Cycladic Art and modern political terrors.

Finally, we ended the day back where we started. At the base of the Acropolis at a fabulous restaurant called Strofi, recommended by our friends Steve and Judy. Talk about Dining with a view. It was breathtaking and the food was no slouch either.

Today we head for Santorini. But we’ll be back!

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Tales from the road to Athens: Goldilocks and the three beds

Flying SFO to Athens with an upgrade to first class! Woohoo! We get a chance to see how the other half lives (those who don’t usually travel sardine class as we do).
First class United menu means 5 courses. Essentially they feed, wine and salt you for two hours into a stupor. When my guy calls over to my pod: “look at my hot nuts,”I’m thinking we will be outed to back of the plane in short order. Following said nuts came salty soup, salty salad and salty mains. All capped off with melted ice cream sundaes. We were not impressed with the fare and we weren’t even paying.

Post dinner, our hostess converted our pod to a real bed with a soft coverlet. Now were impressed. I imagine sleeping like a baby on this transatlantic trip. But no. The cabin was kept too warm. Our bellies are too full and our Ambien pill has clearly passed its due date. Sleep …Not so much.

Of course there is a reason I’m boring you with our traveling sleep tale. We arrive in Athens late the next day. We proudly navigated the metro and exhaustedly dragged our bags up the steep hill only to find ourselves at an address that’s clearly a mattress store! Cocomat Hotel turns out to be a retail bedding store hiding a boutique hotel in plain sight.

They take us to our designated room. It’s chicly furnished with a double bed combo plushly outfitted in linens and pillows. But there was no view except for an air shaft. A small one. They then took us to room number two. It had a luxurious king size bed calling our name. But it had no better view just a bigger airshaft. Sigh!

The patient hotelier finally took us to room number three. It had a lush queen size bed. And it had a window facing the treelined street. It even had a little balcony. Talk about upgrades and extras. The gods of Olympus were smiling on us mere mortals. Or in a more modern analogy, Goldilocks and the three beds had scored.This room was JUST RIGHT!

That night, we ate a delicious dinner of grilled fish for me and moussaka for him at Oroscopo plus many extra treats from our generous host. And then, at long last, we finally settled into bed. Our magic bed in the store cum hotel.

 Maybe we are sleeping in a high class mattress store. Maybe we always dreamed of actually sleeping in a mattress store. No matter. The bed was fantastic and our weary heads did not arise till 9:30 am the next day with no aches in sight. We are ready to rock the Acropolis!

The plane pod, the mattress store aka hotel, our just right room

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What I read in 2015

For years, I’ve been logging the books I read in a Moleskine notebook. The arc of a year is often recollected and I am transported to where I was (mentally and physically) when a book was consumed. I also note the books I particularly liked so I could recommend  (or warn against!) them to other readers.

As we turn the last page of 2015, I thought I’d share my year in books with * to denote particular favorites.  Just typing my list online was a Proustian Remembrance of Things Past!

My year in books:

Colorless by Murakami
The Year She Left Us by Ma
Let’s Just Say it Wasn’t Pretty by Keaton (agreed)
Snow Queen by McCullogh
The Golem and the Jinni by Wecker (slow to start but builds amazingly)
This Book will Save Your Life by Homes (probably not!)
*Frog Music by Moore
*The Rosie Project by Simsion (delightful, insightful)
*Etta, Otto, Russell and James by Hooper
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Sloan
*Me Before You by Moyes
Do the Work by Pressfield  (Skip it)
**All the Light You Cannot See by Doerr (My Best Book of the Year!)
*Ruby by Bond
*Brooklyn by Toibin (yes this was made into a wonderful movie!)
Leaving Time by Piccault
Delicious by Reichl (not as much as her non-fiction )
Dark Places by Flynn
Lisette’s List by Vreeland (if you love books about art/artists)
Canada by Ford
Day after Night by Diamont
Seven Good Years by Keret (funny, moving and great for parents)
A House in the Sky by Lindhart (harrowing true story of survival)
Boston Girl by Diamont
Festival of Insignificance by Kundera
Suddenly a Knock on the Door by Keret (clearly I’m a new fan of his!)
**Just Mercy by Stephenson (if you read just one non-fiction book, this must be it!)
*A Deliberate Season by Shields (inventive story of a marriage)
*Museum of Extraordinary Things by Hoffman (she never disappoints)
Fun Home by Bechtel (graphic novel now a hit Broadway show. Genius!)
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami (confession…it has taken me months to read this despite being a long time fan. I’m not done yet but dammit, I’m so close!)

Here’s to happy reading in 2016! Let me know what books made your year. I might add them to my New Year’s reading list.

Want details, reviews of any of these books? Just cruise on over to http://www.amazon.com

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Tales from the road: Lake Como and Bellagio

Now I get what the big deal is!

Our last day in Milan before the long slog home, we decided to take the one hour train ride to Varenna to see Lake Como and see what all the fuss was about.

