Friday, May 27, 2005

Gentlemen...Start Your Engines...

As you have probably guessed, the deadline for me to cancel my hotel in Rome has passed and all systems are GO.

So by this time tomorrow, I'll be on a train heading for the Eternal City. Call it Rome, Part II, a continuation of last weekend. Only this time, I'm going to do it right and I've got Monday off so I even have an extra day to do it. The wife and kid come home on Tuesday, so this is officially my last hurrah. I've gotta do it right because when the wife gets home and sees the house and all her dead plants, I will probably not live to see another weekend. This will probably be my last one on Earth.

I'm bringing better shoes and plan on not walking around so much. This will be my 6th or 7th trip to Rome (I've lost count), so I'm beyond the need to have to rush around and see EVERYTHING by now. I have roughly 3 days, so I can just take my time and relax. There are still a few pubs that need to be thoroughly explored.

That being said, it is going to be so on. I'm gonna grab Rome by the throat and say "I'm Rick James Bitch!". Last weekend I came home limping. After this weekend, I may come home on a stretcher...

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Billy Squier - A Beacon of Light in an Otherwise Dark Thursday.

As you may know (Unless you're American), last night was the final of the Champions League, which crowns the best football (soccer) club in Europe. Our very own AC Milan was up against FC Liverpool.

As they often do, my upstairs neighbors, Giampietro and Agnese had me up for dinner before the match. I stopped at the pescheria (seafood store) and picked three beautiful tuna steaks which Agnese prepared with rosemarino and some other spice I can't remember the name of. It was delicious. For the wine, we had a Tocai Rosso, which Giampi said would be a good accompaniment to the fish (it was). After dinner, Giampi brought the TV out to the balcony so we could watch the match in the warm Italian air and the ubiquitous cheese made its appearance. I had brought a tasty Gruyer back from Switzerland, and Agnese provided some Asiago and Grana Padano, two of my favorites.

Giampietro, Agnese, some vino buono, and some damn good cheese

The match got under way and Milan scored in the first minute. By halftime they were up an astounding 3-0 and I announced that the rout was on. I could not have been more wrong.

In happier times - Milan couldn't possibly blow a 3-0 lead!

Liverpool scored 3 goals in a 6 minute span early in the second half and the match finished at 3-3 after regulation. Two 15 minutes overtime periods brought no goals for either team so it went to the dreaded penalty kicks.

Liverpool equalized...we're getting nervous

Milan ended up losing miserably. It was unfathomable. A 3-0 lead in football is supposed to be nearly insurmountable - especially when it's a team with as much talent as Milan. We are all devastated this morning and my throat is hoarse from screaming at the TV last night. It is indeed a Black Thursday.

So where does Billy Squier fit into all this you ask? Well, this morning I happened to discover a tape case with many of my old cassette tapes from years ago. I hadn't listened to them in years and so this morning while driving to work, I glanced over and saw Billy Squier classic "Don't Say No". I immediately popped it in, turned the 8 speaker monsoon sound system in Old Triple 7 up loud, and proceeded to rock out like it was 1983 to classics like "My Kinda Lover", "In the Dark", and of course the once-taboo "The Stroke" ("STROKE ME, STROKE ME!"). I would have been playing my air guitar for sure had I not been driving.

It's still a sad day in Northern Italy, but at least I can always count on Billy Squier to provide a glimmer of light.

Thanks Billy.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Final Countdown...

Well, there is but one weekend left. I'm still weighing my options on how to spend it, but at the present time, it's looking like another trip to Rome is on tap. I've already reserved a room for two nights in the hotel I mentioned in the addendum to the last post. I have until 1645 tomorrow to cancel it. If I haven't found a better option than Rome by then, then Rome it will be.

