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Cruising the Danube

BY ABBY AND MURIEL

sunny 28 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Budapest fountain break

Budapest fountain break

Today we decided to have a go at the public transport in Budapest. We walked down to the metro station in the morning to purchase a ticket for the day. From here we went to the river where we were able to take a boat down the water. The weather today hit a high of 28 degrees, so we knew that it was going to be a little uncomfortable. But it wasn't too bad if you were in the shade and we were able to battle through it somehow. We ended up going the opposite way that we wanted, but we just rode the boat back after it had finished it's route. My dad said that he didn't get why people pay so much money for river cruises when the public transport here is exactly the same. I didn't find it quite so comfortable. When we got to our destination we got off and walked around the town for a little, stopping at a fountain on our search for lunch. The large fountain was surrounded by people, as when the water spilled over the edge it fell into a moat that people were able to cool their feet in. We sat there for a while, enjoying the shade and coolness of the water before continuing our walk. We stopped at a food cart for lunch, as it had some tables in the shade. Three of us got hotdogs (which weren't so much hotdogs as sausages with a piece of bread on the side) and my mom got a dish of tomatoes, onions and red peppers (called letcho). Her meal had cooled down quite a bit by the time we started to eat which was unfortunate, but she enjoyed it all the same... I think.

After lunch we took a tram to the Castle District to see the view of the city. It was extremely hot but we were able to get free water from the public fountains located around the area, which was a plus. Most of the stores we went to had very high prices, most of them two or three times more then the shops outside of the district. My mom saw that street vendors were selling lemonade for $10 each.

The trip up to the castle wall was my dad's idea of heaven as he travels for the views and the ability to take pictures of them. After he was satisfied we walked back down the hill and took a tram back to our own apartment to rest for a while. We took showers and relaxed for a few hours before eating dinner and going to bed with a few West Wings.

From Muriel:

Memento Park: typical proletariat statue

Memento Park: typical proletariat statue

This evening, Ben and I went to see a one-of-a-kind place, for us at least. It is called Memento Park and is a place they built to store many of the Soviet-era statues that were placed around Budapest during Communist rule. They obviously didn’t want them staying in their parks and along their boulevards but felt they were too important a symbol to eradicate. Therefore, they have isolated them to a spot outside Budapest and now welcome tourists to visit. Looking at the oversized figures of Lenin, Marx and anonymous proletariat workers stirs conflicting feelings of amazement, amusement and soberness. It reminds me of the time when we in the west would watch TV news casts of the Soviet bloc countries and parades of the Red Army before the Berlin wall came down. The gargantuan statues seemed then and now to epitomize dictatorship rule. The leaders always seemed to be overcompensating for being an atheistic government, needing to replace the concept of a higher being with that of a larger-than-life ruler. So glad we don’t have an eight metre tall statue of Stephen Harper anywhere. We were also treated to a 1950s-era film montage of actual Soviet training films on 'how to be a spy': they outlined how to break into someone's place, how to build a network, how to search a suspect's place, etc. They are only funny when you forget that they were actually used in the Soviet campaign.

Posted by KZFamily 13:51 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest hungary hot tram castle_district Comments (1)

A Slice of (Italian) Life

BY MURIEL

sunny 30 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Fossalta ice cream shop

Fossalta ice cream shop

The heat of the last few days has made us feel more and more like doing less and less. Therefore, today was a day of sitting on the patio with cold drinks, doing laundry, reading and researching about Venice and just generally hanging out. A day such as this one does cause me some guilt, however, especially when I see that the 85-year-old father of our host has been outside watering already at 7:00 AM. He has beat us up every day this week, even on the day when we arose early. He putters around the place, moving supplies in a wheelbarrow and taking care of the plants. Eighty-year-old grandma is not far behind, tending to the washing and helping her husband. I have had a chance to talk with many of the family members: both sons, the parents and the grandmother. It’s been interesting to hear of the parents’ jobs (both in IT), the sons’ exams (the one ending high school has three full days of written exams and one day of oral exams), and the grandmother’s day-to-day life. While this house hasn’t been situated right amongst the tourist activities, it has allowed us to see and hear about real aspects of Italian life. The town is a sleepy one, with one main street, along which life seems to revolve. There are a few pizzerias, a bar, a fruit and vegetable store, a grocery store, a church, a park and an ice cream place – all the essentials. We took the questionable bikes out again but just to get to the gelateria a kilometer away. Joining the other locals, we found that the town gelato was some of the best we’ve had. With our appetites for all things Italian fulfilled, we got to bed early, anticipating a much crazier day tomorrow in Venice.

