Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Food While Traveling, Venice

On the Rialto.

On the Rialto.

Traveling while hungry is my idea of not having a good time.

The sneaky little headache. We migraine sufferers are aware. Very aware. Hunger can be a trigger. Which is bad.

At one point, having eaten the last Sweet and Salty Nut Bar and in the middle of a if-anything-can-go-wrong-it-will trip from Milan to Belgrade, I walked into a duty-free shop in the Malpense Airport and bought a great big bag of peanut M & Ms.                                       

 My little helpers.

My little helpers.

A couple of those cheery little guys and I feel hopeful again.

So, lunchtime our first day in Venice. Our kind hotel host, Fausto, recommends a place called Pizzeria alla Strega, which means, roughly, Pizzeria of the Hag.Their logo is a witch on a broom flying over a creepy house.

 Photo is truncated, but the witch is there, believe me.

Photo is truncated, but the witch is there, believe me.

Instead of looking for something slightly less weird, we sit down in a charming patio with a stone floor and grapevines overhead. My husband, a soupaholic, finds a vegetable/bean soup on the menu. Done.

Lunchtime mafioso.

Lunchtime mafioso.

I order a meat/cheese/pepper pizza and a mixed salad. The staff seems mildly irritated that we are there.The mixed salad is fresh and tasty. Then a flat, colorless round thing arrives. I get through a tasteless piece while wondering if we are in the wrong country.

What does it mean?

Of course, any restaurant that offers this on the menu might not be the one you want to visit:


The next day, a surprise.

We are on a water taxi on the Grand Canal. I’m trying to marvel at the parade of history on either side in the smothering heat with lunchtime approaching. Must have food. We disembark at the Rialto Bridge. There, right there, is another of the 1,031 restaurants on this island. Typical tables under a typical awning. But it’s pretty full and we’re hungry and they have a picture of a hamburger on their signboard.

We sit down.

I order the hamburger with fries. When it arrives I am mildly suspicious. There sits a beautiful burger. Fresh lettuce and two slices of tomato peek out from a toasty bun. The meat is gently draped in thin-sliced mozzarella. The fries look crispy.



First bite. Oh, my. The crunch of the toasty bun. The fresh veggies, meat nicely seasoned and cooked to perfection. The fries rivaling McDonald’s, which my friend, Carolyn, says are the gold standard.


Sitting by the Grand Canal in Venice in a nondescript eatery on a hot, hot day with throngs of tourists passing by, I have one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten.

Which just goes to show, you just never know.


Thoughts in a Coliseum

VeronaJesus and Verona? Why, yes.

 First, let’s ask:

  • At what point in history would there be relative calm in Palestine?
  • Who would inflict the cruelest possible death?
  • How would the Gospel be spread quickly and efficiently?

Answer? The Romans.

And here we are in Verona with remnants of the Empire everywhere. Massive walls, bridges, and gates.  Everything beautifully engineered.

Sam, Jan, and Katarina on the Roman bridge over the River Adige.

Jan, Sam, and Katarina on the Roman bridge over the River Adige.

We are visiting Sam’s cousin, Jan. He moved to Italy over 20 years ago with his wife, Katarina, and their young daughter, Sabrina. They settled in a little town south of Verona called Isola della Scala.  Wine grapes, corn, sunflowers and, of all things, tobacco are grown in this region of Veneto.

And a bonus: the third largest coliseum in Italy smack in the center of Verona.

 Interior ring under the arena seats.

Interior ring under the arena seats.

The coliseum is almost intact. Finished in 30 a.d., Jesus’ ministry had just begun. He was walking Judean roads as festivals began to be held here. He was ministering in Galilee as gladiators initiated this arena.

He was healing and teaching while the massive, brilliant, cruel empire ascended around Him.

I think about this as we sit high up in the coliseum on the beautiful pink-tinged stone quarried from that region. I think about how the purposes of God transcend completely the most grandiose plans of men.

