Monday, July 15, 2013

Final Thoughts

A few days ago we made our journey back to the U.S. Our two year stint in Italy is finished and we are back on American soil to stay. We had quite a day of traveling - for those of you that remember our initial photo when we left for Italy we had an exorbitant amount of luggage... this time we were able to remove one bag from the mix, but with Maya it still seemed like a ton of stuff! Maya did well on the plane and we're happy that we don't have to put her on another flight again. Albeit a little jet-lagged, she is adjusting very well and is enjoying the wide sidewalks and grass to walk on again.

Our going away picture two years ago. This year we were able to do without the bottom bag.

Everyone has been asking us how we feel about moving back. The perfect phrase to describe it is "bitter-sweet". There are so many things that we loved about being in Italy, so many things that we are going to miss, and I know that we will hold those things dear to our hearts for the rest of our lives. We may even sound a bit snobby if we decline going to the chain Italian restaurants in the U.S. or pronouncing bruschetta as "brusketta" when ordering the appetizer. We'll miss the proximity of the many different countries, hopping on a flight under two hours long and ending up in a completely different culture, even if just for a weekend - and not needing to squeeze everything in on a vacation, knowing that it is so easy to come back to if we wanted. We'll miss the fresh produce at the markets, still dirty from being picked out of the ground from someone's garden. We'll miss being able to converse in Italian, trying to perfect it each time we speak again... and just when we had gotten over a plateau, it's time to leave! We'll miss our neighbors who made us homemade food to take with us for lunch, and in return we made them tacos, brownies, hamburgers, and roasted marshmallows for smores. Oh and the view! We'll miss our view!

View from our house. Capri is in the far back.
But the sweet part overtakes the bitter part. We really have been on a two year vacation (me especially) and we're itching to get back to reality. We still couldn't get used to the three hour dinners that start at 9 - we would at least like the option of having something shorter or earlier... sometimes you're just hungry at 7! We can't get used to everything being closed from 1-4pm. The inefficiency of Neapolitans drives us crazy and it forever feels like people are dragging their feet in order to get something done. We're excited that doing laundry doesn't involve an entire day of washing, hanging, and fluffing. What am I going to do when the laundry is washed AND dried in one hour?! The constant crime, trash, and gruffness of the Neapolitans makes us wonder whether living somewhere else in Italy would yield this same urge to come home. We think not. Taking a walk down the street became a contest of whose locked-up, non-exercised dog would yield the loudest bark - from every house - and if their gate happened to be opened you better have a water bottle or squirt gun to protect yourself with or you'd be looking at a nice dog bite (3 bites in 1.5 years for me, 2 for Jon). And the ever classic question, "Will our car fit down the road we're going through?" is not something we want to experience with our new cars at home. We just never realized how much easier everyday life is in the States and I don't think we'll ever take it for granted again. Internet down for a few minutes? Meh, try living in Italy with their abysmally slow and spotty internet. Electric bill high? Is it really? Try 750EUR (~$1,000) per month in the summer with only the air running at night in one room. See I told you, we already sound snobby. Will we be back to Italy in the future? Definitely, but not for a long time! Back to Naples? Most likely not.

We are forever grateful that we had this opportunity to live here and of course we will never forget it. Thank you to our Italian tutor Giusy who for almost two years has taught us Italian, cleaned up what we learned outside of her lessons, and became our friend. We hope we're able to cross paths again with you in the future. Thank you to VIP Pet Sitters and Laura Lounsberry for taking such good care of Maya while we traveled around Europe. Most of these experiences would not have been possible without your care. Thank you to all of you readers out there, however many. We enjoyed documenting our time here and it was so nice hearing your words of support. Finally, thank you to the beautiful country of Italy for allowing us to be guests in your exquisite land - we will miss you greatly. Grazie mille a tutto e non vi dimenticheremo mai!

Arrivederci Italia!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Last Trip to Tuscany

Since the first weekend trip we took when we arrived to Italy was to Tuscany, we think it's very fitting that our last trip during our time here was also to this region. This was our fifth trip to Tuscany so we decided to hit a favorite city of ours first, Florence, and then move on to towns that we hadn't seen before - Pienza, Montepulciano, & Montalcino.

The drive to Florence took us just over four hours. Since we have been to this city many times in the past we decided to stay a little outside the city center in a more residential area. We really just wanted to take in the atmosphere of Florence, enjoy the food, and shop at the leather market. We did some damage at the market and we each ended up getting a leather coat... among other things :)

The next morning after breakfast we drove to a very small town outside of Greve in Chianti called Montefioralle (maybe 45 minutes from Florence). There is a small winery here owned by a lovely family. We sat outside in the shade with Fernando, a grandfatherly type, while he poured us tastings from some of his bottles.

After that we drove down to Montalcino and visited San Polo, a winery just outside of the town. The estate prides itself on not only having very good wine, but also because it is very eco-friendly. They are the second winery in the world that has received the CasaClima certification for ecological, environmental, and economic sustainability. The winery is both impressive in design and attention to its surroundings.


