Thursday, November 24, 2011


My brother asked me a few weeks ago about Bernolakovo, the town where Terezia's brother Tony and his girlfriend Jana own a house. This is where we've been staying. Bernolakovo is a small town just outside (to the north east) of Bratislava. The town has been expanding rapidly with new subdivisions. In fact, buying or building a house in Bernolakovo is the "thing" to do around these parts, because it can actually be quite affordable. We've even met a few locals who, upon hearing we're moving to Bratislava, have asked us if we're buying or building a house in Bernolakovo. My brother was curious to see what Bernolakovo looks like, so here are some photos of Tony and Jana's neighborhood.

You can't really see it, but Tony and Jana's house is down the street and on the right, where the rooftops become a-framed. 

How do you know which house is yours when you come home at night totally sloshed?

These houses are all quite new, obviously, and if you see one with a weed-filled front yard, that means the house has still not sold yet.

These next photos are what you see behind Tony and Jana's house. There is a big empty field, beyond which a new street is being made at warp speed. Tony is worried that the guy who owns the big field behind his and his neighbors' houses will sell the whole thing to a developer, who would then put in a whole new street, with backyards that would back up directly to his, thus drastically reducing any sense of privacy. He has met with the guy who owns this land, and is trying to convince him to sell at least a strip of it to Tony and his neighbors so that everyone on his side of the street could at least expand their backyards a little. I'm sure that five years from now this view will be totally cluttered with new houses.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Red tape suddenly turns into a colossal red wall

So at the moment it appears that there will be scant hope of Slovakia's Foreign Police agreeing to give me a residency visa before the 90-day cut-off date of January 1. This means that I will have to leave Slovakia (and the EU) on January 1 for 90 days. The reasons for this are a bit complicated, but I'll try and give you the Cliff's Notes version.

We have been informed that it can take up to three months to obtain a marriage certificate once you've registered a marriage in Slovakia. (Back in the States, this only takes about 10 days!). Due to complications from Terezia's divorce from her previous marriage, we were not able to submit the paperwork to register our marriage until this week! We were given the name and number of someone in the marriage registration office of Bratislava, and we were encouraged to plead for expediency, which we will do, but at this point, we have no idea how long it will take. The EU's uber-stringent Schengen laws state that non-EU citizens can only remain in the EU on a travel visa for 90 days, and the only circumstances for which they'll grant an extension are if the non-EU citizen cannot return to his/her non-EU home country because of a massive natural disaster there, or if he/she has sought political asylum because he/she would literally be killed or wrongfully imprisoned in his/her home country. That means there's no chance that they would give a rat's ass about making life hell for a married couple. And it looks as if there is no way this is going to get done before my 90 days are up.

At this rate, unless something miraculous happens, it is pretty much a given that I will have to leave the EU on January 1 and not return for 90 days. The most optimistic outcome we can hope for is that I will at least be able to submit all my paperwork (including that darned marriage certificate) to the Foreign Police before January 1. The reason I would still have to leave is that the Foreign Police can take up to 90 days *after* one submits all the paperwork to grant the visa. They are in no hurry, and you can't stay in the EU while the process is pending after your 90-day travel visa expires. If the marriage certificate office is sympathetic and capable of expediting the process, we will have a shot at this. Additionally, if the Foreign Police agrees to grant me the residency visa before my 90 days spent outside the EU are up - while I'm back in the US - they can grant me permission to return to the EU early, so I wouldn't have to wait the full 90 days before returning.

If we are not able to get the marriage certificate before January 1, I will have to go back to the US and submit my paperwork to the Slovak consulate in Los Angeles, and have them send it to the foreign police along with my request for a residency visa. This can even take longer because the embassy has to snail-mail everything to the Foreign Police in Slovakia.

