Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sushi & Minecraft

We just got an apartment. We are on the second floor which is really high above.  If you count how many floors we are realy on it's 6 or 5.  The apartment is good.  There is a big bath tub, a flat screen tv, a washing machine, and a bed that turns into a couch.  The apartment was actually a big house but now they have turned it into apartments.  There is a wooden elevator that I really like and it can go up to many floors as it goes.  The guy says that the house is more than 100 years old.
We went to a comic book store and I was actually looking to buy legos but there were none because it was a comic book store.  We also went to a game store and also I bought nothing.   I was still looking for leggos.  Isabella bought Furygirl.
We walked 24,532 steps in one day.  We went on a train ride for dinner but they were closed, so we took a train back.

I spray painted a guys door, but he allowed us.  It was a metal door. I stayed up past midnight eating sushi and talking to my dad about minecraft.
 Today we are in the apartment and we are away and I am doing this blog.  We will going to a church, but tomorrow and the next day we are going to different churches. 
We are seeing about 100 churches a day. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Quick Time in Italy

We saw the wonderful wonderful ruins.  The driving was sincerely crazy. It was so crazy that everyone in Rome has to hang onto the handles because of the crazy driving.  We saw a beautiful site.  We went into the Colosseum, we had Pizza where it was invented, we climbed the leaning tower of Pisa (aka mistake Pizza). 

We walked through Pompeii where all of the buildings were damaged by the volcano that erupt.  We saw dead bodies that turned to stone.  People looked at them saying: "Wow! Is this a dead body or a statue?"
We saw a picture of a dog on the floor it was called a mosaic.  People wondered how did they even get that dog on there?  I guess it is 4000 years old.

We went inside the Sistine Chapel.  It was beautiful.  I saw Adam touching God.  It was so beautiful.  Some people they were talking about the guy that wants to cover up Michelangelo's artwork. The guy that wants to cover it up because he is an idiot and he is afraid of seeing naked bodies and sex. 
My favorite thing I saw in the Vatican was a great painting that I really liked.  It was a painting of Adam and Eve. 

We climbed inside the leaning tower of Pisa.  It was leaning both ways, the left and the right the left and the right.  When we got to the top we saw everything below. 

We went into the Michelangelo museum of unfinished Michelangelo artwork where Michelangelo did not finish his sculptures.  One was finished and it was called "The David".  His head was as big as a boulder.  His eyes were as big as baby bluebird's eggs and his feet were the size of god. 

We are now in Spain.

Monday, June 30, 2014

I don't want to talk about the boat

After we got off the boat, we took a long hike with our stupid backpacks.  We went to our cabin in iItaly at the campground.  First we picked up the car from stupid Hertz.  We had trouble getting the car from stupid Hertz because Mommy wanted to drive because Mommy does not like it when Daddy drives.  This is because one time in Mexico at Christmas time Daddy saw a guy riding a bike across the road in a poncho and big sombrero and the guy didn't exist.

So Daddy went to get the car from stupid Hertz worker (that's not his name but I don't know his name so that's what I am calling him) I plopped in the car because my backpack was killing me.  The first backpack in was Daddy's, then Mommy's, then Boo-boo's, then mine, then our daypacks full of toys, food and games and nooks.

We took the car to the campground.  I almost threw up on the way because it was making me dizzy and barfy.  I don't complain but my stomach gets barfy on windy roads.  That's why my face turned green on the pirate ship.

I took e nap before I got burpy and barfy.  My mommy and daddy woke me up and stopped at a gas station where mommy and daddy had a cup of joe and Bahboo had a coke and I had a lemon fanta.  Then we got back on the road.  And by the way dont stop at most gas stations unless you like squatting toilets.

Then we stopped at my only alive grandpa's father's town.  It was deserted because we got there at siesta time which is like nap time.  We tried to have a good place to have lunch because my family thought we would not get to the campground until past dinner time.
Mommy fixing the door of our cabin 

Then we got to the camp and after we got settled in (sort of, because we had lots of questions like: "Where were there beach bugs?"  and "Why were my parents' beds wet?") we got in our bathing suits, sat down on the porch and waited until the pool was open.
After I went to the pool, I made friends with Allie and people that speak different languages that were across from us.  Allie spoke perfect English so I could understand her a lot.  When some of the people asked me a question in their language, she could tell me what they were saying.  One of the boys said "Sai nuotare?" and Allie told me that he said "Do you know how to swim" so we said "Sí!"

