31 December 2012

Volcano National Park

Today, we slept in a little bit and got a late start.  It was 11am by the time we hit the trail, but we made up for it with a 6.5 mile hike.  We started out at the visitor center of Volcano National Park, where we walked along the rim of the Kilauea Caldera, a huge depression that houses Halema'uma'u crater, one of the active volcanos in the park. Because of eruption and activity, much of the caldera was off-limits for hiking. Here's Halema'uma'u smoldering in the distance:

Along part of the ridge hike, we walked along what used to be a two-lane road encircling the caldera, until some volcanic activity in the '80s destroyed part of the road.  Now the road is pedestrian-only, and you can see how nature is slowly reclaiming it:

The middle section of the hike was around and through Kilauea Iki Crater, which had lots of steam vents and lava ridges.  Part of the hike went right through the crater:

After that hike, we grabbed a quick lunch of some quiche before beginning a drive down Chain of Craters Road, which is a 40-mile round-trip road down from the caldera to the coast. Along the way, you pass a bunch of craters of varying states of awesomeness. Towards the end, when the coast is in sight, there's a pull out where you can have your mind blown by the vastness of the lava fields:

Also towards the coast is a hike into the lava fields to see some of the petroglyphs that the ancient Hawaiians made.  Not much is known about these carvings, except that one set of them were used as repositories for umbilical cords. 

When we got to the end of the road, the sky had cleared, the sun was setting, and it was beautiful.

After we reached the end of the road, we parked the car and continued on foot down the road. The Chain of Craters Road has been rerouted a number of times because of lava flows (the Ranger Station down there is a mobile home so it can be easily moved), and at the end of the road we reached a section where the lava had completely covered the street. All that was left was this forlorn sign:

After a long day of hiking, we were pooped! Thai for dinner, then home to chill out and go to bed early. Happy New Year to all of you out there!

Kona to Volcano Village

I hit the gym for a morning workout, and it felt good to move again (too much sloth on the days after Christmas!). S had booked us a couples massage at the spa at the hotel, and we were treated to an amazing hour of massage on a balcony where we could feel the ocean breezes and hear the waves smashing against the lava rocks. Wow!

After the massage, we checked out of the resort (Aloha, Sheraton), grabbed a disappointing breakfast at  a highly-reputed coffee shop, and continued down to the Place of Refuge:

The Place of Refuge is one of a handful of spots on the Hawaiian Islands where commoners who had committed crimes (most of which were punishable by death) could be absolved of their transgressions and reaccepted into society. This PoR is one of the most well-known, and because it's run by the National Park Service, it's one of the most well-maintained. There were lots of recreations of structures, historical points, and plenty of beautiful shorelines.  S and I spent quite a while waiting for a turtle to pose for us.

After the Place of Refuge, we jumped back in the car for the journey south. Our next stop was at the southern-most point in the United States (suck on THAT, Florida!). The point was a 12-mile detour off the rainy highway down a one-lane road, at the end of which you end at a cliff where fishermen have dropped lines into the water. Despite the warnings about how strong the current is, people were jumping off the cliff and into the water, swimming madly for the ladder once they came up for air. S and I estimate the drop was about 25 or 30 feet. S wouldn't let me jump. Sad face.

After watching a couple of jumpers go down and come back up, S and I left them for the last half-mile walk down a dirt road (again, note the changes in climate)...

to the southern-most point of the USA. S stands with her hands raised, the only thing preventing her from a current-driven trip to Antarctica being her sure footing on those lava rocks.

From there, we jumped back in the car, back to the rainy highway, and on to one of the few remaining black-sand beaches. Black-sand beaches are formed when cold water shatters hot lava. As the beach naturally erodes, the sand is washed away, so all black-sand beaches have a definite life-span. This beach was lovely, full of solitude. We made it to the beach just after sundown with enough time to wander for 20 minutes or so. Again, turtles!  Here's a shot of S lining up a photograph: 

After the beach, we hopped back in the car, drove through more rainy highway, and got to Volcano Village just in time to grab dinner (not as impressive as last night, but still quite good). Our b&b here in VV is exquisite - spacious, cozy, well-appointed, and very convenient to Volcano National Park, where we'll spend tomorrow!

30 December 2012

Whales and more!

