Sunday, December 4, 2016

Travel Entertainment....Buying Groceries...

A trip to the grocery store in any foreign country has become part of our travel entertainment.  So yesterday we ventured out for some "retailtainment" here in north London.

But before taking care of ourselves we needed to walk the dogs we are taking care of, which would also give us the opportunity to check out this neighborhood. Nearby is the well known Alexandra Palace, a large entertainment venue that features a park with a lake filled with wild life and peddle boats, a skating rink, concert hall and facility to hire out for weddings and other events. The park is a lovely green space complete with playgrounds and walking trails filled with families enjoying the chilly, brisk air. With a high temperature of around 45 I thought it was safe to forgo the hat and just wear m down coat with gloves.  But soon the wind was blowing and my ears started to freeze. Darling Clyde let me use his scarf which I wrapped around my head and ears making the walk much more enjoyable. 

Pixie

Betsie


After taking the dogs back to our little flat we headed out in the car to find a grocery store.  While we did drive by some heavily congested shopping areas where we spotted grocery stores, we found absolutely no parking. Much of London is a walking world so there seems to be little to no need for car parks or parking garages as we know them. With one of the most efficient subway systems in the world apparently living here is easier without a car.  Eventually we did stumble onto a large Morrison's Grocery store that did have parking. 

Christmas Pudding

35 pence each!



Once inside we were quickly impressed by the array of inexpensive everything.  From crumpets to tea cakes, scones to fig pudding and so much more.  Much like our American supermarkets the assortment included a variety of pre-cooked convenience foods along with the normal assortment of produce, meats, bakery items with plenty of junk foods.  Most of our house sits in Italy were done for British expats who gave us samples of what to expect in the UK. Many told us how much bigger and overweight many of the Brits are which is in direct relation to what they sell in the grocery stores. Yes, the Brits do seems to be larger than the natives of Italy, and surely twice as big as the people in Thailand, but sadly still don't compare to our fat American counterparts.  And Clyde and I can say that being former obese people ourselves who still struggle with food and weight issues.

Tasted like girl scout mint cookies

On our way back to the apartment we noticed large groups of people walking in the streets dressed differently.  Men stood out with tall black hats encircled with fir.  Their bodies were dressed totally in black suits with long top coats.  Others showed white knee socks atop of their black shoes leading me to believe they were either in shorts or some type of native skirt or wrap underneath long coats. Who were these strange people?  Apparently there is a large Ultra Orthodox Jewish population here in London.  Estimated to be 30,000 of them living together their population continues to grow rapidly as they believe in creating large families according to the bible's suggestion to, "be fruitful and multiply."


Blurry, but I was driving by





Again, a little blurry


Central London, the more touristy part is just lovely with it's Royal heritage, gorgeous architecture, Themes River, bridges, double decker buses, subway and more.  But with all of that comes the price of admission to the touristy hot spots that are just too pricey for our budget.  Or perhaps we are just too cheap to pay 18 pounds (per person) to walk into a church, or 30 pounds to ride an elevator to a lookout point high atop a glass building.  Even the famous London Eye, a large, slow moving ferris wheel type of thing where each pod holds up to 25 people commands a cost of around $25 per person too.  And in case you're wondering about the US dollar to British pound conversion rate it is this. One pound is equal to $1.27 on the US dollar, which we hear of a good exchange rate, but still costs more per dollar to us.


The Tower Bridge
Often confused as the "London Bridge"


The Schard








While in the grocery store we stopped by the pharmacy or "chemist" for Clyde's steroid eye drops. We were told they are dispensed by prescription only so he will have to find an eye doctor at some point when he runs out of his supply.  But I picked up some Loratadine allergy medications for only 2 pounds per package along with some paracetamol (acetaminophen) for around 1 pound, both very cheap.  Still have not managed to find calcium supplements with calcium citrate instead of carbonate here, but we will keep looking.  But the good news is that they DO carry my type of contact lens solution which is for rigid gas permeable lens.  I have not been able to get this in Panama, Thailand or Italy but am still using my supply from the US thus far.