There is also the possibility that I could find a job with an employer who is willing/able to take care of this for me. I have been sending resumes to language schools as well as companies seeking writers/copyeditors who can speak/write in English. Terezia's brother even thinks he can hook me up with a job where he works at IBM, which sounds utterly depressing, but at least it's an idea. However, we spoke with an immigration services councilor today who told us that obtaining visas via an employer is just as time-consuming for non-EU citizens as obtaining one through marriage, and it can take up to 3-4 months. So again, no hope of that happening when we have a month and a week left. The immigration councilor told us that the insane bureaucracy coupled with the uber-strict EU laws makes it exceedingly difficult for non-EU foreigners to obtain citizenship in Slovakia, and that it makes her job quite frustrating.

What further complicates matters is that Terezia is having to deal with even more red tape as far as re-establishing her Slovak residency. We thought we'd sorted this out, but this morning we went to the office where one obtains an ID card, and we were told by an extremely anal-retentive and obstinate paper-pusher that Terezia cannot get her ID card until she has the marriage certificate. Terezia's residency won't be totally approved and official until she is given this ID card, and since the ID specifies marital status, she cannot get one until we can show the office proof of our marriage with the marriage certificate. So, what we have here is a good old-fashioned catch-22. One more thing that I will need in order to get my visa is proof that Terezia has Slovak residency (the ID). Getting the ID shouldn't take long once we have the marriage certificate in hand, but it's yet another hoop to jump through in this increasingly Kafka-esque process.

I should add that Terezia can't even re-enroll into Slovakia's health care system without her residency ID. So, this is how Slovakia treats even its OWN citizens! Way to go, Slovakia! Nearly every native you talk to here wants the hell out of this little country, and yet you make getting back in a seemingly insurmountable headache!

So much for trying to give you the Cliff's Notes version! Ha! At any rate, we'll know more soon, but it looks like I'll definitely be coming back to the US for a bit at the start of the year.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Obecny Urad, my shady criminal background in Slovakia, and more apartment hunting

We started off the day by going to the lovely and charming Obecny Urad of Bernolakovo, which is like the local county clerk's office or something along those lines. This is where we do two things: establish Terezia's current, permanent residency, and register our marriage. We went here back in early October and I remember how a pungent death-cloud of body odor permeated the building's small reception area in the early autumn heat. Of course now that it's cold and everyone's bundled up, the stench is gone.

Anyway, we submitted our paperwork to the woman who works there, and she was really frantic for some reason. She was initially skeptical that she could help us given our tight timeline, but after talking to her for a bit, she eventually calmed down and said she would get the ball rolling as quickly as she could. The main problem is that it apparently takes three whole months (!!!) to register a marriage in Slovakia, and we kind of need to have our marriage registered by December so that I can get my residency visa and won't have to go back to the US. We're hoping that Slovakia's Foreign Police will accept some kind of documentation that says the registration is in process. I guess we'll see!

Next, we went to Bratislava to the Register Trestov, which is where I submitted my paperwork last week to have my Slovak criminal background check done. I was quite relieved to discover that I have no criminal history to speak of in Slovakia! One more thing to check off the list!

Funny Communist pediment affixed to an old building in historical Bratislava

Later, we checked out a few apartments, all of which were a huge improvement (in all ways imaginable) to the first place we saw last week. (We did visit a second apartment last week, which was decent, but not as close to the center as we'd like). At any rate, the first building was located right in the middle of the lively Obchodna street at the northern end of the historical center. There were actually two apartments available in the building, both of which were one-bedroom (or two room, in Slovak real-estate lingo). The building was older, the apartments had nice, large, old-fashioned windows, and Obchodna is a cool location as far as being central and in an area where there's a lot going on. One apartment was on the bottom floor, which had a nicely updated kitchen and bathroom. The other was on the third floor, and while its kitchen and bathroom weren't as nice visually, the views from the windows, overlooking the rooftops of cool historical buildings, were much nicer. Definitely a contender.