Wind tunnels for the cellar below

The natural humidity chamber.
We then drove to Pienza where our agriturismo was located. The agriturismo was situated in such a picturesque setting. High up on a hill with cyprus trees lining the dirt road, we were able to see the countryside for miles and miles. Breakfast was served each morning outside our room, with fresh eggs taken right from the chickens in the coop! It was simply gorgeous and it was the perfect place to end our time here.

View of Pienza from the agriturismo

Our breakfast area

The next day we went to Montepulciano. Montepulciano is a medieval and Renaissance hill town that sits about 2000 feet up. The area is very well-known for its wine and for its regional cuisines including "pici" pasta, lentils, honey, and pork. We walked through the town, climbed the steep hills, and window shopped.

Inside an underground old wine cellar

A sleeping cat
After lunch we went back to the area of Montalcino and went to one more winery. This was a pretty interesting experience as the one who was giving us the tour was giving us tastings directly from the barrels and barriques in order for us to taste different years in the aging process. Another reason we were tasting from the different barrels and barriques is that we were also tasting the differences between the Slovenian oak and the French oak. Even though I wasn't able to taste as much wine as I would have liked (Jon is now drinking for three) I was still able to taste the differences. It was pretty cool!

Pouring directly from the barrel!
Getting samples from the barriques.
We left Pienza around 11am on Sunday morning and started the drive back down to Naples. On the way down we decided to stop in a city named Tivoli, about 18 miles outside of Rome. Just outside the  city is a complex of ancient buildings built in he 2nd century by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Villa Adriana, or Hadrian's villa, consisted of over 30 buildings covering about 250 acres. We were amazed at just how large this complex is - we definitely didn't expect it when we decided to stop by. As impressive as they were, we were done after about 20-30 minutes... after two years of seeing many many many Roman ruins they really all start to look the same and start becoming less spectacular. With a shrug of the shoulders and the words, "Eh, it's more ruins" we called it quits. We hope we haven't become too jaded in our thinking...

Teatro Marittimo

Salla dei Filosofi (Philosopher's Room)

Heliocaminus (Baths)

We could not think of a more serene setting to spend our last weekend in Italy. We tried to take in as much as we could from gobbling on Tuscan specialties like ribollita, pici pasta, and wild boar, drinking the famed wines of the region - Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and driving through the rolling hills and winding roads of the region. We could not have asked for a better end to our time here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Giro d'Italia comes to Naples!

In honor of the Tour de France that started last Saturday I thought I'd write a post about the Giro d'Italia, which occurred two months ago in Italy (it was actually written right after we went, but was never posted). We were really hoping to be able to see the start of the Tour d'France in Corsica this year, but Jon was the only orthopedic surgeon on call at the hospital until last Monday so we were not able to take any trips for a few weekends. Add it to the list of things we need to do when we vacation in Europe in the future (it joins a list that includes Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, and Scandanavia).

The Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) is the Tour de France of Italy. Every year a couple hundred of well-known cyclists enter the three week multi-stage race to compete for the champion title. It is set up like the Tour de France with long rides, team time trials, individual time trials, and mountain stages moving through different cities and islands while occasionally passing into other countries.

The finish line

Jon is a big cycling enthusiast and follows the major tours every year, which subsequently I follow since it's on the TV. We couldn't seem to work out a way to see the Tour de France last summer so we were pretty psyched when we read that the race was going to start in Naples this year (the race hasn't been in Naples in about 50 years).

Jon sporting his Team Kainer jersey

We couldn't start the afternoon without a stop at our favorite pizza joint downtown, Pizzeria Pellone. How can one go into downtown and not have one of these delicious pizzas to yourself?

After pizza we took the subway to the Mergellina stop on the water. It was a hot day and there wasn't much of a breeze from the sea, but the bay looked so beautiful with the buildings lining the shore. We got there before the start and watched the pre-race activities. During the race we parked ourselves around the finish line and watched the cyclists pass by a few times as they did a few loops in the area.

After a couple of hours of watching and waiting we walked along the Lungomare, stopping each time the cyclists whizzed past us. We walked towards the port where many of the team tour buses were hanging out, waiting for their riders to finish.

We're glad that we got to experience some of the European bicycling culture. Even though we were unable to go to the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia worked out just fine and satisfied Jon's cycling craving!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Vietri Sul Mare & Salerno

I'm not sure why it has taken us this long to visit these two beautiful cities on the coast. We've driven through them a few times as they are a great place to start (or end) a drive on the Amalfi Coast, but have never actually stopped and spent time in them. They are popular destinations among locals and tourists alike, with beaches, shops, restaurants, and beautiful views.

Looking out from Vietri

From Vietri

Vietri Sul Mare means "Glass on the Sea" and the small town is known for its ceramics at very nice prices. We wanted to visit Vietri before one set of movers came to our house so we could pick up last minute bowls, plates, mugs, and anything else that we might want. We drove just an hour away from our house and arrived in the pretty town. After a little hassle with the parking (what else is new?) we were able to walk around the streets and walk in and out of the different shops adding more ceramic pieces to our ever growing collection.

