Archive | July, 2013
July 28, 2013

Dear Mom, move to Italy!

Dear Mom,

Don’t move to Bartlesville, Ok. Move to Castel Gondolfo, Italy!

There’s a reason the popes live in Italy and Shakespeare set nearly a third of his plays there. It ROCKS!

Florence is great. Rome is awe-inspiring. But the popes win the genius prize for putting the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo on the side of an ancient volcano overlooking Lake Albano. Please, Mommy, move there!

Any of the 17th century villages hugging the cliffs around Lake Albano would be fabulous. The narrow streets, shops and apartments hang on the cliffs like floral window boxes. I bought a scarf for you from a street vendor. You will look fabulous wearing it in any one of the cafes on the piazza as you sip cappuccino and nibble a tart made with tiny strawberries.

And mom, you’ll love the Woodson family which hosted us. Brady Woodson is brother of our friend Ashley Woodson in Austin. His wife Luisa grew up in Castel Gandolfo. We immediately fell in with their rhythm (I hope they would say the same) and had a great time with them and their three fabulous kids.

Can’t wait to discuss your expatriation to the Castelli Romani!

XOX, Sarah Pi

July 27, 2013

Kurt: Velletri, Italy

Rome (July 18-21, 2013)

We stayed outside Rome in the town of Velletri, with Ashley Woodson’s brother, Brady, and his family. This visit was too short – arriving on a Thursday afternoon and leaving on Saturday afternoon to catch an early flight to Batumi Georgia the next morning. We had a great time with the Woodsons. Brady and his wife Luisa have three wonderful children, all of whom we had a chance to visit with. If Nadine ever has an Italian boyfriend, I hope that he will be one of the Woodson boys.

On Friday we took the train into Rome and toured the Coliseum and nearby areas. Two things struck me about the Coliseum: First, the fact that much of it is still standing 1,933 years after it was completed (will the UT football stadium be here 2000 years from now?), and second, the huge number of people killed at the Coliseum. According to our blowhard Roman guide, many animals and criminals and sometimes as many as 50 gladiators were killed there each day. The guide said that the Romans considered the captive gladiators to be barbarians. Some might think that the real barbarians were the people who packed the Coliseum every day to watch animals and people kill each other.

We spent much of Saturday with the Woodsons around Ariccia and Castel Gandolfo, the little village where past Popes have spent several months in the summer. This region is very beautiful, has two lakes and many ruins, and is known for its roasted pork. If you have a choice to spend a romantic vacation in Paris or in Castel Gandolfo, choose Castel Gandolfo.

July 24, 2013

Dear Willie, you would love Tuscany!

Dear Willie:

You would love Tuscany. The countryside, the City of Florence, the wine, the people all made me think of you.

We stayed in the mountain village of La Valle 20 km outside of Florence. La Valle is just a cluster of houses hugging the road passing through the most glorious rolling countryside. Everyone seems to have vegetable gardens, chickens and fruit trees. La Valle has a single store by the bus stop that sells basics plus meats, cheeses and breads made on premises. Like all of Tuscany (except the tourist spots) the store hours are 7am-1pm and 4pm-7pm. I want to be an Italian!

Life slowed way down. The land, the buildings and the people were beautiful, inviting and earthy. All of Tuscany seemed to take its time and occupy space with languorous confidence.

Even Florence, a city of 400,000 people, was in no rush. The narrow streets and incredible architecture hug the Arno River and are in turn are hugged by the mountains. The city is all old stone, fountains and flowers. Even the working class neighborhoods on the edge of the city, with the newer apartments and shopping centers, were lovely. Cars were small, busses were easy and bikes were everywhere.

The people, the buildings, and even the roads and trails are part of the landscape. I read this quote from Luciano Bartolini, Mayor of Bagno a Ripoli (one of the Tuscan municipalities) in a tour book:

“…the trails along which you will walk … have been opened, marked and cleared by those same women and men who … teach us the value of slowness, of a more respectful, almost symbiotic, relationship with nature.”

Wow, what a way to live!

