Thursday, February 28, 2008


Last night I attended a very special concert here in Venice. It was a youth program. So what, you say. Well, it was a mixture of Palestinian and Israeli kids! Just two weeks ago, they didnt even know each other. At the tender age of 15, they are now travelling around Italy and playing traditional and contemporary songs from their respective homelands. They played and sang about rain, the star of Bethlehem, guests and lost love. What an amazing event!

After about 40 minutes of music, there was an intermission where the audience was able to ask questions of the kids. "Will you get to continue this music when you return home?" The answer was a resounding 'No'. They said they are not allowed to socialize with each other because of the way things are, but they hope to continue their newly found friendship via email. When asked about their experiences in the last few weeks and what they think it means, one Palestinian boy obviously in the throws of puberty spoke with his squeaky voice. He said he hopes that adults will see that they can get along and that he is one of the future men of his country and will think and strive for peace because of it. An Israeli girl then said, 'it is so complicated but we really are the same'. I dont think I have heard anything more profound than that.

I cried through most of the event and all the way home. I think I was the only person crying bit I was so touched. When it was over, the woman sitting next to me commented how nice it was and it would have been really good if the music was played better. As I stared at her with my pupils dialating in anger, I thought this is how it gets messed up. What goes wrong from the time we are 15 and innocent to the time we are adults and jaded? For 10 fifteen year old kids who just met, they played better than the Philharmonic in North Korea this week. I turned and walked away from this woman before I either slapped her or said something I shouldnt.

These kids gave me hope. They have seen more terror and war and destruction than you and I will probably ever know and that is all they know. Yet, they have the willingness to keep trying. The woman here in Venice that puts this event together said it was a small step toward peace. It may look like that on the outside, but I truly think it is bigger than that.

Peace between these two countries is not going to happen because of politicians and world leaders negotiating with hopes of getting something out of it for themselves. Its not going to happen because of the terrorists and fanatics who claim to be doing for just reasons. Its not going to happen because of the religious leaders of these countries who refuse to accept the better good of their people for the sacrifice of conciliation. And its not going to happen because the media and print refuses to tell anything good or worthy that comes from these countries but yet stubbornly reports only biased, heart bleeding stories to serve their purpose of sales. Instead its going to happen because these kids (and others like them) will go back home and tell their friends and family and classmates that the 'other side' isnt really what we see on TV and what the adults are telling us. They will hopefully start a grass roots movement that will spread as they grow up and maybe in my lifetime, I will see peace and they will live in it.

I have already had a lifetime of experiences in this year and have countless times said I hope I can remember this or that or recreate the feeling of being here or there. But I know that until the day I die, I will never forget the glimmer of hope these kids have and how they were kind enough to share it with others.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Buon Compleanno

or happy birthday in english....sometime this week, 17 years ago, my best little buddy, Mr. Peabody was born! I met him when he was 8 weeks old and we have been together ever since. He is spoiled rotten, has the attitude of a crabby old man and will ensure at all costs that he has his own way. But I still love the little guy and cant imagine my year here without him. I named him Mr. Peabody after the Rocky and Bullwinkle show from my childhood...who knew what a self fulfilling prophecy that would be when I first said that I was 'his boy Sherman'!

I had some mental lapse before I moved here and thought maybe I would ship him off to a friend in Iowa to live with her, her husband and her zoo but then I came to my senses and all the paperwork came together and we are here now.

In honor of his birthday, I refilled his thyroid prescription and gave him an extra large helping of his favorite food. Oh yeah, and a few extra 'that's a good boy' comments were shared this week as well. For his part, he slept as usual and participated in what my friend calls, 'the 8 o'clock run' around the apartment!

Here's to you, Mr. Peabody!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Trip to Trieste

Yesterday, I met up with my fellow expats day trip buddies and we headed north to Trieste. Due North of Venice and on the Adriatic coast by Slovenia, Trieste has a long history and much to see. It was so much larger than I thought. I got this impression immediately when the train station looked more like an airport terminal and had a complete food/grocery store in it! Why a person would need to buy a slab of beef at the train station is beyond me, but it works for them.

We had no agenda, so started at the 'I' office (tourist information) where we somewhat patiently waited for the three people in front of us to sign their life away with the tourist card they were buying...its was such a transaction that I joked they must be signing up for the timeshare program!

With map in hand, we navigated toward the 'ancient' part of town (not to be confused with the 'old' part of town). Who knew a city could be so hilly right on the water. It was almost a 90 degree angle walk up to the church and castle (castle was closed for repairs). The mosaic inside the church was a brilliant purple and I wish I could have caught the beauty of it in the picture.
After that, we were travelling back to the bus station to catch a transfer to another castle when we passed the ruins of a colliseum--right there in the middle of the city!

