Thursday, December 30, 2010

Deliciousness from Italia

I thought I would post a picture of *most* of the food items we brought back from Italy (some went out as gifts already).

Yummy Italian Food
Back row: Monini olive oil, Benza olive oil (3), Fagolosi breadsticks, Arteliquida Toscana IGT 2007, Galassi San Giovese di Romagna DOC, Poggiotondo Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2008, Coli Chianti DOCG 2007, Arancia Rossa, San Carlo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2005, Piccini Chianti DOCG 2009, Camporsino Chianti DOCG 2009, Bosca Five Stars Prosecco DOC, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Riunite Lambrusco IGT, Santa Croce Lambrusco DOC, Brumale Sangiovese di Romagna DOC 2009, Rosso di Anita Frappato Sicilia IGT 2009.
Front: Parmigiano reggiano (2), Uva (raisins), Pici la Cerchla, Trofie (2), Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Balsamic vinegar), Fontal cheese, Tonno all'Olio Olivia (tuna in olive oil), 4 green pestos, 4 red pestos, basilico (basil), Nero chocolate, Panforte (Sienese dessert), illy espresso, Pomodori secchi (sundried tomatoes).

Not pictured is Italian Nutella, which didn't make it home, and Barilla pasta (sold in 1 kg packages).

What will we miss the most? Well, the prices maybe! Most of this is picked up relatively cheap. Most of these things can also be bought in the US in some way or another.

So what will we miss the most that we can't buy here??? Arancia Rossa! Red orange juice made from special Italian red oranges. Maybe if we keep looking hard enough, we can find someone who imports it!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Our New Temporary Life, and Nolan

The last couple months have been interesting. Not interesting because we are (supposed to be) living overseas. More interesting because of the lack of living overseas. After we realized Nolan and I would not be able to re-enter Europe, we had to quickly adjust to a new, temporary life... in Toledo. That is about as much as I want to say here. But, we are very grateful for what we have and are trying to turn it in to opportunities.

Nolan seems to soak up new things like a sponge, which is typical of this age I suppose. We knows his ABCs and can identify each letter, knows his numbers to around 15 (need to increase that), and recently learned how to spell his name. And he seems to love learning new things. He asks all the time now, "what is that". A couple things that concern me is the fact that it seems like he can't gain weight. He eats pretty well, but very little processed food. He is also super-active, so maybe that combination has something to do with it. All I know is that I am getting tired of his pants always falling down. Although he eats pretty well, I feel like he should be accepting of eating more new types of food. In my opinion the variety of food he eats is low, but I try to remember that I will eat anything and he is only 2.

And after trying to capture it on video for about a month, here he is saying his ABCs!


Nolan spelling his name
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffis0UxZSO4

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Isola d'Elba

In the craziness of the last few weeks, I forgot to blog about our trip to the island of Elba. On Saturday morning the 11th, we woke up thinking we would take a trip back to Cortona and maybe another city. But, Todd and Luana showed up with talk of a hotel deal and details for taking a ferry to Elba. So we quickly packed up the car and headed for Piombino to catch a ferry!

There are multiple ferry companies with different offerings, so looking online the previous week was confusing. It was almost easier to just show up and catch the next one once we realized there was plenty of room on each (if not taking a car). When we arrived the next ship leaving was Toremar, so we grabbed our tickets and got on board. The ride was decent, food not so great (as we were traveling during lunch), so we waited to grab a bite once we arrived on the island. Our plan once we arrived was to grab a cheap rental car (or two), grab a sandwich, and start driving to the park on the west side of the island.

We started the drive in our mighty Fiat Pandas. The road was winding, up and down the mountain side, along the north coast from Portoferraio to Procchio. There were a few lookouts and we were able to stop a couple times, but the views were incredible. Continuing along the northern road we were expecting to find a park with information and maybe some trails. After driving around the west coast and arriving in Fetovaia, we realized this was not quite the park we were expecting. It is mostly a protected area with no roads or trails; so it doesn't really get enjoyed. Interestingly enough, though, is how the landscape changed from the north to the west to the south.