 Theater seats of Verona stone.

These theater seats don’t recline.

  • Jesus was born at a time when Rome kept Palestine on a tight rein to ensure calm in that fractious area. He traveled about quite freely in His 3½ years of ministry. And people came from long distances to hear Him.
  • The Romans devised methods of torturous death with their usual calculated precision. Hence, crucifixion. Jesus held back nothing with His sacrifice.
  • But here is the final irony: Jesus came when the vast network of Roman roads could speed the Gospel to every corner of the known world. And they did.

Theater and opera now draw crowds where men fought and died for sport. The floor of the arena is being prepared for the night’s performance of Verdi’s Aida. Fake facades are being nailed in place. Large sphinxes are rolled in near tall fake pillars.

 Set prep for Aida. Instead of blood sport.

Set prep for Aida. Instead of blood sport.

While the bones of the once great Roman Empire are now tourist attractions, the blood of the Christ they crucified still saves. For me, sightseeing here is a special pleasure. Reminds me that the Gospel will always survive the hubris of man.


Hot News From Venice

veniceSo we’ve never been to Venice.

We need to visit my husband’s aging mother in Serbia, and want to spend some time with family and our pastor friends. Three of Sam’s cousins, whom we’ve never visited, live near Verona, an hour east of Venice. A slight detour on our usual direct flight to Belgrade sounded like fun.

It has been an education. Here are some highlights:

  • In general, Italians are friendly with a slight air of don’t-get-all-American-on-me.
  • July is one of the worst months to travel in Europe. Heat and tourists. You would think we would know this by now. Never mind. Off we go. It has been in the 90s every day with considerable humidity. There will be more whining before we’re done here.
From the Rialto Bridge, original site of the city.

From the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal, original site of the city.

  • Venice is truly a wonder. Building on the island began sometime in the 6th  century. It is a time capsule of history in its architecture and art treasures. How were such massive (and I do mean massive) amounts of stone and marble transported to the island in those early centuries? How did they drive the pilings? One church alone sits on 1 million of them. And every square inch is built on or paved with stone. There are no lawns in Venice, believe me.
  • It is a fascinating maze of narrow streets, canals, and bridges. No cars allowed. You walk or take a boat. I brought my walking clothes, as I always do, but they aren’t necessary. You’re going to walk and walk and walk. Exercise is one of the side benefits to getting lost in this city. Which we did.
Said narrow. Meant narrow.

Said narrow. Meant narrow.

  • It was hot.
  • The Grand Canal is everything you’ve ever heard. Lined with ornate palaces and churches built on the wealth of centuries of commerce, you can almost see the ghosts of merchants and nobles and the glitterati of Venetian society. I tried to ruminate properly as we glided down that ancient waterway on a water taxi, but my deep thoughts boiled away. As dozens of other tourists pressed in on every side.
  • No, we didn’t ride on a gondola. At 80 euros, it seemed like an expensive experience. You can stand on any number of charming bridges and, as they glide past, get a good look at each ornately decorated boat. While admiring the skill of the (generally) handsome gondoliers.
And there they are.

And there they are.

  • We visited, for example: The Basilica di San Marco. Originally built over the bones of the Apostle Mark in the 9th century, it is an immense Byzantine marvel. The problem with visiting places like St. Mark’s is sensory overload. Soaring arched spaces covered in gold. Stunning mosaic scenes from the Bible and lives of the saints. Huge bronze fixtures. Giant ornate pillars. (Pitiful understatements.) This one site should take up a day of your visit. And it’s one of dozens.
Grand Staircase at the Doge's Palace. Mars and Neptune up top.

Grand Staircase, Doge’s Palace. Mars and Neptune up top.There was a beheading on this staircase in 1355. Just so you know.

