Time Goes by so Fast

Ciao,

I know it has been a couple of weeks but I did warn you that with my daughter and her family in town I was going to be ultra busy.

And I was.

So busy I even neglected my house for two weeks, which, if you know me says a lot. I spent the last two weeks hanging out with my daughter (A), her other half (Z), Will, and the most adorable, and might I say, highly photogenic, grandson (Finnrito or F) anyone could ask for. It was a wonderful treat to have them here and it went by way too quickly.

We did so much I am just going to give you the highlight reel and it will still probably end up as a long post (Roll your eyes A!)

It took Finnrito about 2 days to shift his body clock to Italian time zone. It took A and Z a little longer. The first night after their flight we took them out for some excellent pizza with our local friends. Then we went for gelato at one of our favorite local places, Gelateria Rigoni. With that pizza and gelato as the ones to beat we began our adventures of sightseeing and lots of food.

On Saturday we took them to Malcesine Castle in Lake Garda. It was unfortunately hazy but we still had beautiful views and the kids enjoyed their first taste of Italian sightseeing. And F enjoyed dipping his toes in the lake!

I should have prefaced this with A has been to Italy before, in 2016 she came with Will and I on a 10 day whirlwind trip of sightseeing in Florence, Naples, and Rome. This was Z’s first time across the pond and also Finnrito (being only 9 months old) hasn’t made it over here before. Honestly, I am not sure how much F cares other than his new found love for gelato. However, I did try and take his picture in front of several notable places so he could say he has at least been there (even if he won’t remember it.)

We tried for several down days, as anyone who has done extensive traveling with a baby knows your time schedule is much different than when you are on a marathon “see all the sights, eat all the food, drink all the wine” trip. Your marathon days get pushed to nap time, which is okay. I also want to say that Finnrito is seriously the best, most laid back, easy going, happy baby I have ever dealt with. I have already told the kids not to have any more children as their next will most certainly been the devil’s spawn. Heck, even if he missed nap time his melt downs were nowhere near as bad as mine are when I am hangry.

I did try and make yummy treats on our down days, cinnamon rolls one day and fresh croissants another. Got to keep up that “I am a good mom” image!

Monday we went to Asiago, Z has an interest in WWI history and Asiago is home to a beautiful WWI memorial that is the final resting place for 50,000 soldiers. We managed to stop for some cheese but our plans to head up to Monte Zebio to walk the trenches was a bust because of road construction, then we tried to go to Fort Corbin but it was closed on Monday. (Totally my fault for not checking the open and closing times and dates) The same held true for the WWI memorial and I finally admitted defeat. The area of Asiago is beautiful and we did get to show them a little of the town so it wasn’t a total loss but I had made grandiose plans in my head of all the things I wanted to show Z, so my disappoint probably outweighed his.

Tuesday we went to Verona, I had promised A that we could go to Juliet’s wall. They have been doing some clean up of the area but it is still covered in colorful messages, bubblegum, and band-aids (which sounds much grosser than it really is.) I had Z & A rub Juliet’s breasts for luck, then while F slept they took a turn on Juliet’s balcony. They also explored the Verona Arena (much like the Coliseum but smaller, however, still used for performances. But not the gladiator or lion eating people type.)

Finnrito and I hung around outside and I got his picture in front of the Arena, just in case he had to prove his visit to Verona.

Thursday we took a trip up to Marostica and made the kids hike to the castle. It was a warm day but they made it to the top. (It is a pretty steep climb) This is the city with the giant chess board but Finnrito only hung out with chess pieces his own size.

On Friday we left for Cinque Terre. A drive to La Spezia to catch a train into Riomaggiore. We stayed at a great Airbnb in town (though a lot of stairs to get to it.) After a fantastic dinner we called it an early evening because we were going to try and go to a bunch of towns the next day.

A quick side note – Not only is Finnrito a good baby, completely photogenic, and a great adventure/traveler but he is also a ridiculous flirt!! Seriously, I think he makes it a mission to seek out every woman in a 2 mile vicinity and turn them into grinning idiots! We used this shamelessly to our advantage in every restaurant we visited.

