Life Changing

There are certain simple things that we could go through life without experiencing and not be poorer for it.

There are certain simple things that we could go through life that, once experienced, we are much richer for it.

Like the taste of an Amarone or a Brunello, both of which are sublime.

Both of which I thought were the pinnacle of flavor for anything.

Until last month.

Goddess and I were lucky enough to be able to go on a truffle hunt just outside of Dijon, France, where we were led by a farmer and his gorgeous young Lagotto Romagnolo (Romagno Water Dog) pup, who was full of energy and lacked some of the focus that he’ll gain as he gets older.  The farmer explained that they switched from pigs to dogs for the hunt because the the pigs would eat the truffles.  But whenever the farmer wasn’t looking, the pup snatched a few truffles of his own.

Those were not cheap dog treats.

Yep, those truffles are €350 per kilogram.  That’s about $220 per pound!

After the hunt, where the pup found several black truffles, the farmer took us back to his farmhouse, which was more like a small castle than a farmhouse, and gave us a taste.  A lovely variety of truffle appetizers – truffle and liver paté, truffle and rabbit paté, truffle and duck paté, etc.

To say that the taste of a truffle is heavenly  would be severely understating the facts.

And that small taste was an experience for which we are richer.

So this past  Friday, Goddess and I joined some dear friends for a dinner in Heidelberg.  It was at quite a swanky joint that far surpassed any dining experience either of us had ever had.  Smack dab in the middle of the dinner, during the third of five courses, we were served a pigeon breast on a bed of pearl barley, covered with a truffle sauce and thin slices of the wonderful fungi.

Absolutely amazing.

Although we’ll continue to seek out truffles from time to time, I think that a bottle of Amarone or Brunello is more likely to be within reach.  But do yourself a favor and give truffles a try, if you can.

Smokin’ & Jokin’

No matter how cool the weather, there’s always a place to stay warm while talking with friends and enjoying a beverage.

Graber, Innere Stadt, Wien, Austria


A lovely town.  One you must visit, although it’s still not my favorite Italian city.  That spot (so far) is reserved for Verona, just an hour up the autostrada towards Milan.  But other than speeding through Verona, Goddess and I didn’t make it there this trip.  But we will.  Plus, there’s a lot Italy we have to explore.

And a lot of great wine.

So anyway, Goddess and I arrived on a Saturday evening.  After checking into the hotel to find our hotel room very cramped and reeking of cigarette smoke (both typical Italian hotel experiences), we headed off to find some dinner.  We got a recommendation from the lady working the hotel’s front desk and off we went.  We think we found the place that she recommended, mainly because there really weren’t any other options in the small downtown area of Mogliano Veneto.  We arrived “American early”, meaning around 7pm, which is at least an hour or so earlier than anyone else in Europe shows up for dinner.  So we had the place to ourselves. 

The food was good and the wine was better.  Apparently everyone else knew too, because the place filled up quickly after 8pm.  We enjoyed taking our time, but apparently not as much as the wait staff.  Once we were done, we asked three separate people and waited 25 minutes for our bill, even though they kept walking by not very busy.  It actually took us getting up to walk out before they moved.  Funny how that works.

So the next morning we headed off into the city.  Visiting Venice by train is the way to go, since parking VERY expensive (more later) and once you’re in the city, you can’t drive anyway.  So it’s better to get delivered directly to the grand canal with no traffic hassles.  And here’s the welcome:

Grand Canal

As you can see, it’s pretty busy, even though it’s only 9am.  The tourists are already bustling around, making the walkways quite crowded.  But not unbearably so.

Goddess and I had rushed out of the house and had left behind my Venice maps from my last visit, which was just over ten years ago.  The beauty of the city is that it couldn’t change that much in ten years.  Sure, the shops may change owners, but the cathedrals, squares and markets would be in the same place.  So we had to buy another map.  At tourist prices.  And that became a recurring theme over the next two days.

Once we got walking, we noticed that there were people running down the alleys, each wearing a race number.  Very odd, considering the large number of tourists.  But these folks were clearly in hurry to get places, so they were definitely racing.  We watched a few and realized that it was an orienteering race.  The folks had their map and compass and would have to pause to get their bearings before taking off again.  It was fun to watch them weave their way through the crowds.  Some even at a pretty brisk run.  And I’m sure they enjoyed the ramps from the Venice Marathon, which was held just two weeks before.  I know those ramps made it easier to get over some of the bridges than actually running up the steps.  Hell, it made it easier for us to walk.

