Villa blogging

17
Jul
2011

Finally arrived at the Villa Fabbroni in the Chianti region of Italy to meet my family, after a lovely day in Genova. The internet access here is off and on, so I can’t really upload much until they fix it. Suffice it to say, we are eating well and having a nice time in a funny old villa. Check out my room for example…

a little over the top, no? I will try to blog more later if the internet holds out, I have some great pics to share…

Pesto, Panna Cotta, and Palaces

15
Jul
2011

We have only been in Genoa a few short hours (and it probably doesn’t hurt that we are drunk), but we are completely charmed and surprised by this city. We got in around 5 and asked the hotel for a recommendation for a good Pesto, because this is apparently the birthplace of the dish we know and love. The route that google maps had us take to the restaurant was through a pretty seedy area, but I kind of liked it. Genoa has incredible history but it doesn’t seem all that cleaned up like Florence or Venice, it seems still gritty, and with an incredible density to the old urban core. You can imagine it still living a bit the way it must have been hundreds of years ago. The pesto was perhaps the best I have had in my life (and the panna cotta for dessert definitely so), and on the way back to the hotel (which is near the train station) we took another route, down the Via Garibaldi (a UNESCO world heritage site) which was stunning. We will try to explore a little bit tomorrow morning before heading out, as this was really just a stopover city, but it definitely has a certain appeal…


From Genoa

To Nîmes

15
Jul
2011

We hit the road with our rental car after leaving Paris yesterday morning, and had a very smooth time getting out of Paris (despite the fact that this was Bastille Day and we were told the EVERYONE was leaving town for the long weekend). Along the way, we stopped near Lyon at one of chef Georges Blanc’s restaurants (called L’embaradero) for an absolutely fabulous lunch. A few short hours later, we had arrived in Nîmes, a town with a rich Roman history and an Arena in the center of the old town (that our Hotel room just happened to overlook). We checked in and then went to explore a little, first stopping at the magnificent Arena for a tour of what is the best preserved example of such a structure in the world. Then we walked around the town a bit and stopped for a truly awful meal (the counterbalance to our lunch experience), and finally went back to the hotel, exhausted. A couple of hours later we got a little bit of a second wind and went to explore the town a bit by night, which was thoroughly enjoyable.


From Nimes

What is the train version of highway robbery?

12
Jul
2011

After a 4 hour somewhat stark train journey from Hamburg to Köln, I was happy to note that my second train, a Thalys bound for Paris, had internet access on board. It is only free for first class however. Those in second (comme moi) need to pay, and how. The cost of internet for the 3 hour trip is $18! I think I could have upgraded to première for that. I of course paid it anyway as I was bored out of my mind and thought I might get some work done. For that price, one should expect flawless service, n’est-ce pas? It is, sadly, très flawed. Every couple of minutes it disconnects, and takes ages to load even simple web pages. I highly recommend avoiding the Thalys internet magouille if at all possible (ie, if you aren’t an internet addict like me). For my part, I am focusing on the adventure ahead and seeing my friends and family over the next few days…

thalys

Bye again, Hamburg

12
Jul
2011

I have been in Hamburg enough times, and stayed here at Olaf’s enough times, and long enough, to feel loser to it than most other places. If not exactly home, it is a kind of home away from home, and I always enjoy hanging with Olaf and getting reacquainted with the people I know here (and meeting new ones). This particular trip I have stayed longer than any other visit, and so it is a little sad to say goodbye. That said, I have an exciting few weeks ahead of me. I will leave today for Paris to meet my brother and sister in law, and on Thursday we will take a rental car south towards Nimes for the night, then to Nice the next day. From there we will take a train to Genova (Italy), spend the night there, and pick a car the next day to head to Florence. In a villa just south of Florence, we will be staying a week with much of the rest of the family (My mother, father, sister, brother in law, niece, and nephew). And like us, they are converging from all over Europe on trips of their own this summer. After that, I will  go to Florence and Modena to stay with my friend Jonathan for a few days, then fly to London to stay 11 days with my friend Arnaud before heading back to NYC finally on the 8th of August. Whew.