On the bus, it soon became obvious to everyone that we had no idea which stop was ours to get off. Either they spoke enough English to understand us or they just saw the confusion in our faces, but before long, the entire bus was conversing about which stop to get off on, where was the best place to eat and who we should follow in order to find these things! After a while, we, the tourists, weren't really necessary because all of the locals were discussing these things amongst themselves. It was very funny and a huge treat in kindness and friendliness in a foreign town (and we all know how I love to experience that when I am away from Venice!).
We stopped to eat at a restaurant that had trees growing out the floor and through the roof and then made our way to Miramar castle which is right on the waterfront. I hear its beautiful standing on the grounds of the castle and looking at the sea lapping again the shore. The reason I say "I hear" is because we were plagued with more fog and couldnt actually see the sea. We were assured it was out there but as you can tell from the pic of me standing on the grounds with the sea in the background, it just isnt there!
Another fun day trip and more memories to stow away for those long, how summer days when I am back in Phoenix!

Sunday, February 24, 2008


It was another foggy morning in Venice and I left a bit early to snap some photos on my way to church. I got a new camera and thought this was a great time to try out some of the features. Venice is such a beautiful city in color but the detail and ambience you get from seppia and black and white is incredible.
I took these around 10am and at some points by the water, you couldnt see 10 feet in front of you. By noon when I got out of church, the worst of it had evaporated but there was still fog in the air. I guess I wont see snow this year on the gondolas like I had hoped and today I couldnt even see the gondolas!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ryan Air

I mentioned earlier this week about our airline to Malta. Ryan Air is a low cost airline but it has some features that are pretty common over here in Europe and I wanted to share them with the US folks so they know how 'lucky' we are and also what is coming our way (particularly, since I just recently heard that United is starting to charge for a second suitcase now).

So, you get this incredibly cheap flight (30 euro roundtrip to Malta) but then you are nickled and dimes to death for everything else. First, you have to pay 2-3 euros per person because you booked online (even though there isnt an office or counter where you could actually buy a ticket at the airport). You are allowed one carry on luggage but there is a weight and size limit! They require you to check in online unless you want to pay a fee for in person check in. The catch is that US Citizens cant check in online because they only accept that from EU folks. So, when you get to the airport, you have to pay the in person fee (3 euro per person per way) to check in and then send a fax with your passport and flight info to the airline so they can refund you that fee for not offering you the online option in the first place. (Dont ask because I have thought endlessly about why this is standard operating procedure and have yet to come up with a decent reason.).

But lets assume you can check in online. When doing so, you have to swear on your mothers life that your carry on is below the weight limit of 10kg (22 pounds). If you get to the airport and they weigh your carryon and its over that limit, you have to pay the fee for checked luggage (9-12 euro per bag with a size and weight limit--there are no freebies in check luggage either) PLUS an additional 4 euro fee for what I like to call, 'you lied about the weight and so we are going to penalize you' fee!

There are no seat assignments but if you want to pick a seat, you can pay an additional 3 euros per person to do so. And you can also dish out an additional 7 euros per person to have priority boarding. This means you get to go through the line first but only by a few scant minutes before the rest of the riff raff is let go...and in Venice where they are genetically incapable of forming a line, this is truly a waste of money.

Once on board, there are no freebies at all...water costs money as does that disgustingly old sandwich they offer. They even ask you for 2 euro for a scratch off ticket to try to win a car. They try to play on your heartstrings by telling you its for a childrens charity, but if you read the fine print, only a portion of the 2 euros is going to the charity.

The only thing they arent yet charging for is a fee to get off the plane once you land. I dont think this will be far behind. So, next time you board a plane in the US and complain, just remember how good you have it--at least for a short while still!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Mdina (pronounced emdeena) is really the jewel of Malta. Its an incredibly small, enclosed fortress like town with only a couple hundred people living there. Its buildings are all monochrome in color and design, the streets are as narrow as Venice (the sign in the pic shows it to only be 5 feet 6 inches wide), but the quaint feeling one gets wandering around is worth the trip.

There is a lovely cathedral there (St. Pauls) with great tomb markers all over the floor.....rows and rows of them....really impressive. We saw one with chains on it and asked for information. Turns out one of the people who was buried here about 30 years ago is being sent back home to the UK. The tombs are several layers deep with most being bishops and priests but there are a few others here. It was a bit creepy seeing the chains there to lift the marble. She (one of the 3 women buried there) was leaving in a few days and then they were going to seal up the marble again.