The third apartment was a bit closer to the Bratislava castle, located in a beautiful older building on a quiet, picturesque street called Konventna, which is lined with other beautiful older buildings. The apartment, located in the rear of the building, had nice large windows overlooking an enclosed garden area. The kitchen was quite spacious, while the rest of the apartment contained pretty much what we're looking for. Not bad, but we have a few more places to check out. With each apartment, we're getting closer to what it is that we're visualizing.

Oh, and we also bought health insurance for me, which is another requirement for my residency visa. I have to show them that I have insurance for at least three months. It's much cheaper than buying similar health coverage in the US, which is no surprise.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Holiday in Podrecany, a brief excursion to Banska Bystrica, and a beer-scented party train

November 17 is a national holiday in Slovakia called Nezna Revolucia, which commemorates the student-initiated protests (the Velvet Revolution) that ultimately brought down Czechoslovakia's Communist regime over 20 years ago. It's a big deal - the kind of holiday where people go back home to spend a few days with family, eat lots of food, and drink copious amounts of booze. On Thursday morning, we took the train to visit Terezia's parents in Podrecany. In what I'm told is typical Slovak fashion, many trains were overbooked, which resulted in people literally having to cram themselves into the train cars like sardines. Trains to Kosice were particularly problematic. Luckily, we booked tickets the day before and paid a little extra to reserve seats. There were, however, people in the corridor of our train, who, having to stand for a few hours until their destination, decided to turn the ride into a party and got snockered on Becherovka and beer. In fact, when we got out of our cabin to get off the train, the whole car reeked of booze.

At any rate, on Friday we took a short trip to Banska Bystrica, a charming town right smack in the middle of Slovakia, which is the capital city of the region of Slovakia where Terezia grew up. The reason for going here was to re-establish Terezia's Slovak residency, which could only be done in the region in which she was last a resident.

Banska Bystrica's groovy historical center - this photo was actually taken last year around Xmas time. 

We had to go to the charming Communist-era monstrosity known as the Obvodny Urad. The woman Terezia dealt with there seemed very stern, but luckily everything was in order, so that's one more thing we can check off the list. Now she can establish her current, permanent residency in Bernolakovo at her brother's home address.

We spent the weekend hanging out with family, drinking, eating, cooking, lounging around, etc. We had a little family shindig Saturday night with Terezia's uncle and aunt (who live just down the street from Terezia's parents) and cousins, for which Terezia prepared some amazingly tender and sublimely flavorful pork ribs.

On Sunday we had a nice drive back to Bratislava with Terezia's cousin Ludka and her German boyfriend Chris. The freeway between Bratislava and Zvolen is finally complete, which shortens the drive to/from Terezia's parents down to about 2.5 hours (it used to take over 3). Chris drives lightning fast - in typical German fashion - which made the drive even shorter. Chris has been living in Bratislava with Ludka for less than a year, so like me he's a stranger in a strange land (albeit much closer to his native home), and it was fun to chat with him about impressions of Slovakia. We all agreed that customer service in Slovakia is often appalling.

At any rate, this coming week, there'll be a whirlwind of bureaucracy and we'll be checking out some more apartments.

And by the way, it's freaking COLD here right now! The temperature hovers around 0 degrees celsius these days, which is about as warm as it gets!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Terka returns and we dive back into the sea of red tape

Terezia is back in Slovakia after a whirlwind week in the US. I took the bus out to the Vienna airport to fetch her Monday afternoon. She arrived safe and sound, and in the totally wiped-out state in which you typically find people who just got in from a trans-Atlantic flight from California.

Really good news: while Terezia was in the US, her Slovak divorce papers arrived in the mail. As mentioned previously, we can't re-establish her residency and request for my residency until she is divorced (from her first marriage) here. We went to Bratislava's court (the Justicny Palac) Tuesday to request to have the divorce effective immediately so that we don't have to wait the normal 15 days. This involved meeting with the judge again and submitting a short letter making the request. The judge was extremely helpful and in 20 minutes the divorce was effective and official. This experience was amazingly free of red tape!