We went to the beach, and to see "big cow thingies" that make mozzarella cheese.  We took a tour and we saw a guy braid cheese with one piece of cheese string.  Isn't that amazing?

Sunday, June 29, 2014


On the recommendations of our friends The Griffiths, we decided to try some "Eurocamping".  Essentially it's like an upscale KOA style camping trip.  Lacking camping gear - we chose what KOA would have called "Kamping Kabins" which were essentially tiny  concrete block structures featuring 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and kitchen.  It was too small to eat in - so the table was on the front porch.
Michelangelo contemplating his next move
Mommy losing chess to Bah-boo
Concilatory espressos after the match

After an initial trip up with a manky smell and wet mattresses (which they swapped out lickety split) It was lovely.   We spent a week with "Camping Villagio Paestum" as our home base for exploring the foot of Italy.  It was such a relaxing experience we even forwent Capri to simply sit at the beach and vegetate.

Bella and her Crimean friends learning bible stories
When we arrived, the camp was full of Ukrainian refugee children attending a church camp run by Ukrainian-Americans.  Apparently there are lots of Crimean Ukrainian's who fled to Southern Italy; enough that it got the attention of Ukranian Immigrants to the US who sponsored this camp.  Bella quickly made friends with some of the little girls (even though there was no common tongue).  Bella even went to CCD with them! 

Bella getting ready to conquer the poolThe "buttfloss" waterslide (so called because in order to go fast you had to pull your suit up into your butcrack exposing both cheeks)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Amalfi Coast Sucks

Yes it does.  We had been looking forward to seeing this famous stretch of coastline for months and months.  Only it was absolutely no fun.  Italian drivers are the worst in the world. Except maybe Indian drivers - but I could be convinced either way.  Apparently the rules of the road simply do not apply if you are Italian.  And unlike India, where they also do not apply - but traffic moves at a stately 9kph;  in Italy they do not apply at 90kph on single lane two way traffic twisty roads with a death fall into the ocean on one side and a sheer stone wall on the other.  Even if you are a lorry.  Fuck that.  It was no fun.
I have never been so happy to be stuck behind a bus in my entire life. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP

One thing that the Paestum are is famous for - and was granted DO status for - is their Mozzarella cheese.
We spent a day visiting "Tenuta Vannulo", a buffalo farm (or "Tenuta") well respected in the region.  It's all organic and, like all Mozzarella from the DOP, hand made.  The buffalo are extremely pampered - they decide when to milk themselves!
We took a tour, ate some (awesome) yoghurt and gelato, and of coarse, bought some mozzarella for the evening meal.
We actually went twice - On the first day we enquired about tours - and booked one for the following morning.  €4,00 per person.  When we showed up; the guide told us that the price had doubled because a Tedesco group had hot shown up.  WTF?  Not my problem.  They sold me a tour for  €4,00.  Why should I pay double that because some asshat German tourists did not show ("Tedesco" is a derogatory Italian term meaning essentially "German Asshat"; a German is normally an "Alemagni")

In the end the "Tedesci" did show - and it turns out that they were not German at all - but Americans living in Germany and therefore American Asshats. (although they did turn out to be OK people)

The tour was really cool - we got to see robotic self serve milking machines, a buffalo with afterbirth, and the process of hand "cutting" the Mozzarella.

I would recommend the tour - but insist on a fixed price so that if some asshat (German, American, or otherwise) does not show that your price is set.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Camping In Italy

After Montengro we came back to Dubrovnik and walked around the city walls and went to a lot of museums.  The museums were long and beautiful.  I saw paintings, treasures, gold, jewels, diamonds, sculptures and that's it. We went back to pack our stuff. 
The next day we went on a picnic at an old fort on a mountain.  We got there by a cable car.  Then we went swimming at the castle.
That night we went on a boat and slept there for 24 hours.  The boat inside looks old, new and like an airport.  There were 2 bunk beds.  I slept on top.  Mom slept on the bottom.  Isabella slept on the top and Dad slept on the bottom.  The room was small.  When someone was trying to go up the stairs on the boat they would pass out because it was so long.
We got to Italy and got a car and drove to pop’s dad’s place.  The drive was so long.  Pops dad’s place had many churches many houses and many buildings.  My ancestors were from there.

We came to the camping place.  Inside it looks so tiny and old that only a dwarf could make it.  We organized some stuff and put away our clothes and played chess.  Our neighbors are from Russia and they pray a lot and go to different churches.

