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The Italian Finale!

Friday, June 30th, 2006

I’m ready to come home, but still very eager to relax and enjoy my last 18 days in Italy. It’s really the perfect place for me to end my journey.

I’m leaving Nice this morning and will spend the afternoon in Genova, before heading to Asti to visit my cousin Ivonne, who I met for the first time earlier in this trip when I was in Venice. I’ll spend the weekend with her, then head to Viareggio and Lucca, where I will spend two nights couchsurfing, (although I learned today that Couchsurfing is no more, which is very sad news indeed.) Thankfully, I have the phone number of the person who agreed to host me, so I will call her today to firm things up. After this, I will head to Florence, one of my most favorite cities. I’ll be meeting up with family here as well — aunt, uncles, cousins, and my brother and sister-in-law — and we will all travel together to a villa for our own week under the Tuscan sun. Finally, I’ll spend a few days alone in Rome to wrap things up.

It’s incredible that the end is in sight. I’m in awe that I actually did this! I am so happy to have this special time with my family at the end, although I am also really looking forward to the touchdown at Newark Airport, where I will see my parents, who promised we can go to a real New Jersey diner for dinner!! I also look forward to many phone calls with friends and plans to meet up this summer.

I’m more sure than ever that travel will continue to be an integral part of my life, but this trip has also taught me that I do indeed cherish the concept and comforts of what it means to have a home…a place in this world to call my own…and I look forward to making one for myself in the weeks and months to come. So many people opened their homes to me on this journey, and I look forward to creating my own place with an open door as well. (Just don’t ask me yet exactly where that place will be, although I have some ideas brewing…)

Soooo, this is probably my last post until Rome or when I return to the states…so Happy July, Happy Fourth and many happy days…always!

Happy 35th Wedding Anniversary Mom and Dad!

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

My card is coming air mail…a little late…but I want to give you a special congrats today on 35 incredible years of love and marriage…and then some 🙂 Parenting, patience, all that stuff you both do so well…Celebrate and enjoy, and I hope the sun shines on you both in NY today.

Love and hugs…and see you in 20 days!!! xoxoxoxo

Food Fiesta

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

I´ve mentioned before that this trip has done wonders to cure my picky eating habits — and it turns out that my week in Madrid was one of the most challenging (and enjoyable) phases of the gastronomic journey. Bravery and pure hunger teamed up to make sure I tried a bunch of new things this week, thanks to my Spanish amigas.

My Spanish pal Cristina is an excellent cook, she likes to experiment and can whip up yummy dishes in a matter of minutes. I am now calling her the Rachel Ray of Espana, and working on a proposal for a new show — Twenty Minute Meals from Madrid. Here is a sampling of what I was treated to this week (and YES fam & friends…I tried…and actually liked…just about all of this! And you will try some of this too, when I get around to cooking for you later this year…)

– Gazpacho (the perfect cool, filling food for hot summer weather)

– Revuelto de Morcilla (blood sausage with onion, served with scrambled eggs)

– Lacon (ham served with olive oil and spices)

– Conejo al Ajillo (rabbit fried with garlic)

– La Gula (baby eel – looks like thin spaghetti – served with fettuchini, garlic, olive oil and egg)

– Desserts with yummy names like Leche Merengada and Espuma de Melocoton, and I tried Horchata, a milk drink made from the tiger nut, found only in Valencia.

Another friend, Maddie (an Irish transplant living in Madrid now) took me to a Galician taberna called Maceira where I ate octopus, called pulpo, and also had mussels in a white cream garlic sauce. Great atmosphere and music too.

Cristina and I went out for tapas yesterday and I had delicious tortilla de espanola (Spanish omlette), calamari and croquettas with jamon, my treat to thank her for an incredible week of food, football, Formula One and sightseeing too. I tried to cook for her but she would not allow it, soooo…I´m already working on the menu for when she visits the States in a year or two…smores, pancakes, burgers on the grill…good old American cooking 🙂

Oh, and here are two new photos – finally! One of me eating another Cristina original and one of she and I at the Royal Palace in Madrid.

Backtracking

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

Since leaving Croatia earlier this month, I have been backtracking through countries I already visited earlier in my travels. I went back to Budapest, back to Berlin and am now back in Madrid. Highlights of the past few weeks include:

Traveling with my good US pals, Tamara and Jared, who have taught me tons about football.

Visiting with the BoostnAll World Cup crew in Berlin, who taught me everything else about football.

Chats with my brother Dan back in the US, who continues to be impressed by my growing football knowledge 🙂

Emails and chats with family and friends who have caught World Cup fever back home too…this is great…I will convert you all into football fans!!! (But don´t worry, I´ll still watch American football and baseball too…how are the Yanks and O´s doing??)

Attendance at two World Cup football matches, including last Saturday night´s exciting US vs. Italy match — amazing atmosphere and intense action I´ll never forget.

Watching countless other games at Fan Fest in Berlin and on other TVs throughout Germany, France and Spain.

Jumping in the fountain (sort-of) at Plaza de Colon after Spain´s win over Tunisia on Monday night. It was so cool to be downtown when the game finished…I´ve never seen celebrating like this…and it wasn´t even a semi-final or final match!

There are some non-football related highlights too…

First, the unexpected afternoon in Paris (between trains) during which I was able to visit the Musee de’Orsay, which I was not able to see on my last visit to Paris ten years ago. I did not think I would see Paris at all on this trip, so I was happy to have the chance to explore for a few hours.

