Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Food (and drink) Tour of Europe

Better late than never, right? Almost exactly 1 year after we got back to Sydney, I've got around to posting some of our favourite meals and drinks in Europe.

Best Pizza - Da Michele in Napoli. The best pizza in the town that created pizza. They only have margherita and marinara on the menu. A big (around 40cm) pizza only costs 4 euro. It's hard to believe that something so simple can taste so good. No pizza has ever been the same since Da Michele.

Best Gelato - Perche no! in Firenze. We were on a mission to find the best authentic gelato since we landed in Italy. After trying countless places we arrived at Perche no! after being recommended by our walking tour guide. The gelato here is divine. It is made fresh every day based on what is available at the markets. The fruit sorbets are light and taste just like you are eating the fruit. The yoghurt, vanilla and ricotta are amazing. However the star of the show is the pistachio. It really tastes like you are eating pistachios. As with Da Michele no gelato has been the same since.

Best Pasta and Trattoria - Trattoria Mario in Firenze. Mario is a Florentine institution. Located right next to the produce market it serves simple meals (plus a legendary Florentine steak) at very reasonable prices. It doesn't seem to have changed much despite being included in every guide book under the sun. You get squeezed into any available spot and you can usually make friends with your fellow diners over lunch. Their ragù alla bolognese is amazing.

Best Coffee - Torrefazione Costarica in Venezia. This little shop specialises in Costarican coffee. They aren't a cafe as such, mostly they seem to sell coffee in bulk. You can still ask for a coffee though - and it's worth it. Specially at only 70 Euro cents. I only tried their espresso - simply the most perfect espresso I've ever had.

Best Beer - Wheat beer from Hausbrauerei Feierling in Freiburg. Our friend Sara introduced us to this beer from a small organic brewery in the middle of Freiburg. Nothing better than sitting in the beer garden across the road from the brewery with this brilliant wheat beer.

Best Pho - Pho Mui in Paris, Avenue d'Ivry. We tried a lot of Viet places in Paris - most restaurants are a mix of Chinese/Thai/Viet. However this place only does Pho and does it very, very well.

Best Creme Brulee - Patisserie Gerard Mulot in Paris. We were walking towards Jardain du Luxembourg and saw this beautiful pastry shop packed full of people. They had an amazing window display and we knew we had to try a creme brulee. We got a couple and headed to the gardens. Best. Creme. Brulee. Ever.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Planes, Trains, Automobiles AND Ferries

I feel like I HAVE to blog about our travel over the last two days - our trip from Crete in southern Greece to Napoli in southern Italy. It all started when we discovered that the ferry service from Hania in Crete to Gythio in the Pelloponese was cancelled. So we thought we'd go to Athens and take a bus to Nafplio - but it turned out that there was no accommodation available in the town at all. So fed up with Greece we decided to skip the rest of the country and head to Italy.

Our journey started at 5:30 am on the 16th of June. We woke up and took a taxi to Hania airport. After some delays we got a flight at about 7:30 from Hania to Athens. From Athens airport we took the local train to a town just outside Corinth. After a couple of hours there we took an old, decrepit train to Patras that got us into town at about 3pm.

So there in one day we covered planes, trains and automobiles!

From Patras we got a ticket on the overnight Ferry to Bari in Italy. After yet more running around we managed to work out how to check in (it wasn't easy) and got on the Ferry (Superfast I, 200m long and 25kts top speed). We got a private cabin with beds. I must say that we were both very impressed with the Ferry. It was clean, new and well designed.

After a quick dinner we went to sleep and woke up on the coast of Italy! Now that's the way travel!

From the ferry station in Bari we made our way to Bari Central Station, where we just missed the train to Naples. So we had to start another long journey. First a slow train to Taranto, which is an industrial town to the south of Bari. After spending some time in Bari we caught a bus to Napoli - which took about 4 hours and stopped at every little village along the way.

So there you have it. A shortened version of our journey from Hania to Napoli over 48 hours.

Euro 2009 Update 2 - Greece

So a look back on Greece. From my travels in 2004 Greece turned out to be one of my favourite destinations, so my expectations were high. To say that I was left feeling down is a bit of an understatement.

I was expecting Greece to be much better post Olympics - and it was in a sense. The metro in Athens was great, as was the new pedistrian districts of places like Heraklion and Patras. But the same old problems were still there, and it seems worse than before. Everything is in chaos - be it the traffic, the trains, the planes or the buses. Most places we visted didn't really know what whas going on and the staff were untrained and unhelpful.

One of the biggest dissapointment was the food. I remembered some really good meals in Hania and Gythio from 2004, and it was not to be. We had one good meal in Hania at Tamam - but almost every other place we tried was a dissapointment. Not that we just picked a place and went - we almost always went to places which were recommended by guidebooks or had good reviews in travel mags/newspapers. A meal costing 20 euros per person without drinks should be at a decent standard - but we almost always were dissapointed.

Also if I ever needed evidence that the Meditteranean was being overfished it is in the price and quality of seafood in Greece. It is expensive and terrible! The best fish we got was a baked red snapper (quite nice) - but it was 19 euro each and the fish was TINY! Anything that size would have to be thrown back in Sydney.

Perhaps a lot of the mismatch in expectations is that the last time we visited in April/May and this time we were there in June. The crowds are terrible and everything is terribly overpriced.

My only recommendation for Greece would be to go well outside the main seasons and avoid the popular places like the plague. Santorini was terrible. We couldn't even get any accommodation in Nafplio. The ferries are full and the prices are high. There are lots of nice places off the beaten track - but you really need your own car to get there.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Euro 2009 Update 1

Just a quickie - as my wireless access is dodgy.