We went swimming and went down a waterslide.  We went to a farm that makes milk, ice cream gelato, and cheese.  At the farm there are buffaloes.  They were on a factory and a farm.  The girl buffaloes wait in a line to get massaged and milked.   

Tonight we are going to see the ruins.  They are Greek and Roman and old.  It is called Pæstum.

I am reading the Hobbit and I like it.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Reflections on Yugoslavia

Yes I know that there is no place currently named "Yugoslavia"; but it does translate as "Land of the Southern Slav's" and that is where we went.
Tito did Croatia a great favour when he insisted that industrial development remain away from the Dalmatian coast.  This act preserved the historical city centres and look and feel of the country in a way unparalleled in Europe (except perhaps in Malta).  On the other-hand; there are huge swaths of depopulated countryside where it is obvious that farms and villages used to be that are now completely empty.
Tito did a great harm to all Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks by not changing their identity to that of "Yugoslav" rather than "Serb, Croat, and Bosniak",  The ONLY discernable difference between these people is the way they worship.  If he had called the language "Yugoslavian" instead of "Serbo-Croatian" that would have helped.   Anything to banish distinction between these 3 groups could have prevented the huge amount of bloodshed.
Not sure why they sided with the Serbs in the conflicts; as the Montenegrins speak a different language, have a different history, and in general only live next door to Serbia.  Perhaps it's that most Montenegrins (like the Serbs?) are Orthodox.
Full circle:
All of the former Yugoslavian countries have either joined or applied to join the EU.  None of them are fully integrated yet with only Montenegro using the Euro and Bosnia part of the Shengen zone.  Croatia  and Slovenia are full members, and Slovenia is both a Shengen and Eurozone country.   Once they all complete their membership, Then Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro will again be reunited.  These countries that fought so hard to be separate.  Odd how this goes full circle?

Across southern Italy to the land of my ancestors

We took the ferry from Dubrovnik to Bari.  Upon arrival in Bari we picked up a Fiat Panda Diesel.  Interesting car - with 6 forward gears.  Brings back memories of my old Firebird which had 2 forward gears (Powerglide).  Of coarse the Firebird had 455 cubic inches of displacement, and I think the Panda had 6.
The drive across the underside of the arch of the Italian boot was reminiscent of a drive through California's San Joaquin valley - if California was peppered with castles every now and again.

Once we crossed the border into Reggio Cosenza, the drive radically changed - we now were on narrow, one lane, switchbacks through a very rural landscape.  Up and down steep hills, twisting between vineyards, Blood orange orchards, and fig trees.  Other than the occasional intense sudden fear when some Italian came barreling down at us at 120kph it was a fantastic drive.

This was approaching Acri from the opposite direction that I did the last time I came in 1994 with my father - and this time we went through a series of small villages whose names I recognized from reading the civil records of Acri - birthplaces of spouses of people marrying into the Alessio clan.  Places with names like "San Giorgio Albanese" and "Finnochio".

Michelangelo and Isabella in front of the Church that their Great Grandfather Angelo Salvatore Alessio was baptized in
Once we arrived in town I did not recognize it.  The cheerful country town that my father and I had visited 20 years ago was no more.  The Acri of today is full of cinder block buildings lacking all charm.  The cetral square with church and fountain has been paved over, and the fountain has been "Facelifted" to remove all charm.

Alas the march of time.  One thing that has not changed is the view of the town as you leave to the west - this photo is almost identical to the one I took with my dad back in 1994

Monday, June 23, 2014

Croatia Summary

In Croatia the buildings looked weird because they are all different shapes than I am used to.
The people talked in Croatian and I couldn't understand a word they said because I dont speak Croatian.  Their accents if they spoke English were funny.
At night it was a bumpy bed and noisy and there were more Croatain speaking people than English speaking people.  So we read a book and about their language and we tried saying some of their words and they didn't understand us. Like "Vala" means thank you.
The food sounded different and looked different.  It sounded bad but tasted good.  I know you will think that strange but it was what happened.  I ate lots of gelato (gelato is ice cream) and I liked the one flavour: strawberry, because they made it from fresh strawberries and all the gelato we had was home made.  A tuna pizza roll is also what we had and it was delicious.  I know it sounds gross but it was actually yummy.  What was crazy about Croatia was how the city was set up and how one block away from a gelato stand was another.
It was pretty at night because it was a full moon every night.  What was cray-cray in Croatia was how small where we were was.  It was so small that almost all the shops were squashed together, and the same thing at our first apartment it was squashed together with another.  My brother and my bed was set up was very crazy because my mom and dad could not get to the toilet at night without walking over our bed.
We also went to Booznia.  There were people whose spinned around in a circle praying with a  tassel on their hat going around really fast.
We also went to Montengro.  I forgot about Montenegro.

