It’s been a while. Since my last post I:
- Realized this site was hacked
- Shut it down “temporarily.”
- Went to Manchester and Glasgow
- Went to Miami
- Watched one of my best friends get his dream job.
- Moved to Brooklyn
- Changed jobs. Twice.
- Brought my car to New York
- Got it fixed. Twice.
- Learned that me + rush hour commutes do not get along.
- Learned that getting up at 7:00 is the worst
- And, most importantly, found out we have a baby coming in June.
More coming soon.
As 2012 is almost over, I should probably finish up writing about my own Honeymoon. My ongoing quest to take back the 6 waist-size points I gave jeans in the last decade has been sucking up a lot of the time that I used to spend writing. A story for another day.
1) The first and most obvious thing about going to Amalfi was the trip to get there. After taking a train to Naples, it’s about an hour drive to the town of Amalfi. You may think you have some idea of what the streets are like if you’ve seen the region in a movie, a Fiat commercial*, or this guy’s video – but it’s a sickening drive. The girl narrating the video talking about feeling sick and not wanting to die; that’s pretty much the entire hour. I can’t really express this enough. The roads are frighteningly narrow and windy while being awe-inspiringly beautiful with a 3-foot stone fence between you and plummeting to death. But, just the drive was enough to make me wish I could move there right then, become a hipster, and start painting and writing bad poetry….. if I could paint……… or draw.
* – The red car starting about 30 seconds in is being filmed from the beachfront of the actual town of Amalfi. This was where we stayed. The beach chairs were rentable by the day and awesome.
2) After briefly tossing around the idea of renting a house in Tuscany (only to find out there were no houses to rent in Tuscany), we decided to look in to renting a house in Amalfi. We found one on the (thus far) awesome Rent Villas. It was our first experience renting a house instead of staying in a hotel and, I have to say, it was life changing. It wasn’t really that much more expensive then staying in a decent hotel and, because of the occasion, we splurged on way more apartment (3 bedrooms, 4 twins, 1 king, 2 couches) then we actually needed. On top of that we got a kitchen stocked with all the equipment we needed and the ability to actually eat in for breakfast (fresh eggs!) and a few dinners. The apartment was clean, airy, brightly lit and awesome.
3) And the best part – the balcony. The shot off the balcony has been my Facebook image for about six months as of this writing. The view from it can be seen here. The size of the balcony can sort of be seen here. We spent less time on the beach just so we could sit on this balcony. I quite frequently went up there after Mrs. P went to bed just to sit there in the dark and have a glass of wine. It was really the apartment’s money shot… the inside could have been about 28 points more abysmal and it would have been fine – just because of the balcony.
4) We stayed in the actual town of Amalfi, which is not to be confused with the entire region that’s called the Amalfi Coast. Amalfi proper is, really, a tiny, one road town which features a church, a beach, one traffic light that is only used to ensure one-way traffic down it’s thousandish year old road, a paper museum, and not a whole lot else. After a week of running around Rome and Florence, this kind of disconnection from any kind of tourist stuff was kind of wonderful. We were told that not a lot of tourists go to the town of Amalfi, primarily I’d guess, because it’s so hard to get to and so wildly small. Listening around town, there were few other Americans (mostly Texans if my accent detector was working correctly) and most of them seemed to arrive via the cruise ships that docked on some of the days. We were told that more tourists went to Sorrento (accessible via train from Naples; so incalculably less terrifying) or Positano (more beaches; more hotels). In a weird way; staying in a place that wasn’t catering to tourist traffic was better. There was no Internet and barely any English television. The bulk of our entertainment was one movie a night that was in English, a decently stocked bookshelf that, I presume, included every book ever left there by previous guests, and a high school soccer practice field that was on a chunk of rooftop across from our balcony.
5) On the recommendation, we went up to Ravello to tour the gardens. We did this on an open air tour bus. In general, I hate heights. So combine this bus with the roads pictures above, plus passing other buses… plus passing cars. There were times we would come around a corner and there would be literally nothing between me and plummeting hundreds of feet in to the Mediterranean except a comically orange seat belt. It was far more terrifying than the drive to or from the airport. That said, the pictures and sights (and food, obviously) from Ravello were amazing. The views from the gardens has the Mrs’s cover photo for a few weeks. Just picture an open air bus and this corner and you may start to grasp how terrifying the drive was.
6) On another recommendation, we decided to take a boat ride to the Emerald Grotto. The grotto is a cave which allows natural light through the water. I’m a bit torn here. The boat ride TO the grotto, booked independently, was awesome. Difficulty finding the correct boat aside (and it WAS difficult. If you can imagine, salty boatmen don’t generally speak multiple languages) I think a boat ride anywhere along the coast would be awesome. The bulk of the pictures are on Mrs P’s camera, but even the few that I took gives you some idea of how beautiful everything is. That said, the Emerald Grotto itself was a cool site, but the “tour” had a heavy dose of cheese. I say that because it’s 10 Euro for a paddleboat ride around a tiny indoor cave to get the one cool picture and it’s over. The tour also features paddlers dressed as Venetian gondoliers who occasionally burst in to song. Everything in the cave is visually cool but the tour was “eh.” However, the boat ride there and back made the whole thing well worth it.