Next we went to the Register Trestov, where I submitted some forms and a 3-euro kolok to have a Slovak equivalent to an FBI background check done. Luckily, this background check will only take a couple of days, unlike the US FBI background check, which takes several months and which I'm still waiting for.

We also met with a real-estate agent to check out an apartment in Bratislava. Okay, so yesterday I learned an incredibly useful thing about apartment listings in Slovakia. In the US, a one-bedroom apartment is typically an apartment consisting of a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and, naturally, one bedroom. A two-bedroom apartment is the same, but with two bedrooms. Anything less than that (e.g., an apartment consisting solely of a kitchen, a bathroom, and only one other room) is a studio apartment. Seems obvious and straightforward, right?

Well, in Slovakia, they apparently don't have a word to distinguish bedroom and plain old room. Terezia, Tony, and I had been looking over online listings for "one-bedroom" apartments. All this time, I had been thinking that when Terezia and Tony said "one-bedroom apartment," they were talking about what I have always understood to be a one-bedroom apartment. So, we get to this apartment, and from an American perspective, it's clearly a fairly spacious studio apartment. Right away, I'm thinking "hey, this isn't a one-bedroom apartment, it's a studio!" Turns out, we needed to be looking at listings for a "two-bedroom" apartment (yes, I know a living room is not the same as a bedroom, but we're in Slovakia now, so you try explaining it to them!).

At any rate, while this apartment had a decent kitchen and bathroom, and while the one room was fairly spacious, I really think we need some semblance of a living room (however small), partly so that Terezia and I don't drive each other crazy. Besides, the furniture in this place was incredibly odd - like bulky, strangely-painted stuff you'd find in a kindergarden classroom of a public school - and the hardwood floor looked as if said furniture was dragged across it on a routine basis. The owner was very nice, but apart from the obvious one-room issue, the place just didn't feel right. We'll be looking at more apartments soon!

Tomorrow we leave for Terezia's parents' place in Podrecany for several days, and during this trip, we'll be going to Banska Bystrica where we will have to re-establish Terezia's Slovak residency.

On that note, I leave you with a random assortment of photos from Bratislava.

It appears that they've uncovered some very cool gothic detailing on St. Martin's cathedral that seems to have been plastered over at some point. Will they leave it like this or will they continue to uncover it? I'd love to know. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Terka's US citizenship and Jeff's first visit to a Slovakian hospital!

A few of you probably know that Terezia had to fly back to the US this week to take the citizenship oath, her final step in becoming a full-fledged US citizen! The ceremony was held this morning at the lovely Paramount Theater in Oakland, and there were over a thousand people there obtaining citizenship. This is a huge deal for her, and I'm sad that I wasn't able to go back to the US with her to witness it (and celebrate). I'm also envious that she gets to hang out with my family for the week. She's obviously really happy about it, so send her an email to congratulate her, if you get a chance!

A few of you probably also know that I have a defective lower back. Every now and then, I throw it out, and then I'm in excruciating pain for anywhere from a few days to a week or more. My back went out Monday morning. I'll spare you the details, but I didn't do anything in particular to trigger it - it just happened when bending over. But this back blow-out has been really bad. It's been excruciating just to even walk, and my torso is jutting out from my waist to the side at a rightward angle! I haven't had one this severe in over four years, which was the last time I saw my chiropractor. Given that I'm now half way around the world from my chiropractor, and I currently have no health insurance, you're probably wondering what the hell I was going to do.

Luckily, Terezia's brother Tony stayed home today and offered to help. We called a local chiropractor, but he was booked until Friday. However, he said that it would only cost a mere 30 euros to visit him uninsured. Wow! What a bargain! Back in California it was usually $100 per visit to see a chiropractor sans insurance.

Next, we called a hospital in Bratislava, and they told us to come on in, saying they could see me and that it wouldn't cost all that much (for example, they said an x-ray would cost 7 euros!), but that there'd be some paperwork. So, we drove to the hospital, which is housed, of course, in a by now usual, bleak (but super clean), older communist building.