At this point we decided to head to Campo nell'Elba and see what information we could find there. We stopped in town and found some information about a nice lookout to the south and a small church up on the mountain. So, we hit the road in search. The lookout to the south was supposed to be tricky to find. We found a dirt/gravel trail with a sign that pointed to the lookout, so we went for it. This is the type of trail you want a truck for, but our little Fiat Panda's did ok. We were unsuccessful in finding the exact lookout, but our views of the water and shoreline were great. Before we got in too deep on this trail, we decided to head back and it was much more rough than we thought we could handle (and we had no water or food). So we got back on the main east/west road.

We then found the north/south road that cut across the mountain back up to Portoferraio and Magazzini (where our hotel was located). This was supposed to be a little hiking trail up to a small church and then through the mountain-side to another view. We ended up descending on the north side without finding a trail, so we turned around at someone's house and they were able to indicate to us that we had just missed it. So we headed back up and sure enough from that direction, there was a small sign on the road. We drove down the side road to what appeared to be a parking area. There was a park ranger truck there and they confirmed that yes, we had found the trail.

We crammed everything in to our Panda (as the other one would not lock) and started up the hill. It was only a 5 minute walk up to the little, locked church, but the view from the top was amazing. We all took many, many pictures.

Not my greatest work, but panoramic view from the top of the mountain.


View Larger Map

We then found what we figured would be the trail, but the couple different legs we found were all overgrown within about a 1/4 mile. It was also starting to get dark, so we decided it was time to find our hotel and get some food!

We had booked a couple rooms at the Hotel Mare, located on Magazzini Beach. While this beach doesn't really have any sand, neither do most beaches in Italy. And, it is private with calm waters and the ability to rent some kayaks or paddle boats. The hotel also has a restaurant that was actually ok. Since Magazzini beach is about 10-15 minutes to Portoferraio, we were ready to eat immediately and opted to eat there. We sat by the water, eating and drinking vino until about 11.

The next day, Kacey and I had to return the Pandas and bus it back to Magazzini. Our plans for the day were to sit by the pool, sit by the beach, do nothing, and then take a water taxi back to Portoferraio to catch a ferry around 3pm. It all worked out pretty well. On our way back the next ferry leaving was Moby, so we climbed on and got ready to snap many pictures on our way out of the bay. Check them out with the link below!

Pictures from Elba

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Barcelona

Very early on September 2, we headed to the Madrid airport to catch our vueling flight to Barcelona. We arrived in Barcelona pretty early and we took the cheap bus option in to town. We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Aranea, dropped off our bags, and started walking toward La Sagrada Família. As it was about lunch time, we ate on some snacks before going in. I have to admit that I had not read much about Barcelona before going and had no idea what to expect here. The Church of the Holy Family has been under construction since 1882 and is expected to finish around 2026. It's architecture is nothing like any other church we had seen before. We walked around for a while and enjoyed seeing a unique church still under construction.

We wandered back to our hotel to check-in and take a little nap. Of course Nolan had been napping already and woke up as we got in to the room, but we were able to rest some nonetheless. After our nap we decided to walk toward the water by way of a large park. This led us to the Arc de Triomf and the Parc de la Ciutadella. We slowly wandered through the park and when we ended up near the zoo, we headed toward the city center. We ended up close to the Santa Maria del Mar so we walked there and went in. This was another pretty interesting church and fotos were allowed, so we spent some time walking around and then decided to look for food.

We were near the Jaume I metro stop and walked down Carrer de Ferran. There were many restaurants in this area. We found a chinese place and got some noodles for Nolan, and Kacey and I ate at Trobador Ferran. We liked this place! While Kacey did not exactly like the way her fish was prepared, mine was good and the goat cheese salad was yummy. They also had a traditional Catalan appetizer, toasted bread with a special tomato-based sauce grilled in. It is pretty simple, but most restaurants in Barcelona seem to offer it. On our way to the hotel after dinner, I finally inquired about horchata (something we had been seeing frequently in Spain). The flavor is unique, but similar to chai, and the texture is that of a mostly melted milkshake.

