Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Unexpected Intro to Italy

For those of you who are of Italian descent, you are now home!'

That was our tour guide Steve over the microphone in the bus on our way from Switzerland into Italy. For those on the bus who'd never been to Italy before, they were about to find out what he meant by that.  I, on the other hand, completely understood.  I'd been to Italy twice before, and I can say from firsthand experience that if you are of Italian descent, you do feel like you belong there.  This was the part of the trip I was looking forward to the least, because I'd been there before, but now that we had crossed the border into my home country, I was officially excited!

The bus ride from Alnachstadt to Venice, where we were headed next, was a long one.  This was the one day on the original itinerary that had nothing on it except bus to Venice.  As seems to happen on these yearly trips, Steve and Ivan improvise along the way when they feel they have an opportunity, and after some discussion between them, they decided that we needed to break up the long trip by making a stop in Verona, the setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which was on the way to Venice.  Great idea!

Now this was cool, an unplanned stop to a place I'd never been before.  From what I've heard and experienced of Italy, I know there are literally hundreds of places to explore, both famous and not so famous, and they're all, well wonderfully adventurous.  Verona was no different.  

Immediately upon entering the small city, we came across this fortress wall, I am sure very historic, and soon after disembarking off the bus we came upon a Roman coliseum, which was at the time under construction.  You could tell from billboards outside the venue that it is still used today for outdoor concerts.  How cool would that be to experience?

The kids were given some free time to explore and we seven hungry adults went out in search of food.  Before we even hit a restaurant, I knew I was going to have some pizza.  I love Italian pizza.  It's so different from the usual slices you get here in the states, ultra thin and ultra delicioso!  

The next couple of hours were an unexpected, pleasant adventure spent meandering through cobblestone streets, doing a little shopping, and of course some gelato thrown in for good measure! Of course, no day trip to Verona would be complete without a visit to the world-famous La Casa di Giulietta, Juliet's house.  Really, it wasn't all that much, but the little courtyard in front of the famous balcony was teeming with tourists ogling the terrace and snapping away with their cameras.  

All in all, Verona was a great and pleasantly surprising way to start off the Italian leg of our trip. Though our next three destinations were all places I'd been to before, there were still some nice surprises and new adventures in store.  Stay tuned...

In the meantime, check out my other tales from our 2015 trip to Europe...


Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Humiliatingly Fun Morning of Bingo

I don't know if it's my age or what, but my ditziness seems to be increasing in both frequency and intensity.  A most embarrassing moment happened to me yesterday, one which I'd always feared would happen...

My friend Kyle sometimes plays bingo with his grandmother at a bingo joint in Farmingville on Wednesday mornings.  Since he knew I was on vacation this week and he was off yesterday, he asked me if I wanted to go play.  I had gone with him once before, about a year ago, again when I was off from school on a Wednesday.  That time I tagged along with he, his grandma, and our friend Eric. This time it would be just the three of us, sans grandma.

I do have a history with the game.  When I was young, both my own grandmother and my mom played often and I sometimes tagged along with each of them.  Bingo is a universal game.  It's easy enough to play (usually!) and virtually everyone knows it.  We play it in school to reinforce concepts and help kids study and we play it in churches and bingo halls, hoping to win small fortunes.

Those who play the game for money are a unique bunch.  They always have been.  Usually, but not always, bingo players come from the older age bracket.  They can be very superstitious and habitual, and they're super focused on the task at hand.  That is, waving their colored markers up and down the columns, almost in a hypnotic fashion, looking for the latest called number and hoping it's the one! Check out this old clip from Roseanne and you'll see what I mean...

Yeah, these bingo creatures are one of a kind, and they are super-serious about what they do.  What made things difficult for me yesterday were twofold.  For one, I haven't played the game regularly in years, so I'm a little rusty on the marking of the numbers, which are called in rapid-fire succession. My buddies were both on with their marking, but I admit I got backed up a couple of times.  Who knows, maybe I missed my winning number just because I had such a hard time keeping up.

The other thing that made it hard for me was that the game had changed so much since the last time I played.  There are all new kinds of bets to be had, and the pattern games have changed, too.  Of course there's still the regular BINGO, four corners and full card, but they changed the L's and E's, X's and O's for things that are completely and utterly inexplicable to me.  I don't know how anybody would know these things unless they read a game book before going in.

Really, you'd have to go with seasoned veterans like Kyle and Eric to know what the heck you're doing.  They've now got these patterns called top hat, round robin, postage stamp, olive bird (What the hell is that?  I played it and I still don't know!), block of nine, and layer cake.  And then they've got these quickie games, where the caller only calls out numbers.  No letters.  And even faster than the regular rapid-fire calls.  No wonder I was confused!

Those are Kyle's Batman collection bobble heads. That's 
another thing that's changed...bobble heads have replaced the trolls.


Now here comes the embarrassing part.  It was only the first game and I was already worked up into a nervous frenzy trying to keep up when suddenly, after only six or seven numbers had been called, I found myself with five numbers in a row.

BINGO! I screamed.

There was a collective murmur from the crowd.  

You only get one of those Batman, an older dude sitting behind me muttered.  