Up at 5 this morning to get a little bit of exercise in. S and I were out the door by 6.15 to get to the whale-watching boat by 7. We were at the top of the waiting list, and thankfully, we were able to board. The boat was captained by Dan McSweeny, a very knowledgable whale-ologist. As he piloted us north of the harbor along the coast past the airport, he talked about whale history, psychology, family practice, study, and behavior. But it wasn't until we were on our way back to the harbor that we finally spotted  a pair of humpbacks.  Here's a tail:

We were back at the harbor by 10am, and we headed north along Rt. 19 (Queen K. Highway). We had no specific stops in mind - just a direction to wander. Our first stop ended up being a pull-out on the side of the road, which led to a hike through an arid desert/lava wasteland before we got to the beach. Here's some wasteland:

The beach was called Kiholo Bay and featured some preserved fishponds and some lovely vistas. From there, we walked south to the Queen's Bath, a spring-fed natural pool buried in rocks. I dipped my legs in, but it was too cold to fully submerge myself. Along the beach between the two sites, we passed Bali House, a genuine Balinese house that was broken down and moved here a long time ago. It's privately owned, so we just shot it from the outside:

After checking out the Queen's Bath, we returned along a 4WD road. Note how dramatically different the environment is! The Bali House photo and the ones below and above it are less than a mile apart:

Back in the car, we drove north along the west coast highway, stopping for a yummy fish and salad (and mai tai) lunch.  We continued north to the sleepy artsy town of Hawi, where I bought a ukelele and S hoped to pick up some fudge. The fudge, however, was being snacked on by centipedes (or some other gazillion-legged creature). Gross. When we pointed it out to the clerk, she just shrugged and said 'that's Hawaii for you!' Grosser.

Up and over the northern tip of Hawaii to the end of Route 270. It ends at a sudden dead end at a vista overlooking Pololu Beach. There's a hike down to the beach. We only did the first half, as the light was waning and I had worn the wrong shoes (blisters). The beach is full of black sand and rocks, and the surf is heavy (swimming is not recommended). Dig:

Back in the car, retracing our steps to Hawi, where we turned south on Route 250 and into the mountains. A little way up the hills we stopped the car and looked north, where we could see Maui way in the distance. You can see it here (behind the clouds):

Check out the green grass also - we were about 2500 feet above sea level, and for this part of the drive, we passed verdant fields rotten with cattle. And rain!

Back to the coast, we made it to A Bay to catch the sunset. It wasn't as spectacular as we had hoped, but it was still pretty damn great.

Dinner was at a great restaurant called Holuakoa Cafe. The food was exceptional - S had gnocchi with pumpkin, and I had seared ahi with lemon/bacon risotto. To drink, a margarita with rainwater limeade!  Yum

28 December 2012

Holidays & Kona

It's the end of the year.  I dropped the ball on keeping up posts recently, but here's what's been happening.  Once classes ended, I had two weeks of steady work at home and the U. Grading papers, prepping for new classes, reviewing applications for the committee I'm chairing.  S had plenty of work to do for Glee, so we both stayed busy. We had a few holiday events to take part in (including seeing the LA Gay Men's Chorus's Holiday Show), but mostly, we worked and worked until we left LA on 23 December.

From LA, we flew to Virginia Beach, where we spent Christmas with my family. It was the first time in quite a few years where all of the kids of my generation were together, and we celebrated with a photo:

We had a terrific time seeing family and friends. S got to meet cousin J's girlfriend R, and on the night of the 26th, S, D, and I went to visit one of my great friends from when I was a kid.  K and his wife W threw us a nice dinner, and we got to see some of his family as well.  Was great!

On Thursday evening, S and I got back on a plane to fly back to LAX via ORD. Our flight before Christmas was uneventful, so we had built up some bad karma that came back to haunt us in ORD. At any rate, we landed at LAX two hours late (12.30am instead of 10.30pm). We hurried home to finish packing our new bags and get about 90 minutes of sleep before zipping back to LAX for a morning fight to Hawaii.  That flight was truly uneventful, and we're now spending our first of seven nights on the Big Island.

We flew into Kona today and picked up the rental car. A woman in the Avis line ahead of us was trying to find a rental car, but she hadn't made a reservation. No such luck. She was trying all of the car companies, but no one had a vehicle for her. Fortunately, we made reservations, so our car was waiting for us.