The next day other LGOs were going to arrive in Barcelona. First in was Chris and we met up with him right after breakfast. We walked a few blocks north to La Pedrera (Milà house). I found the apartment amusing and the roof very cool. There were also nice views of the town from the roof. We ended up not visiting Casa Batlló as it seemed similar to La Pedrera, much more expensive, and not quite as cool. We grabbed a bite to eat at a little cafe, stopped for Chris to check-in, and headed toward Plaça d'Espanya.

Our goal was to check out the Olympic area and the fort on top of the hill. We walked the fountain-lined street toward the National Museum of Art. We then found our way around the back to the large open area near the stadium. It was a large area filled with water features and light towers. After a few minutes rest, we walked toward the stadium only to find that you are allowed to go in and walk around for free. We walked in, took some photos, grabbed a slushy, and figured it was time to head on up to the fort. Castell de Montjuïc can be reached by (expensive) cable car, bus, or tiring up-hill walk. We opted to walk up and bus down. There is not much at the fortress except great views, but it is free! From here we headed down to meet Emily, another LGO, for dinner near the water. After dinner we walked out on the pier toward the aquarium before heading to bed.

The next day we wanted to get to the cathedral before it closed, so we headed in to check out the Catedral de Santa Eulalia. As we walked around we got separated and Kacey ended up going out to the garden with Nolan. Too bad the place closed while she was out there as she had to then walk around the entire church to meet me out front. It was lunch time already so we looked for food near Jaume I and the Santa María del Mar church as there seemed to be a lot of food in that area. We stopped at a little place that had a very interesting menu so we went in. We were trying to keep the cost reasonable so we didn't get large portions, but the food was very good! El Rovell del Born is highly recommended if you are in the area.

From here we had to decide to try the beach or the zoo. We had trouble reaching the LGOs in town and figured it was Nolan's turn for some fun, so we spent a few minutes at a little playground and then headed to the zoo. The Parc Zoològic de Barcelona, despite the initial thought it would be small, is actually a nice zoo. They have unnecessary golf cart rentals for all, so there are way too many being driven around, but things were laid out well and there was a lot to see. I was glad Nolan got to see so many animals, especially his pony ride!
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Pony ride quotes: Nolan ride baby horsie, hold on tight

After a long afternoon at the zoo, we headed out the south entrance of the zoo to walk near the Olympic Village at the beach back toward the city center. We slowly walked the boardwalk, hoping Nolan would take a nap. He didn't but this was by far nicer than the beaches we had seen yet in Italy (note we don't go to many beaches, though). The entire beach area was revitalized for the Olympics in 1992. As we made our way back toward the center, it was time to meet the other LGOs for dinner. We took the metro up to Espanya to meet at a little restaurant near there. Karla had learned of a water/light show near Espanya so after dinner we walked toward the Museum of Art. Look at my pictures as it is hard to describe, but the long street is lined with water features and at the end of the street is the Font Màgica de Montjuïc. Every 30 minutes the fountains come to life to music, and different colors are shown through the water. It is pretty cool! After taking way too many pictures and staying up way too late, we finally headed back to our hotel.
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We woke up on Sunday, our last vacation day, packed up and headed toward La Rambla, a long street that is converted to shops and restaurants. We walked out to the water to check out the views from this point and then walked north up the street to take in the area. After watching a few street performers and reading some menus, we meet up with the LGOs to find some lunch. After walking for a while, we decided to go to the place Kacey and I had eaten a previous night and take advantage of their outside seating. I unfortunately had to quickly eat and rush back to get our bags to make our flight, but it was still good times and good food.

Pictures from Barcelona

Monday, September 13, 2010

Madrid and Toledo

Madrid
We caught a quick, cheap flight from Lisbon to Madrid on easyjet on August 29th. By the time we got to Madrid, took the long metro ride and got to our hotel, the Hotel Santos Agumar, it was about 4pm. We were tired so we crashed for a little while in the hotel. Indy MotoGP was on, so I sat and watched some video of home.

