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Month: August 2013

Short Post: Machu Picchu Day 0

Short Post: Machu Picchu Day 0

We are starting our hike tomorrow!…

Going to orientation in 15 minutes, eek!!

My headache has gone away, but I still have trouble walking uphill, so I’m definitely nervous for this hike. Hopefully I am overreacting and I will actually be fine, but hope has failed to quell my anxiety…

The Lion has been feeling good so far. Perhaps still out of breath with extreme exercise, but handling it better than me!

Short post: Cusco, Peru

Short post: Cusco, Peru

First impressions of Cusco so far (we’ve been here less than 24h):

It is pretty chilly here! Not as cold as the middle of winter, probably, but without the type of American heating system like we’re used to, it’s a bit colder than we expected. The afternoons are warmer, about mid-60s or so, but nights and mornings are better spent inside and under the covers!

The hotel we are staying at has been really great so far. The rooms are clean and spacious (though probably cramped if you had a huge suitcase), shower is hot, toilet functions (we only had one explosion this morning; we were sleeping when all of a sudden we heard a loud noise like ceramic falling and hitting things and then water spraying… Apparently a pipe inside the toilet reservoir thing broke and sent up a jet of water that blew the toilet reservoir lid right off!! Wtf!), breakfast is decent, and free coca leaf tea.

I’m having a tough time adjusting to the high altitude, despite drinking the coca tea and chewing the leaves often. This makes me worried about our Machu Picchu hike, but hopefully my body will have acclimated more by then… Yesterday the Lion said that my lips were blue, and this morning I got all out of breath getting dressed because we were rushing to get down to breakfast. Phew!

Oh, and I had some alpaca ham yesterday! Was pretty dece, hopefully going to try guinea pig sometime soon!

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Cefalù, Erice, Segesta, and Rome (Sicily/Italy)

Cefalù, Erice, Segesta, and Rome (Sicily/Italy)

Our last few days in Italy were spent in Cefalù, Sicily…

We had anticipated staying a little bit closer to Palermo, but it turned out we were about an hour away from the big city. Cefalù is located in northern Sicily, next to the Tyrrhenian Sea. I think we ran into less American tourists, but the city was still crowded with a lot of European tourists!

The first thing we saw in Cefalù was The Cathedral. I didn’t go into the cathedral (the Lion did), but what I’ve read about it is that the cathedral was built around the 1100s in the Norman style, as the Normans came and conquered Sicily in the early 1090s. We noticed that the two towers flanking the front/sides of the church were asymmetrical: one tower had a pyramid on top and merlons (the little “window” between posts on castle walls), modeled after the hats of bishops, and the other tower had a rounder “cone” on top (Wikipedia says it’s “octagonal”) and another type of merlon (Ghibelline). …I don’t really understand all the architectural terms myself, but the point is, this cathedral had two different towers, one to represent the Papal authority and the other to represent the Royal authority.
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The next day, our driver/tour guide drove us over to Segesta, an ancient city that was once occupied by indigenous Sicilians (Elymians?), Romans, and Muslims. According to our guide, the people of this ancient city were a peaceful folk and relied heavily on their sea port for trade and sustenance. Eventually, of course, Segesta was targeted because of their prime location to the port, and Greek forces began to move in to conquer the area. The people of this ancient city knew they couldn’t handle the conflict themselves, so they sought the help of Carthaginians. Carthage came to their aid and destroyed the Greek city who was looking to conquer Segesta, but instead of eliminating Segesta’s enemy, this victory had the opposite effect. Other Greek cities, angered at this outcome, came to the aid of Selinus, and they all fell on Segesta at once, virtually wiping out all inhabitants of the area. What’s left today are remnants of a sort of “marketplace,” a Greek theater, a Muslim mosque indicating that Muslims inhabited the area at one time, and an unfinished Doric temple.
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f Segesta Theater

