Lake Como is becoming more famous for George Clooney than for its other attributes. I only saw it in passing on my way to catch another train. And then, in Tirano, we found an even better dish!
The little town of Tirano is a pitstop on the way to catch the Bernina Express, but maybe one should stay a while. We did not. We had an hour. We needed lunch. The tiny square near the train station had two eateries so we went to the nearest one. Little did we expect the food to be good.
The house specialty was homemade buckwheat noodles with cabbage, potato, and butter. It turned out to be the best dish of the whole trip.
As the restaurant is used to catering to tourists, I managed to get pineapple and ham added to my American pepperoni pizza. This would never happen in Rome! But, here in Tirano, we were two kilometers from Switzerland so the rules against pineapple on pizza don’t apply here.
The balsamic glazed steak was also something of a surprise. While we were still in Italy, we did feel some of the Teutonic sternness in our waitress. Maybe we are just oversensitive?
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 went to Egypt to see the treasured outpost of the Roman Empire. But, I also went because I wanted to see the traffic. Is that weird? Yes, and thank you. I had heard people say that the traffic in Cairo is the worst in the world. I have been in LA, Dhaka, Lima, Bogota, New Delhi, and NY traffic. Of all those places, I still vote that Dhaka has the worst traffic. Could Cairo take the crown?
Yes, it can. The reason is that the traffic in Cairo is lethal. Cairo is much bigger than Dhaka and there are many roads where one can gain a great amount of speed, thus making traffic accidents more likely to be lethal.
So, I would have to agree that Cairo has the worst traffic, but Dhaka has possibly the most interesting? In Dhaka one saw all kinds of things in traffic, from half a million rickshaws to elephants.
With those words, Augustus (as Octavian was known from 27 BCE) declared the Roman Empire’s conquest of Egypt. As I was considering the end of my Roman adventure, I felt like I needed to go to Egypt so see that important part of the Roman world. Although Rome is modern, it seems to live on as the Rome of 2,000 years ago. Back then, Alexandria was the Roman capital of Egypt. I hear that modern day Alexandria is a very mediterranean city. I did not go there. I went to Cairo.
Cairo reminded me a lot of Dhaka. But a scarier, more aggressive Dhaka. In Cairo, I could see how as a single woman, one would feel danger. I didn’t feel scared but I was also never alone. When my friend and I were in the souk, she wouldn’t let us go into the long narrow stalls because it was too dangerous. She made the vendors bring things out to the street for us to look at. Maybe I was more oblivious back then, but in Dhaka, I never felt that the men were too aggressive. They tended to want to take photos and stare but I was not too worried about getting mugged or molested. Maybe it’s my memory changing the reality or maybe I was more naive. I was also almost never alone in Dhaka.
The first day, my friend took me to the souk, the Khan el-Khalili market, as that was my wish. It was hot so that trip was fast. I got my postcards and we left. We ate lunch at a place in the souk. It is a very touristy place and my friend had to insist on some of the local dishes rather than the grilled meat platters being pushed on all the other tourists. I had the falafel which in Egypt is made with fava/broad bean rather than chickpea/garbanzo, and I had the baba ganoush, and the other dips. I liked the stretchy flat bread. There was always too much food and I could see that the Egyptians are extremely hospitable. The next day, we went to a cosmopolitan bakery in the Maadi and that was also nice. That neighborhood had the same dusty streets and dusty buildings of Dhaka.
The next day, the sun was out and the sky was a pale blue color. Sort of. Another Egyptian friend, Mohamed, a former colleague who had worked with me in Dhaka, and a colleague from that time picked me up with a driver for a day out. When my friend picked me up, he had to come in and have a bit of fruit and coffee. Hospitality is king. The day turned out to be like one of those days in Dhaka which went from 9 am to 11 pm. The driver was filled with facts and his English was good. I told him that he should be a guide. He said that he was! My friends had hired him for the day. We went to the Coptic Cairo (Old Cairo). On this street, there is a famous ruin from Roman occupation times, 2,000 years ago (30 BCE when Augustus conquered Egypt). The fort was built in Babylon and years later, the Hanging Church is built on top of the Roman fortress.
Finally, I had to see the pyramids. They recommended the ring road. The pyramids looked quite nice from the distance and from an air conditioned car. I remarked so. At one point, the guide slowed down so that I could get the ultimate photo of a lush green field, a camel and donkey under two palm trees, and in the distance, the only remaining wonder of the ancient world, the pyramids. For breakfast, around noon, we went to a place that my Egyptian friend chose. It was a place where they make “Egyptian pizza” or “fatayer” which is thin layers of dough with filling. One was with honey and others were savory. We had one with mozzarella, bell peppers, and thin slices of dried meat. Then we had another with smoked sausage. All beef. This dish is my favorite Egyptian food so far. The dough is fried in clarified butter and the pastry takes on the sheen of golden stain glass windows. Yummy.