So our life as full time nomads still continues to amaze and delight us, keeping us on our toes every step of the way.  Yesterday we needed a day to relax and stayed close to our flat for much of the day.  We took the time for some grooming, hair cuts and color done by yours truly, cleaning, laundry and cooked up a big pot of soup for dinner. Currently it's a brisk 39 degrees outside with bright sunshine so we will need to bundle up for another chilly and refreshing walk in the park with the dogs......along the gringo trail.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

We Landed In London For More Adventures......

Our next round of house sitting adventures takes us to the United Kingdom where we begin in London.  After a short two hour flight from Venice into London Gatwick we picked up our rental car and headed to a nearby hotel. I had to laugh when I looked inside the cute, bright orange Fiat 500 to see the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car. Oh my this would be Clyde's first time driving on the left side of the road, something I'm glad to be avoiding.....or am I?  Turns out he took to it far better than I did. It's freaky to be driving on the other side of the road which seems to throw off my depth perception and makes me think we are going to hit the other cars, even when I'm not the one driving. 


OH MY GOD!
Notice that Clyde is sitting on the wrong side of the car,
The shifter is on the left and........................
He is getting ready to drive on the LEFT side of the road!


We think the rental car agent gave us this bright orange car so
That the Brits could steer clear of Clyde's driving.......


Leaving Gatwick Airport we had decided to spend extra to stay next door at a Marriott Hotel. Because there were no Cell Phone Kiosks in the airport, we did NOT get to purchase sim cards for the phones which would allow us to use our incredibly trustworthy "Google Maps" To get to the hotel.  While we could see it as we drove by we could not manage to find an entrance to the place. Round and round we went in the dark getting more frustrated with each turn. And with each miss of the hotel we ended up further away from it.  Eventually Clyde decided to stop into a convenience store to ask for help. A customer standing nearby offered to take us to the hotel by following behind him.  Clyde was SO thrilled that he grabbed the stranger and gave him a big hug, something the man seemed to enjoy.

The next morning we headed out to a large mall where we could stop into a phone store.  There we would buy prepaid phone chips to enable our cell phones to be used here. After that mission was over we browsed around the huge mall and stopped in the food court for some lunch.  We opted for Subway, something we had not enjoyed since we left Panama.  As we waited for the girl to prepare our sandwiches I was almost giddy inside with giggles.  I was so thrilled to be in an English speaking country and not having to explain in Spanish or using sign language in Italian to get what I wanted.  As we ate and looked around the foot court we realized that we were in a sea of white faces and for the first time in years we just blended in.  That is we blended in until we opened our mouths and they realized that we were not one of them, but instead tourists.

Today we arrived in the Kew area, a suburb of central London where we would spend a few nights in a simple B&B. Our plan was to leave the car and take the "tube" or subway into the city to explore.


Around the neighborhood of Kew
where we are staying 




Entry in to the subway station


  We made our way to the subway then had to change to another one but quickly figured out what we were doing. Our first stop was the famous Piccadilly Circus area which is full of theaters, restaurants, shopping and hoards of Brits out for the evening. From there we walked over to the pier to see the famous London Eye.  A massive ferris-wheel type of structure with large pods that hold up to 25 people each, it can be seen from miles around. Too pricey for our budget at 25 pounds per person we took a few photos and kept going. We strolled along the neighborhoods and found Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the House Of Parliament and other lovely surroundings.






Christmas in London



London Phone Booth


London Double Decker Bus



Since it was time for dinner we stopped for some fish and chips, something that Great Britain is famous for.  We decided to share one meal which was more than enough.  For under 10 pounds we enjoyed a large piece of crispy, fried fish with tons of chips or fries and a drink.


Fish and Chips!


A recent cold spell has London dipping down to frigid temperatures of 40's during the day and freezing or below at night. But we came prepared with down jackets, hats, scarves, boots, wool socks, gloves and layers of clothing.


Terry bundled up
Or as the Brtis say
"Rug Up"


For many years I have wanted to visit London and now we are finally here.  So far we are impressed with the cleanliness, beauty and friendly polite people that call this great city home. Tomorrow we are off to explore more on foot and become one with the Brits as we explore London.....along the gringo trail.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Pasta, Pizza and Pee Pee's......

