Monthly Archives: August 2004

Iraq Real Estate

Going once….going twice…sold to the man in the back. Get your Iraq real estate.

As far as bargain-hunters are concerned, Abbas cautions would-be investors to consider the difference in comforts one can expect in Iraq compared with real estate in Western countries.

First off, there’s the matter of toilets. Beware, Abbas warns, of homes listing only an “Eastern toilet,” which is essentially realtorese for a hole in the ground. Those who want a fixture that actually flushes will have to pay a premium for listings that feature a “Western toilet.”

There are other drawbacks as well.

“Of course, water from the tap will make you very ill unless you’ve gotten used to it,” Abbas warns. Electricity works about half the time, and nearly every Iraqi family who can afford it owns a backup generator. Air conditioning isn’t up to Western standards, and phone service is notoriously unreliable. Ensuring that the property owner is who he or she claims to be is also a tricky business, requiring some investigation by the buyer or buyer’s agent.

Other inconveniences — such as stray gunfire, kidnappings and roadside bombings — are well-documented in international headlines.

Italy : Day 7

August 10th
Time sure does fly when you are having fun. This is our last full day in the beautifu city of Venice. We begin by exploring the most beautiful church in San Marco Square and then follow it up with the Doge Palace, which is where all of the royalty and parliament lived and the famous bridge of sighs is connected to the prison, which is the botton of the palace. These sights were amazing. We change into shorts and then explore more and make our way to the Academia bridge and Suzi wants to see some modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, but we arrive and as the book notes that hours are not consistent in Venice it is closed for the day. At this point, we are a little bit tired of sights, so it may have been a blessing in disguise. We continue our exploration on foot making this another 10-hour day of walking and explore the nooks and crannies of the bridges and canals. We head home around 4:00 p.m. for a rest and then wrap up some last minute shoppoing around 6:00 p.m. We shower up and select a wonderful restaurant called Da Raffaele from our book a splurge. It sits right on the Grand Canal off of San Marco Square. We enjoy good wine, seafood and wonderful minestrone soup and of course the second tirimasu of the trip. We have contemplated since our arrival whether on not to do a gondola ride and that night determine we would be missing out if we did not. We barter with the gondolier and get a beautiful and peaceful ride at 11:00 p.m. for 80-Euro, which is about 40-Euro less than the usual especially at night. He is a wonderful guide and provides us with some rich history and of course takes a couple of unforgettable pictures of us in the boat. This is one of my favorite memories. Seeing the stars above and winding the boat through the small spaces and then sitting next to my husband. It felt like we were in a movie or something.
It is about 1:00 a.m. when we get back to the hotel and our flight leaves the Venice airport at 7:00 a.m., so we catch a boat that goes to the airport at 4:35 a.m. We awake at 4:00 a.m. and hustle to the boat dock and meet some fellow travelers who also have an early flight. We get our bags checked in, but I have the antique replica gun that I got for dad in my carry on bag and needless to say it is confiscated what a bummer~ We have a quick croissant and board the plane. I sleep the entire time as my stomach is killing me and I am tired. We make our connection and we arrive at SFO and our luggage arrives quickly and we are allowed back in the country without a stamp, so we are safe and have the memories our trip. We are already talking about planning the next adventure to France! It has been a long day and we could not be happier to be back in California. Leaving the country makes you really appreciate life at home.

Italy : Day 6

August 9th
We woke up early and had a light breakfast included with the Albergo San Marco hotel and met the man who walked us to a beautiful woody. It was the nicest boat I had ever been on in Venice and looked like a high end water taxi, so needless to say we were both thrilled to even ride on this in the canals. There was another couple from our hotel. They were very direct and blunt and a bit weird, but we all stood out the back of the boat enjoying the morning and beautiful scenery. We made it to Murano and were met by a guide who toured us through an exclusive Murano glass factory. We were able to watch a glass maker and then we saw the most expensive chandeliers and glass vases I have ever seen. He was a little bit of a sales guy, but we could not afford anything, so we just enjoyed the tour and all of the information. We weaved around the streets of Murano and purchased some souvenirs on the Island and then headed to Burano where they are known for the lace making tradition. We explored the Island and all of the buildings are painted very bright colors, so it is Funky and really cool. Matt and I of course stopped for our daily lunch panini and Matt had the famous wine spritzer, which was very good! We took a 1.5 hour water/boat ride back to San Marco and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the Desodoro, San Marco Square, and various neighborhoods. We showered and then headed to the world famous Harrys Bar. This is were Earnest Hemingway spend many hours drinking Bloody Marys and were the Bernini was created. These little beauties will only set you back $13 each! After happy hour we had some great caprese and pizza at a little snack bar near the church where we were to see the symphony. The music was great and we headed off to bed.