We found the urgent care clinic for people with injuries similar to mine (bone/joint-related, I think). It was basically a narrow, orange-colored corridor with several people sitting in chairs on either side, waiting. At one point a young nurse came out from a room and Tony approached her and explained our predicament. They motioned for me to come into the room, and before I knew it, I was pulling my pants down and being given an injection in the side of my ass by a young, blonde nurse. Basically, they decided it was too much of a hassle to fill out the necessary paperwork to treat someone with no health coverage, so they used Tony's health card. They also decided that since it would take approximately 2 minutes to deal with me and whisk us out the door, they simply treated me right then and there! So, no waiting! They also prescribed two types of medication - Dorsiflex and Almiral - which are more heavy duty pain-killing, muscle-relaxing, inflammation-reducing pills, apparently. They used Tony's card for this as well, and it cost me a grand total of 4 euros.

Let me just say that while I understand the Slovakian health care system apparently isn't exactly a model one, I was shocked and amazed at how radically different (and better) this experience was from American health care. In the US, I would've been stuck in the urgent care waiting room for at least a couple hours, and if I had no insurance, the bill for the injection and prescription meds would have been exorbitant. And no, I highly doubt any US health facility would have been willing to use a friend or brother-in-law's insurance card to cover another, uninsured patient. Furthermore, the couple times I went to the doctor (not my chiropractor) in the US for my back pain, the MOST I ever got was a referral for physical therapy, and absolutely no offer of anything that would actually ease the pain. The injection and the pills have already made a big difference. At the time of writing, I feel really relaxed, and I can walk, get up, etc., with relative ease again (although I'm definitely not yet back to normal). I realize the nurse's main objective was to get us out of their hair, but wow, they actually did something that helped! America - take note!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Photos from Italy are all online; new life in Slovakia

Firstly, as the title indicates, photos from our super fun trip to Italy are now online and can be found by clicking here.

Secondly, we're still recuperating from the trip and reorienting ourselves back into the other adventure, that being settling in Slovakia. That means this blog will transition away from "happy fun time in Italy" and back to wry observations of a tiny, land-locked country that no one ever seems to think about.

But on that note, I want to reiterate how happy we are about Terezia's brother Tony and his girlfriend Jana's amazing generosity in letting us stay at their house in Bernolakovo while we look for jobs and a place to live. They are making life so much easier for us, and they have been extremely helpful, and we can't thank them enough!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Back to reality (or, Slovakia, at least...)

When we awoke on our last morning in Firenze, thick, dark clouds had moved in over night. Rain appeared to be imminent. We left a cold and rainy Bratislava for sunny warm Firenze, and now we're leaving an about to be drenched Firenze for a relatively warm(ish) and sunny Bratislava.

I'm always amazed at how circuitous the ride to (or from) the Florence airport to the city center is. And Italian traffic never gets boring. I love how they basically invent lanes. Like, a road could have two lanes going in one direction, but Italian drivers will make it so that there are four cars across, and that's not including the buzzing Vespas weaving their way through. Everyone seems to be constantly trying to squeeze ahead of everyone else.

So, Terezia and I both deem this trip a rousing success. Terezia really got to experience Italy for the first time and promptly fell in love with it (especially Florence, Siena, and Vernazza). I got to experience some of my favorite places again, and discover new things (often quirky architectural details that I geek out over). And it was obviously nice to explore some places that neither of us had ever been to (Volterra, Genova, Perugia, Gubbio). Now we're both going to try to figure out a way to someday live there.

Also, the question everyone's probably wanting to ask: how was Jeff's Italian? He'd studied the damn language for three years, so how'd that go? Well, I'd have to say just okay. The problem is that I actually hadn't had class for nearly four months prior to the trip, and despite trying to study and review when I could, I was still rusty. The other issue is that A LOT of Italians speak pretty good English (at least in the areas we visited). Some of them would just take one look at me and automatically speak English. In these situations I would usually stubbornly keep speaking Italian, while they would stubbornly keep speaking English. There were other times when we'd both start off in Italian, but then as soon as I displayed the slightest hint of hesitation, for even a fraction of a second, they'd instantly launch into English, and from there it would be impossible to get them to switch back to Italian.

