Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Last Pizza

The last pizza was far traditional and very, very good. It was cheese (of course), carmelized onions and tuna. and folded up into a wrappy sort of thing before being put in the oven. Very, very good.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On the look out

So far, we have not seen Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, or their families. We are on the look-out.


Venice is beautiful. And there are no cars or bicycles, which makes it a great place to walk. The manager at our hotel told us that the pizza is no good here, but we already discovered that he was wrong.

The lunch menu listed a four-cheese pizza, but only listed mozzarella, gorgonzola, and parmesan. I thought the logical question was, “What’s the fourth cheese?” It took a while, and finally the waiter understood my question and answered, “Brie.”. I have to say, it was a great pizza. Not the best so far, but definitely already better than anything in Florence.

Getting here was an adventure. We were waiting for the train on the correct platform and at the place that the overhead signs indicated the doors would be. Except they weren’t. We were smack in between the two doors. So rather than being the first people on the train with all of our bags, we were literally the last. Thankfully, there were lots of other tourists who didn’t realize you could put bags under the seats and so we had plenty of space for our things.

The other things we‘ve noticed about Venice is that there seem to be more pastry shops than gelaterias. We haven’t stopped in either yet, but I’m sure we will. We did stop at a grocery store to buy things for dinner. It will certainly be our least expensive meal so far and the first time we’ll see vegetables on our plate other than topping a pizza.

Our hotel is right on the Grand Canal. The room has the same flocked wallpaper as my parent’s dining room, and the furniture is the same style as the bedroom furniture I had as a child. That’s just weird.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Dearth of Pizza

I think we figured out that pizza here in Florence just isn't as good as it was in Rome, so today, we had no pizza. But since I had pizza for lunch and dinner yesterday, I think that overall, I'm still on track for an average of pizza once a day.

But tonight's gelato was excellent. It was a chocolate base with rum, cinnamon and pepper. Maybe a bit too much pepper, but overall, quite tasty.

An ordinary day

My friends took the bus to Lucca today and I decided to take a day to wander around more of Florence.

The Galileo Museum has been closed for renovations and is supposed to re-open this spring. May is spring, so I walked over to the museum. It turns out, that in Florence, June 10th is spring. While technically that is correct, it is not helpful for those of us here in May. There is a very large sun dial outside the museum and so I knew I was there at 11am. That didn't matter, but it was helpful to know how long I'd already been wandering around.

I also stopped by a post office to change some more money. Invariable, no matter when or where I travel, I need just a few more dollars (or shekels or euros) to make it through the last few days. The other good thing about the post office is that there are seats, and it is cool, and maybe even air conditioned. There are no actual indications at the post office that you can change money there - I'd read about it, but there's all sorts of bad information on the internet, so really, I had no idea.

The other interesting thing we've discovered is that not so many Italians speak English. I'm not one of those people who thinks that the rest of the world should all learn "our" language, but given that I don't know Italian, I have been seeking out those people who do have some English facility. I did not find any of those people at the post office.

But I watched what everyone else was doing, took a number and waited to be called. The clerk behind the counter also didn't speak English, but she did speak the universal language of money, which was helpful enough.

While I was waiting to be called, I noticed that you can do more at the Italian Post Offices than just buy stamps and change money. You can also buy music CDs, exercize videos, books (ficton and non-fiction) and office supplies.

We're leaving Florence tomorrow. There are simply too many tourists. Groups with the leader wearing a funny hat, carrying a bright yellow umbrella or in sad cases, a stick with a bright rag on the end. It doesn't matter whether I'm in DC, Chicago, or Florence, I'm not a fan of groups of tourists.

Sadly, we will be missing the Firenze Gelato Festival. That might be for the best, but I can't see how. There is also a Terra Futura conference that was scheduled to coincide with the gelato festival. I guess they're thinking that gelato is part of an environmentally sustainable world. I agree.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pizza Redemption

The pizza I ate for dinner was definitely a step up from lunch. Still, so far, the pizza in Rome has been better than pizza in Florence.

There's a huge market here with all sorts of leather goods. But at the end, there were a few other types of artists, including a Moroccan who had beautiful water colors and etchings. I'd rather spend money on art than leather, so I did. I'm sure I'll spend far more on framing than I did on the etching of the Ponte Vecchio, but that's okay.

The artist was drinking some wine as we approached his table, and before we could even start looking at his work, he told us he'd been drinking for 32 of his 48 years. The only person he really loves is his mother because she gave birth to nine people. I didn't ask about the wedding ring he was wearing.

Hotel Carravaggio

This hotel is definitely three-star (as opposed to our four-star hotel in Rome). The rooms are fine. The bathroom is clean. There are fitted sheets on the bed (as there were at the hotel in Rome). But the beds are the smallest beds I've ever slept in. I tend to toss and turn in my sleep, and in these beds, if you toss, you can't turn. And if you turn, you definitely can't toss.