And this time, I'm taking no prisoners.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Rome Recap

I went to Rome with such high expectations. Rome has always been one of my favorite cities in the world and when I got off the train, I was filled with confidence. I was cock of the walk, I strolled around that city like I owned it. Unfortunately I only had a weekend, so something was going to have to give. There were 4 main things I wanted to accomplish during my trip:

1. Acquire a Popener
2. Eat at the Himalaya Kashmir – recommended as the best curry in Rome by my Brit buddy Wayne. And Brits know their curry.
3. Hit the pubs – especially the John Bull Pub
4. Find an English showing of the new Star Wars

I arrived around 11 on Saturday and headed straight for my hotel to get checked in and get started. I was lucky to find a great spot, halfway between the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. I checked in and headed straight for the Vatican, as that’s the only place in the world where one can purchase a Popener. In case you’re wondering, a Popener is basically a bottle opener with a picture of the Pope on it. To open a bottle with it is like having the Pope himself bless your beer. I promised Gretchen, my beer buddy in the States, that I would get her one so I had to come through. And I did big time. So with the first mission accomplished it was time to move on to the second. The Himalaya Kashmir was a lot further from the train station than I thought it was and by the time I got there, my feet were getting sore from all the walking; and it was only about 1330. This was not a good sign, as anyone who has been in Rome knows that you have to walk EVERYWHERE. The metro is fine for the Colosseum and the Vatican. Everywhere else, you either walk, take the bus, or take a taxi. I’m sorry to say that I was very disappointed in the restaurant. The curry was of course delicious, but the portions were so small that I left hungry. No matter, one of the things I love about Rome is all the take away food stands and shops. So I figured I’d grab a slice of pizza or a kebab on the way to the pubs.

So I hit the first pub – the Fiddler’s Elbow. They were opening a little early because the final of the FA Cup between Manchester United and Arsenal was coming on. This promised to be a good time, a continuation of my recent run of what I call “good pubbery”. Unfortunately, it became the second disappointment of the day. The match turned out to be a bit uneventful (Ended 0-0, Arsenal won on PK’s) and all the Brits that I met there just not…fun. None of them were real talkative, not even after I bought ‘em a few pints.

The Fiddler's Elbow: Disappointing.

I figured what the hell, I was due for a bad pub experience sooner or later. So I left and headed for the next pub. On the way I hit a kebab shop, so things were starting to look up. The kebab was great (aren’t they always?). My optimism returned.

Then disaster struck.

You may have heard me extol the virtues of a place in Rome called the John Bull Pub. Whenever I think of Rome, I think of the JBP and a nice cold Allsop’s Cream Stout, one of the best beers I’ve ever had in my life. So I just could not wait to get there and start imbibing. In fact, I was considering just forgetting about seeing the new Star Wars because it would have gotten in the way of the pubbery (the show was at 2215, which would have killed the rest of the night). So imagine my disappointment to find that the JBP is no more. There’s now a pub there called The Bulldog of Rome. I decided to check out the Drunken Ship instead. Either they were closed or I was confused, but it was nowhere to be found. Instead I went to another little generic pub that served Guinness and ordered a pint – for which I was promptly charged 7 Euros! Definitely the most I’ve ever paid for a pint. So I pulled out the map and considered my options. I finally decided to just give in and go see the new Star Wars. My feet were already starting to develop blisters so I broke down and took a taxi to the theater and bought a ticket. I still had an hour and a half until showtime so I walked down to the Trinity College Irish Pub. It was almost empty – no Brits to meet here – so I just drank my pints and waited patiently, wallowing in my disappointment. On the walk back to the theater, which was extremely painful because my feet were now covered with blisters, I stopped to get a nice hot panini. As I left the café holding my sandwich, I almost got ass-raped again by the law. I got pulled aside by the cops. I’m thinking “What the hell?!”. One of them asked for my passport and I told him it was in my hotel room. So they tell me to come over to their van and I go “Io un biglietto per la film!” (“I have a ticket to a film!). So there’s about 6 cops and one guy dressed in a suit. I’m thinking “Geez, what do they think, I’m a terrorist or something?!”. So I tell them where I live and who I work for and the guy in the suit says “It will just take a minute…what do you have in your pocket there?”. I pulled out the little bag containing the Popeners and a couple of them fell out at the guy’s feet. He smiled and said “Ahh…Il Papa…you can go, thank you”. So I hoofed it to the theater, which was excruciatingly painful with my blister covered feet. Got there just as the opening scroll was playing. Damn cops. I was going to go back to the Trinity College Pub after the movie, but it was already 1 AM and I could hardly walk so I decided to just cut my losses and go to bed. At least the movie didn’t disappoint.