We were too early to check into the hotel, so we drove into Kona for lunch (pork sandwich, cheeseburger) and drinks (a mai tai for me), a bit of culture (the Governor's Palace in Kona), and some browsing (I might come home with a ukelele...). The Governor's Palace was small, but it was well-appointed with historical artifacts and attended by knowledgable docents. Our guide did an excellent job telling us all about the building and the people who lived in it and visited it.  Kona itself, at least the parts we saw, were very touristy and less exciting for me.  We found a neat farmer's market and have made some mental notes of things we want to bring home with us: musical instruments, mango tea, eucalyptus honey, volcanic sea salt.

We checked into the hotel late in the afternoon and spent the rest of the night chilling out and exploring the resort. The Sheraton resort is huge, with a massive pool structure, multiple restaurants, game room, spa, gym, tennis courts, basketball courts, manta-viewing platform, and a sports equipment shop. We grabbed a quick bite at one of the restaurants and were back in the hotel room by 9, pooped.

Tomorrow, we hope to catch up with a whale-watching tour. The tour was sold out, but the guide told us over the phone that the early tour usually has no-shows.  If that's the case, then we'll be able to jump on the tour and hopefully see some whales!  More tomorrow.

30 November 2012

LA Night Walk - Photo Safari

Colbert and I took a walk last night in downtown LA, taking photos and looking at things. We snapped photos along the way, but I was generally disappointed with what I shot. I think I need to work more on my night photography. You can click the image to see the collection...

26 November 2012

A Guide to Gift-Giving for Long-Distance Givers

For the past few years, I've been editing and reposting this as the holiday season starts.  Here goes!

I live far away from much of my family, as does my wife and many of our friends (here in LA, most of us are transplants from elsewhere in the country).   Every January, as the holidays wind down, I hear lots of stories about gift-giving gone awry due to the great distance between gifter and giftee.  Of course, the gifts are given with generosity of spirit and magnanimity of soul, but despite the best intentions, the process of giving and receiving can often cause stress and duress.  I hope that I can mitigate some of that stress by compiling a small collection of guidelines for long-distance gift-giving.  Follow these guidelines, and the gift-giving-and-receiving process will be more focused on the spirit of the season and less on the stress of commerce and retail.

  • If the recipient will be flying, avoid giving large gifts.  No microwaves, no cases of wine, no bulky sports equipment.  If you want to give something that’s sizable, consider giving them a photograph to open in person. Then, ship the gift to wherever they live. 
  • Unless you are absolutely sure of the recipient’s taste and size, make sure you give gifts that the recipient can return in THEIR hometown, not yours.  National chains (Macy’s, Target, etc.) allow you to buy at one store and return at another.  Or, perhaps there are local boutiques in your recipient’s hometown that you can shop via the internet?
  • Even if the recipient is visiting you, restrain from buying from local boutique in your hometown. If the gift doesn’t work out, your recipient will need to spend time during their visit returning the gifts instead of spending time with you.
  • Are you shipping a gift?  Confirm the shipping address with the recipient.  Many people have different addresses for receiving letters and packages, and if you send packages to a mailbox, they can often end up disappearing.
  • Are you buying for children (grandkids, neices, nephews, etc.)?  Avoid the desire to buy every cute outfit and stuffed animal you see, and instead, focus on gifts that are meaningful.  Ask the child’s parents for great gift ideas.  Says pal Lael Logan:  Many of us are trying to give our kids the joy and excitement of presents while also balancing it with teaching the "true" meaning of this time. Perhaps you could take the kids on a special holiday outing instead - to see Santa, or ride a train - creating traditions and memories is how we'd like to teach our kids about this season.”
  • Can’t think of a good gift for someone?  Consider making a donation.  It’s a terrific way to give something with meaning for more than just your recipient, and it’s very convenient for weary travelers.  Says friend Katherine Resch: “We're doing that for the adults on my side of the family this year, and we're having a lot of fun choosing a charity that will be personal to each family unit.”
  • Don’t give crap.  Are you sending your loved one a candy-cane filled with M&Ms?  A bobblehead Santa?  If so, consider just abandoning the gift altogether.  Maybe just send a card, or a gift certificate, which brings me to my last guideline:
  • Gift cards, gift certificates, and cash are always welcome, though they’re admittedly impersonal.  You can make them less impersonal by buying a gift card for a specific store that’s local to the recipient.  Was there a boutique that you discovered the last time you visited your sister?  Buy her a gift card for that place, and when she calls to thank you for the gift, you can have a nice time remembering your trip.  See!  Much nicer than a boring sweater from Macy’s.

