Saturday, December 29, 2007

Verona – Piazza Bra, Liston, the Arena and the Piazza Delle Erbe

This is where we spent most of our time in Verona.

It was about a half hour stroll from our hotel.

We would walk along the street passing shops, wine bars , and smart cars parked up on the sidewalk; that never failed to make me laugh. When you live in a city that was designed something like two thousand years ago, you need to be a creative parker.

We would walk under the arches of a fortified wall that is a leftover from original Roman times, but has been updated a few times since then by ruling families and factions. After passing under the arch, we were in the Piazza Bra. The center of it is the Arena. This structure was built around 30 A.D. Contemporaries of Christ walked there! That’s a pretty staggering concept.

A small part of the fourth story remains, but the vast majority of it is three stories of arches. The inside has stone steps for seating, and the floor is just dirt. You can buy a ticket and walk around in there. We did not find any tours, or signs or information, which was a little disappointing because visiting a place like that makes you want to know everything you can about it. But we could still sit on one of the steps and imagine that we were there to watch a naval battle, and they had flooded the Arena for the occasion. We walked into the interior and could see the passages that they could have used to release lions, prisoners, and gladiators. We could see the drainage systems that are built into the stone. That drainage system is one of the reasons why they think the structure is still standing. The back passages were tall, I’d guess over 20 feet tall. That really made me think. Who on earth had the vision to design this thing? How hard was it to build something on this scale with your bare hands? Why make these arches so tall when that had to be an engineering nightmare and their beauty would only been seen by those behind the scenes?

It was very cold and misty on the day that we visited the Arena and that contributed to the atmosphere. It made it easier to imagine time slipping away, and to picture the building it its prime, filled with people.

During the summer, they stage operas there. We were there during the Santa Lucia Festival, and they erect a huge metal shooting star next to the Arena just for the festival. I goggled at that too. It was a heck of a structure to put up for a festival then take down again.

The Piazza Bra also has some impressive buildings that circle around the Arena, and a park area with a fountain.

The Piazza Bra also has the Liston, which is the most popular boulevard to stroll down. At the beginning, is it mostly restaurants, gelato places and tobacco shops, but as it goes on it turns into the Venetian version of Rodeo Drive. The streets change from cobblestones to flatter stone tiles, and the shops range from not too expensive hosiery stores to Burberry, Loius Vuitton and Gucci. The Liston is fairly crowded at all hours on any day. The other interesting thing is that it looks like it should be pedestrian only, but cars make their way down it all the time. Since we walked on the Liston on our way home from many a boozy dinner, dodging the cars became a pretty active exercise.

If we kept walking past all those shops, we came to the Piazza Delle Erbe. We spend a lot of time in this square. The first day, we came by and bought roasted chestnuts from one of the street vendors. They were a tasty treat, but more importantly, a bag of roasted chestnuts is a great hand warmer.

At the end of the square is a gorgeous building with statues all along the roof, and next to that is a clock tower. In front of the building is a sculpture of the Lion of St. Mark. This is a common theme through out Venice and the Veneto region. The carving is usually fairly large, very noble looking and is posed with a book. Whether the book is closed or open has meaning, one of them means that the statue was made during the time of war. But, of course, I can’t remember which one.

Down the center of the square are unbrella covered stalls for vendors that sell t-shirts, souvenirs and produce. I bought a little glass octopus and some souvenir calendars there. Along one side of the square are mostly residences. Those buildings were the typical tall boxy shape, with as many balconies as they could possibly put on it, all with beautiful, ornate metal railings. And even in winter, all the balconies that we saw were beautiful gardens, even the smallest spot would have a few artfully chosen plants. The other side of the square had a few shops, but was mostly café after café after café. This is where we sat on Saturday morning soaking up the sun and soaking up the spritzes with a couple hundred people who were all out doing the same.

