Not all those who wander are lost.

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Kiwi Word of the Day #13 – Koru

Go for a tramp in any forest on the North Island and you’ll likely see a number of plants which inspired the Koru, a Maori word meaning “loop.”  The Koru’s form is based on the shape of a new frond of the Silver Fern which slowly uncoils itself as it matures, just one of the spectacular beauties of Mother Nature in this country.

Simply put, the Koru is a spiral, an integral symbol in Maori art and design.  It represents new beginnings, harmony, and growth. Its shape conveys the idea that life is in perpetual movement while always staying close to the point of origin, an idea that hits pretty close to home for this wanderer.

 

Koru     Koru 2

 


Kiwi Word of the Day #12 – Mean

Mean – Kiwi slang for something good

A lot of the Kiwi Slang is pretty easy to pick up just based on context; while the Kiwi use of “mean” was pretty intuitive, I found it extremely difficult to explain to my non-native English speaking boyfriend who had grown accustomed to me saying “Nice!”  Though Eugenio’s Italian-English dictionary told him that “nice” and “mean” are opposites, little did he know that they’re synonyms when used as slang.

Yes, that’s correct – “Mean!” to a Kiwi is like “Nice!” to an American. It’s a positive adjective used to mean cool, awesome, or fan-freaking-tastic.  And just like our tendency to draw out the vowel to add emphasis (niiiiiiiiice), Kiwis also lengthen the word to convey their level of enthusiasm – “meeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaan!”

So just a heads up to friends and family back in the States, when you hear Eugenio say “Mean” what he really means is “Nice.”


Life on a Highway (Part 1)

Geographically speaking, New Zealand is by no means a large country; it’s roughly the same size as Italy. But in a land where the sheep and cows grossly outnumber the humans, you can expect a fair amount of distance between towns. Luckily, there are numerous options to get a traveler from A to B.

Bus. The list of companies is long, and many cater to tourists by making stops along the way so you can take photos.

Air. JetStar and Air New Zealand have relatively affordable flights between the major cities and tourist destinations.

Thumbing it. Hitchhiking is technically illegal, but New Zealand must be one of the safest and most friendly places to hop in a stranger’s car. My guess is that with the long distances people are used to driving, the company is appreciated.

However, our issue with all options was that they depart from and arrive in a town. While these Kiwi towns are always ridiculously convenient and clean, they were not the reason we came to New Zealand. The magical fjords, stunning mountain peaks, mesmerizing alpine lakes, eerie caves and remote beaches simply cannot be found in town.

Organized tours will take you via bus to the highlights, but I’m not exactly the tour group type and we didn’t come to just see the highlights. We wanted to wander around this country without any itinerary or specific route in mind. We wanted the flexibility to stay in one place longer than expected or change our destination last-minute due to bad weather and we wanted the ability to travel faaaaaaarrrr off the beaten path.

From the start it was clear that the only way to truly see New Zealand is by car, and with nearly a year to travel, renting didn’t make any sense. On Day #3, still jet-lagged and going through severe caffeine withdrawal, we started to shop for used vehicles.

Lucky for us, we were not the only young travelling couple to arrive at this conclusion. There are so many backpackers who come to New Zealand on the Working Holiday Visa that there’s actually a backpacker car market. Stop in any hostel in Auckland or Christchurch and you’ll see a massive number of ads posted by backpackers who’ve finished their journey and need to sell their campervan before returning home.

What on earth is a campervan? Is that a Kiwi word for caravan, camper or motorhome?

No. A campervan has its own category. Where campers and motorhomes have toilets, showers and/or kitchens, a campervan has none of the above. Where a Caravan must be towed behind a vehicle, a campervan runs on its own.

In this country, and in Australia I’m told, old minivans which once transported kids to rugby practice are given a second life – the back seats are taken out and an elevated bed frame & mattress are fitted in their place. Add a few curtains, some storage boxes under the bed, and voila! You have a Campervan.

So wait, you sleep in a minivan? Why on earth would you want live like that?

The average cost of a hostel DORMITORY bed is between $25-$35 per person, per night (~$20-$28 USD). I haven’t quite figured out why the price is so high, but prices in NZ are generally ridiculously high compared to the States and the majority of Europe. So a little bit of math: 2 people x 10 months x $30/night lodging = WAY more money than the cost of a campervan.

Where do you park the van overnight (a.k.a. sleep)?

The general consensus is that “Freedom Camping” is permitted except in areas where there are signs explicitly prohibiting it (ex. “NO Camping” or “NO Overnight Parking”). As long as you’re near a 24-hour toilet, which conveniently enough are EVERYWHERE in this country, you’re free to park as long as you like.

