Friday, October 31, 2008

Tourists!

Because we were in Singapore over a week ago, I've sort of lost interest, but I'll give you a little bit about our day as tourists, mostly because I think Rowan wants me to.

We had no idea what to do with ourselves for a day, so we signed up for a tour of Sentosa, an island converted by the Singapore government into a big tourist trap.

Our day featured a ride in a cable car from the mainland to the island, and then we went through a somewhat interesting wax museum of Singapore's history.We would have spent more time there, but the tour kept a tight schedule so we were hurrying from attraction to attraction.

Then we went to a dolphin show. We sat on the beach very close to the dolphins; it was amazing. The dolphins were pink dolphins, and they are strange but beautiful creatures.These dolphins are young, so only their bellies were pink; they change color completely as they get older.

We then went to an aquarium, which was nice.They had a moving floor that carried us through a tunnel of fish.
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We then rode the "SkyRide," which was basically a chair lift like you'd find at a ski hill. It took us down to the beach where we watched "Songs of the Sea," a musical singing laser light fire water and animation show. It defies description, and may have been one of the strangest things I have ever seen.

Afterwards, we went for food. We found a place where you sit cross-legged on pillows on the floor and eat from a really low table.We thought it would be an authentic local experience, but it was mostly tourists. And, according to Rowan, the chapati was not good. (My understanding of chapati was an Indian tortilla, and what we got was very tortilla-like. However, Rowan insists good chapatis are like crepes.)

Our touristing complete, we went home and prepared to fly to Surabaya, where we will live like real people.

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A memo from the shameless self-promotion department: I've added a "Friends of the Boy and Girl" link on the left hand side. Here, you can join the 1 person who is already following our adventures! I don't actually know what signing up does for you, but it does increase my self esteem.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Time for me to fly... (Part 2)

In an hour, we head to Singapore's Changi International Airport to take the two-hour flight to Surabaya. We hope the luggage people at JetStar/ValuAir are as friendly as the Qatar Airways folks.

We don't know what our internet situation will be, so I may not get to blog about our exciting day as tourists until next week, if the Indonesians let us into the country.(We visited an aquarium; this isn't actually an underwater tunnel to Indonesia.)

I hope you don't mind that you'll be getting old news.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Secret agent man

I mentioned in the last post how disgusting our initial hotel was. Rowan wanted me to elaborate on the story.

We arrived at the hotel, and the front desk guy handed me the key to go see the room. It was bad, but I wasn't sure if other hotels in our price range would be any better. I asked Rowan if she wanted to see the room, and I waffled internally in my head for awhile, but then--for some reason--said okay.

We went up to the room, and Rowan immediately said no. There were some hairs and stains on the bed, and the bathroom was not nice. There was a hanger laying on the floor in the shower. It was nothing like the pictures on their website. So we left, which I should have decided to do immediately.

At least the desk clerk gave us a good tip on another hotel. We are quite happy with our current accommodations.

We are staying in Little India. The streets are decorated and light up at night in anticipation of the Deepavali festival, the Indian New Year.Today, we needed to get our work visas, so we met with an agent (apparently a common practice for acquiring visas). We met him at a McDonald's and gave him our passports, passport-sized photos, a document from the Indonesian government, and money to pay for the services.

While the agent was taking care of business, we saw some of the town, including the Merlion.
For the most part, Singapore is a beautiful city. There is a lot of greenery and public works of art.
The city is also quite clean, and the people are friendly.

We traveled on the metro system, which is extremely modern and clean. It far exceeds the systems in Barcelona, Milan, and Fairbanks. It also features delightful cartoons for the warnings.
This one isn't actually a warning, but it shows a woman admiring a shirt, then wearing the shirt, and then having a stranger cover the shirt with sploshes of soup. The sign then encouraged people to be courteous to their fellow passengers.

We returned to the McDonald's and waited. The agent said he would arrive between 3:45 and 4:00. At 4:05, we started to worry, but he showed up soon thereafter. He had our passports, now with fancy work immigration stickers. He also had the passports of about fifteen other people, who lined up to receive them, attracting odd looks from the McDonald's patrons.

