Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The View Afloat from Destinations Travel Magazine

The View Afloat
By Michael Hartigan
March issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

Check out my latest article in the March, 2013 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine. Cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C. and San Antonio might be best seen floating along their rivers. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Roma: A Classic Beauty

It's easy to make a place look good when everything you see was painted, sculpted or designed by history's pantheon of geniuses. From Bernini to Bonarote - Michaelangelo that is - the most creative and talented artists to ever live had a hand in chiseling away the masterpiece that is Roma. Good photos come easy, as Rome offers up a picturesque polaroid behind every column, around every fountain and underneath every arch. Of course, most of Italy has a similar effect on the lens, but for now I'll stop writing and let the photos do the talking from some of my favorite spots around the Italian city center for la dolce vitta.








The real reason Rome fell

Two thousand years ago, Rome reached to the ends of the known world, amalgamating its conquered peoples, cultures and traditions into the greatest empire history has even seen. Even under dictatorial rule, they laid the foundation for modern democracy, art, food and an Academy Award for Russell Crowe.

And then they threw it all away. Through a combination of disease, religious turmoil, political infighting and constant barrage attacks from those nasty barbarians, the Empire disintegrated. Power in Europe shifted to other shores, leaving Rome abandoned to its own squalor and forgotten for years.

Modern day Rome has bounced back, of course, built around the stunning remains of its once great empire. Spend a few days exploring this magnificent city and its historical treasures and you begin to wonder how it could have all gone so wrong. But look a little closer, listen to your audio guide just a little more attentively and a few serious lacks in judgment begin to appear; some even surviving into modern times.

I’m no historian but after noticing a few key institutional flaws in 2013 Rome, and subsequently learning of their existence in ancient times, I’m skeptical about the textbook version of the fall of Rome. Sure, the barbarian hordes probably hastened the demise, but I’m thinking they were just big, ugly and very violent scapegoats for a self-inflicted wound.

The way I see it, the fall was caused by three very easily fixable logistical problems. In short, Rome could’ve been saved with a little moderation and good public works department. The only victim would’ve been Russell Crowe’s Oscar.

3. Broken Ankles

When traveling, I wear sturdy hiking boots regardless of the terrain. They keep my feet comfortable, joints padded and traction controlled. I’ve climbed peaks in Yosemite, castles in Germany and cathedrals in France without issue.

Walking down La Via Sacra through the Roman Forum, Ancient Rome’s version of Broadway and Times Square, I stumbled several times, turned my ankle twice and only by the grace of one of those gods on Olympus (I don’t remember the name of the god of ankles), did I not break something. The road is comprised of massive paving stones, jagged and jutting and rounded (perhaps from years of togas dragging alone them). If this is what the ancient Romans were walking on, they must have been a civilization filled with limping citizens.  

The problem continues in modern day Rome along the cobbled roads spider-webbing through each neighborhood. Most of the side-streets and pedestrian walkways are made up of uneven cubic stones, with inch-wide gaps. Not the most comfortable surface to escape being hit by a guy on a scooter.

And if you think those crazy modern Romans whizzing by on Vespas are bad? Try jumping out of the way of Claudius on his chariot when the road is uneven.

How was the Empire supposed to defend itself with sword and spear if one arm was constantly preoccupied with a crutch? No wonder the Barbarians had their way with them. I know what you’re saying, this is a little far-fetched. Oh really? Hop back even farther into history to the preceding Empire – the Greeks. Their greatest warrior, Achilles, was impenetrable. Until he was shot by an arrow in his – yup, you guessed it – ankle. The Romans, just like with everything else in their civilization, must have stolen that disregard for lower-leg safety from the Greeks.

Here is where a solid DPW would come into play, making good use of some asphalt. Plus they could’ve provided a few jobs to the working class, dolled up those chariots and invited the barbarians in for a parade rather than antagonizing them into brutal war.

2. Killed off all the easy chicks

Rome’s Forum is a history lesson you don’t want to fall asleep during. You truly get a sense of how the Empire revolved around these few acres, and their religion and government flowed from each doorstep. You literally get to walk the streets once walked by the titans of early civilization. Columns, arches, temples and pulpits still stand, beckoning you to touch and feel.

But don't get too touchy-feely. 