After shopping around for about a week, Eugenio and I decided on a 1995 Nissan Serena for $2,700. It was by far the best decision we made – thanks to our campervan, we slept in some of the country’s best places, woke up to spectacular views, and successfully avoided the Tourist Route. Here are some of the van’s model shots:

 

 


Kiwi Word of the Day #11 – Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu

In Maori culture, places are named based on events of historical or mythological significance which creates some incredibly long names. In fact, it is on the east coast of New Zealand’s north island where you can find the world’s longest place name:

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapoka-iwhenuakitanatahuTaumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu

Tamatea was a strong warrior and famous chief in his time. After losing his brother in a battle, he climbed to the top of a hill and played a lament on a Koauau, a Maori flute. The name of the hill was given based on this event.

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu can be loosely translated as “The hilltop where Tamatea with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his koauau to his beloved.”

Side note: the locals simply call it “Taumata”


Kiwi Word of the Day #10 – Tramp

We’ve been getting pretty crap weather over the past month, which I’ve come to understand is anything but normal during an Otago summer. On a rare, blissfully sunny morning a few weeks ago, I had the following conversation:

   Katie: it’s nice to finally have a break from the rain.  What are your plans for the day?

   Tim: I was thinking about going for a trampYou interested?

Rest assured Mom & Dad, you don’t need to worry about the recreational activities of my new Kiwi friends. To be honest, I’ve been tramping around both the North and the South Island for over 6 months.

Tramp

Tramp – Kiwi for “hike” or “trek”; can be used as a noun or verb, and neither implies promiscuity


Kiwi Word of the Day #9 – Hokey Pokey

You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out. Put it back in again, but this time you shake it. Do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around…

In New Zealand, whenever you hear the words “Hokey Pokey” (actually quite frequently), odds are that nobody’s dancing. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if the Kiwis even know “what it’s all about.”

Hokey Pokey

Hokey Pokey – also known as honeycomb toffee, frequently found in chocolate bars and as its own ice cream flavor.


Kiwi Word of the Day #8 – Flat White

Upon arrival in New Zealand, my first order of business was to rid myself of my caffeine addiction.  My reasons for doing so were simple: 1) at an average price of $4.50, it was no longer a habit I could afford and, 2) after 2+ years living in Italy, I had simply become a snob and assumed (rightly so) that Kiwi Coffee couldn’t meet my unreasonably high expectations.

Note to readers: if you are interested in decreasing your caffeine consumption, and you’re used to 5+ shots of espresso per day, I do not recommend quitting cold turkey unless you are prepared to be a complete monster. Consider giving those you love advanced notice of your intent to quit, and it might be wise call in sick for a few days. Actually, don’t plan on leaving the house at all. You’re in no shape to be seen by the public.

Anyway, after a week of constant headaches, unbearable mornings, ridiculous irritability and the incredible desire for naptime, I could finally say I was no longer an addict!! But every so often when I have a rough morning, I do splurge.

It was on the first morning splurge that I encountered a new menu item, and it took a while to understand exactly what it is: the flat white.

Flat White

Found on every menu of every café or coffee stand in the country, a flat white is different than both a cappuccino and a latte. The Kiwi Cappuccino, and the American cappuccino for that matter, has a ton of foam.  It’s a shot of espresso, a bit of steamed milk, and a massive amount of that fluffy, frothy, foam. So much that if you were to drop a sugar cube in your cappuccino, there would be a hole in your foam. Any Italian could tell you that this is not a proper cappuccino; how it devolved I have no idea, but I have never enjoyed this interpretation of a cappuccino. The bubbles just get lodged in your throat.

A flat white is also different than a latte, which actually doesn’t exist in Italy. Latte simply means “milk,” so if you order one, you’ll get a big glass of warm milk. But in the Anglo-Saxon world, a latte is a shot of espresso which is then filled to the top with steamed milk, and it might have a dollop of foam on the top, just to be fancy.

The flat white is a bit more complicated, for it takes into consideration the type of foam. None of this bubbly, airy cappuccino foam…no no no.  The Flat White is all about silky foam – much smoother and creamier than the frothy stuff. I’ve been instructed that technically, a flat white is one part espresso, one part steamed milk and one part silky foam. It is the closest thing I’ve found to a true Italian cappuccino.

Now if I could only get the Kiwis to stop scalding the milk and burning the espresso, I would be in heaven…and I would likely become an addict once again!


Kiwi Word of the Day #7 – Bach

Driving along the coast of the North Island, you’ll see numerous signs to the effect of “Bach for Sale.”  While I enjoy classical music, I had a feeling that the signs were not indicating the availability of CDs of the famed composer for purchase.  I consulted my favorite resource, an online Kiwi Dictionary for foreigners and sure enough Bach has nothing to do with music.

Bach (2)

Bach (pronounced ‘batch’): Kiwi slang for a modest, no-frills holiday home. Known as a “crib” on the South Island.

 

 


Kiwi Word of the Day #6 – Jandals

My understanding is that Jeggings are simply leggings that have been made to resemble a pair of jeans.  If that is the case, then what on earth are Jandals?!?!?!?