Early-ish the next day we jumped on the train at Riomaggiore and took it to the top of Cinque Terre. The farthest town on the Cinque Terre tour is Monterosso al Mare. As suggested by the name it is a beach town and even at the end of September tourists and locals alike were baking themselves in the sun. Brightly colored beach umbrellas and beautiful scenery prevailed and there was nowhere to look that wasn’t gorgeous.

It was supposed to be a town of shopping and beach laying and though the beached people were very much in evidence the shopping was not so much. After taking in the views we called it and headed back to the train station to hit the next town on the list, Vernazza. This is a much more narrow town, nestled into a valley and pushing its way down to the ocean. The beach area is very small (though F managed to dip his toes in the water) the little stores and shopping were much better than in Monterosso. With a patient Will, Z, and F my daughter and I wandered in and out of many shops looking for treasures. We found just a few but it was fun to look. The views of the ocean were great, the rocky shore adding a dynamic that wasn’t the same as Monterosso. We enjoyed our time there but all too quickly we were hopping the train to the next town, Corniglia.

Before I talk about Corniglia I should mention two things, first F weighs roughly 22 pounds and secondly Corniglia sits on top of the bluff. It is 365 steps up to the town. I was the one carrying F in the back pack carrier at this point. I huffed my way up all those steps, F just enjoyed the ride. Corniglia was also spectacular but different than the first two towns. It sat away from the water so you looked down into the ocean. Made up of narrow winding streets that were really meant more for pedestrians than cars. Little shops and trattorias are everywhere. We stopped at one of these places at the last moment to get some lunch and they very kindly served us even though it was 3 in the afternoon. Will and I had pesto pasta with beans and potatoes. It was out of this world tasty! 

After eating we wandered around a bit but decided it was getting late so we headed back to the train and Riomaggiore to spend the evening in. (At this point F had only taken two micro naps, less than a half hour each time so he was also done for.)

Saturday evening we ate what might have been the worst takeout I have ever had in Italy (or ever.) Greasy and not heated all the way through,  none of us made it through our food, opting for yogurt from the fridge instead.

The next morning (as if to make up for the previous evening) we got a great takeout cappuccino, some donuts and muffins and headed to the train for La Spezia.

We had decided to take a detour on the way home and show the kids Pisa (courtesy of Z pointing out how close we were and some Google calculations that said it wasn’t really too far out of our way.) They enjoyed the sites and we all had a good time rolling our eyes at the tourists angling for the perfect picture “pushing” the tower back up. I gave them the Campo Santo tour (it was one of the main research points on my last college paper and holds a place near and dear to my heart). We took F up to the top of the Basilica but wouldn’t let him climb over the railing. 

The next two days were down days but then, as must happen in all visits, we went to Venezia (Venice.)

Z and A really enjoyed Venezia. I assume F did too by the waitress he made goo goo eyes at while we had lunch. The only disappointment of the day was the loss of the hands. A sculpture titled Support  was put in place on the Grand Canal by artist Lorenzo Quinn. Will and I were lucky enough to witness the sculpture first hand (haha pun intended) in February but it was removed, to A’s great disappointment, in May 2018.

Despite that heartbreak it was a great day and we returned home to prepare for the kids leaving.

How did the time go so fast??

On Thursday we drove back to Milan and got one last hurrah in before the trip was finally over. We were able to experience The Last Supper, a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci in the late 15th century. It has suffered much damage, starting with Leonardo’s own decision to paint it as a dry fresco using experimental paint and pigments. It was also damaged by the humidity of the kitchen it abutted and the decay of the church due to wars, Napoleon’s sanction against the churches, and its use of as an armory and then a prison. In WWII it was almost destroyed when bombs caused the collapse of walls around it. Through all of this the painting remains but in such poor condition that they only allow so many visitors in a day for a fifteen minute peek at the famous work.