Hanging out with my friend Serena and her boyfriend in Florence was fun, as she and I kept switching back and forth from English to Italian, since her boyfriend can't speak English, and Terezia can't speak Italian. But overall, it was definitely easier to buy things, order food, ask questions, etc... than the last time I was there, four years ago, when I had barely taken any lessons. I definitely have the foundation on which I could become really good with the language if I were to live there for a while.

At any rate, now it's back to the real world, back to Slovakia, and time to get down to business and find jobs, a place to live, and figure out how to navigate this small, bizarre country that nobody seems to know or care about! This tiny, landlocked country which Americans (and even some Italians) always seem to confuse with Slovenia. This country which will go into debt from having to help bail out Greece, because the amount it will have to pay is apparently something like two years of its overall budget. This country, which, instead of rioting in the streets over the current economic situation, just drinks more and quietly stews. This country which produces mind-blowing sausage and whose inhabitants can drink me under the table in a matter of minutes.

And we're happy to be back in the comfort of Terezia's brother Anton and his girlfriend Janka's cozy home. They have been super nice and generous by letting us stay here while we get settled in Bratislava. We are hugely indebted to them! We are happy that people like Tono and Janka exist!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vernazza devastated by a massive landslide and flooding

This is why I hate not having internet. In Siena, internet was painfully slow, so we were selective about what we used it for. In Perugia, the apartment had no internet, so the moments we spent in the stinky internet cafe down the street were only to take care of pertinent personal stuff. So, we get back to Slovakia today to discover the massive devastation that occurred in Vernazza, and that it happened only a mere day after we left! Yeah, I'd noticed a headline or two in newspapers that people were reading that vaguely mentioned some flooding in the Cinque Terre region, and I'd made a mental note to look it up on the internet, but I hadn't imagined that it was on such a massive and destructive scale, and that Vernazza was hit so hard. Google it if you haven't already, the photos and videos are horrifying. Or, just go here: Vernazza's main drag is submerged in what looks in places to be over 10 feet of muck and debris. Watching footage of one of our very favorite towns laid to waste, with cars, boats, and a wall of mud gushing down the road is truly depressing.

And here I was, writing away on my stupid blog, stupidly unaware of what had happened literally the day after we left for Siena. This is really tragic news, and it's left both me and Terezia feeling completed gutted. I hope that Vernazza's residents have the resilience and resources to rebuild their beautiful town.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Back to Firenze

Today, we took the train back to Florence for our last full day in Italy. It felt really nice to be back in Florence. Terezia and I both agree that Florence is probably our favorite city. There's just something about the way it contains so much architectural and artistic beauty packed into such a relatively compact space. The river is definitely a plus, not just because it's pleasant visually (and is traversed by some cool bridges), but because of the way it divides the city into two distinct parts. Plus, Florence's overall feel, the vibe (at least when you're not being swarmed by tourist groups) is such a unique and perfect combination of laid back and frantic. We could stroll through the centro storico endlessly and not get sick of it. I always seem to discover new things that somehow eluded me on previous trips. We both feel like we could definitely live here.

We booked a pretty a room at a cheap bed & breakfast that overlooks the piazza with the Duomo. From our room you can look directly out onto the Baptistery, and then if you look to the left, you get a beautiful, fourth floor view of the Duomo's facade. The room itself was spacious and nice, with two big windows to lean out of and people-watch. It was also fun to just lie on the bed with the windows open and listen to the din of voices coming from the massive piazza below. The only downside was that this hotel has shared bathrooms. Not that it was a problem - we barely saw anyone else staying at the place. But I always hate feeling kind of rushed when somebody is potentially waiting to use the head.

