May 31, 2011

I wrote about the new addition to my book family, the Kindle, which of course is not really a book, but brings all kinds of wonderful books to my fingertips within seconds - okay, minutes. I know it's selfish, that I don't love the Kindle for itself but for what it can do for me, but oh well....it's not a person.

Which brings me to the book I am reading now, "Italy since 1945". Seeing that I adore this country, I thought I'd find out more about it's evolution. I've already read "The Dark Heart of Italy" to get a view of, well, dark side that we hear about - the mafia, the corruption - that covered more recent times. "Italy since 1945" looks at Italy since it's involvement in World War 2 (another subject that I like).

It is well written (meaning the author is not boring) and for me, the information is something that I am soaking up. The impact of the war and the subsequent changes are what made the Italy I am living in today and that really makes history come alive.



May 30, 2011

The Kindle 3 G, a Sanity Saver

I love to read and seeing I live in an area where English books are rare, and finding a selection even rarer, I decided to get an e-reader. I chose the Kindle with the 3G version so I can download wherever I am without having to have an internet connection. There are other versions to choose from but since this works globally, there really was no doubt which one I'd choose.

I thought I'd be making a compromise because I LOVE to hold a book in my hands and turn the pages, but the lazy me is very content to lie on my side in bed and just push a button for the following page. It's very light and fits easily into my purse. Highlighting is great because I don't have to find the right page where I made a note. All the notes and highlights are listed in another section, that pops me back onto the right page when I click on it. Nice for research.

The built in dictionary is really helping my vocab, although I doubt the words I look up are ones I am going to use in my everyday speech. Oh I forget, I'd have to translate it again into Italian to impress anyone and that extra step is not going to happen.

I've downloaded several books to queue up, just like how I have the real ones sitting on my shelf. It's so easy to get a book now I run the risk of buying more than I can read in a lifetime. The selection in so many categories is quite large and deliciously enticing.

So, for friends who have asked about the Kindle, I say it's worth it, especially for travelers or ex-pats. It keeps you in touch with your own world and for book lovers stuck in a corner where you don't know if and when your mail will arrive, the "Mail Conspiracy", it surely is a sanity saver.

May 29, 2011

Viennese Concert San Francisco Symphony Style Part 4

The San Francisco Symphony was invited to Vienna to participate in the International Festival celebrating the life and music of Gustav Mahler, which comes as no surprise to the music world as Tilson-Thomas is renowned for his interpretation of Mahler's music. However, although I am sure it was moving, I came for the Beethoven 5th that they performed on Sunday.

We lunched with an old friend Tim. A and I were sitting with our backs to the wind and after frequently and fruitlessly swiping our hair out of our faces, I finally asked Tim if we could switch seats. As you can see, he wasn't going to have any issues.

The performance was at the Weiner Konzerthaus. When I told the taxi where to take us, he couldn't understand me....because I put the accent on the first syllable and he places it on the second -  KonZERThaus. How many times has that happened to me, I've lost count. Can you believe a little accent can change things so much?

Magnificent hall, but of course, I am partial to the Symphony Hall in SF.

Conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas; Christian Tetzlaff playing his encore

May 28, 2011

Lifestyle in Vienna Part 3

I come from a conservative family, lived my childhood years on an island in the Caribbean, moved to the very large and impressive US, then changed my lifestyle for a small mountainous village region of northern Italy. So many different cultures and lifestyles separated by large bodies or water. Yet, separated by a mere border or two, life is so different in each of the European countries.

I was rather struck by the young people in Vienna on a Saturday night. Almost all of them were hopping the subway with bottles of beer and even hard liquor going where, I don't know. I mean large liter size bottles to share amongst themselves - not individual size portions. This, I think, would make any parent worry but maybe Vienna is special, different from other large cities.

Let's see...

1. Vienna is very clean. Nowhere did I see an empty bottle left littering the station, or parks or any public place and there wasn't a garbage service scheduled for Sunday morning. Oh no. Seems Vienna holds their Sunday more sacred than the Italians because every store was shut up as tight as can be. Actually, even on the Saturday it was hard to find one open.

2. Vienna, as I said in Getting around Vienna, seems to run on the honor system. Well, these funny looking newspaper bags adorned many street corners over the weekend, only to leave them naked come Monday. There is a little black box to deposit payment but wait...the bag is open, never locked.

3. Vienna is a music city, Mozart and Beethoven, Mahler among others are celebrated here. Not to say that that in itself makes it a virtual crime free place but musicians are not really the type to go out to look for trouble or create it. (Vienna, according to the US Gov Travel Site, has the lowest crime rate in Europe, with practically no violent crime).

4. Vienna is very metropolitan and at the street market I found vegetables like fresh okra and breadfruit (that I haven't seen since my childhood days in Trinidad...or I guess Hawaii). Tropical fruit that didn't cost an arm and a leg. Middle Eastern food and spices of every kind lined the market streets...of course, right across from an Austrian market pub. Kebab and Chinese/Japanese have found their way into the Italian way of life but I would never, ever find okra or breadfruit or any of these other exotic fruits.


5. The architecture is magnificent, similar to Prague in its grandeur, larger than life. Perhaps too big for me but still awesome to see. 


Probably the English sector with Shakespeare Company Booksellers selling only English books and an Irish pub on the corner. We ran across this gem near the Wein river near the Schwedenplatz metro station.

6. What would Vienna be with the schnitzel and the sacher. Again near the Schwedenplatz station, on one of the back streets, we filled ourselves with a sumptious potato salad and schnitzel. I would love to have that recipe for the salad dressing, it was soooo good.