That night we decided to just walk by some sites and find food. We walked north from Atocha up Passeo del Prado, a large, tree-covered street with a few museums along the way. We walked up to the Plaza de Cibeles and got a view of the large water fountain there. To the east a block is the large Plaza de la Independencia, home of the Puerta de Alcalá. We got some views of this and headed toward Puerta del Sol, the large, centrally located plaza of the city. We were also on the lookout for food so while we never made it all the way to Sol, we walked a lot of back alleys looking for food. It was much harder than we expected! It got late so we ended up at a little forgettable cafe. On our walk back to the hotel, I was able to take night pictures of things we had seen on our earlier walk, so it was kinda cool.

On Monday our goal was to catch a few sites around town, so we went to Atocha, bought our train tickets to Toledo for Tuesday, and took the metro to Sol. We looked around for some decent breakfast snacks but our best option for Nolan was fruit and juice from McDonalds. In the square I saw El Oso y El Madroño, the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, but didn't get a picture. I did get a picture of the statue of Carlos III, though. We started walking toward Plaza Mayor. While there was not much going on when we passed through, it is a popular place for markets and other gatherings. We were only a block or so away from the church, so we walked down to Colegiata de San Isidro. While no foto, this was a nice little church. Being right up against a small street made it hard to get a picture of the outside, but I managed. Nolan was really on his game of listening to his voice echo; he would not stop squealing! I took him out and an older woman came up to me outside and said it is ok, he is a baby. I appreciated her saying that as sometimes I feel as though people want me to take a loud child out.

As we exited the church to start walking to the Royal Palace, we spotted a grocery store across the street so we went in to check it out. While in there we decided to buy things for lunch on our own. We headed to the Palacio Real, also home to the Catedral de la Almudena (looks like a large cathedral, now an overpriced museum with limited open hours). We sat in the grass and ate our food, and let Nolan run around a little bit. After lunch we went on in to the Palace for our tour. Of course inside is no foto, but it was still pretty cool.

After our walking tour we decided to go rest at the hotel, so we walked by the Madrid Royal Theatre to the Opera metro stop. After a brief rest, we walked around the Atocha area to find some quick, simple food. Nolan fell asleep so we stopped at this little sandwich bar and ate at the counter. It was pretty good and cheap. We found Nolan some take-away pasta to eat at the hotel after he woke up.

The next day we went to Toledo for a day and Wednesday we were back in Madrid for some more sites. Kacey wanted to see a bullfighting ring and I am glad she had researched it, because it was really cool! We arrived at the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas right as they were starting a tour so we joined in. The tour was in both spanish and english and we got to basically go where ever we wanted! Check out the pictures and my youtube video of the ring. When we were done we grabbed some food at the grocery store to then take to the Retiro Park and eat. After eating we had to walk over to the playground to give Nolan some play time. After a bit we convinced him we wanted to go see some big water fountains, so he ran toward the big water fountain! After a stroll through the park it was time to hit the Prado Museum for a couple hours. Unfortunately Nolan wanted to test out his voice using the echo, so I had to walk him around in the lobby for the first hour until he fell asleep. After our time here, we started walking toward the hotel. Kacey spotted a Thai restaurant, so we had to stop for dinner. It was now time to pack up and get ready for our 4:30am taxi ride to the airport to check out Barcelona!

Pictures from Madrid

Toledo
I was unfortunately under the weather this day, but it still turned out ok. The train ride was only 30 minutes and direct, so we were in town pretty early. We took a bus up to the centro and started our walk. We didn't have any real definite plans but we first started walking toward Alcázar, which looked like a big fortress. Turns out it has been turned in to a library, coffee shop, and offices. We got some decent views from up there and then decided to head toward the big cathedral. We wandered through the streets until it was in view. It's size is masked by the other buildings in this hill town until you are right next to it. We had heard very good things about this church, so we went to buy tickets. €7! While the most expensive church we have been in (at that time), it is also one of the most interesting churches we had been in. Unfortunately no foto, but there are several little chapels, a large choir area, a small art gallery, and many other features. We walked around for an hour or so and decided to find some food. Due to the "Italy hill town" feel we had hopes for some good food options, but the restaurants we found were pricey and we ended up eating some small sandwiches at a cafe and Kacey ate a baked potato from a potato bar.