We walked back toward the metro station and grabbed some liquid refreshment from a combination Dairy Queen/Orange Julius stand, and then drank them in the garden area of the McCafe of a different McDonald's.Now we are headed out to eat some Indian food in Little India, to wash the delicious taste of American commercial imperialism out of our mouths.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We have arrived safely in Singapore

We have made it here, and a very helpful airline agent allowed us to bring all of our luggage without an overweight charge. Apparently, the airline charges 45 euros a kilo for overweight luggage.

The hotel we reserved online was quite disgusting, so we are now staying at a much better but comparably priced place. We decided to foot the bill for some Internet, so maybe I'll get some pictures or information up while we're here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Woman and cat on couch: A portrait

It is midnight and we are packing things up. Again. There is so much stuff.

Instead of taking the train, a friend offered us a ride in the morning, so at least we can sleep a little later and dealing with all of the stuff will be a little easier.

I think we are both a little stressed. I guess life can't always be like this:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Time for me to fly...

We fly out tomorrow at 11:25 Italian time (1:25 am AK, 4:25 am Central). This means we need to catch the 7:30 train to the airport. Different baggage regulations have led us to ditch some stuff, so it won't be as difficult to carry things as on past excursions.

We are in the air for about six hours heading to Doha, Qatar, where we have a six-hour layover. Then it is about an eight-hour flight to Singapore. We are flying Qatar Airways.

Supposedly, there are free internet terminals in the Singapore airport; if this is true, I will try to put up a quick post saying something like, "We have safely arrived in Singapore."

I slept alright last night, but apparently Rowan was thinking and worrying too much to sleep well.

As a last note, I was initially torn between titling the post "Leaving on a jet plane" or "Time for me to fly." Both are song lyrics, the first from John Denver, and the second from REO Speedwagon.

After I chose the former, I remembered that Denver died in a plane crash, and changed it to the REO quote. May good REO karma protect us.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Happiness is a plate of polenta

Nearly everyone we've met (or, in Rowan's case, seen again) in Italy has been amazingly kind and generous. I can't even count the times that I've been moved by people's generosity here. My most heartfelt thanks and appreciation goes out to everyone who has helped make this trip a wonderful and memorable experience.
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On Friday night, we went out to dinner with almost all of Rowan's former classmates from her time here in Italy. We went to a very nice restaurant at the top of a hill that specializes in regional food.

I had mentioned over a month ago to the man who organized the gathering that I hadn't eaten any polenta in Italy, which is part of the reason why we went to this particular restaurant. So I opted for the "Monte Polenta," a mountain of polenta.
In the middle is the giant pile of polenta, surrounded by (from the top) a gargantuan slab of gorgonzola cheese, a massive pile of porcini mushrooms, two sizable sausages of wild boar meat, and a heaping helping of donkey in gravy. I finished almost the entire thing; I don't know if this fact is impressive or disgusting.

The dinner was loud and high energy because of all the people, and was very enjoyable. The food was excellent, and we had a wonderful time.Of course, the meal had to end with limoncello. Afterwards, we went to a bar for drinks, and then another bar for drinks...

This resulted in Rowan, who is afraid of motorcycles, asking a friend to take her for a ride on his motorcycle.
She got on the back and, before he even started the engine, promptly tipped over sideways off the bike, bruising her butt.

She did manage to go for a short ride, but also managed to completely destroy her shoe somehow.Notice that not only is the heel missing, but the front of the shoe has separated from the sole.

We got home at 4:30 in the morning, which wouldn't have been a problem except that we had to get up at 6:30 to get ready to catch a train to visit the English classes at Rowan's high school.

When we had a break, Rowan napped on a couch in the coffee shop.That evening, we went for drinks with Rowan's other group of friends.
We went to Il Pirata, The Pirate. The place was decked out in pirate regalia, and our waiter was a tough-looking biker-sort-of-dude, but was very nice. Rowan was feeling a little under the weather (completely unrelated to the previous night's events, of course), so she ordered an orange soda. The biker dude/waiter made fun of her, talking in a very high-pitched voice while he handed her the soda.

