Thursday, December 28, 2006

Food, wine and culture

We had our first meal at Bernardo’s, one of the kids’ favorites. Bernardo’s is a family
owned place where everyone feels like family. Ana and Noah and their friends eat their regularly and when they come in they know which wine they will order. We will never think of pizza the same again. Here it comes with a very thin crust, little or no tomato sauce and a wide variety of toppings including vegetables, salciccia, fresh or cured, proscuitto or panchetta. They even have one that is called an American that has french fries on top. Haven’t tried that one yet. Appetizers come as a plate of cheeses and meats, olives, and other antipastas. The house wines come in glass pitchers. A litre of vino rossi (red wine) is 6 euro. It is a dry, full bodied,very tasty wine. They also have vino blanco (white wine) that is also very good. It is generally more dry than most American whites and we have enjoyed that as well.
Sardegna has many wineries and each of the wines that we have sampled from them are excellant. A couple of our favorites so far are Dolia’s Monica diSardegna from Dolianova,Italy and Tanca Farra by Sella Mosca and Cannonau both from wineries in Alghero. Gambino wines are grown in volcanic soil on Mt Etna and are smooth, full bodied wines with both red and white varieties that we have savored.
When you go to a ristorante here, they expect you to stay for awhile. Some restaurants charge a sitting fee of about 2 euro, but then the table is yours for the night. There is no rushing of your orders, food and pressure about who needs that table next. The general pace of the daily living activities of the culture are more leisurely than ours. Food comes out when it is done and you may get a main course before the appetizer. If my food comes out before yours, then I eat when mine is there and you eat when yours comes out. After dinner at Bernardo’s a glass of lemon crème is served. It is a lemoncello based appertif that his wife, Pasquelina makes. When we were leaving the first night she also had us taste the cappuccino crème and the papaya crème. All are made with fresh fruits or other ingredients and grain alcohol. These drinks are served to help settle your meal.
There is another after dinner drink that is native to Sardengna. The Mirto berry grows wild here and is made into an appertif that is dual purposed…flavor and to help digest the food.
We went back to Bernardo’s the day after Xmas for lunch and when Ana walked in and asked if they were open, they said “ for you, yes” The plan was to give their friends Jenny and Cassie a taste of Italian pizza, but alas, they don’t make pizza for lunch. The pizzas are cooked in a wood oven that takes awhile to get and keep hot, so they don’t keep it going all day. Alas, we had to order from their leftover Christmas dinner and whatever else we wanted. Ernie had the last serving of lasagna and he said it was the best he’d ever had. Again, there was very little tomato sauce, not as much filling, but it was very flavorful and rich with cheeses.
Lemons, oranges and limes grow wild on trees on the island and are very fresh, the tomatoes are very rich with flavor. Food is more subtly spiced yet a delight to the taste buds. Perhaps like so many other things we do in the US, we’ve gotten used to the more is better theory for food seasoning as well.
We bought fresh gnocchi, ravioli, Genovese pesto and fresh produce for a salad at the SuperMercati(supermarket) for Xmas dinner. We left the pannetina with two loaves of foccacia, four loaves of rustica and two others for about 6 euro. We made a stop at the open market in town for clams and a butcher shop for more salsiccia(sausage). In the open market there is a meat market that has whole pig legs hanging, along with a boar’s head and a boar’s leg with the fur still on it. Ana knows enough Italian to order and get us by. The conversations of the Italians are fast and intense with feeling and expression. The passionate energy of their exchanges are in stark contrast to many of our more staid conversations. It is not unusual to see men in spirited conversation sitting with their caffe or wine or walking down the street. Women are often arm in arm as they walk along the piazza talking as they go.
Fashions here vary from the most contemporary to traditional. Generally they dress up more than the Americans, though you see lots of jeans but with high heeled, pointed toe boots on the women instead of more casual shoes. Most of the young people look like ours with the baggy jeans and sweatshirts for the guys and short skirts and skimpy tops for the girls.
The one area where the passion and aggression is very evident is in the driving. Everything that you might have heard about the crazy Italian drivers is true…and Ana has become one. You really have to to survive. The roads are very narrow, even in the countryside. As you can see from the picture of a street in Tempio, it is amazing that cars fit through the narrow cobblestone streets in the towns and the cars seems to go at two speeds….fast and braked. I have to wonder how long brakes last here as they are used often and hard.
Ernie and I just returned from another walk to the beach. After treasure hunting in the sand, I found a rock that was the perfect recliner to allow me to watch the clouds and seagulls fly around, see a sailboat as it cruised the opposite shore and breathe and breathe again and enjoy the sea.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Here we are looking out in amazement at the The fortresses are built right into the
beauty and aged ruins and land. rock. This shows early to WW II build-
ing techniques. The mountains in the
background are on Corsica.
When Italy gave the Island of Caprera to Giuseppe Garibaldi after he unified the country he never left. He built a large home and compound and spent his last twenty years or so living and hiking around and through the rocks or fishing in the sea. The home is now a museum dedicated to the history of Italy and one of their greatest heroes.
On Christmas day we went hiking on Caprera, The museum wasn’t open but there are several old ruins dating back to prehistory which made for fun exploring. The ruins, mostly relics of war, are built out of the stones and in the caves that make the island. During the Napoleonic wars some of the forts were added on to or rebuilt then abandoned again. During WWII, once again the ruins were brought into service with more additions. This time concrete was used for construction, and mortar held the stones rather than dry stacking. The last additions were left to the elements after the war. During that war the forts were manned but never used.
The islands that make up this group of archipelagos are now a National Park. The park includes La Maddalena, Caprera, Stephano and other small rocks in the sea.
Garibaldi brought boars and other wild animals to the islands. Today only the boars still roam and are hunted on this island, but only when population control is needed. It was one of these boars that we ate at a “pig roast” last Saturday. Matt, a ship mate of Noah’s had several of his division over for a holiday party on Sardenia. His wife Rosa is from Sicily and everything was authentic Italian .
Christmas eve was spent with friends here. A couple of young women the kids know from the states were completing a semester abroad near Paris and came down to visit. In addition some of their local friends from the ship came over for a “family Christmas” We ate, had a gift exchange and enjoyed the holiday and this part of the world.
We are planning more trips around the area and, hopefully, a trip back to Garibaldi’s mansion on Caprera. We leave this Saturday for out trip to the mainland.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ana and Noah threw a party last week and we were able to meet several of their friends. This shot was taken on the front porch.