Posted by KZFamily 09:05 Archived in Italy Tagged food italy hot fossalta_di_piave Comments (1)

The Italian Party

BY MURIEL

sunny 31 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Sadly, Ben was out of commission today. Not feeling well, he elected to spend the day recuperating at home. That meant that it became A Girl’s Day Out, with the remaining three of us making a plan. Knowing that the heat has a lot to do with how we feel about a city, we chose a smaller community close to the water, Caorle. It is noted as a tourist haunt but the description of the beach promenade and brightly coloured narrow streets beckoned us anyway. Abby seemed a bit jumpy once we got in the car and I asked her who she was more nervous with driving the vehicle, me or her dad. She said she felt about the same level of nervous tension, but for different reasons: “Dad gets more agitated when something unexpected or wrong happens but at least, I know he knows how to drive. You seem a bit too laid back when something happens so I don’t know if you’ll react quickly enough.” Words to grow my confidence for sure! I was determined to show her that I could navigate well ... well enough, anyway.

Caorle

Caorle

So, we set off, bound for Caorle. Five minutes into the drive, I suggested we could just park at the first town we saw and still tell Ben we had a great time at the original destination. I think Abby was actually considering it until I indicated I was only joking. The drive was beautiful, past green vineyards and yellow wheat fields, each belying the heat of the day. We, enjoying our air conditioned car, could put off the inevitable for a while longer. We passed through a number of small towns before we reached the seaside, which was about 40 minutes away. Even though we often insist on parkade shopping when Ben is in the driver’s seat, I elected to go easy on myself and park at the first downtown parkade we saw. It would come back to haunt us later in the afternoon when I had to pay over four dollars an hour for the privilege. However, for the moment, we were happy that it netted us close access to the centre of old town and the tourist office.
We spent an enjoyable time amongst the clothing and jewelry shops, taking good advantage of the fact that the lone male was not along. Lunch consisted of a slice of pizza and the best darn breaded calamari we have ever had; if that was the quality served up by a little hole-in-the-wall place serving us on bar stools, I can only imagine what the high class Italian fish restaurants serve. Winding through the shaded multi-coloured alleyways, we navigated our way to the promenade. I was bound and determined to locate the breakwater here, famous for its sculptures. Originally meant just as a breakwater of large stones, in 1992, an artist decided to carve a couple of figures in the stone. The idea soon took off and now there are artists coming from several countries to add to the 100 plus carvings on display. When the sculptures proved elusive, much to my kids’ chagrin, I persevered in hunting down this phenomenon by asking random people “Sculptura?” Abby chastised me by indicating that I couldn’t hope to have myself understood in Italian by merely adding ‘a’ to the end of a word. Personally, I thought it was a plan with some merit so persisted despite not gaining success with the first people I tried (they were German anyway). It turns out that ‘sculpture’ in Italian is ‘scultura’ so I wasn’t far off. Within a short timeframe, these two older Italian fellows caught my gist and gesticulated towards the carvings. They then engaged us in conversation for a few minutes, providing much advice during the short dialogue: “You must go to Venice; it is so beautiful. But don’t buy anything there! And don’t forget, Italy is the best country in the world. Where you from? Canada, well, Italy is still the best. We are from here. Why go other places? This is true Italy! Right here, and Venice. We are in the Republic of Venice right now! But it is still real Italy. Not like Sicily – Sicily is Africa! There are many Muslims there. Firenze is OK, is the real Italy too. You understand? You enjoy Italy; don’t forget, it is the best!” They were real ambassadors for their country and brought wide smiles to our faces. The sculptures were quite varied and very interesting. As much as possible, they distracted us from the heat. Once we reached the end of the promenade, however, we had to retrace our steps. By that time, most of the stores were closed for the midday break. We searched for a gelateria, noting that, sadly, many of those were closed too. But, we only needed one to be open and zeroed in on it once located. We reckoned that the few open gelato storefronts must make a killing during this self-imposed daily shut down.

