August 7, 2010

Food Surprise – Rome 2010

I put a lot of effort into my hunt for veg restaurants (which, one day, I will post about in detail), but sometimes I'm simply hungry and want to eat. “Sona vegetariano” is the one Italian phrase I have down. Usually in this sort of unplanned food pit stop, I end up at a small cafe or restaurant in the hope of a salad or pizza or something simple.

Outside the central train terminal, not the best stereotypical location to find a decent place to eat, I stop at a sidewalk cafe. I order the spinach ravioli – No, the waiter says. It's not for today. But, he adds quickly, he can have the chef whip me up some pasta and veggies. No meat. No fish.

Sounds good, I reply. How much? Only 15 Euros, is the answer.

Yeah, okay. The ravioli was 7 Euros, but that's unavailable. But for double the price, I can get some “special” dish. I'm hot. Tired. Hungry. And frankly, who wants to argue. Hell, it's only money. So I agree.

This is my meal:


Pasta, spinach, eggplant, and even okra! (Oh okra, how we've missed you!) Everything is delicious. And I stuff myself silly. It has to be one of the better veggie meals I've eaten on this trip.

Still, being stuffed is not always enough. So I order “a single scoop” of vanilla ice cream to top it all off. This is what I get:


Yeah, I eat it. Who could let such great ice cream go to waste? Oh my travel gods, I eat too much!

August 4, 2010

Hotel Quirk – Rome 2010

I've already commented on this recently, but I gotta add a few more things.

The internet connection here in my Rome hotel is … well, I'm angry. Most web pages load up with no problem, and the speed is good. However, their server has been “parental controlled.”

You know what that means? It means they have blocked numerous sights (and I'm not just talking about porn, really I'm not). Youtube can't load. The picture on the left is what I get every time.





And look at this result. The picture on the right is for Adobe's webpage. Now I know a lot of people find Adobe somewhat offensive, but please!



Even the ads in Yahoo Mail are blocked for some reason. None of it makes sense.

Look, if they don't want me to upload large files, then say so. Give me a limit and I'll conform or go elsewhere. But I can't load any video at all, regardless of size, simply because of the fact of it being a video. Ugh.

And while I'm at it, how dare they block sights. First, I'm paying for this room which advertises internet connection. Second, who are they, my parents? Oh, I take that back. My folks never bothered to see what I was reading, nor did they ever find the Penthouse magazines hidden under the insulation in the attic. In fact, there's a house in Germantown, TN, right now that may still have two classic 1976 Penthouses buried under an inch of insulation by the water heater. I don't think they put out this publication anymore...considered too tame by our modern internet porn standards. My times have changed.

Wait, I got sidetracked.

What I mean is I'm an adult. If I want to view a sight others may deem offensive, then fuck off. See, that there is freedom of speech. I've just done did that.

Anyway, there's a backlog of about 10 videos from Rome which will have to wait. Be patient, my minions. Meanwhile, I'll try to amuse with a few photo-enhanced posts – though those take 5 minutes to upload, unless they waste all that time and then tell me upload failed. Sometimes it takes 3 attempts. This is … ah, nevermind. Don't get me started on that.

I'm Wondering As I Sit Down To Dinner – Rome 2010

Just wondering if Romans eat pizza. I mean, this city is filled with pizzerias, but still maybe they're for tourists. Do Romans sit at home and make pizza for dinner? Or do they order out, sort of like an Italian Dominoes or Pizza Hut. You know, I haven't seen a Pizza Hut here. Or a Dominoes. Would any Italian go to one or would that be frowned upon like microwaving frozen vegetables?

While I'm thinking about it, do NYers eat cheesecake? I mean, there's a specific type of cheesecake called a NY style cheesecake. Is that because NYers eat it all the time? Or just because one NYer happen to cook that style of cheesecake and tourists like it.

Do the Chinese eat Chinese food? Okay, anything made in a local home in China has to be Chinese food by definition – if a family in Beijing cooks up a pizza, it's still Chinese food, technically. Wait, isn't spaghetti actually of Chinese origin? So is that Chinese food, too? What I actually am wondering, I mean, is whether the Chinese eat what we would recognize as Chinese food, like rice and tofu and egg foo young. Is it really young? Even if it sits out for a day?

A Little History About History – Rome 2010

Walking around this city, it's easy to let your mind wander to who's footsteps you might be tracing. Did Caligula walk these cobblestones around the Coliseum? Did Mussolini greet his troops in this courtyard? How many guards or soldiers or senators or slaves stood and watched the Tiber slowly winding by?