XOX, Your little sister

July 19, 2013

Nadine: Paris

Paris was one of those places that you never forget, in Paris we did a lot of things and one of the coolest things was going to the Eiffel Tower, we did not get to go onto the Eiffel Tower, but we did get to stand under it. There were lots of other things like The Arch de Triumph, which was a giant arch that had a lot of great sculptures on it. Another cool thing in Paris was the art museum, The Louvre, this museum had many famous paintings and sculptures in it, and one of those paintings was the Mona Lisa, the Mona Lisa was a lot smaller than you would think. There are many things in Paris that every body knows about, but there are other cool things in Paris that lots of people do not know about, like all of the restaurants, the restaurants were not always the best, but they were never the worst, they had chocolate mousse and baguettes. That is not all, they would have whole streets that were covered in stores that had every thing that you could imagine, there was even a store that was three 7 story buildings that were filled to the brim with clothes, toys, and accessories. These were all of the coolest things in in Paris, the city of love, the capital of shopping, and last but not least the city of bread.

July 16, 2013

Sarah: Paris

Paris makes me think of that Marianne Faithfull song, The Eyes of Lucy Jordan – “at the age of 37 she realized she’d never ride through Paris in in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair.” I am 48. I have now felt the warm Paris wind and, … meh.

Lucy Jordan’s Paris was about running away from her family. My Paris was about reuniting with mine after being separated from them for a month. Big cities aren’t the best places for kids. But, it was a mighty glamorous spot for our much anticipated rendezvous.

We had a lovely flat with plenty of cafes and shops nearby. The closest park had a duck pond. You couldn’t sit on the beautiful lawn surrounding the pond. Everyone was of course, until a gendarme came through blowing a shrill whistle and scooting everyone off onto the walkway. The most fun we had as a family was in the Jardin des Plantes at the Museum of Natural History, the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens. It was beautiful AND you could sit on the grass! The kids could finally run amok.

Nadine and I had a fun girls’ day of shopping in the department stores of Boulevard Haussmann (I LOVE the fact that a street is named after a famous urban planner!). We saw the stained glass ceilings of Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. We marveled at the women of Paris who all wear painfully fashionable heels and flats. Even if our course American speech hadn’t marked us as tourists, our sensible shoes would have.

On a professional note, the urban planning and transportation system of Paris is excellent. Zoning and building codes have succeeded in making the city feel ancient and modern at the same time. If the historic buildings of the Louvre can coexist with a modern glass pyramid at their center, we in Travis County can figure out how to preserve the iconic buildings of our past while accommodating the new .

Narrow neighborhood collector streets open up to grand boulevards connecting neighborhoods. Cars are small, there are lots of motorcycles, buses and bikes and bikes and bikes. Women in painfully fashionable heels even ride bikes. Paris has self-serve bike sharing and electric car sharing stands, too. Although I missed seeing Copenhagen with Kurt and the kids, I hear Paris is working on adding grade separated bike lanes like their buddies in Denmark. Will some streets be designated for bikes only?

I’m glad I saw Paris! But, we’re all happy to move on to the fresh air and rolling hills of Tuscany.

July 16, 2013

World Cup preliminary match

World Cup preliminary match outside Florence, Italy (July 14, 2013). Camelot United (Kurt and Nadine) vs. FC Mordor (Hank and Sarah).

The final score of this match is unimportant. Key moments of the match included a beautiful pass by Nadine in the first minute to nutmeg both Hank and Sarah with one pass. Hank’s soccer teammates will know that this meant 5 pushups by Hank + 5 pushups by Sarah. Perhaps the most beautiful goal was by Nadine – a left footed volley thru pine tree branches from 6 feet out. Nature also favored Cam United: the gravity on the hillside field pulled FCM’s shots and passes into the bushes and out of bounds much more frequently than it did those of Cam United. Clearly, Cam United prevailed in nearly every way. The lesson from this match: History is written by those who take the time to learn how to use the website.