The 5th century temple is quite an impressive sight, despite it being unfinished. You can see it as you’re driving up to this ancient city and from the ancient city. Located on an adjacent hill from the city ruins, it has six by fourteen stone columns and is raised on a platform with at least three steps. We know that the temple is unfinished because there is no roof, and the columns are still rough and have yet to be “fluted” (the shallow grooves that are commonly found on columns of this style). Additionally, the tabs that were carved into the blocks to make transporting the stones easier have yet to be filed away for the smooth, finished look.
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Our next stop was Erice, where I think we had the best meal during the entire trip. I ordered a pasta dish from Ristorante Donte S. Giuliano, and it was perfect. Pasta is always perfectly al dente in Italy, but something about the pasta, sauce, and cheese really made this dish a home run. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the dish or the restaurant except for this entrance picture, but that is a cliff-top restaurant I won’t forget about anytime soon!
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We walked around Erice without much of an agenda, just enjoying being there and learning about whatever we came across. We eventually made it to the Castle of Venus, a Norman-period castle that was built on top of a temple of Venus. The castle/temple was partially covered with scaffolding and tourists, but the views up there were amazing. I only wish we had a knowledgeable guide to tell us more about this castle as were walking around it…
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On our last day in Cefalù, the Lion and I went to walk the main streets and ate lunch at a restaurant who had a dock that extended far out into the sea (well, “far out” relative to the coast and other restaurants). It was pretty nice to be so far away from the hustle and bustle and enjoying delicious Sicilian cuisine!
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The next morning, we boarded an early flight to head over to Rome for the day before flying home to the US. We only had about 12 hours in Rome, so we hit up some tourist destinations without the intent of going in to learn about its history. We walked through the Piazza Navona to see the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelias (one of the Lion’s idols), a replica of the Romulus and Remus statue, the Typewriter (Altare della Patria or Altar of the Fatherland), and the Roman Forum ruins. I won’t try to summarize the history of it all because I don’t think I spent enough time at each of those places, but it was a really neat experience and a trip I’d love to do again so that I can see it all again without a time limit.
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We stopped by this really neat gastropub in Rome, at the recommendation of the Lion’s sister who had studied abroad in Rome earlier in the summer. I only sipped some of the Lion’s beers, but the food was really unique. We had cheese wrapped in pumpkin flowers drizzled with balsamic, a variety of cheeses with honey or hot sauce, caprese salad, bruschetta with eggplant, figs with a slice of cheese and a dot of balsamic, salami-wrapped toast, liver sausage, a sweet sausage (tasted like Chinese sausage, “lap cheung”), more bruschetta with either red peppers, cabbage, or green peppers, and delicious homemade Italian “ginger snap-doodles” (that’s just what I’m calling them because they reminded me of ginger snaps with the texture of snickerdoodles). Uh-maze.
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And that concludes our Italy trip! I would like to do a sort of “reflections” post on our time in Italy, but that might not be until the Lion and I have a breather from travelling/TSA/jetlag/cramped seating/hotel beds/living out of a suitcase…

Taormina, Part II (Sicily)

Taormina, Part II (Sicily)

On our second day in Taormina, we went to climb Mt Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world!…

Mt Etna was another one of those sights that I didn’t really care for until I got there. It’s difficult to marvel at nature when you’ve only seen it through the computer or TV screen! We learned from our tour guide from the day before, Marcello, that the Taormimians are actually waiting for Mt Eta to erupt and hoping that it’ll do so soon in order to boost the tourism economy of Taormina. The lava that flows from Etna tends to be very slow-moving, so tourists are actually able to get within a couple feet of the flow to observe it live. I also just learned from Wikipedia that footage of Etna’s 2003 eruption and flow was recorded and used in Revenge of the Sith! Cool 4-minute video of Etna eruption.

