Friday, September 09, 2011

Holy Crap

Hey with this new Google Blogger App I can update this blog from anywhere. It may be just the thing to get me excited about blogging again. Only time will tell...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Belgium photos

Explanations of the photos to be added one of these days...

Belgium (May 20-23, 2011)

Last weekend I used Ryanair to have a long weekend in Belgium. They fly Brindisi to Charleroi for ridiculously cheap (this round trip ticket was 40 euros with all the taxes included). I believe this is really cheap because it was over the weekend and the weather in May can be great. This is February or March when the weather is miserable in these parts. We were really lucky with the weather because it was not to hot and not too cold which was important because the hotels we stayed in didn’t seem to have AC so any later in the year and the rooms probably would be uncomfortably hot.

The flight arrived early Friday morning and we jumped into a rental car and headed towards Bruges. We had time plenty of time to get there so we stopped and checked out Gent on the way. Gent was supposed to be a less touristy medieval town like Bruges and for the most part it was. It had some charm but we were left a little disappointed. It wasn’t small and quaint like we were expecting.

In Bruges we used my navigator option on the iphone to get us close to the hotel. We couldn’t get to the hotel because the road was closed. And when I say closed really I mean there wasn’t a road, it was gone. They had it stripped down to bare ground about a foot below street level. I guess this was good because it meant there was no street noise. I highly recommend the Hotel Gheestilic Hof (or something similar to that spelling) as it was great. We were within walking distance of all the major attractions and man did we walk. The first night we had dinner near the main piazza and learned something I didn’t expect. In Belgium this time of year it gets dark really late. We were hoping to stroll around the piazza just after dark admiring the lights but that didn’t happen because at 10:00 PM it was still light out. Also a strange thing about Belgium is everything closes early. The main clock tower (the main tourist attraction) closes the stairs to the top at 4:15 PM! The stores close around 6:00 or 7:00 PM and even the place we had desert at on the square was kicking us out at 10:30. We sat down at 10:00 and the waiter announced that we needed to order right away if we wanted anything. Come on man it’s the weekend, live a little and stay open to midnight. Do you need to get home to bed before the sun sets????

One of the highlights was the boat trip on the canals. I was worried that this would be too touristy but the boat driver was great and view from boat was worth the money. My personal favorite was going up in the clock tower. It was over 300 stairs all in a tight spiral. It wasn’t as hard as you expect but I had to stop to keep from getting too dizzy. We were the first ones to go up in the morning after learning the hard way about that early closing time I mentioned earlier.

After 2 nights in Bruges we went to Brussels for the last night so we would be closer to the airport for early flight out Monday morning. The hotel in Brussels (Best Western City Center) was not nearly as good as the one in Bruges. I really would like to know what “City Center” they are talking about. The two hotels had one thing in common and that was that the road was torn up leading to the hotel. The poor navigator in my iphone again wondered what the hell we were doing. The phone was blurting out directions and seemingly getting upset that we went around the long way. We also found out that we were not far from the “Red Light” district of Brussels during this exploration. I hadn’t seen anything like that since Amsterdam! This hotel was sooo close to the city center that we ended up driving from the hotel to main piazza, interesting given our ability to walk all day. In the end this helped as we were dead tired and stuffed after dinner. One of the highlights of Brussels was dinner. One person of our group had a cousin in Brussels and she showed us around but more importantly took us to a rib place that could be the best I have had in Europe. It was near the Brussels Stock Market and for 15 euro you had all you could eat ribs with a sauce that was dam good. I’m convinced they have stolen the recipe from the USA but that’s ok because we have tons of good ribs sauces and they choose a good one to steal. Brussels seemed to stay awake until after dark so we could see the famous Grote Plaz all light up.

Overall I enjoyed the trip a lot. I learned that Belgian beer is dam good. I know I had heard some good things about it but I really didn’t expect it to be that good. I learned that Belgium eats its waffles in the afternoon, only in the afternoon, and there are 2 kinds. I love the heavier dense kind. They throw a ball of dough that’s the consistency of bread dough into the waffle press and out comes waffle perfection. The other kind is crunchier but seems factory made. They also do a pretty good French fries with an interesting mustardish sauce. They close up the country early so go to any museums or monuments first. They need to take the Italian afternoon pause so they can open past 7:00 PM!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sicily Round 2

I forgot I had the big old Digital SLR so I have these photos too!!!