Italy : Day 5

August 8th
This morning we enjoyed our last breakfast at Domus Marie hotel and prepared for the adventure to Venice. This entailed heading to the main subway station Termini and locating the appropriate train to Venice, which sounds like a small task, but with seven pieces of luggage and 90-degree temperatures it can be a little bit challending. As we checked out of the hotel Matt thanked the jerk who promised him a double bed, so I think he felt good having the last word! I dont think the guy understood, but it was pretty fun to watch. As we headed out the door onto the street a piece of gravel got stuck in my wheel and therefore I had to carry my bag until I could get it loose. Off to a GREAT START! We made the train and we like usual are on the last car of the entire train, so we finally reach our seats and breath a sigh of relief after confirming that other people on the train are also going to Venice. It was a rather uneventful ride and we saw some very pretty countryside and stoppped in three different towns along the way. After the second stop two travelers from the Bay Area came on board and we had a very fun conversation and they showed me all of the treats they had been purchasing as they shopped there way through Italy. They started there journey at a wedding in Tuscany and had been traveling for about 6-weeks. They were pooped out, but managing not to kill one another. One of them was an RN and the other was a pre-school teacher. It was so nice to speak English for a couple of hours.
We arrived in Venice and headed outside of the train station where the Vaporetto lines were. We opted to go right and after standing in line learned that our appropriate water line was to the the left, so we purchased our tickets and with all of our 7-bags moved onto the moving water vessel. We purchased a three day pass, which allowed us access to all of the public transportation routes on the waterway. We met a mother and daughter traveling in line for the tickets. She was 15 and her mother and her had been traveling in Italy for the past 12-days. There last stop was Venice. She was just so excited to tell us about the cool things she had seen and done. We made it to San Marco square and then the confusion began of trying to actually locate our hotel, which was conveniently right across the square, but four stops later and finally good advice from the man in the exchange bank window we made it.
I really wanted to explore Murano and Burano which are two islands off of the Venice lagoon, so I mentioned this to our hotel guy and he said there was a free tour leaving from the hotel the following morning at 9:00 a.m. to Murano and then from there we could take public transportation to Burano. We also decided that a concert would be a great way to see some of the music in Venice, so we spotted an advertisement in our hotel and we decided to purchase tickets for our anniversary night. Now that we had a couple of plans we decided to find a bar and have a beer. Right around the corner was a bar that reminded us of a pub in Ireland, so we enjoyed a couple of small paninins and two large pints. The bill was expensive, but the owner was very funny and had been there for 12-years. We decided to shower up and head out for dinner near the Rialto Bridge. First we stopped at a Jazz Club with no musicians. The Jazz was cds playing on the stereo. At dinner, Matt enjoyed fresh Sole and the waitress removed all of the bones for him, so we shared gnochi and fish! The house wine was our selection that evening and it was very good. Compared to house wine in the US we were really excited with it. We met some more travelers that night who sat next to us and they were wrapping up their trip and had been hiking in the Alps for the past several days. They were two girls and they were really funny! After dinner we headed to the San Marco Square for some music at the Florian. We loved the musicians and I proceeded to request their autograph after the last song and a picture with them. We named one of them Robert DeNiro and he indicated that everyone from America tells him that. Matt had his first shot of Lemoncello and he was HOPPED up on 30-proof alcohol. That stuff will put hair on your chest. It is like everclear that tastes like lemon meringue pie. This is Matt’s attempt at photography after the evening. Sad really. 🙂

Italy : Day 4

August 7th
Today we slept in and started our walking tour around 10:30am. Most every day we started our day around 7:30am so this was a treat. We had a flexible agenda and started the morning at the Spanish Steps for knock off handbags (for Suzi). No Luck though. Took the back streets and found the post office and stumbled upon some great stores. Suzi was very excited about this 🙂 We headed to Piazza Navona for the best panini, beer, and entertainment. This was the second time we ate at this small cafe outside and it was great the 2nd time too. Checked out two beautiful basilica’s, some obliesks and moved to Trastevere. A big hike, Trastevere is known as “the true and oldest Italiano ghetto”. We visited St. Maria of Trastevere and gave our feet a rest around 1pm at a great pub. Here we met 2 ladies from Scotland with whom we had a great conversation. We needed to get back to the Ferrari store, which we managed to miss several times. Matt really wanted a souvenir from this store; he ended up with a Ferrari red t-shirt. Matt had a Ferrari poster over his bed for almost his entire childhood. We concluded our fifteen mile hike at our hotel and took a small siesta and much needed shower. Did I mention that the weather is hot, hot, hot. We had dinner around the Fountain di Trevi at L’Archetto. We had a great Caprese starter, Pizza funghi (mushrooms), and spaghetti bolognese. There were several English speaking couples and the restaurant, which had been recommended to them as well. The tables were set up in an alley, which cars periodically went by. Very interesting. We had a great bottle of wine (Barbaresco). We had a fun conversation with a couple next to us which were from the country in England. Neat people, great food, wine made for a great night. We survived Rome and many had problems with the Gypsy’s. Thankfully we did not, having been very used to panhandlers in S.F. We caught the last metro, so we never used a taxi, only relying on our feet and the metro. On to Venice…

