Orvieto

At the end of my last Italy trip we spent 1 night in the Umbrian town of Orvieto, Italy. Orvieto resides on top of a large volcanic tufa. The city was started during Etruscan times and the location chosen due to its safety from invaders. Upon arriving to the city by train, you have the choice to ascend to the city center by bus or by funicular. For our arrival, we chose to take the funicular.
From the city one can experience spectacular views of surrounding areas.
Most spectacular in the city is the city’s Duomo. This gothic church has one of the most magnificent facades that I have ever seen. So many details were put into the decor of this cathedral.

The facade was restored in 1995 so now all can clearly see scenes depicted on the outside.

Also amazing are the wall sculptures that depict scenes of the old and new testament.

Some of it can be quite disturbing, especially the hell scenes.

You will also notice many statues lining around the rose window.

These bronze doors were added in the 1960’s.

Metal statues with the symbols (Angel, Ox, Lion, Eagle) of the Evangelists appear on the exterior.

The glittering mosaics pick up light during parts of the day to make a spectacular vision of the church.

Also noticeable are other symbols such as the  Star of David located in the front of the church.

Inside the church are some frescos of the life of the Virgin Mary among many other notable works.

The outside of the cathedral is very ornate but you will notice the interior to be much more simple in design.

Orvieto Unground

Besides the duomo another amazing part of Orvieto is the the Underground. The underground consists of caves under the city that were originally used by the Etruscans.

While underground we learned one of the caves was used to make olive oil .

For a time the caves were used as a cellar.

Pigeons were kept for food. It is still a dish to be found in the region.

Great vistas from the underground.

More pigeon caves

Tranquil path outside the underground

Also in Orvieto we visited an archaeological museum with artifacts dug up locally.

Orvieto proved to be a good choice for a short visit before returning home. I advise one to stop by if you happen to be touring central Italy. You will not see many cathedrals quite like the one here. Additionally the underground tour is a unique experience as well.

Touring Crete

As part of our honeymoon tour package we stopped at the greek island of Crete. Crete is a rather large island and our sightseeing was concentrated in the city of Heraklion. We only got to see a small part but Crete was much less island vacation like than the islands of Santorini and Mykonos. However there was still plenty to see in Crete.

Upon arrival to our hotel, they gave us a honeymoon gift.

We also had a pretty nice view from our room.

While in Crete, we visited the ancient palace of Knossos. Knossos is an ancient Minoan civilization that is one of the oldest in European lands. We wandered around the grounds with its very well planned rooms and halls. Some has been reconstructed to look as it once might have. Fresh frescos have been painted (some of the originals exist in a nearby museum.

Taking a break from sightseeing we stopped in some local cafes in Heraklion. The city has a bustling cafe life. Many young people spend their afternoons and evenings at outdoor cafes. They either slowly sip an ouzo on ice or enjoy fancy coffee drinks. We made sure to carve out some time to participate in this as well.

Morosini Fountain (Lion Fountain)

Later we visited the archaeological museum. Archaeological Museum of Herakleion contains a large collection of Minoan art and artifacts.

Museum visitation is exhausting. We took at break at a nice cafe. We ordered some snails and the restaurant was nice enough to give us a free dessert.

We finished our visit with the Koules Venetian fortress. This fort for some time served as a Turkish prison among other things.

New Orleans Cemetery

There is something about old cemeteries that keep drawing me in. When I visit a town and I find there is an old famous cemetery, I add it to my to do list.
One great place to visit cemeteries is New Orleans. We visited the Saint Louis Cemetery and took part in a voodoo tour.

A man that works in the cemetery told us about how the tombs are reused by families. Bodies are placed in a wooden box in the tomb and sealed up. The New Orleans heat “burns” the body. A year and a day later the tomb is opened again and the remains are pushed back make room for the next in the family…..

Tombs are quite expensive but in the long run it can be quite economical since tombs can be reused over and over again by the family.

Separate but equal

Homer Plessy tomb of the Plessy vs Ferguson fame is buried in this cemetery.

We also did a voodoo tour.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as part of the tour. It is the oldest surviving church building in New Orleans. It is visited by Catholics and some practitioners of voodoo.

And I saw these Lela dolls. What?!?

