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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Partying in Paris: The soft underbelly of a tourist town rocks all night long

The French can party. One night, I partied with them. I went to the Bastille neighborhood. It’s where they built a fortress to protect the city in the 14th century then turned it into a prison that symbolized the overhanded French government in the 18th century. They demolished the prison after a mob stormed it and freed 17 prisoners.
Today it has one of Paris’ most bustling night scenes. The roads here are narrower, more cozy, more like Rome’s Centro Storico. The difference is each road is lined with not just cafes and restaurants but bars. Bars’ bars, bars where I walked by at 7 p.m. and saw French of all ages hoisting steins of beer or hovering over bottles of wine or musing over cool cocktails. They were laughing, flirting, yelling and, dare I say, a little drunk. It was 7:30 p.m.
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Picnic under Eiffel Tower a table with the ultimate view

Picnic in Paris.

The term just exudes romance, doesn’t it? Like “Stroll in Rome” or “Hike in Alps.” Every time I come to Paris I have a picnic in a park. It’s one thing you can do alone that isn’t touristy. It puts you nose deep into local culture or however far your nose can dip into a big creamy pile of Brie. It’s eating fantastic French food with equally spectacular atmosphere. Talk about a table with a view. I’ve picnicked in Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Tuileries. This time I wanted to upgrade.

Parc du Champ de Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
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Following in Hemingway’s footsteps leads to a great taste (burp!) of Paris

Hopefully, his old surroundings would inspire me. That’s why I left the apartment and went searching for Hemingway. He spent most of his Paris life right around my neighborhood in the Latin Quarter. His two apartments are just up Rue Monge from me. The first is on a quiet side street next to the Cafe Bo LeDescantes. A small plaque next to a bright blue door indicates the second-story apartment window where he spent some of his life in 1920-21. Ugly construction equipment mars any kind of romantic reminiscence.
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Hemingway later moved into this flat above the door not far away on Rue Descartes. Hemingway later moved into this flat above the door not far away on Rue Descartes.[/caption]
The second apartment is just around the corner on Rue Descartes. He obviously upgraded. Two big, ornately decorated black doors lead into a bright, white apartment building with 19th century guardrail on all the balconies. A tony, romantic cafe, La Maison de Verlaine, is right below it.

Even in his 20s, Hemingway owned Paris.
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Paris in spring means a return trip to the Louvre and a room full of nudes

Paris in spring is one of the heavenly places on Earth and the amount of tourists is minimal compared to the colossal chaos of summer. The January massacre of the 12 Charlie Hebdo staffers probably didn’t help much, either, although that newspaper’s circulation is creeping up near Le Monde’s. There were only about 15 people in line entering the big glass pyramid that serves as a very artsy security gate. There were only two people in one of the five ticket counters that encircle a round entry hall in the basement.

Seeing the Louvre requires strategy. You must decide what you want to see, not how long you’re going to spend. It’s estimated that it would take one month of daily visits to see every piece of art. The museum map they give you with your ticket is just one fold smaller than my map of China.
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Milan is Italy’s gray old lady but she’s opening hungry eyes with Expo 2015

It’s Expo 2015, a six-month-long celebration of arguably the most popular subject in the world: food. An estimated 20 million people are expected to check out this year’s theme of food and sustainability: How do we help feed a world where 805 million out of a world population of 7 billion (8.7 percent) are malnourished?

It’s a massive subject that has baffled mankind ever since the Roman Empire imploded from over expansion about 1,600 years ago. It’s why Expo 2015 looks like a small city. I took Milan’s shiny, efficient subway (OK, it has one thing going for it) an hour to 10 miles to the northwest of town. In a massive space stretching six kilometers, hundreds of pavilions and exhibits explain the world food crisis in such detail I felt like buying a pizza and shipping it to Haiti. (One double cheese pizza from Milan could feed a Haitian village. Trust me.) There’s a pavilion for 145 countries and all 20 regions in Italy.
The Expo features a man-made lake, a 12,000-seat amphitheater and a 6,000-seat auditorium.