Sort of silly questions, in a way. I mean, every place on Earth is basically the same age – we come from the same moment of formation of the planet. Sure, the landscape may change as continents shift or wildfires rage or humans transform scrub brush to major metropolitan centers, but still the bricks, the water, the air all came about relatively the same time – give or take a few centuries. But what's 300 years when you're dealing with billions?

Yet, all this chattering aside, the history of Rome is impressive. I'm trying to remember what other cities are 1) still in use and 2) over 3,000 years old. Hmmmm.

 Note: As I show my general ignorance of ancient history (and not so ancient history), please be in a forgiving nature. If you have that burning desire, don't hesitate to correct/add to the facts in the comments.

  • Cairo is the first to come to mind … but that might be a bit inaccurate. Some pyramids certainly date back 5,000 years. Yet, it's hard to count an elaborate cemetery as a city. I vaguely remember that Cairo is much newer than the pyramids.
  • Alexander (Or is that Alexandra)? Yeah, its library was quite a center of attraction a couple of millennium ago. That city might qualify.
  • Athens? Certainly. The Romans stole a lot of their religious culture from the Greeks … very American of them. “Adapt. Adopt. Improve.” as the saying goes.
  • The oldest city (still in use) in North America is … what? Jamestown was the first colony founded in the late 1500s … I think a few hanger-ons still live there. However, the U.S. as we know it is a baby, at 240 years or so. Barely out of diapers, as civilizations go.
I'm sure I'm forgetting someplace really old and important. Oh well, if it doesn't spring to mind, then how special can it possible be?

My point is, if I have a point, is that walking through Rome makes me feel both so old and so young. I'm old enough to realize the limited time I have left to walk these or any other streets. I'm young enough to realize that one's lifespan can mean nothing in the end. We're all dust. I guess that's the message I get over and over as I stumble upon yet another monument or church or statue celebrating the life of someone much more influential than I. Yet, all that's left is an memory. His body and mind long ago turned to dust. So shall I. So shall we all.

I've always believed that death plays a crucial role in enjoying life. Immortality would be such a drag. There has to be an end. It gives us a finish line; it provides the stopwatch.

So, as I acknowledge the great ones (and the not so great) who have made this city what it is, I also come to grips that I've also make my own impression. Maybe not on history as we know it, but on enough individuals to make a difference. At least, I hope so.

August 3, 2010

Positive/Negative – Stockholm 2010

Time to rate Stockholm, based on my week here.

Overall Opinion:
I seem to have no real opinion of this city at all, either positive or negative. My week here was a sort of limbo – exhausted from the previous 3 weeks of a-go-go, I unintentionally take time out. (as I wrote here)

That's not Stockholm's fault, but the city also didn't really offer me anything. Oh, there are some beautiful views in certain locations. And the people seem friendly enough. However, the only real memories I'll keep from the past 6 days are the roller coasters. The day at the amusement park was fun and unique. The rest of my time? Ah, blah.

Will I ever come back? I don't see why I would. Unless I have a specific reason to revisit, Stockholm has no lure for me. It's clean. It's modern. It's safe. It's a fading memory.

Positives

  • Walkability – Easy to get around, if you don't mind the stairs.
  • Scenic – If you like water and boats and majestic nordic breezes coming across the bay, then it's nice.

Negatives

  • Ho-Hum – Nothing architectural stands out here. If you've been to any of a handful of European cities, you've seen these types of buildings and stores and roads and palaces. This is not a knock against Stockholm, but it does reflect its lack of uniqueness for me.
  • Metro – Perfectly modern and clean and fast, but not made for the average tourist. I've experienced dozens of public transportations, and I still had problems determining which direction to head in very confusing stations. At one point, I walk the entire length of a platform and cannot find a metro map. Ridiculous.

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Loose ends – Stockholm 2010

Here's some misc photos and comments that don't really deserve a post of their own. Their the orphan events of my time in Stockholm...nobody wants them so they just hang around looking sad.


From the Science and Tech Museum … a fairly boring place for even the kids … comes this only gem:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Miner

From the National Museum of Art … another fairly boring place … comes this photo portrait weirdness of the 1960s:

Sure, relax. Just be yourselves. Okay, not that relaxed.

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Oh, every morning my hotel lays out a nice buffet for breakfast. Upon which the vulture guests descend. It's quite a sight, the ravenous eating of free food. I sneak my roll, tomato and cucumber slices, and orange juice and then hide in the corner, out of the way. Don't want to lose a finger.

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The amusement park has a ride called Spokhusen, or Ghost House. Ooooooooooo. It costs extra and has a special ticket. Of course, I think Haunted Mansion of Disney World fame and snatch one up. Well, it's an actual Haunted House production, like a frat house might put on at Halloween. You walk through in almost complete darkness (where are the lawyers in all of this?) and the occasional mechanical monster slowly whirls around at you. Young girls scream. Young boys pretend to fight back. I just shrug.