I don’t think I will ever be able to describe just what a pleasure that was. After days of cold and mostly gray skies, here we sat at a little table in a sea of tables, surrounded by the gorgeous, rich colors of the buildings around us. Even with all the people there, it was fairly quiet, quiet enough that we could just soak in the beauty of the day, the surroundings, and the taste of the sparkling orange drink that I was trying for the first time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Quick Trips to the Oncologist and the Radiology Ladies

I have been really tired this week. So tired that I went to bed at 6 right after I got home from work on Wednesday. I did a little better on Thursday. I went into work again, worked a full day, dropped by Trader Joe's for a few things, got home, went to dinner (Cheddar's), then came back home and went to bed.

The made my husband worry. I just keep being tired, and we don't see much improvement.

So I called my oncologist's office. They had me come in for a blood draw (which they do as a finger stick and you get the results right away - and I really appreciate that they don't have to tap a vein and you don't have to wait a day or so for the results). They weren't really expecting to find anything, they just thought they would check to rule out infection, anemia, or any other blood level problems. Everything looks great.

That was good news I guess. I'm glad of course that my blood levels look great, and I don't have some new problem that I need to take care of, but it is not fun to sit there and have the nurse tell you that it takes 3 to 6 months to return to baseline energy levels and that there is nothing they can to to help me feel better now, or get better faster. The nurse was terrific, and she was sorry that she could not do anything to help, and very helpful since she said that I'm pretty much right where I should be. But still! Who wants to hear that they may feel like this for a few more months?

Admittedly, I am always tired around the holidays and I did just get back from Europe, I'm keeping that in mind.

While I was there, I dropped off a great big shopping bag full of fun fur hats that my friend made. I'm so glad that I had some to donate, that helped distract me from being at the doctor's once again to have my blood drawn, and it gave me a happy reason to be there.

After that, we went down a floor to give the radiation ladies the pashminas that they asked me to buy for them while I was in Venice. I really enjoyed that. I loved having an assignment to go to the shop and pick out some scarves for them, and I loved bringing them back. It was fun being an international personal shopper!

I also had to call my surgeon today. I found a hard, sore lump in my armpit, under the incision. Turns out that the blue dye that they use for sentinal node mapping can pool in an area and make a hard knot. Huh. What's that doing there? This is months afterward. So now I'm supposed to rub it every day until it goes away. While I'm not looking forward to my daily armpit rubbing sessions, I'm relieved to hear that they see this all the time and it is nothing to worry about.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Italy – The People

The people there were fascinating.

The first thing I noticed is that they are slimmer than Americans. Pretty much everybody is slim and mobile. If I look at a crowd of Americans in the street, I typically see many who have mobility issues, I will see canes, wheelchairs, orthopedic boots… but not in Italy. The people that I saw of all ages were slim and active. I admit, I wondered if I was seeing a subset of the population. Maybe all the people with mobility issues stay home and don’t walk the streets as much as the other folks. Maybe I was only in affluent, touristy areas where the income levels are higher and the crowds reflected that.

I’m pretty tempted to decide that the real reason is that a slower pace of life, better quality food, and a more physical activity are the reason though. Their culture promotes leisurely conversation, love of nature and the outdoors, and a deep appreciation of beauty. Maybe that is reflected in their general health.

So, after that initial impression, I was surprised and amazed to see how many people over there smoke. They don’t smoke in public places like trains, museums, and restaurants which is a real godsend, because the rest of the time, just about everyone is smoking like a chimney. That was really the only annoyance that I had during the trip, I got tired of breathing in other people’s smoke all the time when I was out walking, I really could not get away from it.

The next thing that I noticed was fashion. For men and women. The men wore clothing that would definitely qualify as “queer eye” over here. They favored fancy shoes, bright colored pants, and scarves. They showed much more attention to quality, detail and color than American men do. They also wore very intricate glasses and sunglasses. Some of the frames were so outlandish that I had to conceal my surprise and amusement. The ornate eyewear was worn by women as well, but it was more surprising to see it on men.