We decided to climb some of the craters around Mt Etna despite our poor choice of footwear of TOMS and Rainbow flip-flops. Our driver/tour guide of the day, Antonio, told us a story of an elderly English couple who he had taken to Etna and who climbed the craters, took a fall and tumbled down, and came back to the car badly bruised and battered and bloody… We took the longer but less steep route up.
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I took a quick nap to avoid carsickness as we left Etna and drove over to a winery, Vini Gambino. They served us with delicious food: a multitude of cheeses, cured meats, olives, roasted red peppers, eggplant, and of course, bread and wine. I didn’t have any of the wine, but the Lion gave high accolades to their wines. The grapes that are grown here are unique because of the volcanic soil and the particular climate, where temperatures drop down to the mid-50s in the evening which allows for “aromatic ripening” of the grapes and wine.
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During our walk through the Public Gardens (Giardino Pubblico), Marcello told us that the etymology of “carat,” the unit for measuring gemstones, came from a Greek word meaning ‘carob seed.’ Marcello said that the reason for this was because every carob seed has exactly the same weight and was therefore a reliable unit of measurement. Wikipedia claims that there isn’t a definitive answer on whether there is high or low variability of carob seed weights, and the skeptical scientific researcher in me also believes this is more likely (zero variability is highly improbable). Regardless, I hadn’t known or considered the etymology of “carat” before, so this was a new and interesting fact!
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I had noticed that a lot of the souvenir shops sold these ceramic pine cone-looking items. Additionally, a lot of apartment buildings and balconies had these displayed outside on their patio or their gates. I asked Marcello about this, and he told us that for the Sicilians, the pine cone represents family/hospitality, fertility/abundance/wealth, and immortality (basically, all the good stuffs). The Lion and I were really interested in getting one to keep in our home, but we put it off because we didn’t want to carry it around with us and ended up never getting one 🙁
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I also thought that Marcello had told us that the artichoke represents the mafia, but I have been unable to find that link elsewhere on the internet (or maybe I misunderstood Marcello). But I did find that there was indeed a mafia member, Ciro Terranova, who was nicknamed the “Artichoke King” because he purchased all the artichokes going from California to New York, started a produce company, and re-sold them making a 30-40% profit. Apparently, he terrorized distributors and merchants and attacked artichoke fields with machetes (why would he want to terrorize his own money-making field?). Naturally, the government stepped in, and the Mayor of NY declared an “artichoke war,” making artichokes illegal in New York…for a week. The mayor was too big a fan of those tasty arties and lifted the ban. Thank goodness rules are so flexible and can come and go!
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Our last day in Taormina before heading over to Cefalu’ was spent lounging around the pool, playing video games, walking the main streets

Taormina, Part I (Sicily)

Taormina, Part I (Sicily)

This was, by far, my most favorite part of the trip and the city I’d visit again.

Our arrival was a little rocky initially because our shuttle driver took us to the wrong hotel at first. When we arrived at the hotel where we DID have a reservation, we discovered it to be a gorgeous hotel, The San Domenico Palace, a 15th (16th?) century monastery-turned-luxury-hotel. And my, was it luxurious. You can see from the pictures itself– there were garden courtyards  at every turn (picked some delish kumquats in some of them…), old stone steps, luxurious rugs, statues and antique wood furniture, and seemingly endless hallways lined with doors where monks would retire for solitude or sleep. The pool was gorgeous, as was the outdoor garden, the sea view from our room was amazing to wake up to every morning, the bathroom was uniquely decorated, the breakfast buffet was delish, and service was impeccable. SDP certainly lives up to its 5-star rating, except for the fact that it had poor air conditioning and limited WiFi, two really basic and expected American commodities, but I guess “you win some, you lose some,” right? And despite those two things, this was my favorite hotel by far.