Later in the day, Mohamed asked if we were ready for dinner. My other friend recommended “Hagooga” a local place. Very local. So new and local that even Mohamed had never been. We went around 6 pm and it was not to busy but most of the 40 tables inside were filled with families and others. Only Egyptians. We sat indoors. This restaurant was so local that even the locals ignored us, the only foreigners.
I got to try the famous “whisky” which is the salad dressing water from making the salad. We got the grilled meats, and other dips or “mezze” – not sure what it’s called in Egypt. I still preferred the breakfast pizza. At one point, Mohamed told me not to fill up on bread because we still had dessert. When were stepped outside, the courtyard was light with string lights and every table was filled with diners. There were twenty people waiting for tables. Another entertaining thing about Hagooga’s is that everything is branded with her smiling face and name. Even the brass lamps had her name stamped out.
Most of the local women I saw in Cairo had their hair covered. I asked if this was law and although it is not, they cover their hair. It is windy, sunny, and dusty in Cairo, so I could see why it would make sense to keep one’s head covered. My friend also told me that most of them go and have their hair washed once per week, so maybe that is another reason.
For dessert, we went into Rehab City, a gated city. It was like entering Miami. We went to an outdoor mall/market and Mohamed got us platters of sweets. I recognized baklava but I don’t know the names of the others. I teased Mohamed that this, the eating of dessert, was the most serious I had seen him all day. The weather was quite pleasant at this point and I can see why the Egyptians are night people. I also saw a chicken shawarma that was at least 200 pounds. After the sweets, Mohamed said that it was time for gelato. We protested but then he mentioned that they have mastic/mistica. I had to try it. I first tried mistica 20 years ago in Greece. In Greece, the mistica, a white honey like textured resin from a mediterranean bush, is served on a teaspoon in a glass of water. One licks a bit of the mistica off and sips a bit of water, each sweetening the other. This gelato was not like that.
Finally, the fun day out was over. Just like my tour of the ancient Roman empire, and Rome.
Almost any tourist destination has them. People who have holiday romances. In some places, they even make a sort of “living” off of the tourists. Those are Romeos. I’m also not sure that Italy has so many Romeos who live off of the tourists as there are so many other ways to make a living off of the tourists.
In Italy, a “lady’s man” is called a Casanova (Casanova was so much more than just a lover of women. He was passionate about food as well and had started writing a dictionary of cheeses.)
A Rodriguez is a different thing. In Spain, in the summer, the wives and families go off to the beach houses. The married men are back in Madrid as geographic bachelors… these men are are Rodriquezzes (not sure what the plural is). Also not sure if this goes on in Italy and if there is a name for them…
In Latin America and Spain, it is quite normal for a man to have two families, one with a woman he is married to and another with his mistress. Or if he is homosexual, a wife and a love.
I once asked an Italian about this. He said that it was too expensive to have two families. But, in Italy, I actually met quite a few Italian men who are faithful to their moms and their girlfriends.
Italy has a dropping birth rate and currently there are fewer Italians than tourists who visit each year (59 million versus 60 million, or so). This is not related to the romancing going on in Italy. It has to do with economics. Thirty percent of women lose their jobs after maternity leave. Most jobs are contracts only so people can’t afford to own their own apartment until they have a “permanent” job and then, often, the parents help with purchasing a place. Apparently, Italians do not want to have a child until they have a permanent job. Not a surprise.
One thing I will say about Italians is that they are great flirts as in they are charming and talkative. They call you “bella” or “bello” and it is nice to be called beautiful.
One could easily fall for an Italian. They talk so sweet and call you beautiful. But, aside from it all being talk, how do people date in Rome?
In the usual way. They meet at bars, at social events, at sporting events, and many use technology. Bumble, OkCupid, Tinder, Grinder, Facebook, Instagram, Meet, and many more. Tinder which was known for mainly hookups is now used for dating. Bumble is where the women make the first move.
In person and online, it dating is still a visual affair. Once someone sees someone that they like (a nice smile, and not too many sunglass photos — no duck face!), then they ask for “a coffee.”
I heard that people are quickly moving offline and to the “coffee” so they can see if there is any chemistry at all, quickly.
There is the stereotype of the Latin lover and for some that is true. I met an woman who, twenty years ago, moved to Italy to find a man. She did within three weeks. She found a friend who let her sleep on her floor while she set herself up in Rome. I guess she got tired of sleeping on the floor.
Two thousand years ago, in Roman empire times, you would have gone to the baths for your daily toilette. It was a necessity but also a social venue. In Bath, England, the Roman bath still exists but one cannot swim in it. In Algeria, there is a Roman bath that is still in use today.
When I moved to Rome, I did not realize how much of a spa culture Italy had. It is a normal thing to retreat to a spa town to take the waters. Ischia is an island famous for its waters.
The modern spa and retreat are all modern day equivalents of the Roman bath system.
Even today, one can get massages, treatments, food, drink, and socializing. All at the spa.