7) I have never eaten better for a week in my life. From Donna Stella; a restaurant under a small lemon grove with the single best Tiramisu I’ve ever tasted, to Gemma; a seafood restaurant where they insisted we do two shots of Limoncello afterward, to Marina Grande; a restaurant/bar on the beach where you could rent a chair for the entire day for 10 euro where I got a pizza piled high with almost more octopus, mussels, and assorted seafood than I could handle; to the tiny little gelato shop where we went almost every night before going home. On top of all this, the “house wines” of each of these places are about 2 euro per litre — most produced somewhere up the mountain from the town — and better than most any higher priced bottle I’ve ever had.
8) Lost in talking specifically about the town of Amalfi is the unbelievably stunning homes that are built all over the mountainside. The entire drive up the mountain and down the other side, while also being a stomach-churning experience, is all small towns and stunning homes. These pictures aren’t mine, they’re culled from some real estate sites, but some of the homes feature infinity pools inside lemon groves or unbelievable balconies overlooking the Mediterranean. In the towns themselves are apartments hidden inside the Escheresque maze of hundreds year old stairs and buildings. After coming home and, out of curiousity, Googling for real estate prices, I came to one of the sad moments in my life after realizing that competing with the world’s millionaires and billionaires for prime vacation home space is not something that’s very appealing… or possible.
9) The walking was tough. Any maps you can see of the area are obviously not in 3D. Since the towns are all built in to mountains, all walking involves stairs and such. Mrs P and I have a disagreement about the value of trying out the walking paths to go to any other places. She is anti and I am pro. It looks exhausting but, if we go back, I am going to try them.
10) Without question, Amalfi was the nicest place I’ve ever been. It’s not even close. The town is hundreds of years old and looks weathered and rugged, but it’s beautiful in an aged way without looking run down. Maybe it’s being distracted by the sheer beauty of the Mediterranean. Maybe it’s being distracted by being constantly consuming unparallelled food and wine. It’s everything I wanted in a trip to Italy while being the opposite of the two “big city” trips to Florence and Rome. There is so much more to the region that I want to see an explore — from the stone paths up to Scala and Ravello to taking a ferry over to Capri — that I hope to go back there again, many times again, in my life. It would be the first place I’d buy a home if I hit the lottery and the last place I’d want to be before I die. I’ve joked frequently about trying to put together the documents to get Italian citizenship (yay, great-grandparents!) but I was never more serious than the day I left that town.
What I’m trying to say is: I dug it.
1) We were in Rome three different times on this trip. We stayed for one night (Sofitel, the one nice thing about Mrs. TDL staying in India for six weeks is she gets lots and lots of hotel points) on arrival, went north to Florence, came back for two nights, went south to Amalfi, and came back for another few nights before heading back. The nice part of this was we got to stay in three different parts of the city. We really didn’t get to see much (or any, really) around the Sofitel since we were only there overnight but we got a really nice look around both >Monti and Republicca. Neither of these neighborhoods show up on suggested tourist locations but:
2) Monti: this is just the type of neighborhood the wife and I look for. It’s a little off the beaten path. Southwest down Via Cavour from Termini station, you actually have to walk down stairs to get to the streets. Once down there, it’s a cool little collection of bars and restaurants and shops. The piazzas in the area were mostly Italian teenagers yelling about…. stuff… while drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. While the hotel room (Duca d’Alba) wasn’t the best I’ve ever been in — the room was small and incredibly dark — it was serviceable. But we probably had the best time in Rome in this little collection of 10 or 12 tiny blocks, including stumbling in to one of the best meals we ate in Rome. With no reservations, we tried to go to the place suggested by the hotel. It could not take us without a reservation so we went across the street. The place across the street was phenomenal and our collective obsession with Cacio Di Pepe (spaghetti with cheese and pepper) was born. The hotel room was, by far, a small price to pay for staying in this wonderful neighborhood.
3) As for the “shady” area around Termini station… we stayed at the Hotel Brittania in Republicca and it was fine. Guidebooks couldn’t say enough about staying away from the blocks around Termini Station at night but, I have to say, it wasn’t that bad. Our train from the airport got in late and it was just a train station at night. I’m pretty sure “pickpockets” are the go-to scare tactic guidebooks use. Pretty much, like everywhere else, it comes down to looking like you know where you’re going and being aware of your surroundings. We were never even approached by anyone, much less scammed, except of course by…
4) As per usual, the most crooked people tourists deal with are cabbies, especially if you don’t speak the same language. We took two cabs — both on our first trip through Rome — and we’re charged wildly differently for both. The first night, a very nice, older gentleman who looked much like my great-grandfather, took us from Tremini Station to Sofitel Rome. The 3.4 km (2 mile) drive was off meter for the bargain price of 20 Euro. The next morning, the trip back to the station was the same 3.4 km, was on meter, and somehow cost 10 Euro with a 2 Euro fee for…….. something. This would be the end of our cab experience in Italy as the rest of our hotels were walking distance to train stations. The lesson, as always, learn the buses and subways.