The SDP was a personal mansion owned by a Dominican friar named Damiano Rosso, a descendant of the Altavilla family and prince of Cerami. When he became a friar, he donated all his possessions to the Dominican order and the mansion was converted into a Dominican monastery. A few centuries later, the monastery was apparently returned to Rosso’s heirs, who converted it into a hotel. The chapel part of the monastery-hotel was destroyed in WWII bombings, but the rest of the hotel, including the 50+ cells (hotel rooms) were not. The hotel is high atop a cliff and has a view of Mt Etna (next post).
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Our first day in Taormina, we spent with a tour guide named Marcello, who was fantastic at his job. We learned a lot about Taormina from him, and he didn’t mind our incessant questions (I think what was supposed to be a two-hour tour turned into a 2.5-3h tour!).

One of our first stops was the town square, of course, where we saw the “minotaur” statue atop the fountain. The minotaur is Taormina’s coat-of-arms, but the reason why it’s “minotaur” with quotation marks is because the statue is half horse (/bull), half woman, which has never been shown before in any records of Greek mythology. It is unknown why a female minotaur is depicted here, but what makes this statue and even more unique is that she only has two hind legs, despite her body position of standing on four. Taormina was hit with bombs during WWII and miraculously, the female minotaur atop the fountain survived but lost her two front legs. Her two front legs were left unfixed and missing in memorial of Taorminian lives lost during that bombing.
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We then walked over to see the ruins of the Greek theater in Taormina. I never thought much about these theater/amphitheater ruins when I’d seen them on TV or read about them in history books, but in person, they are quite an impressive sight. The one in Taormina is the second-largest one in Sicily and was originally built by the Greeks (and rebuilt by the Romans when they came), but Marcello was careful to note that this was a theater and not an amphitheater–the Greeks mainly used the semi-circular theater style for operas and plays, building specialty arches behind the audience for improved acoustics. The Romans used amphitheaters for chariot races, gladiator fights, animal fights, and executions, and the Roman amphitheaters are more circular/oval. The theater was well thought out; it has side hallways for actors to enter and rooms for them to get ready in, and it also has an orchestra chamber allowing musicians to contribute emotion to the plays. When the Romans came, they converted this theater meant for plays and operas into a fighting ring, bringing in exotic animals to fight brave (but stupid) people. Marcello explained that they know this because the Romans had dug out a chamber and a drainage trench (underneath and behind the stage, respectively) for disposing for animal carcass/blood/guts, and archaeologists have found animal bones in those areas.
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While walking the streets, I noticed this three-legged, body-less head symbol everywhere. Marcello explained that the trinacria is the symbol of Sicily. Sicily has a lot of Greek and Roman influences because it was under their rule for a long period of time. Sicily has a very complicated history, and what makes it interesting, I think, is that Sicily has been taken over and ruled by numerous countries, and it wasn’t a part of Italy until the early 1860s. In short, the Sicani were the first settlers in Sicily, then the Greek settled north and southeast regions, from Messina to Syracusa, and the Carthaginians (Phoenicians) settled the west, and then the Romans came and conquered and killed (as they are known to do), then Muslims came and took control awhile, then Normans (crusaders of the pope), Bourbons (Spanish), then French (?), then somewhere along the lines, Sicily became part of the Neapolitan, then part of Italy after WWII/Italy Unification.