  • Truth is, tourism is the only industry left in this city. The harbor that once hosted vast numbers of ships from every corner of the globe bringing untold wealth to the island now hosts 3 million visitors a year from those same corners.
  • Taxes efficiently drain the wealth of small businesses in Venice, and Italy at large. Our pleasant host, Fausto, pays 16,000 euros a year in taxes on his modest hotel. Italy is headed the way of Greece. We told him the U.S. appears to be headed the way of Italy.
Here they come. Taken from a window of the Doge's Palace.

Here they come. Taken from a window of the Doge’s Palace.

As our train to Verona pulls away from the station, we see 4 cruise ships docked in the harbor. Enjoy, ye sweltering masses, enjoy!                                                                      

Farewell, Venezia.

Farewell, Venezia. 

Here We Worshipped

Here We Worshipped

Throughout Europe, east or west, in almost every town and village, there is a church.  When driving through Serbia, my husband’s homeland, steeples frequently pierce the horizon.  For a very long time, the church steeple was, by design, the tallest structure in any community.  Its height signified its place of honor.

Now, many of the churches are dingy and rather neglected.  Some have well-tended yards and, occasionally, fresh paint.  But whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, they all send steeples heavenward – sturdy, enduring.  For me they seem to speak of generations past:  “Here we worshipped.”  They mark a patch of ground where the Word was preached to a community of believers, the faithful whose children were married at its altars, and who now lie buried in its  graveyards.

But times are changing.  Recently, while driving through northern Serbia, we approached the small town of Vilovo.  There in the distance rose the ever-present steeple.  However, in the foreground, rising taller from the surrounding cornfields, was a familiar red and white metal structure:  a cell tower.  In the gray light of a lowering sky it appeared stark and brash.  The church sat rather muted in the background with its cross-topped steeple, seeming to emerge organically from among the village houses.

For me, I think it was the juxtaposition of steeple and cell tower that was so striking.  Technology is certainly, for the most part, the friend of man.  It is bold and ubiquitous and very, very user-friendly.  And certainly the religious world is using that vast frontier to great advantage for God’s kingdom.  Our challenge is not to sacrifice our individual devotion to God to the time-devouring products of technology.  The church should not languish in the shadow of the cell tower.

Hopefullly, it will be of the church that generations to come will say:  Here we worship.

How is technology altering your way of worship?


jet lag, def: 1) the condition brought on by traveling too far on an airplane and screwing up your body clock 2) a thick, dark fog which settles over mind and body at 1 in the afternoon and lifts with startling swiftness at 2 in the morning.

So I ate breakfast yesterday morning after a decent night’s rest but felt like lying down soon after. So I slept off and on until mid-afternoon.

So now it’s 4:30 in the morning and there has been no sleep.  At all. Out here in the countryside all is quiet in these early hours after a sudden rain and the moon – but wait!  What’s that?  It’s a bird!  It’s a plane! No, it’s a bird.  This bird, the in-laws have informed us, has been heard in a tree on their property for years.  They never see it, but it’s presence is unmistakable.  It sounds like an owl on helium and it will not shut up!  It carries on and on in its weird birdy voice. Then, it suddenly stops. However, this is only because it’s time for the roosters to wake up.  In the distance wave after wave of cock-a-doodle doos, perfectly on pitch, roll across the countryside. The in-law’s rooster joins in.  This is a mistake. He has a faulty valve somewhere and is only capable of a low-pitched cock-a-doodle growl.

Then, of course, (you knew this was coming), dogs.  They not only start barking all over local creation, one is actually baying!  I don’t care if you’ve sat on a tractor for 16 hours, you must wake up and make it stop!  On and on and on, barking and baying.  And there is that moment when all three sections of this creaturely nightmare chime in together, full-throated, in the pre-dawn darkness.  It’s like Animal Kingdom on speed.

If I had a bullhorn, I could, well, you would understand, wouldn’t you?  As it is, the only recourse I may have is to leap out onto the small concrete balcony outside our room like some manic cuckoo clock and scream, “A pox on all of you!”

I could do that.  If it would actually help me. Sleep.

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