Category Archives: News

plenty new for europhiles

With thanks to Jenna and her blog this is my happiness, I learned that Rick Steves has just published his highlights on ‘what’s new’ in Europe.

I have a real fondness for Rick. I don’t know him, but I feel like I do. “He” was with me when I traveled solo backpacking in my early 20s in Italy. His guidebook clutched in my hand, I marked phone numbers that led me to the perfect top floor apartment, little-known beach  or gelateria (I needed first to find a pay phone -yes, a pay phone). Directions were always easy to follow – even before online mapping tools – and restaurants both authentic and inexpensive. Pictures of him would be framed in the hostels I stayed in, demonstrating the close relationships he fostered with the locals he featured in his books.

I’ve grown up, as it so happens to all travelers, and have traded my backpack in for luggage, roughing it for a bit more comfort, and solo travels for family travel.  His latest article on what’s new in Europe reminds me again why he still is a wealth of good, practical information for those who want to experience real Europe and travel slowly – in whatever format you prefer using, hardback or app.

Paris' Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

Paris’ Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

 

Highlights for me include the re-opening of one my favorite museums in Europe – the Picasso Museum, Paris; Marseille’s facelift; a new gallery devoted to Michelangelo at the Uffizi in Florence; a new museum dedicated to Dante Alighieri in Ravenna; and Milan preparing to host the 2015 World Fair.

Read it, soak it in – Rick Steves: What’s new in Europe article here via sfgate. Europe still awaits even the most seasoned Europhile.

can’t drive 55

In Texas where the speed limit is already one of the highest in the nation at 80 mph , its House of Representatives has just approved a bill that would raise that limit to 85 on certain roads. This proposed speed limit increase would give Texas the highest speed limit in the nation. I say great, grab your guns and go. Just first, please…. take some lessons from those who know how to drive fast and do it well. Because it ain’t here in the U.S.

Since we’ve returned from the land of fast cars and faster drivers, I used to be the first one to provide  anecdotal stories painting the drivers in Italy as mad (like crazy mad), citing the fact that car rental insurance is higher there than most other European countries.  Almost every time I entered the autostrada my palms immediately began sweating as I switched  into hyper-alert mode to survive my drive. Through the years, I got much better. Confident and even…aggressive. And now that I’ve spent enough time among my own California drivers again, with their lane confusion and hesitated moves and merges, I think those drivers across the pond seriously have got some things right.   So here are my top 5 pieces of advice for Texans as they prepare to take on the new speed.

1. Use the fast lane for fast driving. really fast driving.  If you are behind someone slow in the middle lane, by all means pass in the fast lane, but then MOVE BACK into the middle lane (in Italy you do this to avoid getting killed by the silver bullet Mercedes that has been flashing its lights and within a half second seems to be attached to your back window). There, the fast lane is really for passing. In the states, or maybe it’s a California thing, the fast lane seems a magnet for passive/aggressive or just plain clueless drivers going at or under the speed limit, requiring everyone to drive around them and pass, and almost causing multiple accidents.

2. It’s all about state of mind. Drive the new speed limit and fast, but with confidence. Even if you might not feel it, pretend.  It makes a difference. Trust me.

3. Consider the honk-car-talk-method when you need it. This is more  a southern Italian thing, but when I was maneuvering my rental car around Palermo (don’t ask), the honk-before-you make-your-move method was genius when you aren’t sure you have been seen.

For example:

Guy in the Car Next to Me – Hooonnnkkkk (hey, here I am, I’m about to swerve in front of you because you are too slow and I need to make a right)

Me: honk, honk. (dude, go for it. that was crazy.  but I am so going to try it too)

Guy in the Car Next to Me: Honk… honk.( that was a rookie move. The alley you turned into is too narrow for your car and you’ve just crunched up your side view mirrors. That’s going to cost you.

Me: Honk. (Shxt.)

4.  Emergency 4-way lights come in handy. When traffic was stopped ahead on the autostrada, drivers used their emergency lights so others behind could be warned well in advance to slow down. It’s  important, especially if you are going at fast speed. Common sense, no? I use it here in California on the freeways, and I have yet to see another.

5. Leave the food and drink at home. Meals at the kitchen table. No In-and-Out Burger-in-the-car while at high speeds.

Texas has wide open rural roads and freeways. The area they plan to enforce the new speed limit  isn’t filled with narrow, winding roads, blind spots or scooters and pedestrians pulling out in front of you. So if you’re against the law , be thankful.  Across America, we might all follow Texas’ lead and – like those race car-loving Eu-ro-pe-ans – turn skillful at maneuvering our great American highways at high speed.  Hopefully in smaller cars. And leaving the food and drink at home. But I wouldn’t say too soon.