Wednesday, December 19, 2012

La Bicicletta

Bicycles. I love riding bicycles. Easy way of transportation. Great exercise. Just plain fun. And bicycles are beautiful. Bicycles may be my favorite subject to photograph ya know?

So what is so unique about bicycles in Bologna. Everything, I think. Of all the Italian cities I've visited, I first thought Firenze was filled with bicycles.  There are few bicycles in Roma, its impossible to travel Venezia in bici, Napoli? I'm sure a bicycle can't survive in Napoli.

But...

in Bologna, bicycles thrive, they rust, they squeak, they have tiny frames, they have large wheels, they have baskets, they have children's seats, they have lights and they have character.

Bicycles make me nervous in Bologna. The first day I swore I would buy a bike to travel the city with more ease.  Then, every day I realize that bicycles are dangerous! It's scary to ride a bicycle amongst the crazy italian rules of the road, and against the every changing cobblestone terrain. Come riusciro' senza incidento? Non riuscero' mai!

Every day I watch the bicycle culture.  A father answers his cell phone while riding down Via Garibaldi without a helmet. Child seated behind him. Cars buzzing by.  I wonder to myself how on earth this is possible. Then I'm pleasantly surprised that he makes an effort to end the conversation quickly because he has un bimbo a bordo.

In other cases its raining.  Everyone bikes one handed.  Umbrella in another hand.  It's taken me years to practice riding single handedly, and without hands is another feat of mine that has taken much practice.  So, theoretically, it shouldn't surprise me as the woman riding the bicycle with one hand attached to an umbrella proceeds to answer her cell phone with her other free hand.  How has she not been hit by a car? Beats me!

One more thing about Bologna Bicycles is they are difficult to come by. My first week here I went to every shop in town trying to find a used bike.  Even if I had the money to buy a new bicycle, new bicycles aren't permitted in Bologna. Why? There is this sort of a black market for bicycles that is well known among the bolognese.  Everyone warns you when you buy a bicycle, make sure you buy the shittiest bicycle there is. If you don't, 75% of the time, the bicycle you bought will be stolen back from you and resold in the same place. It's often necessary to use at least 2 chains when locking your bicycle up, and it's to be expected that your bicycle gets stolen at least once in your time spent in the lovely city. Gotta love Bologna ;)  Avviso: Non comprate bicicletti in Via Zamboni! ha! You'll see why!

Anyways, In conclusion. Queste bolognese. They are spectacular with a bicycle. My clumsy biking talents will never amount to theirs, so I'm stuck with the question... To buy a bicycle this spring, or to not buy a bicycle? A bicycle could mean danger, but it could also be a door to a new culture, the key to the elite city bikers club of Bologna. Sounds nifty right?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Croque Monsieur, s'il vous plait!

PARIS! THE CITY OF LIGHTS!? or is it LOVE!? Or how about PASTRIES!?? Yes the third one wins.

First Croque! Delicieux!
Traveling on Halloween and my Dad's birthday, I arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport a number of hours before Tim. Figured out how to navigate to the terminal of Air France arrivals. Realized the Charles De Gaulle airport is FREAKING HUGEEE, and then read my Understanding the European Union until his flight arrived. YIPPEE!  We made our way to the train station beneath the airport and struggled to pay for our RER ticket and get through the turnstile because Tim's ticket just wasn't working. Whoops, turns out I gave him a receipt not the ticket... there goes 5 minutes of our lives!  So we successfully boarded the RER B train to the center of Paris, then got off, then re-boarded, and then finally we were off to PARISSSSSSSS! WAHOO!