To prove my height, I squeezed myself into a doorway in order to show how gigantic I really am!

Although we spent just a little over an hour in Mdina, it was a great time. And considering we almost didnt go because of the rain and the thought of another bus trip, I am glad we talked ourselves into it. And I am glad I went to Malta. I am so thankful for the trips I have been able to make this year and for the experiences I have had....its a lifetime of good crammed into one year!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gozo, Malta

One day, we decided to travel over to the other island of Malta called Gozo. This was the day we waited for the bus for an hour in front of our hotel. Then it was a 45 minute bumpy ride to the other side of the island where we promptly missed the ferry to Gozo by about 5 minutes. We waited almost an hour for the next ferry. In the meantime, we ran into some scuba divers....some of them were doing their first certification dives. I wish I would have had time to go with them. Its been so long since I have done a dive and the water there looked so clear.

Finally on to Gozo, the ferry ride was about 25 minutes. We heard there was a special bakery on Gozo that makes pizzas called ftira. Our concierge at the hotel knew the owners of the bakery and called our order in for a pickup. When we landed on Gozo, we got a taxi to take us to the bakery. For 5.82 euro we got two huge pizzas! We thought we were only getting one and we also thought we entered the wrong place. This bakery was literally a room filled with a brick oven and shelves (as you can see by the pic).

With pizzas in hand (literally as they didnt have boxes to carry them in), we got back in the taxi and told him to drop us off at Ramla Bay. This is the famous beach in Gozo where the sand is orange. It truly is colored orange (even though the pics dont reflect it). With no napkins, no silverware, no drinks and no place to sit, we 'copped a squat' on a rock and dug in to the pizza. Between the two of us, we finished one. There was no cheese or sauce on the pizza but there were thinly sliced potatoes. It was good, but different. Luckily, there was a family on the beach (the only other people out there with us) and they were Americans with 2 small kids. We gave them the other pizza and the crust from the first one to the stray cats hanging around.

The taxi was supposed to pick us up at 230pm but never showed. We started walking to the ferry, which turns out was directly opposite the beach on the island--about 2 miles or so, most of it uphill. We stopped at a farm to look at the donkey and the guy invited us to get closer to Colleen, so we got some pics of her. Then we trekked on where Denise used her girl scout skills and picked lemons and oranges for us to survive the hike! I was surprised at the amount of cactus I saw fact, in all my years in the southwest, I never saw cactus planted the way it shows in the pic (do they really do that?) The wild flowers were all starting to bloom, so at least we had scenery as we walked. It was a long hike and with about 10 minutes before the ferry was leaving and no chance of making it, I threw out my thumb and hitched a ride (never done that before in my life--sorry mom and dad!) was me or the knee at that point. A nice kid who was going to meet his sister at the ferry took us the last bit and we arrived with about 2 minutes to spare.

When we arrived back at the hotel, we went directly to happy hour to celebrate our non conventional but interesting and cultural fun day in Gozo.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Buses and Balconies

There are two things that really stand out in Malta. The buses and the wooden balconies. First, the buses are a hoot. They are super old and most of them are living biological experiments! They used to be different colors to symbolize the route they were driving. I think as time went on, some of them went to bus heaven and what is left is what is driven. The streets are herrendously filled with potholes and there are no shocks left whatsoever on the bus. You get a carnival ride and a bus ride for the price of one.

As far as being on time, dont count on it. They dont always stop at every stop and sometimes they spend longer at one than the next. The fare is 47 cents for a trip (1.16 if you are crossing the island) and you pay as you step on the bus. Needless to say, it doesnt take long before you have amassed a large collection of 1 and 2 cent coins as change. The bus driver is also your cashier and when he is finished giving the last of the change, then he can drive.

One day we waited over an hour for a bus. It came by once (about 15 minutes late) but wouldnt stop because he said he was full. So then we waited for the next which should have been within a half hour but because you cant count on it, it was more like 45 minutes. After all that, I would have paid 5 euro just to get on and go somewhere!

As for the balconies, almost every home (i.e 2 story apartment) has one. Why they are made of wood and enclosed is beyond me. They arent really wide enough to have any furniture out there. Some are painted, some arent, some have peeling paint, some dont. There is a writeup I found online about it but my guidebook didnt seem to share any info, so take it for what it is worth.