These guidelines are assembled from my experiences as a long-distance giver and receiver, and those of my friends.  If you’ve got any additional guidelines, feel free to post them to the bottom of this note, and next year, when I repost, I’ll try to include some of them!

05 November 2012

Bitters: bottled and ready

At long last, the two batches of bitters are done a bottled! Tonight, after getting home, I did a final skim & strain of the bitters (leaving some of the heavy ashy solids behind). Then, I funneled the bitters into some bottles that I bought and washed. I ran off quick labels and snapped this photo before I called it a night.

While I was pouring, I was also smelling and doing a little tasting. Here are some initial thoughts:

The Coffee Pecan is nice. Thick and opaque in color, round in flavor. Heavier on the coffee than the pecans, but not overly so.  I suspect I'll add more pecans next time (or toast them more lightly than I did this time).  The Charred Cedar is very clear - it looks just like regular bourbon, but it has a very strong nose.  Much less 'charred' than 'cedar.'  I haven't tasted it yet. I guess I'll need to do that soon...

26 October 2012

Bitters: strain and boil

After two weeks of daily shakings, it was time to open the jars of bitters. With each jar, the process was the same: strain the solids out of the liquid, add the solids to a pan of water, and boil.  The pots are cooling now, and when they cool completely, I'll put them in two more jars for a week of sitting and filtering.

The charred cedar jar smelled more like cedar than char when I opened it today, and while I was filtering it, the cheesecloth grew black and gunky with the ash from the char. I suspect that when I finish this process and get rid of the wood, the charred aroma will take primacy over the cedar.

The coffee pecan bitters smell amazing!  More like coffee than pecans, actually.  I suspect that is because coffee has more of a natural aroma than pecans, but once I throw the solids away and am just smelling whatever has seeped into the whiskey, the aromas will balance out.

12 October 2012

Chop de Wood

My precaution got the better of me tonight when I got home from work, and I pulled out the long pieces of charred wood and chopped them smaller.  It didn't seem to make a difference in terms of how much wood was covered by whiskey, but at least it made me feel better.

After reviewing the recipe, I'm confused at how it's all supposed to go together. That much charred wood, plus other dried herbs, only covered in two cups of bourbon? Seems highly unlikely.

This is my skeptical face.

Then again, I tripled the amount of whiskey and still only cover half of the wood.  Maybe I'm doing something wrong?

Bitters: a side project

I like cocktails. Whiskey drinks, mostly. Bourbons, ryes.  Manhattans, Old Fashioneds. Sazeracs.  Knowing my affection for booze concoctions, S gave me a book on bitters for my birthday. The book is divided into three sections: part I is a history of the bitters, a discussion of the social impact of bitters, and a survey of the more significant bitters, both historically and current.  Part III is a collection of recipes for cocktails and foodstuffs that can be made (or enhanced) with bitters.  The middle section of the book contains some discussion of barware, equipment, and a number of recipes for bitters themselves. There are perhaps a half-dozen recipes, each with a complex list of unusual ingredients (cassia? wild cherry bark?) and an alchemical creation process (store in dark place. shake daily. repeat for two weeks. filter. boil.).

Over the past few days, I’ve motored around LA collecting the ingredients and materials needed to make a couple of these recipes. I also cut and dried some orange peels (they're downstage center in the photo).  Here’s everything, nicely laid out and ready to get made:

Bet you can't identify everything!

I chose two recipes to start with: Charred Cedar Bitters and Coffee and Pecan Bitters.  The basic process to make each is basically the same: combine ingredients and booze, let sit, shake daily, filter, boil, refilter, skim. Today, we combine ingredients.

The Book
I ran into some trouble yesterday when the shop I went to for herbs didn't have wild cherry bark. This was the second shop I tried, so I punted and thought I'd combine a few different herbs as a substitution.