The Bosniak Kingdom

When it came time to depart Split and head down to Dubrovnik, we decided to take the detour into Bosnia-Herzegovina and see the famous Mostar bridge.  (Another World Heritage site)

I will admit to being slightly apprehensive - not because I thought we would be targets or anything; but because I simply do not understand their recent war, nor how they can live with themselves after all that went on here in the 1990's.  I did not (and still don't) understand how they can still live side by side when just a short time ago they were being so viscous to each other.  How do you be civil to someone who was trying to kill you?  How do you refrain from smashing in the skull of the man who sent your daughter to a rape camp?  And lives next door?  And you have to see every day?  I would reckon that there is still heaps of pent up rage in these people just below the surface.
The only discernible difference between these people is what church they go to - Croats are Catholic, Serbs are Orthodox, (and I even have a hard time telling the difference between Catholic and Orthodox beliefs to be honest) and Bosniaks are Muslims.  They look the same.  The speak the same language.  They eat the same foods.  They grew up in the same villages.  As an American; it is inconceivable to me to even give a shit what church someone else goes to; never mind kill them for it.

The Croatian freeway A1A terminates at the Bosnian border - and is home to 1 of only 2 free toilets in Croatia (every other one costs 2-5kn to use).  Once across, we expected to see heaps of wreckage from the wars in the '90's - but the whole way to Mostar we couldn't tell if  a building missing a roof was missing it because it was hundreds of years old, or because it got bombed out by one group of assholes or another.  Bosnia appeared as modern and up to date as Croatia.

View from the Mostar bridge
In Mostar itself we still saw no signs of the war - all the buildings were in good repair and everyone seemed cheerful.  And it was gorgeous!  It is in a scenic gorge with medieval buildings lining the river, with a very east-meets-west feel to it.  Ottoman minarets, Venetian campanile,  Byzantine onion domes, Roman walls.  Excellent.  One thing we did notice is that one side of the river is predominately Bosniak - And they did not want to take Croatian Kuna's in payment; preferring Euros (even though the country's official currency ir the Bosnian Convertible Mark).  The other side of the river (the Croat side) had no problems taking Kunas - but did not want Serbian Dinars.

After Mostar, we drove to Blagaj - the home of the Whirling Dervishes (and yet another World Heritage site).  It was an Imram (kind of an Islamic monastery) where the Dervishes studied in nature.  The kids were bummed that they did not get to see any "Whirling" as they were fascinated that there are people who pray by spinning around.  Here we met the friendliest guy in Bosnia - He liked my Boy Scout hat because of the Fluer de Leis - it is also a symbol of the Bosniaks.

After Blagaj, we took a route to Dubrovnik through "Republika Sprska".  This is the portion of Bosnia that has an ethnic Serbian majority.  Both Bosnia and Serbia recognize it's sovereignty, but absolutely no one else does.   IT is a scary place.  Here were all the bullet hole ridden buildings and burnt out husks from the war.  Here were where the bitter losers were residing (loser is a relative term here).   While I said it was scary - we in no time felt in danger - but the tension was omnipresent.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Fishys

Last week in split I went snorkeling.  I kept swallowing sea water.  It was scary at first because all of the sea urchins were coming right at me!  I kept breathing very, very loud until I saw a clown fish.  The clown fish made me laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and so on.  We dried off and walked on the old city wall.  We were allowed to because we got tickets and there was a museum up there about boats.  I’ll talk about that in my next thing. 

We walked on the wall and it was very hot.  Then we got surprised on the wall with our neighbors from Alameda: the Beckers. 

