Friday, November 23, 2007

Catching up: The good, the bad and the ugly

The picture above is from a bar on the outskirts of Bangkok where we hung out last night and saw a really cool band. It was a hipster place that would fit right in in Portland or Seattle!

In any case, I figure I should catch up as much as possible with our final week or two in Italy before I get distracted by Thailand and forget everything. It's amazing here so far. First of all, the prices are out of this world. Going out for lunch in Italy usually costs $30, minimum. But here, we can have pad thai, noodle soup and a coconut/pineapple shake for $3, as we did last night.

Our hostel is also excellent. It's set back a little way off this crazy commercial road with hundreds of street vendors... but it's completely peaceful. Our room has a king-size bed and air-conditioning and it costs about $20 per night.

Yesterday we went and checked out Khao San road, one of the most famous backpacker destinations in the world. It's similar to the street near our hostel, Sukhumvit, but the vendors sell stuff geared more toward hipsters and young people. We also went down to the river for Loy Krathong, which I will write up in more detail later.

The night before that, we saw a baby elephant walking down the street. Craziest thing ever... we're in this dense commercial district, and some guys are just walking their baby elephant down the sidewalk. Even though it was a baby, it was about as tall as me, and probably 1200 pounds.

One more thing! Here's a picture of the Ribollita dish that we loved in Florence. Somehow I missed the photo before.

Moving on to Sicily and Rome...

I've sat down to start writing this chapter several times, and I've realized that it's too difficult to keep up the day-by-day format. Instead, I'm going to organize our time in Sicily using three cliche categories: The good, the bad and the ugly.

The good

Picking olives. I'm sure Don and Kitty are laughing at me right now, as I was adamant about not doing any manual labor on this trip. But this was different... just a few hours helping out Silvana and Rino's family.

And I'll admit, it was awesome. I'm sure I'd get tired of it after a full day, let alone a 40-hour week, but it was pretty cool to see how the olives are harvested. We met the family's cute puppy Yuma, had one of the best oranges ever straight from their tree, then headed back into town for lunch.

That night, we went to see how they make the olives into oil. It’s not as romantic as we pictured… no old-fashioned wooden press or anything… but it’s still so cool to make your own olive oil. Apparently the oil that they make here is healthier than the old-fashioned way anyway, because they used to use chemicals to separate the oil. Now it’s all mechanics and heat.

We sampled fresh oil straight from the press. It’s really harsh… it burns going down. The proprietor said that’s because it’s loaded with chlorophyll. The oil mellows over time.

Gondola ride. In Trapani, we took a gondola ride up to the ancient village of Erice. You go up about 1000 meters and get a great view of the sea and town behind. Unfortunately we didn't get to ride back down, as the weather turned nasty while we were up there.

Loud dinner with the family. One night we ordered pizza in with the family. This was pretty fun. The pizza was kind of standard, not homemade or anything, but we did get to try a Sicilian specialty known as arancine. These are little cone-shaped fried things that usually contain risotto, cheese, peas and meat.

After we finished eating and had moved on to the digestivi, the conversation seemed to be getting pretty heated. Antonietta’s husband and Lucia’s husband were discussing something so vigorously that the wives had to explain that they weren’t mad at each other, just talking loudly. But I think the argument got a little out of hand, even for Sicilians.

Of course I couldn’t tell what they were arguing about at the time. Antonietta’s husband in particular is impossible to understand. It’s not that he talks fast; I think he was using a lot of dialect and slurring all his words together.

The bad

Walking 2948932 miles to find a restaurant. I think we walked about 4 miles one night in Trapani to find a decent restaurant. It's not that we were being picky; it was just really hard to find places! We passed on a few that were really expensive before finally finding a pizza and pasta house that we liked quite a bit.

Other times, we were just being picky, but overall it seemed much more difficult to find good restaurants in Sicily than in mainland Italy.

Traffic. We had experienced plenty of traffic in mainland Italy. But the traffic in Palermo was more aggressive somehow. The trick to crossing a street is walking right out there and hoping the car is going to stop. In Palermo, you get the feeling that they're not always going to stop. Just walking across sidestreets can be treacherous.

The ugly. I've reserved this category for a special bathroom that we used on more than one occasion in Sicily. To protect the innocent, the bathroom will remain anonymous. I will just say that the smell still haunts me to this day.

And now for all the rest of the photos.

Rando Florence sculpture

Sculpture in Palermo that displays considerably less skill than Michelangelo's David

Palermo triple parking ownage

Apparently Fazio is a common name in this part of Sicily (Trapani and Erice)

A little bit of color in Erice (it was a really gray afternoon).

More Erice

For everyone reading along at CB&S

Calamari from the best restaurant we found in Sicily

I've been forced to eat "pizza" with toppings other than pepperoni. It's OK as long as I classify it as a different type of food in my mind.

Semi-distant relatives of Liz's relatives in Valguarnera. We had pizza and Arancine with them. I was trying to explain how to use the camera when this was taken.

Calogero and Rosina

Michelangelo's Moses

Coliseum (LDO)

Ruins near the coliseum

House in Rome

Trevi Fountain. This was pretty cool; too bad we didn't capture the actual fountain part in the photo.

The river in Rome was beautiful

As were the bridges

St. Peters. Even more massive than I remember, if that's possible

That's it for now. We still have more photos from Rome... not sure if I'll get to post them or not.

Also, it may be a while before we are able to update the blog with photos again as I will be leaving my laptop with a friend here in Bangkok while we travel around a bit. I can add text, but I doubt the internet cafes will have Photoshop, so the pics will have to wait.

Until then....

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