As with many other pieces of art and architecture that we have gazed or stood upon in our European adventures I was awestruck and admittedly a little teary eyed to be in the presence of something that was created almost 500 years before I was born. These moments speak to the historian in my soul and I continue to treasure them.

After that phenomenal experience we had to get some food and sleep so the kids could fly out the next morning.

It was with a heavy heart and tear filled eyes that I hugged Z one last time, gave Finnrito last minute snuggles and wrapped my arms around my daughter not wanting to let go. Too quickly they turned and headed for their gate and Will and I took our leave to drive home.

Though I am always and eternally grateful for the adventures and experiences provided by the choices Will and I have made in our lives my heart breaks to be 5,000 miles away from my family and no matter how long we spend together it will never be enough time.

On the bright side, the kids have seen where we live and can picture our lives as we describe them and I will continue to taunt them with pictures of my gelato every time we have the tasty treat.

Until next time

Ciao miei Amici

Old Friends, New Friends and a Trip to the Past

Ciao Amici!

Allora, (basically, well then, in Italian) it has been two weeks since the return from our hiking trip and Scotland and I really miss the cooler weather. With the temperatures jumping up to the 90’s (32 c) and the humidity staying strong at a soul crushing 70% I could use a cool ocean breeze. I have decided to cook only with slow cooker or electric pot with minimal use of the stove top and absolutely no oven. My oven may not get used for months in these temperatures.

So with the heat upon us I decided it was a good time to teach my Italian friend how easy it is to make tacos and guacamole (at her house, of course). Tacos, guacamole and too much wine. The argument could be made by some that there is no such thing as too much wine but I personally would have to disagree. I like my summer wine cool and refreshing without the added effects of a headache the next day. One of our friends does not believe in empty glasses, so while I cooked he made sure I had plenty of wine until I reminded him that I needed to drive home too. He then turned his attention to Will, this is the result…

Not his usual ride but he rode it with a certain panache.

The next day, a slightly headachy Will and I took off towards the mountains of Lake Garda. We made a quick stop in Verona for cheese.

Yes, cheese.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when we discussed how aghast my father was about what a bad Italian I am? Well, he is such a good Italian that he and his wife have already eaten the 20 pounds (9 kilos), yep, I said 20, of cheese that they brought home with them last year from Italy. Apparently it was a cheese emergency, they were down to their last 400 grams and so I had to find a specific brand of parmigiano reggiano to send to them. Yesterday, I sent them 10 pounds to hold them over. Honestly, that’s the most cheese I have ever bought at one time in my life. Thank all the gods for self checkout so I didn’t have to try and explain my father’s cheese emergency in my terrible Italian to a confused checkout clerk.

After procuring the cheese we drove on up to Caprino Veronese and met some newer friends. The town is a smaller community and everyone seems to know each other. There is less English there and Will and I stumbled through the spattering of Italian words that we know. Our friends, showed us the house they have bought, it is a 400 year old pasture house surrounded by forest and pastures of sheep. It is a beautiful old building, which they will be doing some small renovations too, I would love to live there. Up on the hillside surrounded by nature. Though I would probably have to downsize my home again. We ate lunch with them, tomatoes and mozzarella, hard cheeses and nuts, grissini (breadsticks), crackers and fruit. It was a wonderful repast and very typical for Italy in the heat. Plus I do love me some tomatoes with some mozzarella on them. I don’t keep them in the house because I could honestly eat a mozzarella ball a day and that isn’t good for anyone’s waistline.

We drove up even further into the mountains to Mt. Baldo and looked at some WWI trenches and talked about some hikes and bike rides that we might do in the future. It would be nice to hike up in the hills and get out of the heat down here.

After exploring some of the area we headed towards Affi and the walled area of their Old City where there was a medieval festival happening.