In addition to cereal, milk and rolls, breakfast features all sorts of packaged foods- from jelly and nutella and honey, to crackers and pate. Yes, pate. I have only one word for this. Ewww.


Michaelangelo's David doesn't look very Jewish. And we all decided that the Accademia is our kind of museum. A few specific things to see and not too big. We spent almost an hour there, most of it looking at David, who doesn't actually seem very self-conscious given how many people are staring at him.

The pizza today (so far) has been disappointing.

Monday, May 24, 2010


The waitress on television was most definitely not named after this city.

Smaller than Rome, more manageable, more diverse, both old and modern, and not quite as much graffiti. In Rome, everyone was wearing something bedazzled, or at least shiny. Here, they are dressed to the nines, and you can look at them in direct sunlight and not be blinded.

The train was an adventure. First, we all decided to walk to the train station. Bags on wheels are a great invention, but five people, four of whom have the identical bag, walking in a line like ducks for a mile is just embarrassing. At some point, we thought that two or three might take a bus or at least a cab, but in the end, no. We all walked.

And, we all have bags that are too big. Thankfully, they fit under the seats of the train, but not so easily. And none of us believed it was time to start getting our bags out so we could make a quick exit when the train stopped. Oops.

We’re hoping that the call I made to Italy a few weeks ago to reserve tickets for the Uffizi and Accademia will actually yield tickets. We’ll find out tomorrow.

And, just to be on the safe side, I had both pizza and pasta today. I have yet to have gelato, but the night is young.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


1. We did not expect to get mugged in Naples, but the city has as reputation as the pick-pocket capitol of Italy. We also were not disappointed not to have been chosen to participate in this time-honored activity.

2. Who knew that Roman numerals are still used extensively in Rome?!

3. I do not believe the citizens of Pompeii were individually responsible for the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the concept of guilt-by-association had already been realized.


I did not get to eat pizza in Naples. But I did get to eat Neopolitan ice cream, so that was good. And we didn’t get mugged today. So that was good too.

Today we went to Naples on our way to Pompeii. It involved two trains and a hike up a large hill.

The hike was the easiest part. The old Pompeii was a fairly large port city that was obliterated when Vesuvius blew it’s top in 79 A.D. I’m pretty sure it was delayed retribution for the destruction of the Second Temple, but I didn’t see that mentioned anywhere in the literature. Still, it’s a good theory, right?

Everything is more or less as it was then, without the ash and without the roofs. The walls, floors, and ancient graffiti are all still there.

Actually, that’s one thing about Italy I do not understand. There is graffiti everywhere. From Rome down to Pompeii, it was one un-ending spray paint fest. People 2000 years ago etched theirs in rather than using spray paint, but evidently old habits die very, very hard, and in this case, not at all.

I also realized two other things that would have been helpful to have brought with me. One would be a basic phrase book of Italian words. The other would be a watch. Trains here run on time and being too early is annoying and being too late is just dumb, especially when you don’t have to be.

Even though we didn’t get to eat pizza in the birthplace of pizza, we did have excellent pizza today back in Rome. Tonight was thinly fried eggplant and mozzarella. The conversation at the shop went like this:

Me: I’ll have that piece
Pizza guy: Eggplant and mozzarella
Me: Yes, I’ll have that one
Pizza guy: Yes, eggplant and Mozzarella
Me: I want that piece
Pizza guy: cold or hot?
Me: hot
Pizza guy: hot?
Me: yes, hot.
Me: pointing to oven…
Me: mmmmmmm

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rome, Day 2

We took the trolley-bus to Vatican City this morning. We think the trolley-bus runs in the middle of the street and the regular buses run in the right lane. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be a difference. No one seems to actually run their tickets through the validation machines on either one. Because we’d taken food from breakfast to snack on during the day and felt guilty, and because we were going to the Vatican and felt like we shouldn’t have “sinned” on the way there, we did validate our tickets.

The Vatican is very…Catholic. First we went to see St. Peter’s Baslica. My father told me that he’d been there during the war and if I mentioned his name, we would get bumped to the front of the line. Who knew?! He was right.

The basilica is beautiful and we also went down to see the crypts, including the one of the most recent pope, John Paul.

I have to say, Rick Steves is a genius. We have been using his walking tours since we got here and they are fantastic. Without them, we would really be at a loss and I think we all think we should be sending him a fruit basket. I think future vacations may only be to places where he has podcasts.

We waited in line for an hour to get into the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is the personal chapel of the Pope. Let me just say, he MUST have an easier way to get in than we did. There were thousands of people (at least), and the official route wound up and down little stair cases and in and out of narrow doorways. It was as if they knew that we would never go through the galleries on our own and wanted to make sure that we saw more of their collection.