The Vestal Virgins were recruited at an early age to tend the everlasting flame in Rome’s Forum. They were revered by all, lounged in their own luxury box at the Coliseum and given a nice severance package after 30 years of celibacy and service to the Empire. Problem was, they were young virgins in Ancient Rome, where toga parties originated. A young, attractive woman living the working life in the city sometimes just needs to let her hair down. Vow of celibacy? Eh, come on now, what could go wrong? Amidst a civilization where wine and partially nude men engrossed most every street corner, saving oneself for retirement must have been quite the difficult task. And so more than a few were led astray by temptations of the flesh.

The Romans had an answer for breaking a vow of celibacy. The impure Vestal Virgin was led out of town, given some food and lamp oil and buried alive. Permanently.

This did two things: deterred the next recruits from falling off the wagon (lest they then be tossed on one heading toward their own tomb); and prevented women who clearly had no problem with procreation from, well, procreating.

I don’t mean to be crass, but given their ever-spreading Empire and feuds with their neighbors, Rome could’ve done well by beefing up their ranks. One can never have too many soldiers when one is attempting world domination.

And yet they clung to their virtues and disposed of women who wanted to do just that. Seems a little backwards to me, but then again I’m not attempting world domination. Perhaps some bending of the rules might’ve gone a long way.

1. Get to work!

Touring the Coliseum, my audio guide revealed some insight into the Roman calendar. Not the months and days, but their work week – or lack thereof. Romans had around 170 holidays or festival days throughout the year. Hence why the Coliseum itself was so busy.

I’m all for half a year of work and half a year of partying, but when it comes to ruling people all across creation, maybe you should at least punch in a little early. Even a ¾ schedule would’ve enabled a DPW to fix the roads and a commission to examine the population growth incited by not murdering the not-so-virginal Vestal Virgins.

Walking around the ruins here, from level to level the grandeur becomes evident. The structure rises all around you, engulfing you in ancient aura. You can almost hear the oohs and ahhs raining down from the nosebleeds seats.

What’s more aggravating, is that they built Rome’s splendor with so many days off. What more could’ve been accomplished by the Empire had they taken off some of those days off?

Looking down upon the Forum and Coliseum from Palatine Hill or the summit of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and the city’s once golden majesty shimmers into vision. This city changed the world and then went away, but in the process leaving an indelible mark on history, still evident in present day, halfway across the world in lands they never knew existed. So really, who am I to judge? The Romans did just fine without my help.   

Monday, February 18, 2013

Italy Food Journal

I say it often, that something somewhere is better than anywhere else. For example, any pub in Dublin is better than every pub anywhere else. Perhaps I use my fair share of hyperbole, maybe I'm just always right. Either way, what I say is soundly rooted in personal experience.

With food in Italy, however, those types of statements are undeniable, universal and just plain fact. I'll put it this way: on my second evening in Rome, I had a subpar meal. But after finishing it, I thought to myself, wait a minute, this was still better than any pasta dish I've ever had anywhere else. The previous 24 hours had spoiled me.

You can't reconstruct an authentic Italian meal with words and not include a hearty amount of hand gestures. So as you're reading this, just imagine my hands are flailing and pointing and waving at exactly the right moment to provide emphasis. I am going to try my best to pull one meal from each day I'm here in this glorious country, which will hopefully highlight the breadth, depth and diversity of its culinary expertise.

So check out my Italy Food Journal below, and return daily for updates as I eay my way from Rome to Bologna to Milan.


Saturday: Rigatoni Carbonara
Dinner: L'Enoteca Antica, Rome - near the Spanish Steps

This old pub-like Italin bar was enjoyable as much for its atmosphere and ambiance as for its delicious food. Hundreds of wines available, and an ancient interior launch you back to a time forgotten, except for the whizzing Vespas outside and the not-so-distant hum on the Spanish Steps. A glass of Chianti and a bowl of Carbonara made with homemade rigatoni brought my first night in Rome to a perfect close. The dish wasn't too heavy or overly creamy, as Carbonara can sometimes be when done incorrectly. Pieces of pancetta added a meaty, salty touch and perfectly complimented the silken sauce.

Runner up: The cafe atop the Victor Emmanuel monument, Rome.
Excellent capuccino but come here more for the view and outdoor setting overlooking the Forum. Relax sipping a cup in their comfy patio lounge.

