Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Damn Jam At The Border

Rovinj, Croatia
This past weekend we took a pleasurable diversion on the coast of Croatia.   We have found a favorite place in the town of Rovinj, which sets peacefully on a spit of land protruding into the Adriatic Sea.  We have stayed in other towns along the coast but the view and the dining choices have won us over.

Many places have a pig roasting on a spit, sometimes two, and you can smell it from several hundred meters away.  Many of the restaurants feature truffle based cooking as this is a truffle area extraordinaire.  We have found some creative chefs who offer items such as smoked sea bass mousse, fried octopus, marinated fish salad and octopus salads.  Prices have risen this year but are still under what we would find in Italy.  It makes the three hour trip from our home  more worthwhile when you know what you will experience at the end of the road.

turn down the sound and watch the short video

However, this weekend, a weekend celebrated in America, Memorial Day Weekend, I, an unsuspecting American,  blundered into an exasperating bit of Europeacana—my words.  Without realising that Austrians have a four day weekend, due to some  holiday of theirs that the Italians do not have, I ventured forth into a catastrophe.  No problem getting into Croatia, the border guards were all smiles, quickly waving cars through without spending much time looking at passports.  But on the way back—Oh my, what a mess!

Back Up All The Way 
Part of the problem is due to the fact that Slovenia, which one must drive through to reach Italy, has been diligently checking passports and watching for people trying to sneak into their country.  Coupled with the four day holiday it made for a cast of characters, trapped in their tiny Euro cars, all feeling hopelessness over the tremendous traffic jam.

We were stuck in the lines for over three hours.  Much of the time we were not moving at all, and just when you turned your car off, you would have to start up and move ahead one car length.  A big part of the problem stemmed from the side roads that were also feeding into the main highway, and they were pushing back the tide of traffic.  We sat for two hours, studying roadkill, waiting, and angrily watching devious drivers ruthlessly passing  the  parked three lanes by  driving on the emergency lane to get ahead.  People with cars pulling trailers, camping vans, convertibles, and vehicles full of 20 years olds with loud music heartlessly drove past us.  Some people think they deserve to push their way past!  After you watch this for several hours, you begin to realise that these cheaters, who refused to wait like the rest of us, were causing the line to be stagnant and unmoving.   The reason being that somewhere up ahead the emergency lane was nonexistent and they had to move back into the normal 3 lanes.

The stagnant situation became so bad that people had to leave their cars and venture off into the forest in order to relieve themselves.  When there was no forest, we saw large towels being held by others as a fence for bathroom problems along the road.  This became a serious problem for some.  The only thing good about this was that is was not very hot, which would have made it unbearable and probably more hot tempers.  People here do not have pistols under the seat, thank goodness.

This is where I personally come in to the story.  Before I say anything I want you to know that I usually try my best NOT to be an ugly American.  I make an effort to be polite, not very noisy, and blend in with the locals.  I have been around American groups in Europe, and I know how people here regard their bad manners, stupid comments, and loud rude behavior.  I am not one of those.   I am horrified by the action of Trump shoving the Montenegro President aside and then standing and posing as if he was so special.  I try not to offend people.  However, this weekend, I stepped up to the plate in the name of all those people waiting in that traffic line, and not using that emergency lane to beat the system.

A large Austrian SUV pulls up along our car in the emergency lane.  Up ahead the emergency lane had jammed where it funnels into the 3 lanes of highway.  The driver’s window lowers, and a bleach blond, sunburned, face with hanging jowels leans out.  He points to the funnel and begins to tell us his sorrowful story of how they have travelled for two hours and need to take cuts in the line, asking us to let him in.  This guy had gumption!  He had already snuck by 1 1/2 hours of traffic jam by using the emergency lane.  What I said to him was not the color of love.  With the rash decision of a teenager I began to give him my thoughts.  “Who do you think you are?  Are you better than the rest of us, taking cuts, cheating your way to the front of this mess?  We have all sat here for over two hours, and you just think that you can push your way to the front, where ever that is? “

I didn’t know if he knew English well enough to understand me, but I had taken a “shot” and said what  needed to be said to all the cheaters sneaking by.  This man, an Austrian was a bit taken back that someone would actually speak up to his entitled behavior.  His face changed as he realised that he had met an ugly American who at an old age stands up for justice and against  people who think they are privileged.   BTW the police had an emergency and had much difficulty clearing the emergency lane, which couldn’t move.  A medical emergency of some type, they slowly sirened their way through the mess of parked cars.   Person like this Austrian could cause someone to die if they needed to reach a hospital quickly.

After another hour we crawled along and eventually saw the border at the bottom of the hill.  We finally escaped from the traffic after the border.  The Croatian border guards check your passports, and then at another stop the Slovenian guards do the same, running passports through an electronic device to catch those sneaky border jumpers.   I wonder the expense of fuel for those thousand cars waiting to leave Croatia?  

Palmanova To Udine

Later on the autostrada when people driving from Italy towards Austria, meet  people driving from Slovenia towards Austria we saw another HUGE jam up of cars. Miles and miles cars were stopped, and appeared to be not moving at all.  We were glad to be going to the south in the opposite direction and not back into that  holiday mess.  Next year I will be looking more closely to possible long Austrian weekend holidays in order to stay clear of 3 hour parking lots.

Here are some photos of the dishes mentioned above.   Keep in mind that I, being a person raised in New Mexico, had never seen this type of food when growing up.  Having a chance to try these dishes makes up for not being able to find good enchiladas, tacos and tamales in Italy  :-)  
To Die For Smoked Bass Mousse

I never thought that anyone would attempt to fry octopus.