We met a real life voodoo practitioner (Sorry no pictures).
We learned about Marie Catherine Laveau, the famous voodoo practitioner. We visited the mausoleum where Marie Laveau is buried, in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1.  Tourists mark X’s on her tomb and leave offerings if their wish is granted. I have yet to ask her for anything but I may someday.

Anyone want some oreos?

Some more cemetery pictures

 Film site of Easy Rider

Flamenco in Sevilla

While in Sevilla we wanted to make sure we saw authentic flamenco while we were there. All recommendations told us to go to Casa de la Memoria. We booked our show in advance and attended one night. No food and drinks are served for the show; you were there for a performance only. I knew we would not be disappointed.
There were two dancers, one male and one female. The female was not outfitted in the traditional flamenco dress (see example below).

Instead she wore pants. The pants allowed us (the audience) to see her leg movements more clearly. I think I liked this better.

They were both excellent. The show was amazing. The were accompanied by some very talented musicians. At the end they all came together to play some traditional music.

I believe they switched locations since we visited. Be sure to visit their website for the most up to date information on shows www.casadelamemoria.es (change language to english). Make sure to make reservations  – it is a popular show.

Stoemp

A girl from the Orlando Lady Crafters (a group I am a member of) has habit of planning wonderful gatherings. We recently met and she invited me to her most recent gathering – Belgium night.
Orlando Lady Crafters do not knit; we are a group of ladies who are interested in craft beer. The range of experiences in the group go from home brewers ready to start their own brewery to newbies who are just now venturing past ciders. It is a lovely group of ladies that I’m glad I know.
For Belgium night the idea is that you bring a Belgium beer to share for tasting and a Belgium dish. Not many of us were familiar with Belgium food past mussels with fries or Belgium waffles. I did some internet searches and came across this recipe for stoemp. Stoemp is a mashed potato dish mixed with some vegetable. It is supposed to be the quintessential comfort food. I chose it partly because it seemed simple to make and partly because I have never cooked with leeks before. I pretty much stayed on recipe except the addition of more garlic….I always add more garlic.

We always try to use organic ingredients whenever possible. Here is the bounty from whole foods.

Since it was my first time with leeks I did some internet searching for proper preparation. You are supposed to cut off the dark green leaves (I have saved them for soup stock later). I left too much green in my first cut so ended up cutting some more off later. Instructions on the web say to slice the leeks down middle and then 1/4 way from there to make it easier to clean the inside dirt. After cleaning I sliced it into small slivers.

While the potatoes boil I prepare the leeks.

Leeks are sauteed with onions, garlic and butter (butter yum).

Potatoes are fully mashed

After the leeks are translucent the broth and cream is added according to instructions. Once the liquid is cooked down it all mixed together and topped with nutmeg.

I really liked the recipe. I just wish I choose red potatoes instead of the boring light brown ones. I would have added more salt too, especially since I was making it for others (we salt much less at home). I did get some praises so I might keep this one in my recipe book for comfort food times (holidays, etc).

Source:
http://www.food.com/recipe/stoemp-aux-poireaux-stoemp-met-prei-belgian-mashed-potatoes-121428

Testing the Sunrail Commute

Our local commuter service Sunrail started this week. They are providing free service for two weeks so I decided to take a day off to test how a commute might work for me.
Let me start by saying that I really want this train to work. I think Orlando (Central Florida) is in desperate need of some public transportation options for many reasons. Some reasons include to reduce traffic, to provide transportation for those who can’t or don’t want to drive, and to have the city be “greener”.
That being said, I am not sure the Sunrail is my solution. I am what one would refer to as a reverse commuter. I already live in the city limits and my office happens to be outside of the downtown vicinity in a suburban office park. This train was obviously made for people who do the opposite of what I do (live in the suburbs and commute downtown).
There is no train station in walking distance to neither my work nor my home. And any bus connectivity would require at least a mile walking on either end (acceptable) and up to an extra 2 hours added to the commute (not acceptable). Because there is no shuttle bus capability my only option is to do a bike and ride option. The bike and ride option is what I tested out today.
I started bright and early from my home in Baldwin Park a little after 6:00 am. I should have left a bit earlier to catch the first train but I couldn’t quite get out of bed early enough.
I pumped up my tires to the required pressure to make sure they were ready for the commute.