The weather in Milan was finally turning cooler and the day was overcast. We took the train and sat, as directed, on the left side so we wouldn’t miss the first views of the famous Alpine lake.

Once off the train, we hustled down the hill to catch the ferry to Bellagio, allegedly the prettiest lakeside town.

The lighting was spectacular with the mountains shrouded in blue and black and capped with white clouds as you gazed across the endless vistas with cozy towns tucked along the lapping shores.

And then we saw Bellagio just as the shroud of overcast lifted and late day sun danced across the water and tinted the town yellow. Debarking, we walked the promenade past stately hotels, cafes and the inevitable tourist trinkets.

And then I spotted it. THE Money Shot! The elegant Bar Florence had a trellised cafe at water’s edge. The views were brilliantly lit and it was the perfect moment for us to imbibe the perfect drinks: a negroni for him and a prosecco for me! The late day sun, the gentle warmth and breezes and ohhhh the Lake Como views that launched a thousand digital clicks. That’s how we spent our hour.

It was the perfect, peaceful end to our glorious, galloping journey across the northern cities of Italy.

We took the ferry back to Varenna, retracing our steps all the way to the same restaurant in Milan, Prime, we ate at our first night for our last feast before travels toward home.


 Bellagio comes into view

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Tales from the road: Milan style, shopping and EXPO

   Above: Sacred and profane side by side in Milano

Milan is the perfect place to imprint all the experiences of our journey through northern Italy. We arrive by train to a bustling, stylish metropolis full of contradictions.

After settling in our b&b, Room Inn, tucked behind gates in a hip area of downtown jammed with bars and cafes, we walk to the Duomo to see the number one Milan attraction, the white church with its dozens of gorgeous Gothic spires. But first we passed through another kind of church– the unbelievably glitzy church of wholly consumption– a gallery of high end shops under arcaded roofs and packed with global shoppers. I stood at the corner of Louis Vuitton and Prada dumbstruck that there could be such a paean to shopping right next to the holy see. It was surreal.

Following  a quiet dinner of local specialties near our place, we tucked in early. Thursday was to be a marathon of eating, learning and eating at Milan EXPO 2015— a world’s fair dedicated to food and water sustainability, biodiversity and feeding the world. If that sounds dry you can’t imagine the global spectacular we experienced.

From around the world, countries showcased their cuisine, culture and food/water technologies in architectural exhibitions by their most creative architects and artists.

The US and Israel showed innovative vertical farms as part of their exteriors, showing how water and space can be conserved. The mammoth Russian exhibit showed off the scale of their country in gorgeous exhibits but they totally wowed us with generous samples of black bread crowned with tender smoked white fish.

We had lunch in Morocco, sampled raw cheeses in the slow food/biodiversity exhibit and were wowed with creativity in the Spanish pavilion and a remarkable musical performance in the Argentina showcase. We ended the day in the UNESCO exhibit where everything we saw came together. There IS enough food to feed our planet if we conserve, improve farming methods, reduce waste and cherish our biodiversity of plant and animal species.

We walked 10 miles that day following wherever our eyes and ears led us. What an incredible visual and cultural feast with crowds from around the world sharing this special space. It seems just right that Italy should host an EXPO dedicated to food. After all, it is a place where eating local is their heritage and pride in every region. It is also the home of the Slow Food movement that has swept the world.
Vertical farm

 Moroccan exhibit hall

 Russian smoked fish

 Raw cheese tasting

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Tales from the Road: Genoa- where pesto and seafood rule

Genoa: not your father’s salami

Sept 7 & 8

   Arriving in Genoa at night, our first impression of this maritime city was “what a dump.” Every cliche of seedy harbors sprung to mind with visions of whores, hustlers, homeless, heroin and hookahs. We loved our historic Hotel Continental Genoa with its  antique glass elevator but we weren’t sure we’d want to wander the city’s dark corridors.

Instead, we decided to grab a train to Cinque Terre in the morning and get the hell out of Dodge.

A two hour train ride the next day took us to the seaside village of Monterosso. It looked good to me but we were on a mission to hike the trail to the next town of Vernazza which was arguably (online) the prettiest postcard of the five towns.

So we climbed the trail and pretty much kept climbing for two blazing hours. I’m pretty fit but 20 minutes in and my heart was pounding. The trail is a narrow ridge along the cliffs facing the sea. It’s mostly natural stairs with just a few flat areas. Almost at my respiratory limits, we spied a leanto with an entrepreneurial fellow inside selling freshly made lemonade for just one Euro. It was not a mirage, it was a miracle! Best lemonade ever.

We resumed the climb. Two sweaty hours after we left Monterosso we climbed down into Vernazza. The photographic views as we descended were not lived up to when we actually hit the main– and only– drag. It was crammed with trinket and pizza shops. We rehydrated and refueled at one of them, took a few pix of the town and their minuscule beach and took the next train back to Monterosso.

We rested our tired feet in the warm Mediterranean waters and just chilled for a bit. Then, a seaside seafood pasta dinner at sunset and back onto the train for our two hour ride back.