Jandals

Jandals – Kiwi for flip flops or sandals


Kiwi Word of the Day #5 – Dairy

If you go to a dairy and come back with a hot pie, a coca-cola, and a pack of gum, you must be in New Zealand.

Dairy: a convenience store, open early and closes late. A staple of any neighborhood or small town in New Zealand. Some might even sell dairy products!

DairyDairy2


Macadamia 101 – All You Ever Wanted to Know About a Nut

Since we arrived in New Zealand during the winter months, we were eager to find a place to plant ourselves and wait for the good weather.  We chose the Coromandel Peninsula, just east of Auckland, and landed on a Macadamia Orchard just in time to help with the harvest.

Didn’t you know that macadamia nuts are harvested in winter?  Yah, me neither.

Along with that little tidbit, we learned an incredible amount about the Macadamia in the 2 months we were on the Orchard.  I thought I’d post some of my favorite macadamia trivia, just in case anyone was curious:

  • Harvesting macadamias is every 7-year-old boy’s dream job. Grab a rake, climb a tree, and hit/scrape the nuts off their stem so that they fall onto the nets below.
  • Raw macadamia tastes a lot like coconut.
  • Macadamia Oil is a perfect substitute for butter in baking cookies and bread but is also called “liquid gold” due to its high cost.
  • The tree takes over one full year to produce the nuts. So while you harvest, you have to be careful not to damage the flowers for next year’s crop.
  • There is an outer shell, called the husk, which must be removed within 24 hours or the nut starts to germinate (go to seed).
  • Once the nuts are husked, they must be dried until they lose ~25% of their weight, a process which takes at least a week.
  • The shell of the nut is impossibly difficult to remove.  We’ve heard of people putting the nut in a vise and then hitting it with a hammer. The couple on the orchard had fashioned a special sort of crank to do the job. Moana, the farm’s Jack-Russell Terrier, held the nut in her mouth until the shell softened enough to crack…dogs are fascinatingly intelligent.
  • Macadamia crusted fish and scallops are to die for.  As are Fred’s Chocolate Macadamia Brownies.

Kiwi Word of the Day #4 – Ta

The wonderful thing about Tiggers
Is Tiggers are wonderful things
Their tops are made out of rubber
Their bottoms are made out of springs
They’re bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy
Fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!
The most wonderful thing about Tiggers is
I’m the only one!

The Kiwi phrase “Ta” brought me back to my childhood and my favorite Winnie the Pooh character. Up until now, I believed that Tigger and my mother were the only ones to ever use Ta; and it was always a way of saying goodbye: “T-T-F-N…Ta Ta For Now!”

But I’ve come to realize that there’s an entire nation of “Ta” users!!  However, the Kiwis clearly didn’t grow up with Tigger, for they’ve put their own spin on the word.

Rather than stutter “Ta Ta,” the Kiwis use the word only once and it’s a way of saying “Thanks.”

Merv: Could you pass the butter please?

Katie: Here ya go.

Merv: Ta.

I have to admit that this is another case in which I dig my heels in the ground. For me, “ta” will forever be used in accordance with my beloved Tigger.

Tigger


Kiwi Word of the Day #3 – Panelbeater

The Warrant of Fitness. It is every Kiwi Car Owner’s worst nightmare…and if you’re a foreigner with an 18-year old van, it’s even worse.

The Warrant of Fitness (WOF) is a certificate which every vehicle must pass in order to be driven legally in New Zealand. In theory, it’s simply a safety inspection – lights, brakes, tires, suspension, fluids, etc., just to make sure you’re not putting yourself or anyone else in danger while driving. In reality, it’s a royal pain in the ass.

Our WOF expired at the beginning of October which meant we needed to pay a quick trip to the mechanic to have our van inspected. Considering the age of our vehicle, we anticipated the need for a few repairs. We had a broken steering rack boot, which the mechanic said he could repair easily, but there was some severe damage to the cross member which he was not qualified to fix.

Mechanic: “In order to get your WOF, you’ll need to get this work completed or signed off by a certified Panelbeater.”

Katie: “I beg your pardon?”

Mechanic: “A Panelbeater. I don’t do work on the body of the car, that has to be done by a panelbeater.”

Panel Beater

I suppose when you break down the word it makes sense that this repair would be completed by “one who beats panels.” But seriously?  That’s what they’re called??!?!

Kiwi Word of the Day: Panelbeater, also known as an Auto Body Shop.


Kiwi Word of the Day #2 – Chilly Bin

Katie: We’re thinking about taking a day or two to drive around the Peninsula.
Brian: Do you guys have a chilly bin?  You could borrow one of ours.

I had no idea what Brian was talking about, so I kept the conversation going to figure out what on earth was being offered…

Katie: Do you think it’s necessary?
Brian: Sure!  It’s always nice to have a cold beer in the afternoon or be able to keep some milk for brekkie.*

Chilly Bin – Kiwi term for a sealable box used to keep food cold, aka “cooler” or “ice chest”

Chilly bin

*not worth it’s own post because it’s fairly intuitive, brekkie is slang for breakfast.


