Monday, September 24, 2007

How was your weekend?

Really, so how was your weekend? While you think about it...
Mine was pretty boring except for a few things. The most exciting thing is that the Big Ben opened Friday night, which according to Erika it means, “It’s winter!!!” I think she’s going overboard but IT IS the non-summer hang out. The Big Ben is always trying to be a better pub and they have succeeded secondo me (according to me). They have added a “magic Guinness” to their beers. Let me explain. They pour a Guinness from a can into a glass. They put the glass in a little machine and puff… the carbonation and cascading of a Guinness happens right before your eyes. It’s like a Guinness from “alla spina a Dublino”. The magic is cool but most importantly, it’s pretty tasty and probably the best Guinness I’ve had since the days of the Henry Gratten in Broadripple. I wonder if Austin reads my blog? How could I find out? I know I remember how much I love visiting the country of Great Britain, but I don’t understand why they use the euro in Ireland and the pound in London. That should generate an email or two unless the company email filter picks up Irish curse words….
Then Saturday night I had a huge dinner with coworkers (there was about 40 to 50 including family members!). A group that size needs a whole masseria, which is what we had but it was outside. That’s a problem because it’s a little cold to be eating outside so you could tell that by the end the night that no one would be hanging around after dessert and an amaro. To my surprise there was entertainment included in this dinner. I’ll put it nicely and say I was amazed and frightened by coworkers’ ability to sing. You see it was Karaoke night, which is not my favorite night, anywhere. Of course they kept trying to get me up to sing, “qualcosa in inglese”. I believe my choices were mainly Frank Sinatra songs. I’m sorry guys, but I REALLY can’t sing and I KNOW I can’t. Yes, yes, I know we’re all friends and as a friend I wouldn’t want to subject you to me singing “My Way”. I’m being a friend by NOT singing.
Daniele and family. One of my caffe` dependents. Notice the Karaoke microphone close by.
Claudio and family and part of the appetizer

Then I Sunday I decided I wanted to try my digital Rebel out in Lecce. I realized that I might be able to get all of Santa Croce in one shot. Guess what, even with a lens that goes down to 18mm you can’t get the whole church in. For crying out loud, why did they build that church on such a narrow street?! I also wanted to get a picture of the column we discussed last week. The latest on that fight is that it seems the mayor of Cursi (in the province of Lecce) is offering Brindisi a perfect replica of our column made out Lecce stone. Nice try buddy. That Lecce stone column would be more at home IN LECCE! As I was heading back to Brindisi I had the brilliant idea to get a picture of the wind farm they built near Lecce. It looks sooo close to the Autostrada but then I tried to get “there” and oh what fun.

The column that's not in it's rightful place.

Does this look like the right road to the wind farm? There's no one to ask for directions, not that I would.

The wind farm! These babies are huge. Puglia is one of the leaders in wind power in Italy. Brindisi is working on a 11 MW photovoltaic site near where I work.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Return the 2000-year-old marble column and no one will get hurt!

Something has been in the local news lately and I love it because it sparked a good debate after lunch in the office. I was really getting into it. I’ve mentioned in the past how Brindisi historically is known as the town at the end of Via Appia, which is the greatest road in the Roman Empire (history according to me!). I have also told you that the end of the Via Appia was marked in Brindisi with two marble Roman columns, which are the symbol of the town. I also have mentioned that Lecce, for some odd reason, has one of the columns in Piazza Oronzo in Lecce with their patron Saint Oronzo on top of it.
(cue the music)
The rest of the story....
In Brindisi the popular story is that Lecce is a bunch of thieves and they stool the column back around 1660. Lecce believes that the column was a gift, which sounds like something a bunch of lying, cheating thieves would say. I’m not trying to influence you or something. Recently the mayor of Brindisi started asking the mayor of Lecce to please give us back our column and we’ll stop calling them lying, cheating, ugly, good-for-nothing thieves. I, for one, would love to see both columns back in Brindisi overlooking the sea like they are supposed to be. Why now? Well just recently Brindisi finished a restoration of the capital of the column we have. The capital is sooo precious that Brindisi is putting it in the “Salone di Colonna” (basically indoors to keep in preserved) instead of back on top of the column we have. They on the other hand are letting our column fall apart. Our column in Lecce has metal bands on it to hold it together under the weight of their fricken saint!
I should be fair. The big question should be, why would Brindisi give such a beloved piece of the town to Lecce? Well this is good story. It seems in 1528 one column fell over. No one is quite sure why but the common belief is that an earthquake caused it. I think someone from Lecce knocked it down, have you seen how they drive? Anyway, history is sketchy back then because Brindisi was hit with The Plague in 1526. Naturally putting the column back up was not a priority as people were dying in the streets. The column sat in pieces and not much is known until in 1660 when the column was erected in Lecce with a bronze of Saint Oronzo on it, like it is today. The theory is that sometime between 1528 and 1659 Brindisi gave the column to Lecce because Saint Oronzo liberated Brindisi from The Plague. That sounds like a reasonable reason to give the column away but Brindisi claims (and always has) that San Rocco liberated Brindisi from The Plague so there wouldn’t be any gifting of nothin’ between Brindisi and Lecce. There is even a record from November 2, 1659 in Naples of the mayor of Brindisi asking for the column to be returned but it was denied. So even before it was put up, Brindisi was asking for it back and now 348 years later and we are still asking. Sorry I went back to being a little one sided there again.
There is a response from the mayor of Lecce and I’ll just say it’s long and boring and definitely written by someone in politics. He even mentions at one point “Where would Lecce put its statue of Saint Oronzo?” Boy, do I have a response to that!!!!!