Ana and Linda waiting for lunch in one of the local ristorantes

One of the many wind-swept rocks on these islands. We have found all kinds of shapes some that we could only post with an XXX rateing. This rock is about the size of a dump truck.

The main piazza in LaMaddalena with the harbor on the left.

One of the market streets in town

A boat in the harbor of downtown LaMaddalena

Friday, December 22, 2006

La Maddalena

All around are rocks, huge wind swept free form sandstone sculptures created by the tenacious Mediterranean breezes that buffet these islands nearly constantly in the fall and winter. This is the Island of La Maddalena a small archipelago off the northeast coast of Sardinia. The temperatures are moderate not giving a lot of rain, surprisingly, but the wind is constant.
The native junipers are tough ragged bushes that have adapted well to the shallow soil and minimal moisture. Their local neighbors are Palm trees and cacti that are hold onto the earth by gripping the stones making up the landscape. Pines, we haven’t been able identify yet, break the horizon in several sizes and shapes.
Smaller plants that also grow wild including the herbs thyme and rosemary. The thyme is a little farther inland but the rosemary bushes around us are huge. Sometimes several feet across and five to six feet high. One would think the native grass’ would be short, close the earth for protection from the wind, and there are some of those. But, in addition is tall wide blade swords reaching up nine to ten feet with beautiful brush -like seed heads on inch thick stalks two feet taller. I don’t know how many varieties of the tall grass there is but we keep seeing new ones as we walk and drive the island. Wild aloe grow to four to feet next to the grass and trees. Mirto, a large bush with blue berries, clings to the stones. A local liqueur is made of these native berries and is bottled in cork bottles from the local Cork Oak trees found on Sardinia.
When this land was first occupied by modern man in the early eighteenth century each man was given as much property as he could build a wall around. Guess what was used for these asymmetrical walls that line the island partitioning old claims to the land. Small stone and concrete cottages with tile roofs dot the hills used as homes and out buildings of these old settlers. Later building construction passed from stone to concrete to block and mortar of today. Still the roofs are tile, held together with a sand and cement seal. I can’t help but wonder how much the gables, slopes, ridges and valleys that top the houses but weigh. All the windows and doors have louvered shutters for protection from the big winds when they come on shore.
Sheep and fishing was the original form of income on this island. Merchants that support those industries built the town on the seafront. The old town dating from the early seventeen hundreds is a mix of two to three story buildings and narrow streets only wide enough for one small car. One he first floor are shops with business’ and homes in the upper stories.
More later about the people and our travels here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Here are some pictures of LaMaddalena. It is an interestng contrast of new and old. There are rocks they think might be 3 million years old, Samrt Cars, paved roads, cobblestone roads made of thick granite, sidewalks that are made of tile, elderly ladies in wool coats and babuhkas and youngsters in modern clothes. We are off to Sasseri, a town on Sardenia today and will write more later. I may have to attach the photos later too as the page is coming up in Italian and finding what we need to make it work is a challenge! We are not sure we have the pictures on yet but will get them if they are not.
Areviderci for now.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Adventures in Travel