Sunday: Fried Artichokes
Dinner: Ristorante Antonio's, Rome - Pantheon neighborhood

When a meal begins by the old proprietor silently coming to your tiny corner table, scooping up the empty wine glasses, walking outside the front door to a wooden keg on a table on the street, filling the glasses with house white wine and returning them to your eager open fingers - without saying anything other than "buona sera," - you know it is going to be an interesting gastronomic experience. Whereas Antonio's main dishes weren't as flavorful or hearty (or good, for that matter - in fact I'd go as far to say they were disappointing) as one would hope, the free surprise wine and primi piatti we ordered more than made up for any latter downturns.

Simple yet exquisite, we ordered the fried artichoke special thinking we'd get hearts dipped in batter then tossed in the fryolater. Oh how wrong we were. Out came a massive ovular plate on which say two full artichokes, stems and all. No batter, just an artichoke stalk cleaned properal so the form and shingles remained, then tossed in the fry oil to crisp up, plated and drizzled with local olive oil and salt. The leaves, typically discarded on artichokes, were like chips and the stalks were devoid of bitterness, housing the sweetness fo the oil. It really was truly an amazing dish in just how basic it was, but how memorable it tasted.

Monday: Proscuitto, Mozzarella, Tomato panini
Lunch: Duccento Gradi, Rome - near the Vatican
After walking the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica, the feet need a time out and the stomach needs a work out. We hopped outside the Catholic city-state's walls, over to a creative and eclectic sandwich shop called Duccento Gradi. The name had popped up in several books and online searches, but yet was not filled with tourists and service was prompt and courteous. I chose the Venetian Panini, a combo of two types of Prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and an artichoke spread, all covered in olive oil, slapped on two fresh pieces of bread and pressed. The result was exactly how it sounds. A mix of salty, tangy and well, cheesy, it beat out any of the other lunch options we had opted for since being in Roma. Sure a quick grab at a kiosk or pizzeria is good, but when the proprietor adds just that little extra effort, fresh ingredients and a desire to serve up something just a little better, you are left with a sandwich most other sandwiches envy.

Tuesday: The greatest sandwich I've ever had & Florentine steak
Lunch & Dinner in Florence

Firenza’s fine food required me to not choose which meal to post because for the little over 24 hours we spent in this Renaissance center, everything we ate was of divine creation. I ate lunch at the Number 1 restaurant, the Number 3 restaurant (we tried #2 but it was booked solid), and a quiet trattoria that I chose because there were two must-haves right there visible in the window: a giant slab of fresh beef and an old, grizzled Italian man slicing off heaving Florentine steaks and grilling them with lemon. Each meal warrants a mention here, as I couldn’t choose one a day. Florence’s food is as exquisite an artform as anything in the Uffizi.

Lunch: All’Antico Vinaio
The number one rated restaurant in Florence (according to Trip Advisor and mist every other guide in-the-know), is a tiny sandwich shop down a back alley. Naturally. And the number one restaurant in Florence did absolutely nothing spectacular. Of course. And the number one restaurant in Florence wasn’t jam-packed. Bonus for us. But the number one restaurant in Florence was the number one restaurant in Florence.

We gorged on the benefits of off-season travel several times in Firenza, but none more satisfying than the culinary ones. The line typically stretches out the door of this tiny counter space, and down the cobbled sidewalk. But today, a sunny February Tuesday afternoon, we strolled right in and were hit by wave after wave of familiar yet exquisite aroma. The whole Prosciutto di Parma sat on the counter top, next to a still steaming roast beef, still bleeding from the slice taken off for the previous customer. Next to that rested a massive porcetta (roast poark), crispy skin and all. In the deli case were rows upon rows of tapanades, spreads, olives, tomatoes (fresh and sun-dried), cheeses, meats and who knows what else. I knew what I wanted immediately.

“Panini, porcetta e mozzarella e olivo, per favore.”

I don’t know if that was proper Italian grammar, but it got the point across because what I got in return for my 5 Euro – let me repeat, 5 Euro for the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten – was a load of sliced pork roast, crispy skin and all, literally stuffed into two slices of focaccia along with mozzarella and olive spread.

My wife got a proscuitto and mozzarella with olive spread, artichoke spread and sun-dried tomatoes. When I tell you these were the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, I’m not exaggerating. The sandwiches in Rome were great, but overall Firenze wiped the trattoria floor with Roma when it came to gastronomy.

Everything was fresh, sliced right in front of our eyes. The bowl of sun-dried tomatoes was even brought in from the market across the way as we were standing there ordering. Easy to see, and taste, why they’re number one.