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Here's a couple of photos that really don't mean anything.

 




















And now the gratuitous shots of myself, as usual, for your ongoing shrine in that back closet.



August 2, 2010

Technical Difficulties - Rome 2010

My internet connection in the hotel seems to work fine when I browse around the web -- pages load up quickly with no difficulty.

However, uploading pictures and videos is completely different. A simple pic (like the ones in the restaurant review) take about 5 minutes each to upload. Sometimes, after waiting all that time, they're corrupted or incomplete. That entire post took me over an hour.

Just tried to upload a simple video. After 3 tries and 45 minutes, no luck.

This may put a delay in how much I post this week. I'll let my legions of fans know if the situation changes.

Herman's Vegetariska Restaurang – Stockholm 2010

It seems the travel gods don't want me to eat here. Oh, it's easy enough to find, as long as you realize that parallel roads in Stockholm only appear that way in 2 dimensions. However, once you add height, then those same two roads are still side by side; it just happens that one is about 100 meters higher than the other. (I mean this)


Fine. ha ha ha, oh you TGs are a riot. I can (once again) use the workout of a few steps.

When I reach the top and see the restaurant actually does exist (which sometimes is more surprising than you might realize), it's time for me to sit down. The problem is that I'm subject to the Stockholm Budget, which is NOT me limiting the money I spend, but simply means no ATMs are anywhere to be seen. Sure, being a fellow veg-head, they might let me eat for free. But just in case, I need cash. Thirty minutes and 9 blocks later – yes! It takes me half an hour to scour a 3-block area and just as I am thinking “Okay, TGs, you win!” suddenly there's the little machine tucked into a wall.

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Side Note: My theory, from the short week I spend there, is that Swedes pay for everything with plastic. I don't remember see a single local pull out cash. Thus, no need to swamp every city block with ATMs, like the States.

Second Side Note: Having dealt with my personal TGs for quite some time now, I realize the key is to acknowledge their mischief (Yes, another set a stairs or Yes, I will have to search for a money machine) with a certain committed whimsy. Getting angry only feeds their humor. However, once your good nature and resolve are evident, they usually allow you to proceed. Or get bored and give up screwing around with you. Or will take this opportunity to really mess your trip up. All three have happened to me...often.
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Meanwhile, back at the restaurant. Here it is, and at first glimpse quite impressive. Unlike all the other veg-eats I've visited this trip, Herman's seems to have room for more than 10 people.
















In fact, their layout is not only ample, but breathtaking. Here's one view:



As I enter, I hope this might be an actual sit-down restaurant. I can't tell you how sick I am of self-serve buffets at every veg chow hall I attend. And guess what? It's a self-serve buffet. Oh well, at least they have quite a layout:


The staff is great – young, English-speaking, perky, girlish, you know all the things I look for in a wife, er, I mean waitstaff. One of them (I describe her as the blonde, but they all were blonde) suggested some raspberry soda as “Sweden's Specialty.” Of course, I have to say, “I've always wanted a Swedish Specialty.” Ah, shucks. Anyway, for the low price of around $15, it's an all-you-can-eat. I pay. It's not too crowded. I grab my plate and pile high whatever looks good:


Overall, the food is tasty. I've yet to find a really knock out meal on this tour, and unfortunately Herman's doesn't deliver either. Similar to the handful of other places I've eaten (see links if you're that interested), it's not bad. It's healthy, hardy, not too spicy or too daring. No real zing but no duds either. The rice and potatoes are good enough for seconds. The cucumber/tomato/olive/onion salad. Er, not so much.

Now, for the reward of actually eating something good for me, I head to the dessert counter. Not a bad selection at all, and supposedly many of these are vegan. Since I'm only a 99% vegan (my only vice, I swear), it's nice to hear but I'm not that concerned.


I choose the chocolate cake, and I'm so eager to try it out, I take the picture late – after the first bite. It's more like a triangle-shaped brownie than cake, but I'm not complaining. Thick, rich, chewy, and freshly made, it's quite dee-lish.


Oh, here's my view while eating dessert:



After I'm done, and leaving, my thoughts are racing with what I'll say about this place. I think, “This could be my first 5-diamond review!” But after the view fades and the realization of the actual food pushes to the front of my memory, as eager as I am to reward Herman's with a perfect score, the food is just not outstanding. Good? Yes. The atmosphere is great. The staff is yummy, too. However, in the end, it comes down to the food and unfortunately the meal I had only warrants 4 diamonds. Close. Really really close. But not this day.


My rating: ◊◊◊◊







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