This morning, I got up early to fire up the grill and char the cedar planks. Once those were cooled, I scraped off the ash and broke them into pieces. Into the jars went spices, herbs, peels, wood, beans, nibs, and nuts. Then, the bourbon!  You need to add a high-proof bourbon so that it can soak up the flavor without losing too much potency.

Here are the jars, ready to go:

So, moving forward, I have two concerns.  The first is that the cedar chips are not fully immersed in the whiskey.  In fact, I've had to triple the suggested amount of whiskey in the cedar chips jar, and there's still a lot of wood sticking up. I may go back after a few days and cut the wood smaller so that it can be fully immersed in the boozy boozy goodness.  The second is whether the bitters will be useful without the wild cherry bark (my guess is it will).  Stay tuned!

21 September 2012

Thank you, Endeavour

After millions of miles flown, the Space Shuttle Endeavour took a victory lap around LA before landing at LAX. Fortunately, I had some time this morning to catch it, so I went out with a friend and shot it over Griffith Observatory.  Here are my shots (click here to see a slideshow):

12 September 2012

the summer is winding down...

Soon, it's back to school time for me!  UCI starts classes late, so still have a few weeks left before I have to get back in the classroom mode.  In the meantime, I've been spending most of my time working from home on a couple of big projects:

  • A new class, The Rock'n'Roll Spectacle Show, at UCI, which I'll be teaching in the Winter Term. The class tracks the design of rock and roll shows from the late '60s through to the present day.  We'll be looking at key players, key concepts, and key technological advances. It's a lot of work, and I've been trying to watch one concert DVD a day every Monday-Friday since late July. I started with The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and have gotten as current as Genesis in 2007. I'm backtracking a bit now - today I watched the Talking Heads in 1983. Along the way I've also conducted interviews, and I've been reading a LOT of back issues of Live Design and Lighting & Sound America magazines.
  • Directing/Producing The Radio Plays at UCI. We're doing three plays in one night this year as an experiment in theatre without a visual element. All acting and sound design. I'm producing the whole event and directing two of the plays.
  • BUILD at The Geffen Theatre and VENUS IN FUR at Theaterworks Hartford both started rehearsal this week.
  • After a long period of planning and chasing paper tigers, I finally have a new professional website for work-related things. Check me out here.  The site also has a blog, which I'll be using for professional posts.  So, that makes three blogs: this one for my personal life, this one for my freelancer life, and this one for my UCI work (the entire UCI sound design program has access to this one).  It's a lot to keep track of, but it's important for me to keep these parts of my life somewhat separate.

09 August 2012

A week in the far east

One thing I'm learning about my blogging habits is that I don't blog much when I'm at home. Traveling is when I write. Maybe because I end up with more time to reflect when I travel. Or maybe because I want to create a record of what I do when traveling. Anyhow.

Last week, I took off for a weeklong trip to the east coast. First stop was New York, where I spent a few days meeting for a couple of projects, seeing friends, and seeing a few shows. I saw Sleep No More and Peter and the Starcatcher, both of which were terrific. On Sunday, I saw a bunch of old college friends at the wedding of Ben and Phoebe. They had a terrific wedding in Brooklyn, and we had a great time celebrating with them!

On Monday, I flew down to Virginia Beach for a few days. I was m birthday, and I was glad I got to have dinner with my parents, grandmother, Aunt Laura and Uncle Tom, and awesome Aunt Shirley. Then, a few relaxing days in VB. I spent some time hanging out with my parents, meeting one of my oldest friends for a drink, and watching the Olympics.

Today, after a morning run, we met Mom-Mom and Aunt Laura for lunch and then zipped over to the airport to get me on my way. The flights were a mess. First, the flight out of Norfolk was a little overweight and overfueled, so we sat on the tarmac for ten minutes and burned a couple hundred pounds of fuel The plane to Detroit didn't have fans that worked, so I sat in a pool of sweat the whole flight. Once we got to Detroit, we were late getting off the plane and entered an airport full of running people. I have never seen so many people running through the airport - it was chaos. Boarding the plane, the gate agent decided to start checking our carryon bags, so I had to check my bag, despite the fact that there was plenty of space in the overhead bins Once we were on the panel and, with the doors shut and the safety moving run, the captain decided to reopen the doors to let more passengers in.