This jaded history is taken from the site below which is a Brindisi site so even my original story is from the Brindisi perspective….but you can’t trust those Leccese anyway…

Monday, September 17, 2007

Last Chance?

I know I said summer was over but that doesn’t mean I have to accept it. This weekend I went to the beach one last time, maybe. I’m pretty sure I won’t be going again because the water was frickin’ cold. I WAS TOLD that the water would stay warm into October. Well if you call the water this weekend warm then you must have some Viking blood in you. I think the wind may have mixed things up and took away the warm water. I did go snorkeling anyway and I managed one last good photo of a fish. This fish was a beauty too. Definitely related in the Luna Wrasse you see in Zoos and Aquariums. I don’t know if you can tell how purple and blue the head of this fish is. It was really hard to even get the fish in the frame, let alone get the light right.

Also I haven’t had any photos of Nello and Mara on the blog lately so I tried to get some new shots of them on Sunday.
Nello relaxing all day in his chair!

Mara is that some new game that you and Nello are playing? And wait, I know I didn't teach you play spin the bottle!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The "A" Bus

Ok, back to all things Pugliese! Have I ever told you the story about the bus to the airport here in Brindisi? I still remember when I found out about it. I was sooo happy. A bus that goes from a stop near my apartment almost directly to the airport, it seemed to good to be true. Well this past weekend is the very first time that I’ve taken the bus TO and FROM the airport!!! Yeah for me! I don’t ask people to take me to the airport because I almost always leave on the 6:40 AM flight to Rome and I don’t like getting up early for that flight so I’m not going to ask someone else to do it too. I don’t ask people to pick me up because the planes, naturally, never get in on time. So a taxi or a bus are the only real options, although I noticed the parking at the airport is open again, but don’t get me started on how much that costs.
Anyway back to the topic at hand. The bus is the perfect option. The first bus of the day is actually timed to get you there in plenty of time for the first flight of the day so all I have to do is catch it. So why did everything work this past weekend and not in the past? One reason is in August I learned of the new route. Not from the guy who sells tickets or a schedule but from a little old lady at 5:30 AM in the morning. She sees me at the stop with my suitcase and says the airport bus just went by on the next street over. I’m convinced she’s crazy because the sign next to me clearly has the “A” on to signify that this is where the airport bus stops. About 10 minutes later it becomes evident to me that she is in fact not crazy because there is no sign of the bus I’m waiting for. I jump in a taxi and pay 20 euro to make it to the airport in time to catch my plane. So in August I learned that the route changes. From this I have also learned to look for route changes not at the bus station but to go visit the bus stop a few days before I intend to use it. I check to see if the bus does indeed stop there, because the route could change again by the time I take another flight. The change was incredibly small but nonetheless just enough.
Then coming from the airport to my apartment I learned another valuable fact in August. This is probably the most important lesson for you all out there in cyberspace because you can take this bus from the Brindisi airport to the train station (and to catch the ferries but that's a bit of walk). This last trip was different because I only had one carry on so when the plane landed I went straight out of the airport. Low and behold the bus is right there waiting for me just like I always dreamed it would be. I did a double take because it must be the wrong bus or something. I soon learn why I’ve never seen it because as soon as I get on the driver gets in and takes off. I’m looking back and only one or two other passengers with only carry on have come out of the terminal. Didn’t the driver want to wait a minute or two to see if anyone else was going to take the bus? The moral. People with checked baggage will not catch the bus. Actually I’ve learned that if I want the bus and I have checked bags then I’ll have to be patient. In the past I see no bus and I have no idea if it’s on schedule so I usually break down and get a cab. Now I know the bus has just left and will be back in about 15 minutes. So next time I’ll wait and not pay 20 euros to get me where the bus takes me for 80 cents!!! I even wonder if it’s a scam too because who would take a cab if the bus was there. The cab drivers may ask the bus to “get lost” before the rest of the passengers can catch the bus.
So you all can learn from my mistakes!! One the bus route can change so ask me if you plan to take the bus. Two the bus into town probably has just left before you walked out of the terminal so tell the taxi driver politely, “vaffancula” and wait for the bus. Oh and I should warn you that the ticket will be 1.60 euro if you buy it on the bus and 80 cents if you get it from the tobacco shop in the airport. That’s all.

