All posts by John V.

Olé! Madrid, we are here.

After a long delay on our flight from Philly to Madrid, we are safely in Spain, waiting for our high-speed train to Sevilla. We are exhausted from lack of sleep and looking forward to a short nap on the train.

The Madrid airport is expansive and industrial, filled with vast, airy cathedral-like spaces, high ceilings supported by giant metal struts and pierced with windows. I was impressed with layout: Arriving flights deplane on an upper level, while departing flights board below. As a result, traffic is pretty much one direction. Genius! Also, the air conditioning vents were ‘disguised’ as sculptural structures with holes at the top to distribute air. (See the photo in my next post.)

More to come when we arrive in Sevilla.  

Quiet Anticipation

Laura and I are excited and grateful to be embarking on our third trip to Europe together. This time, we are celebrating the marriage of our longtime friend to a Spanish man in what I expect to be a rather traditional Spanish wedding. This is the first stop in our journey – five days in Seville, just North of the Straits of Gibraltar. (So close to Africa! But it just can’t happen on this trip.) Of course, we’re taking advantage of the opportunity to spend three days in Lisbon, Portugal, as well. 

This is also our third trip with backpacks as our only luggage, so we have surely honed our packing skills. The first year, my pack weighed 29 lbs, while this year it weighs 21 lbs, about 30% less. 
I also learned from the past and started packing earlier. I have been fully packed for nearly 48 hours, far different from the first year when I was packing the night before our flight. As a result, this evening before our transatlantic flight is quiet and stress-free. (I can’t believe we are soon going to be SITTING DOWN IN THE SKY as we hurtle toward the Iberian Peninsula!)
I’m so excited to have my immediate family and close friends together in Europe. I dare say it’s a very rare thing to have so many loved ones with you on another continent. We expect to spend a lot more time enjoying the company and the surroundings, rather than rushing around to see everything we can. Even still, we will try to post all the cultural lessons, historical sights, and natural wonders we stumble across in all the places we go.
Thanks for joining us!

Balsamico Tradizionale

Sampling traditional balsmic vinegar.

Balsamico Tradizionale is another product controlled by a consortium, this one consisting of producers. Most balsamic we buy in the US is made from concentrated grape juice and fortified by red wine vinegar. Traditional balsamic starts with fresh grapes, crushed to make juice, called ‘must’. The must is cooked for 36 hours before barreling. It is moved to progressively smaller barrels during aging, each made of a different type of wood. As it ages, the water content evaporates, creating a thicker product. Because of this, 100 liters of must only produces 2 liters of vinegar!

Acetaia Proprietario

The vinegar is tested, tasted and monitored through the whole process, ensuring quality and authenticity. The minimum age for traditional balsamic is 3 years, but it can be aged for up to 50. We were lucky to taste a 3-year, a 10-year, and a 25-year vinegar. After 25 years, it’s the consistency of molasses! The taste is incredible, like wine.

24-year balsamic vinegar


On our first afternoon in Paris, after a liesurely lunch at a cafe, finding our apartment and a quick nap, we set off for Montmarte. We walked the long way around to the metro in order to see Notre Dame, which is on our list to visit for tomorrow, and then we were off.
We stepped off the metro to a great view of the famous Moulin Rouge. I honestly don’t know why it’s so famous, but my heart gave a flutter to be able to see such an iconic sight with my own two eyes. Our first order of real business in Montmarte was to find a snack, and in Paris, we could think of no better snack then some crepes! Delish! And the cheese and nutella fillings (not together, separate crepes) gave us the boost to climb the gigantic hill (aka mountain of the martyrs or in French ‘Montmarte’). At the top, not only a huge church, Sacre Couer, but an awesome view of the whole city. By this time it was about 8pm, so the lights over Paris were gorgeous.
We had a quick dinner at a great little bar (photos of all of this to come a bit later) and then off back down the hill to the metro to go home. On the way, we saw a crowd of people up ahead all taking photos of something. Now we found out earlier today that it is Paris fashion week and many celebrities are in town, so my first thought was it has to be some young movie star or fashionista. But no, it was even better. We got a little closer and caught a glimpse of an older balding man getting into a car.
“Is that Jimm…..” is all John got out before I said “Thats Jimmy Buffett! Quick, quick get the camera!!”
Of course we were a bit late and all have to show is a shaky photo of the back if his head through the car window! Turns out he had just done a few days of shows here in paris and had stopped to sign some autographs on the way out of the concert venue.
We once again headed for the metro, but this time we were in a crowd twenty parrotheads deep. Pirates here, grass skirts there, oh we can’t move because a gigantic blow up shark is blocking our way etc…etc…all the way to the metro.
Overall a very enjoyable evening.


P.s. Mom, I think I just found the way to get you back to Europe. I am sure Dad would agree to come back sooner then planned if it meant seeing Jimmy live, right?

Leaving Venice

Venice is beautiful and relaxing, as I remember it. But as I explore and tal=
k to locals I feel a profound sadness. This city is transforming into nothin=
g more than an ancient theme park. Without tourism, what economy would they h=
ave? Especially since fishing restrictions are tightening with all the overf=
The next time we visit Italy, I will be happy to skip t=
he sinking city of Venice. Ciao!

Sent from my iPod