And now, a reunion with an incredible friend here in Spain, who is hosting me for a week of fun and great food in and around Madrid. Cristina is determined for me to try every authentic Spanish cuisine before I leave, and is cooking samples of all sorts of unique and new dishes for me to try in between sightseeing and football watching. We visited the Royal Palace and Cathedral in Madrid yesterday, and will go to Toledo later this week.

And life-planning mode is slowly taking shape…

I´m doing a little work on some writing projects, lining up my accommodations for the last few weeks of my travels, and beginning to make plans for my return to the states and the What´s Next phase (deep thoughts already in progress).

I´ll continue my backtracking for the remainer of my time in Europe, spending most of it in Italy. Not sure yet where I am headed next, but will enjoy Spain for the rest of this week and write again when I know where my next stop will be…

Any suggestions between here and Florence?? I’ve already been to Barcelona, but that might merit one more stop on the backtracking trail before heading into Italia for the grand finale.

Witnessing the World Cup

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

Hey all, just a quick update on where I’ve been…mostly on trains the past 48 hours or so…but having a blast and meeting lots of cool folks from around the world. Europe has turned into a true global village…it’s World Cup time!! After leaving Croatia I spent four days visiting a friend in Budapest, then made my way (via night train) to Munich, then Frankfurt, then Essen, in time to attend the US vs. Czech Republic World Cup football match last night. The atmosphere was awesome, but the results were not pretty for the USA. Today I took a train to Berlin where the World Cup BootsnAll gang will host me for a few nights full of football, football, football!!! We went to Fan Fest by Brandenburg Gate tonight for the 9 pm game — an amazing sight to see, tons of football fans from every nation, a true international party in the streets. The Brazilians and Croatians wore their team colors proudly, there was music, dancing, cheers…tons to see besides the game on the big screen.

I’m really lucky to be able to be here to see this live, and look forward to enjoying the rest of my World Cup week. Ít´s so fun just to be in Europe to watch the games on TV too, everyone is so into football here now (except those folks we saw lined up to go to the ballet here in Berlin last night.) I’ll be in hot, boiling Berlin until Saturday, and will then head south to attend the US vs. Italy game. I’ve been traveling with my Baltimore pals Tamara and Jared, and have had a great time catching up with them too. I’ll be writing more over at the Eurail Blog this week, so check in there for more updates.

My 32nd Birthday in Croatia

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

Following in the footsteps of my wonderful friend Beth who recently celebrated her 32nd birthday in Shanghai (where she is currently living), here is a recap of how I spent my big day:

I intentionally left the day completely unplanned and decided to just set out and see what unfolded. All I knew was that I needed to head north, so I left Dubrovnik on a 9 am bus headed up to Split, enjoying the spectacular views of the coast along the way. It was a quiet and peaceful four hours staring out the window at sunny skies, green islands and the aquamarine sea. The journey was highlighted by a quick pass through Bosnia, my 14th country of the trip. During our ten minute bus stop break in the town of Neum I spent a few minutes speaking with a with a Spanish soldier who is currently serving a four month duty in Bosnia. It was fun to practice my Spanish language with him – I was able to utter several complete sentences…and he understood me!

I had decided to head to Split with no accommodations booked in advance, since getting a private room in someone’s home (called a sobe) is usually the way things operate around here anyway. As I got off the bus there were at least six or seven women of various ages with “room available” signs waving at the disembarking passengers. I connected with Antoinetta, a sweet younger woman who did not speak much English. After negotiating a price she passed me off to her husband, who spoke even less English but seemed nice enough. He guided me to their home, just a few blocks off the harbor, where I found a clean sparse basement room and adjoining bathroom. It worked fine for me so I unpacked and headed out for a walk.

At this point I did feel a little lost and lonely. Folks who know me know that I don’t shy away from birthdays…I enjoy celebrating them, nothing big and fancy, but I like to be with people I know on my birthday. So I was missing the fam and friends for a bit…But not having the energy just yet to meet new people, I headed for the Marjan peninsula, in search of a sandy beach. I didn’t get too far, and wound up wandering into Sustipan, a seaside park that is the site of a former monestary and cemetary, where I soaked up some rays and stared off towards the horizon for a while. Eventually, I started talking to myself and knew it was time to go make friends 🙂

Back in town I walked along the Riva harbor-front promenande, wondering who was going to become my new pal for the day. I eventually headed back to the room to shower and decided to put my neighbor on the spot. An Aussie had checked into the room next to mine and I approached him in the hall and asked if had plans for the night and if he wanted to join me for drinks or dinner. I did mention to the poor bloke that it was my birthday, so I really left him no other choice but to join me (!) but James, who is from Brisbane, was really nice and seemed up to hanging out so we agreed to meet up later that evening.

We went to a local seafood joint called Buffet Fife where we dined on fried calamari and shark (called flake downunder) which came served on the same platter, along with some bread and two bottles of the local beer. James has been on the road nine months, spending time working in Hong Kong and on a pig farm in Scotland, and he will soon head to South Africa. Sooooo, needless to say, there was plenty for us to talk about and it was a very nice time. He even sang happy birthday to me, although I did not blow out any candles…so I still have a birthday wish to make!

We met up with some locals afterwards for a few more beers, chatting about language, politics, real estate, travel and all sorts of things until about midnight when we decided to call it a night since James had an early train to catch this morning…and you know, I’m getting older 😉 It was a memorable and enjoyable day, with new friends, great laughs, and a spirit that made me feel more like 23 than 32 for awhile! Another GREAT highlight of the day was all the wonderful emails I got from family and friends…if I have not responded yet, you will probably hear from me today…thanks to all of you for making my birthday another to remember 🙂