The next 90 minutes or so was spent watching Nolan while he slept, me not feeling well, and Kacey trying to find an ATM so we could pay to visit a few more little churches. We finally got to then visit the Parroquia De Santo Tome and the Sinagoga del Tránsito. The synagogue allowed foto and was filled with a lot of history, most in spanish. It was still interesting. From here we made our way back to the train station, only to run in to one of Kacey's classmates from school at the station!

Pictures from Toledo

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nolan and the Month of August

August was a busy and exciting month on many fronts! We visited many new places and countries, saw lots of friends, and Nolan grew up a lot!

Nolan started showing interest in the big boy bed in his room during nap time, but just as nap time would creep up and I would try to leave him, he would want to go to his crib. On Thursday September 9th, he was tired and interested enough in it to take a nap in a bed! He has done it a few more times and also overnight once!

Nolan has also been expressing interest in the potty so we encourage it of course. His reward is he gets to push the button to flush. While we were at our hotel in Madrid, Nolan said to us "make poop" so we rushed to the potty and he did it! Gross for most, but a big step for us! We have done it successfully a few more times since, but usually he is a little too late in telling us. But, he is trying and interested!

Nolan also talks up a storm (as well as repeats what he hears) now. He even uses words we are not sure how he learned them! He loves to put together sentences and tell mommy and daddy things. He is also using some Italian! Although I usually use both Italian and English numbers with him, he isn't picking those up. He does say caldo for hot and freddo for cold. This is surprising as caldo sounds a lot like cold, but he usually gets it right. Also on the repeating what he hears front, mommy and daddy use the word crap occasionally and even though we have stopped saying it and stopped reacting to him saying it, he likes to yell something that sounds like crap. I have now started reacting by saying "yes, clap" and clapping at him while saying clap. I am hoping he switches to clap :)

If you have followed the blog, you have seen that we have visited Vienna, Budapest, Libson, Madrid, Barcelona, Assisi, and Cortona during the month of August. We also had a visit from the "swiss kids" as we call them; the LGO students in Basel, Switzerland. Another student located in Liverpool also made the journey down during the August Palio along with the swiss kids. It was a fun weekend and they left with more than their share of cheap wine.

Now, it is time for a quick trip to the states; we won't have much time to visit friends, mostly family. But if Nolan and I get an invitation and nothing in particular is planned, maybe we can meet up!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Portugal

We took a vacation to the Iberian peninsula at the end of August. Our first stop was Lisbon, Portugal. We arrived on Thursday the 26th early in the morning and hit the sites hard. After checking in at the Hotel Príncipe Lisboa, we headed out to the water at the Praça do Comércio. This has great views of the water, the square, lots of people, and in the distance the Cristo-Rei statue.

We decided to walk toward the Baixa area, containing many restaurants, so we could find some lunch. We found a little place with outdoor seating and the menu looked very good, and cheap! We had sangria, salmon, cod cakes, pasta, a ricotta tart, and creme brulee. We decided to head out to Belém via street car and check out that area. We first went to the Belém tower. There is not much to this and it is expensive to go in. We just walked around the park for a few minutes then walked along the water down toward the Monument to Discoveries. After resting in the shade for a few minutes, we walked back across the street toward the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos to check it out. We realized this was mostly a large church that was free to enter, and the monastery (only a small area) was the part you pay for. The church was interesting and contained a few famous tombs. After a brief rest in the garden there we started walking to catch a street car back to the city center. While waiting, Kacey spotted something across the street; a famous bakery, the Pastéis de Belém. My research had not come across this place but hers had. We went over for one of their famous pastries, for which the store was named after. They were very good! A unique flavor and an interesting combination of textures.

Upon getting back to the city center, we walked toward the , otherwise known as the Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa, which is the Lisbon Cathedral. This is a very old church. There wasn't much that stood out here, but there was some interesting tile work and a few little chapels inside. Next we walked up the hill to the Castle of São Jorge. We got student discounts and walked around the lower ramparts for excellent views of the city! Kacey walked around the upper castle ramparts while I stayed with Nolan to play for a while (it was too many narrow steps). We were now ready to take the bus back down to central and find some food to eat.