Kiwi Word of the Day #1- ______ as

The official language of New Zealand might be English, but I swear the Kiwis speak a completely different language.  We’re not just talking about accent and pronunciation here, there are Kiwi dictionaries full of words and phrases I’ve never heard before.  This has inspired a new series of posts – Kiwi Word of the Day.

“____________ As”

Most commonly heard as “Sweet as” the adjective proceeding “as” can be anything.  I’ve heard “cold as”, “full as”, “fast as”, “smart as”, “steep as”, “organic as”, “Kiwi as”.

My initial response was, “as WHAT????”, thinking that I had somehow missed the rest of the sentence.  But the Kiwis just chuckle, the phrase ends with “as.”  It’s a Kiwi thing.

Examples:

How was the concert?    – Sweet as.

Can you believe this weather?  It’s hot as outside.

Are these vegetables organically grown?  – They’re organic as, bro.

If it sounds like surfer slang, I must say that I’ve heard these phrases from all age ranges and walks of life.  A 50-year old female dairy farmer texted me, “Sweet as” when I confirmed what time we’d be arriving at the farm.

After 3 months in New Zealand, I think I’ve finally figured it out.  The use of “as” is an intensifier, it makes the adjective more intense. It’d be like adding “super” or “very” before the adjective.  Come to think of it, it’s functions exactly like “issimo” in Italian.

So if I can use “Bello” for beautiful and “Bellissimo” for very beautiful, then I suppose I can accept that “hot” is hot and “hot as” is very hot.

Not that I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and start using it, but understanding is half the battle.


The Coromandel Peninsula

After about 3 days in Auckland, Eugenio and I realized that our initial plan was utter crap.  The idea seemed like a good one: find work and temporary housing in New Zealand’s biggest city, ride out the cold winter by earning/saving money so that we didn’t have to stress about finding work when the summer came. That was all and good, until we got here and realized that the cost of living in Auckland is so high that any earnings from a temporary/seasonal job would be quickly spent.  Not particularly keen on the idea of dipping into our savings, we decided to figure something else out.  Plan B?  Head East to the Coromandel Peninsula, which has relatively mild winters, and WWOOF it.

Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a world-wide organization which puts travelers in touch with local farmers. The idea is that in exchange for 20-25hrs/week, you’ll receive full room and board along with an incredible opportunity to live with the locals and learn a bit about agriculture, gardening, bee-keeping, building, you name it.  It was a similar organization led me to meet my beloved family in Tuscany back in the summer of 2011 (I can’t believe that was over 2 years ago).

Anyway, a quick search led us to a family-run Macadamia orchard near Hahei, a town with a population of 270 in the winter and 7,000 in the summer. It’s a holiday retreat for many Kiwis, but we took full advantage of being here in the off-season; we had it all to ourselves. Stunning coastline, gorgeous mountains, clean air, and peace & quiet. Lots and lots of quiet. Bedtime was frequently 9pm because there was really nothing else to do once the sun went down.

But there was much to do during the day!  The beach down the road was home to a cockle and pipi bed (read: types of clams I’ve never heard of). The beach 10 minutes away was home to natural hot springs. The Pacific Coast was full of gorgeous Snapper, Gurnard, and Kahawai just waiting to be hooked.  An organic garden with beautiful lettuces, beets, herbs, beans, lemons, tamarillos, avocadoes. When asked if we could stay until mid-September, we couldn’t think of any reason not to!

So it was in this little slice of paradise that we planted for the past 2 months, enjoying a much slower, healthy, wholesome pace.  The following are a few photos from around the Orchard and in the Hahei area (click on a photo and scroll through):


Myanmar Lesson #5 – All Options Have Pros and Cons

Our pre-trip research led us to believe that the bus ride from Inle Lake to the pagoda-studded plains of Bagan would likely end in disaster. Bloggers have described the minibus journey as the worst experience of their lives: 50+ people crammed into 30 seats, choked by dust, suffocated by heat and nauseated by tight turns and projectile vomit. Trip Duration: 12 hours. Yeah, thanks but we’ll pass.

Getting from Point A to Point B anywhere in Myanmar requires an incredible amount of planning, flexibility, and patience. Whether it be by train, boat, plane or bus, the infrastructure is simply not conducive to traveling long distances. Short distances too, for that matter.

The 20mph seven-hour train ride was a perfect example. But in most cases, apart from the discomfort and time, you can assume you’ll arrive safely at your destination. In most cases.