The Ragusan Republic

Bella Relaxing in Dubrovnik's architecture
We ended our days in the Former Yugoslavia in the city of Dubrovnik, the former capital of an independent country called "The Republic of Ragusa".  This country consisted of the portion of Dalmatia south of the Bosnian access to the sea.  In it's day, it was a major maritime power, challenging the Venetians for commercial control of the Adriatic.
Today, the walled city of Dubrovnik is a World Heritage site and a fantastically beautiful place.  We had already drove up and down the Adriatic coast and seen the fantastical walled cites of Zadar, Trogrir, Split, Mostar, Kotor, and Ston, and it was certainly the most impressive of the lot.
The history of the city is fascinating - how the Ragusans (whose ruling class spoke a Latin language called "Dalmatian") played off the Ottomans against the Venetians in order to remain independent and only lost that independence to Napoleon's army.
The one unforgivable thing about Dubrovnik is the hordes of cruise ship passengers that descend upon the city daily.  Our first day here, there were 5 mega-ships in port with well over 100,000 tourists dumped into the 1 square mile of city walls.  This was repeated each day and it really, really, sucked.  I would put it up there with Yosemite for crowd induced hell.
That said, it was fantastically gorgeous, romantic (even with kids along!) and friendly.  For anyone going - the cruise ship passengers all need to depart at 16:00 for their boats - so plan accordingly.
Highlights of the city?
The Walls.  Walk the walls.  Wait until 19:00 to do so and you will be rewarded by both the absence of crowds and lack of daytime heat.
Fort Imperial.  Take the cablecar up Srđ for the best views in Yugoslavia.
Swimming at the city walls.  My kids expressed this best - and it is totally awesome to swim in the shadow of this Medieval fortress.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Moving, Move out

We saw Angelo's pirate ship and we sailed to new places and it sprinkled then rained then was pouring.  It was so pouring that everyone got seasick and my sister was turning green and throwing up.  I did not get seasick because I was reading my books in the "I Survived" series.  It was so pouring that the boat tipped over and over and over.  When we stopped, everyone got off and they were wondering what they could do.  We went to a restaurant and me and my sister split a coke.  Then when we were done, we went to a beach, where we saw a dog.  The dog loved to play with rocks and sticks a lot.  Then we got back on the ship and we all got soaked, but luckily we had lunch on the ship and we all got a little dry.  When it stopped raining we sailed and then stopped at a part of an island. The Captain stopped to get a coffee break.  When it was time to go we got back on the mainland and we all got back home.

At the next day we went to go on a hike in a big park.  First we had to drive, second we had a bus take us up,  third the bus stopped an we began to hike and cross bridges, streams and lakes.  We even saw a waterfall going down a little rabbit hole next to a tree.  Then a bunch of other people came.  It was so crowded that we could only take little steps.  The waterfalls were amazing.  First there was a river then a waterfall then a river then a waterfall again and again and again.  We walked on a bridge on top of the waterfalls while the trees in the rivers began to disintegrate.  The lakes were called Plitvice Lakes and are a world heritage site.

The baptismal in Jupiter's
The next day was regular but we got a tour guide.  He showed us the statue of the famous author "Marko Marulić".  At noon everybody goes to see the emperor in person and when the emperor comes everyone shouts a bunch of words (Avé!)  and he gives the thumbs up or thumbs down or even a thumbs in the middle.  Later on we just walked and walked and walked and I was wondering what we were going to do next.

The next day we decided to move because our apartment was so small that only a dwarf or an elf could live in there.  We drove and we drove and we drove to Bosnia.  In Bosnia there are many amazing sites.  A big bridge that a person jumped 12' or more.  The people here go to very different churches and do different prayers by putting their heads down on the floor.
They made metal plates from the shells fired at the bridge from the war in the 1990s which turned them into art.

When we arrived at our new apartment we took all of our stuff and someone was waiting for us there.  It was amazing. There is a bed next to another bed, a flat screen TV and also the doors were a little confusing actually they turn into windows.  We started to unpack and we went to the grocery store to get cereal and milk.  Theres some weird cereal called Lino.  The front of the cereal box looks like a bear on "Sesame Street".

Today we went to a different castle on top of a mountain.  There was a big giant castle with a wall on a mountain.  It was in Montenegro.

I got to go to 2 new countries; Bosnia and Montenegro.



We took a quick jaunt down to Neighboring Montenegro's Bay of Kotor, which is a World Heritage site.
The trip involved a long drive around a Fjord dominated by Tito-era construction.  It became apparent that the Montenegrins are not as prosperous as the Croatians (but more so than the Bosnians). 
While the Fjord itself was beautiful - it was the town of Kotor itself that was the highlight of the trip.  The wall here rivals that at Ston.  
Besides how striking the city of Kotor was - I do not have much to say about Montenegro except that it's not cheap.  It is worth a day trip from Dubrovnik.
SGK Enjoying an Espresso in Perast on the bay of Kotor

Tall ship on The Bay Of Kotor

Mill site just outside the walls of Kotor.  Note that the wall continues up the mountain in the background.

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