So, now we're high in the sky, I'm watching Olympics and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight.

07 July 2012

So Long, Italia!

Woke up today to say farewell to Italia. We checked out of the villa in Civenna and hopped a shuttle into Milano. Once we got into Milano, we discovered that the auto shop that has our old rental van (and hence the missing things - including my ipad) was not in Milano as previously thought, but was actually back closer to where we had been staying. As it turns out, the shuttle almost drove right past the location. So, we visited the concierge desk at the hotel. The concierge told us that there was no train to the town where my stuff was, but that if we went up to a town close to there, the shop would send a driver with our stuff. So, C & I hopped a subway to the train station, a commuter train to Inverigo, where we met the driver, got the GPS power supply and my ipad back (but no GPS windshield mount), tipped him handsomely, and then hopped back the return train to Milano (total time in Inverigo was approximately 10 minutes), then back on the subway, and then to a bar for some campari & sodas. I'm glad to have the ipad back, even if it turned into a huge hassle.

Once back at the hotel, I got a few minutes to myself before it was time to gather for dinner. Time enough to load up the ipad with movies & tv shows for the flight, check/sort/filter email, make a to-do list for work for the flight, and catch my breath before dinner

Dinner was amazing - a terrific end to this trip. We went to a restaurant called Alba D'Oro and feasted on an exceptional selection of Tuscan foods: salumi, lardo, cheese, ravioli, tomato & bread soup (note for later: 1.5k tomato, 200g bread sans crust, garlic, salt, pepper, squeeze, no seeds, process), risotto with octopus, rabbit, steak, swordfish, breads… yum! I ordered the wine, and C loved it - turns out it was a 15E bottle of house red! We all ate supremely well, and the chef invited B & I into the kitchen for a look and a talk. Awesome.

And so ends our European trip. Tomorrow we catch a 7am shuttle to the airport, then to Frankfort, and then to LAX. S and I had a blast on this trip - thanks to our friends and family who traveled with us, including Eli, C & E, and A, B, C, & D. Thanks to all of the new friends we made, particularly in Romania! Thanks to the people who recommended things we did and the people who will patronize the places we recommend. Thanks for UCI & National Theatre of Romania for getting me to Yurp early, and to S's family for keeping us in Yurp late. S & I are looking forward to going home and sleeping in our bed, but we'll bring great memories with us.

Couples Day

Friday was earmarked as a couples day, so B & A did their thing (a quick shopping trip to Lenno), C & D did their thing (a walk in Menaggio), and S & I went back to Como. We got into town at about noon from the high-speed ferry and wandered town a bit. We had a small agenda: find three shops (Olivetum for foodstuffs, Cioccolaria for chocolate yumminess, and Tesitura for discount silk products), get lunch, and hit the Volta Temple.

First, lunch! We wandered town looking for a good place to eat (criteria: no english menu, reasonable prices, preferable outdoor seating), but got caught in a summer squall that stranded us in a shop that offered lunch. We ended up eating a meal that was unmemorable. If we hadn't gotten caught in the squall, we would have kept walking, but sometimes the universe forces a decision. S had lame gnocchi, and I had an uneventful salad with tuna and corn.

Second, shopping. It was moderately successful.  We bought a few vinegars (honey, orange) at Olivetum. Cioccolaria was less chocolate emporium and more coffeeshop, so we kept moving. Tesitura was shut down and gutted, so that was a bust.

Third, Volta Temple. Como is the hometown of Alessandro Volta, the scientist who made remarkable discoveries about electricity. The city is very proud of this, and along the waterfront, they've built a lovely memorial/museum to him and his work. We went inside and got to see some of his original custom-built equipment (some of the pieces were recreations of pieces that were lost in an 1899 fire). There were gas measurement devices, electricity measurement devices, dead frogs, batteries, medals, metals, plaques, and at least five portraits of Volta demonstrating an experiment for Napoleon. 

After the Volta Temple, we discovered a WWII memorial in the same park. The memorial was divided into three sections, which I think must represent the three prime countries of the Axis powers. Inscribed in many languages throughout the memorial were portions of letters written by civilian victims. Each European country was represented in the quotations, from Holland to Bulgaria, and one specific quotation to represent the jews in the holocaust. It was very moving.

