Friday, January 10, 2014

9th January – Elena bakes up a storm for breakfast. We head for Rome on the way to Israel and meet up with Lyn and Gary at the Airport.

Palermo was our ‘treat night’ as it looked very elegant on the Airbnb site. The building has been in Elena’s family for generations and the furnishings date back to the 1930s when her great grand parents occupied the building. We could tell Elena was from an aristocratic background when she served us breakfast in her Aussie Ugg boots. Can you believe they sell Uggs in Italy for 250 – 300 euro (over $400!).
Australian Uggies up to 300 Euros!

While breakfast was set for 3 we did not see anyone else in the B&B. Elena had baked some local special pastries (more belt loosening required). 

We decided to spend the morning playing chicken with the traffic again. Actually, we decided to explore the local food markets. We had been told there was an amazing variety of fish and fruit being sold. Persimmons are a favourite of mine. They are called something else here but are cheap as chips (and better for you). We thought the narrow streets and busy markets would have to be car free, but not quite…its amazing where a Vespa can go! The markets were colourful with everything from small sharks, squid, swordfish and many other unknown creatures from the sea. We had to cut short though as Julie’s bladder required emptying and the markets did not appear to cater for her needs. We managed to find the main railway station surrounded by one of those roundabouts you see in large Italian cities where cars traverse 11 abreast. Didn’t matter to Julie however… she was desperate and therefore fearless. Found the WC…coin operated of course, with the change machine broken (of course). Fortunately we were able to scrape up the correct change otherwise the WC may have suffered its first break-in for the morning!

Could you see this on the Barbie?

Swordfish is popular here...

What you can do with a small dog you can't do with a big dog? This woman
was walking her dog and playing traffic chicken.When the traffic converged she
just lifted the lead and rushed off ... airborne Chihuahua!

The EasyJet flight to Rome was good and more economic than Ryanair. No sprint for the unallocated seats. Our baggage actually cost less than us to fly, unlike Ryanair, where I was expecting to see our bags sitting up there in first class! The Check-in for our Israel flight was just upstairs so we managed to be second in line for when check-in opened…Gary and Lyn were first :)

Side Bar – Reflections of Italy

I can still recall our very first visit to Italy on our very first trip to Europe over 30 years ago now. With language always a challenge, we had travelled through Austria, Germany, and Switzerland before arriving in Italy. While our Italian language skills were on par with the other countries we had been to (non-existent), for some reason the chaotic arm waving Italians seemed to be easier to communicate with than the other Europeans. Not being able to speak the language did not annoy them…they just keep speaking to you anyway and waving their arms. Italians are such a contrast to their northern neighbours. We felt immediately much more relaxed when we got to Italy…. And still to this day.

On one business trip Giovanni took me for a drive to the Swiss Italian border. He said “stand here and look to your left to Switzerland and your right to Italy. Sure enough on the Swiss side, there was order, cars parked neatly, on the Italian side it was chaos….cars parked anywhere they could fit; footpaths, gardens, wherever. I have been told that there are parking rules and you can be fined for parking in the wrong place. It seems that this doesn’t concern most Italians; it seems to be a bit of a sport for them’ like the speed limit signs (I must say that there are at times ridiculously low limits for some reason, like 60 klm/hr on 4 lane expressways in some areas….no wonder they get ignored). I can remember Rosario coming to pick me up at the main railway station in Milan one morning. We arrive at his car, parked on the roundabout!

Another notable thing about Italy is how the Italians are able to design such beautiful machines, whether they are cars, coffee machines, kitchens and bathroom fitting…the list goes on. If only they worked! Well that’s a bit harsh but we often have a laugh about how many things we find in Italy that are “out of order”. … or as the saying goes “looks good; doesn’t work!”

When it comes to food the Italians are parochial. Unlike Sydney, London, New York we can decide, “which country are we going to eat at tonight?” in Italy its not easy to find non-Italian restaurants, especially outside the major cities. Of course the regional specialties do add variety even for Italians travelling.

Driving in Italy is not for the faint hearted. My first experience was in Florence, where we ended up picking the car up in the centre of the city in peak hour (not by choice, the trains were late). One learnt not to worry about the plethora of vehicles beside or behind you….otherwise you would never get out of first gear. I have already commented on road signs and the “all roads lead to Rome” effect. The GPS has helped overcome this to a large extent, but sometimes I lapse and actually follow a sign to find that its caught me out again.

But overall, its hard to be critical. John Cleese once said “What have the Romans ever done for us?” But as Maria also once said to us “these damn Italians are so parochial…trouble is they do have it all....the food, art, mountains, sea, countryside…the lot!

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