Sagra food tent

Sagra food tent

Returning home in the afternoon, we found Ben valiantly hoping for a recovery so that he might join us in our evening`s plans. We were slated to meet up with Italian friends for an evening out. I have a good friend, Ornella, whose relationship harkens back to junior high days in Prince George (a mere thirty-five years ago!). Her parents had emigrated from Italy to Prince George back in 1959 and had their family there. On various family vacations back to the old country, Ornella`s younger sister, Stella, fell in love with Italy (and with an Italian!) so emigrated to Italy herself when she was about 20. Her mother has since returned to Italy as of five years ago and now lives across the street from Stella. When Ben and I had traipsed through the area many years ago, Stella and Lorus were kind enough to put us up for a few days. We were looking forward to meeting them, their daughter and Mrs. Bazzo once again.
Stella had asked whether we wanted to experience a tourist town or join in on a local event. As we could always find a touristic place ourselves, we gladly opted for the local excursion. It did not disappoint. There is a tradition in Italy for several villages to host a ‘sagra,’ a food festival devoted to a certain type of food common to the area. It can be as specific as a single food, such as an onion, or particular to a way of cooking. Many times, it can also be combined with a saint’s feast day. In this case, the focus was on meat, which was a hit with us, and involved a lot of barbequing. Proceeds from such events are applied towards community needs.
Stella escorted us to the event, while Nona was a passenger in my car should I get lost (a distinct possibility with all these back roads). We arrived at a large, gravelled area, divided into sections for parking, eating and entertainment, as far as I could make out. Hundreds of people were milling about and all manner of Italian was being used, or so I surmised from the expressions, tones and gesticulations. As we made our way to the two large tents set up for eating, our friends were greeted by their acquaintances every few steps, people showing off new babies, others calling out hellos, and cousins exchanging hugs. It was great to be absorbed into the very strong community atmosphere. Rows and rows of communal benches had been set up in the tents, hundreds were already sitting and chatter and eating were in fierce competition with one another. Because of the popularity of the event, we had to wait about half an hour for seats to clear. That gave us time to review key events of the fair: inline dancing by groups in marvellously bedecked costumes and a sports competition between teams for what I can only describe as ‘soccer on soap suds.’ They had prepared a large rectangular area fully enclosed by netting on the sides and top; on the bottom was soft white plastic, onto which was squirted liters of water and soap suds. As you might imagine, this generated havoc with the usual awesome skills of the Italian footballers, creating a real gong show of slipping, sliding and bubbles. However, those Italians are ALWAYS serious about their football, even when the ball is a glow-in-the-dark version and copious amounts of foam are involved. The locals who had formed teams still decked themselves out in new uniforms for the event and, when we saw one goalkeeper allow an easy goal by leaving his net for too long, his teammates looked quite put off and immediately relieved him of his net duties. Sagre often feature a competition of some sort and this was obviously Motta Di Livenza’s choice of contest.
Once we obtained the much-valued table seating, Stella translated the various offerings from the menu: grilled options such as chicken, pork chops, miniature quail-like birds, spareribs and sausage platter, jackrabbit, mixed fish platter; and sides like gnocchi with duck sauce, fries, salad, calamari, or beans. The emphasis was on the meat so Stella encouraged us not to order large portions of the sides as we would all receive polenta as well. When our plates came, Hannah was treated to three smokey-like sausages and several spareribs while Abby and I each received a whole chicken. I believe I did my meal justice, leaving Abby, who was too chicken to eat her whole plate, in the dust. Hannah, a renowned carnivore, similarly conquered her offering. Sagra food is typically very reasonably priced and this was no exception. It is definitely the way to eat out in Italy. The meal passed with great food and conversation. It was great to visit with my friends again; Stella is very much like Ornella in looks, mannerisms and speech so it really felt like I was seeing my old friend whom I haven’t seen in quite a few years. Stella and Mrs Bazzo were so comfortable to be around that my girls had a very relaxing time as well.