5) If you find yourself travelling to Rome, take the train. I don’t know what the bus or a cab cost, but getting from the airport to Termini station couldn’t be easier. Being only two stops, it’s nearly impossible to screw up, is only 10 Euro, and it drops you in the middle of Rome in 30 minutes on the dot. It’s probably the best airport to city transfer I’ve ever dealt with. Figuring out the machine wasn’t even bad. Just remember that if you want English, it’s the UK flag, not the American flag. The one weird thing about Italian trains is you can’t just take a ticket out of the machine and hand it to the conductor. For some strange reason, you have to stick the ticket in to this yellow machine to get it “validated” before then handing it to the conductor to have it revalidated. Regardless, it’s worth it.
6) There are sights in Rome that pictures simply don’t do justice. One of these things is the Trevi Fountain. It’s really hard for a picture to capture the sheer size and the intricate detail of it. Mrs. TDL and I went at night so we could see it lit up. The issue, of course, is just the incredible number of people all trying to see it. It’s kind of like condensing all the people in Times Square in to a much smaller area; all trying to get just the right shot of the fountain. It was also here that an Indian man asked us if he could take our camera to get a picture of us. This was an entirely new angle on the “try to sell you a picture you don’t want” scam — the “take your camera and make you pay to get it back” scam. We declined.
7) Speaking of this, the Indian salesguys are ubiquitous in every single tourist location in Italy. Here in New York, the guys trying to sell crap on the street are generally pretty “take it or leave it.” These guys were aggressive… and they’re not even trying to sell things remotely related to Italy. At various times, I saw helicopters, hats, umbrellas, slime balls, snap bracelets, spinning tops, and flowers. The flower guys were, by far, the most aggressive. They approached everywhere: at tourist sites, town squares, and — most irritatingly — outside tables at restaurants. Politely declining doesn’t really work. Not making eye contact doesn’t work. Ignoring them doesn’t work. The night we went to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, we both finally snapped at the same time. After (not exaggerating) the 20th guy stuck a half-dead rose in our face, we both actually yelled “NO!” at the same time. I didn’t realize it was loud, but it was loud enough that the crowd got quieter for a few seconds. It actually kinda ruins Rome. I can’t imagine how enough people say yes to these crap things (except the helicopters. I’d have wanted the shit out of one of those as a kid) for these guys to stay in business. But I guess they do.
8) We went to the Vatican on one of our final days in the city. The best part of this for me was two things. First, Rome sells a 60 minute train pass for all the rides you can take in 60 minutes. I found this incredibly amusing for some reason. Second, it is stunning to me how many (sigh) Americans refuse to pay any attention to the very clearly posted wardrobe rules to get in the Vatican. Since, you know, the “tourist trap” is also “the most Holy place in the Catholic religion” the Vatican demands you show a modicum of respect to go in to St. Peter’s Basilica. The rules are posted in every language and are a rather reasonable “no knees and no shoulders.” They aren’t kidding. At least a dozen (all English speaking) people were turned away muttering their disbelief at how this place didn’t let them in. IT’S THE VATICAN!!!!
9) One thing in the guidebook that I absolutely wanted to check out was the Peroni Beerhouse. It was not quite as large or extensive as the German Bierhouses, but it did sell Peroni by the liter and, much like Germany, the Peroni was very different straight from the source than it is out of the bottle. I hate bottled Peroni, but this stuff was quite delicious. The Beerhouse was also responsible for my favorite anecdote of the entire trip. On the menu they had a “hamburger”. I had not had a hamburger in quite some time, so I decided to give it a try. I ordered it. What I got was two hamburger patties grilled and place on a plate. No bread, no veggies, just the burgers. Mrs. TDL asked “what on that plate isn’t what you ordered.” Touchee, madam.
10) We finally did make it to the Colisseum on our last day in town. The line was many hundred of people long so we had decided to call it a day. While wandering around the outside, a person came up to us and asked us if we would like to join a tour group for 25 Euro cash only that skipped the line and included the admission. As a New Yorker, this sounded far too good to be true but, since we wanted to go in, we decided to risk it. Up until the second we walked inside I thought the tour guide was just going to head off with our money but, stunningly, we actually did get to skip the line and go inside. It was awesome.
11) When the tour books tell you to avoid all restaurants with menus in six or seven languages… they’re right. We got stuck the day we came in from Amalfi since our train didn’t get in until 2. By the time we settled in to the hotel, it was four. The good places don’t serve at that time… except for the places with menus in six languages. It was the worst meal I got in Italy by a wide margin. Seriously, Olive Garden is better. When they joke about egg noodles with ketchup at the end of Goodfellas — it’s that. Just remember, Rome eats lunch at 12 and dinner starts around 6. Since most of the restaurants aren’t chains and generally have to pay their servers a living wage, they don’t just stay open for the 4 people who wander in between 2 and 6.
Next – Amalfi, and why I’m going to retire there.