The next morning I was in such pain that I was thinking about going straight to the train station and going home. But Rome convinced me otherwise. I thought to myself, “I refuse to leave until I’m satisfied that I’ve turn this thing around”. So, blisters and all, I checked out of the hotel and headed for the Trevi Fountain. No trip to Rome is complete without a quick peek at this beautiful monument. It’s almost worth the trip to Rome just to see it. From there I headed to hang out on the Piazza Navona. This used to be a great place to sit in a café and watch artists work, but it has just become inundated by immigrants selling junk. It’s not even worth seeing anymore. So I headed to one of the other Rome highlights – the Colosseo. Along the way I took in the Piazza Venezia and the monument to Vittorio Emmanuel, which I love looking at, but is not popular with the locals. They refer to it as “The Typewriter”. You can see why:

The Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, known to the locals as "The Typewriter"

The walk between the Piazza Venezia and the Colosseo is the best place to see authentic Roman Ruins. It’s also where you can see what used to be the Forum:

Roman Ruins

Although the Colosseo is up there with the Vatican as the most packed with tourists, I always enjoy seeing it, as well as the accompanying Arc of Constantine.

The Colosseum - Look at all the tourists

With my Rome trip saved, I again weighed my options. I wanted to hit a few pubs before leaving, but in the end my feet were just hurting way too badly to do anything else. As it was, I had already spent the entire day limping. So I caught the next train home. I got home early in the evening and when I took off my socks, I counted no less than 10 blisters. No wonder I was in such pain.

All in all, I enjoyed Rome as I always do, but the lack of a good pub experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m due for another weekend in Rome soon so the Old Lady of Italy can redeem herself. In fact, the next trip to Rome will be all about the pubs. It’s going to be a grudge match of the highest order…

If you'd like to check out the rest of the pictures from my weekend in Rome, Click Here

I've just discovered a hotel in Rome for 50 euros a night. This has me thinking that I could conceivably go back this weekend for a couple days and put the bad memories of this past weekend to rest. What to do? Hmmm...)


Friday, May 20, 2005

When in Rome...

Early tomorrow morning I'll be on a train bound for Rome. I'll be sure to tell the new Pope that all of you said hello. Rome is probably my favorite city in Europe so God only knows what kind of trouble I'll get into...or better yet, check back in on Monday and find out!

If you can't wait that long, feel free to check out pictures from my previous trips to Rome.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

This Is Getting Out Of Hand

Like everyone else out in the virtual world, I am constantly inundated with junk email trying to get me to buy everything from bail bonds to viagra. Lately I've been getting about 10 emails a day offering cheap Cialis. Seems everytime I open my email I see something on the subject line promising that if I use their product, my "member will get rock hard and stay that way for hours!". I've gotten ads for pretty much every kind of porn you can imagine, from celebrities to animals. By now, I've learned to just delete them and have pretty much accepted that as long as there is email, I will always receive such crap.

But this is getting out of control.

This morning, upon opening my Gmail account, I was greeted with an email from some company called ZTX Entertainment or some generic name like that. With Gmail, you can see most of the first sentence in the email under the subject line, so imagine my shock when I glanced at it and saw what it said:

RAPE PHOTOS $29.95! RAPE, VIOLENT SEXUAL ACTS, (Here's where it got cut off)


Are there really people out there that are selling - and BUYING - this stuff?! Now, I've been around the world, have seen my share of sleaze, and am certainly not naive, but...I'm at a loss. Imagine your kids receiving this email. Sometimes I weep for the future.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Switzerland Recap

The Switzerland trip went off without a hitch, although it was not without its share of drama.

Let me start by saying that I absolutely HATE driving through Switzerland. On the other hand, I absolutely LOVE driving through Switzerland. I hate it because every single time I do it there is some kind of problem. There’s always an accident that causes a traffic jam or overzealous police that will nail you for going a few kilometers over the speed limit. And there is always construction. Always. On this trip I got flashed by one of those hidden cameras that go off when you speed by them and send you a ticket in the mail. And at least half of the journey was slowed by construction of some kind. That being said, there are fewer countries offering such a scenic drive filled with mountains and lakes. Driving through Switzerland is like dating a beautiful but high-maintenance woman; she drives you crazy and you swear that she’s not worth the trouble, yet you always come back to her, drawn in by her physical beauty.