The woman favored bare legs. It was cold there and I saw many women in very short minis and “winter” shorts. They were also wearing tights, that’s true, but for December, that still qualifies as bare legs. I also saw quite a few women wearing pants that I can only describe as very heavy tights. The ladies who wore them had the figures for it, but I was still amazed to see something so tight and so shear. Jeans were ubiquitous, I’d say more than 50% of any crowd and any gender was wearing jeans at any given time. If I saw a lady wearing any other pants, they would be more ornate in pattern and more brightly colored than what I see here. Intricate contrasting designs and patterns, or in one notable exception, snakeskin. Oh yes, the lady looked like a well fed python! Cracked me up.

For cover ups absolutely every one regardless of gender or age, had a scarf. Gloves were surprisingly absent. I did see a few people wearing them, but many of the women and children were otherwise bundled up, but their hands were bare. People wore coats that varied from full length fur and full length parkas to ski jackets. I was wearing a black and white ski jacket, so was my husband. That really made us stand out. Everyone’s jacket there is in one solid color, surprisingly plain considering their love of all things ornate and detailed.

Make up was also interesting. They seem to know only two extremes. Either they don’t wear it (that is not a criticism, many of those women were absolutely beautiful without the aid of any cosmetics) or they applied it with a trowel. Overly bright eye shadow, thick liner, and Tammy Fay style lip liner were prevalent.

One lady that I saw pretty much defined the style. She had to be in her late seventies. She had considerable wrinkles (the happy kind – laugh lines in abundance), bright turquoise eye shadow, a full length fur coat, a patent brown crocodile bag that looked like it cost more than my car when the prior owner bought it new, patterned stockings, and just over ankle height boots that were also patent brown crocodile with fur trim. If I wore that, I would look ridiculous. She did not. She looked peppy, in charge, and wonderful. She looked like 80 was not her age, baby, it was her speed.

Patterned tights and hose were very popular. There was also a look that I had not seen before. You start out with solid colored tights, then add a contrasting colored knee high stocking. I bought a few of the knee highs while I was there. I tried them out one day at work. I wore patterned purple knee highs over black tights with a grey dress. My colleagues were intrigued; I got comments from everyone who saw me, and I would say feed back was mostly negative. Doesn’t stop me for a minute though, I’ll dress more Italian every chance I get. It adds an element of fun and whimsy that our fashion doesn’t often show.

And, oh, I have not mentioned the lady’s shoes. Fabulous! Many wore boots and they were beautiful Italian leather boots with various flairs thrown in such as unusual stiching or hardware. Most people’s boots looked fabulously expensive. I also saw many ladies wearing various high heels, mules and sling backs. Not so unusual, you might think, until you consider that these ladies were out walking for hours on cobblestone streets. I have no idea why I was able to be there for eight days and no see a single woman break an ankle! So I started to observe them – their secret? The ladies with the high heels or looser shoes like mules always held onto the arm of their companion as they walked. Many times it was a man, but I also saw many groups of ladies all holding on to each other as they walked.

I also saw many pierced noses. Both men and women had their noses pierced on the side and wore a very small jewel, so tiny that you often had to look twice to see it.

I also saw many men with pierced ears, multiple pierced ears, and wearing pendant earrings. The guy who worked on one of the ferries in Venice wore a fabulous set of grey pendant pearl earrings. It is not often that I admire and want the jewelry that I see on a man! It did not make him look feminine though, it added a certain swagger. Beats the heck out of me how he pulled that off! I did not see anyone with those spacers in their ears that leave them with those big see through holes. I also did not see many tattoos. Granted, it was winter, so I did not see much bare flesh, but I did see plenty of arms and necks when we were indoors, and I can’t remember seeing a single tattoo.

In manner, the Italians talk much, gesture large, talk loudly and just seem to be enjoying life and each other. They have a dramatic flair. The volume of their voices and gestures did not seem too much for me, it I thought it showed vigor and enthusiasm. It was also very interesting to see how long they could talk between breaths – it was impressive. Even the weather guy that we saw on TV in the morning seemed to be able to talk for about a minute without drawing a breath.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Italy – The Food

Wow! These people know how to eat!

Sit down with a nice cup of tea to read this one - it is lengthy!

The first thing that I noticed was that the waiter never comes back after you get your food. You have to track them down to pay the bill. No one is in a hurry for you to leave. You can stay at your table chatting and drinking for hours if you like. I loved the leisurely pace.