I started playing Magic: The Gathering at 16. I’ve gone through hot and cold periods with it in the last 15 years. I played a lot in high school. I went through another big uptick in college when my roommates were both players. In college I learned that some dudes spent a lot of money on cards. It also taught me the valuable lesson that a well-built, cheap deck was more effective than a poorly built, expensive deck. I upticked again after college when my original high school group decided to buy 4 packs a week, buy beer, play large group games, and the winner would get the first draft out of the packs. I haven’t played in New York City. No players and I’ve never quite wanted to take the step of going to a pick-up game night at an NYC gaming store. I mean, these are the people that have light-saber fights in Washington Park on Saturday nights. I’m just not there. They’d also all be college students.
Wizard Of The Coast’s (WOTC) first official foray in to the video game market, Magic Online, didn’t interest me because I had no interest in rebuilding a collection (Cardboard Magic was expensive) from scratch with online-only cards. The X-Box version, though, was better. There’s no collecting; the game just comes with pre-built decks. Then, because I move at the speed of government, it took about eight months to buy a wireless dongle for my X-Box (I’d been anti-Xbox Live) and another six months to actually hook it up. A year later, and here I am, writing a timely review of a 3 year old game from a curmudgeonly Magic player. Sadly, if you’re not a Magic player, much of this will seem like a foreign language to you. I’ve tried to add parenthetical definitions where possible.
1) I didn’t know if the cards would be stuff I recognized or new stuff. The answer is, happily, a mix. Many of the cards included in the monochrome decks (decks using exclusively one of the five colors) were old standards like Serra Angel, Sengir Vampire, and the red and blue Elementals. Some other cards were expansion favorites like Megrim and Underworld Dreams that I wouldn’t have expected in what is, essentially, a new set. I actually squealed with girlish glee when a computer player put out a Howling Mine. While I have a personal moral objection to monochrome decks, they are the appropriate thing to start beginners with.
2) Amusingly, the game that’s supposed to be accessible to beginner players falls victim to many things beginners do naturally. The entire hook of the campaign mode is to use a deck and run through 16 matches against computer players to unlock additional cards for the deck. These unlock cards go directly in to the deck. This is a normal beginner’s trap. Beginners have a tendency to build a 60 card deck of loosely related cards and then, as they find better things, just insert them in to the deck without removing something else. As the beginner continues to do this, the deck loses its effectiveness because there percent chance to draw a needed card begins to drop and the chance to hit a mana pocket (a stretch of multiple turns only drawing land) increases. For every two new cards added, the player needs to add an additional land. Soon, the deck that was giving them what they needed at the right time doesn’t, and they lose. I call it Deckbloat. The effect it has on campaign mode is the player winds up with a bloated 80 card deck playing the boss’s tight 60 card deck. Nine times out of ten, the 60-card deck will dismantle the 80-card deck unless the latter gets a fortunate draw.
3) Which leads directly to the lack of deck editing. I can understand WOTC’s argument that making this game too robust will cut in to the sales of Magic Online, but wouldn’t it be better to simply have a static universe of cards per game with the ability to mix and match it as you see fit? Or, at the very minimum, let me decide if I want to use the cards I unlock. A prime example occurs in their monochrome red deck. If I unlock an Incinerate (1R, 3 damage), I’d probably prefer to replace a Shock (R, 2 damage) than compiling additional burn I won’t need.
4) I immensely enjoyed the Challenge section of the game. Separate from the campaign mode, the challenge mode sets up a scenario where you are playing an opponent and are going to lose the next turn unless. It is up to the player to solve the scenario and reduce the opponent to zero life to win the challenge. This game definitely encourages thinking outside the box to win RIGHT NOW which, honestly, is a good skill to develop. After playing for years against good players, I tend to not try to take the “win right now and leave no defense” option unless I absolutely have to and the challenges are great at setting that scenario. This part of the game really does teach players how to think around problems and always be searching for a single turn win condition. Awesome secondary thing.
5) I have only played the AI at its highest “Plainswalker” level. At this level, I get the sense I’m playing someone who knows what they’re doing, if not going about their business in a very inside-the-box methodical fashion. For instance, the computer generally will not attack if it feels it will lose even a single creature, even if doing so is the “smart” play. It will also occasionally not block even when not blocking ends the game. I’m sure there is some scoring system the designers came up with to give a creature a modifiable danger score, but I’ve not determined it. Mostly, though, it doesn’t play dumb and it can win.
6) Sadly, I have not played the online version yet against opponents, which is probably because I’m two versions behind the most recent. Since I’ve been dawdling, WOTC has released a second entire game (Duels 2012) and since I’ve been writing this review they released a third (Duels 2013). The company who released 4 different version of Dungeons & Dragons in the last ten years has not changed in the least. It’s kind of comforting actually.