We then drove to Salerno, only about 10 minutes away. Salerno is a much bigger city and is a commune in the region of Campania. It is an important cultural center and has had a long and important history. It was actually the capital of Italy for a very brief period (February - August 1944). 

To be honest we didn't spend that much time here. We drove around the city a little bit just to get an idea of where we wanted to park and to see if anything caught our eye to visit. Usually we do our fair share of research when visiting a new city, but things have just been so crazy with the moves that it was kind of an afterthought and we didn't realize it until we got there. After parking the car we got some gelato and took a walk on the beautiful promenade. Many people were out running, strolling, and taking in the nice Saturday and it was nice to see such activity on a gorgeous clear day. 

Walking along the promenade

Looking at Vietri from Salerno
Amalfi Coast, we will miss you greatly!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Our Top European Experiences

So as our time in Italy winds down and we embark on a new chapter in our lives we've been reminiscing about all of our experiences and travels over the past two years. We've done some amazing things and have been to places that we could only dream of going to. We really wanted to make the most out of our time here and we don't think we could have done it any better. We are definitely known as "the jet-setters" among friends and colleagues here in Italy, rushing off to a new city or country every weekend Jon wasn't on call, sometimes taking a plane two or three weekends a month just to make sure we didn't waste a single opportunity. And although at times, especially towards the end of our tour here, we became weary and tired of plane and train hopping to new cities, we were always inspired and thankful when we got there and appreciated what each place had to offer. Of course, every experience we had was the tops in our books, but these are the ones that stood out the most. So, in no particular order, we give you our top European experiences.

1) Staying overnight in an igloo in Zermatt, Switzerland: What an experience we had eating, drinking, and sleeping inside an igloo in the middle the Swiss Alps facing the Matterhorn. Not only did we meet people that we are still friendly with, but dinner was solely cheese fondue with bread. We also got to sled down to breakfast the next day. You can't beat that!

2) Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany: There's nothing like getting together with 10,000 of your "closest friends" in a tent (dressed in the traditional Bavarian gear) with one common goal of drinking liters of beer until you can't remember holding a rifle for a shooting game, dropping and breaking a camera, and getting back to the hotel... or was that just us?

3) Seeing a flamenco show in Seville, Spain: We were truly mesmerized by the singing, dancing, and guitar playing of this genre of Spanish music.

4) Husky sled and snowmobile driving in Saariselka, Finland: Everything about this trip was fun and different, from being in the Arctic Circle, to having three hours of sunlight a day, to staying in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. But actually getting a chance to drive our own sleds with our own team of dogs and then driving our own snowmobiles at night through the Lapland wilderness was icing on the top of an amazing experience.

And speaking of Finland...

5) Seeing the Northern Lights in Saariselka, Finland: There are no words... just spectacular.

6) Fireworks on New Years Eve in Naples, Italy: For 30 minutes, watching every Neapolitan set off fireworks from their roofs, balconies, and inside their homes (yes, this happens) makes for a spectacular display for all of us who want to keep our extremities intact.

7) Wine tasting anywhere in Italy: Wine tasting here is completely different than in the U.S. You're not given little sips of wine to taste, but rather full glasses for you to enjoy. Not only that, but a lot of places will leave the bottle on the table for you to taste at your leisure. Some come with lunch and snacks, and the hospitality can't be beat! Touring the old cellars is pretty cool too.

8) Opera in Vienna, Austria: Even though we're not the biggest opera fans we're glad to have gone to our first (and last) opera show in Vienna. The beautiful Italian opera of Tosca sung in German was pretty interesting as well.

8) Seeing the concentration camps in Auschwitz, Poland: This isn't necessarily an experience that we enjoyed, but it was an experience nonetheless that gave us a deeper understanding of the atrocities that happened there... and we will never forget what we saw. We wanted to go, we saw it, and we don't have to return.

9) Kayaking in the Adriatic Sea in Dubrovnik, Croatia: We were able to see Dubrovnik from a different perspective while getting in a great arm and core workout!

10) Sex shows in Amsterdam, Netherlands: As if one show wasn't enough, we were offered a deal of two shows for the price of one with two free drinks at the second show. And we're not ones to pass up free drinks.

No pictures of the sex shows, but a lovely picture of all of us who went to see them.

11) Hiking in Cinque Terre: We've done our fair share of hikes in Italy, but this one was our favorite. The scenery, the towns, and the activity makes this a top area of Italy to visit.

12) Going to France - at any time: It's no accident that we went to France four times during our two years here. Whether we went to a big city like Paris, or the small town of Beaune in Burgundy, we enjoyed the food, the ambiance, and the vibe that France puts out.

So there you have it. Two years of incredible travel and experiences that we'll remember forever. 22 countries in as many months, with many repeat visits to some countries and cities kept us pretty busy. The ease and proximity of going to all of these places is something that we're going to miss greatly. People have been asking us if we got to see everything that we wanted to see while here. Yes we have... and so much more!