Escargots
We got off the train at Chalet, because we figured the directions the woman gave us were walkable from there, the map we had didn't seem to be very big and we don't pay for transportation unless we HAVE too. An hour later, sweating, tired and hungry, we had the keys to our Air B&B apartment and climbed 6 flights of stairs to find our cute little Parisian studio apartment. stomach growls. No time to rest, it's past 10pm, our stomachs are hungry, and we want French food!  After walking around the streets close to our apartment, we quickly learned Le Marais is a very expensive neighborhood.  We had to settle for junk at a Kebap type shop, Tim got a long long hot dog homed in a cheesy baguette, and since I wasn't too hungry, I settled for some french fries. Nom. Unsure of what we would do our first day in Paris, we returned home, briefly looked over the info our Air B&B host had left us, got excited about the cute note and rolls that she had left in the fridge, established the Eiffle Tower would be day 1, and then we quickly fell asleep!

Oh yeah, it was COLD!
When we awoke we happily toasted the buns that were left for us, and smothered them with a delicious blueberry jam.  We attempted to make coffee, but that failed miserably, so we resorted to tea. Then we started our walk towards the Eiffel Tower hoping that it wouldn't rain along the way.  We happened to walk past Notre Dame on the way, so we popped in, somehow effectively cutting a rather long line of people.  Forgetting it was the day of Ognissanti we also ended up walking into the beginning of the mass and they ushered us to the sides of the church to make way for the procession. Very cool. On to the Tour d'Eiffel!


We struggled a bit with directions, stumbled upon a cute neighborhood that we should have eaten lunch in, but we continued onwards expecting to find another lunch solution.  Then the hail came. We quickly had to find a not overly expensive restaurant with two criteria. Cappuccino and Croque. Success! We had the best Croque Evangelistas ever, filled with veggies, ham and cheese, and complete with a side of nice Australians who wanted to give us 10 metro passes! Score! Solved our metro pass buying dilemma! After lunch, the crazy weather cleared and we made it to the Eiffel Tower successfully. As it started to rain again, we stood in what we thought was the right line that would allow us to climb to the second floor, then get another ticket for the elevator to the top. Weary this was the right information, we did it anyways, and ended up getting to the second floor to find there was no place to purchase a ticket to the top. I thought Tim was gonna kill me! Cause he was doubtful we could get to the top from that line, but then we noticed a cashiere with the window starting to open... they had been on break... success! We admired the view from the top, contemplated getting a tiny glass of champagne, enjoyed our moneys worth of the view, then headed down to see the tower from a different angle, hit the supermarket for some basic provisions, catch the metro back with our free passes (score again!), get cleaned up and then find a place to dine.

Atop the tower, frozen!

The neighborhood we ate in was called St. Michel.  A cute area of small streets with tons of restaurants, bars and little shops.  We picked a place to eat with a complete menu for 15 euro, we had escargot, beouf and a dessert.  It was a lovely evening!






Friday we met up with Lindsay Gardel, to hit up the Louvre and the Musee D'Armee. Both of which I was able to get into for free thanks to my Italian Citizenship! Woot! A long museum day, filled with many cool things, the Mona Lisa, cool sculptures, a croque madame for lunch, World War II history, and Napoleans tomb.  To top of the day of walking we hit up a boulangerie, and I had my first real french Pain au Chocolat. Tim got a Chiboust. Lindsay got a fruit tart! All delicious, and we got a baguette to take back to the apartment to eat later on.  We met up with Lindsay and other Union students on the Prague term abroad for dinner in the same area of St. Michel.  The restaurant we picked this time wasn't near as good, but no complaints! After dinner the plan was to meet up with the french students who had studied at Union, so we figured our way on the map, and eventually ended up at their chic apartment, where we laughed, danced, drank wine and enjoyed good company.  Luckily Tim and I left just in time to get caught in torrential rain for our half hour walk home! Successful day once again!