After a lunch of lampredotto panini, Terezia dragged me into the depths of Florence's street markets near San Lorenzo to do some last minute shopping for her family. Surviving that, we had the rest of the afternoon and evening for a last stroll through our favorite areas.

For our final dinner in Italy, Aviva and Mike will be happy to know that we went to I Tarocchi again, since we wanted to end the trip on a culinary high note. The food was perfect, as usual.

And with that, we bid farewell to Florence (and Italy), and hope like crazy that we'll get to come back as soon as humanly possible!

See the full set of photos of our trip to Florence here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Finally, some good Italian food in Perugia

Today was a relatively mellow day. We went to the museum at the Palazzo dei Priori, which is fairly sprawling, covering an entire floor of the Palazzo. 90% of it consisted of medieval and early Renaissance religious paintings, and the other 10% was a group refreshingly secular works from the 17-1800s. The medieval stuff is interesting initially, but after a while you get totally Mary and bamino’d out. And the Jesus babies in these paintings almost always look like creepy, pudgy, little Italian men with strangely receding hairlines. You’d think they’d have wanted to depict him like some uber cute Gerber baby or whatever, but no.

We had Slovakian sausages again for lunch, and they were every bit as delicious as yesterday. After getting angry (yet again) at Wells Fargo for blocking both my ATM cards (I’ve really, really had it with them. The second I’m back in America - whenever that is - I swear I'm changing banks), we went to a funky-smelling internet place to connect with the real world for a bit.

Later, we walked down to the massive San Domenico church, which lies down the hill and just southeast of the Rocca Paolina. It was closed. Then, on the way back to the center, we stopped by the church that looks like a strange, octagonal shaped tower with a big clock on it. It was closed. So, we went back up to the center, hung out on the steps of the piazza to people-watch and to think about which restaurant we wanted to try for our last night in Perugia.

And that restaurant turned out to be Osteria del Gambero (aka Ubu Re). After four nights of maddening inconsistency and criminally bad pasta, we finally had an all around good experience here. We walked in at 7:45, and the place was empty. We were greeted by a guy with thick, bushy hair, John Lennon glasses, and a black chef’s coat. We’re assuming he was the chef because of his chef’s coat, but he was also our waiter. We could hear the voice of only one other person in kitchen. Visually, the place was immediately appealing, with its dim lights, muted yellow paint, and Paul Klee prints on the walls, and – most importantly – the guy had the first Style Council album (Cafe Bleu) playing in the background. Only 1-2 friends of mine will understand the significance of that last detail, but believe me, it’s crucial in understanding why that made the whole experience so much cooler. I mean, the Style Council, of all bands!

At any rate, the food: I ordered Umbricelli with a rich braised duck sauce, which was absolute perfection. Terezia ordered these lightly crispy, delicious cannelloni filled with ricotta, and covered in fresh porcini mushrooms and a light sauce. Both dishes were made lovingly with fresh ingredients, and were very refined. For secondo, we split the pork ribs, which were heavenly: extremely tender, juicy, and flavorful, and they came with a side of white beans with rosemary. We also split a mixed green salad, which had to have been one of the freshest and most organic-tasting salads we’ve had the whole trip. Strangely, there were only three other people eating there that night, which is absolutely criminal, given the stellar quality of the meal and vastly superior ambience of the place. To think of some of the crappy restaurants we endured here, which have always been full, and this place, with such awesome food (and totally reasonable prices) was empty! There’s just so much injustice in this world!!!

I think the time we spent here in Perugia was a good amount of time. We’ve had three full days, plus one day for the trip to Gubbio. If we’d stayed another day, I would have wanted to do another day trip. Perugia is a beautiful city, and we’ll definitely miss it, despite the inconsistent food. The stony, winding, kind of grimy medieval streets really are fun, and the views from this hill town are stunning. We’re really glad we finally got to experience Umbria. 

