Sunday, November 27, 2011

Work trip to Europe October 2011, first half

I've been in Europe with a coworker M for two weeks and was able to visit quite a few new-to-me places.

Non-stop SFO to Frankfurt, I realize that I have been flying Singapore Air recently, and standard economy is…less good…wow is that seat in front of me close!  But our row of five has two empty seats-bonus!  I get my vegetarian meal super quick and am falling asleep before most others are finished eating.  Quick flight to Catania airport in Sicily, but we arrive late and the luggage is slow and I have missed all the shuttles-most expensive cab ride ever.  But when I arrive M and I get dinner.  The beachside restaurant is barely open-we are the only ones there.  But they let us order pizza and prosseco which we eat by candlelight while listening to the waves-nice!

We have a little time before the conference gets going so we hang out at the beach.  This is my first ‘European’ beach experience.  Basically there are lines of deck chairs for the folks staying at the hotel.  The women love bikinis, and love to lie with the straps off to avoid tan lines.  It feels very eighties to me, aren’t we all about sunblock now?  The beach is not sand but little rocks making the waves sound lovely.  I visit the water briefly, but the rocks are not super comfortable and the temperature is between northern and southern California-nice, but not long term nice.

We visit Taoromina, touristy seaside town on the hill.  First stop is the Wunderbar, to drink Campari and orange while overlooking the ocean on one side and the tourists on the plaza on the other. Classic Italian waiters charm their way into our photo.

Wander the town, eat gelato.  Visit the Greek theater, but it closed 5 minutes ago-eat gelato to console ourselves.  Visit the public gardens just in time for sunset.  The plant variety is almost exactly that of northern California-fancy that since they have a similar Mediterranean climate ;)  

One more drink at a little cafĂ© before heading back to dinner at the hotel.  The beach restaurant is closed for a private party so we are in the fancy restaurant, and in the middle of my anchovy appetizer (fresh, not salty) we see the fireworks from their party-festive.

One more set of drinks and snacks at the more casual beach bar before the conference begins. 

The best thing about my hotel room is that it has an ocean view and I sleep with the balcony door open to listen to the ocean while sleeping.  In the mornings I often saw the cruise ship of the day, and sometimes at breakfast a horde of folks due to be on the cruise ship later that day.  During the week we encountered more memorable waiters.  At O’Neils the head waiter had a penchant for singing as he dashed back and forth and as he set you plate in front of you ‘and especial for you’.  I even try a whole local fish-lovely.

Within the conference we get an afternoon tour of Mt. Etna.  So, imagine you have a major tourist destination.  It is so impressive that 50 bus loads of tourists come every day.  Obviously you think-lets make the buses drive through the narrow ancient streets that have 4 consecutive 90 degree turns. Obviously!  I understand, it can be difficult to build a new road in hilly ancient towns, but if ever you are going to do it, 50 buses per day sounds like the time!  The Mt. Etna tour itself if fun, but not thrilling as we do not get to go near any molten lava.  After the easy stroll around the edge of the accessible crater I join the folks who want to climb to the top of the nearby, less accessible crater.  Ugg, worse than a stair-climber, but a view that can't be beat!

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