7) Enchantments are wildly overpowered in this game. Disenchant, one of white’s single-most indispensable resources, which destroys one artifact or one enchantment, was left out of the beginner’s white deck. I understand that there are limitations to what the designers could fit in to the monochrome decks, but in a white vs. black or red match-up, I should never lose a game to an enchantment unless it’s due to bad luck or bad resource management. If Disenchant is out of print, which I’d find stunning, there must be a recent clone (A card that does the same thing but named something else) of it. In fact, about the only artifact/enchantment control I’ve come across are two Naturalizes (1G, destroy artifact or enchantment) in a later unlock deck. With the lack of these, and even the lack of Shatter (1R, destroy artifact) in red, the decks (correctly) make heavy use of enchantments and artifact equipment that are largely indestructible.
8) I hadn’t realized how many marketing/trademarked words they’ve stuck in to the game in the six years. “Doesn’t tap to attack” is now “Vigilance”; “can’t be the target of spells or abilities” is now “Shroud”. Sadly, the website I formerly used as a reference is gone. It has been replaced, however, with a stunning number of Magic-based wikis that contain more information than I’d have thought WOTC would allow without suing them dead. There are a few mechanics I was unfamiliar with, like Equipment Artifacts, but otherwise the mechanics are the same with single word, more efficient, descriptions.
9) Coming from an unfortunately large background in Magic, the worst thing I can say about the game is that the decks aren’t very creative. But, really, they DO encompass all the decks beginners try to build. There are quite a few monochrome decks, a few triple color decks, and only one or two dual color decks. Triple color decks are something new players often try before realizing the pits and perils of being manaf*cked waiting for a swamp that never comes; especially in this universe with no dual lands and few “search your library for a land” cards. Monochrome decks are built early and often because it’s easy to toss 40 loosely-related cards* in to a deck and call it a day. Unsurprisingly, the two dual-color decks seem to be the best to me but, admittedly, that could be personal preference. One issue with not building your own deck and having no input in removing unlock cards is playing them a few (or 16-20) times to unlock everything gets boring.
* – 9.5) Or even not so loosely related cards. Right toward the end of my cardboard Magic playing days, WOTC learned what people had been quietly noticing for years prior — building theme decks around tribes (creatures that share a type, like zombies, goblins, or elves) was fun. WOTC responded by going off the deep end with elves, making a stunning number of elf creatures and elf pumpers (cards that give bonuses to other elves). I recall hating this development because I had a crappy elf deck that I tweaked for years to come up with a workable gimmick. Naturally, the one tribe deck included in this game is an elf deck, and it’s still annoying; even moreso because Pyroclasm (1R, deal 2 damage to all creatures) and Earthquake (XR, deal X damage to all non-flying creatures) aren’t included in red. I had a workable elf deck before Elvish Champions, assholes.
10) If the purpose of the game was to hook people on Magic or to remind retired players why they loved it, I’d say the mission was accomplished. I quickly bought the second version of this game after only about six (straight) hours playing it, and as will be discussed in a later review of that game, not only was one of the decks (Ancient Depths) an incredibly well constructed, fun, and efficient blue/green deck, but it’s one that I’m sad I never thought to construct myself.
I had a blast playing this. I’m happy that WOTC appears to be looking in to this market. I worry about the day they will begin charging for the purchase of starter decks and booster packs (which I stopped doing in college… it’s wildly more efficient just to buy what you need) but for now, I’m happy to be playing again.
1) We flew in to Rome for the first day of the Honeymoon and got to spend a night in a Sofitel. It was nice. The next day we took the train to Florence (about a 90 minute ride on Italy’s incredible train system) and discovered a couple things. First, Termini Station isn’t as bad as everyone said it was. Second, there are (what turned out to be “unofficial”) porters on the trains who take your bags for you and put them up, then try to shake you down for 5 Euro per bag. I cracked and gave him the 10. It was not my Inner New Yorker’s finest moment.
2) The first impression one gets of Florence is that it is 1) old and 2) tiny. We briefly considered taking a cab until The Google Machines told us the walk to the hotel was approximately a half-mile. So, we decided to walk. I’ve mentioned previously that Boston takes it’s incomprehensible road structure from Boston and England, but Italy is a world all to its own. Not only do the streets just not go in any logical pattern, but each street has a different name on basically every block. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is visible from everywhere… which was fortunate as our hotel was right there. We were able to walk from one side of the city to the other.
3) Mrs. P (ha!) and I watch a lot of Food Network/Cooking Channel, so our first introduction to Florence was via David Rocco’s Dolce Vita. A couple things worthwhile that we learned: one doesn’t get coffee to go; one gets a tiny cup of espresso and drinks it at the bar. One also does not get a real “breakfast” of any sort; one gets some tiny pastries with some meat or cheese. What these shows do not prepare you for: the fact you have to order coffee and pastry from different people behind the bar, who do not give you a bill, then eat it, then communicate what you ordered to a (generally elderly) person sitting at a cash register. That person then overcharges you (either by mistake or because you’re a tourist) until enough hand gestures and repetition properly communicates “No no. Two espresso, one croissant with ham, and one mini croissant with cheese.” My grandmother and great-grandmother gave me enough Italian that I can communicate “no no, due espresso, uno cornetto con prosciutto, e uno salatini per favori. That said, boy do I love espresso. All the caffeine you need in 3 sips.