Next thing I noticed is that everybody, tiny little slim girls included can really pack it away. Remember, I was eating out everyday, so I have no idea how they eat at home, but when they go out, everyone gets huge plates of food and eats it all. Each time I finished with something and there was still some left on my plate, the waiter would ask me what was wrong!

Let’s see. The first night there, we stumbled upon a restaurant in one of the many alleys off the main square near our hotel in Verona. I’d say it was about a 40 minute walk from our hotel. We ordered bruschetta (pronounced brus-ketta by the way, they always corrected me when I ordered without saying the “k” sound in the middle) which came with prosciutto on it. This was my first of what was to become pretty much daily doses of prosciutto, salami, or pancetta. The stuff is everywhere! Anyway, the bruschetta was served on a large piece of thin toasted bread with tomato sauce, tomatoes, melted cheese and pepperoni. I was used to just having fresh chopped tomatoes with basil. This stuff was really delicious. Then we had gnocchi with gorgonzola cheese sauce. This passed good right up and went all the way to transcendent. The gnocchi were light years lighter than the ones that I make at home, and the sauce was creamy and rich without being cloying. It was so flavorful that is should have been overwhelming, but it wasn’t. I ordered the house white wine which came in a little pitcher. It was also remarkable.

I noticed that the waiter seemed confused when my husband and I ordered one entrée to split. Everywhere we went that caused confusion, and I never saw any of the Italians order something to split. Huh.

The next day started with breakfast at the hotel. They had a nice spread every morning. One table had cereals. They had corn flakes, muesli, granola, the bran stuff that always looks like chicken poop to me (I eat it, but that is what it looks like), and a nice dried fruit, nut and coconut mix. They provided regular and soy milk which was nice since I prefer soy. That table also had a fresh fruit salad and a bowl of fruit. I often snagged an orange once I learned that at breakfast was the only time during the day that I would see any fresh fruit. They had stewed prunes too. Ever since they were part of our breakfast a few years ago when we vacationed in Bermuda, I have liked stewed prunes. Not enough to serve them at home, but I don’t pass them up when I find them at a breakfast buffet.

They had a second table that had pastries (apricot filled croissants and a couple of other things – there was so much there to eat that I rarely made it to the pastries), fruit juices, water (sparkling and still which are offered everywhere. When you order water in a restaurant, they ask you “with or without gas?” meaning bubbles. If you order with gas you get Pellegrino, if you order without, you still get bottled mineral water, but without bubbles.) and a large tray of sliced meat and cheese. The meats always included salami and prosciutto, once I saw mortadella too. A few times, I was not sure what the stuff was. They also had crispy rolls and a rustic bread so you could make a breakfast sandwich.

We had excellent food everywhere that we ate in Verona. One time we wanted truffles, and the lady at the hotel desk (who could seamlessly switch from Italian to English to French and back again) called a restaurant to see if they offered truffles since they are seasonal. They said yes, so off we went. When we got there, there were no truffles on the menu. We asked and they made us truffles and pasta. Truffles have a very unique flavor, they reminded me just a little of escargot with green onions, I don’t really know how to describe it. I really liked the taste. Another time, the restaurant was out of the soup I ordered, they had a vegetable cream soup. I talked with the waiter (whom I call “limoncello guy” since he offered me my first one of those), he asked what kind of soup I wanted. Turns out that he could serve me the vegetable soup before they blended it into a cream texture, and it was very good.

In addition to truffles, I also ate octopus (that was a rough one, they were very tiny and there were a few of them in my lobster pasta. I had trouble eating them since I think octopi are cute and fairly intelligent), and salt encrusted sea bass. The sea bass meal was something. For this one, we were being entertained for lunch by my husband’s colleagues and we had two customers with us. These two customers were the whole reason for the trip and we got to entertain them for a couple of days. They were just wonderful people and I had a great time with them. Anyway, the two Italians take us to this restaurant where there is no English on the menu and the waiter does not speak any. Prosecco (Italian yummy sparkling wine, their version of champagne) was served. So was a very good red wine that just kept coming.

