Archive for ‘Europe’

Rome Mysteries tour reveals city’s strangest secrets

I’m starting to get more heavily into guided tours. Many aren’t very good. A good guidebook is a cheaper substitute and you don’t feel like a geek following someone holding up a flag. But one guide I always follow is Massimiliano Francia (guideromax@virgilio.it). Rome Explorers, an excellent Meetup group that does everything from urban tours to mountain hikes, hires “Max” out for English-speaking tours. He’s a Rome native with a library of history books that could fill one side of the Pantheon. What sets apart Francia is his voluminous knowledge of historical tidbits, oddities you won’t find in any guidebook or mainstream tour.
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Growing old and blind in Rome: My venture into Italy’s No. 2-ranked public health care system

As the United States free falls into Donald Trump’s Let-Them-Eat-Cake healthcare plan, I am learning first hand the benefits of the healthcare American progressives dream about. It’s not by choice. It’s not by journalistic research. Instead, for the past two months I have had an inside look at Italy’s public healthcare through my own misfortune.
I am now half blind.
My right eye has gone from near 20-20 to non functioning. If I close my left eye, it’s like a steel door covers my right eye with slits to let in some light. I’m a prisoner in my own skull. My depth perception is shot. Most everything is blurry as if scuba diving without a mask. This didn’t happen gradually. It happened nearly overnight. And it’s frightening.
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Berlin: “Silicon Valley on the Spree” heading toward a very bright future with eye still on a very dark past

all over Berlin you can find chilling, haunting memorials to Germany’s ugly involvement in the Holocaust and communism. A four-story museum is dedicated entirely to the evils of Stasi, East Germany’s secret police. The Stasi prison still stands, as is, giving tours four times a day to show what they did to prisoners who merely had a negative thought about their lovely lives in East Germany. A Holocaust Memorial was erected as recently as 2005 and covers a space the size of a football field. A DDR Museum shows what life was like under communism, a system that strives for mediocrity, a quest that undermines all human emotion and drive.
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Iceland’s Hakarl (fermented shark meat) isn’t as hard to eat as it is to pronounce

The greatest of the gross, the lowest of the lousy, is a food so vile its legend — not to mention its aroma — has reached every corner of the globe. It’s called hakarl. If you know Iceland, you know hakarl. You just didn’t know the name, nor can you pronounce. In Icelandic’s inane pronunciation guide, you say it HOW-kaht. That’s Icelandic for — wrap your mind around this — rotted shark. While talking to Icelanders around the country, they’ve all tried it. It’s an Icelandic holiday tradition, kind of like American fruitcake but much worse — if that’s possible.
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Iceland’s geological wonders make reality look like science fiction during grand tour of island

Iceland’s nature is a geological kaleidoscope filled with images that leave you open mouthed as you nearly drive off the Ring Road. Snow-capped volcanoes. Turquoise-tinted icebergs. Glistening glaciers. Lava fields. Molten magma. Puffin-covered cliffs. Half-destroyed islands. In a country the size of Colorado are enough geographic wonders to fill a volume of National Geographics. Iceland often only gets in the news when one of its 30 active volcanoes erupts and sends broadcasters scurrying to learn how to pronounce the damn things. But Iceland is more than Mother Nature blowing her fuse. You can’t compare it to one woman. Iceland is a beauty pageant, with spectacular sights at every turn.
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Iceland: From Great Depression to Hottest Destination on Earth — but bring your credit card

In the last few years, Iceland’s light has shined all over the world. Temperatures in May might be in the low 40s but no country is hotter than Iceland. Since 2010, its tourist numbers have shot up like the geysers that pepper its countryside. In 1990, Iceland had 90,000 visitors. It has doubled in the last six years to where officials expect 2.2 million in 2017.

I was one of them.
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Procida: Beauty and love in the Bay of Naples

The island of Procida doesn’t get much play outside Europe. The way it’s overshadowed by Capri 10 miles to the south, Capri might as well be Australia. But Procida (pronounced PRO-chee-duh) holds its own with Italians who see Capri as I do: an Italian theme park with better wine. Procida doesn’t have Capri’s vistas — and Capri’s do meet the hype — but it does have an Italian soul. It’s why I took my girlfriend, the lovely and talented Marina Pascucci, to Procida for our two-year anniversary.
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In Bruges: Medieval fairy tales do come true in one of the sparkling pearls of Northern Europe

After all, who can not love Bruges? Let’s see, you combine the best beer in the world with the best chocolate in the world, put them in the middle of a town that looks like a backdrop for medieval fairy tales and you have Bruges. If you don’t like chocolate or beer or scenery right out of an oil painting, you’re obviously an alien from another planet who can’t read Roman letters and aren’t reading this anyway. So, dear reader, this is a love letter to one of my new favorite cities in the world. After 100 countries, dozens of capitals and hundreds of cities, towns, villages and truck stops, Bruges climbed near the top of the rankings.
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Rome’s birthday brings back fond — and not so fond — memories of my days in gladiator school

I stand in a sandy pit surrounded by torches in front of three dozen tourists hoping a stiff breeze doesn’t fly under my tunic. It’s way too short, and I weigh the embarrassment of revealing my brand of underwear to strangers against taking a Latin oath from a chunky tie salesman wearing animal skins.

It’s graduation day at Rome’s La Scuola dei Gladiatori (The Gladiator School), and I have just demonstrated how to take a sword and skewer, fillet and behead an opponent in six simple strokes. Two months of training had culminated in this ritual, surfacing in Rome after a 2,000-year absence. Somehow I don’t think when Spartacus took this oath, he was worried about bending over.
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Favignana: “No. 13 Clearest Water in the World” tantalizes sun worshippers off Sicily’s west coast

Yes, there it was, No. 13 on The Weather Channel’s 2016 list: Favignana, more specifically, Cala Azzurra beach. I’d never heard of Favignana, either. It’s a small island off the west coast of Sicily sporting a name it took me a month to remember. My girlfriend, Marina Pascucci, is an ace photographer whose whole profession is based on clarity. She’d been to Favignana (pronounced fa-vin-YAH-nah) before and wanted to take me to another special place for my birthday.
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