Also there is supposed to be a Pasta Strike today in Italy to protest the rising price of pasta but at lunch I already crossed the picket lines! Actually everyone was eating pasta so as far as I can see this was the worst organized strike of all time. And here I was ready to eat steak and potato chips all day!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I’m back and holy crap what weekend. So I alluded to the fact that I was taking off this weekend and here's the report on what I did. I’m tempted to not tell you where right away and make you figure it out based on what I write. Ahhh, I can’t keep a secret so I’ll tell you soon if you haven’t figured it out from the title of this blog. In general, this trip was pretty much perfect. I got to know a European capital in a country I have never been to and meet new and interesting people (some locals, some not so local).

So what happened? Well I left Brindisi frickin’ early Friday morning and I arrived at my destination and Juli met me at the airport to show me how to get to her friend’s house (another Juli, so I get to confuse you with the names) where I would be staying. The next stop was THE Wine Festival being held at THE castle in picture above overlooking one of the great rivers of Europe. The Wine Festival was one of the reasons I went there when I did and it was a big part of the fun. Juli was working the festival as translator/consultant for journalists and her mother is a VIP for this festival and we all know how important it is to have friends in high places. On Friday I ate, drank, enjoyed the view, and visited the museum in the castle. What more do you need? The photo below is the view from castle the first night. No, I didn't have a tripod. I was doing the old "balance it on a railing shot". The far left building in white light is Parliament. The bridge is "The Chain Bridge" and the other lighted building is Church of Saint Stephen.

The next morning I started out slow but really had no ill effects from the night before. Juli had to work at the festival again but she gave us (another American Joe, and French guy Nicholas) a brief tour and some things to do before meeting up with her later. My goal was to walk the city up and down to get a real feel for it. Of course, for me the first thing I needed was a good cafĂ©, which I found in a nice piazza in the center of town. The waiter was immediately convinced I was Italian because of the way I asked for a caffe and I played along with him because I thought it’s more fun to be Italian.

Caffeinated and ready for anything I took the tram up and down the river, walked the exclusive Andrassy Street, and checked out the view from the cupola of Saint Stephens. I really liked everything I found and the more I think about it the better it was. This country is part of the European Union but they still use their own money and the language is impossible to pick up so you really have the feeling of being in Old Europe (the way it should be). I love the Euro but once in a while it’s cool to be playing again with money completely unique to the country. If you haven’t figured out by now I was in Budapest, Hungary (by the way the title of this blog is Hungarian in Hungarian, see what I mean about impossible to pick up words). I used the last bit of energy in my legs to walk up a to an overlook called the citadel. I hung out there until sundown. As it started to get cold, I went over to the castle but the festival was packed and Juli had to get away from the madness so we met up with the her friends and Nicholas at what I’ll call an “industrial style bar”. Nicholas was a hilarious kid that was just fun to hang out with. Hey he’s only 20, so I can call him a kid! His idea of not sleeping while on vacation could really expand the tourism market.

Sunday Nicholas, Juli, and I went out into the countryside where we were transported back in time. There's an outdoor museum about an hour from Budapest in a town called Szentendre. They’ve made buildings and structures that represent different types of old villages that used to exist in the various regions of Hungary. You could see everything about how they lived throughout the country in one location. You walked among the thatched roofs and mud walls from the towns that were on the open plains and then among the rock and timber buildings typical of highland towns. Again Juli had to get to work so Nicholas and I wandered around and ate some traditional foods and drank some wines (they had wine tasting here too!). The best thing to me was without a doubt the “pipe-pie” or “tube-tort”. This picture is that incredible pastry being made. They wrap dough around a wood cylinder and cook it over coals with coating of sugar and cinnamon.

Then we headed back to Budapest to experience one of their well-known thermal baths. After all the walking we did it was soooo frickin’ nice to slip into that hot water. After 5 minutes, I didn’t know how I would be able to get out. About 2 hours later I remembered there is one force strong enough to get me out of the hot bath. I started to get hungry! A quick bite to eat and N and I went back at the castle to meet up with both Julis to celebrate the last night of wine festival. I was celebrating a great first visit to Budapest too!!