So, back to its flag: the head in the middle was originally the Greek goddess of wheat (what Sicily is known for), Demeter (Roman: Ceres). Now, the head has snakes surrounding it, more akin to Medusa. It’s unclear why a Medusa is on the flag, but perhaps her appearance and history of turning enemies into stone was used as an intimidation tactic, seeing as how war-prone Sicily is. The three legs represent the triangular shape of Sicily and the three extreme points of the island capes: Cape Pelorus, Cape Passero, and Lilybaeum head (Messina, Siracusa, and Marsala, respectively), the wheat sprouting from Medusa’s head retains some of Demeter’s symbol of the fertility of the land, and the red-yellow color block represents Palermo and Corleone, the two cities who founded the confederation to overthrow the Sicilian Vespers (more here).
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This may be a future post on its own, but one of the reasons why I really like Sicily is because of their mindset and identification as independent of Italy. I knew ahead of time that Sicilians to tend to consider themselves to be Sicilians, not Italians, and the general response of Sicilians when we asked them about this confirmed it. Sicilians all have a island identity, where they first identify themselves as Sicilians, and then Italians (“I am Sicilian in my heart!”). For a reason I am unable to put in words at the moment, I am attracted to that sort of independence (“rebellion”?), and perhaps that’s why I’m so attracted to Texas as well! Indeed, being in Sicily is a really different feeling, atmosphere, attitude than being in the boot of Italy.
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My next post (Taormina Part II) will recount our hike on Mt Etna, a winery we visited, the importance of pine cones in Sicily and artichokes in the Mafia, the Sicilian Mafia, and why we measure gold in carats!

Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino (Italy)

Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino (Italy)

The rest of our time in SML was spent eating…
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Actually, that’s not entirely true. We just did things that don’t really warrant pictures, like lounging around on the rooftop pool, reading outside on our balcony, and playing Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing (but not for too long bc we didn’t have a way to charge the battery).

 

The duomo of SML wasn’t a recommended sightseeing spot, but the Lion and I went in on a whim one day and found one of the most ornate cathedrals we’ve seen on this trip. The basilica of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, was built in 1658 on top of remnants of a 13th century church. The inside was quite magnificent, with crystal chandeliers and columns, walls, and ceilings lined with gold. It really took our breaths away when we walked in!
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The day we had to leave SML, we took a cab ride over to Portofino, the wealthy city-next-door to SML. Portofino is a fishing village, but the natives have really taken advantage of their location and turned the place into a luxury resort for the rich and famous.
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We walked up to see Castello Brown, a castle that was built in the 15th century and used for various military purposes. In the 1860s, an English consul named Montague Yeats Brown purchased the castle and turned it into a villa. Then, in the 1949, Brown’s descendants sold it to another English couple, who then sold it to the city of Portofino a couple decades later in the early 1960s. The view of the harbor was beautiful from up top, but we didn’t get to see inside the castle because it turned out there was an admission fee…
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Just before we had to head back to SML to go to the airport, we stopped by Divo Martino (partly to see this recommended sight but also to catch a break from the sun), a 12th century church built for St Martin. See pic here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ltangelini/2330481704/

Last but not least:
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Four-seasons pizza with olives, artichokes, ham, mushrooms with a drizzled of spiced evoo… Awes.

Cinque Terre (Italy)

Cinque Terre (Italy)

By the time we finished at Lucca, we were heatstroke’d and passed out all the way to Santa Margherita Ligure. I woke up to find this beautiful view:
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We were staying at a Best Western in SML, but it was unlike what I imagined a BW to look like! I mean sure, the internet wasn’t great and neither was the AC, and the overall decor and atmosphere was at least a full star below what we stayed at in Florence (Lungarno Suites), but the seaview really made up for it!!
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The next day, we set off for Cinque Terre with the intention of starting our hike at Corniglia (pictured above) and hiking through Vernazza to Monterosso. It was a good, optimistic, intention. The weather was not kind, and I believe it was at least 85 when we started our hike in the am and slowly increased to about 95+ when we were hiking. Furthermore, I hadn’t anticipated such a hike with dirt, rocks, uneven terrain, relentless sun, and so did not pack adequately. Oh, and we only had one 20oz bottle of water each…
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Luckily, there was a little rest stop halfway from Corniglia to Vernazza that offered free water, and we took a rest there, fully appreciating and accepting the kindness and generosity of the host and his sweet kitty. Water has never tasted so good…
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We eventually made it to Vernazza (not without a few complaints and curse words from me) and stopped for a quick lunch. Unfort, all the restaurants there that we could find were pretty touristy, but it was still a tasty meal, what with mussels and caprese and such.
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We decided to take the easy way out to get to Monterosso: by ferry. I think we spent probably a total of one hour in Monterosso, forty of them waiting for a delayed train back to the hotel, which explains the lack of pix/interesting things to say about it. Honestly, I don’t know much about Cinque Terre and whether it has anything to offer aside from the hiking trails and the views… Does it have any historical significance or sights? Specialty foods??