Five hours after arriving in Como, we had to hop our highspeed boat back to Bellagio, where we met up with the others and had dinner at a local restaurant. C & I drank all the wine, and then we returned to the villa to pack up.

05 July 2012

What's the difference between a food stand and a market?

I woke this morning at 6.30 for a run, but the weather was so beautiful that I knew we'd be going out on our hike. I didn't want to wear myself out before the hike, so instead of running, I headed to the main piazza in Civenna to record the church bell sounding 7:00. Civenna is a tiny town, and he piazza is little more than a 30'x30' bricked-over square right next to the bus stop. There's a church on one side, a newsstand on one side, a parking lot/bus stop on one side, and mainstream on the other side (with the local cafe right across the street). It's lovely, but it isn't big, and if you had thoughts of a huge Piazza Navonna-style space, you'd be wrong.

Then, back to the villa for a little bit of work. Between the busy spring and the past few weeks of traveling, I've gotten behind on a number of projects, and I've got a lot on my plate next week.  I'm trying to get a jump start on it now by getting some emails sent out, organizing my to-do list, etc. I'm not looking forward to jumping back into work, but as Dad likes to say, 'there's a time to play, and a time to pay.'

Today was earmarked for a hiking day, but owing to a couple of out-of-commissions, we decided to forgo the hike. D, B, & I went into Bellagio and then to Tremezzo in search of a market. Unfortunately, the market in Tremezzo was even more anticlimactic than the market in Varenna - there were TWO trucks, one produce and one cheese. Neither useful for us. So, back to Bellagio for lunch (an awesome prix fixe fish meal!) and then back to Civenna.

After the storms, the skies were clear.

Tremezzo has more beautiful alleys. Lame.

Back in Civenna, people were in different states of slack. S was still in bed, C was swimming, and A was reading. We joined in and made an afternoon of sloth. Also, we went to the market for ingredients for tonight's dinner: roast pork, cannellini with prosciutto, salad, and cheeses. Yum! For dessert, some gelato… and some wine!

Tomorrow's our last day in Civenna, and it's been earmarked as a couple's day.  S & I have yet to make plans… thoughts?

04 July 2012

Varenna, Bellagio, and a swim

S & I cooked breakfast this morning - scrambled eggs with garden rosemary and local cheese - yum!  A prepped a fruit salad, and C got some pastries from the local shop. We ate and scooted out the door in order to make it down to Bellagio in time to catch our ferry across to Varenna, another freaking beautiful town with gardens and walks. 

On the ferry to Varenno.

Oh, how cute! A small harbor!

More pretty gardens. Le sigh.

C had read that there was an awesome market in Varenna on Wednesdays, but when we got there, the 'market' was two food trucks and four clothing trucks. Hardly a market made. Still, Varenna was beautiful - we wandered through town, checking out one of the formal gardens on the edge of the community. Then, back on the boat to Bellagio!

Our first stop in Bellagio was lunch. Since we're car-free here in Italia, the last bus to Civenna is at 6.35pm, and there's no reliable restaurant open in Civenna, we've taken to using lunch as our big meal, and snacking in the evening. On Monday, we tried to go to a restaurant in Bellagio called Bilacus (which came highly recommended), but it (and most restaurants) shut their doors in mid-afternoon, which is when we were trying to eat. So, today, we planned better and got to Bilacus during the lunch period. It was awesome. We started with prosciutto and melon, then we split a few pastas: a parmesan risotto and a panzarotti, which is like a crepe with ricotta and jam, rolled, coated in red sauce and then topped with mozzarella. The main courses were a little more confusing. C had sea bass, D had salmon, S & A ordered scallops, and B & I ordered perch (locally caught in Lake Como).  Except that for S & A, their dishes weren't scallops. They were 'escallops,' which apparently means scallops of veal. So, when the food arrived, there was a lot of shuffling and reshuffling to be done. Still, it was all very tasty.

After lunch, we walked to the northernmost tip of Bellagio, which is right at the tip of the triangle that separates the two lower branches of Lake Como. Then, the ladies went off to tour Villa Melzi (and its awesome gardens), while the guys went for a drink. Then, a quick trip to Nico's food shop, the gelateria, and then a bus home.