I went to Switzerland to visit some friends and finally see the cities of Lausanne and Geneva, two cities I’ve always wanted to see. My hosts were the Cottier family, friends who live about 10 kilometers outside of Lausanne. I know them through my friend Avisha who is the niece of another friend of ours who works on the base here (Can you follow all that?). Bernard, his wife Shantee and their two kids, Florian and Syrielle were nice enough to let me stay with them for the weekend and show me around Lausanne, Geneva, and a bit of the local area. I always enjoy such trips as I’m able to see not only the area, but also get a glimpse of the local culture that you seldom see by simply visiting a city. If you'd like to see pictures of the Cottier family Click Here

So we started with Lausanne. Lausanne is a cute little city of about 120,000 on Lac Leman (aka Lake Geneva). Its claim to fame is that it’s the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It offers some beautiful scenery and some pretty decent nightlife (more about that later). It’s located in the French portion of Switzerland so everything is of course in French. Here’s a view of Lausanne from the old part of town:


We didn’t get to see as much of Lausanne as I’d have liked as it was pouring rain when I arrived. But we were able to walk around most of the highlights, see a bit of the Olympic Museum and then enjoy some crepes near the lake. Lausanne is a good day-trip city. Since it was raining and there was a low cloud cover, I regret that I didn’t get any really good picture of the city with the Alps in the background. Perhaps next time.

Sunday arrived and we departed for Geneva. Geneva was the city I really wanted to see. Its reputation and status as an international city is rivaled by few. It serves as the European arm of the United Nations and is also home to several other international organizations. As such, I expected it to be extremely varied. Although it was a nice and sunny day, there were still some low lying clouds, so it was still difficult to get the full effect of the city with the Alps in the background. And the city itself, while attractive in its own way, was not the aesthetically pleasing cosmopolitan city I was expecting. The first thing you notice is the famous Jet d’Eau, which is basically a fountain in the middle of the little bay that shoots a tremendously powerful stream of water straight up into the air. The water comes out at over 200 kilometers per hour. Here’s a pic:

Jet d'Eau, Geneva

As with Lausanne, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to really explore Geneva. I’m hoping to go back again and do an overnight stay so I can see everything and be able to enjoy the nightlife scene. As it was, Bernard and the family took a short boat cruise on the lake and Avisha and I set off to check out the old town. We made it as far as Flanagan's Pub. My book mentions a handful of pubs near the old town so I planned on popping into the first one I came to for a pint. I guess it was just fate that brought me to Flanagan’s. I got my pint and started chatting with the bartender Nick and the only other guy in the bar, Steve (Steve is from Middlesborough, England). Nick is from Manchester and the United match was about to come on TV so there went our plan of touring the rest of the old town. We were supposed to meet Bernard and the fam later, so I told Avisha that I would stay and just catch the train later on to Lausanne and meet them for dinner. After a couple pints, I realized that they had Boddington’s Cream Ale. This pleased me very much. I love Boddington’s but haven’t been able to find it anywhere in the past few years. Eventually more people came in, more pints were downed and new friends were made. In fact, we even delved slightly into politics – something I never do in pubs since it risks ruining the easygoing pub experience. Then Nick broke out the shots. The first one was set down in front of me on fire. I was told to drink it with a straw. Sure enough, it went down pretty easy. The next one was not on fire. No danger there I thought. Then Nick tells me that you have do drink it, keep it in your mouth…and light it on fire on your mouth. I was not down with this idea at all because let’s face it, when you’re drinking alcohol, fire is not your friend. But Nick did it and it actually looked pretty simple. I’ll try most anything once so I gave it a shot. It didn’t work for me though, the drink never caught fire. Probably just as well; I’ve grown pretty attached to my eyebrows. Sadly, the fun had to end for me as I had to catch the train. You can see more pics from Flanagan's Pub Here

Drink shot, then light it on fire

All day, Avisha had been talking about going to the disco that night so after dinner, we found one that her classmate had recommended and proceeded to trip the light fantastic among Lausanne’s fashionable young set. I had to drive back to Italy the next day (or rather, THAT day…), so we ended up leaving around 3 am, earlier than we wanted to.