Almost every painting had some kind of representation of Jesus. Or Mary. Or an apostle or saint. Which all makes sense, but after a while, it all looks the same to an untrained eye. Until you get to the Sistine Chapel.

It’s incredible. Michaelangelo was a genius.

For those keeping track, we have absolutely kept up our commitment to eat pizza and gelato. And we have been walking miles and miles.

Friday, May 21, 2010

When in Rome...

Go roaming.

I landed in Rome and learned a few things.

First, Italian flight attendants are evidently as concerned about passengers eating as Jewish mothers are about their children. Our flight took off at 5:15am. I can’t imagine that anyone had slept before the flight, and as soon as I boarded, I put on my eye mask, took the cotton ball that they put a cover on and call a pillow behind my head, unfurled a surprisingly soft blanket and tried to sleep. I couldn’t really sleep, but I was trying. Until 45 minutes later when the flight attendant poked me in the arm and woke me up to give me breakfast. Keep in mind that I was sitting in the window seat. And I’m pretty sure I have a bruise.

I landed and decided to take a bus to the main transit station in Rome. About five minutes out from the airport, the bus driver pulled to the side of the highway and started to yell at someone on the phone. I couldn’t tell if it was his mother, his girlfriend, or someone from the bus company. The next thing I know, everyone is sticking their hands up in the air checking to see if their air vents were open. I’m guessing it wasn’t his mother on the phone. A few minutes later we took off and I got an unnarrated tour of the city.

Rather than figure out where the bus stops were, where to buy a ticket and where to get off the bus, I decided to walk to our hotel. It was about a mile and at least kept me awake. At this point I should be honest and say – I packed too big a bag. I don’t think I could have packed in a carry-on suitcase, but my new duffel bag is just too big. It’s not full by any means, but it’s still too big.
The food pyramid doesn’t exist here – it’s just a few columns, mainly pizza and gelato. At least for the first day and a half, those have been our staples. I once was in Israel where our goal was a falafel a day. Here, our goal is pizza and gelato at least once a day, if not more.

Our expectation today was to visit the Coliseum and the Forum. We finished the Coliseum and then met a woman who gave us a map to a market she and her friend had visited in the morning. How we met her is another whole story. We went to the Forum, and then decided to walk to Campo de Fiore, where the market was. The market had very clearly closed for the day. But while we were walking around, we saw signs for a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit that featured real, interactive machines built from his designs. It was a great exhibit that featured models of his flying machines, tanks, printing press, odometer and a lot of drawings.

And then we decided to walk to the Pantheon via the Piazza Navona. And then to the Trevi Fountain (we’d walked there and to the Spanish steps last night). It was a lot of walking. Mainly, I think Rome is full of statues and fountains and way too many tourists, us among them. After all of this, we made the wise decision to take a bus back to our hotel.

Two last thoughts:
1. I need a straw for my Nalgene. Mimi – I shouldn’t have given the straw back to you!
2. I need to remember to put sunscreen on the tops of my feet if I’m going to wear my Teva’s again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ben Gurion

There should be a rule that all airports have free wireless access.


It has been verified. There is nothing redeeming about being awake at 3:3oam. Of the 360 students with us, all but maybe 40 walked three miles to the Kotel this morning. I stayed at the hotel to offer support the those that didn't walk.

Shavuot may be considered a holiday that features dairy food, but not at the Shalom Hotel. No, at the Shalom Hotel, it's all meat, all the time. The most interesting food so far has been the peas, corn, carrots and tuna salad, which is neither dairy nor meat, but most importantly, edible.

Unfortunately, I will also be awake between midnight at at least 5am tomorrow morning as well, so if any further confirmation is needed about whether redemption can be found, I will have an answer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shavuot in Jerusalem

I am in Jerusalem for Shavuot, one of the three major holidays in Judaism. The last time I was here for Shavuot, I went to a concert with my family. This year, I'm "on the job" and there will be no concerts. That said, there will be a pilgrimage to the Western Wall, leaving at 3:30am.

Remember last week when I wrote that there was nothing good about being awake at 2:00am? I'm fairly certain that the same thing can be said about 3:30am.

Evidently, there is one very important item that all travelers need to bring on the pilgrimage (in addition to the first fruits of their harvest) and that is: sun glasses. Yes, you read correctly. When you walk to the Kotel in the dark, you don't think about the fact that the sun will be quite bright on your way back. But we've been told to think about it and bring sun glasses. Okay.