The ear of Dionysis or something like that. I'll look it up later.

Sunset in Siracusa

The alley our B&B was in on.

Artsy photo of the Duomo in Siracusa

The normal photo of the Duomo

This is a night shot of Castelmola which is actually above Taormina. Very small and quiet town.
Another photo in Castelmola. Not sure how that old FIAT got up the road!

Photos from Sicily

How about some photos from the trip to Taormina and Siracusa?! Remember I only have a iphone now.

Crossing the straits. It was too cold to go out on deck. This was in January!!!

Gnocchi with Pistachios. Very good. I highly recommend it.
Boats in the Siracusa harbor.
This was the most surprising find. The catacombs of San Giovanni under this church are incredible.
It wouldn't be Sicily without Cannoli!!!!

The only view of Mount Etna. The rest of the time it was covered with clouds.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Plastic in 2011

So this year we (Italy and I) are lowering our plastic usage, sort of, let me explain. Italy passed a law way back in 2007 to cut down on the number of plastics in use. The law got pushed back several times but finally came into effect on January 1, 2011. It says that plastic bags are “illegal”. Now I put that illegal in quotes because like everything in Italy it’s all relative. For one thing the stores are allowed to keep giving them out until they run out of the old stock. They are supposed to use only biodegradable after that and charge for them to give people incentive to use reusable bags. They are trying to promote cloth bags. So far this year I haven’t noticed any difference. There were some places that already used biodegradable bags and some that didn’t. It seems to still be that way. But before I knew all this I had already started collecting cloth bags last year in various ways so now I’m making the most of them. For instance last year in India I was in a part of the country that already had a ban like this on plastic bags. In 2 places I bought something and they put the items in a small cloth bag. This worked out great because now I have 2 cloth bags, one small and the other medium sized. Also last year I got 2 bigger bags when I bought cat food. They were part of a promotion and they are very ugly but they work. Two other cloth bags were given to me as promotional items when new stores opened in Brindisi. Sorry mom the cloth bag you gave me I gave toAlberta because it wasn’t manly enough! Anyway I have made it habit this year to always go out with a bag in hand, even if I’m not planning on buying anything. I figure you have to get in the habit or it won’t work. It seems to be working. The number of plastic bags that I had has diminished greatly, so what am I going to use when cleaning the cat litter boxes?!! I’ll have to get some good biodegradable bags myself.

Then other part of my low plastic life is water bottles. At work I can get a half liter bottle of water for 25 euro cents out of the vending machine. This seems like nothing so I didn’t think twice about buying a bottle once in a while. Also there are recycling bins at work so I always put the bottles there so I felt ok about it. This year I’m trying to eliminate it all together by refilling a bottle and bringing it from home. The result so far is I have bought 1 bottle of water from the vending machine at work. I don’t think I have saved much money but I would like to think that I’m doing my part to improve my habits every year. At lunch they give a half liter bottle with your meal so there is nothing I can do about that. I have started bringing in a panino for lunch instead of always eating in the cafeteria.

In a related story I bought a new CD case. This is the book-type of case that holds just the CD. I took all of my CDs out of their stupid individual cheap crap plastic cases and put them into the new book-type case. I saved the CD cover/booklet with the CD because that’s important part of these old CDs. My first reason for this was my CDs were taking up too much space on the shelves of the apartment and I never use them. This change made it so my CD collection takes up A LOT less space, which in turn gave me room for other crap that I’ve been collecting on the shelves. Also I felt good throwing out all cheap plastic. Many were already broken or cracked so feel a little liberated by doing this.

Last year was LED light bulbs and solar panels. This year plastic. Hmmm what else can do to be greener? That reminds me that I’ve seen LED light bulbs on sale lately. I think a new generation of bulbs are about to come out and they need to sell off what they have in stock. I think this year they will come out with bulbs that give off “good light” and by this I mean truly equivalent to incandescent but they will stay be too expensive. I say in 2014 LEDs will replace 90% of the lights we use. I already see more and more styles and types in the store. I saw some being used to light the tunnels on the A3 fromSalerno to Reggio Calabria on my way down to Sicily. That should be a good test of them. If they can take being on all the time and in the conditions of the tunnels then they could prove their worth.