The drive back to Italy was going fine until I practically got ass-raped at the border by the border guards. I got asked for my passport and vehicle documents at the St Bernard Tunnel and when I had trouble locating my vehicle registration, I was told to pull over to the side. Then I was told to open my trunk and glove compartment, the usual routine. For some unknown reason, they seemed extremely suspicious of me. At one point, I dug my ID card out of my duffle bag and one of the border guards noticed a pouch of old rolling tobacco in my bag. It was on then. He practically shoved me out of the way and rifled through the bag, grabbing the pouch and digging through it. One of the other guards was like “You smoke?” to which I replied that occasionally I like to roll a cigarette or two. She said “Is it ONLY tobacco?” I said “Yes, ONLY tobacco”. After about 20 minutes they let me go. I drove – literally – 2 feet, and a different set of border guards stopped me and told me to pull over. All I could do was chuckle and wait patiently for them to not find anything and clear me. Hopefully I never have to go through that crap again.

Anyway, that’s a brief synopsis of the trip. There was a lot more to it, but I have limited time and space here so that’ll have to do. I’m planning on doing Rome this weekend, so perhaps I’ll have more interesting stories next week…

If you want to see more pictures from the Switzerland trip, Click Here

Friday, May 13, 2005

Parole Update

Well, Virginia and the X Man have been gone for over a month now. When they left, I had certain plans of things I wanted to accomplish while I was a "geographical bachelor". Let's look back and see how I'm doing so far...

So far, I've done two Venice Pub Crawls. Both went very well. I also did a weekend in Bologna sampling some of the best cuisine Italy has to offer. And of course, last weekend was the trip to Amsterdam. Tomorrow morning, I shall hit the Autostrada for a weekend in Switzerland to visit some friends and tour Lausanne and hopefully Geneva as well. This will accomplish the "road trip" portion of my plans and check off two more European cities that I've always wanted to see. Next weekend I have tentative plans for Rome. Of course, when you live life one weekend to the next, things could change very quickly. I never know where I may end up at any given time.

As far as Virginia and the X Man, they're having a lot of fun with Virginia's family in the Philippines right now. Her parents want her to leave the X Man there when she leaves, they just can't get enough of this kid. They'll go back to Hong Kong next week sometime, then they'll be returning to Italy on May 31st. And not a minute too soon, it's pretty tough here without her. The house is an absolute mess, I'm getting fat from all this take out pizza, the plants are all dead...oh yeah, and there's that "other thing" too...

I'm not sure how much longer I can hold out.


Thursday, May 12, 2005


If you've been following my blog for a while, then you know that I've been suffering through a fit of nostalgia over the past few months. I'm not sure what started it, but once the doors were opened, the memories have come flooding out with no end in sight.

To that end, I was in the library yesterday afternoon and I noticed the movie "Where the Boys Are '84". I grabbed it immediately and took it home. I actually saw this movie in the theaters with my sister when it came out back in 1984. It's not that great a movie - it's about four female friends going down to Ft Lauderdale for spring break and the ensuing hijinx that occur while they're there. The only famous person in it that you'd probably recognize is a young, nubile Lisa Hartman. While nowhere near as funny as many of its '80's counterparts, it does bring back many fond memories since the last time I saw it was when it first came out.

So there I was sitting on my couch watching the movie and for those 90 minutes, I was totally transported back to 1984. I was 13 years old again, flossing in Griffin Memorial junior high with my parachute pants, trying to get Kelly Burke to notice me, having spitball fights with Dave Broussard and John Noseworthy. Getting kicked off the GMS basketball team because of my poor grades. Enjoying my last moments of being a big fish in a little pond before I would have to go to Alvirne High and be the little fish again. Hanging out with Joel Miller, trying my first cigarette and getting drunk for the first time.

1984. What a great year.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Post Script to Amsterdam Recap

I am often accused of being a beer snob, a charge to which I proudly plead guilty. I have several terms for beer that I deem, shall we say, less than quality. Notable among them are "swill", "piss", and "water". Perhaps my favorite derogatory term is "ghetto beer", which is reserved for beer that people think is quality but is really just bad beer with a fancy - or foreign - name. One such beer is Grolsch Beer from Germany. I don't understand why people think this is a good beer, other than that it has a German name so it must be good.

On Saturday, while Bill and I were enjoying our beer - me with my Bruges Tripel and Bill with his Caffrey's English Ale - I noticed that they had Grolsch on tap. I made a comment to Bill about Grolsch being a "ghetto beer" and we had a chuckle.