We were trying to figure the menu out. They asked what kind of pasta did we like and did we like sea bass? So, a pasta dish comes for me with a red sauce, lobster bites and those tiny octopus. A pasta comes for my husband that has sea bass in it. We had something as an appetizer too, but I can’t remember what. My husband and I struggled to finish our pasta. We tried very hard to finish what was on our plates since we figured that was the end of the meal. We were so wrong! THEN they brought out this enormous fish that had been baked in a salt crust!! We were totally full! We ate what we could which was fabulous, but I hardly made a dent in it. Then they ordered Sgrippino for us. This is traditionally served after a fish course. It is lemon sorbet mixed with a little vodka and prosecco. Refreshing and fabulous. I was full to the rafters and not a little tipsy after all this. Then we headed off to the Bertani winery for our tour and tasting.

The grounds were gorgeous. It was a misty afternoon, and the building is a butter colored mansion owned by some baron or something a few hundred years ago. We had four generous tastes to try with a big tray of salami and bread and an amazing hard cheese that we spent the next few days fruitlessly trying to remember the name for. Anyway, after all that wine, we were fairly rushed out because it was the end of the day. The door clanged, I do mean clanged shut behind us, I put on my hat (it was very cold there the whole time) and realized that I had lost my gloves. We tried pounding on the door, but to no avail. Later in the car, I discovered that I was wearing my hat with my gloves folded up inside it!!! The customers thought that was hilarious and teased me for days about getting so toasted.

We also had sandwiches at both the most famous restaurants in St. Mark’s Square, the Café Quadri and the Café Florian. I think the Florian has been there as a restaurant for something like 600 years. Hard to fathom.

Food in Venice was not so great. The first time we went, we stopped to eat our dinner outside at a restaurant that faces the Rialto bridge. The view was amazing. Italians seem to love to be outdoors, so they are fine eating outside even in frosty weather. I was cold enough that the waiter moved one of the outdoor heaters to our table for me. We were not too hungry, so we both ordered pasta. Then the waiter said he had this amazing fresh flounder and we had to try it. We had visited the Rialto market that morning and they had an amazing display of fish there, so I had been wanting fish all day. So we decided to try it. The fish was good, but when the bill came, we discovered that the fish alone was over 60 Euro!!! That’s around $80!!! We tried to remember that getting rooked in Venice makes for a great story, but we are still complaining about the price of that dinner. Ouch!! And I would say that that sums up the food experience at every place that we ate over the two days that we spent in Venice, it was OK and ridiculously expensive. So if you go over, goggle at the wonders of Venice, but be sure to eat in Verona!

In addition to pastas, sandwiches, and soups, I also had quite a few salads. I usually ordered the Mediterranean. That is greens, capers, olives, tomatoes and tuna. Every time they brought me one, I marveled at the size of it – the salads were huge! They never brought dressing either, you use the olive oil and balsamic vinegar that are always on every table in every restaurant. They’ve completely converted me too, now olive oil and balsamic are the only dressing that I like!

And now to the beverages. I already told you about the bottled waters which we drank by the gallon. There was a grocery store called “Pam” on the way home, and we would stop there to get waters to keep in the hotel too. One thing I noticed is that Italians don’t fill any cup or glass, whether it is water, wine, or anything else, they always fill their cups and glasses only 1/3 to ½ full. They also don’t drink as they walk around. We saw people walking for hours, and no one had a soda or a bottle of water with them. If they get thirsty, they duck into a little wine bar for something to drink. I also never saw styrofoam or a paper cup the whole time I was there.

The first beverage I tried was a decaf espresso. Yes, I’ve had these before, years ago, but I never really cared for it. I’m not a coffee lover. I drink white tea and water. I did not like my first espresso much. The flavor was very strong, and I was horrified at the idea of dumping a packet of sugar into something before I drank it. Ah, but a few hours later I was craving another one. I was hooked! We walked and walked and walked all day everyday in really frigid weather, and stopping my a little shop to have a quick espresso and a couple of cookies turned into a real treat. I ended up drinking at least two a day. When we got home, my husband bought us an espresso maker for Christmas. Now the whole family is hooked. The machine was quite expensive and you have to join their club to get more coffee for it (how yuppie is that?), but the espresso is really wonderful and seeing my two kids at the table sipping from those tiny cups is worth the price of admission.