Regardless of the reason, it certainly is a unique architectural design and even in its rundown state, is eyecatching.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Home from Malta

I am back. As usual, it was tons of fun. There is so much to see in this world and even when its not what you expect, its still good. And Malta was not what I expected. Because its an island and touted as a summer beach destination, I had an idea in my head. After reading the guide book, I tweaked my idea a bit. But when I showed up on the city streets, I was still surprised. Surprised, not disappointed.

Malta has a long history going back some 7,000 years according to the 'experts'. The pagan temple ruins we saw were dated some 3,500 years ago. There is a strong Arabic influence heard in the language and street names. There is also a plethora of evidence showing the some 16,000 tons of bombs that hit the island during WWII. And finally, there is a strong English influence as it was most recently under British rule up until around the 1960's. It is now an independent country and seems to live pretty harmoniously with its colorful history.

Is it another Amalfi Coast or Mexican Riviera? Absolutely not. Yes, I stayed in a 5 star hotel (for cheap) and there were several to pick from, but I got the impression that Malta is rather poor and really banking on being part of the EU and Schengen now to grow into itself.

The people are incredibly nice (which we all know is much appreciated by me after being in Venice). There is relatively no crime in the city and I think a simple handshake is better than any piece of paper for the Maltese. They are, for me, rather a small people. I passed so many men and women who were barely 5 feet tall if that. I felt like a giant!

Our hotel was great and we even got a free upgrade to a junior suite! There was a fantastic American breakfast every morning and I got my fill of 'orange' cheese (i.e. cheddar) after not having any for so long. We hung out in the spa alot with a great pool, jacuzzi and atmosphere. I have included a few pics from the hotel and view from our patio.

The airline (RyanAir) was what most of us in AZ would know to be like a SouthWest Airlines. Absolutely no frills. In fact, they dont even have a seatback pocket to put their monthly magazine in. When they announced they were going to pass out the magazine, the attendant pulled down about 5 copies. Obviously, they were all gone before crossing 2 rows...I was very amused by this cost saving measure. But they got us there on time with no issues and in the end, that is what is really important.

In the next few days, I will share some of the highlights and pictures (I actually took about 350!). In the meantime, I am back to doing some laundry and starting to prepare for my Dublin adventure in about 3 weeks! Gotta love what this world has to offer!

Monday, February 11, 2008

What to say.....

Tomorrow I leave for Malta for a few days and thought I better check in with the world one last time before I go. However, I didnt really have much to say as I have been home most of the week resting my knee. I thought I would wait until after my massage today and see if that gave me anything great to talk about (because they always do). And I was not disappointed. Another interesting day on the table.....

I had it in my mind that I was going to ask for a massage only on my back in order to alleviate any knee uprisings. But as soon as I told her I had fallen, she started asking all sorts of questions. How does one say strained PCL ligament in Italian anyway? (That is, by the way, what I have self diagnosed myself with after hours of web surfing.) Well, she was not going to have anything to do with only half a massage. She checked out my knee from top to bottom--pushing, pulling and all the time asking 'dolo?' meaning does it hurt there. When she narrowed it down, I was instructed up on the table and she went away only to come back with some brownish green mixture in a bowl. She slathered this all over my knee and then went to work on my other leg with the massage.

After a while she had made her way up to my stomach. This is still something that is foreign to me (no pun intended). And then she asked if I was sick today? I realized she has been doing a bit more than a massage. She told me she was a doctor (what that means I dont really know) and she noticed something wrong. I smiled and told her I only had one ovary (how does one say oopherectomy in Italian) and to notice the scar on my stomach. She thought I had had a kid. So, next thing you know, she is giving me the once over in the stomach/female region just as impressed as can be. 'Complimenti' she kept saying about the work done on the inside...she asked where I had the surgery and told me it is very difficult to do such things over here in Italy. It was the first time my massage gal became my ob/gyn....what a surreal moment that was.

Anyway, she finally flipped me over and started working on the back of the legs. She picked up my injured leg slightly and bent it slightly and then told me to relax! Well, that was a waste of about 10 can one relax when they dont know what is going to happen to their injured was funny...we were both laughing. I would relax and then she would move just the tiniest of bits and I would tense up again. She gave up in the end.

Then she wiped off the mask from my knee and gave me the ingredients for the concoction to make myself and I am to do it every day for an hour. It has arnica in it. I never heard of arnica till I came over here. Its very popular (along with potassium--everyone takes potassium pills--including my cat now!). When I first fell, the Italian in the room gave me some arnica and the American gave me a tylenol with codeine! After the mask was off, she slathered on like half a bottle of this arnica stuff on my knee and worked it in and told me not to shower today.