We got home at a reasonable hour that night. After a restful slumber, we are currently doing laundry and preparing for the flight to Singapore. We leave in two days.

Friday, October 17, 2008

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene

We decided to spend the night in Verona because the trip there takes over three hours. We tried to set up a couchsurf, but it was pretty short notice. Instead, we decided to stay in a B&B. The place was not unique in any way, but it was nice enough. And we were the only people there, so we used the kitchen facilities to cook dinner in house. Here's Rowan devouring a mango.We arrived at lunch time, so before we started wandering the town, we stopped for pizza. Horse meat is a regional specialty in that part of Italy, and I could have gotten it on my pizza. I didn't, but I sort of regret not trying it.

One of the main attractions in Verona is Juliet's house (they call it Giulietta's house), which is the Capulet family home and supposedly the setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In the background is the balcony from the play, or so the people here believe.The hallway leading to the balcony is covered with love notes.We didn't have pen and paper with us, so we didn't add to the mass of love.

Another interesting feature of the house is a statue of Juliet. One of the touristy things to do is to get photographed with one's hand over Juliet's breast.Notice what this does to the bronze on the statue.While we wandered the town, we encountered a bakery with a Nutella fountain. Fortunately, Rowan didn't dip her entire head in to it.One of the city's attractions is the Castelvecchio, literally "old castle." We popped in at night and encountered some sort of art show, if this could be called art.I said out loud that it was horrible, and Rowan immediately shushed me. The word is almost the same in Italian, and the artist may have been standing right behind me.

Here is the display as it appeared juxtaposed against the castle. Definitely a weird dichotomy.The city features a lot of Roman architecture, including an arena.Rowan kept pointing out where the gladiators would have exited, which led to me repeatedly saying, "Are you not entertained?"

Verona truly is a beatiful city, with amazing architecture wherever you look.
We decided to end our Verona experience in a very un-Italian way: we went for lunch at a German restaurant. Notice the waitress in the background, dressed in traditional German peasant garb. (She did speak Italian, though.)The experience led me to talk endlessly about a German restaurant back home. Our meal was good, though. We got the veggie buffet paired with big steins of Kellerbier.Sated and perhaps slightly tipsy, we walked to the train station and boarded the train for the three-hour trip home.

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For more pictures from the trip, visit http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=57789&l=0da2f&id=547792060.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wherefore art thou?

Since we have returned to Vedano Olona, life has slowed to a crawl. Everything is very relaxing.

Yesterday, we went to the market that is held right outside the house every Monday. (We are next to a big cemetery, so there is a parking lot there.) I bought some new sneakers for only 13 euros. Rowan had told me that my only other pair of shoes stunk from the farm.

We've gone for a walk in the woods, where families were out collecting chestnuts.

I got denied access to a trendy club because I was wearing sandals. This was before the purchase of the aforementioned shoes. Apparently my stinky shoes would have been a better option.

We've also had some time to watch TV: Catwoman and some Steven Seagal flick, both dubbed in Italian. They obviously have great taste in film here.

The only other excitement has been Gianfranco's birthday. The party featured the family, us, good food, good wine, and a cake.Since we celebrated on Sunday, and his birthday was on Monday, he waited a day to open his gifts.

Tomorrow, though, Rowan and I are going to Verona for the night. We've decided to stay at a B&B for a romantic evening. Verona is supposedly a beautiful town, so many pictures are sure to follow.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A week of farming and other stuff

To begin, someone pointed out that aside from mentioning that we have jobs, I haven't provided a timetable for any of the travels. Right now, we have returned from farming and are back in Vedano Olona. We leave on October 21 to head to Singapore for three nights; Singapore is where we take care of our visa needs. On October 25, we arrive in Surabaya. Orientation starts on October 27, and we start teaching the following week.

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Here are some videos of sheep being herded.
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On Friday, we went to Acqui Terme to eat dinner and to watch the potential boyfriend of a friend of friend play piano. This was all we, and our friend, knew about the situation.

We ate some pizza and then went to the train station, which is where the piano was supposed to be happening. We were very late.

We entered and found that the potential boyfriend of the friend of a friend was playing piano for a presentation titled something like, "The best and most well-known arias and duets from light opera, with comedic interludes."Notice the empty seats.

