Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Milano Elan

The Senior Nomads packed up and headed from Berlin to Milan on October 10th. The Berlin airport was drab and lacking anything that would capture your attention or your wallet. The flight was fine - but the 'meatloaf' sandwich served on board was ground patty of raw pork with mustard and pickle. Really? I thought it was a mistake because surely Lufthansa wouldn't intentionally try to kill off, let alone offend a plane full of passengers, but it turns out this was a delicacy. Hmmm. No thanks, I'll have the dry cheese on a hard roll and a warm coke.  

We boarded a shuttle to the city center and then grabbed a cab for a couple of miles to our new home. That went well until we discovered we were dropped a few streets short of our destination. Tricky since we didn't have Italian SIM cards yet - so no phone or GPS service.We had to rely on a stranger  to call our contact so we could lug our way to the correct address and get the keys. We are becoming masters of flexibility, especially around changing phone plans in each city and getting the right program, etc. I know this is going to sound whiny, but we would like to see an affordable EU/SIM system that works wherever you are in Europe.  You certainly couldn't do it with an American plan.

We met our host and crammed in the little elevator up to our flat. The travel days are the only ones where we really have some serious luggage to manhandle - and we definitely put this creaky beast to the test.

The flat was great. Small, clean, nicely decorated and easy to live in. I am getting to know IKEA when I see it now. This was our third IKEA kitchen and I'd know that silver 'Matisse' fruit bowl anywhere. Fess up - you have one. 

Arrived safe and sound - Sunny and 70!

First dinner out. Calzone & Risotto. 
The best part was the location. We were just on the edge of Milan's Chinatown. So in one direction you could easily find the Duomo, the glamorous shopping areas, and the old city (more on that later). But out our door and to the right was a bustle of Asian stores, bars, shops and restaurants. You could buy just about anything. Dead or alive. The streets were teaming with very stylish Chinese hipsters and traveling fashionistas looking for bargains.

Milan's overdressed cathedral. 3,500 statues!
After spending two weeks in both areas, I could see a lot of what you might spend 200 euro for in the city center you could find displayed in crates in our neighborhood for half that price. And if you ever needed a cellphone cover (or 20) you could by them in hundreds of styles in dozens of stores. I am sure they are fronts for something more dubious or there is a need out there that I just wasn't aware of!
I could have taken shot after shot of these!
Once again we found inspiring markets and I really enjoy cooking at home. Easier on the budget, too. However, the kitchens are starting to blur together and just when I think I know where something is or how an appliance works I am starting over. It's been interesting to learn what 'essentials' are in an airbnb rental. As in what a '20 something' stocks her kitchen with as opposed to a more seasoned cook. Again, IKEA to the rescue in most cases. I can usually make anything work when I have an inspiring bag of market fare, a stove, a good knife (thanks Mary) and a couple of solid pans.

Lovely Porcini. $5 for ten - and so good roasted.
Happy Hour! Buy a drink and head to the buffet at any bar.
Milan itself was fascinating. Michael and I have been lucky to visit several parts of Italy over time but we were not familiar with Milan - so that's where we stuck the pin. I am glad we did because so much of Italy is so fairytale perfect. And Milan is not. It is big, busy, bossy, bold city that deserves to be taken seriously.

As always we took the free walking tour and learned things you might not glean from a more structured tour. The entrepreneurial people that guide these tours do it because they love their city, they have some flair, they speak English and they need the tips - so they craft their own styles and mix history with personal insight.

Our guide Paulo was not apologetic about why Milan is the 'very rich' but less attractive stepchild of Italy's major cities. It's because they work hard and don't have time for frivolity. They paved over the charming canals to make way for more roads. They leveled medieval buildings so that modern workplaces could be built. They did not give in to romantic notions about keeping ancient things intact and in fact, don't spend much of the city coffers on preservation or restoration. And it has paid off by creating Italy's leading city of commerce, style and design trends. Shoes anyone?

A mere $700. per foot! The doorman just glared at me.

Of course there were lovely part of the city - and plenty of 'Damn that's old!' moments. We were duly amazed at the sights from the top of the Duomo, ate our daily Gelato, read our books, sat in cafes and enjoyed life.

From the top of the Doumo.
Several food groups represented here. So it's OK.
Easy to use short term bike rentals all over town.
Two highlights would be a day trip by train to Lake Como on a crisp, sunny fall afternoon. And Michael's trip to the holy grounds of Italian football for a night match.