With no train option from Inle Lake to Bagan, we opted to hire a private driver which was cheaper than the flight and faster than a vomit-filled bus. Other bonuses included: leg room, air conditioning, and the flexibility to stop whenever and wherever we wanted. But as always, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Sharing the Road

Burma has a unique driving situation. They kept the colonial-era British cars (driver on the right side), but they drive like Americans & Europeans on the right side of the road. Further complicating matters was the fact that the two-lane roads are home to numerous modes of travel: trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, cars, ox cart, horse carriages, and walkers. Despite the lack of passing lanes and sidewalks, passing was typically an easy affair. To signal our presence and the fact that we wanted to pass, the driver honked his horn (10+ times seemed to be the norm). At that point it’s the responsibility of the slower moving person/vehicle/animal to move to the right or risk getting hit.

Passing a larger vehicle was a bit trickier, especially on a curvy mountain road. Slow-moving buses and trucks often flashed their left-hand turn signal as a way to signal to our driver that the coast was clear to pass. But this was more a friendly gesture than a rule of the road. In the event that the driver in front did not give us the “Okay to Pass” signal, the driver would attempt to pass anyway. It’s a horrible system because the lack of a the turn signal means one of two things: 1) it’s not okay to pass, or 2) I’m not a friendly driver and I can’t be bothered to let you know that the coast is clear.

So what would you do in the following situation: you’re driving on the right side of the car, on the right side of a narrow, curvy, two-lane road and you have a bus in front of you. Do you a) wait for the bus to signal to you that it’s safe to pass, b) ask the passenger on the left to check if the coast is clear, or c) try to pass on your own and cross your fingers?

Clearly option A was not in the cards – there was no telling how long it would be before the road straightened out and we negotiated a flat fee, so the driver was motivated to get us to our destination in the least amount of time. Option B was difficult considering the language barrier, though I think gestures would have been okay in this case; but rather than attempt to communicate, the driver simply continued to chew his betel nut and chose option C, the source of my first grey hairs.

Sharing the Road (2)

Poor Eugenio was sitting in the passenger seat. So as the driver slowly inched into the on-coming lane, completely blind, it was Eugenio that saw first whether or not we were in for a head-on collision.  Lip biting, white-knuckles, breath-holding, sweating, and stomach churning were the norm and for the sake of the sanity of my parents (who do read this blog from time to time), I won’t go into any more detail of that horrific journey.

Let’s just say that we stepped out of the car, ecstatic to be in one piece and with an important lesson learned. Even the vomit-filled bus option had its merit: we wouldn’t have been fearing for our lives.


Tresette – the world’s best and most confusing card game (part 2)

Now that we’ve mastered the 40-card Italian Deck, we can start to learn the basics of Tresette.

While the game can be played with only two players, we’ll stick to the four-player version to keep things simple. The pairs sitting opposite one another play together as a team. The cards are dealt out counter-clockwise (so unnatural!!!), ten to each player. The person to the right of the dealer leads with any card of his choice.  The play continues counter-clockwise, and the other players must follow suit.  If they are void (no cards in that suit), they may play any card of their choosing.  The player with the highest card in the led suit takes the trick and leads the next trick with a card of his choice.

The play continues until all cards are finished, concluding a round.  The teams combine the tricks they’ve taken and count their points. There are 11 points in each round, the first team to 41 points wins the game.  Not too bad, right?

Now for the complicated part:

Card Rankings: the 3 is the highest card, followed by the 2, then ace, king, horse man and page boy.  Then 7, 6, 5 in that order and finally, the utterly worthless card, the 4.

Points: while the 3 is the highest card, it is not the most valuable.

  • The aces are valued at one point each (4 total).
  • All 2s, 3s, kings, horse men, and page boys are worth 1/3 of a point each (6 and 2/3 total). And just when you thought 3rd Grade mathematics wasn’t useful!
  • All other cards have no point value.
  • An additional point is awarded to the team who collects the last trick of the round.
  • Total points possible each round is therefore 11 and 2/3. However, teams may only score a whole number (ex. a team with 6 and 2/3 points has scored only 6).

Bonus Points: when the cards are dealt, if a player has the 3, 2, and ace of a single suit (called “Napoli”), or if he has three 3s, three 2s, or 3 aces, he may call “Buon Gioco” (good game) which awards his team an extra three points at the end of the round.  Upon declaration of “Buon Gioco.” the opposing team may ask the player what his buon gioco is. If asked, the player MUST declare the cards that make up his buon gioco before the start of the 4th trick (ex. “three aces – all but the ace of coins” or “Napoli in cups”). If he fails to declare his buon gioco before the 4th trick, his team is not awarded the bonus points. If the opposing team fails to ask, he does not need to reveal his buon gioco.

Communication Rules: Tresette is known as il gioco dei muti (the game of mutes) because it’s considered cheating to communicate with your partner.  No special signals or motions are allowed. There is one exception: the player who leads the trick may make one statement about the suit that he plays.

Examples:

  • “Volo” – I fly. Means that it is your last card in that suit.
  • “Ho l’asso” – I have the ace.
  • “Ho altre 3 lisci” – I have another 3 low cards (in this suit). Could be used with any number.
  • “E’ buono” – it’s good. Means that the led card is the highest remaining in that suit.