Now, I have been to several kinds of medieval fests in several states and a couple of countries and each one has something different to offer you. If you want a party and good time I recommend the one in Maryland. Libations, singing, entertainment of various natures as well as scantily clad bosoms abound in this area (I may have participated in one or more of these areas when I lived there). In Arizona they had great villages set up but the Arizona fest seemed more geared to the children then the adults. (The exact opposite of the Maryland fest). Less music and entertainment over all.

When we moved to Germany we found that during the late spring, summer and early fall months you could (depending on how far you were willing to drive) got to a renaissance or medieval fest almost every weekend. We had a wonderful time exploring different towns and taking in the different levels of their commitment to re-creating a medieval or renaissance atmosphere. One of our favorites, Burg Lichtenberg, was great because they not only did the summer fest but also a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) in the medieval style also.

A new fest every weekend is one of the things I miss about Germany. That’s not to say Italy doesn’t have their festivals, they do, but they are not necessarily centered around the renaissance or medieval period.

The one in Affi was more of a reenactment of life for normal people (You know, not nobility, because no matter how much some people would like to believe that everyone had a cushy rich life with servants in the renaissance some people had to be poor, really the majority of them. Cushy lives were not the norm).

So, what I didn’t like was that they had very few food vendors for snacking. They had a set eating time (7 pm) and if you were hungry before then you were mostly out of luck. The other issues was the only drinks seemed to be beer or wine. Kids (and those people that didn’t want alcohol) apparently just had to suffer until dinner time. There also didn’t seem to be very much for sale. I have found in other fests that artisan wares are plentiful but in this one it seemed harder to determine if something was for sale.

What I loved was the people dressed in hand sewn costumes, some with beads and buttons they had made from pouring metal into a mold. I loved the fact that many of them were working their crafts while we watched. They were also willing to explain their crafts to onlookers. Many of them spoke English but for those who didn’t they spoke slowly and gestured to what they were doing, plus we had several people with us that spoke both Italian and English.

My favorite? Whew, that is a tough question.

I liked the man that was making string instruments by hand (carving the wood for the neck of, well some kind of instrument) I really liked learning how they made paper from old rags of cotton or linen, that was then pulverized, mixed with water and then gathered on a wire mesh to dry. I enjoyed the companionship of the washer women as they beat the long sheets against the water before ringing them out. The man who designed leather cases for everything from glasses, to cups, to combs was neat as he walked us through the process of making a wooden mold and then stitching the leather before dying and tooling it. Then there was a woman who was re-creating buttons and jewelry. She explained making molds out of squid bone or soapstone and the process of melting down the metals and finishing them.

Everyone was interesting and it was another of example of how I can’t wait until I understand the language better so that I can learn more.

After a while we decided we were too hungry to wait for 7 pm dinner and took the short drive back to Caprino Veronese to the Pizzeria Olympia for a pizza and beer.

It was a great adventure all the way around.

We have nothing too exciting planned for the next week as we begin to get ready for the hordes of visitors we are hosting this fall but I am sure I will come up with some story to tell you

Until then

Ciao miei Amici

Lake Garda and Castles

Ciao Amici,

I have to start this week by giving a shout out to my husband, Will, he is awesome. For all the usual reasons, of course, but today for the fact that he never smothers my spark for adventure. I say things to him like, “Hey I was perusing Pinterest and saw this castle up on Lake Garda…

 

He usually responds with, “Okay, let’s go!”

He is the Adventure Partner extraordinaire!

He frequently forgets to ask me important questions, like how far away or what are we going to do there, or any other multitude of questions that could arise when one’s spouse decides she wants to make impromptu trips every weekend or so. Now, admittedly, not all of my “great” ideas pan out, like the time I wanted to go to Parma and the temperature was less that freezing. (FYI, we had lunch, went to the Museo Lombardi [Marie Louise and Napoleon] and came home; we spent more time in the car then in Parma). However, sometimes I choose a jewel of a day and it is decided while we are there that it shall be one of our favorites.

This was how we felt about the Scaliger Castle in Malcesine and specifically about Lake Garda. It was a beautiful day, warm, maybe a little too warm; but the drive was spectacular and the lake itself was breathtaking.