July 15, 2013

Kurt: Paris

Paris (July 6-12, 2013)

Many people refer to Paris as the City of Love. I’m not sure why. Paris does have a nice pathway along the SeineRiver, fine for a romantic walk. Good wine is abundant and reasonably priced at the hundreds of restaurants with outdoor seating. And there are the Eifel Tower, a 1000’ phallic beacon visible from much of Paris, the Arc d’ Triumph, the Louvre (do Mona Lisa – if you can see her through the crowds – and Venus de Milo inspire love?) and many more impressive sites. On the other hand in one month over 1000 people lost their heads but not their hearts in the guillotine at one street corner in Paris during the Revolution. Perhaps worst of all, many Parisians live in un-air conditioned apartments requiring them to open their courtyard-facing windows when sleeping during the summer. This provides a deep knowledge of your neighbors’ lives as you listen to their personal discussions and I have to think that it dampens some professions and expressions of love. Overall, I would not rate Paris as any greater City of Love than Austin, Texas. At least in Austin, you and your love can lay a blanket down on the grass at ZilkerPark or any of the other parks and enjoy a romantic spring or fall evening. In Paris, signs forbid you to walk on many of the beautiful green grass covered parks. I have no idea where kids kick soccer balls in Paris, but it is not in the “no walking on the grass/no laying down on the grass/no kicking soccer balls on the grass” parks we saw. Although Paris does not surpass Austin as the City of Love, my stomach will confirm that Paris has available much bread superior to that found in your average HEB. There is so much good bread in Paris that it takes a day or two just to learn the names of the different loaves. Yet, I have to think that the increase in poundage/kilos resulting from the wonderful Paris bread combined with the very tasty butter outweighs whatever role the bread plays during romantic discussions over dinner in the City of Love. In addition to the bread, other impressive parts of Paris include the Museum of Natural History (thanks, Kathleen!), the botanical gardens, the subway, and the apartment boats on the Seine, along with lying down just to the side of the Eifel Tower and looking at the thousands of pieces of metal required to make it (how long does it take to repaint that thing?).

July 9, 2013

Hank: Krakow

Krakow is a great city and reminds me a lot of Austin. It has about 1,000,000 people and has a big population of about 100,000 students who are attending the many universities. My favorite thing was the Wieliczka salt mine. You could actually wipe your hands across the wall then lick them and you would taste salt. The coolest thing down in the salt mine was the underground cathedral. It is the biggest underground cathedral in the world and it was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen. They even hold masses in it. We were over 300 feet below ground in the mine. The guides showed us how the miners moved around the salt after it was mined. The miners actually had horses 300 + feet under ground to help them transport the salt. The last horse was removed in 2002 from the mine so it was fairly recent. Our apartment was on the second floor of a building that was located right on the main market square. We went to one stand in the market square where they roasted quail and had mixed vegetables, although the best thing about it was that they squeezed their own fresh orange juice.

July 8, 2013

Nadine: Poland, Wieliczka salt mine

The salt mine in Poland was very interesting and I think that it would not be as interesting if it was not so old, for the mine was started hundreds of years ago, but I do not think that the mine was only interesting for that reason, I also thought that it was interesting because you could rub your hand across the wall and then you could lick your hand and it would be salty. The mine also had wood walls that were piled a certain way, so that the mine would not collapse, which I think is very cool. When you are on the tour they give you head sets and little radios, so that you can here them clearly, the thing that I thought was cool about that, is that they worked so far under ground. They also had churches in the mine, the churches were very pretty and they had very nice art work, but the stairs were made of the salt rocks that were in the mine, and those were very slippery. When you were done with the tour, you are able to walk around a large circle in the mine that has different rooms, that you can shop, play, and eat, then when you are done with that you can go up on the lift.

July 7, 2013

Hank: Auschwitz

Concentration camps: While we were in Krakow Poland we went to two concentration camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau. They were very interesting but the first thing that I did was throw up all over a big tree in Auschwitz. It was white because I had had bad milk that morning. We saw where the prisoners stayed and where they were gassed. Unfortunately I could not focus very well due to my loss of food in the not very distant past so I cannot tell you any more.          SORRY :(
Actually I can but it will be hard. There were lots of pictures of men who survived the concentration camps all taken by the Soviets since the Nazis took no photographs. There were just a couple pictures of children and only one of the girls survived Auschwitz. The reason for this was that she had blond hair and blue eyes. The Nazis believed that anyone with these traits was part of a superior race. The symbol of Auschwitz was the arch at the main gate. “Work is liberating” it said although not one prisoner was ever set free until the Soviets arrived. The first prisoners to be confined to concentration camps were German criminals but when the Jews started to be taken the German criminals were made into “enforcers”. They beat the other prisoners to death even for not moving quite fast enough or tripping and falling on a loose stone.