Saturday we slept later than usual then headed straight for the Arc de Triomph. We leisurely strolled down the Champs Elysee popping in and out of shops, then the stomachs growled.  We headed toward Montmartre, our next stop on the list, hoping to find a reasonably priced lunch place on the way.  We luckily ran into Paul, a boulangerie with delicious treats. We each got a cappuccino, a sandwich and a dessert (chocolate cake and raspberry tart to split!) all for 10 euro each.  I'd say that's a good deal for Paris! Fuel in our stomachs we set out for Montmatre, to find the Moulin Rouge, and to watch the sunset from Sacre Coeur. For dinner we decided we would just eat desserts because we had yet to have a crepe or a macaroon. We watched the sun set, and watched a crazy soccer player do cool tricks on a lamp post, then we strolled around the small streets above the church, grabbed some vin chaud, continued down the road toward a crepe and a macaroon, and then walked back down the hill to find Soupe a l'oignon and return home for our final night in the heart of Paris.  By that point we had done well with our dessert challenge, and we had to prepare for what would be thrown at us the following day.



Maria.

Maria&Enrico
We packed our things and met Enrico outside the apartment promptly at 11:30am.  It was lovely to see him, and we slipped in his car and popped on over to Thais to spend the day with him and Maria.  Previously I had warned Tim that whatever you do, no matter how much of a language barrier there is, is you continue to eat. Because even if you try to stop, it will be impossible. I don't think he really believed me, but anywho, I warned him! We arrived at Maria's tiny stone fronted home, she's already cooking up a storm and is so excited to see me, and I was so excited to see her! I really miss that lady, she is just too nice, and our language issues make the encounters always so much bettter! I introduced her to Tim, language barrier already funny, we settled down, put our things away, Corrine arrive with Mathieu (so ADORABLE), then she sat us promptly at the table. Bring It On.

Hamlet
She brought out a baguette first. Devoured. Manacotti. Devoured. "Does this one want more?" (referring to Tim). Brings him another Manacotti, I refused. Then fettucine that she makes the same way as my Nonna with peas, ham and onions.  Slowly devoured. Tim gets another plateful handed to him. Can't refuse. Can't speak Italian. Lei non parla inglese. Maria... I think were full, please, no, no more food!  Too bad, here comes the meatballs! Then she asks me if we want the rabbit... I had to draw a line there.  Seriously? Rabbit on top of ALL of that? I told her to save that for dinner, thankfully she obliged or  I would have exploded.  Then she comes with the coffee, and guess what! A BOX OF PASTRIES!! Tim and I were good and split a raspberry delicious thing, and then I almost went into a food coma, just in time to walk miles around the palace of Versailles. Perfect!  Off to Versailles we went! Enrico kindly took us there, and showed us all of the important places.  The palace was beautiful, but the gardens and the other homes on the estate were even more noteworthy.  The tiny hamlet of Marie Antoinette was gorgeous, and I'd build myself a tiny village just like hers if I could!  We spent ours roaming the grounds, and managed to get back to the car before sunset. Enrico brought us to see his home on the way back. His kitchen has gorgeous appliances, and the house is very beautiful, I hadn't realized it was so brand new!  Then we return to the place where food is made. Rabbit and pasta for dinner! More pastries! Crepes with sugar! Can't eat it all!  The most hilarious part Maria-Tim interactions.  She'd look at me and motion at Tim, and say "questa quoi, vuole ancona di piu?" in her hilarious ciociaresco accent. Meaning "this one, he wants more?' She could not remember his name for the life of her, so entertaining.  So Enrico makes the analysis of Telecom Italia Mobile -- TIM, and then we get the big sigh from Maria "ohhhhh, TIM!! (pronounced TEEM) Made my night!  All in all Maria and Tim got along very well because Tim just smiled and ate everything that was put in front of him. He did very well! We headed to bed early, to wake at 5:00am for Enrico to take us to the airport.  Our time spent with the DiCocco's was fabulous and definitely calorie heavy, and as we left Maria we also left with a snack pack of crepes, apples and pain au chocolat.  Oh how I miss her! It was great to see my family, and the perfect end to a lovely Parisian vacation. Now I'm craving french pastries!!





p.s. did I mention Maria has a hologram Padre Pio/Jesus Christ framed above her bed, and marge simpson slippers? She is literally, great.

Alla prossima ragazzi