The mask worked knee truly hasnt felt this good in a long, long time. I am hoping Malta is easy to get around because I am pretty sure I am not taking arnica and the rest of the stuff with me. Worse case scenario, I can buy it over there if need be. But, I think I might have finally turned the corner in healing. And I am sure you are glad about that as well because I know I am tired of hearing myself talk about I can only imagine what you are saying! Or as my mother told me the other day with great love and conviction, 'get over it'!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Canal Work

I was out getting a bit of exercise for my knee and came across some canal work. Actually, I think they were fixing the side of building but it was so close to the canal that they had to drain it in order to complete the work. I am still fascinated at this ecosystem they call Venice.

From the pictures, hopefully you can see how much water was drained out and really how shallow the canals are in general. I dont think anyone could drown in them but rather they would probably die from the putrid mess they are sloshing around in!

Thursday, February 7, 2008


The last of my official scheduled guests has left and I think I am 'alone' for the rest of my time here in Venice. Of course, that doesnt mean I am bored...there are trips planned, organization that needs to be done for the journey home and work on getting employed once I am there. In the meantime, however, I have had lots of laundry this week.

In fact, I had 7 loads...between sheets, towels and dirty clothes, I did laundry for almost 14 hours! I actually had to stop for one day because I ran out of room of places to hang things for drying (there are very few dryers in this country). This is a such a interesting phenomenon over here. My neighbor across the way does laundry daily as it is a small family. I understand why now. If you wait until the end of the week like we do in the US, you may not be able to go out at all!

But, everything is done and clean and I am feeling accomplished. And for those of you who are wondering why I am so inefficient at laundry I have attached pics of my washing machine. Putting in 2 sheets is pushing the limit, so you can see why it takes so long. That and one load on a regular wash cycle is about 1 hour and 40 minutes. The gentle cycle comes in right at about an hour. This is one of those things that I dont think I will be missing when I return home.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pancake Dinner

Some things in life are fun just because. And one of those things is having breakfast for dinner. So when the Reverend told me that he and his wife were hosting a traditional English pancake dinner in honor of Shrove Tuesday, how could I say no?

Now, these weren't the pancakes that I know....I would probably call it more like a crepe. And the toppings werent anything you find at IHOP either! The traditional way is to squeeze lemon on it and then sprinkle a bit of sugar, roll it up and cut into tasty bitesize pieces. However, I was lucky enough to have some other Americans show up and they brought some Vermont maple syrup! Now thats good!

And turns out I really had no idea what Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday meant. Its probably a good thing that I didnt get the obvious meaning of Fat Tuesday all these years, because I dont really need the extra pounds. Basically, a time to clear out your kitchen and pantry of all the food and eat it up. Shrove Tuesday has a bit more of a religious tone to it with the idea being that you confess before you confess on Ash Wednesday....not sure I really understand that either.

I imagine back in the day Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday were one in the same and over time the original religious meaning has been distorted. Regardless of that, I was just happy to get some pancakes for dinner last night.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Last Day

Today is Shrove Tuesday (aka Fat Tuesday in America!) and marks the last day of Carnivale. For my first experience, I was not disappointed. However, I did feel it was lacking in some areas and after reading my online weekly Venice newspaper this morning, I know that I am not alone.

It seems that attendance was way down this year (which is amazing as I was walking around with all those people to think that there could actually be MORE people here). The first day attendance was down by some 70,000. There are various reasons that have already been proposed.

First, the weather. I dont buy it because I doubt that many people decide to go to Carnivale within 2 days of leaving. The weather was decent until the last few days when the rain came. Second, the world economy. This I buy. My friend, the atelier (costumer designer) told me that she didnt have a single American customer this year and that is usually a strong base in her sales. Its just too expensive right now. Third, the agenda wasnt released until a few days before. I doubt this had a huge impact but it was certainly annoying for even me. I have to chalk that up to 'Venetian time'...they are never in a hurry to do anything. The person in charge, Marco Balic, will no doubt take the brunt of the blame and for my part, I think he did a poor job on capturing the spirit of Carnivale.

I expected more traditional events and atmosphere. Instead, there were too many Halloween costumes and reggae bands around. One would hope that as Venice slowly dies it could hold on to its heritage and its proud history a bit more than it showed during Carnivale. And with this point, the Venetians and I agree.

I am glad I was here and I would like to come back another time and 'do it up right' with the full costume and ball. And I will, right after I win the lottery!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A Few More Carnivale Pics

We donned our masks and capes one last time yesterday (as it is raining all day today)....I have decided to wear the mask continuously for the next 3 months while I am still here because people move out of your way! Its like the parting of the Red Sea.....makes travelling through the masses so less stressful!