4) However, Anthony Bourdain did have it correct: one does not eat much breakfast in Italy because it’s better to save room for the far superior lunches and dinners. If Italy taught me anything it’s that, yes, there really is a difference between fresh pasta and stuff in the box… which is unfortunate because now I’m have to learn grandma’s recipe. At least we got a mixer for the wedding.
5) As for the city itself, take the most touristy section of the most touristy city you’ve ever been to and triple it. Florence, when we went, had an incredible number of other tourists… so much so that I’m relatively certain one of the restaurants we went to Acqua Al’2 subdivided the restaurants in to languages. We were placed in the American section and got a lovely British waiter. We were also seated next to a table of midwestern ladies who loved to drink. I mean… loved it. So much so that I really wanted to sit them down and have the same conversation with them your elementary school teacher had with you before field trips. “You are representing all of us… don’t be such a dick.” Ah the 80s. Also, confidential to readers in DC or San Diego: if the US version of the restaurant is half as good as the Florence version it’s certainly worth the trip.
6) We decided that the time spent in Florence would be the bulk of our touristy time. We waited in line to see the David… which is actually kind of amazing considering the detail still remaining in a 500 year old statue. We also actually decided to go to the top of the Duomo. Word of warning: When going up the Duomo you actually have to walk around the inside of it on a three foot wide stone path. You are hundreds of feet up with probably more hundreds of feet to the ceiling. Boy does that mess with perspective. There are also hundreds of steps, but given the views of the city, I’d say its worth it.
7) Also really cool: no open container laws. Which means ones can open a bottle of wine in a public space and not get a ticket. Guess what? The civilization has not yet collapsed on itself. The town is filled with many large and small piazzas which are basically public squares where people congregate before going out. In the bigger public squares, we found an interesting phenomenon. Here in New York at the bigger tourist destinations, guys set up on the side of the road with tables of junk to sell. In Italy, they wander around trying to sell things… but they’re toys. So I was offered many tiny helicopters and these weird goo-ball toys by Middle Eastern men who really want to sell me things. I can’t really describe the goo-ball toys… they looked like the consistency of a water balloon, that you could throw against the floor and they’d splatter… but then they’d come back to shape. There are also many men offering to sell flowers. And. They. Never. Stop.
8) Pretty much every book I read about Italy told me to learn the following two things: uno litro di vino rosso della casa and uno litro di vino bianco della casa. One liter of house red and house white. The restaurants offer the generic expensive wine list, but they generally all also offer a liter of their house wine for about 3 Euro. And it is delicious. I’m not the world’s biggest wine fan, but if all Italian reds I tried tasted anything like house wines that cost a little more than Mad Dog 20/20, I’d like it a lot more.
9) One oddity we found is bars seemed to be a little different in Florence. There weren’t very many walk in and sit at the bar and drink bars. In fact, the only two we found that were recognizable as “bars” to us were an Irish pub (which was airing a San Francisco Giants game, had a SUNY Albany t-shirt on the wall, and featured a bartender from here who went to Marist) and a Belgian beer bar. The cool thing about the bars is that many of them are located in piazzas and aren’t very strict about taking your drinks (in their glassware) outside. I guess the whole concept of a bar doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense if you and your friends can just bring a bottle of wine to the town square and get sauced before heading to the clubs. Sadly, we didn’t go the clubs.
10) Mrs. P and I came down on different sides of Florence. We universally loved the hotel. As for the city itself, she was glad she went but could take it or leave it. I enjoyed it. Although, to be fair, as a four day visit, we’ve had better. It just felt like a constant crush of Middle Easterners offering me children’s toys and waiting in tourist lines. It was also quite annoying that -everything- nice required a ticket. There are gardens on the outskirts of the city, Boboli Gardens, that required tickets. When you come from a world where parks are free, paying to go in to a park sucks. But I could certainly see myself enjoying the exploration of the city and finding places.
11) Bonus thought: Florence was where I learned the best rule ever about reading and speaking Italian. Pronounce eveything. It’s not like Spanish and French where there are silent letters and accent marks to trick you. For example, I wanted to pronounce Firenze (the Italian name of Florence) “fir-enz” when it’s actually “fir-enzay”. Saved my life trying to pronounce menu items.
Super Bowl over. Buzz has worn off.
Wedding invitation sent. No turning back now.
Work project from hell over.
Ready to start writing again.
2011 sucked. 2012 is off to a good start.
Here’s to jinxing.
The Giants will never go to Tampa and win a road playoff game with Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning. The Giants will never go to Dallas and beat them. Romo is too good and they already lost the Cowboys twice this year. The Giants will never go to Lambeau and take down Brett Favre in one of his magical playoff runs The Giants have no shot to beat the Patriots. They’re the best offense of all time. The Giants won’t beat the Falcons. Matty Ice is too good and he’ll finally get his first win behind this awesome offensive line. This time, the Giants really won’t win in Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers and that offense is way too high powered for the Giants to keep up with. The Giants can’t beat the Niners. Alex Smith is too good and the Harbaugh defense is too much. A finesse offense has no shot in sloppy Candlestick.