In Como we had a lovely lunch on the square, read our books and enjoyed being out of the city surrounded by fall color. I even took some time to contemplated how ducks and pigeons look the same wherever I go. That's how relaxed I was.

I knew I brought those binoculars for a reason!
Michael has been committed to trying to get to a football match in each city. Attending a match between Milan and rival Italian team Udinesse did the trick. There was a Champion's League match between Milan and Barcelona in town, but somehow we couldn't scrape together the 800 euro for a scalped ticket. We enjoyed that one at a nearby sports bar. He has been to matches in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and now this one.

There was serious strategic planning needed on how to get San Siro Stadium. One of the most famous in Europe. He took several modes of transportation and got home and back in one piece. The security was high - and so was the excitement level. He had a great time.

 Great energy and an exciting night out for Mr. Campbell
The souveinier stands and food stalls felt like Mardi Gras
Found a McLaren store that brought back racing memories!
We are reading like crazy, getting a little too competitive in the game department, and still walking for miles each day. And of course, taking time to enjoy this blessing.

Bakeries are a blessing, right?
We are currently in Florence. An all time favorite destination for us and many of you. Next up Athens, then Lisbon, Paris and Seattle for the holidays and all of January. Mr. Campbell (aka Head Travel Planner) is getting geared up. If we have enough money left, and we are still married we will implement Phase II. Thanks for reading!

Milano Mama's deserve their own doors.
p.s. If you read my previous blog about The Mamas. Here's proof they rule the roost. This is a 10 foot front door with a 5 foot entrance carved into it. They are all over Milan! We saw plenty of taller people ducking to get in and out of these doors, but the Mama's did just fine.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Immovable Mamas of Milano

If you find yourself walking down a narrow sidewalk in Italy, prepare to encounter 'The Mamas'.  I am not sure if Italian women over 60 used to be taller, but on average it would appear most are just under 5 feet tall. But that doesn't mean they are diminutive. In fact, they take up quite a bit of room. Especially on the sidewalk. And as with all good Italians, there is a lot of gesticulating and deep conversation that takes place while underway. And this takes time.

They are often two (or three) abreast. You'll know them by their quilted jackets, woolen skirts, support hose, neck scarves, sensible shoes, beauty parlor coifs and world weary expressions. And always a stylish, capacious handbag clutched firmly in front.

If you come up behind one of these phalanxes prepare to slow down. Way down. If there are market shopping carts involved change course altogether. And in fact, don't go to the market if that was your plan. Wait until you are sure they are all home making the mid-day meatballs or settled comfortably on a park bench. Otherewise, be prepared to be shut out of the best stands.

If you happen to be heading toward one of these impressive matrons be prepared to be examined from head to toe and back again. This only takes a few seconds, but there is a secret calculation that goes on inside the heads of these women - it makes you stand up straight, smile (but not too much) and mutter an apology for any wrongdoings you may have committed while being in their country.

If you have a small child with you there will be extra scrutiny regarding your parenting skills and whether you have adequately bundled them up against the cold. Or the cold that might be coming. Because it is coming. But also be prepared for cooing and cheek pinching and some tut-tut-tutting.  I think they are saying something to the effect of "it's okay Bambino, your grandmother just doesn't know better..."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Berlin if it doesn't move - tag it!

This is definitely the most 'painted' city I've even seen. And I though New York was colorful! Personally, I am of two minds on graffiti. I hate lazy tagging and marring of public art and directional signage. But some images can be inspirational and represent a time and place in a city's history - and sometimes train cars deserve a little love. We stayed in East Berlin where the pieces of the Berlin Wall still standing were layered with paint. And just about every other wall and doorway was embellished in some way. After a while, it all just became part of the fascinating landscape.

A doorway just down the street
A little less inspiring - but still, everywhere!
The soldier that got away at the last minute! A prominent image.
She says she is afraid of all the colors. That's not going to work.

"Life is a Cab Away". Ok - I just had to put that in writing because it was stuck in my head - and once a copywriter, always a copywriter. But in fact, we didn't take a cab anywhere other than to and from the airport. Once again, the public transport was excellent and very near where we were staying in the hip Prenhauser district. Options included trams, trains, buses, and the underground. But as usual we walked most everywhere.

