Pizza and Books on the Lower East Side

The only other time Mom and I have ventured to the Lower East Side was to go to the Tenement Museum (totally worthwhile). We had just arrived for our weekend and she expressed a desire for New York style pizza so I got on Yelp to look at reviews. One of the best loved was a place in the East Village so I called and at 7 p.m. we didn’t need a reservation.

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Pinch me. Am I in Italy or New York City?

Tramonti at 130 Saint Marks PlNew York City, NY 10009-5843 is charming and with all the people speaking Italian (diners, wait staff) we weren’t sure if we were in Italy or Manhattan. We ordered some wine from the region where the chef is from and an amazing Tramonti bruschetta. We could have satisfied ourselves with each our own order of bruschetta. But we came for pizza.

The pizza was not New York style and I was glad because it was delicious and not greasy.

We ended the meal with a bit of gelato and it was a little disappointing. We could have gone down the street to the shop that sells just marshmallows and hot chocolate. Before ordering a Lyft back to our hotel, we fossicked around the street a bit and wandered into a used bookstore that was wonderfully odd.  Ultimately, the day of travel caught up with us and we retired to our comfortable room at The Benjamin hotel in midtown. A great start for an exciting planned weekend.

Reading on the Go

Kafka’s statement, “A good book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us,” is actually something I read in David Whyte’s book The Heart Aroused whilst traveling.

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gratuitous photo of grandson reading! 

Many people travel to break open the confines of their perspective and cages of habit that can inhibit creativity. When people ask me to name times of my life when I felt most truly alive, I invariably think of times when I am abroad. So combine reading and travel and you have something powerful indeed.

First, there is reading to prepare for a trip. Before I went to Venice, Italy this year I read John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels. If I had not read this book I might not have prioritized Peggy Guggenheim’s exquisite museum. It also helped me gauge my expectations and I found myself liking Venice more for seeing it less romantically.

Second, there is reading while you are on the trip to better understand the people and culture. I am not talking about guidebooks, although they can be helpful. If you are in New Zealand, than any book by Barry Crump (whose short story inspired the wonderful movie The Hunt for the Wilderpeople) will help you understand any number of bastards* you will meet. To find those books you only need pop into an independent bookstore in the country you are visiting. My favorite in Auckland is the incomparable Unity bookstore. Or if you are going to a predominantly non-English speaking country, check out Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust To Go and take a few books with you.

Then there is reading to imagine that you are traveling when, in fact, you are not or cannot. This is the most important reading of all. In one of my favorite movies about CS Lewis, Shadowlands, Anthony Hopkins as Lewis tells a young student that we read so that know we are not alone. Yes, and we read so we don’t feel stuck. I am not brave enough to travel to the Middle East to visit the Christian holy sites, so I am reading James Martin, SJ’s Jesus, a Pilgrimage.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, we read to laugh. We laugh at cultural misunderstandings, travel mishaps, and more. The master of the travel book that will make you laugh is Bill Bryson. I laughed through The Road to Little Dribbling as I have through his other books.(The movie of A Walk in the Woods was wry and a good excuse to watch Robert Redford. Imagine being an author and having Robert Redford play you in a movie!)

What will you be reading in 2017?

*you will find “bastard” is not a shocking swear word in New Zealand, only mildly so.

Favorite 2 Experiences in Venice

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Venice (Veneto) is amazing. I should not have been surprised since everything in Italy surpassed my expectations. Nonetheless, I was prepared to find Venice overrated. Hooray. It really is special still. I say still because Venetians seem to be sure it is in decline. There are signs (literally) all over that gripe about how AirBnB is ruining Venice or about the pigeons overrunning the squares, or about the canals smelling very bad, etc. Did not experience any of it. It was overcast and rainy and I still found it uniquely, exotically beautiful.

Once I arrived I was frustrated that a work thing in London meant that I only had 28 hours in Venice. With climate change I don’t take going back to places at sea level for granted, so I had to decide what to do with my precious time. I got lots of advice from people on how to enjoy Venice to the utmost and I did more research on Venice than any other place I planned to visit on this trip. (I was bummed to find out that my visit was 2 weeks shy of the Biennale–another reason to return soon.) I bought the 24 hour pass on the water bus/airport bus. I walked a lot with my hotel umbrella and map. And I didn’t stop to eat much, preferring to eat scenery and art instead.

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TripAdvisor is my number one travel planning tool. I love how the number 1 ranked hotel is often in the mid-price range (for the location) and generally wins on service. The Hotel Moresco has slipped to #2 since I stayed there in May but you’d be a fool to miss this one. It is one of the best hotel experiences of my life.

The rooms are beautifully appointed and the location is terrific (they even have excellent instructions on how to walk there from the train station). The service from every member of staff I encountered is what made my stay A++. They have a sumptuous breakfast and generous small plates during cocktail hour (included in room stay). They even went out in search of postage stamps for me. I was so sorry to check out. How often do you say that?

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I found mooching around the Jewish Quarter rewarding. It was the only part of Venice that felt like a real (non-touristy neighborhood). I sought out the Opera House and only wished I had tickets and time for a performance.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is generally on the B list of things to do–after you’ve seen bridges, churches, squares and gondolas. I have always been intrigued with the idea of Peggy Guggenheim’s life and seeing her home gallery was a priority. More so after reading John Berendt’s wonderful travel memoir The City of Falling Angels. (Same author as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil)

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The Guggenheim Collection did not disappoint. I loved imagining what it was like to live in this villa and throw fabulous dinner parties and greet your guests arriving by boat on the Grand Canal. It must have been beyond beyond.