I had no idea what we were getting into, I just knew I wanted to go and when we dropped down into the valley that holds Lake Garda I knew I had been correct. The lake has sailing, paddle boarding, kite surfing, paragliding, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, the list goes on. The perimeter of the lake has many towns to visit, shop, sightsee, hiking, cycling, mountain biking, mountain climbing, and on. Basically, if you like the outdoors, whether you are a sedentary person or not Lake Garda has you covered. As soon as it gets warm Italians, like Americans, feel this crazy need to take off as many clothes as possible and bake themselves crispy and the lake has these jutting rock, cement, and gravelly sand piers that one to five people take over, they set up camp and begin the baking process stopping only when they are lobster red. (I have always thought this idle afternoon purposeless and boring not to mention harmful to my skin and health; to each their own). But I digress…

We parked and walked down the hill (plenty of hills, prepare to get your calves in shape) to Malcesine. They were having some sort of local market but we were mesmerized by the water and went towards it. We quickly found out that not all streets lead to an accessible waters edge. We could get to water but…it was also a ferry stop so we really couldn’t get to the water, also remember this area is not ‘sandy’ so we ended up on the ferry pier with rocks and buildings on either side. Not quite what we were looking for.

Heading back up the hill we spotted a bench and decided to stop for lunch. Now, we have made a joint decision to start packing a lunch with us when we go out for a couple of reasons, first eating out all the time is expensive, so if we pack a lunch it leaves more money for gelato, beer, and wine. Secondly, in direct opposition to the second half of my first statement you can’t lose any weight or even stay the same weight eating good italian food all the time* (No, I have no idea how Italians stay so skinny). As I am trying to lower my weight to a healthy hiking level I can’t eat cheese pasta and pizza everytime we go out, thirdly if I want to keep having adventures, drinking beer and eating gelato I need to be a little frugal. (I know these statements don’t all seem to go together but they really do, I swear!)

After sandwiches and apples we decided it was time to visit the castle. Scaliger Castle was everything I had been missing in castles since we moved to Italy. Ramparts, walkways, winding stairs, hidden areas and a big tower to climb. Though there is no date for its exact origin the year 1131 carved into a fourth floor vault lets historians know the first years of restoration. Making it clear that it has stood for close to, if not far over, a thousand years. The area itself has many geographically defensible and profitable characteristics and the area has likely been used since prehistoric times. So, the castle, or a settlement of stronghold nature has likely been there for a long, long time.

From the walls sweeping views of the lake, town, and mountains are visible and there is no where to look that isn’t beautiful.

                      

We walked through the castle and visited the natural history museum giving a visitor information on local flora and fauna. From here we decided to find the path we saw from the ramparts which curved its way along the lakes edge.

We headed back down the hill with accurate remarks about having to trudge back up the hill on our way back, but the walk was worth it.

It was during this walk that we decided that this might be one of our new favorites and made tentative plans to come back and hike, bike, paddle board, maybe even kitesurf, who knows. Most likely none of this until after the Scotland trip, which will be upon us in a scant 29 days, Yikes! (so not physically ready for this!!)

We walked back up the hill in search of gelato but decided to stop for a refreshing drink first and I found a new love. A local craft beer by Manerba Brewery, refreshing, light, a perfect summer beer!

After relaxing with our drinks we did eventually find gelato. I second guessed myself and instead of going back to a place I had sussed out earlier I bowed to pressure of a line and went to a place that had a steady stream of customer. Though it was tasty it was as fake as fake gealto can be. Artificial flavors and colors with bright green pistachio and jolly rancher flavored watermelon. Oh well, live and learn, always go with the first gelato instincts. After the gelato we headed back up the hill to our car, (lots of hills in Italy) a perfectly wonderful day by the lake and plans to return. What a gem of a find!!

Until next week,

Ciao Miei Amici

* I tell everyone who is going to visit they should lose 5-10 pounds prior to coming, they will definitely be putting it back on.