This time our flat wasn't as nice as the others. Maybe that's East Berlin, or maybe this owner has an affection for dead plants, dust, totally random cooking equipment and lumpy pillows. And to top (or bottom) it all off there was a Dutch Toilet...I'll let you Google that yourselves.

Not the kitchen of my dreams
It certainly brought us down a peg, but the location was great. Bringing our own pillows from home seemed a little wimpy in the beginning - but they really have brought added comfort to every stay, and really helped in this case. 

We followed our usual procedure of getting settled, buying basics at the store and then checking out the neighborhood.And of course finding a free walking tour for the following day.

The grocery store was awesome!

The Germans take their organs seriously
However, it turned out October 3rd was a huge holiday celebrating the Unification of East and West Berlin.We were heading to the Brandenberg Gate to meet up with the tour but as we walked that mile we were joined all along the way with people heading the same direction. The closer we got the larger the throng. Turns out the gate was the location for a giant all day concert and street fare. The next three days would feature more entertainment, military parades, endless beer gardens and food stands! Good thing because every shop in Berlin was closed tight.

We were able to take the tour the next day. It was once again, very informative and got us excited about what we could see in the city on our own. The history here is so intense and can be seen physically at many levels just by walking - but there is much, much more to take in regarding Germany as a whole and its role in the world today.

The TV tower was built in East Berlin in the 60's
Our most memorable visit was to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There was an incredible sculptural representation above ground that filled a city block and a fascinating interactive exhibit below. No matter how much you think you know about the Holocaust you never now enough. It made for a thoughtful day deserving of the cold, grey sky.

A contemplative walk through the memorial by a visitor
As in Stockholm we are spending just a week here, so we saw what we could while still 'living local'. We loved the flea markets and they seemed to be everywhere. Our favorite was the huge Saturday market not too far from us - it must have stretched a mile. Rows and rows of second hand everything, cheap socks, toys,  antiques, jewelry, crafts (taxidermy?), and much more, punctuated with great street food and entertainment. One the the benefits of our travels is we really can't buy anything since we are right at the weight limit for baggage, so it makes it fun to look without obligation. However we can eat and drink! I love food you can eat out of hand and we were not disappointed. Turkish Kufta wraps, sausages, flat bread pizza, satays, fried donuts - roasted nuts. And Currywurst. Now apparently this is a Berlin go-to food - based on it being available anywhere, anytime. Basically it's thick, icky bbq-ish spiced ketchup piled a hot dog that is then sprinkled liberally with curry powder and served with fries. Yuck.

Everything but the fleas. But I am sure they were there.
Had to try a Currywurst. Yuck! Is all I can say.

Could eat spicy meatballs and peppers in a fresh wrap all day
We also went to a large Turkish market. It sets up twice a week and serves Berlin's large ethnic communities. Again - good food and lots of things to look at. No vintage or second hand wares, but lots of spices, fresh fish, odd meats, cheese, dried everything, underwear, and booth after booth of bolts of fabric. It would appear that the Muslim community makes much of their own clothing (makes sense) and it was fun to watch the haggling.

Travel Planner at work using three computers!
Michael's thoughts on Berlin:

Growing up, I never thought that apartheid would end in South Africa in my lifetime nor could I envision the collapse of the Soviet Union or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of course we now know that all three came to pass so it was great to spend a week in Berlin to see first hand what a unified city and country look like.

The Berlin Wall went up in 1961 and came down in 1989. During that time, the Eastern part of the city sort of went into a deep freeze while the Western modernized with the rest of Europe. Our apartment was in the area that was in the former "East Berlin" and even today, that part of the city still lags behind the rest of the city. The buildings are more often tagged with graffiti and they somehow have a depressingly drab Soviet style appearance. Having said that, the neighborhood we stayed in was alive and vibrant with shops, bars, restaurants and nightlife.

Back in 1969, when I was racing in Europe I had a chance to race in what was then East Germany. I remember how scary the border crossing was as we went through the checkpoint with our vans and race cars. The good news is that all of that is in the past so it was exciting to see a united Germany again. If you ever have a chance to visit Berlin, I'd recommend it.

We're having a wonderful adventure - thanks for following along.
Happy to be moving on to warmer temperatures in Italy. Milan is our next stop. Ciao!