The windstorm woke me up about 11:30 PM. It was easy since I was so excited about getting going on our trip, but it was also quite a blow outside. Turning on the porch light , I looked outside. Small branches were scattered about the yard but there was not other damage. I turned out the light and sat in the dark to meditate.
A few minutes later, I looked out again but the light didn’t turn on. I checked the clock and it was off also. I lit an oil lamp and waited for the power to come back on.
We didn’t have to be at the airport until five in the evening, so there wasn’t any concern except for possible damage from the wind, I stayed up the rest of the night and Linda came down about three. Since electricity runs our well, we didn’t want to use too much water, so no showers, but a little for coffee was safe.
As the sun arose, we assumed the power would be up soon, but did talk about contingencies. We called around and the Spokane airport was open as was SeaTac. However we learned that the storm was causing devastation around the Northwest. We finished getting ready and made sure everything was as done as it could be under the circumstances.
By early afternoon, still no power so we figured out we needed to find someplace to shower. We were planning to leave our car with Linda’s sister Carol so called her to take showers at her place. Her power had only blinked out for a few seconds, getting clean there became the plan.
Linda had organized the flights so there would be plenty of time to get from one to the other. For the first leg, we would get to Seattle about 9 PM and get a good nights sleep, shower and get ready before nheeding to be back at the airport to check in by six am for the next flight.
After showering at Carol’s, she took us to meet Tome, our ride to the Spokane airport. The storm had knocked out power in much of Coeur d’Alene and Spokane. At check in, the board said our flight was still scheduled to leave on time at 7:55 PM, however, the ticket agent said that they expected it to be delayed. As it came closer to check in and the delays were continuing, we started to wonder about renting a car to get us there on time. When they did say it would not fly for an hour, we started to weigh the options. The passes were in terrible shape yet we didn’t know if or when our plane would leave. An agent said she thought we would fly but that SeaTac was losing power off and on so we couldn’t leave Spokane until we knew we had clearance to land in SeaTac. After fourteen dollars worth of wine, one glass apiece, it was announced that we would leave at nine. AT nine they said, ten. At ten they had us board and then shortly deplane. By now it was too late to rent a car so this flight was our only chance. At 11 we were back on the plane and heading west. So much for dinner and a good night’s sleep.
As we flew into Seattle, there were several very dark spots in the city.
We checked and our plane to New York was still scheduled to fly at 8 AM the next morning. It was now after midnight and we needed to be back to check in by 6 AM. We had a reservation about a mile away so caught a cab hoping to get a little sleep and a shower. The cab driver wondered if our motel had power.
As we pulled up to the dark motel, it sank in that Seattle was unplugged. There was a camp light on at the desk, we went in. An employee with a flashlight took us to our room where there was no light, heat or hot water, but a bed.
We caught a nap and headed back to the airport without a shower, shave or breakfast. Or dinner for that matter. A line had already begun for check-in even though it was only 5:30 AM. With several barricades, they created a queue line and we became part of a temporary community of stranded travelers.
It was announced that our flight would leave about 9. Our line did not move and we just stood or sat on the floor and got to know the folks around us. At 9 we were allowed to check in but that process was slow because the computers were down most of the time. Power was still out in parts of the airport causing a great deal of chaos in the place. To add to it all, most of the people who had flights the day before that had been cancelled were there to try again adding to the bedlam.
Security was another bottleneck. Once past there we headed for the gate. Linda stopped to get a couple of breakfast sandwiches, yum, yum and I went to the concourse to get to get in line.
Our plan had included a five hour layover in New York City but we were already two hours late. After boarding we waited on the tarmac for two more hours waiting for more passengers to get through the mazes and clearance to leave. We watched our original plans for a meal , walking to loosen up stiff legs and perhaps a chance to freshen up a bit at JFK wither away. A little after 11 we were in the air and getting away from eh devastation of the worst storm in over fifty years to hit the northwest.
As we flew into New York, it was obvious is was not unplugged as the lights were on all around us for miles and miles. We did have plenty of time to catch our flight for Italy, but not quite as planned. We had about an hour to get from one terminal to another and go through security once again and find our gate. It was fine though we didn’t feel at all ready for another long stretch ion a plane but we didn’t have any option .
We arrived in Rome right on time as if nothing else had happened. The only catch was that one of our bags still isn’t here. After the last couple of days that seemed inconsequential. Someone is looking for it.
One quick flight of about an hour and we were on the island of Sardinia with the kids. A short ferry ride to their place in LaMaddalena and this part of the trip was over. Two days with only airplane food, stiff from no movement, no showers but we were still welcomed here.
The kids are great and have a lovely home. We are still very excited that we made the trip and hope that the worst weather and travel experiences are behind us.
Boy, this post is getting long. I’ll write about these wonderful islands and life here next time.
Right now I need to buy some new clothes so I have another outfit until our lost bag shows up.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Getting ready to go to Italy