When we got off the bus in Civenna, we walked about ten steps before C realized he left his phone on the bus. He and I went to the ticket counter to try to intercept the driver at the next stop, but no one spoke English (and my 'tourist Italian' didn't cut it). So, C called our local contact for her help. Currently, he's still phone-free. The latest in technologic failures this trip.

After a relaxing sojourn by the pool, we cleaned up and started dinner - another potpourri of different foods - some meat, some veg, some starch (including a polenta dish). Wine, coffee, gelato (passion fruit, chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio, lemon).  As we ate, we watched the clouds roll in, and by the time we were done with dinner, the lake was invisible below - we were in the midst of a storm. As dinner wrapped up, I pocketed my flashlight (in case we had a power outage), we looked for playing cards (no luck), and settled in for some nighttime stormwatching. B & I were hoping to take some lighting photos, but the clouds were too thick. So, there we were, stuck on a mountaintop villa in a summer storm. Awesome!

It didn't take long for the front to pass, and the ridge line of the mountains again came into view as the clouds moved south.  And so, as the storm abates and America is just getting its Independence Day celebrations under way, we're looking forward to a good night's sleep here in Civenna. Happy Fourth to you all! And if you get a chance to re-read the Declaration of Independence, please do so. I'm about to re-read it myself now.

03 July 2012

All things Como

Finally got a nice long run in today - about 6.75 miles through the hills of Civenna.  It was terrific to get out and pump up those hills after a few days of not running much.  When I got back to the house, C & I shared a pot of coffee on the terrace and watched the sun burn the fog off of the lake.

Showering in the villa is a complex matter.  There are four full bathrooms in the house, but the way the plumbing is set up, if more than one shower is going at a time, only one shower gets adequate hot water. B & A are using the bathroom at the bottom of the totem pole, so if anyone else is using hot water, B & A get an icy shower. Getting the six of us clean in a timely manner requires a lot of water-flow juggling. As soon as one person is done showering, they announce it to the house so the next person can jump in. When everyone is on board with it, it works well and efficiently, but if anyone isn't paying attention and jumps in out of order, cold showers result.

Anyway, we got out of the house in time to get down to town to meet Laura, who was our tour guide for the day. She led us on a tour of Lake Como, stopping at Villa del Balbianello, a beautiful site that was used in in Star Wars Episode II.  Many people owned the Villa, including a gay explorer who lied about reaching the peak of Everest (long story) and a cardinal who was afraid of kidnapping enough to build secret escape stairs.

After the villa, we grabbed a drink (beer, tea, campari/soda, coffee drinks) and hopped back onto the boat for more fun whooshing on down to Como, at the southern end of the left fork of Lake Como. Along the way, we passed George Clooney's house (Hi George!) and saw some stunning villas & gardens. 

B & A on a boat!
When we got to Como, we took a quick ride up the funicular to a town that looks out over Como. The views were beautiful, but it was a hazy. Laura told us that on a clear day, you can see Milano, Torino, and Switzerland. Como is actually only 4km from Switzerland by car, so we could add another country to our trip, if we wanted. And if we had car.

Then, back down the funicular and on to lunch at a lovely trattoria called Trattoria del Gallo (The Rooster Cafe). B had black rice and chicken, A & C had trout, D had ferro, and S & I had spinach/ricotta ravioli. We shared prosciutto & melon. After lunch, Laura took us to the main cathedral in Como:

Yet another awesome church.

… before taking her leave from us. Thanks Laura for a great tour!

We hopped a hydrofoil back to Bellagio, bought some food for dinner, and then took the bus up to Civenna. Once back at our villa, S, C, B, & I jumped in the pool to cool down before supper. Dinner was another potpourri of awesomeness: two brie cheeses, two mild local cheeses, a chevre, a stinky cheese, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, coppa, prosciutto, tuna-stuffed red peppers, marinated artichokes, white anchovies, bread, olive oil, vinegar, salad, honey, gelato, and some chocolates. Also, red wine, white wine, coffee, water… Yum!

Tomorrow, C has picked out a town with a market on Wednesdays. S and I are going to make breakfast and then we're all going to hit the market! I have no idea what kind of market it is... food? silk? toys? black market jeans? Who knows?