A few participants (and some staff) were disappointed to find out that we would not be also performing a ritual sacrifice on this holiday. I explained that it's too hard to find a perfect red heifer these days.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Day, Another Hotel

Hotel number two in Israel does have fitted sheets. And when I open the window and the drapes, I have a perfect view of the Calatrava pedestrian bridge. (It's not easy to create a new architectural landmark in a 2000 year old city.) But lest you think I have nothing to complain about, I do. The bathroom isn't small, but the layout is such that when you sit on the toilet, your knees are under counter that holds the sink. And the toilet paper roll is behind you.

I had lunch in the Mamilla mall today. Getting there was torturous. The traffic in Jerusalem is terrible, unless it's 4am and there's always construction. The mall has a huge parking lot - five levels underground and the size of a city block. It was all but totally full. The only way to find a spot was to stalk someone walking from the elevator. And this is the cleanest parking lot I've ever seen. The floors are spotless and some kind of shiny painted concrete. So that when you turn the corners, your tires squeak on the floor.

The mall itself is pretty fancy and there are all sorts of boutiques and American chains (like The Gap) and evidently enough people to shop in them to keep a five level parking garage full. And the first two hours of parking are free, so that alone makes it a great place to be.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Pet Peeve

My regular readers know that my pet peeve here in Israel are sheets that are too short for the bed. And invariably, the shortness is exhibited at the head and not the foot of the bed. It's just gross. I will never understand why the standard size sheets can't fit the standard size mattresses. Can it be that hard?! Even the Shalom Hotel figured it out - it can't be that difficult.

My Day at the Mall

This morning, I went to Tzfat. I met our groups and then made my way to the studio of my friend, Morris Dahan. He wasn’t there, so I left my business card with a note. On my way up to the mall to get some work done, I stopped at Neot Mordechai, the kibbutz where Naot shoes are produced. I haven’t bought anything there in a few years, but it’s always good to stop and look. I walked in, and who did I see? My friend Morris! Because I didn’t see him at his studio, I actually saved a lot of money today.

I spent the rest of the day at the mall in Kiryat Shemona. As far as malls go, it's not much. There's a grocery store, a book store, a cafe, two falafel stands, a pizza counter, a Burger King, and a few other odd stores that don't seem to sell any particular kind of thematic items. But they have tables, chairs and electrical outlets, which makes it a great place to work.

Around noon, the Israeli kids came in to hang out. Then the soldiers came to buy snacks for the week. A little later a lot of senior citizens. They all got ice cream cones. Then came the Birthright buses. They all want shawarma and so they all wait in line at the same place. Later, the Arab kids come in. They look just like the Israeli kids. I wish the Birthright participants had seen them. It was so normal and a view of Arabs that most Americans will never see.

Monday, May 10, 2010

36 hours...

You know that volcano that erupted in Iceland? It's a great act of nature, probably beautiful under many circumstances, and generally things in Iceland don't actually impact my life very often.

That came to an end on Saturday night. My flight was delayed 7 hours and when we saw the map of the flight, it was clear that we took a big detour around something in the Atlantic. It was either volcanic ash, or the Bermuda triangle, and I’m pretty sure we weren’t quite that far south.

When I landed in Rome, I’d missed my connection and had a 6 hour wait before the next flight to Israel. I was lucky. There were travelers who couldn’t make their connections for days – either flights were full, or cancelled. I waited in line for two hours for a meal voucher. It’s not like I had anything else to do.

But of course first I had to figure out where I should be waiting. One would think the transit desk, where three different people had directed me. Alas, there was no one at the transit desk. Finally, someone suggested that I got to the other terminal. Again, with nothing but time, I figured, why not?

So I made my way to the other terminal, found the transit desk and found two different systems at work. One group of people was crowding around the agent in the corner, and one group was in line. I went with the line, which turned out to be smart because the agent in the corner left two minutes later, forcing the group of people to go to the back of the line. Which they weren’t very happy about. There were four people in front of me.

Two hours later, I got a meal voucher. I asked how much it was worth and was told that depending on how much I wanted to eat. Okay…. So I went to the food court and asked the cashier if they took the voucher, to which he replied no, that I had to go to the restaurant.

Wasn’t that where I was?! Evidently not.

I found the restaurant. It’s really a cafeteria with a chef. Dinner options included salmon risotto, a nice looking fish, meaty things, and some great looking salads. I opted for salad and when I asked about dressing, I was directed to a table around the corner. The table had a few large bottles of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and some other kind of liquid I couldn’t identify. That worked.

I finally made it to my gate and found that you can fly a lot of places from Rome at 10pm. You can go to Casablanca, Beirut, Tirana, and Damascus. All the flights were supposed to leave at the same time. You get on a little shuttle bus and they take you to the plane. I was hoping that the shuttle driver knew which planes were which. And that the pilots were taken to the correct planes. Not that I was worried. I’d love to go to some of those places….