Kyle leaned over.  You can't have bingo John, It's Olive Bird.  

Sure enough, the first game listed on my menu card was covered with all of my bingo cards.  I thought it was a regular bingo game.  In order to get Olive Bird Bingo, you would need a lot more than six or seven numbers.  I cowered in my seat.   

It took me a few more games to sit up straight again, and for the rest of the morning I was being very careful about watching the numbers I had marked on my cards and which game was at hand.  In a way, I almost didn't want to win for the fear of doing the same thing again and this time getting lynched by the bingo fanatics.   In the end, only Kyle won a little (on one of those new other types of bets that I can't even really explain.), but still it was a fun time spent with two of my favorite people. Somehow I think I'll stick to playing only once in awhile out of fear of becoming one of them.  Just look at what happened to Roseanne...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Best Day

I've been posting lots of pictures on Facebook lately.  You see, it was a week ago last Saturday that I left for Europe with 40-something kids, 5 other chaperones-turned lifetime friends, and an awesome tour guide named Steve.  I usually get sentimental about travel anniversaries anyway, and with thinking about this trip I got to thinking that I never finished writing about it. Perhaps this'll get me going again...

When last I posted about that wonderful gallivant through Europa, the group had been in Luzern, Switzerland.  The stop-off was one that I had been looking forward to, not only for seeing the gorgeous country of Switzerland, but I was meeting a very special friend for what would turn out to be the best day of the entire trip.  

Amy Baby

Amy and I went to school together, back in the early 2000's when we were both in SUNY Stony Brook's Linguistics program learning how to become ESL teachers.  She and I were class buddies, meeting up for coffee and homework, stealing cigarette breaks in between classes together, and hanging out on occasion either dancing, dining and whatnot.  The two of us are on the same wavelength and we always got along fabulously.  

Several years ago, Amy met her soon to be husband, David, who whisked her and her son Justin away to live in Switzerland where he works as a journalist.  It had been about six or seven years since I'd last seen her, but we managed to stay in touch via Facebook.  Around a month in advance of the trip last year, I'd made a post about it, and when she saw it, she offered to come to Luzern from Lausanne, where she lives, to meet up with me.

The day was gorgeous, unseasonably warm as it had been the entire trip, and our group had just spent the morning on a tour of Luzern before heading up to Mt. Pilatus for some breathtaking views and of course, photo ops.  Ivan, my colleague who runs the trip, allowed me to go off for the day with Amy once we'd made our return to Luzern.  Tour guide Steve helped me out by speaking with Amy and directing her to where we'd be and in no time at all our bus pulled into a parking lot where Amy was waiting, grinning from ear to ear from our impending reunion.

A Swiss Cheese Burger!

The next several hours were complete bliss!  Even though we hadn't seen each other in so long, it was like we'd just parted ways only a week earlier, picking up comfortably where we'd left off.  We grabbed a glass of wine and then walked around this unbelievably picturesque town, talking like nobody's business.  I got to meet 'Justy' for the first time (oddly enough, I had never met him when they lived on Long Island), and I found him to be quite the well-mannered and mature young man at the ripe old age of about fourteen.  He already spoke English, some Spanish and French (which he'd learned while living in Switzerland), and he was at the time learning German, too, which he used to help us order our meal at a cool lakeside restaurant.  I was impressed!

From mid-afternoon straight through to dusk, the three of us chatted and dined and walked around some more, and it was a most enjoyable and relaxing time.  Of course, time slipped away from us so quickly that before you knew it, it was time for me to catch the train back to Alpnachstad.  That retro chalet had a curfew...if I wasn't back by 11, I'd be locked out for the night!  But I had an emergency... we'd been having such a good time talking that I never got to do any shopping for some cool Swiss stuff (I just had to have something from each stop!).  Amy, now a Swiss resident, had just the ticket...the supermarket.

What is the one of the most famous things that Switzerland is famous for?  

Swiss Army Knives?  Musical instruments?  Alps?  No, I mean yes, but chocolate, she answered before I could even get the word out of my mouth.  The train station in Luzern had this supermarket which had an entire aisle of all kinds of chocolate.  I took about 45 minutes to pick out some authentic Swiss delicacies both for my friends and family back home and a little for myself, too!  And the kicker was that it was much cheaper (and just as good!) as the chocolate in the chocolate shops. Holla!

With a couple of bagfuls of chocolate on my arm, we still had time for a quick stop to an ice cream/coffee shop where we finished our marvelous day still without any loss for words and some ice cream for Justy and capuccinos for Amy and I.  It was here that Amy had suggested sometime during the day that I come to Lausanne during the summer and use her apartment as a home base, a prospect that I'd been planning on for this summer.  That is,  until my garage roof needed replacing (grrrr!!!). Ah well, I'm over the disappointment by now, and besides there's always next year!  

Though this trip was one for the ages, an unexpectedly great time, I'll always have the memories that go along with it, and of all the memories I experienced, this one will always be right there at the top.  

Well, now that I've delved back into both writing and writing about my Europe trip, hopefully it won't be long for the next part of that adventure.  In the meantime, check out my previous posts on the trip...