We walked around for a few minutes and were bombarded with tourist restaurants. We tried a few alleys and found a collection of small, local places. We tried one that was not too pushy, had a decent menu, and offered to make Nolan a veggie and chickpea plate. It appeared to be an owner, a runner (both older), and their two wives in the kitchen. They were very nice, played with Nolan, and eager to speak english (typical of Portugal we are learning). I had pan-fried pork with fries and veggies, and Kacey had a fish. We also got olives and some vihno. All this plus some water was like €20! By time we were done it was getting late so we took the metro back to our hotel to turn in.

Since we saw so many sites in our first partial day we decided to take it a little easier on Friday. We decided to check out a couple sites near the city center and then check out the big aquarium. We started at the Restauradores metro stop and saw a funicular across the street. It looked like it might be the one that went straight up to our church, so we checked it out. Sure enough it was, so we took the funicular up to the São Roque church. This was a pretty elaborate church! There was a lot of gold, and there was a neat room in the back full of paintings depicting the life of one of the saints of the area. The ceiling was also unique to other churches we have visited. From here we walked down to the Baixa area to find some food. There was unfortunately not much food here but we did find a little local spot/bar serving some hot food for lunch. I got beef and ham with egg and cheese and rice, a little salad for Nolan, and Kacey got octopus, which was pretty good.

Now we headed out to the aquarium. This is not that close to the city center, and it is also not close to a metro stop. So we took the red line all the way out to Oriente and walked to the Oceanário de Lisboa. The aquarium is basically built on the water, pretty cool! Once inside, this was a pretty nice place, much better and bigger and cheaper than the Boston aquarium. Nolan enjoyed watching all the big sharks and other fish. After a few hours here, we decided to get back to town and maybe check out one more site, but it was already closed. For dinner we did the same thing as the night before and found another good, cheap place. This time we had a bottle of vihno (€3.50), bread, salads, water, Kacey had grilled sardines, and I had grilled chicken. And again it was like €20. They also loved playing with Nolan here and carried him around while we ate. Time for bed!

The next day our goal was to take the train out to Sintra to check out the palace and the castle. The train ride was only about 40 minutes once we found the train station (we walked by it a couple times, it is not marked and the trains are underground). We got some information and walked toward the city center. There were a fair amount of tourists walking around so we wandered some alleys looking for lunch. We finally found Tacho Real; it looked ok so we went on in. It was a little more expensive than we like but the food was ok. From here we went to catch a bus to go up the hill to the sites.

There is a tourist bus that takes you up, and this is pretty necessary (unless you have a car). The first stop is the Castle of the Moors. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but we got in line for tickets. They had a combo ticket for this and the next stop so we bought it. It was expensive, but we were there so we went for it. Then we got a map and saw that we had to hike through the woods to get to the castle. The map made it look long, so we started to dread it with a stroller but once we got going, it was not too bad. Once there, though, we had to ditch the stroller. It is mostly some narrow, steep ramparts left on the cliff edges, so the views were great! There was also a view of our next stop, the Palace of Pena.

If you only have time to visit one stop, make it this one. This palace is great! There is a really nice walking tour inside (no foto) and lots of great views (you can see Lisbon from one lookout and the Atlantic from another). We took turns walking inside as Nolan was sleeping in his stroller and no strollers or backpacks are allowed inside the palace. From here we decided to get in queue for the bus to go back down and catch our train. Once crammed on the bus, we met a couple from Australia touring the globe; it was nice to talk in english for a while.

When we arrived in Lisbon, we were hungry so we stopped at a small, busy cafe close to the station. We considered take-out but he offered us a table in the back so we sat down and ordered a sangria (0,5L-€7 or 1,5L-€8... too bad there was only two of us). We both got fried fish and salads. The food was ok, but the location and price were right. It was time to go back to the hotel and pack up and prepare to fly to Madrid the next day!

Pictures from Lisbon

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Assisi and Cortona

This Saturday we went to Assisi. We had wanted to go for a while, so I am glad it worked out before our other trips take over. Our first stop was at the small town at the bottom of the hill (technically Assisi) and visited Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli. This large church was built around/on top of an older, much smaller church. The old church is still inside! Pretty cool, but alas, no pics allowed, so surf the web to see it. After visiting and letting Nolan check out the water fountains, we drove up the hill to Assisi.