The next drink I tried was a limoncello. We had lunch at a restaurant that my husband goes to every time he is in Verona. The waiter recognized him, and gave us limoncellos to try after our meal. I looked the recipe up when I got home. Basically, you soak lemon peel in high proof vodka for up to 40 days. What you get is a refreshing lemon yellow liquid that is amazing when served chilled, appalling when served warm. I usually finished up my dinner every night with a limoncello.

I also tried a spritz Aperol which is a regional drink. They only make it in the Venice and Veneto region. I read about it in my guide book, and once I looked around, I realized they were right, tons of the natives were drinking this bright orange stuff. My husband found the recipe for it. It is Aperol, Prosecco and sparkling water. The taste is very light and refreshing with a slightly bitter fruity taste. They serve it in a very large wine glass, with a little ice floating just on the top and an orange slice. I had many of these little wonders too. My favorite was on Saturday late morning. We walked over to the square in Verona, where there were three restaurants all in a row that had tables outdoors. This was the warmest day and the sun was out. We sat at a table among a couple hundred other people who were all doing the exact same thing, drinking a spritz, munching on olives and enjoying the day.

Another notable dinner was at a restaurant called the Jazz Club. Sounds American doesn’t it? Well, not a person there spoke any English and the menu was a real puzzler. I had my phrase book out and we were all still having a hard time figuring out what anything was. I ended up just ordering soup. But my companions ordered the steak. That was after we quizzed the waitress and she had so much trouble trying to talk to us, that she gave up, pointed to an item on the menu and said "Moo!" LOL

We could see this enormous man in an open kitchen behind us cooking up these slabs of meat. With his size and the sparks flying around him, he reminded me of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. Well when the steak got to our table, it was not a steak, it was an entire roast. The waitress sliced it up and we were all horrified to see that it was close to raw, it had just been seared on the outside. We just looked at each other stunned because no one wanted to eat that. After she sliced the meat, she placed it into a tangine, and it sizzled when she did so we knew the tangine was hot. Well, the meat finished cooking in the tangine until it was rare, not raw. There were a couple little pieces that were more well done than the others, so I tried those. It was good!

As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed the food and drink! They are an entire culture of foodies like me who are obsessed with great fresh food!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Italy - the flight over and our hotel

Hours before our flight, as I was packing, I realized that I did not have the right shoes for this trip. I needed warm walking shoes.

So, I made an emergency trip to Dillard's and bought the only size 5 pair of Ugg boots that they had. Lucky me - they were ones that I liked. They are black and end about mid calf.

Buying those boots and my new ski jacket were the smartest thing I could have done. I lived in both of them all day every day during the trip. I have my husband to thank for that, he kept saying that we would be outdoors in the cold all day and walking for hours, and did I have the right gear for that?

OK, so I rushed home from Dillard's, packed my suitcases and off we went.

My niece drove us to the airport and my kids came along. I was hoping that they would not come to the airport since saying goodbye to them for several days is so hard for me. But, I was so excited about the trip that it was a little easier than I thought it would be and I got through it without making a scene on the curb.

We flew over on an Air France 767 that was less than half full. The flight was very easy. They fed us often and played two movies and a couple of TV shows. The only thing I watched was the last thing they showed, an episode of Smallville. It was surreal watching it as our plane touched down in Paris.

I snoozed most of the way through the flight, and remembered to get up and walk around every time I woke up. There was only one nervous moment when I woke up to hear the captain yelling (I don't think he was really yelling, it just sounded that way to me since it woke me up) that we were going to go through turbulance as we left the coast of Greenland, so everyone needed to buckle back up. We did have turbulance, but it wasn't bad. Many people were stretched out across three seats to sleep, one was even sleeping on the floor in front of a row of seats. When we all woke up to buckle our seat belts, it felt like a very strange slumber party.