- I’m sorry. Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning are not as formidable a pair as the Bs. The Patriots record when they lose to a team in the regular season is 8,659-0.
SU: 11-5 (153-87)
ATS: 10-6 (123-117)
Redskins +9 at Eagles: There’s two ways this game can go. Either the Eagles can quit and decide they want Andy Reid fired. Or, they can play their asses off, kill the Skins, and save his job. Actually, there’s a 3rd option: Always take more than 3 points in an NFC East game. Redskins +9
Niners -9 at Rams: I’m not a fan of covering big spreads on the road. I’m also not a fan of big spreads in games when guys will be out as soon as the game is in hand. Rams +9
Lions -2.5 at Packers: This is weird. Neither team is playing for anything…. so does that mean Vegas thinks the Lions second string is equally as good as the Packers? Or that the Lions 2nd string will be trying to lose so they can play the Giants or Cowboys? Packers cover
Bears -1 at Vikings: I’m not a Bears’ fan or anything, but boy I’d be mad if my team gave away a playoff season by not signing one of like a dozen competent quarterbacks available to try and save a playoff season. Like…. signing Kyle Randy wouldn’t have been worth an extra 2 wins? And now, knowing the Bears’ history with free agents, they might let Matt Forte walk? If I were a Bears’ fan, they’d be as dead to me as the Mets. Vikings outright
Panthers +7.5 at Saints: I don’t know much about the Panthers coach, but if I were him, boy I’d be excited at the prospect of my offense next year now that I know what I had. The Cam Newton show is going to be fun to watch for the next few years. As for this game, I think Drew’s going to go for 5200 and call it a day. Oh, and side point: anyone who talked about “running up the score” on the Falcons last week — unless you said the same thing when they beat the Colts by 60 points, shut the fuck up. Also, there’s no such thing as “running up the score” in professional sports. It’s like saying that Coke should be more sporting against Pepsi. Shut up. Panthers +7.5
Titans -2.5 at Texans: Titans playing all out in a game in which the Texans don’t really care? Titans cover
Bills +12.5 at Patriots: PLR’s grandmother lives about 2 miles from Rich Stadium…. basically on the same road. If you don’t think I was kind of upset that we didn’t get to do Christmas Dinner there, thus getting Tebow vs. Buffalo as my pregame to Christmas, you don’t know me very well. Bills +12.5
Jets +1 at Dolphins: The Jets do need to actually win this game. I do think they’re actually better than the Dolphins. Thus…. Jets outright
Colts +5 at Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew. Jaguars cover
Chargers +3 at Raiders: This is a really hard game for me to pick. On one hand, I think the Raiders are actually better than the Chargers this year. On the other hand, I do think the Chargers are good enough to knock off the Raiders in a division game and ruin any chance they had. However, as a person who was 100% for the Carson Palmer trade, I have to pick the Raiders even though they’re having as bad an injury season as the Giants. Raiders cover
Seahawks +3 at Cardinals: Eh. Home team. Cardinals cover
Bucs +13.5 at Falcons: Boy, I’d rather travel to New York or Dallas than New Orleans or San Francisco. Bucs +13.5
Ravens -2.5 at Bengals: The Bengals control their own destiny here. If they win, they make a whole lot of things irrelevant, which is why this is a 4pm game. However, I think that the Ravens get themselves a bye. Ravens cover
Chiefs +3 at Broncos: T… T…. Tebow? Broncos cover
Steelers -7 at Browns: As the Steelers are playing this game at the same time as the Ravens, I think they’re still going to go all out. Steelers cover
Cowboys +3 at Giants: For the record, having an additional playoff game sucks. Bad. I’m not prepared for it and may have to watch the game somewhere other than my apartment where I can buy a pack of cigarettes and chain smoke somewhere where I can’t get judgmental glares from the Future Mrs. TDL. If Osi, Tuck, and JPP are all on the field at the same time, I like the Giants chances — not just next week, but for the next four. If they’re not…. scared. I’m kind of confident the Giants can hang with Dallas score wise. I’m half confident that the Giants defense comes to play. At least the pass rush. Also, I guess playoff rules apply here. This covers Simmons whole “shaky quarterback on the road in the playoffs” theory. Giants cover
Last Week: 3-1 (32-28)
We really tilted Week 15, which saw a solid 0 wins. Then came back last week with 3. We would like to take one final win in the league but, given our ability to win 3 instead of 4, it doesn’t look good.
