When we stopped at an Autogrill, a chain restaurant on the freeway between Trieste an Milan, this was written in the no parking zone. I'm not sure if helpy is some international code (For, oh I don't know, "emergency vehicle?") or if it's the name of the eighth Disney dwarf who happens to have VIP parking privileges at Autogrills worldwide, and who happens to be their honorary goodwill ambassador... a sort of Ronald McDonald. (No, the space next to it did not say Dopey.)
If you're feeling helpy today, let me know what you think.
When in Rome
Click to enlarge.
Deborah's nephew David, the architect, likes to travel light. Rather than carry a tripod and risk losing it or forgetting it in a restaurant, he carries three kids, kind of like Sherpas. In this case, at the Roman Coliseum, it's Alexander, his oldest son who's serving as bipod. To the right in the background is Kate, mother of Alexander, the bipod.
I noticed that everyone else who had kids at the coliseum started doing this too immediately afterwards. They must have sensed that we were trend setters.
Just point and shoot.
My brother Mirko was having a little trouble with the camera I suppose. There's a spot in Pula, Croatia where people can sit - newlyweds, lovers, tourists - and take a picture in a giant picture frame that's strategically placed in the sight line of the Pula Coliseum in the background.
Sounds simple. The camera used for all the trip photos on this blog is an iPhone 4. Let's take a look.
Just to recap: This is supposed to be a blog about a trip to Italy, and then a trip to Croatia where I, for the first time, met face-to-face with my long lost half-brother.
People who'd seen the blog said it was amusing. One person said it was clever. After being encouraged by those comments, it seemed smart to let other people know about it too so that they might also be amused. So I sent out some emails.
About a hundred emails and a couple of days later, I was stunned to see that I'd sent out the wrong link. Why? I was hurrying to send it out before leaving for work and I left out a critical vowel in the web address.
What to do? Well, explaining where to insert the missing letter "e" somewhere in the 50-character-long address would probably be asking a lot of my potential readers. "I know!," (I exclaimed.) "How about I just fix it so they can go to www.antsinthesnow.com and click on the blog link?" All I have to do is take the DNS and the URL and the A-record and transfer the IP address to the new host and, voila! (Oh yeah, I don't know what half of that means.)
Well, the antsinthesnow part was a good idea, but in the process of testing the changes and experimenting with the proper numbers, I effectively erased my entire site. It didn't help that the changes in question take between 1 and 72 hours to take affect, depending on who you ask, so I wouldn't know for sure until then what the real damage was. It also doesn't help that the intended web host only has email tech support.
The solution in this case is not to default to panic mode. Rather - all the while swearing, cussing and self-flagellating - the solution is to step back and let the stew cook. So at about 6:45 tonight, I clicked on the address, and guess what? It was stew! (It didn't take quite 72 hours.)
Now I have to decide whether anything is actually better than before. (Do they have pills for people who constantly try to fix things that aren't actually broken.)
Language barrier - Part III
Sorry, this is not a capri. Just a random stock photo.
_At the freeway rest stop/restaurant in Italy on the way back to Milan:
(Lou speaks Italian to the lady behind the counter after eyeing a sandwich called a capri.)
Lou: Una capri per favore.
Lady (in English): Anything else?
Language barrier - Part II
As I said earlier, my "command" of the Croatian language is such that I can buy groceries, convert kunas to Euros at the bank, ask for directions, and say, after being urged to have more at the dinner table, "Oh that was delicious. I couldn't eat another bite." I was, as far as I was concerned, completely assimilated.
At one point, Deborah was feeling overwhelmed by guilt that we were eating and drinking everything at Mirko and Agneza's house. "We need to at least buy some beer and wine," she said. "Ask somebody where there's a store."
I stopped in front of a fellow at a sidewalk cafe who was alternately puffing on a cigarette and sipping a beer. (Sidebar: This area of Pula looked like a movie set at a Universal Studios tour with, essentially, one endless sidewalk cafe. One would expect to hear a movie director holler, "OK. Cue the pedestrians. OK, cue the Croatians. You people at the tables, make sure you have something to drink. Yes I know it's chilly out. Just pretend it's springtime.")
I asked in absolutely fluent Croatian, (I swear I did.) "Where can I find a store to buy some beer?" The smoking fellow said, in Croatian, "Well, let's see... You go here, and then you go there..." A woman walked up, I thought it was his wife. Deborah thought it was a waitress. It doesn't matter. She asked him, in Croatian, "What does he want to know?" He answered in Croatian, "He's trying to find a store to buy some beer."