kannst du mich Al nennen

10
Jul
2011

Last night I was graciously invited by a new friend Matthias (who I met through Olaf) to a Paul Simon concert here in Hamburg. Since everyone was out of town, I had called Matthias asking if he wanted to do something this weekend. As luck would have it, the friend he was supposed to go to the concert with had just cancelled, leaving him with the extra ticket. And while in normal circumstances I would probably never seek out tickets to a Paul Simon concert, it was a lot of fun. I did notice that we were among the youngest people in the concert hall (which was an absolutely beautiful venue btw). And for their age, and given that they are German, I was a little surprised by their boisterousness and adulation – jumping up all the time, hooting, clapping (out of sync mostly) and dancing. The seats we had were fantastic, in the 3rd row, with an unimpeded view of the stage and Paul directly. One of the striking things about the concert is that you realize that Paul Simon has been around so long that he has a very significant repertoire of songs to choose from, and my favorite moment had to be when he sang “The Only Living Boy in New York”, although he also did a very nice solo version of “Sounds of Silence”. He also played a large number of songs from his most recent album which were nice but didn’t have the same power for me as his older work. Paul Simon is approaching 70, and I was surprised at how nice his voice still sounds (but perhaps he hasn’t abused himself as much as, say, Whitney Houston). All in all, it was a very nice evening, thanks Matthias!

Mental mapping

9
Jul
2011

The last two times I was in Hamburg, I was pretty much along for the ride with my friend Olaf. Wherever he went, I went, and I didn’t think too much about it. Since everything was new to me, I was happy to see whatever. This time, I have access to a bike and have been spending a little time on my own, going out for a date here and there, or biking around a bit. And I feel like I am starting to get a feel for the city, its neighborhoods, and how things are connected here. I think it is pretty fascinating the way we make sense of a physical place like a city. We start with bits and pieces, certain pathways from point a to point b, etc. And it takes a while before those start to overlap and we begin to have an overall mental map of a place. Something in the last couple of days has finally made this larger map start to form for me here, and it makes the experience of Hamburg all the better.

In and out of Hamburg

7
Jul
2011

The last couple of days have been a little light on work, and surprisingly nice weather, so we have filled them with a couple of bike rides. As with many mostly flat cities in the north of Europe, Hamburg is definitely a city for biking. There are paths everywhere and it is very popular and easy to get around by bike. Yesterday, Olaf, Nico and I went a bit north, in the direction of the airport, and into some of the less urban areas of Hamburg. Olaf plotted a course for us that mostly seem to traverse these paths and green areas between streets and at the back of housing and neighborhoods. These spaces were mostly taken up with small plots of land called Shrebergarten, which were assigned to workers during the period of industrialization as a kind of compensation for the dislocation of urban life. These little gardens were meant to reconnect people to the land, and allowed them to have a little plot of land to cultivate. Apparently today some are owned, some are rented, and while they are not zoned for living, some people have built little cottages on them that they spend the night in sometimes. These plots are quite small, but some of them are very sweetly tended nonetheless. I found it quite fascinating to ride the paths in between them, as they go on for miles and miles, and are apparently quite common in Germany.

Today, Nico and I took a decidedly more urban ride down to the town center and through some areas of dense building. I love how many canals there are in the heart of Hamburg, crossing them is almost always a visual treat. We also took in some architectural gems (like the famous Chilihaus), did a little shopping, had a nice lunch, and headed back home.  Olaf is in Capri, Italy for the next couple of days, and so Nico and I will make dinner tonight for Michael and Fabian (it is the custom in the house for everyone to always eat together, which I find quite nice). I decided to pitch in and make a salad, which seemed a safe choice, until Michael informed me that Fabian didn’t like two of the four ingredients.  Sigh, local pickiness strikes again.