Monday morning was spent relaxing and recovering. I had a late afternoon flight so there wasn’t much time to go around but did see a little more of the town. I was amazed at how well I could navigate the mix of trams, buses, and metro. Of course, it helped having both Julis give me directions but after 2 days I had a feel for all the different ways to get around. Hungarian doesn’t have ANY words I recognize so I thought traveling around would be tougher but it’s not. I had a great time in Budapest but I don’t recommend you go there because I don’t want to see it go the way of Prague and be overrun with tourists. So it was good for me but not for you!

A nice church? No. This is the Thermal Bath in Budapest that I went to. It's the one in the park behind Heroes Square. I was told by the locals it's a good place.

The last night celebration. Nicholas, Juli, Adam, and Juli. Adam kept the good wine coming so go to learn about good Hungarian wines, at Cezar Winery.
I wish I could post more photos but this is pretty long. I could paste random photo some other day....

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Do you feel it?

The cooler weather has been here all week and I’m feeling it and so are the kids (cats). Last night I started my non-summer routine. I was going to call it “my winter routine” but that’s a strong word and I can’t really use it in a place where it doesn’t snow. So the routine is something like this:
After work I go to the gym (on Mon-Wed-Fri). Oh man, let me tell you, last night it was the first time in over two months, so I’m feeling it today.
Then on the way home I stop at “Il Salu…Mino” and then the fruit and vegetable store to get food for dinner. Remember if Mino can explain something without writing it down then it usually is a good simple recipe for me. Usually his recipes require a stop at the fruit and veggie place too, which is fine because that's on the way home anyway.
Then I cook it all up and watch a little TV before heading out to a pub around 11:30PM, if I feel like it. With the cooler weather I suddenly feel like cooking again and it’s a good thing too. After playing calcetto Tuesday night and going to the gym last night my appetite is twice what it was in the summer. In August I just didn’t feel like cooking or eating much. A cold panino and salad sounds good when it’s near 100F. Now it’s real pasta weather! It’s ok to boil up a big ol’pot of water.
The cats are feeling it too. While I was watching the game (Italy vs Poland in basketball) and cooking I had to keep checking on what they had gotten into or knocked over. I guess when both animals have “cat-like” reflects they tend to forget the laws of physics. Why do they ignore the fact that they are running on tile floors? They CANNOT turn and STOP like they want to! It’s like watching Tom and Jerry or actually Tom and Tom. Their little legs moving twice as fast as their body and then they try to hide behind a chair leg. Their antics can make me laugh out loud sometimes. In July and August they would wait until about 11:00 PM before going on a rampage and even then it wouldn’t last very long.
I guess it’s just fun to be in a different routine even if it is a routine. I remember last spring I was really sick of going to the gym. I wasn’t going to join again this fall but I’m glad I did. There really isn’t anything to do between after work and say 7:30 PM when you start to think about dinner.
Also this cooler weather is getting me ready for a little trip I’m taking this weekend. I’ll tell you all about Tuesday.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Ciao Estate!!!

Well another Saints' Festival is over and so is summer. Now some of you out there will think I’m crazy to write that, after all it was in the 90’s last week, so how can I say summer is over just because the calendar is September. Believe me I know, and so does Mother Nature. On September 1 the hot Scirocco wind from the south departed and the cool Maestrale from the northwest took its rightful place. The weather here is much more predictable than the weather of the Midwest. When the wind changes so does the season. Now I can look forward to comfortable temperatures with a chance for rain every once in while. Put away the sun tan lotion and beach towels. Bring on the long sleeve shirts and jeans jacket!
The festival in town is over. So what are the highlights you ask?
When I walked past the Monsignor on the podium he was calling out parts of the town trying to get everyone ready for ceremony when the boat parade arrives. He was saying things like “Who here is from the Sant’Elia parish? Who’s from Paradiso? Come on, I want to hear you!” I laughed because it felt like I was at rock concert.
The fireworks show actually started 10 minutes EARLY. What was up with that? I’ve never heard of starting them early.
There was no new gadget for sale this year. Last year the new gadget was these two magnets that you throw up in the air together. In the air they rub and make an annoying cricket like sound that stops when you catch them. All the kids were buying them so you heard the sound everywhere.
There's no saints fastival without "copeta". This is almonds coated in caramelized sugar. Did I say sugar? So you know why this comes first according to me...
Let's not forget the reason for fest! Here is San Teodoro riding the white horse. He's paraded around town several times but for this photo he's in the temporary gazebo in the middle of town.
Fireworks are always a hit.

Kids and their rides..

Outside my apartment Saturday night. Actually, only 14 of these cars are illegally parked. The parking madness gets worse the closer you get to the sea. That's why I love living in town. My car always has a home in the garage.