(celebrated our 35th Wedding Anniversary yesterday - what a blessing)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sort of Like Ballard only Bigger

I was trying to think of something funny to write about Stockholm. But there just isn't anything funny about it - it's too perfect. Even the rain behaves. Everything runs like clockwork, the streets are clean, the the people are beautiful, the food is really good, and everyone (even babies) speak English. So instead of finding humor, I will acknowledge the near perfection. If there was a fault, it was the cost of living. Everything was very, very expensive. No wonder they use crowns for currency!

On time - every time. Just like everything else!

This is one of two stops where we will only spend a week. Otherwise we have been trying to do two week stints so we can get settled and really explore at a leisurely pace. But in this case we packed in the best of the city and enjoyed it very much. Once again we took the free walking tour. Wherever you travel, if that's on offer, do it! In this case we took two. One in the center of the city and the other in historic Old Town. Both gave us a heads up on where to revisit in-depth. 

We arrived in Stockholm by train from Copenhagen. A lovely, five hour journey through miles of countryside filled with farms and lakes and small villages. Most every home in this country is painted a deep red with white trim or mustard yellow - my two favorite colors! Lots of time on the train for reading and a packed lunch. Our airbnb host, Hanna picked us up at the station - she is a delightful dental student who had everything in order for our stay.

The apartment itself was, once again, really great. Small but clean, well laid out and furnished with everything you need to cook-in and be comfortable, thanks to IKEA of course. Here's the link:


The apartment was a little further from town than we anticipated - but the metro system was really easy to use and the town where we stayed was small and quiet with an excellent grocery store, a pub and the metro station just two blocks away. It was called Middsommarkransen (we're still in the land of many letters*) and was just a few stops from the center of Stockholm.

The Tour Guides are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They work for tips so they need to be!
We walked from one end of Stockholm to the other several times. Rain or shine! As I mentioned this city is so easy to navigate and so beautiful. We add to our miles by often heading the wrong way with purpose when we get confused by Google Maps directions. All part of the fun - yesterday was a seven miler. We have both lost a lot of weight on this trip!

On the third day I made a new friend who happened to have an almost new iPhone4 for sale so I snapped it up and feel reconnected with the world! Next on the agenda will be to replace my Kindle. And to remind myself to keep track of our backpack at all times (it was stolen in Copenhagen but we got it back - just missing some of the essentials).

Chanterelles anyone? There were a dozen more mounds like this!

My $8.00 Flea Market find just in time for colder weather

Lots of ways to make a living! I'd love to be in his head

Highlights include the outdoor food market (of course) and the adjacent food emporium in the city center. The tiny alleys and buildings that oozed history in Old Town, the Nobel Prize museum and the Vasa Museum.

The Vasa inside the museum

Down she goes. And of course in this kind country no blame assigned.
The Vasa was a war ship built in 1628 that sank in Stockholm's harbor just a half hour after it left the dock! It was a glorious ship that had one design flaw - a third level of cannons that the King insisted on but in the end made the ship top heavy. One big puff of wind and down she went!
It was recovered 330 years later and is incredibly intact since it settled in the brackish silt of the harbor. The museum is build around the reconstructed boat and we spend hours looking at it and all the items recovered from inside.

And I thought I liked IKEA meatballs. These were sooo good.

Second Vasa highlight had to be absolutely delicious Swedish meatballs served with potatoes, gravy lingonberry sauce, and caraway cabbage for lunch in the museum restaurant! All this walking gives us healthy appetites.

Old Town

We've attended a variety of church services along the way. All different denominations and experiences. Hillsong Christian offered headphones for little ones since the music was very 'Mars Hill' in exuberance and volume!

She'll be rocking to the praise someday!
We spend a good deal of time researching our next destination and the airbnb options. That is a fun part of the adventure - and builds anticipation for moving on. Otherwise we have been reading like crazy and playing games, resting our feet and enjoying each other. I wondered how it would be spending all day, everyday together, but we are happily in love in a whole new way. 35th Anniversary coming up on the 14th!

The lovebirds will be in Milan for the big day.
The week flew by and now we are in Berlin. The second one week stay - so far so good.

*In my career in graphic design, I was a real stickler for creating enough room on forms that required personal information to allow for complete names, e-mail addresses, etc. I don't know how designers do that in Scandinavia!