I turned on my bike lights and headed down the route to the Florida Hospital Station. There are two train stations almost equi-distance from my house. I just chose the Florida Hospital one for this morning’s commute because I have yet to see the station. Of course rain is coming later in the day so I decide I need to get this commute over with early.

Since I have biked the 4 mile route to the general area of the station before, it was a relatively event less ride.

The station was nice but relatively empty. I didn’t have to wait too long for the train to arrive.

Luckily the train northbound was not full. I had plenty of room for my bike and myself. I attempted to strap my bike in but it was awkward and I was afraid if I fully locked it in, I wouldn’t have time to unlock it at my stop. Unfortunately it ended up falling over twice – even once after I thought I correctly strapped it in. Maybe this will be easier with practice.

The train is very clean and pleasant. My stop is two stops away. I forgot to time the journey but it couldn’t have been longer than 15 minutes. Upon arrival I easily removed my bike and got off the train.

At this station I notice there is a place for bus pick up but no bus. It would be really convenient if there was a bus to take me the rest of the way.

I biked the rest of theway instead, and the safest route is a 4.5 mile route that back tracks to go around interstate 4.

There is a more direct route but it is super scary. You are basically traveling over a highway-type road with no bike lanes, no sidewalks and cars moving at very fast speeds. No thank you.
I chose the scenic route. The first part of it, Sandspur Road, was a easy but bumpy ride. However the bike lane only runs down one side of the road. What? On the way back I ended up taking the sidewalk (I know sidewalks aren’t safer but it relieves my anxiety on having pedal fast to not hold up traffic behind me).
After my turn on Wymore Road, I discover there are no bike lanes. Thankfully the lanes are wide enough that I am able to safely ride with the flow of traffic.
After crossing under I-4 I start my way toward the office buildings on Lake Destiny Drive. There are many problems with the road. There are bike lanes but the paint is worn on most of them so drivers might not be aware they exist. The lanes are poorly maintained: weeds grow into the lane, parts are broken up, tree debris exists in them, and at one point the lane fully disappears due to weeds.

Now you see it.

Now you don’t

And someone decides a dumpster can hang out in the lane…

However it is not all bad. There is a cute .10 mile trail.

There is some bike signage.

And there is even a cross walk at some point.

I finally see my office in the distance.

I arrive at the office. At this point I would lock up my bike and go shower upstairs (luckily we do have showers). However today I just enter the building to bathroom and refill my water. Plus I text my co-workers to let them know how sweaty I am.
I head back to the station to take the train home. But alas I am 5 minutes too late. The last morning train has just left and the next one does not come for two hours. But it is only 8:29 am! I am sure that made sense to some train planner but it makes no sense to me. Don’t you think people will still be commuting in the late morning? Are you really saving that much by eliminating trains every 30 minutes mid-day? What about people who want to commute to lunch? I guess that is not possible.
I don’t want to wait around two hours so I head down 17-92 to go home by bike. I am tired and do not wish to ride with traffic so I sidewalk it. Parts of the route are nice. I got to ride by Lake Lily Park and see some great views there.

I skipped breakfast to get to the train early so I decide to stop at wawa to get a breakfast sandwich and coffee. Then rains happens.

Luckily it is only a light drizzle all the way home. I guess I got lucky with the overcast skies; it could have been a whole lot hotter.

My bike commute experience ended up taking approximately 64 minutes to get to work (49 minutes by bike, 15 by train). My normal driving commute averages 25-35 minutes. My bike back home from the “work” train station took me 51 minutes (part of that was a stop at the ATM).
What have I learned from this experience? I learned that it might be easier than I thought to just ride my bike to work from my house. The route includes more sidewalk riding than I like but it is doable. Maybe one day a week and a shower at work?
One thing I have proved is a time saving/convenience argument is not going to get me to take the sunrail. If I choose to ride it now, it would be purely a exercise/tree-hugging hippie argument for me to take it. Or I could be forced into it when I-4 construction begins sometime soon. What I want to happen is that the Sunrail planners add in a shuttle at one end of my commute (preferably the work end). This would lighten the commute by bike. Only time will tell what route I will take in the future.