In the steambath that is Rome in July, mornings on my terrace are paradise

Yes, Rome in July is awful as I wrote last week However, in the mornings it is tolerable. On my terrace, it is spectacular. On my terrace is when Rome becomes the city of my dreams. It’s where I feel like this isn’t 2015. It’s 15 AD and I’m a member of the Roman Senate, sitting above the city in obscene luxury, lounging above the great unwashed. I keep looking around for curvy peasant women in togas to feed me grapes. Alas, I feed myself cereal and eggs.
My terrace has become my sanctuary, my home in my home. It’s where I write in the mornings and entertain in the evenings.
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July is worst time to be in Rome — or anywhere else

But don’t EVER come to Rome in July. Ever. Every day this month has been 90-95 with 45-50 percent humidity. It’s not as bad as Houston where today it will reach 94 with humidity at 64 percent. But add a good chunk of the 10 million tourists Rome receives every year and put them on a subway system too small to serve Des Moines, Iowa, and La Dolce Vita turns into a puddle of melted flesh.
I take pride in handling extreme weather conditions. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest so rain, cold and eight months without seeing the sun don’t faze me. Neither does searing heat. I lived in Las Vegas for 10 years. Ice and snow? I love them. I lived in Denver for 23 years. But I may have met my match with humidity. It affects me more than I’m willing to admit. Sweat stains are the ultimate in tackiness. I don’t care if we can’t help it. I hate them. I don’t naturally sweat much. Still, I only wear black or white shirts during the day in Rome. I once would rather go out naked than wear shorts in Rome like a common tourist. Now I wouldn’t wear long pants in this heat if threatened by armed gladiators.
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Calcio Storico Fiorentino a violent history lesson of Florence’s once gloried past

It’s the opening game of the 2015 Calcio Storico Fiorentino, a Florence tradition that dates back 500 years, back during the Italian Renaissance, when Florence was the biggest economic power in Italy, when art was its monetary unit and artists were its heroes. Yes, Florence. When you think of Florence, you think of the birthplace of the Renaissance, of Michelangelo masterpieces in the Uffizi, of the Ponte Vecchio straddling the Arno River at sunset. But hidden underneath the art, Chianti and romance is a sport that is all about blood, guts and a lot of glory. Calcio Storico Fiorentino combines rugby, soccer and violent assault. For nearly five centuries, Florence’s four major neighborhoods have gathered for one weekend in June and, literally, fight for a city they will risk facial rearrangement to defend.
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Skocjan Caves a must do in Slovenia, the cave capital of Europe

This spectacular country on the north end of what was Yugoslavia is known for its great wines, roasted meats and affordable skiing. But underneath it all lie cave networks that are among the most vast in the world. Slovenia has 11,500 caves. About 250 new ones are discovered every year.

“We are very curious people,” one caver said.

I toured the Skocjan Caves on the far west end of Slovenia. It’s about five miles from the border of the Italian tail that slips down the east side of the Adriatic Sea. This area of Slovenia is marked by rolling green hills and cute little villages with not a single reminder of the communist past from 25 years ago. Skocjan Caves stretch 6 kilometers. We were going to walk 2 ½ of them.
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Ljubljana another Eastern European gem of a capital even a dragon could love

What is it about these former communist capitals in Europe that makes me want to hug them so much? Ljubljana is so cute it belongs on a cat calendar. Its old town is a compact, cobblestone neighborhood with high-steepled churches opening up to big squares. Running through it is the Ljubljanica River lined with outdoor bars and restaurants serving those fantastically underrated Slovene wines. Looking down at it all like a kindly grandfather is the 15th century Ljubljana Castle, partially hidden by a forest of trees that climb all the way up Castle Hill.

Ljubljana. Bratislava. Prague. Tallinn. Riga. Vilnius. Only 25 years ago these were centers of suppression and depression. Today they glitter like candles on a birthday cake. They have plenty to celebrate. Democracy is kind of a cool thing when compared to living behind the prison of an Iron Curtain, where you can’t say you don’t like the Iron Curtain. Slovenia’s economy is in the tank, like much of Europe, but I don’t see anyone getting thrown in jail for gathering on street corners with other intellectuals.

Slovenia wines make you want to toast to democracy

Look at a Europe map and you can see why Slovenia has great wine. It borders the Friuli Venezia Giulia region that produces such amazing Pinot Biancos in northeast Italy. Slovenia is the same latitude as the Burgundy region of central France. It’s part of wine’s conga line that wraps around the northern end of the Adriatic Sea. I was about to enter a new taste world full of Terans and Malvazijas and Rebulas. I might even find a decent Merlot. Imagine that.
As soon as I crossed the Slovenian border north of Trieste, Italy, I could tell I was in wine country. A light rain greeted me as I drove over rolling green hills lined with grapevines. I passed little villages with names I couldn’t pronounce and that were quickly in my rear-view mirror. Signs pointing down narrow roads toward wineries quickly began to appear.
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Trieste is one corner of Italy I can avoid — like James Joyce, its adopted son

My Roman friends wax on about it as if it’s Italy’s version of Atlantis. It has the largest seaside piazza in Italy. It has terrific remains of a Roman amphitheater and an arch commemorating England’s King Richard who allegedly passed through here on his return from the Crusades. Even one of my former female Italian instructors marveled about the long-legged women. So I made Trieste the second stop of a May Adriatic tour. I had three goals: to knock off No. 17 from my around-Italy tour, to confirm Trieste as one of the most beautiful cities in a country full of them and to desecrate any memory of a tormentor of my college lit classes and a Trieste native for 16 years, James Joyce.

Venice rowing lesson gives me all new respect for gondoliers

The oar, which is loosely attached to a semicircle of a holder, is the approximate weight of an NBA power forward. I had to lean over, grab the oar with one hand near the top and the other about halfway down, pull it out of the water and pull the handle in toward my legs, put the oar back in the water, then, with my back in the shape, appropriately, of a question mark, push forward. I’ve rowed kayaks and canoes and they are so easy they become almost part of your body. Rowing a batea is like pushing a Bernini sculpture uphill. You don’t go very fast.
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Venice is most romantic city on earth but will the last Venetian to leave please hang up the gondolas?

Romance is an air so quiet you can hear water lap against a boat dock. A bird’s song is louder than anyone’s voice. You can hear wine glasses clink across a road. It’s when the modern world fades into the distance and you’re enveloped by another era, before machines, before pollution, before stress. Love is more important than money, and love is everywhere you look. That’s why I come to Venice, the most romantic city in the world.
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Latin Quarter off the beaten path: From James Joyce to Black Venus

It was a great way to end a fantastic week in Paris, finishing a day prowling the Latin Quarter off the beaten path.

It isn’t as hard as you’d think. After a week in this neighborhood, I found little pockets away from some of the 32 million tourists who make Paris the most touristy city in the world. The Latin Quarter is arguably the most touristy arrondissement in Paris. The narrow, windy streets that snake down toward the Seine are lined with bars, restaurants and people speaking just about every language but Parisian French. It’s a good place to get a pulse on Paris tourism.
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