As our three months in Italy are coming to an end we reflect back on so many things. We have seen  such extraordinary places and sights, met many wonderful people and animals, and ate and lived like Italians. And travel is never complete without learning many new things through our experiences too. For instance, throughout my whole life I stayed away from pasta considering it a worthless food source.  Little did I know that the pasta sold here in Italy is made of the finest ingredients making it much healthier than the American counterparts.  Add to that the fact that I would tend to overcook it since I never understood the need to only cook it till, "al dente," (with tooth) giving it something to bite into.  I have now learned that cooking only till "al dente" has more health benefits and does not raise our glycemic index which increase our sugar levels. Also it makes us feel fuller longer, another benefit.  I will never look at pasta the same again! Here in Italy there are 250 or more shapes of pasta with different names and apparently each and every one is to be prepared a different way with a different sauce.

A few things I learned about eating:

Pasta is NOT the main course but only the first course.  Italians first eat an anti-pasta or salad, then a small serving of pasta, then comes the protein dish.  A serving of pasta is 100 grams (3.5 oz.)....no more and no less! And it should NEVER be broken to fit into a pot like I always do too. And apparently it is important to retain some of the starchy cooking water to add to the sauce.  It helps to thicken the sauce and make it bind to the pasta. My mother would be horrified as she always told us to rinse the starchy water OFF the pasta before serving.

Italians eat all of the days carbs by lunch time and in the evening only eat protein and a salad.  Then typically they go out and walk as a way to socialize, shop and burn a few calories.

The sauce is never the star of the meal and should be served in small amounts as not to overpower the pasta. And pasta sauce here is always made with carrots, celery, onion and tomatoes unless it's a white sauce of course.

Pizza is never shared and each person at the table is supposed to have their own.  Being that we don't eat that much Clyde and I find one is enough and saves money too. Pizza is served whole, not cut into pieces like it is in the states. And typically pizza in Italy is very thin, cooked in a wood oven and topped with vegetables, rarely meats.  And by the way peperoni's in Italy are NOT meat but are pickled bell peppers. Seriously the pizza here is REALLY good and we surely will never have pizza so good anywhere else in the world! Here it's made fresh, topped with vegetables and other healthy ingredients and served thin and crispy. 



Coffee is only drank with milk in the mornings and typically drank standing up at a counter. Coffee here is espresso unless specified.  Us being tourists disregard that rule and always have a cup of cappuccino in the afternoon.

Italians love pork and most of the meat sold here is ham which goes under the name prosciutto or speck.  Some is sold cooked and other types are raw and eaten that way. Other common sandwich meat is salami and comes in many varieties too.

Besides pork Italians eat horse meat which we hear is high in iron and great for kids, wild boar, veal, lamb, tripe, chicken and beef.

A BAR of CAFE in Italy is NOT what you might think! All of these establishments serve breakfast items like donuts, pastries, croissants and coffee.  Then for lunch time they feature sandwiches, pizza slices, sometimes fruits and salads and cold drinks. And for the evening crowd they serve wine and alcohol which can really be purchased at most any time of the day. There is NO menu in these type of places but what you see if what they have behind the counter. Sandwiches are usually simple with merely a slice of prosciutto and cheese, no condiments or vegetables and served on a crusty baguette.



Bread is commonly served here and always eaten dry. Butter has never been offered to us in a restaurant and rarely even olive oil.  Most of the breads are cooked without salt, fat, sugar or flavor for that matter.  Yet as the weeks went on we found ourselves getting to like the stuff and always seemed to have a loaf of fresh baked bread on our counter.

In Italy as in the rest of Europe there is a service charge added onto to meals at sit down restaurants. Typically here it is 2 euros per person, like it or not.  And unlike the US where drinks are bottomless in Italy and the rest of the world that is NOT the case.  And bread at restaurants here is often not free either. 

Some of the tidbits we learned from people we met along the way:

One of the homeowners we sat for is a teacher so I inquired about the education system here.  Apparently when all children reach the age of 13 they are asked to decide what they want to do when they grow up. They are then put into a vocational type of program along with their regular studies to begin training for a future career. She explained that she once ate a meal where kids were training to work as wait staff.  There is actual training here to become a waitress or waiter which is why the service here is so good.  Instead of having some brainless college kid with an attitude waiting on us like in the states, here they are professionally trained in everything from table settings, how to put the plates down in front of the customer and more. Kids can still continue their education later on and attend college but at least that gives them something to fall back on. School kids here do not wear uniforms and the school year seems to run from September through June, much like schools in the US.