Fried Octopus
My Favorite Main Course
marinated fish on left, octopus salad on right


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trading Pasta For A Tasty Burger

Add caption
I confess that I missed the invasion.  Many years have passed since I first noticed America has once again forced itself into the neighborhood.  People here get a chance to remember the past inside a large movie theatre just outside Padova, and  customers are forced to enter through the theatre before entering American Graffiti Restaurant and the  past glory of the 50’s.   I was not disappointed, which is unusual as I find attempts by Italians to make food of other countries many times miss the target.  Chinese food lacts the spicy/hot,   sushi is made by assembly line and without care, and Mexican food has terrible corn tortillas and badly made guacamole for example.  However, in this franchised burger joint, most of what I saw and tasted was above my expectations.

Customers are greeted with black and white checkered floors, and chrome chairs decked with plastic red covers.  Everything on the walls resemble items of the American past.  I lived in the 50’s but don’t remember anything quite like what I saw, it was more like a Hollywood creation, which is okay by me.

The menu is huge, brunch items, pulled pork, hot dogs, one whole page of beer choices,  I was confronted by making a choice of three different sizes of each type of burger, with a price comparable with Old Wild West, another competitor in a village nearby.  (Previously reviewed in the blog)  Since I was the driver, I chose a soft drink which was delivered Italian style with no ice.  Yes, Italians do not get ice in their soft drinks, you have to ask for it.   I ordered a burger with fries and we shared an appetiser made with jalapeño and cheese.

A happy addition to the table was two different bottles of Heinz hot sauce.  There was one of jalapeño and one from habanero.  I was surprised to see that the bottles were 3/4 empty as Italians are not champions of heat.  I looked at the other nearby tables and found that their bottles were also about the same fullness.  What country is this?

As you can see my burger looks genuinely American.  It was nice that the bun held up and didn’t fall apart like Italian burger buns usually do.  They had not applied an over generous application of mayo, and I instead used a bottle of Heinz barbecue sauce on the burger.  The only other difference I could find between this burger and Old West, is that I am not sure this meat patty was wholly beef.  Maybe this is why Old West makes a big point of claiming an all beef patty, made from beef of Ireland or Argentina.  

The bar even has Dr. Pepper!

I have googled American Graffiti and found that there are multiple restaurants all over Italy.  People needing a burger fix will not be disappointed.  Now if they can just open for breakfast.  Something like a Denny’s would be appreciated, that pile of eggs, bacon and hash browns……Italians do not know the taste of a Sunday breakfast!  


Monday, May 15, 2017

The Death of Allergy Season in Northern Italy

Pollen Makers of Rovinj, Croatia
It’s almost over!  Sufferers are rejoicing, and I am one of them.  Allergy Season is a real killer for me, and I am so glad to be able to breathe again like normal.  I only have a slight irritation in my eyes, something I can live with in comparison to the one week where I was coughing, wheezing, and unable to sleep well.  In the city of Padova there are quite a few cotton wood trees still dumping their cotton, but in my village there are only a few.  The mayor elected to cut most of them two years ago, and he was planning to replant with something else less harmful to allergies.  However, he lost the election and the new mayor (Sindico) has decided to keep costs down and not replant trees.  

This past weekend we spent a 3 day weekend in Croatia on the coast.  Their were some yellow flowers that were a small problem, and, of course, the pollen from the evergreen trees.  A big help was the thunderstorm that blew through the first night cleaning the air, making it crisp and clear.   There is nothing like listening to thunder in the night and knowing that the air will be clean in the morning.

Rovinj is a town not to be missed if you are ever on the Italian side of Croatia.  You can walk through the town and discover the shops, the small walkways and the big church on the top of the hill.  Almost completely  circled by the sea, it feels as if Rovinj is on an island.  It makes it a special place to visit.

 One of the benefits of living near Venice is that you can reach by car Croatia, Slovenia and Austria in a few hours.   Croatia gives us a nice change of cuisine from Italian.  Along the road, with the windows down, you will smell the big barbeques of the restaurants that are roasting whole pigs outdoors, as if to advertise their establishment.  But there is more!  This is truffle heaven.  You will encounter some great sauces with truffels, and some great pastas, too.  They make the most out of this being a zone for truffles.

Smoked Bass Mousse.................Tuna Tartar 
We made a great discovery reading  from TripAdvisor, finding a special restaurant with the name of  Barba Danilo, in a campground at the edge of Rovinj.  I did not believe that an eatery existed in a campground, but they made a believer out of me.   I took a chance on a mousse created with smoked bass.  Looking at it, it looks like a big tube of white cheese. This became my number one item of the weekend.  There were other specialties, so many that you have to make a second visit, which we will do in a few weeks. 
(Translation of Barba Danilo is beard of Danilo.  I am not sure that is what the owner intended, but maybe he has a sense of humor?) 

May can be a great month to visit Italy.  Here, the weather is changing to the good after only one week of rain and cloudy skies.  The lizards are back out in the sun after sleeping all of last week.  It will be 78 degrees most of this week.    The grapes are looking real healthy with lots of leaves, and northern Italy is covered with many shades of green with the trees and the farmer’s plantings.  We will have some thunder storms in the late evenings, but nothing major as we stride into summer.

A Sketch on an Abandoned Home Outside of
Chania, 11 X 15 Inches
This will be used for a half sheet painting later
I am not writing the blog as often as I did in the winter because I am spending time painting watercolors.  After a full week in Chania, Crete painting watercolors, I am now motivated to devoting more time painting.  I am thinking of having an exhibit in the September or October.  Finding a good place for an exhibit will be difficult.  Like anyone, I need to set a goal and keep at it.    It has been too long since the last exhibition.  

Ciao, Dave