About 4 pm the other day we got a call from Ana. It was one of those "I'm so excited you're coming I can't sleep calls."
If it is four here that means she was rattling around the house at midnight in their home on the island of La Maddalena.
The picture at the right is their view and will be ours for the Holidays.
Our plan is to travel La Maddalena, and the Island of Sardinia. After Christmas, we will go to the mainland from Livorno through Pisa to Bologna, Then to Venice for New Years and head to Rome passing through Assisi.
We will try to keep posts here as we go, but the quality of the wine and food will determine how much time there will be for this stuff.
We will start posting early next week sometime after the 18th or 19th.
Have a great Holiday Season.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Another picture on the way to Rossland BC

Picture Postcards on the way to Rossland BC

Picture Postcards on the way to Rossland by Ernie Hawks
for the River Journal, 6 December 2006
Linda and I had just celebrated our birthdays, and a quick road trip seemed like it would be a good present to ourselves.
At the suggestion of a friend we decided on Rossland, British Columbia. I hadn’t been there for years and Linda had never been.
We traveled north up the Purcell Trench for Salmo pass. This isn’t the quickest route, but quickest wasn’t part of the plan.
At Creston we headed west through the marshland that makes up the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area. The 17,000-acre, internationally accredited wetland is home to 370 bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian and fish species. We didn’t stop to walk any of the miles of trails since all the tall grass was winter yellow and some had started to lie down.
Starting up the pass we drove through spruce, golden tamaracks, and more and more into winter. It wasn’t long before we had our first real winter driving of the year. The clouds created a ceiling but the top of the peaks around us were generally clear. At the summit is Stag Leap Provincial Park, which is over 5,200 ft. Here, next to a quiet, frozen mountain lake, is a post card perfect log cabin used as a warming hut for cross country skiers and snow boarders. I waded into the knee-deep snow, camera in hand, to get my own “post card” of the cabin.
On the west side of the pass Linda drove down the six to eight percent grades. I, with camera ready, searched for perfect pictures. The road was slick with slush, and a truck was following us when I saw several Bighorn Sheep on a talus slope above the road. As I was putting a telephoto lens on the camera, Linda maneuvered us down the hill to a turnout. After the truck passed she took us back up to the base of the slope and pulled off.
Resting the camera on the top of the car, I started shooting at rams as they butted each other, discussing who was alpha. Two stood in conflict as another blocked my view. He was checking out the guy with a camera. Just then Linda shouted, “Look, they’re about to do it.” All of a sudden all the rams in my viewfinder left and headed for a ewe who seemed to enjoy the attention. For the rams she turned out to be a tease, this time, but she still kept their focus, and ours, for an hour or so.
We gave up trying to get some “big horn porn” and started on down the hill. Ahead of us the valley was a perfect glacial trench with extremely steep slopes on both sides and a round valley floor. High up on each side were hanging valleys where smaller glaciers had once lived. I wondered how many of them held small lakes.
Leaving the valley near the town of Salmo, we headed west toward Trail. Driving through the lowlands of the Kootenays, passing small communities along the way, we came to the Columbia River. A few miles upstream we were in Trail. A huge smelter on a bench above the river dominates city center. It is the largest employer in the area; it may be keeping Trail and Rossland from becoming ghost towns. Just below the smelter we started up the hill to our destination of the day. The road between the two towns is about six miles, and the elevation gain is nearly two thousand feet.
Rossland is a quaint old mining town hanging on steep slopes just below Red Mountain Ski Resort. This small village is dotted with turn-of-the-century architecture on inclines that would thrill a skate boarder. During the tourist season a real old mine can be toured along with a mining museum.
We found a fun restaurant and pub for a meal, then wandered some of the shops before a long soak in the hot tub at our motel. We had had a good day just the way we wanted it: a three-hour drive that took eight, lots of views and time for just us.
In the morning we headed home down the Columbia River into Washington. There were many fall sights and I photographed some. While shooting a country lane lined with trees of every fall color, I needed some falling leaves. It was cold and Linda sat patiently in the car. I enlisted her to stand out of camera view and shake tree branches to encourage falling leaves. She helped Mother Nature, and I got a few shots.
A trip past Old Fort Spokane, a short shopping stop in the Spokane Valley and we were home late that afternoon.
We were relaxed by the outing and agreed we needed to get away from our home projects more. Plus, we live in a great place for a quick relaxing road trip.