Instead of revealing what you have, you may instead choose to command something of your partner.

Examples:

  • “Voglio il tre” – I want the 3. If your partner has the 3 of that suit, he should play it. Basically, it implies that you have the 2 & the Ace; with the 3 out of play, your 2 and ace are the highest cards in that suit.
  • Similarly, “Voglio il due” – I want the 2 – implies that you have the 3 and the ace.
  • “Gioca il meglio che hai” – Play the highest you’ve got. Your partner will play their best card and if they take the trick, they should return with the same suit.

While it’s an opportunity to tell your partner what you do and don’t have in your hand, you need to be careful not to reveal too much information because your opponents are listening too. There are situations in which it’s best not to say anything and just see how the cards play out.

And that’s Tresette!

The beauty of the game isn’t in the rules, it’s in the strategy. A good memory is crucial – you must pay attention to how many and which cards of each suit have been played.

Since the aces are the most valuable, the strategy revolves around playing the aces when you know your team will take the trick. If you know your partner is void in a suit, lead with the highest remaining card (saying “e’ buono”) and it will give him an opportunity to dump an ace of a different suit and score a point for your team. Likewise, if you have the two & ace of a suit, and the opponent leads and says “ho il 3”, then you can safely play your ace knowing that it’ll take the trick.

But don’t forget all the other cards that’ll earn points as well.  If you’re void, don’t throw away a page boy unless you know your partner will take the trick. That card is still worth 1/3 a point, and all those little thirds add up!!

Now let’s go back to that evening that Eugenio “offered to teach me how to play a classic Italian card game”…imagine trying to learn the new deck of cards as well as the rules in the same evening. All in a foreign language. I had no idea what I had signed up for and to be honest, there were moments where I had to hold back tears out of sheer frustration. But Eugenio, patient and loving as always, has since played hundreds of games (the two-player version), always walking me through the strategy and explaining my errors or incorrect assumptions.  I won’t say I’m a master, that would be his brother, Jonny. But I will say the realization that I had grown confident in my ability as a Tresette player was a moment I will never forget. A moment of utter triumph in my conquest to immerse myself in a foreign culture and language.

Onward!


Tresette – the world’s best and most confusing card game (part 1)

A quick way to earn an Italian’s respect is to tell them you know how to play “Tresette.”  A favorite among old men and commonly played during the holiday festivities, this is not just a card game. It’s a fierce competition in which the smallest error, be it a memory lapse or bad assumption, can result in endless agony.

I love cards and board games, just ask my neighbor growing up. We spent all our rainy days battling in games of Gin Rummy, Monopoly, and Poker (remember what life was like for a kid before the internet?!?!?).  So when Eugenio offered to teach me how to play a classic Italian card game, I naturally jumped at the offer. But before I could learn the game, I had to learn the cards.  Should be simple, right?

Hahahahahhahaha. No.

We aren’t dealing with clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades anymore.  Oh no, that would have been too easy.  We’ve got the Italian deck which has Denaro (coins), Bastone (clubs/sticks), Spade (swords), and Coppe (cups).

And you know how our decks of cards give you the hint in the upper right and lower left corners? The number and symbol so that you don’t need to see the whole card to know what you’re holding?  Yeah, you can forget about those too. Non-existent.

The card makers love to mess with you by adding all sorts of random décor, just to distract you from being able to determine the value of the card. The ace of swords comes complete with a flying angel and ribbons while the ace of coins would makes his debut on the breast of an eagle. Um, what?Asso

And don’t even get me started on this card:

cinque di spade

There are 4 clearly visible swords plus an additional horizontal sword in the center.  But what are those other half-swords popping out of the two vases??!?!?  Are they plants or swords??!?! Why on earth are they blue?!?!?!  I can’t tell you how many times I thought I was playing the 7 of swords when really it was this damn 5.

Are we having fun yet?

So rather than 52 cards, there are only 40.  Ten to each suit.  Ace through 7 and then the Italian equivalent of Jack, Queen and King…which I’ve affectionately nicknamed Page Boy, Horse Man, and King.  The Italians just call them “8, 9, and 10.” While the horse man is easy to identify since he’s got his four-legged friend, the page boy and king are confusing.  Hint: you have to take a look at their headgear. Only the king wears a crown, the page boys are stuck with feathers.

face cards

Quick review: we’ve got well-decorated aces through sevens, page boys, horsemen, and kings in swords, cups, sticks, and coins. Right. And now that we’re all thoroughly confused, we can start to learn the rules of Tresette. To be continued…


Hot Water Beach

Being in the Southern Hemisphere means that early August is the dead of winter.  The wind howls, the ocean is numbing, and it gets dark at 5pm.  You can move your swim suit to the back of your drawer; it’s not going to get any use for the next few months.

Unless you’re on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula.