We had a three hour layover in Charles de Gaulle airport. Enough time to buy myself an Eiffel Tower for my desk at work, and some souvenirs and postcards. I also ate a croissant. Not because I was hungry, because I was in PARIS!!!

We had an easy time changing flights. On the way over one time, my husband's luggage was all lost for days. So we had a strategy this time. We both had checked bags and carry ons. Our carry ons had a change of clothes and the toiletries that we don't want to live without, and whatever other little comforts that we would need to last a few days without the rest of our luggage. That plan worked great on the first plane. But the much smaller plane to Verona did not have much overhead space. They took my carry one when we checked in for the flight, and they took both of my husband's smaller ones away as we boarded. So much for planning ahead!!

The good news is that all of our luggage made it to Verona with us, so it didn't matter that they kept taking it all away until we had nothing left to carry on to the last plane.

We arrived in Verona mid day. We took a cab to our hotel and then went for a walk so I could see some of the city. I'll describe that later, first I want to describe our room.

We were on the second floor. Remember in Europe, the first floor is zero, so by our standards, we were really on the third floor. The elevator was tiny and said it could hold six people! My husband and I barely fit in it. I found this very comical and pretty much laughed every time we stuffed ourselves into it. I also laughed every time we selected the button for the basement which is where breakfast was served, that floor was called -1. Buttons that say "0" and "-1" for floors are enchanting somehow.

Our room had an entry hall and one wall of that hall was the nicest closet I have ever seen. The doors were made of heavy wood and slid open and closed so smoothly. One side had room to hang longer items, a shelf and a cubby area, the other side had room to hang short items, a shelf with a safe and built in drawers. Everything was made of such solid, beautiful wood and the layout worked perfectly to store all my clothes and shoes. I didn't get sick of trying to find my stuff or living out of a suitcase at all.

Once through the short entry, I could see a platform bed, two windows and a flat screen TV over a desk. The desk and chair became the place that we heaped all our stuff onto every night when we came back to the room, so after the first day, I did not see the surface of that desk again until we left to come back home.

The bathroom was very novel to me. First, the shower was even smaller than that elevator! Essentially, the shower was standing room only, and you could not spread your arms out from your sides either. The doors slid out from the front corner, and at first the spray was aimed in that direction, so until I figured out how to move the shower head, I got shot with cold water every morning and we had a flood on the floor.

Next to that was a scary looking bidet. I was intimidated by that thing! I've seen ones that had a spray coming from the bottom and I understand that, but this one just had a spigot on the back, or what I thought was the back. Logistically, I could not figure out what was supposed to go where and I was certainly not going to ask for instruction on that.

Then there was the toilet. It had no visible water tank, I guess they either don't need one, or it's built into the wall somehow, so we just had the seat portion of it. A few feet above it was a flat plastic panel that looked like the world's largest light switch. But I'd already found the light switches next to the sink. What was this thing and how did it work? Fortunately, my huband knew. It was a rocker switch to flush the toilet. Press the top to flush, press the bottom to stop the flushing. Huh.

Across from the bathroom, over the bed was those two windows. One was really a window, the other was french doors that led out onto the world's smallest balcony. They had ivy and twinkle lights hanging from the edge. I don't know if they always have twinkle lights or if it was for Christmas or if it was for the Santa Lucia festival that was going on while we were there.

Most of Verona was covered in twinkle lights which only added to the magical aspect of how the whole place looks night and day.

The colors! The architecture! The fountains and sculptures! The fashion! The food! VENICE!!

I promise to write more about all of that in the coming days.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Yes, I Am Back From Italy

So much to tell you!!

So little time!

We got back on Thursday night after 12 hours in a plane. I unpacked the suitcases and went to bed. I didn't get much sleep though since my son had a fever when we got home, and I kept getting up to check on him. My husband took him to the doctor the next day and it turns out that he had strep throat - poor guy!

Friday was a very hectic work day and a raging case of jet lag. Bad enough that I cried on my whole drive home, just from being so exhausted.