So imagine how amazingly humorous it was for me to come across this sign as we were walking between bars that evening:


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Amsterdam Recap

Well, my third foray into the forbidden paradise of Amsterdam didn’t go too badly. When I left Venice on Friday afternoon, it was about 70 degrees and sunny. When I landed at Schipol Airport, it was cold, damp and rainy. This would be the theme for the entire weekend.
Friday evening I hooked up with Bill and Cee and we wasted no time in finding a good Irish Pub near the Leidseplein. Round about midnight Bill and Cee had to catch a bus back to their hotel so I went back to the hotel and crashed. Got up early the next morning, had breakfast, and went to the Museumplein to meet up with Bill and Cee again. Then it started pouring. So I’m hanging out under an awning and what do I notice? A huge Anti-US/Bush rally. Right away I’m thinking, “well, maybe this isn’t a good place for an American to be hanging out…”. As I’m standing there typing out a text message to Bill and Cee, I meet the second freak of the weekend (the first was a weird drunk homeless guy from the night before who tried to scare me on my way back to the hotel then started laughing uncontrollably). It’s not Amsterdam unless you run into at least a couple freaks while you’re there. This guy was dressed sort of like a student, complete with a tweed jacket. He had a shaved head and was missing a tooth. He was going around passing out some kind of literature which I can only presume was his personal manifesto on the evils of industrial society or some other radical cause. He tried to give me a flyer and I shook my head no. But he persisted. So I shook my head harder and continued typing. Then he gets upset and tries talking to me in Dutch, all the while trying to force the flyer on me. I finally said “I don’t speak Dutch”. He got a bit exasperated and turned to walk away. But as he was leaving, he was looking back at me and said something to effect of “I’m speaking KNOWLEDGE!”. It was hard to make out with his accent. He then proceeded to walk around the area trying to pass out his literature to every single person that walked by. Freak.
So Saturday was pretty much a wash (literally). We just walked around taking in the sights, ducking into the odd pub for an occasional pint. At one point, Cee wanted to shop, so Bill and I found a great pub to kill time in while she did her thing. I don’t remember the name, but hey had some fantastic brews on tap. They even had Bruges Tripel, which is an exquisite beer that is hard to find outside of Belgium.
Bill and Cee used to manage a pub in Britain so I received quite an education from Bill about beer. For a beer enthusiast such as myself, it was very enjoyable. We were meeting everybody at 5, so I made my way back to the hotel to change as Bill went to track down Cee among the many shops.

So 5 o’clock rolls around and by about 6 the whole crew was there. There were 9 of us in all. We pretty much just hung out drinking and chatting for a couple of hours at a bar in Leidesplein until it was time to make our way to the Bangkok Restaurant where we had reservations at 8. The Thai food was great. Of course, if you know me, you know that I’m a curry freak, so it’s hard to get bad Thai as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always said that if I could, I’d have curry intravenously fed into my veins all day. And I could not wait to have some fries and mayonnaise.

Gracie, me & Mike

After dinner, we hit a really good bar/music pub on the Rembrandtplein called The Three Sisters. We downed many pints and listened to some good music. Eventually some of the group got a little bored, which meant one thing: Time to hit the Red Light District. As it was my third time in Amsterdam, I figured the RLD wasn’t anything that would interest me (especially with Virginia gone for two months – half naked women were the last thing I needed to see…), but the RLD in Amsterdam never fails to disappoint. It really is basically a tourist attraction nowadays. Hell, you often see tour groups full of elderly people walking through. Although there were no big spectacles such as the epic brawl that Patrick Johns and I witnessed on my last trip there that went on for a half an hour and dragged all over the RLD, there were still plenty of laughs to be had. And the good news is that I managed not to fall into any canals. The one thing I noticed is that the drug scene seems to be more prevalent now than the last two times I was there. The first time I went, I probably had only a few people trying to sell me stuff. This time there was a different guy literally every 5 feet asking if I wanted anything from cocaine to heroin to crack to X. At one point, we went in to explore the various offerings of the one of the many sex shops that the area had to offer. Those places are not for the faint of heart. Everything from inflatable sheep to…well, let’s just not go there (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

One of the many sex shops in Amsterdam

We hit a couple bars and had some more drinks until one by one, each of the couples had to leave for the station to catch their respective trains. Eventually it got down to just myself, Jori and the Dutchman (names are being withheld to protect the innocent). We hung out in a bar where the female bartenders were literally all dancing on the bar, a scene straight out of Coyote Ugly, and some weird Dutch guy next to me kept asking if I wanted to go with him to another bar where the girls were actually naked.