She abruptly changed to English and began to explain to me where the store was. (What? Do I look like a foreigner or something?) Unfortunately, the more she explained in English, the worse it became and the less I understood where the store was, that's how "not good enough" her English was. It was actually completely lucid before when the smoking guy was explaining in Croatian.
The moral of the story: Anguished English does not trump crummy Croatian.
Reading this blog, a couple of friends had questions. One's wife asked, "Where does he find the time to do this?" The answer? "Where do people find the time to jog?" (Oh, sorry, that was a question.) Actually, insomnia plays a major part in the whole thing.
Another question from a friend near Zagreb: "I don't see a lot about your impressions of Croatia."
I think that there's a lot of anecdotal subtext about the culture in these posts; slippers, pepper on bread, soup as the first course, and so on. As far as the people in Croatia? They love their babies. They crave fellowship. They loath traffic jams. They think about the price of gasoline and about what's for dinner. Just like the USA, just like Italy too.
The land? They have trees, we have trees. They have seas, we have seas. Not much difference there. The homes? A lot more simple and "thrown-together" in the outlying areas than here. In the towns? We certainly don't seem to have the picturesque, aged and seasoned quality to our buildings as they do unless you're talking about downtown Cleveland or downtown LA. But seriously though, would you really want to live downtown Los Angeles or downtown Cleveland? Not unless you could enter and exit your cave via Batmobile.
The part of Pula, Croatia we were in seemed completely safe at night as we walked the couple of hundred yards to the hotel. But that was just one part of downtown. And muggers hate cold weather.
I know everyone's in a state of anxiety over the condition of Deborah's toe since she broke it in Pula, Croatia on November 30th during an ill-fated nocturnal trip to the bathroom.
As a public service, I plan to offer full coverage of the progress (or regress) of her ailing appendage.
In the photo on the left, you'll see the immobilization technique she's chosen, as well as the bruising at the base of toes two, three and four. The hallux, aka, the great toe, remains unaffected so she can still dial the phone with it while lying in bed... if she ever wanted to do that.
The report that accompanied the x-ray said that it was a slight break, a hairline fracture I suppose. If you're disappointed that it doesn't look broken enough, perhaps you could just Google images of broken toes.
Tomato or Tomotto?
A little thrill on the way to the airport:
We'd mapped out the route using Google Maps the night before our return home to the USA so we could find the most efficient way to get to Malpensa airport in Milan, Italy. My nephew, Boro, knew all the traps. He knew exactly where traffic would be tied up at 7:30 Thursday morning and he knew exactly how long it would take to get there.
About fifteen minutes into the drive, through fog and chilly air, he said, "It's weird that you'd be flying out of Malpensa just to get to Paris. Malpensa is mostly for international flights."
Deborah pulls out the boarding pass. "Yeah, that is weird isn't it?" she says. She looks at the boarding pass. The boarding pass says Linate airport.
"Oops," we say in unison.
Ryanair: A bus that flies
There's a lot to read about why Ryanair is weird. They charge a la carte for each and every little thing, like for online booking, for an actual suitcase, etc. Read about it on Ryanair's site.
There was even talk about them charging you to use the bathroom, and even more wacky, they were talking about having porn available on board for an extra fee. (According to an interview London's The Sun tabloid, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said that he meant on handheld devices, not on seat-back screens.)
We were having panic attacks before we left LA trying to figure out how we were going to meet the weight restrictions, deal with the fees, and so on. One of the issues, supposedly, was that you can only have one carry-on per person. What that means to you, supposedly, is that you need to wear your carry-ons. If you carry a coat instead of wearing it, it now morphs into a carry-on. (If you don't mind looking like a shoplifter, you can wear all your clothes instead of packing them.) I circumvented the whole issue by wearing cargo pants and a coat with many pockets. (sneaky)
Well, it's all talk until you get there. Everything is theoretical until you're standing in line with your ticket clenched in your hand and a bag slung over your shoulder. Fact of the matter is: It's a bus that flies. It's neat and tidy and efficient. It's for students, not-so-fussy travelers and it's for cheapskates. It's for people like me. Beware though. Your cheap $9.99 fare will end up costing you maybe $30.00 after fees. But so what? You'd pay $300 on any other airline.
Remarkably (and mercifully) the girl at the check-in desk at Ciampino Airport in Rome was delightfully attentive, polite, good spirited, forgiving, (Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent for you Boy Scouts) and good-looking. She wasn't, as various travel blogs claimed Ryanair personnel to be, disciplinarian or unflinching in their rule following. None of them were. The overall attitude seemed to be, "Let's just get there."
Once on the plane, it was clear that this was simply a bus that flies; stiff plastic seats with bright yellow highlights, but with stewardesses. It's a bus for goodness sake.
I liked it.