And on a lighter note, doorways tend to be short here to Clyde's dismay.  Clyde is 6 foot 1 and keeps bashing his head into doorways in the houses we have stayed in. He now has several knots on the top of his head and should not be blamed on me the loving wife who would never cause such an injury.  During the first day of one of our sits the homeowner was showing us around the house when Clyde commented on a low doorway.  The homeowner said, "well you know that's because Italians are short." She then added with a serious face, "you do realize that they even had to make special condoms for the men don't you?"  We laughed and I had to ask, "so is your boyfriend Italian?"  She said, with a big grin, "nope, he's British."

The strange little things we've learned while living in Italy among the pasta, pizza and pee-pees.....along the gringo trail.







Friday, November 18, 2016

How To Piss Off An Italian.......Just Another Day In Italy....

Once again we've moved to yet another location in Italy.  Currently we are in the lovely Marche region (pronounced lay MAR-kay) that sits between the Adriatic Sea and the Apennine Mountains. 
The town of Cupramontana comes alive with an old church, shops and restaurants all nestled in the countryside.

Our Lovely Temporary Home
And Yes We Do Have Permission From The Homeowner To Post Photos


Views Out Our Windows




Here we are  taking care of Molly an older, laid-back Italian hunting dog, a breed rather common here and three cats that we hardly know are here. The house is a lovely restored, two-story stone farmhouse situated on an olive grove, with all the comforts of home. The view from the house is astonishing with a beautiful landscape of green farmland, olive groves, grape vineyards and houses. We really can't get enough of the beauty and splendor of Italy.  The wonderful pizza, pasta, wines and people.....that is until you get one upset.

Molly An Italian English Setter Hunting Dog



Yesterday we headed out to find the Adriatic seaside city of Ancona.  Like any other day here Clyde was following the directions of his other lady on google maps who was directing him to our destination. Following the car in front of him he drove into the left lane of the roadway since the right lane consisted of a road crew pouring tar to resurface the road. Before we knew it the crew had stopped the car in front of us which brought us to a halt along with another car behind. The worker seemed to be yelling at the driver of the car in front which was obvious by the use of his hands waving in the air. Apparently this side of the road was CLOSED....due to the roadwork yet there was no barricade or signs indicating this since perhaps it had been knocked down or run over? After yelling the road worker allowed the car in front of us to proceed slowly along the highway.  When it came our turn to approach the disgruntled worker Clyde opened the window and said, "non parla Italiano," which means, "I don't speak Italian."  The man did not seem to buy that and went on to chew us out in loud Italian waving his hands in the air. Clyde then told him in Spanish, which is similar to Italian that there was no sign indicating that the road was closed.



Signs Are Everywhere In Italy
These Are At EVERY Round-About....And There Are LOTS Of Round Abouts
 


Again the man disagreed with that statement and continued to yell.  Eventually we were allowed to proceed slowly. Nearby the other crew members made baa'ing sounds like sheep, indicating that us and the two other cars were following each other like sheep. We laughed about the incident thankful that it was nothing worse than pissing off an Italian road worker.

Sights Around Ancona






Views Of The Adriatic Sea




Museum Of The Marches Italy....In Ancona

Gold Beads


Gold Leaf Crowns And Bangles



A Mosaic




Gold Statues On Roof Of Museum



White Sauce With Broccoli and Clams
 


The large, bustling coastal city of Ancona is full of cruise ports, shipping containers, ferries and more. We made our way to the old part of the city where we visited a museum and took in the sights and stopped for lunch. Later that evening we met up with the homeowner who had not left yet for her vacation.  The three of us enjoyed some wine and pizza at a local restaurant. Since she had an early flight to catch this morning we are now taking over with our duties as house and pet sitters. Time to take Molly for a walk among the olive groves and vineyards and absorb the beauty that is all around us in Cupramontana, Italy.....along the gringo trail.