Today, we figured we’d see what Genoa had to offer but we didn’t have great expectations.

We were in for a big surprise. Or surprises. The old harbor is lively by day with historic vessels and modern boats alike. The port is actually new as it was designed by architect Renzo Piano, a native son. There are also interesting museums and historic sites strewn like confetti throughout the city.

Our lunch at Eataly at the harbor was traditional Pesto Genovese with beans and potatoes. If we could have licked the plate we would have! Pesto Genovese is the local sauce of choice. Also fresh caught fish and seafood of every variety from tender baby octopus to clams, mussels, sea bass and more. This pescaterian is now revelling in her food Nirvana.

After lunch, we explored the old town which is a UNESCO cultural site. Impressive, historic churches, piazzas and cultural buildings everywhere you look. The church of San Lorenzo is the most spectacular I’ve seen this trip with its patterns of grey, black and white stonework.

And then we turned onto Via Garibaldi which is the street of palazzos–the palaces of the early city’s rich and connected. We wandered past one over-the-top Italianate, Renaissance and Baroque building after another. Our cameras were breathing hard from their work out!

And now, after five hours of exploration, we lie legs up against the bedpost in our room as I write this post and A. figures out which wonderful Ligurian seafood/pasta palace we will dine at tonight.

By the way Christopher Columbus is another native son of Genoa and his statue presides in the piazza right outside our window. Certainly a fitting image for a city built for exploration,
  Octopus   San Lorenzo  a palazzo Genoa by night

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Tales from the Road: Listening to Klezmer in the Ghetto

Sept 4 & 5

One of the motifs our of Bologna stay besides indulging in vast gluttony was discovering the Jewish ghetto area. We spent some our first day wandering the maze of  medieval alleys where we thought the ghetto was. But, alas, we found nothing. Why? Because Google really sucks at navigation in medieval cities.

That night we researched the ghetto more deeply seeking locational guidance and history from local sources.From Bologna Welcome: “The layout of Bologna’s 16th century ghetto can still be precisely traced amid the narrow streets in the medieval heart of the city: here, a maze of alleys, covered bridges and small windows tells the story of a whole community forced to live in a specific area of the town by order of the Papal State beginning from 1556.

In Bologna, Jews lived in the ghetto until 1569, when they were expelled for the first time.In 1586, they were allowed to come back to town and lived here again until 1593, year of their final expulsion: 900 people left Bologna and no Jewish community was allowed into town for more than two centuries. ”

The Jewish ghetto was, of course, located in the shadow of the church so they could keep an eye on the community. The trouble for us is that Bologna is littered with churches!

The better locational cue we discovered the next day came when we walked to the “fraternal twin towers” in the center of the city then headed under an arch on Via Zamboni. When we found a street named Purgatorio, it was no surprise to us that that was where the Jews were sequestered.

It also helped that walking from this direction,  signs for the Ghetto Ebraico were now clearly marked with the hamsa (hand) symbol and easily noted. It being Saturday, the Museo Ebraico in the heart of the ghetto was closed. However, we learned that this very  Saturday night was the first in a series of Jewish Jazz concerts at the Museo and we wanted to experience it. We were now fully equipped to navigate our way back.

After a fresh grilled fish dinner at the local’s fave Il Saraceno, we wandered back to the ghetto along its narrow, quiet streets. Arriving just a few minutes before start time we were amazed–and daunted– to discover a long line waiting at the gate. About 250 people had the same as idea as us.

At nine, the  gate opened to a stone courtyard and somehow we all fit. We stood near the back. And then we waited. And waited.

My claustrophobic thoughts during the wait flitted to what it might have like being corralled in this quarter as a medieval Jew. And then I reflected on all the tragic Jewish ghettoes of the twentieth century. Then, my thoughts meandered to more modern terrors. I wished the few police stationed nearby had inspected our bags and persons as we filed into this crowded gallery. There were no inspections.

Finally, my thoughts drifted to the amazing human migration occurring right now in neighboring countries. The refugees from war and privation in Syria and other conflicts were walking across Hungary to Austria and Germany by the thousands. And they were welcomed! Different times for sure.

Suddenly the music began. Lively uptempo klezmer interpretations of Kurt Weill filled the night air with joy, creativity and life. Couples cuddled in the tight quarters, enjoying a free concert and community. The musicianship of the Gabriele Coen Quintet was engaging with their modern touches of tapping, slapping and funk to Weill’s classic works.

Filled with music, we wended our way home passing piazzas filled with other night musicians playing under the stars. This city loves music.

Today, the Ghetto Ebraico is a place of art and culture for the city of Bologna. Yet, still, the echoes of history can be heard if you listen to ghetto walls ghetto concertthe walls.


The ghetto of Bologna

For more details about this area:http://www.bolognawelcome.com/en/places-to-see/suggested-itineraries/params/Percorso_6/Luoghi_331/ref/The%20former%20Jewish%20ghetto

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