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The poster I bought: Metzinger’s At the Cycle Race Track

The art collection is really quite good, made better by the commentary you can listen to with headphones, or from a docent presentation. The restaurant is expensive, and good quality (not great), but the atmosphere. It allows you to extend your experience in this wonderful environment. I splurged in the gift shop buying a poster even though my walls are not bare and it is a pain to bring home. I just wanted to carry the inspiration with me.

The Collection is open daily 10-6 except Tuesdays and Christmas. It is 15Euro for an adult although check the long list of qualifying discounts. Plan to spend at least several hours to see it all.

 

Fan Favorite: Orica Greenedge

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Riders return after rest day training ride.

I went to Italy for the first time to experience a few days of the grand tour Giro d’Italia. In the process I got to meet the Orica-Greenedge cycling team on the rest day.

They are a predominantly Australian team and their team culture is laid back, friendly, serious about sport, and open to fans. We waited quite a while for the team to return from their training ride. Normally they would ride on a rest day for 1.5-2 hours but they were gone longer because the journalists from the Global Cycling Network were filming a feature on the team.

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Backstage Pass creator Dan Jones is a great raconteur.

While we waited the producer of the team’s terrific fan films, Backstage Pass, Jonesie hung out with us and regaled us with behind the scenes stories. Naturally the conversation turned to the stunning Paris-Roubaix finish by Mathew Hayman.  The Paris-Roubaix is a one-day, spring classic bike race and has a reputation as one of the most challenging. This Backstage Pass is one of their most watched of all time. You can see why.

Metzinger cyclistVenice was my last stop in Italy before flying back to London. I did a quick scan of priority stops and the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery was tops. I am walking through the gallery and I see this painting of a cyclist at the Paris-Roubaix race. Clearly at the end when he feels shattered.

 

 

Dogs of Venice

I came to Italy to view the Giro d’Italia bike race. I could not help but notice the many dogs. Italians love their pooches very much. They have more mutts than in France. I especially enjoyed the dogs of Venice. I saw all of these dogs in one long walk.

Venice is becoming a kind of National Trust like amusement park. Fewer people actually live here full time. I saw one sign that expressed one Venetian’s anger at tourists who stay at AirBnB because people are buying up homes to let out. There are still a lot of dogs!

The most popular dog in Italy appears to be the Jack Russell terrier. There were also a surprising number of Boston terriers throughout Tuscany.

Seeing all of these dogs makes me miss Lulu! I will be home soon.

 

 

 

 

How to Keep Your Sense of Humor Whilst Traveling

After 24 hours on the road it can start to become a challenge to see the lighter side of situations. I like to laugh instead of getting angry, but sometimes your nerves get frayed from crying babies keeping you awake and one too many hurdles to overcome. This is when a great travel book comes in handy. Sometimes it is enough to know that someone had it worse than you. Even sweeter, if the travel book is also full of humor.

DribblingIt was serendipitous that on the afternoon that my travel plans dissolved like sugar in hot tea, I discovered Bill Bryson has a new travel book. If you have never read Notes from a Small Island or Walk in the Woods (or any of his dozen books), then you have many great days of reading ahead. Just one warning: do not read in public because you will laugh out loud so hard you will snort embarrassingly. I had no idea that it has already been 20 years since his memoir of tramping around the UK was published. He did some more long walks to celebrate and captured his misadventures in The Road to Little Dribbling.

I was in the Gatwick airport bookstore and it was already past the 24-hour mark since I departed from Sacramento when I discovered Bill Bryson wrote a new book. My flight had already disappeared from the marquee, and I knew it had been rerouted to Pisa and was delayed 2 hours. I was going to miss dinner with my cycling fan friends but still had hopes of getting to the Villa I Barronci before midnight.

As soon as I boarded the sauna like Vueling flight and wedged myself in the middle seat, I cracked open the Bryson cure. If anything could inoculate me from grumpiness, reading Dribbling would. Sure enough before they could circulate the air in the cabin I was smiling. I did not worry about my fellow passengers noticing my mirth as they were so absorbed in their electronic gadgets that they did not even acknowledge me.

I am so glad I had taken the cure because as we stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac it began to rain in Pisa. I made friends with Janet from Cambridge, England and we helped one another figure out where to catch the bus to Florence. As she predicted, there was much faffing around before everyone collected their bags, and the airline provided us buses, and we loaded on, and they counted people and we finally began the journey to Florence.

I was punchy by the time I collapsed into a taxi at midnight and gave him the Villa’s address. I thought if my mom was with me we would have been side-sore from giggling as the GPS sent my driver on U turn after U turn. I called Jacinta my tour guide when we turned on the road to Rome. Once she put us in touch with Leonard from reception to speak to my driver in Italian, we course corrected and arrived about 30 minutes after we should have. The driver took 20 Euros off the bill, which was very decent of him.

Leonard was handsome and welcoming and made more attractive by bringing me a plate of Italian ham and cheese with bread. My room is so comfortable and this morning I discovered the views just shout “Tuscany!”

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View from the gate of the Villa I Barronci.

We cannot control very much when we travel. We do get to choose our attitude. I am so glad Mr. Bryson gave me a much needed assist so I could see the brighter side of the situation.

Super Travel Shoes: allbirds

I just finished canvassing for Sacramento Mayoral candidate Darrell Steinberg. It meant walking door-to-door for over 6 hours with a few breaks for coffee and lunch. In the past I might have worn running shoes, but on my Australia adventure I got sore feet. So I started a search for better travel shoes.

I saw an ad for allbirds–a shoe made with New Zealand wool–and ordered a pair. I loved the packaging.IMG_9480

I started wearing them and they were instantly comfortable. There was no awkward break in period.

IMG_9481Today was the real test. I walked all day on pavement and while my feet are not singing they are not barking either.  I am excited to take them to Italy in May.

IMG_9482They are just funky enough to be stylish.