Coyote Ugly? Nope, the Amsterdam Red Light District

However, by about 3 am, they too had to catch a train home. Alas, I was the last man standing. But I would not go gentle into that dark night. No, I would rage…rage …RAGE. Or at least have a few more drinks. A few of the bars were still open so I ducked into one and had a few more pops. Let me tell you, the Amsterdam Red Light District at 4 AM is a surreal place (Picture the Cantina scene in the original “Star Wars”). I figured I’d had enough so I headed back to the hotel, which was down near the Museumplein so I had a small hike ahead of me. I had no map but thought I could get there by heading in the right general direction and looking for signs to the Museumplein. I was wrong. I was walking for a while in what I thought was the right direction but ended up in the middle of nowhere. Eventually I broke down and flagged down a taxi. I almost fell asleep several times; the only thing that kept me awake was my fear of being violated and dumped in a canal by a taxi driver who probably hated Americans. Around 6 AM I finally crawled into bed.

This is what Amsterdam looks like at 5:30 in the morning. Trust me.

Checkout was at 11 so I woke at 10, took a quick shower, checked out of the hotel, and took a cab directly to the airport. I wasn’t really hungover but I was unbelievably exhausted. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Perhaps that Dutch freak at the last bar slipped a mickey into my drink, who knows. It was Amsterdam after all.

As I got on the plane, a terrifying thought occurred to me; I had totally forgotten to have some fries and mayonnaise. The whole weekend was a failure.

(If you'd like to see more pictures, Jori has quite a few posted: Jori's Blog)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Looking For Something?

Our network is acting up today so you will all have to wait until tomorrow for the Amsterdam recap.

Until then, you can see some pictures on Jori's Blog.


Friday, May 06, 2005

"Do You Know What They Put on French Fries in Holland Instead of Ketchup?"

In a matter of hours, I shall board a plane in Venice that will whisk me away to the magical city of Amsterdam. Don't try to talk me out of it, I've already got my ticket. I'll be meeting up with several friends there and we will proceed to make fools out of ourselves, if only for a night or two. Drinks will be shared, laughs will be had, and french fries covered in mayonnaise will be consumed.

The last time I was in Amsterdam was for the millennium celebration where we partied crazy because we all thought the world would end due to the Y2K thing. Boy were we gypped. So I'm looking forward to going back. This will be my third trip to Amsterdam and it promises to be a good time since this time I'll be accompanied by some locals who know the city well.

Check back in Monday for some pictures and a recap...


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

On "Charlie's Angels" and other 70's classics...

Last night, the movie being shown on TV was “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”. I don’t know if you’ve seen this movie or not but if you liked it, you might want to move on to another site because I’m about to trash the hell out of it…

Let me start by saying I didn’t watch it last night because I’d already seen it. I know why I watched it before because I didn’t like the first one. The first one was really bad, but at least you had that one scene where Cameron Diaz dances around in her Spiderman underwear to the tune of Tavarez’ “Heaven (Must be Missing an Angel)”, one of my all time favorite songs. That one scene saved an otherwise dismal movie. But if the first one was bad, the second was embarrassingly bad. It was an affront to the Charlie’s Angels classic TV show that I loved so much as a kid. Farrah Fawcett would be rolling over in her grave (if she were dead that is…) if she saw what a mockery they’ve made of some of her best work. Thank God none of the original Angels did a cheesy cameo. That would have been the coup de grace.

So that got me thinking about 70’s TV shows in general. We didn’t have cable back then, so there were really only a handful of popular shows. I was born in 1971 so I only remember the latter half of the 70’s. And of course, many of the shows I watched were because my mother watched them. Here’s a short list of most of the 70’s shows that I watched frequently growing up:

Dallas – My mom was addicted to this show and since it was on Friday nights, she usually let us stay up late and watch it with her. By the way, Kristen Shepard shot J.R. in case you were wondering.

Alice – Another of mom’s shows. "Kiss my grits!"

Eight is Enough – I loved this one. I had a slight crush on Elizabeth.

Chips – What adolescent boy didn’t watch this show? Ponch and Jon had game.

Happy Days – This one goes without saying. The Fonz was probably the most popular TV character in the 70’s. Fabumundo. Admit it - you once tried to turn on a jukebox by punching it. Aayyyyyyyy…

Laverne and Shirley – Another of mom’s favorites.