Assisi is apparently a popular place for Italians to visit (due to the Catholic significance of this town), and it was August, the travel month, so finding parking was hard. All the lots were marked Completo but there was a short line to wait for one particular lot, so we just waited 10 minutes or so to get in, not too bad. We took the escalators up and were at one of the main gates to the city. We walked in to the city center and quickly arrived at Basilica di Santa Chiara. There was also a great lookout point on the courtyard but we decided to eat lunch before viewing the church. We found Trattoria degli Umbri near the fountain and it looked good with good prices. While Kacey was not crazy about her tartufo pasta, my local pasta with local sausage was good; cheap house wine was also good.

We walked back to the St. Clare church and went in. While the church was not ornate (as she would want it), it was beautiful in it's meaning. The crypt contained her body and many people visit to pray. From here we decided to visit the Cattedrale di San Rufino. This church is also very significant as both St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized here. Parts of the floor are glass to see the remains of what most believe was the Roman Forum.

From here we ventured to Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi. This is the big draw of the town and while this is not the biggest church around, for this size town it is big. It also has three levels; the top level is the main nave, the middle level is another large basilica, and the lower level is the crypt with the remains of St. Francis. Many people were here praying, clinging to the iron gate that surrounds the wall of his crypt. After spending some time here we decided to walk back through town, go ahead and leave, and eat dinner in Cortona on the way home. On our way out of town we quickly stepped in the Convento Chiesa Nuova, a church built where St. Francis was believed to have been born and raised. When leaving we decided to see if we could drive up to the castle, Rocca Maggiore, on top of the hill, but we could not find an easy way up. Oh well, we headed toward Cortona.

Pictures from Assisi

When we reached Cortona, it was nearing 6:30 and we knew churches may be closing around 7. We found parking pretty quick but it is quite a hike up to the square of this town! Unfortunately we didn't get to see any churches but the town looked pretty cozy. There were a lot of people in the square sipping wine as tables from restaurants stretched out pretty far; I have not seen much of this anywhere except Il Campo in Siena. We walked around, Kacey did a little shopping, and we read many menus. We also found a pretty nice lookout of the valley. We decided to eat some pizza at Pizzeria Trattoria Croce Del Travaglio. The pizzas were cheap but ok. The crust was lite but almost too lite as it was flaking apart. The house wine here is the cheapest I have seen before. We also bought some little mini-lobster tail desserts next door (which should probably be eaten the same day) and found some mirtillo gelato on the way out of town. For those unfamiliar with mirtillo, it is blueberry and I consider it a delicacy in Italy. On a hot evening a little bowl of limone and mirtillo is about the most refreshing combination ever!

Pictures from Cortona

Monday, August 09, 2010

Vienna and Budapest

The weekend of August 7th we did a whirlwind tour of Vienna and Budapest. We crammed as many sites in as possible, and took over 800 pictures in 4 days. While we were planning traveling to Budapest the previous weekend, after the airline website didn't work and then realizing we were going to be very close the following weekend in Vienna, we decided to head to Vienna ahead of the other LGOs and train to Budapest.

Vienna
We caught a flight on Austrian Air from Bologna to Vienna. Nice airline! I arranged a hotel near the train station as our train left at 6:50AM the next morning. We stayed at the Ibis Wien Mariahilf near Westbahnhof; for €59 and close to the station it was pretty nice.

Budapest
We got up pretty early to make our train. Even though we thought we had plenty of time, we were still cutting it a little close. But we made it with about 5 minutes to spare. We took the 3 hour ÖBB Railjet; the train was pretty nice and empty. We had a set of four seats facing each other with a table in the middle. This gave Nolan some room to play.