Dolphins -1.5 over Jets
Raiders -2.5 over Chargers
Broncos -3.5 over Chiefs
Giants -2.5 over Cowboys
SU: 8-8 (142-82)
ATS: 7-9 (113-111)
Texans -6.5 at Colts: Home dog on Thursday. Colts outright
Raiders +1 at Chiefs: Must win game for the Raiders and the Chiefs are itching for a let-down following last week. Raiders outright
Broncos -3 at Bills: Tebow. Broncos cover
Jaguars +8 at Titans: I think last week cured me of my irrational desire to take the Jaguars as a sexy pick to cover. Titans cover
Cards +4.5 at Bengals: Did everyone know the Cardinals have won their last four in a row? And also that this is basically a playoff game? If we were betting on a Cardinals/Bengals playoff game, I guess we’d be more worried about the rookie coach/quarterback and think about the best player on the field, right? Cardinals outright
Dolphins +10.5 at Patriots: It’s kind of tough to ever assume anyone’s going to cover big spreads at New England now, right? Dolphins +10.5
Browns +14.5 at Ravens: The Ravens play down to their competition like the Giants. Browns +14.5
Giants +3 at Jets: My favorite part of Rex Ryan is that he honestly believes that beating the Giants in a regular season game will crown the Jets the kings of New York. You know who gets caught up in big brother/little brother debates? Little brother. That said, please don’t lose to the Jets. Giants outright
Vikings +6 at Redskins: Eh. Redskins cover
Bucs +7 at Panthers: The Bucs are dead. Long live Superman. Panthers cover
Rams +14.5 at Steelers: I’m pretty sure the Rams gave up a month ago, but I don’t think a team that normally plays slop is going to hang 40 on anyone with a hobbled QB. Rams +14.5
Chargers +2.5 at Lions: It’s dumb to bet against the Chargers when they finally start their December roll, right? Chargers outright
Niners -3 at Seahawks: If the Niners are vulnerable to Cardinals on the road, can we guess they’re vulnerable to the Seahawks on the road? They have to be, right? Seahawks outright
Eagles +3 at Cowboys: You know the funny thing about the Cowboys in a playoff game against the Eagles? I really think the Eagles are better. It’s fortunate for the division that they didn’t figure that out until too late. Eagles outright
Bears +12 at Packers: Packers. Lambeau. Expect 45. Packers cover
Falcons +7 at Saints: Everyone’s going to use last week’s rout to forget the Falcons are not good on the road. Saints cover
SU: 13-3 (134-74)
ATS: 10-6 (106-102)
Jaguars +11 at Falcons: Remember a few weeks back when I said there’s no lonelier feeling in the world than having Tavaris Jackson to win a game when the Patriots are being the Patriots? I was wrong. There is no lonelier feeling than white knighting a Jaguars pick in the Pick 4 contest for an entire day, winning the argument, then watching that game unfold. Going from, yeah they’re going to win to yeah they can still cover to yeah maybe they’ll take out Matt Ryan. I’ve never felt worse about something in my gambling life. As it turns out, while Thursday games are still slop, sometimes only one team turns in slop. Also, if you started the Falcons defense, congratulations on your Fantasy Bowl win. Jaguars +11
Cowboys -6 at Bucs: Until I sat down to do these picks this morning, I had no idea this game was last night. I spent most of the week, though, assuming that Dallas would woodshed Tampa. Let’s not forget they probably should have won the last two games. Cowboys cover
Redskins +7 at Giants: In most cases, I’d never take one of these games to cover 7. However, with an early season loss to avenge…. and Rex Grossman. Giants cover
Packers -14 at Chiefs: Even though it’s Arrowhead, I’m not taking the Chiefs to be the team to knock off the Pack. However, I’m also still anti “high points on the road” this year. Chiefs +14
Saints -7.5 at Vikings: Peterson’s back. That’s enough against this Saints defense to guess they’ll probably not cover more than a TD. Vikings +7.5
Seahawks +4.5 at Bears: You know, after watching Tavaris Jackson on TV a couple weeks… I’m starting to come around to the fact he might not actually be a bad quarterback, but had a pretty shitty situation in Minnesota. Seahawks outright
Dolphins -1.5 at Bills: It’s finally cold in the northeast, which means I’m taking the quarterback with the manly beard. Bills outright
Panthers +6.5 at Texans: Texans. Home. I don’t like Superman that much. Texans cover
Titans -6.5 at Colts: Boy, is my “home dog on Thursday” rule going to be put to the test next week, when the Colts get about 14 at home against the Texans. Titans cover
Bengals -3.5 at Rams: Dear Steve: I have a feeling there will be a defensive coordinator job open in NY next season. We’d love to have you back. Love, Tom. Bengals cover
Lions +1 at Raiders: This is pretty much the Raiders’ last chance at the division. I’m guessing the Patriots will take down the Tebows. It’s all going to pretty much come down to if Suh can keep his own head and if the Raider line can prevent him from removing Palmer’s. We’ll see. Raiders cover
Patriots -5.5 at Broncos: Seriously folks… let’s all settle down. Patriots cover
Jets +1.5 at Eagles: The Eagles are still playing for a 3-way 8-8 divisional tie. Is Shonn Green the type of runningback to embarrass the Eagles? I don’t think he is. Welcome to Vickland, Jets’ fans. Eagles cover
Browns +7 at Cardinals: It’s 1:00, so….. Cardinals cover
Ravens -2 at Chargers: The Ravens are trash on the West Coast. Chargers outright
Steelers +2 at Niners: Please. Steelers outright
Consecutive weeks of 3 wins. Yay.
Jaguars +11.5 over Falcons
Giants -7.5 over Redskins
Raiders +0.5 over Lions
Broncos +6.5 over Patriots