May 26, 2011

Getting around Vienna Part 2

How does one get around the city of Vienna? Easily. Take the metro, ride the train, walk, take a horse and carriage, cycle. After our unusual beginning to our stay, the remainder turned out well.

  Rathaus - Town Hall used for events. AIDS Life Ball took place May 21

The big question - "How to get from the airport to the city" had a simple answer. Bus, train (slow), train (fast), taxi. The least expensive is the slow train that has a station right at the airport. It connects to the metro station at various points in town (about 40 minutes ride) which then spread out all over the city. The CAT is faster (about 16 minutes) as it doesn't stop along the way, and also connects to the metro at the end of the line.

Statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy at Hero's Square, Heldenplatz. It was erected in front of The Hofburg Palace. It was at this square during WW2 that Hitler announced his allegiance with Austria.

Vienna is a cyclist's city, with bike paths set in the sidewalk. I didn't know this and paused smack in the middle of the bike lane to look at my map and set a cyclist madly ringing his bell at me. Unfortunately deaf to such things, I didn't budge and he had to swerve around me. I must have been like Mr. Bean, walking obliviously away after creating havoc at a scene.

Urania Observatory on the Wein River, built in 1910, partially destroyed in WW2. A modern structure on the other side of the river. The ceilings were videos.

The metro lines run around the heart of the city with one line U3 going straight through the middle, past St. Stephen's Cathedral. So, if one doesn't want to walk all over, which is possible, the metro stops will pop you out at the major attractions. Check the link for info on attractions near the stops.

Vienna Metro Map -  See how to get around. Vienna gets a A++ for public transport.
Vienna Metro ticket options - Vienna website with hourly, daily, weekly options.

Their transportation system seems to run on the honor system as there are tickets on sale, but no one to check to see if you bought them or gates to go through. No one ever checked our train ticket and the bus driver claimed to not have any more tickets and let us ride for free.

May 24, 2011

Visit to Vienna Austria Part 1

I love the fact that travel from one country to another is quite easy especially if you plan ahead so we made plans for a weekend trip to....  VIENNA!!!!

St. Stephens Church roof mosaic, Vienna

The Beginning and End

Romanesque & Gothic architecture in the heart of Vienna 
On arrival at Vienna International Airport (Flughafen Wien as it is called in German) the plane taxied to a stop where a bus was to come to transport us from the runway to the gate. We lined up to exit the plane only to hear the following announcement after waiting several minutes for the door to open. "Welcome to Vienna International. We ask you to wait patiently for a few more minutes as, (pause) unfortunately the stairs are missing. The good news is that your bus is already here....We hope you enjoy your stay in Vienna."

At the end of the weekend, we were taking the metro back to the train station. The moment we sat, waiting for its arrival, an announcement over the speaker emptied the station. I asked a passer-by to translate and she said the line was being closed so travelers had to find another method of transport. At least at this last moment we had a lot of cushion to find a new way to the airport.

Our lives without a doubt have an effect on the others we come in contact with whether we see it or not. I think this metro mishap put us in a time frame where we were lucky enough to actually see our impact.

At the train station buying our tickets at a machine, we waited behind a father and daughter. As we were inputting our selection, we noticed a ticket dropped out of the machine. It was for the airport and we thought we were rather lucky. Just as we were about to finish, A noticed the same man coming back to buy yet another ticket and he realized the one that had miraculously appeared for us, really belonged to this man but had been stuck. They were one ticket short. Thanks to the Italian/German language barrier, A almost had to knock the man aside in order to give the ticket back.

At the automated check-in for our flight, I didn't notice that our seats were not together. As we were dropping off our luggage for cargo, the attendant asked us "Don't you want to sit together?" Well of course we did - so he changed our seats which put us in the very front of the plane.

In line for security, I noticed a man who came up in a hurry, looking anxiously ahead at the line in front of him. I asked him when his flight was leaving guessing it was probably the one one the screen that was currently boarding. "Now" was the answer that came back. I let him in front of me and so did a whole lot of other people. I hope he made it in time.

And waiting on the plane for take-off, a man raced against the tide to mutter unintelligible Italian to the Viennese stewardess. She asked A (we were seated in the front row) if he spoke English and he offered me up instead as he STILL hasn't learnt any english. The man had forgotten his back-pack in the waiting room and was trying to explain this to the attendant. It was nice to be useful - and he got his bag back. A and I got this as a thank-you.

Most of the time, I am not aware enough, or open enough, or bold enough to step up to help others but I see the willingness in A.  And as a result, I got the hugest blessing today for being in his company. I hope I will be more "available" in the future.

May 7, 2011

Old Wives' Tale for allergy relief?

Perhaps you've heard of some of these Old Wives' Tales...

"Those who go swimming less than one hour after eating will get a cramp and drown." or
"Earthquakes are most likely to happen when the weather is hot and dry." If that were true....hmmm,
or how about "Fruits or vegetables canned by a menstruating woman will spoil in the can."

I came back to Italy when everything was in bloom. Beautiful to behold, but for my allergies, there is that something out there during the spring season that leaves me puffy-eyed, sniffing, sneezing and coughing.  

Front fence wisteria but not the culprit
Pansies that sprouted from last year's planting.
There is one thing that I have come to respect since I've been here - when someone from a generation or two ago suggests a cure for something, there is usually some degree of success behind it. So when my friend's mom mentioned that she always prepared quails eggs for her son, who she (years ago) discovered doing his homework with tissue stuffed in his nose, I had them on my table that night.