Saturday was all about my eldest son's 17th birthday party. He invited four friends (one of whom drove himself over, that was a first) for Chinese buffet, a movie (Golden Compass) and sleep over. My husband informed me that this is his last sleep over party because it is too wierd to have one of those when you are 18. I will miss it. I have known most of those kids since they were 5 and I really enjoy seeing them, and feeding them all breakfast the next day. He will still have a party I'm sure, but I'll miss their all night movie/video game thing.

Sunday was laundry, grocery shopping and getting and decorating the tree.

I have had NO time to post, my souvenirs are still in their bags on the floor next to my bed.

As soon as things ease up, I'll be sure to tell you all about Italy though - it was AMAZING!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Chemo Guy Follow Up

I had my three month follow up with my oncologist today.

I had a hat on since it is so cold. A wonderful lady in the waiting room complimented me on the hat and on my hair! Geez people are nice to say something positive about my "Victor/Victoria" 'do.

It was great to catch up with my chemo doc. It's nice to be feeling good so we could talk about other things like that he was sick over Thanksgiving. Poor guy was trying to keep up on his enormous patient load while he was deathly ill.

That reminds me that while it is certainly hard to be a patient, I need to remember that it can be hard to be a doctor too.

He gave me his all clear to go to Italy, he had already told me he was great with it before, but this time around he reminded me to move around on the plane since Tamoxifen has been linked with blood clots in the legs. He said other than that I'm free to go on over and eat, drink and be merry!

Oh yes, indeed, there are a few bottles of wine over there with my name on them and far too much Tiramisu as well. I might just have to have that for dessert every day. Since my husband was just reading me a menu that included donkey and cuttlefish (not in the same dish), heck, I might just have only the Tiramisu for dinner every night - LOL!

Another way cool thing. I mentioned to him that my friend, my niece and I are going to continue making hats, would he be OK with me bringing them into his office every time I have a bag full? Not only is he OK with it - he wants to give the hats out himself! I think that is wonderfully thoughtful. As he meets a new lady before her first chemo, he can give her a few hats to cheer her up. That is a wonderfully caring thing to do. And it makes me so happy. I didn't want the hats to just pile up in a bin and be forgotten, or maybe passed over because people didn't realize just how nice they look when you put them on. I also really wanted someone to have the pleasure of seeing a patient's face light up when they put a new hat on and look in the mirror. It's pretty exhilarating and not to be missed.

So, yeah! We get to brighten some patient's days and we get to make chemo guy smile too!

So, well, I'm off to get kids where they belong (everybody has something going on tonight), then I'm skipping contra dancing to stay home and pack!! I'm going to spend the evening folding sweaters and blasting the Dandy Warhols and Cake, and oh yah, Dean Martin singing "An Evening in Roma" will just have to be in there too.

Acupuncture Works, Blanket Update and Spa Day

I really did think acupuncture works for me.

But now I have evidence. My therapist is on a six week holiday, so I didn't have an appointment last week. I didn't notice any difference until this weekend when the arthritis in my thumbs came back with vigor. It really hurts! And I have to hold on until my appointment on January 14! I am comforting myself by thinking of all the money that I'm saving. LOL

I finished blanket number two last night - I've got one more to go. I might try to bring the yarn with me to Italy. I heard that you can't carry on a crochet hook though, so if I do it, I'll have to pack it in my checked baggage. Too bad, the plane ride is so long, I could almost finish it just on the way over.

I had a spa day over the weekend. My healer lady recommended a massage lady who has a spa in her home. I got an ayurvedic massage that is designed to increase circulation. I started by answering questions on a computer program that tells the therapist which kind of oil to use. The massage was fantastic, very soothing and warming. Then I did a steam treatment. I was on a table with this tent thing covering all of me but my head. It gets up to 130 degrees in the tent, and Iw ould not be able to tolerate it if m yhead was not outside, where she kept icy towels on my head and face. Sounds extreme, but I was quite comfortable. The idea behind the sweat lodge thing was to detoxify. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Other than that, I spend the weekend getting ready for the trip - I leave TOMORROW NIGHT!!!!