Italy : Day 3

August 6th
Got a good night’s sleep, headed down to breakfast and on our way to our room a critter scurried across the floor as soon as we opened the door to our room. It was a small beady-eyed lizard. Matt had to dispose of it and in the process removed his tail, which continued to wiggle around – ugh! (No animals were harmed in the process) We had a big day planned at St. Peters, the Vatican museum, and all the surrounding sights. We got an early start to avoid the crowds. We started the tour with the hike in the cupola. 520 steps later as we did not select the lift and at a sweat factor of 10+ Matt and Suzi made to the top of St. Peter’s. It was touch and go for Matt because it was so hot and claustrophobic in the tight quarters leading up to the top. The view in the dome and all of Rome outside the dome was absolutely beautiful! Mass was going on in the midst of our tour, so it was incredible to see the priest and hear the music and the Latin liturgy. We concluded with the Vatican Museum and the highlights including the Sistine chapel – amazing and the Raphael rooms. What an amazingly beautiful piece of art. We showered up and headed out to the Spanish Steps and some great wine & beer at Enoteca Antica (a recommended hot spot). We also has dinner at Difrante a…, but it was Italy’s Pasta Pomodoro equivalent. We thought it would be good, but just okay.

Italy : Day 2

August 5th
The Italian saga continues, but with a good night’s sleep under our belts. Breakfast included with our room, so rolls, salami, OJ, and coffee are the way we begin our day. We do our best to shower and the clothes we have worn for the last 30 hours are put back on. They can now stand on their own. Did I mention that you sweat constantly in Rome and I am wearing jeans and Suzi has on sweat pants! We journey to the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon (Matt’s favorite), Piazza Navona, Parliment, the Capital building and a brief run by the Coliseum and ruins. Needless to say at this point we dislike Air France strongly and have cursed them throughout the day as we periodically acquire updates on the status of our bags (still not at the hotel, but are in Rome). We head for home around 5:30pm for a much needed nap & in hopes we will be met by our bags. We have no clothes for dinner and after a shower decide we must eat locally, very disappointing. As we are leaving to go to dinner, in the lobby we see the oasis. Our bags have magically appeared and are just sitting by themselves in the lobby. We are like 2 kids on Christmas morning and the hotel proprietor enjoys “Viva Italia!” upon seeing how happy we are to finally have our bags. We quickly enjoy a real shower and hair wash. We put our more stylish clothes and head to the Fountain Di Trevi, where we opt to dine a Quirino. We enjoy awesome Ravioli’s and Chianti Classico (even cheap Italian wine is good). We have a wonderful waiter and meet 2 couples from the US. One from San Jose and one from Texas. With a full tummy we head to the fountain and make a magical wish for years of marriage and adventure together. Ciao! We have accepted twin beds pushed together.

Italy : Day 1

This is recap of Suzi and I’s recent Italian vacation. Apologies for the bad grammar and spelling mistakes. Pictures will be up soon. Without further ado.

August 3rd & 4th
I think the saying holds true “whatever does not break you makes you stronger”. It has been a trek. Starting with the Rocky (thanks Brett) to BART to the Air France terminal and being informed of a 2 hour delay added to the 3 hours we were early for the flight, plus the 2 hours it took us from our door to the airport.
We took our $20 meal voucher, had lunch, then twiddled our thumbs for four hours. Boarded our 747 and shared our seats with a very nice Catholic priest from Poland who decided not to shower before the trip. The highlight was 13 going on 30 (suzi’s anyway), great movie. Made the new connecting flight in Paris and landed in Rome. To our dismay, our bags were not as eager to start our Italian vacation as we were. They stayed in Paris for the night. In our frustration trying to figure out where our bags were, we mistakenly avoided customs and entered Rome without a Passport stamp or LUGGAGE! We were assured by the AirItalia agent that the bags would be en route to us that evening. We navigated our way from the Roma airport using the Leonardo Express and the Metro underground. We arrive at the Hotel Domus Mariae 33 hours after we left our doorstep. We were pleased with the hotel and our 1st floor accomodations except we had request a double bed on our 1 year anniversary and when we opened the door, we were staring at 2 twin beds. (stay tuned) We made our way to the hotel bar and outdoor seating area for a little Frank Sinatra playing at a DJ stand. At last we could relax and begin our vacation. We did this with club sandwiches and skunk beer. I of course went with my usual Cubre Libre. (suzi notes here that I really needed the second one).

August 5th
Having acclimated to the Rome weather (It is really really REALLY hot) and a good night’s sleep in our pushed together twin beds. No bags still, so we did the best we could to shower and put on our same outfits. We are off to the Pantheon and have crossed fingers that at some point we will have clean clothes and a double bed.

more to come…