Hot Water Beach (yes, that is the official name) is home to two underground hot springs. I know, I know. Hot Springs aren’t exactly the most earth shattering topic to write about. So what makes these ones blog-worthy?

First, the fact that you’ve gotta check your tide tables.  Second, they come with a stunning ocean view.

Hot Water Beach

The springs are covered by the surf for the majority of the day.  However, at low tide the ocean recedes far enough to make them accessible. Grab a shovel and BAM!  Instant spa!!

The water at its exit point is 64C (147F) – too hot for most.  But simply dig a few feet from the center and the cold water from the ocean mixes with the hot water to create the temperature of your choosing.

Don’t get too comfortable – when the tide comes back in, that water’s freeeeeeezing!


A World of Updates

Nearly four months have come and gone since my last post. I’ve been busy. Very busy. I haven’t been able to make the time to write and now I find myself HORRIBLY backlogged.  So many ideas, so many thoughts, so many observations, and with a new country to call home, my list is growing at a rapid rate.

April flew by. I went home on a surprise visit for my mom’s birthday and took the opportunity to introduce everyone to my favorite Roman. The time passed in the blink of an eye, and I find myself wondering why on earth I thought that 10 days was enough to see everyone I care about, show Eugenio my old stomping ground, and get my fill of all the foods I’ve been missing for the last two years (namely Mexican). It simply wasn’t enough time. To anyone I missed in Portland, and to those I couldn’t see in California: I must say I learned an important lesson. The next visit will be substantially longer, allowing me to spend time with all those I hold near to my heart.

So prior to my Ptown visit, my list of blog topics looked something like this:

  • finish writing and editing photos for Myanmar (trip taken 01/2013)
  • finish writing and editing photos for Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro (trip taken 08/2012)
  • start and finish writing for Morocco (trip taken 04/2012)
  • post ~10 different Italian “Parola del Giorno” posts (wait ’til you hear what the Italian word for ankle socks is!)

At the end of April, I had added an entirely different topic to that list: what it’s like to visit home after being away for over 2 years and how it feels to be a foreigner in a place which you still call “home.” I’m still sorting through that experience and what it means.

Then May came and went. I finished teaching my English lessons in Rome and celebrated my 30th birthday by paintballing with a group of friends. If anyone ever has an opportunity to watch 15 Italians run around pretending to be Rambo, I highly recommend it!

June was a whirlwind of packing, a 6-day tour through Puglia (the heel of Italy’s boot), saying goodbyes, and trying to savor every last bite of my favorite cuisine…all in preparation for the next adventure:

*drum roll please*

New Zealand!!  Eugenio and I both got Working Holiday visas which will enable us to work as we travel through the land of Land of the Maori, Kiwis and Hobbits!!  We arrived on July 11th on a one-way ticket with no plan and no itinerary (as it should be).

So my “to write” list continues to grow.  I am going to do my best to keep on top of my blogging for my experiences in New Zealand…if I’m lucky, I’ll also be able to carve out some time to write about the other things on the list.  So my apologies in advance for the disjointedness of the articles as I play catch up!

Until further notice, I am in New Zealand!


Roman Rivalry

April 8, 2013: A.S. Roma vs. S.S. Lazio, 20:45

Ask any Romano what he was doing last night, and I guarantee he’d look at you as if you were crazy. It’s a stupid question with an obvious answer. Last night was “il Derby.”

Technically, the term is applied to any game between two teams of the same city. Northern Italy has the Inter vs. Milan Derby and the Juventus vs. Torino Derby. But in the capital city, there is only one Derby worth talking about: the matchup between A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio. Both teams call Rome’s Stadio Olimpico their home stadium; the Laziali occupy Curva Nord and the Romanisti claim the Curva Sud. The curve you choose is a lifelong decision that defines you.

“Ciao, mi chiamo Katie, ho 29 anni, e tifo la Roma.” Hi, my name is Katie, I’m 29 years old, and I support AS Roma.

This rivalry runs deep in the blood of Roman veins. To a Romanista, there is no greater insult than “Sei proprio della Lazio” – you truly support Lazio. I’m sure there’s a similar insult for a Laziale, but I’m not friends with anyone who wears sky blue and white…so I couldn’t tell you.

The Roman Derby not just a game, it is THE game. It’s an opportunity to prove who is the dominate team of the Capitale. The years of unwavering dedication and love for your team combined with a deep-rooted loathing of the “other” team, means that the Derby is 90 minutes of sweating, screaming, cussing, nail-biting, hair-pulling, stress and frustration. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows so close together, I’m convinced that it’s going to give me a heart attack, or at least take a few years off my life.

Last night’s Derby was no exception. In the 15th minute of the first half, Lazio’s Hernanes scored to give Lazio the lead in the first half. A missed penalty kick by the same Hernanes in the second half gave new life to Roma. Less than 10 minutes later, we had a breakaway and the last Lazio defender committed a foul against our forward – automatic penalty kick for Roma! And with that, our beloved Capitano Francesco Totti, a 36-year-old demi-God who has worn a Roma jersey his entire career and can do no wrong, set yet another record: 9 career Derby goals.