Dinner: Antico Fattore
I was drawn in to  Antico Fattore by the massive beef in the window and the old man butchering it. We stayed because the waiter was jolly and joked with us in Italian because my wife couldn’t make up her mind on water with or without gas. He called her a “plumb,” trying to get me to understand his meaning by dropping an imaginary plum line on the wall and swinging it back and forth. The English word he was looking for was “pendulum,” to symbolize my wife’s swaying choices. I told him he was going to get me in trouble, to which he apologized nervously but broke out into laughter when I told him I was just joking.

Thankfully, we had made friends enough for him to warn me when I tried to order the steak Florentine – a giant porterhouse simply grilled in the local style. It was 2 ½ lbs of meat. We saw it being brought to another table. It would have taken three of me, plus my dog to finish it. Instead, he promised to bring me something just as good, in a more manageable one-person portion.

I feasted on a perfectly cooked steak, ribeye cut without the bone, covered in sautéed porcini mushrooms that exploded with flavor but didn’t overwhelm or really even imbue the meat. Rather, tasted together in the same bite, provided the perfect earthy complement to the hearty beef.

Just goes to show you, when the city’s #2 restaurant is all booked up (we had tried to get in), go with your gut and put your faith in the waiter, as long as he doesn’t have a personality like a “plumb.”

Wednesday: Braccioli e Salsa (Beef) and whatever else they serve
Lunch: Trattoria Mario's, Florence
You wait. You sit. You introduce yourself to the strangers you squeeze in next to. You look up at the board with the menu of the day. You pick a few things and you sit back and enjoy. You say, "Si, vino." And you sit back and soak in Italy swarming around you in all its chaotic culinary glory.

Mario's is a hole in the wall off a piazza, with stickers and papers covering the windows and doors. But those aren't just any stickers and papers. They're reviews - hundreds of them and all overwhelmingly positive. For good reason. The menu changes daily but I'd believe that any day you walked through their doors, you'd be in for a special treat you can't find anywhere this side of an Italian grandmother's kitchen. Their specialty is the massive Florentine steak, with its porterhouse shape and Italian appetite size. I opted for white been soup, which tasted unlike white beans or any soup I've ever had. The waitress drizzled a message on top in deep green olive oil, which I believe spelled the word, "mangia." I didn't wait long enough to ask her, but rather dove in spoon first. It was creamy and hearty, perfect for a chilly Florentine afternoon. The olive oil mixed with the pureed beans and a hint of salt and pepper made for an exquisitely un-busy dish. In fact, nothing I saw on my table or the others around me looked particularly complex. But the flavors were. Fresh ingredients, and letting them do the talking with any overdressing, is a style of cooking that more should aspire to.

But at Mario's they're already doing it just right. My beef braccioli was as simple as the bean soup and I wouldn't want it any other way. Pounded thin, breaded, pan fried, rolled and swimming in tomato sauce. The meat was so tender I never picked up a knife. The sauce was so tangy, sweet and perfect, I had to get more bread just to sop up every last bit.

By meal's end, when the waitress brought by a glass of sweet wine and biscotti, I was wrapping up one of the top three or four meals I've ever eaten. It was that good. And with an authentic ambiance like the buzzing but somehow relaxing Mario's, it made for one of the top three or four dining experiences I've ever had as well.

Simplicity. Don't overthink it, Mario's doesn't. So go there.

Thursday: Traditional Balsamic vineger
Picci’s - Outside Parma

The most memorable thing I ate on this trip wasn’t a meal, or even a dish for that matter. Outside Parma, Italy, a man named Marco toured us around three floors of his villa, on which he makes some of the country’s best traditional Balsamic vinegar. This isn’t your liquefied, toss with salad Balsamic. When the tour ended and Marco offered up tasting spoons, it took a good 15 – 20 seconds for him to fill each one, and only after a vigorous amount of shaking. Traditional Balsamic oozes from the nozzle like syrup. The 25 year aged version was sweet as caramel, but with an underlying grape tartness that makes it distinctively Balsamic. We also tried a 12 year, which had the same consistency and a slightly less sweet, oak flavor (having been in the wooden barrels half the time). I could eat a few drops of this on ice cream, berries, a good cheese, a plastic spoon, my fingertip or the floor and be content.