Sala dei Notari in the Palazzo dei Priori

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Finally, some good food in Perugia…

…and it came from a Slovakian sausage stand! This is no joke. This week there is a row of stands/booths stretching up and down the entire length of main drag Corso Vannucci, with vendors peddling artisanal foods, and also jewelry, holiday crap, and other junk. It’s some event that Perugia has every year at this time. At the southern end of the street, Terezia noticed a group of stands with a Slovakian flag, so we went over to check it out. Sure enough, there were four booths, all manned by Slovakians, selling various things. Terezia chatted with a few of them (they seemed pleasantly surprised to see a fellow Slovakian here in Perugia), and this funny, older guy with a white beard and medieval-looking folk garb who was selling handmade copper jewelry, invited us over for shots of jablkovica (made from apples) which he poured from a water bottle stashed under his table! Oh, Slovakia.

Finally, we both got a Slovakian sausage from a lady at a sausage stand, and oh my god, these were damn good sausages. Ever since I first tasted Slovakian sausage last year when we were there over the holidays, I have maintained that no other sausage in the world can compare to it. That bland garbage that people try to pass off as sausage in America shouldn’t even be called sausage. Slovakian sausage is an art form; a thing of true culinary beauty. The complexity, the layers of flavors, the juiciness, etc., all make for a truly life-altering experience. And this particular sausage was f-ing amazing. I couldn’t help but exclaim, “wow!” with every bite I took. Italians evidently know this, because the poor lady was already running out of sausage! Sadly, very little of the Italian food we’ve eaten in Perugia can stack up to these sausages. We’ll be back for more tomorrow. The whole experience made us feel like we were at “home.”

 At any rate, apparently today is All Saints Day. Being a staunchly non-religious type (and from the US, no less), I can only scratch my head at these sorts of catholic holidays. They celebrate it in Slovakia, too. Apparently one of the traditions is to buy flowers for your dead relatives in the cemetery, so the cemeteries supposedly all look very floral, today. We were a bit worried, actually, because all the shops were closed this morning (this is a national holiday, after all), but places started opening up in early afternoon.

My rant for the day: fuck Wells Fargo. Fuck them in the ear. Terezia and I have wasted many euros having to call them multiple times because they keep blocking our ATM cards! Yes, we’d told them about our travel plans, we’d done everything you’re supposed to do, and yet, we keep running into this stupid card blocking problem (ostensibly due to some “fraud alerts” in several European countries), and each time we have to call them and tell them to unblock the stupid cards. I understand the need for fraud-protection, but how is this supposed to be helping us? I wonder if anyone else has been having this problem? I’ve never encountered this before when traveling, and it’s seriously frustrating.

Finally, we had what was yet another so-so dinner in Perugia. We went with our guts (no pun intended) and tried a place not mentioned in books or on-line, but which had a very promising menu, and a vibe that just felt right. Things started off with a bang with an amazing antipasto: a tortino di funghi porcini con crema di tartufo. This was basically like a savory bread pudding in the shape of a panna cotta, filled with extremely potent, flavorful porcini (and probably moistened with a porcini stock), over which was poured a truffle sauce that was creamy without being heavy, which gave off that yummy, truffle-y flavor in spades. This plate of pure awesomeness raised our expectations for the pasta. Sadly, expectations were not met. After taking a break from pasta/porcini dishes the previous night, I gambled on a tagliatelle with porcini dish, which was kind of dry, over-salted, and under-herbed. Terezia ordered Umbricelli, which is similar to pici (like thick spaghetti), which came with a black truffle and porcini sauce. Her dish was so-so, but nowhere near as brilliant as that awesome porcini tortino. I would go back to that place and just order three of those tortinos: for antipasto, primo, and secondo. Oh well…

What can we do? We’ve asked locals, we’ve read the guidebooks, perused chowhound and slow travel message boards, and still, we’ve found nothing like some of the great food we found in Florence. Maybe Perugia is just not a town for food snobs.