In short, the three terre that we saw were indeed charming, and the views from the hike were breathtaking, but I think that sort of activity and those views would be better enjoyed in the spring or autumn, before/after the heatwave. Cinque Terre was a part of the trip that I was expecting to be the highlight, but little did I know, the best part of the trip (so far) was yet to come…

Tuscany and Lucca (Italy)

Tuscany and Lucca (Italy)

We probably spent less than eight hours in Tuscany and Lucca combined…
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After leaving Firenze, we stopped by a winery in Tuscany, called Varramista. It’s a gorgeous estate that was built in the 1400s as an outpost against the Pisans. The estate was gifted to the Capponi family to thank Gino de Neri for leading the Florentine troops to victory against the Pisans. Then, in the 1950s, the Piaggio family, the manufacturers of the Vespa scooter, made Varramista their permanent residence.
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It wasn’t until the 90s that the Agnelli family, with the help of enologist, Federico Staderini, convert the land to vineyards. In its present form, the winery is fairly high-tech; the barrels are individually temperature-controlled and managed from a switchboard. As you can see from some of the pictures, the inside of the buildings where the barrels are kept are covered in mold. When we asked why they don’t clean it, our guide replied that they’re not allowed to because the vineyard is considered a historical landmark, and so cleaning off the mold would be illegal!

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Then we drove over to Lucca, where we spent a couple hours walking around town to see the cathedrals, the garden atop the tower (no pix bc it cost money to go up/in), and the ex-amphitheater. The San Martino is the duomo of Lucca, built in the mid-/late- 1000s and renovated over many centuries. It is revered as gorgeous architecture, and it has many fine details in its structure that is almost impossible to capture in photos. For more info, go here.
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We also visited the city walls of Lucca, which were built in the Renaissance era. I am unsure of their designer and purpose (some sources say flood prevention, others claim military purposes), but regardless, the top of the wall has become a park of sorts, where people lounge around and bike and walk and enjoy the sun. The wall is very wide, and they used to host car races on it!

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We finished our time in Lucca with lunch in the square (Piazza Anfiteatro), which isn’t square-ish in the slightest. The elliptical-shaped piazza was initially built as an amphitheater by the Romans as a place for socialization and fights and other entertainments, but eventually became many things, including a fort during wars, a prison, and now, a piazza with restaurants, shops, and residences. Overall, I didn’t find Lucca to be too interesting, but perhaps that’s because we didn’t spend enough time there.

This post is as short as our stay in both places! We stayed in our next city, St. Magherita Ligure for a few days and visited a few terre of the Cinque Terre, so a longer post is forthcoming!

Competitive dynamics in foreign markets

Competitive dynamics in foreign markets

I like to think that wait staffing is a pretty standard economic activity in any country but watching carefully in Florence, Verzanna (Cinque terre) and Santa Margherita (Portofino) is giving me second thoughts. All the waiters and waitresses we’ve encountered seem harried and overwhelmed. Its especially puzzling because they appear to handle volume which is half or two thirds of what someone might be responsible for in a larger establishment in the United States.

Its got me wondering…

–what are the average ratios of tables/patrons to waitstaff in the US vs Italy?
–average sales per wait staff?
–average profit?
–average kitchen size to waitstaff?
–average profit per restaurant sqft?
–average patrons per sqft per day?
Etc.

Another thought I had as we were waiting for the ferry in Vernazza was that I might see the prospect of a tourist business in Italy as appealing if I were a local but I’m not sure I could summon the same enthusiasm for potential market entry as someone looking from the outside in. I wonder how many others like me had that thought?