To give just a hint of the fanaticism of a Romanista, compare the reaction of commentator Carlo Zampa when Hernanes scored to his reaction when Totti scored. You don’t need to speak Italian to understand who he’s rooting for:

Much to the frustration of all tifosi (fans), this Derby ended in a 1-1 draw. A bit of a let-down, but it does set everything up nicely for the end of the season as both teams are in the running for the Coppa Italia – Italy Cup – a single round, knockout tournament played by Italian teams from all levels (Serie A, Serie B, and Serie C). The winner gets the Cup title and a ticket to next year’s Europa League.

The final is played at Stadio Olimpico, regardless of the teams, but this year there is a very strong possibility that we’ll see another Derby for the Coppa Italia title. With Lazio’s win over Juventus in January, they secured their spot in the Final. On April 17th, AS Roma faces off with Inter. In the event that (read “when”) Roma wins, the Coppa Italia Final on May 26th will be yet another Derby. Please pray for my health.

FORZA ROMA!!!!!!!


Parola del Giorno #7 – La Seppia

A few weeks ago, my printer ran out of ink which meant it was time to learn a bit of new vocabulary. At this point, my Italian is good enough that I can work my way around an unknown word, I could easily walk into a store and ask, “Excuse me, do you sell………..the black stuff that a printer uses to write?” While it’s a pretty effective way to get your point across, I still want to improve my vocabulary.

When my printer flashed the dreaded low-ink light, I turned to my boyfriend and said, “Fra poco mi servirà la seppia.” I’m going to need ink soon.

“Non ti preoccupare, ci sono tanti locali che la vendono.” Don’t worry, there are a lot of places that sell it. I continued to mention my need of “la seppia” for the better part of a week, until I finally had a free morning to run some errands.

I called Eugenio to ask him exactly where I could find “la seppia.” He told me that there was a shop next to his bar, but he didn’t give me much more detail. No problem, his aunt & brother were working at the bar that morning so I could get the rest of the information from them, all while enjoying my usual cappuccino and cornetto.

“Dov’è quel negozio qua vicino che vende la seppia per stampanti?” Where is the shop near here which sells “la seppia” for printers?

No response. I was surrounded by blank stares and puzzled faces.

I’ve become used to this reaction though; it usually means that I’ve been sloppy with my pronunciation. I repeated my question, paying special attention to my cadence and careful to correctly roll my rrrrrrrrrs.

Again, blank stares. Okay is my accent really that thick?!?

“La seppia per una stampante?” asked Eugenio’s aunt.

“Si!” relieved that finally someone was able to repeat what I was trying to communicate. Once someone with a native tongue repeats what I said, everyone is usually on the same page.

But no, everyone still remained confused. Okay, something’s not right.

I heard Cico, a regular at the bar, say “Bella, dovresti andare alla pescheria per trovare la seppia.”  You’d have to go to a fish market to find la seppia. And at that point everyone busted up laughing.

Wait, what?!?

And then it hit me. I never actually consulted a dictionary to determine what the Italian word for “ink” was.  I used “la seppia” because it’s always written on the menu for squid-ink pasta. If I had paid more attention, I would have realized that the dish is called “pasta al nero di seppia” – literally, pasta with the black from a seppia.

“Nero” refers to the ink.

“Seppia” is the animal that produces the ink.

Which meant that I was essentially asking for a place that sells squid for my printer.

After a good laugh at my expense, Eugenio’s aunt informed me that the word for ink is “inchiostro,” and with this knowledge I was able to buy a new printer cartridge. But first I made a quick phone call to my darling boyfriend to chew him out for not having once corrected me. I must have used “la seppia” incorrectly a dozen times.

His defense? “Well, I knew what you meant…so I let it go.”

And therein lies one of the challenges of a life in a foreign language: you make mistakes, and you make them often. People don’t want to correct you because they find your errors endearing. You don’t want to be corrected too much, or else you lose confidence.

But at the same time, you also don’t want to walk around asking for squid for your printer.

While I have no answer for how often one should correct a non-native speaker, I will say that I learned a critical lesson: to learn a new word, I need to consult a dictionary rather than a menu (or my boyfriend for that matter).

pescheria-friggitoria


Happy Anniversary to Me!

On March 29, 2011, I packed my bags and boarded a one-way flight…destination: World.

That was the last time I set foot on American soil and I haven’t looked back since. Globetrotter, permanent traveller, expat, vagabond, nomad. These are the shoes that fit me best, and I’m still breaking them in. So tonight I’m celebrating the anniversary of the day I had the courage to break the mold and set off into unfamiliar territory. What an adventure it’s been, and I’m confident that the best has yet to come.

Two years down, a lifetime to go. Onward!

re-birthday