So we're 6 days into the trip and it's mostly going well. We are currently in Santorini enjoying the view and the heat (did I mention the heat? It's hot!).

Started off by spending 4 days in Athens - more than necessary I would have thought - but it was quite good, actually. My last visit to Athens in 2004 left me thinking that I'd never come back, but I enjoyed it quite a lot this time. A lot of the city has been cleaned up for the 2004 Olympics - the Metro for example. We also stayed in Plaka this time, it's very touristy but nice. A lot nicer than Omonia, where we stayed before.

One thing that really shits me about Greece so far is that the anti-smoking laws haven't really caught on. Or if they have, people ignore then. They smoke EVERYWHERE, indoors, outdoors.. we've seen women nursing babies chain smoking through the whole time! Our ferry trip to Santorini was a 9 hour ordeal trying to find a place where we could escape the smoke!

Anyways, Santorini is as nice as always - except for the first hotel we stayed at. It is built right next to the only major road on the island, without any sound proofing! After 2 sleepless nights we left the place and moved to a much better hotel. That was 100 euros down the drain. Last time we allow a travel agent to book accomodation for us.

OK battery almost dead that's all for now.

Next stop is Crete.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Battlestar Galactica

Last week was the finale of what I consider to the best show on television. Perhaps the best show that's been on tv for a while. The finale of Battlestar Galactica.

Chami and I have been following the series closely since the mini-series.. it's always given us lots to talk about and argue over after each show - you can't ask for more than that.

We've been watching the last 10 episodes - called Season 4.5 as the fourth season was split due to the writer's strike - with increasing trepidation. What was once a brilliant show was starting to show cracks. Ron Moore has always said that he focuses on the characters more than the story (and definately not on the technology) and that most of the plots were made up as they went along. This was unfortunately starting to show. Great characters are fine - but if they are set against a backdrop that is becoming increasingly incoherent it makes them into caricatures and character studies - not real people.

As it has been said across the blogosphere, the finale has polarised the audience. Chami and I definately fall into the "it was shite" catagory. We spent something like 4 or 5 hours after the show talking about why we were so dissapointed and where it had gone wrong.

First it was the abandoning of any of the great mythology they had built up. I got the distinct feeling that the writers strike had put the final nail in BSG's coffin. Everything in season 4.5 felt disjointed, it felt out of place. Nothing more than the mutiny and then the "God did it!" explanation of the finale.

The show had built a deep mythology over the last four years -the 13 tribes of humans and the exodus from Kobol, the Gods of Kobol giving "fire" to the humans to create other intelligent beings, the temple of five, the Book of Pythia and the visions of Hera and the Opera House. These were powerful ideas. Even the (randomly made up) story line of the Final Five cylons being from Earth and giving the technology added SOMETHING to the story (as well as muddied up the waters around the Temple of the Five) - but it could have been saved.

However it seems that the writers just gave up (well before the final) on making this into a cohesive story - ambiguity is fine - but ignoring it completely, or even worse - saying "God did it" is the worst possible cop out. It still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Jacob from Television Without Pity says it like this:

think what I reacted so violently to, this finale and the last one, was the exceedingly inorganic, forced nature of the revelations, at the last second. Not organically developing out of the story told over the preceding nineteen episodes, and the threads of deeper meaning and juxtaposition that they afford, but a determined weeding out of tools and images that didn't fit the finale, when it was time to write the finale. That's distinctly irreverent, toward the material, toward the story itself, and to your writers. I think what happened here was less a issue of forethought and planning, and more a loss of nutsack at a crucial moment. A dedication to reaching ideas long plotted out, working against the grain of the story itself, to arrive at treasured endpoints that no longer signify.

However, even worse than the "God" explanation was the "lets all go back to the stone age" idea of Lee Adama. I find this whole concept so reprehensible I can hardly think about watching BSG again. Not only because I find the whole thing personally offensive, but also because it is such a huge contradiction of everything that has gone before.

How would a group of 40,000 people who have fought and disagreed about everything from politcs to religion possibly unanimously agree that abandoning all technology and embracing a pre stone age life is a good idea? Sure a few, or even most might have done it. But EVERYONE? (Speaking of hippies - this might have been a great use of the "cult of Baltar" that they had spent all this time building up. I could believe that they want to go back to a primitive life. But no - the whole cult was just dropped and forgotten like many other pieces of the story because it seemed to hard to resolve).

Battlestar Galactica has always been a story of incredible moral courage. Not only from the characters, but also from it's writers. What it did at the very end is the worst form of moral cowardice. Jacob from TVWP once again:

Why on Earth should anyone, anywhere, ever retrograde? If you don't like the thesis, generate the antithesis and pull it together with your hands: don't wipe the board. I don't think I've been more grossed out by any statement of this show's characters than the order not to "underestimate the desire for a clean slate." Anyone who honestly wants a clean slate wants to die. The question is, "When Will the Work Be Done?" And the only answer is: Never. You don't get to lay down your burdens, the rough spots are all you ever had. That's called life, and it's just as sweet and just as brutal as the angels, and the Gods. You can't tear pages out of your history. That's as weak as declaring bankruptcy, and morally reprehensible. It is profane.

I fear that the ending of BSG has ruined what would have been one of my most cherished stories. Maybe some time in the future I can forgive Ron Moore or least understand what he did and look at BSG in something similar to the way I've looked at it before.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

/bin/mail and setting the From: line

UNIX geekery ahead. Skip to save your sanity.

Over the years I've needed a script to set the From: line in a mail that it sends out - and the syntax is quite obscure and doesn't always turn up in a Goolgle search.

So what you need is to give mail the -- argument which lets you pass arguments straight to sendmail:

echo "message body" | mail -s "subject" user@domain.tld -- -F "Users Name" -f user2@domain.tld