Ignoring possible legal restrictions, it seems most of the businesses are local owned whereas in the United States people come from all over the world to compete. It seems like that’d be a recipe for great, protected profits and market position. But its such a grind! I can’t stand tourists. And El Dorado rarely exists. So there must be some catch here I’m not getting.

Maybe its just the high taxes.

Diversity and sameness

Diversity and sameness

Walking into a small Florentine osteria like Cinghiale Bianco — there don’t appear to be any large eateries, and even after spending a whole semester in Florence and now revisiting, I still can’t figure out what the difference is between osterie, ristoranti, tratorrie and the like — I am immediately struck by the diversity and efficiency of these spaces.

In the United States at least there is a seeming obsession with uniform geometry. Every place, fancy or hole in the wall alike, is cubic and utilized in cubic form. All I have to do to clarify what I mean by this is to paint a picture for you of Cinghiale.

This little restaurant has three galleries for diners. The first is rectangular in the front and seats two rows of 4 seat tables and two rows of six seat tables. The second gallery is another rectangle behind it but attached at one of the corners and perpendicular to it. It has three tables of four and a table of two as well as a “nook” buried in the street side wall (bordering the first gallery) which seats 4 or 5. This nook has an arch and the whole thing is constructed of gloss painted brick. Above it is the third gallery, seating 2 or 3, which is accessed by a small ladder step way as if it belongs in a library bookshelf. The ladder is in the second gallery but the third gallery looks out on the first. Its claustrophobic, romantic and dangerous– a sign warns you in Italian to watch your head as you climb up because a support arch of the wall leaps out and cuts across about three feet from the top of the ladder.

I can’t even imagine how many OSHA and fire code regulations such a design would garner in the US. In Italy I’m sure this place is legally protected from ever being renovated!! The law is a singularly irrational and subjective institution wherever in the world it is crafted.

The interior of the restaurant is white washed plaster over occasionally exposed brick and dark painted timber support beams. The walls are lined with shelves covered in wine bottles and carrafe pottery. The tiny hallway segueing the first two galleries has an indent about five feet up that serves as the coat hang.

Cubic architecture should be more economical and efficient both to construct and maintain and utilize for a variety of functions, which is why I assume it is so prevalent in the US. And yet, its hard to not be charmed by the efficiency of this humanistic design in little Italy.

To a traveler, this is diversity. But the shocking truth of Italy is that all these little towns are like this. All the restaurants are ancient and cute and cozy. All the towns you ride the trains through up and down the coast are painted in a variety of dark pastel tones such as red, pink, and yellow with green window shutters. Everywhere they offer the “cucina tipica.”

Every city and village has a copy of the Garibaldi statue.

They serve the same food at every restaurant. The pasta is always good even when the meat dishes are second rate at the tourist traps. Its actually hard to find anything that isn’t Italian. Its a country that has failed by successfully and faithfully embracing mercantilist self-sufficiency, even though the osterie sometimes serve Tunisian olive oil, a blasphemy of ever there was one.

And in these ancient places nothing ever changes. It will all be here, the statues and paintings and museums and history and restaurants and hotels, next time.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I suppose it depends who you are and what you’re after. Its hard to imagine businesses shutting down, even in a recession — more economic thoughts in a coming post — and I’ve yet to see entire city blocks with For Lease or for Sale signs as there would be in the US. But I also don’t see how you could avoid being a 60 year old waiter one day. Or how you’d ever get to live a “modern” life of new things if you were just an average Joe. Or Jiacomo as it were.

Many of the portraits in the Uffizi, it turns out, were the likenesses of various condottieri of Florence under the Medicis. They were celebrating these military contractors who helped them crush their neighbors and enemies.

Today there are no more contractors in Italy. But the US govt employs thousands. Do things ever change? Are we all that different? Which is modern, and which is not?