We worked our way to Piazza San Marco, passing canal after canal after canal.  One thing I found interesting was how green the water appeared.  It almost didn’t seem natural.  But it certainly was.  Even out in the open water, it was a different shade of green, but nowhere as bright as within the small canals, framed by the pastel colored buildings.

Once we arrived at the Piazza, we decided it was time to sit down and watch the world go by.  We sat at one of the cafés and ordered our coffees – me a Doppio (double espresso) and Goddess a cappuccino.  The total was €18, which works out to about $27.  Tourist prices. 

Expensive Coffee At least we got water and a chocolate with it.

But it wasn’t all bad.  We sat for the better part of an hour watching people go by, taking in the view of St Mark’s Basilica and clock tower.  We did what we do best – people watch.  One nice surprise was to see a young Asian couple, newly married, parade out and get their pictures taken in front of many of the buildings. 

Venice WeddingLovely couple.

After a while, we decided to head down along the waterfront.  Outside of the canals, this to me is the best view in Venice.

That’s the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore in the background.  A phenomenal complex that I’ve yet to visit.

So, being the tourists that we are, we decided to do the gondola ride.  If you go, beware that it is not cheap.  Bring the suitcase.  But it’s worth every second.  I’ve spent many hours roaming down side alleys, through doorways and into hidden courtyards.  But this is a completely different view of the city.  At one point our gondolier actually apologized for a jet flying overhead on its approach into the airport; he was upset that it shattered the calm.

But unlike the movies, he never sang for us.

Again, worth every penny.

And those of you who’ve traveled with me know how much I hate doing the touristy things.  I’d rather explore the back alleys.

Which is what Goddess and I did the rest of Sunday, well into the evening.

Venice Night Shopping

And we returned Monday.

Monday was definitely different.  The city shifted energies, away from a tourist-focused city to a living, breathing city on Monday.  The markets burst to life, the canals were packed with boat traffic as deliveries were made, and children filled the streets on their way to/from school.  And the tourists were still everywhere.

So we went the other direction.  To the point that the locals were looking at us funny, because it’s pretty obvious when two blonde folks are walking down a back alley in Venice that they aren’t locals.

And we’re better for the experience.

If you subscribe to National Geographic, then you saw this past Augusts’ article “Vanishing Venice”.  A wonderfully well-written, well photographed article (as you’d expect from NG) that delves into the disappearing native Venetian population.  But we caught glimpses of them at every turn.

Venice Laundry

Plus we got away from the tourist prices.

Believe it or not, this lunch (wine included) cost less than our two coffees in Piazza San Marco.

Venice Lunch And we had it the tables all to ourselves along the side of a canal.

It was too cold for the Venetians to come out to take our order.  It was in the mid 60s (Fahrenheit for you snarky comments [you know who you are]).  But we sat out, sans jackets, and enjoyed the lovely day.

Soon it was time to make our way back across the city to look at carnivale masks. 

When I was here in 1999, I found one that I wanted to get Goddess.  We were dating at the time and I wanted to bring her a bit of this part of the world.  So I found the one I wanted to get her, then decided to go out and do some comparison shopping.  When I returned to buy it, the owner had taken her lunch siesta, but had hung the sign that she’d return at 2pm.  Well, 2pm came and went.  By 330pm I had to leave for the airport to catch my flight, which I did without the mask.

So ten years later we were in the store, picking out the ones that she wanted.  She walked out with a few.  All beautiful, including one that’s freaky (to me) when she puts it on.  But those will remain invisible to y’all until we find an opportunity to wear them.

But here’s one that was on the wall.

After that, we headed back to the garage to pick up our car.

Where we needed a suitcase of money to spring it free.

Since we had checked out of our hotel that morning, we couldn’t leave the car in their massive parking lot of four spots.  So we drove it to Venice, full of suitcases, then parked it in one of the towering parking garages at the city entrance that had a flat rate for any amount of time for under twelve hours.  The flat rate was the low, low price of €24 (that’s $36 USD).

From there we did a fine, fine job of getting lost in northern Italy.  But that’s a different story that involves not updating our GPS with new maps since we bought it.

But I won’t tell that here.

Next stop, a few places in Northern Italy (once we figured out where we were).


BTW, you can click on each of the photos above.  The ones with the borders around them will just take you to a larger version of the image.  The ones with the blue lined borders will take you to my website, where a few other images are loaded.  I’ll be adding more in the coming days.  And if you see one you like, please consider buying it.  I’ve gotta pay for the parking somehow.  ;^)