Every year for the last 40 (at least), the Finnish society here in the DC area, Kipinäkerho, now called Finn Spark, has put on a holiday market. It is always held in Bethesda, Maryland, at a church in the woods (Finland has a lot of woods).
There is food to buy and food to eat there. I went to buy the Karelian pies and cardamom milk bread, pulla, (like challah) and the gingerbread… almost everything was sold out by noon. Those Finns get up early!
I also bought rye bread. Finnish rye bread is made from a mother yeast extracted from the air. This is not strong yeast so the bread is mild and flat. And dense. I recall chewing quite hard as a kid to eat this bread. Now as an adult, I love it even more because of the memories it brings me.
Memories are often the thing that makes a food delicious. Nostalgia is a strong ingredient.
There were also other things for sale, but I was less interested in those. They were giving away free cookbooks so I took one of those. Maybe I will try a recipe. But more likely, I will wait till next year to get more gingerbread. Or I can go into Mikko’s cafe in Dupont.
All five of the Nordic countries have holiday markets in the fall. I will have to catch them all next year.
Last fall, I tried to go on a quest to do a “Fall of the Iron Curtain” and I nearly made it. Along the way, I saw many places that are basking in the post-communist times.
In Tirana, Albania, I went to a museum, Bunk’Art2, that explained in a tiny way, what times were like just a few decades ago. The museum is underground in an nuclear fallout shelter and the oppressive atmosphere added to the sadness.
One can easily forget history and take for granted the freedoms that we enjoy. This museum was a quick reminder.
If you want to see some spectacular vistas, glaciers, and cute alpine towns, try taking the Bernina Express. We went first class. We had table service and large picture windows that curved up the roof of the train carriage.
Taking this train in the spring allowed us to see both green valleys and snow capped mountains.
The best part was driving through a snow flurry which created an ethereal magical world of dancing flakes and frozen waterfalls.
The staff encouraged us to use the open windows at the end of the carriage to stick our heads out and enjoy the wind. It was refreshing, making returning to the warm carriage even cozier.
The Bernina Express is 110 years old and historic for many reasons. One can learn all about it by using the WIFI audio guide. Or you can just stare out at the passing scenery and imagine the lives lived there, far from the megatropolis of Rome. We dreamed of staying at one of those remote cottages for a few weeks…
The difficult part is that one must have both a reservation and a ticket. Make sure to screen shot those as the phone service may not be so strong up in the alps.
We took the train from Tirano to Chur. The journey was four hours long. They have various tours so one could do this more than once.
For those who visited or lived in DC back in the day, they will recall going down to Maine Avenue fish market to buy shrimp and seafood from the red roofed open air buildings sitting low down by the water. You could even get them pre-steamed with Old Bay Seasoning and ready to eat. The area was a bit run down and sketchy at night. It was a strange location in DC. But one went there for the shrimp. Or if you were eating at Philips.
Times have changed but the seafood stalls are still there. Other than that, it’s a complete make over. Now The Wharf is an entire outdoor boardwalk built for pleasure by the water. It is a new destination location in DC. If you come to DC, I recommend trying it out.
Go for the seafood, Gordon Ramsey’s sticky toffee pudding, and towers of seafood. If you are not into seafood, there are other options. Even the Irish pub is good!
Washington, DC, is the capital of the US but also home to almost three quarters of a million people. The architecture is varied and increasingly high rise. Driving around DC, I realize how much I do not know about the architecture or history of DC. For a guide to the basic styles of homes in DC, check out this link.
I will not be retiring to my palace in Split like Diocletian. But, I will be leaving Rome. I will be moving from the eternal city on seven hills to a newer Rome in America. Washington, DC, is sometimes called the “new Rome” and in some ways it is. There are lots of monuments and white marble buildings. It is a capital, and some would say that it was influential the way that Rome once was. It gets unbearably hot in the summer. Like Rome, it is a touristy town. Like Rome, DC also suffers from not being quite as fashionable as its northernly neighbor (for DC, it’s New York, and for Rome, Milan).
But, for me, it will be my next home. Arrivederci, Roma!
Arrivederci translates to, “Goodbye until we meet again.”