There is no condiment in the world that compares here. Marco used to sell his Traditional Balsamic to William Sonoma, who in turn sold it in their stores for over $125 a tiny bottle. But their expectations and his small operation couldn’t mesh for long and now the only places he sells to are Canada and a small restaurant in Aspen, Colorado owner and operated by a former chef Marco’s restaurant (located right next door to his villa). I had nothing but respect for the process, especially after learning that the only ingredient in Traditional Balsamic is grapes. To be precise, the discarded “most,” that is leftover from winemaking. It’s cooked down for days, then through a painstaking process of barrel rotating, evaporation and a dozen other steps Marco described. Other, lesser “Traditional” Balsamics with larger operations add coloring, caramels, sweeteners, etc., and can pump out bottles in two years, two months or two hours. Posers, all of them. Marco spends the majority of his job waiting – as in, his first batch that he started on his own in 2000 should be ready this year (he and his father have been doing it together for decades). But something this good is clearly worth waiting for.

Runner up: Ristorante Gallo d’Oro, Parma

Parma’s food all around was incredible. Gallo d’Oro, recommended by multiple people, served up a basic tortellini in broth, that warmed up my chilled body. I also ate some of the most delicious pork ribs, roasted and covered in thyme, honey and Tradtional Balsamic.

Friday: Fish salad and pasta with crab
Ostaria a la Campana - Venice

Venice makes you hungry. After the walking, the people, the markets, even the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square start to look appetizing. Unfortunately, around every corner is a restaurant. I say unfortunately because all of them are serving the same limp pizza (not something traditional to this region at all), cold, lifeless paninis and anything else they expect hungry tourists want to eat. There are great restaurants in Venice, you just have to find them. And like finding anything in this eclectic city, it’s damn near impossible. So the times I’ve been here I’ve employed a simple practice when my stomach starts rumbling: get lost. Find someone that looks like a local, follow them down some walkways, near the canal, away from the canal, it doesn’t matter. Stop at a few trattorias you see, check the menu, avoid exorbitant prices (which I’ve found to mean you’re close to the busiest tourist areas), and go with your gut. After all, it’s the reason you’re in this position in the first place. Another caveat, if it looks and sounds like Italians are eating there, put it up a notch on your list.

When we strolled by Ostaria a la Campana, I did all of the above. It was the menu that drew me in, actually, advertising a few dishes of the day, not a full menu. The waiter inside mentioned they had seafood risotto, pasta with pomodoro and crab, fired calamari and shrimp and a fish salad. We took one of each and tucked into a seafood feast inside this tight but comfortable spot. Each dish was tasty, not overly fishy and the fried calamari was some of the best I’ve ever had. The fish salad had large, perfectly cooked hunks of octopus smothered in olive oil and lemon. It was a great find and somewhere that I’d probably have a hard time finding again – although I’d absolutely try.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Signs, Signs, Everywhere the Signs - Vol. II

No matter where I go - Cape Cod, Switzerland, Albuquerque, Scotland - I seem to stumble upon a piece of wood, plastic or questionably organic material that offers direction, suggestion or introspection. Last year I put together a list of my the most memorable of these encounters - my favorite signs from around the globe. There were witty takes on marriage, comical snake warnings and deep philosophical perspective carved into a tree. Each one represented someone's desire to share his or her worldview, however specific, with an unknown amount of unknown people.

There is something wholly personal and yet completely universal about a good sign. It means something to everyone - typically the same thing. It is meant to be understood by all and yet it helps a specific person looking for a specific thing arrive at, avoid or comprehend their own individual situation. So whether it's a stick figure on a bathroom door or a musing about love above a urinal, you should appreciate postings for their inherent, creative duality.

Or, if you're like me, you just get a kick out of the witty things human beings come up with.
I haven't been everywhere - yet. Which means there are plenty more witty and urbane placards taped, stapled or stuck up with chewing gum. And damned if I didn't just happen to find a few more in the past few months. 

It would only be right to share a few of them. Here is Signs Everywhere the Signs - Volume Two.

Location: Provincetown, Massachusetts
There really is nothing to say about this. In only two words, it speaks volumes. Quite honestly, it is the most accurate sign I have ever seen.

Location: Nashville, TN, the life-size replica of the Parthenon
I've been to Athens, Greece and now I've been to the self-proclaimed, "Athens of the South." Both boasted a Parthenon, and I must say, the replica version in Tennessee, albeit less historically significant and more "why the hell is this here?", did have some upsides. There was less smog and less crippling economy. And due to this awesome warning sign, a lot less hooliganism from local teens! Can't you just picture a crotchety old man waving his cane at some radical dudes that just want him to stop harshing their buzz? And by crotchety old man, of course I mean Zeus.