Sagra meal

Sagra meal

The next education in the art of attending a sagra came after the meal, when we went to an adjacent building where you could feel the excitement in the air. There, people purchase little rolled up pieces of paper; each paper has a number or street name on it. If it’s a number, it could correspond to one of about 100 physical prizes, the largest being a plasma TV; however, every paper was a winner as they gave you a little something to take with you regardless. Feeling optimistic, we quickly worried what we were going to do when we won the TV; with some relief, we determined we could give it to Stella and Lorus should we win. The optimism was misplaced as it turned out but we did get a grab bag full of useful items: yoghurt, a scrub pad, tomato sauce, juice, cookies, a chocolate bar, and even a bottle of wine! It was good fun.
The evening ended with an Italian jazz band taking the stage. They were quite entertaining and the girls enjoyed the camaraderie between the eight band members. Also, it didn’t hurt that they were young Italian guys! We all really enjoyed the evening but tried think of ways to downplay it for when we came home and told Ben about it, as we knew he would feel badly that he missed the sagra. When we arrived home, however, we couldn’t keep all the experiences in and ended up regaling him with the great opportunity we had to partake in a slice of real Italian life. We’ll just have to go again.

Posted by KZFamily 08:32 Archived in Italy Tagged food italy hot sagre motta_di_livenza Comments (3)

Cycling in Italy

By Abby

sunny 28 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

The weather these past few days has been extremely hot, as you know, and according to the weather forecast, today was not going to be any cooler. We got up early this morning in order to start our bike ride as we wanted to start off during the cooler part of the day. When we did get out of the house, however, we were greeted with four bikes in very rough shape. It took about twenty minutes to get the seats to the right height and the tires pumped up, and even then, we left with both of my dad’s tires in pretty flat condition. We found our path easily, thanks to the questions we’d asked and research we’d done the night before. Our plan was to ride next to the river and into a near town for some drinks and refreshments before returning home. We took a few wrong turns but in the end we got to the town in one piece, but we were all very, very hot. We locked up our bikes and stopped in at a little cafe we found. My mom and I ordered soft drinks, while Hannah and my dad went for coffee, Hannah’s cold and my dad’s hot. Hannah didn’t end up liking hers, so I was able to drink it and she ordered a San Pellegrino like my mom. But we didn’t stay long, and soon we were back on our bikes and down the trail again. The way back took half the time as we were able to stay to the right paths. The weather wasn’t nearly as hot as the day before and there was a cool breeze included, so we all enjoyed ourselves a lot. Going back down the roads into our town, we found one stretch closed off to a street market. We decided that we would go home and clean up a little before returning though, as we were all pretty sweaty.

At the market Hannah and I set off together to look at the clothes and my parents checked out the food stalls and a nearby grocery store. Most of the vendors who were selling clothes had trucks with changing stalls made of sheets set up for people who wanted to try on clothes. Hannah and I wandered around the stalls for a while, and in the end I picked up a formal and a casual dress, while Hannah opted for one that doubled as a skirt.

We met two hot and tired parents by a fountain nearby and we made one last trip into the grocery store to get some lunch and ice cream. After we ate and showered, both my mom and my dad settled down for some naps, while Hannah and I did some relaxing of our own (reading, researching and “internet-ing”). In the afternoon we played a game of Dutch Blitz (I won, Mom came last), and I made dinner while the other three battled it out in a highly intense game of cribbage (my dad slaughtered both of them...but my mom still came last). After hamburgers we all went off into our separate corners to do various tasks such as uploading pictures, writing blogs, and planning for the days to come.

Posted by KZFamily 00:59 Archived in Italy Tagged italy hot biking Comments (3)

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