The Six Million Dollar Man – “We can rebuild him. We have the technology”.

Mork and Mindy – I remember my dad used to watch this show with us and say how stupid it was. But I also remember that he used to laugh quite a bit at it.

The Love Boat – Another mom favorite. The theme song still makes me happy every time I hear it. “Love…exciting and new…”

The Jeffersons – This and “Good Times” were my first introduction to Black culture.

Little House on the Prairie – Now you just KNOW this was one of mom’s favorites.

Taxi – We would only get to watch this one in the summer because it came on late.

Three’s Company – Same with this one. Summer only. It was pretty racy for the 70’s.

Oddly enough, I never watched one of my all time favorite shows of the 70’s until it came on reruns in the 80’s; “WKRP in Cincinnati”. There sure was some good TV in the 70’s now that I think about it…


Monday, May 02, 2005

Bologna: A Veritable Gastronomical Utopia

Finally made it to Bologna this weekend. For some reason I'd ignored it before because it didn't really seem like anything special. I found it pleasantly surprising though. Though certainly not as famous as other Italian cities such as Rome, Milan or Florence, Bologna has quite a bit to offer the wayward traveler, not the least of which are the culinary delights which have made the city famous, at least in Italy. In Italy, the city is so famous for it's good food that the Italians have honored it with a nickname "Bologna, la Grassa", which means simply "Bologna the Fat". And indeed, I probably saw more fat Italians in Bologna than anywhere else I've traveled to in Italy.

You can see why it's called Bologna "La Grassa" - "The Fat"

Most of the popular Italian dishes you are familiar with originated in Bologna; tortellini, Spaghetti, Lasagna, mortadella, etc. I'm a huge tortellini fan so I was desperate to try it in Bologna. I certainly wasn't disappointed. For dinner I had fresh tortellini prepared in balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is also the specialty of the Emilia-Romagna region of which Bologna is the capital, so the meal was just unbelievable. In fact, I ordered tomato and mozzarella with balsamic vinegar as an appetizer. The local wine is Lambrusco, drunk more for its ability to cut through the fat content of the food than its taste. Though not a Lambrusco fan, I figured "when in Rome" (or in this case, Bologna) and ordered a glass. Upon the first sip, I thought "this tastes more like a Tuscan wine." Sure enough, the waiter had accidently poured a Sangiovese Red (Good catch Rik, you're really learning your wines...). It didn't matter though, everything was just spectacular.

Enjoying a plate of tortellini al balsamico

My Italian friend Adele who lives nearby, met me in the city and told me she wanted to take me to the best gelateria in Bologna. It's called Gelateria Gianni, and after my first visit, I declared that it was the best gelato I'd ever had anywhere in Italy. And I've had a lot of gelato. It was so good that we went back after dinner for another one. By far the creamiest, smoothest, tastiest gelato I've ever had. And a multitude of flavors for any taste. If you go to Bologna, go to Gelateria Gianni. Accept no substitutes.

Gelateria Gianni - Best gelato I've ever had

The one thing left to sample were the pubs, and Bologna did well in this area as well. For those who don't know, Bologna's university is the oldest in all of Europe. Being a big university city means that there will invariably be a decent nightlife scene. We found 3 good pubs right in a row in one of the streets right off the main piazza. A couple of them even served a range of Tenants brews, not easy to find in this part of Europe. We met a British guy there named Bob - what is it with me and British people in Pubs?! I must have met half the Empire by now - who ended up hanging out with us the rest of the night, downing pints and watching football/calcio/soccer.

Bob, Me, and a couple pints of Tenants

There is plenty to see and do in Bologna for anyone. If you have a chance, I'd recommend at least a full day, including dinner in the city. Look for a ristorante that has "pasta fresco", fresh pasta. That means they make it right there. Adele's friends and cousins who go to the university in Bologna all recommended a place called Trattoria Gianni (This Gianni guy's got much game apparently), but we had no reservation (a sign that it must be good), so we settled on a place called Tinello's, which is just to the left of the "Due Touri" (Two Towers, you can't miss them). Hard to imagine getting a better meal than the on we had though.

Since Bologna is only two hours away by train, I can foresee Virginia and I going there again just to have some more of the best food in all of Italy. And that's saying a lot.