Location: Edinburgh & St. Andrews, Scotland
Ok, I have the sense of humor of an eleven year old boy. But apparently so don't the Scots. I couldn't help but take photos of their hilarious street names. I even posted one up on Twitter and got a few retweets from the official St. Andrews, Scotland tourism board agreeing with my comical observation. Just another reason why Scotland is amazing.

Location: Dublin, Ireland - The Stag's Head Pub
At first, when I saw this sign, I thought I had just drunk too much Guinness. What could be better than comedy and ice cream? Then I remembered I was in Dublin and for the three days I had been there, the excessive Guinness made everything seem too good to be true. This sign just reaffirmed my preexisting, alcohol-saturated belief that everything is better in Ireland. Even bad stand up comedy can be made palatable when you throw in some free ice cream!

Location: Mt. Vernon, Virginia
You don't have to be a history buff to get tingles when you read this sign above the archway at George Washington's tomb. Underneath it, behind the wrought-iron gate lies the first President of the United States beside his wife. The presentation of the tomb is elegant yet understated, appropriate for a man who set America on a path to becoming a world superpower and international model for freedom and democracy. The sign above the archway is again a simple reminder that you are standing very close to greatness; a member of the historical figure Pantheon.

Location: On the Turquoise Trail, scenic road between Albuquerque & Santa Fe
Two things bothered me about this sign. One: if it is such a congested area, why are they having trouble finding volunteers? And Two: this sign was located in the middle of nowhere, on a scenic road between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, where the next closest grouping of structures was literally a Ghost Town. I guess in the high desert you have to put things in perspective. The house in the background has a satellite dish, so in relation to the nearby Ghost Town, maybe this is considered congested.

Location: Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL
Since Disney got rid of the overindulgent poacher plot to their live-animal safari ride in Animal Kingdom Park, the trip through the man-made African savannah became much more enjoyable. Besides the up close encounter with a herd of galloping giraffes, my favorite part was the caution sign on the bridge over what appeared to be hundreds of sun bathing crocodiles. I knew they were real and the sign was part fun and part warning to keep your small children inside the vehicle at all times. But part of me still wondered if they were animatronic and the sign was really there to keep you from learning Disney's advanced robotic lizard technology.

Location: Outside Nashville, TN
Yup, there is a museum dedicated solely to Bo & Luke Duke. And to name it Cooter's Place, is just plain appropriate. It's free and fabulous. And if you scroll down to the last photo in this post, you'll notice that the Austrian people have clearly been here.

Location: On the road outside of La Spezia, Italy
What's more terrifying than Italian drivers? New Italian drivers. On our way to the airport after a week and a half driving around Italy - and experiencing the fiery, haphazard, lead-foot speedsters buzzing around the autostrade, I was ready to ditch the rental car. Seeing a "Driving School" sign on any car, anywhere actually should read, "Collision Imminent." But then throw in the winding, cliffside strips of pavement both I and this newcomer to automotive operation were trying to navigate - in the rain - and you can imagine my bubbling nerves. Luckily I was behind this particular student, who was inching along at a very un-Italian pace, only swerving over the lines a half dozen times. I learned a valuable lesson - in Italy, pass when you get the chance.

Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
I can't explain this one. It is a sign of a rooster smoking a cigar on top of what appear to be two eggs. This is the only sign for this shop, which appeared to neither sell cigars or chicken-related items. I particularly enjoy the small paper sign in the background taped to the No Parking sign that says, "50% off everything in the shop." As it wasn't open when we walked by, we weren't able to solve these riddles, but we sure would've gotten a good deal if we had.

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
What more is there to say?

Location: Vienna, Austria
Do you want to know what the Austrians think of America? At the massive fair ground / permanent carnival out on the edge of Vienna (which is totally worth a visit while in the city), one of the big attractions is an America-themed bumper car pavilion. It is decorated in red, white and blue (plus flashing lights in every other color on the spectrum), and the US states' names are posted in various spots on the walls and ceiling. It is unmistakably American. Yet, if you were to go by the signs all over the ride, you'd see that Americans are all Confederate-flag-waving rednecks with blonde wives that have massive fake breasts. When we aren't driving our big rigs, we drive El Caminos, worship Burt Reynolds and eat burgers and fried chicken. Actually, sounds about right. Stereotyping is fun.