So I finally made it to Venice! There are many ways to get to Venice, from the train, car, boat, taxi, plane, and bus. I tried several times to get to Venice because everyone told me how amazing it was/is. This time, I told no one where I was going and went. When I landed, it was pouring with rain. My taxi driver had no umbrella. The rain splashed up my legs like clamoring cats.
I bought an umbrella for 10 euro. I found my hotel and they suggested I try their affiliate restaurant for an early lunch. As my room was not ready and I was already wet, I decided to go see this city of mystery and passion.
There were many small streets and many canals. No trees in sight. I walked around and through puddles taking photos that I hoped conveyed the specialness of the buildings and atmosphere of Venice. Finally, I had spent enough time so that I could go to lunch. It was a lovely quiet place off the main drag. As an appetizer, the chef gave me a “cichetto” (a small open faced appetizer like a tapa) or whipped re-constituted dried cod (baccalo) on a piece of baguette. I was surprised that the appetizer was warm. It was soft. I then had excellent pasta. I was the only customer in the restaurant but the Bangladeshi cooks and the Italian waiter ate their meals before starting their work shift.
Later, as I was finishing up, some Italian ladies came in bringing a cloud of perfume and shiny gold purses, to order their dinner for the pre-arranged dinner they had planned. I was a bit cold from being wet but as the sun came out, I felt that I needed to take a few photos with the blue sky as a background.
Then, I took a nap. Later, I went on a group tour of the canals including the grand canal. It was impressive. I was reminded of the days of the grand tour when everyone was on show. Today, the tourists are not as elegant as those tourists from the nineteenth century but if I squinted, I could imagine them swanning about in their puffy sleeves and silk stockings.
At night, I was abruptly jarred back to modern times as I tried to find a place to eat that was not touristy or unavailable. I kept getting lost and eventually found a place where they would let me eat. The Three Lions was filled with French, German, and American tourists, but the place felt a bit like a secret place nonetheless. The waiters spoke French and English and they were quite nice.
I went back to my fancy palace bedchamber and listened to the assignations on the street below as I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, before dawn, I took a water taxi to the airport. At 140 (150 because it was night) euro, this was worth the private ride across the lagoon and into the svelte modern water taxi port at the airport.
So, now that I have seen Venice, what can I say? I saw it. It was lovely and it was easy to find streets all to myself. Would I say that one must see it? I guess so. But, I do not think I would go back.
Well, we tried. But, the line was too long for my liking. Instead, we enjoyed the boardwalk along the panoramic view over the plains, and we caught a glimpse of the edge of the Villa d’Este gardens. That will be enough for me. I will enjoy the online photos.
We also enjoyed the fountains that were in the public bathroom park.
We also enjoyed getting out of Tivoli. There are too many tourists and this is just spring. Wait till the summer!
In looking for parking, we had a nice drive (the driver shudders) through the center of Tivoli. Cute. Just like so many other Italian towns.
There is actually a hotel in the middle of the Villa d’Este gardens. I wonder how nice that would be to stay in?
In the US, it’s often easy to hire “two guys and a truck” to help move furniture across the city. In Rome, it’s really hard to move furniture across the city. I keep hoping there will be a “two priests and van” sign somewhere.
Anyway, if you have a vehicle, instead of moving furniture, you should go out for a road trip instead. Even just within an hour of Rome.
Outside Rome, there are so many small cute hilltop villages to explore and they are not famous. Or crowded. Like San Gregorio da Sassola. I bet you would have that town all to yourself.
Along the way, you can stop at an agroturismo (working farm) for lunch. Enjoy lunch. Pet some animals.
You might even come across a farm stand somewhere selling fresh produce.
Rome is a city built on seven hills, but Lisbon is a hill with many hills. It seems like the only level place is by the harbor. Lisbon is a gorgeous city but better suited to billy goats than a flat landlubber like me. People told me that it is like San Francisco. No. It is not. San Francisco’s downtown has long bits of flat. Lisbon has none.
Lisbon is becoming the hottest expat city to live in but I think even in that regard it may be getting too pricey. And it is too hilly.
The national airline of Portugal has sold all the slots near the airport to other carriers so when flying on TAP, one spends a long time on the bus.
But, I did have some good food in Lisbon, and the doctors are unnecessarily handsome (don’t ask, it was an adventure!).