We left the opera before it was half-finished and relocated to the local trendy bar. The place seemed modern in design, but the music was a little outdated. We entered to the beat of Tupac's "California Love."

I was by far the worst-dressed person in attendance, if you judge quality of dress on cost and stylistic touches. I may have been the only person not wearing black or white, and my clothes did not feature nearly enough leather, zippers, or patterned stitching.From left to write, this is Amanda, an Irish woman who teaches English; Robbie, her sheep farmer husband; and two American kids.

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On Sunday, we went to Alba for the 78th International Truffle Fair. Our farm host was purveying her goods there.

Among the events was a parade where each of the city's neighborhoods dressed up in medieval regalia. Some neighborhoods wore costumes and marched together, while other neighborhoods tried to spice things up a bit.
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Truffles are a delicacy, and we sampled some foodstuffs that included them. However, we couldn't afford any truffles themselves, since they range in price to well over 3,000 euros a kilo. The one in the middle weighed 117 grams and was priced at 450 euros.

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Monday brought another grape harvest, this time the barbera. In eight hours, six people can pick enough grapes to make nearly 3,000 bottles of wine.

Afterwards, we went with friends to a fancy restaurant. We got a discount on the meal because Robbie provides them with their lamb.

The food was good, but not quite as good as I expected, though the desserts were fantastic. One of the specialties of the restaurant is homemade ravioli. One of the options for serving is called "napkin." This means the pasta is served plain, no sauce, on a cloth napkin instead of a plate.On Wednesday, we had another day off.

(As a brief aside, we were working very long hours at the beginning of our stay. Eventually, I complained. The result was that our last week was amazingly easy. Is there a moral to this story? I don't know.)

We headed to Asti. There was a giant market where I bought a belt for 1 euro. Other than that, we just wandered around town looking at the architecture.

After much walking, we needed a break and sat on a bench in a park beneath a chestnut tree. We decided this was a bad idea after a chestnut fell within a foot or two of Rowan's head.In the grocery store looking for some refreshing beverages, I saw this box of cereal.
I don't know if I would feed a kid anything with "choke" in the title.

This one is for my dad.Notice that this is a Lamborghini tractor.

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For the grape harvest, we received help from some other WWOOFers, so on Thursday we went to their farm for a little work trade. Our main project was picking pears.This stick has a basket on the end which catches the pears. Sometimes we just violently shook the tree and collected them after they fell to the ground.

For lunch, we helped make gnocchi, a delightfully chewy potato pasta.They also had puppies.
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The next day, we went back to Vedano Olona. We switched trains five times and it took well over five hours, but we made it safely.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

In the land of the little people

On Tuesday, the farm was invaded by 120 schoolchildren, ages six to thirteen. They were here for a field trip to learn a little bit about farm life.

One of the initial activities was to take the children out into the fields to pick grapes.
Rowan and I had to keep the kids in two rows of dolcetto. We had harvested most of these grapes a week ago, but we kept the two rows for this particular visit. But the kids kept wanting to run and pick the bountiful barbera grapes, which were just a row over, and won't be harvested for another week. This was mildly annoying.

After we picked the grapes, we served lunch. This was quite chaotic.After lunch, I pressed the grapes the old-fashioned way. We used a slatted wood barrel to hold the grapes, and then pressed them down with a bar attached to a threaded metal rod. I had to walk around in circles to press the grapes. This seemed to fascinate the kids.
I then loosened the grapes and pressed them another two times to get all of the juice out of them. Then, I took the barrel apart to remove the grapes.The grapes were compressed very tightly, and held the shape of the barrel.
Rowan helped with a demonstration of how we would turn the juice into jelly.
We took the juice inside and boiled it in a large cauldron. It probably wasn't a cauldron, exactly, but that's what I'm going to call it.This both sterilized the juice, and dissolved the various jelly ingredients. Some of the kids helped bottle it, and each child got to take home a little jar of jelly.

Then, thankfully, they left. The day was exhausting, but somewhat fun. However, I think dealing with 120 kids is a pretty effective form of birth control. Maybe the government should look into this.