When we arrived at Budapest Keleti pályaudvar train station at 10am, we were eager to start exploring. Unfortunately, it took us about 15 minutes to find the subway! Sounds crazy, but the subway entrances are just stairs going down; very seldom are there any signs above ground. Anyway, we picked up a family pass that was available, and what a deal! Any bus, subway, or trolley, two adults and 1-7 children for 48 hours costs 2200ft. (US$1 =~ 211ft. or HUF), so about US$10. So we took the subway to our hotel, the new Eurostars Budapest Center, to check-in early or leave our bags. Luckily we were able to check-in, so we could rest for a couple minutes and finalize our walking path. This is a pretty swank hotel, centrally located, and we stayed there for only €63! (breakfast included)

We headed towards the Danube to visit the Buda side first. We saw the river, the Liberty Statue (from street level), and head towards the Buda Castle. I had read that the funicular was a good way up, but there was a long line and our public transit pass didn't work for the very expensive ride up. We asked the woman selling tickets to the "Hop On Hop Off" tour bus if our bus tickets could help us out. She said that 20 feet away was the #16 bus stop that would take us to the top. Great! So we rode the bus up the hill and started walking the Buda side area around the castle. There are wonderful views of the Pest side and the Danube from up around the castle. We took quite a few pictures, as well as some panoramas, and walked around the castle some more. We also found a big water fountain for Nolan to enjoy. After walking around for a while we started looking for some food. We were still trying to learn the crazy exchange but found a place (I think called Korona Kávéház) that seemed reasonable with a decent selection and some good looking desserts too. FYI - most places here will take euros but give you a really bad exchange rate. It is worth finding an ATM and taking out like 20,000 ft., which it is really hard to type a number in that large to an ATM.

After some food we walked toward Matthias Church. While doing a little window shopping, Kacey found a grocery store along the way and bought some chocolate. We bought a ticket for the Fisherman's Bastion and the church. I wasn't exactly sure what the bastion was, but I had it marked as something close by to see. The bastion is simply a little castle-looking wall built next to the church overlooking the Danube. We went up on the wall and once again viewed the Danube and the Pest side of the city. From here, we went in the church. This was an interesting church and a unique roof. After viewing the church, we found the bus stop to take us back to the other side of the Danube via the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

We walked north up the Danube to view the Hungarian Parliament Building. This building is huge and best viewed from the Buda side of the Danube. We walked around the back and found a memorial to those lost when fighting for their freedom against the Soviet Union. After sitting for a few minutes, we walked down to see the Shoes on the Danube Promenade. There is not much here and it is hard to cross the street, but it is a good place for reflection.

From here we headed toward St. Stephan's Basilica. An elevator serviced our trip to the top, so we took Nolan up for the view. The elevator ended in the middle part of the dome which made for an interesting view inside the dome. The views were pretty nice from the tower. Afterward we wandered the church for a few minutes before deciding to hit the Opera house before going to the Synagogue. On our way Kacey spotted a North Face store, so we went in looking for some deals. They were ok, but she only ended up with a sweater.

We arrived at the Opera and found out it is not open except for a few tours in the afternoon and we had missed them. Not a huge deal as the subway was right there and we rode over to the Synagogue area. But unfortunately we had just missed this as well and would have to return in the morning to view it. From here we decided it was time to find some food but not before a quick stopover at the hotel. We walked down the street toward the Ferenciek tere area and looked for food. We stopped at one of the first places we saw and liked the menu, so we ate at the Corso Étterem. The food was pretty good, wine cheap, but my dessert was not great. After a long day, we got back to the hotel for bed. While Kacey was putting Nolan to bed, I ran back down to the river to take some night pictures. This was a little hard from the bridge as traffic was causing the bridge to vibrate a lot, but I was able to get a few to turn out.

The next morning we slept in a little; partly because nothing opened super early and partly because it was pouring rain. We wandered downstairs for breakfast and by the time we packed up and got ready to go, the rain was done! We headed to the Dohány Street Synagogue for a walk-through of the world's second largest synagogue. After learning that our backpack was too large, we decided to just take turns and let Nolan play in the grassy area outside. After we each had our tour, we decided to hop on the subway to head towards Hősök tere, or the Heroes' Square. We were hoping to find some food out here, but no. Finally near the Castle of Vajdahunyad, we found a little restaurant. At this point we were getting pushed for time, so of course we had extremely slow service, even for Europe. This meant we didn't get to explore the castle (and the views were wrecked due to construction) and had to basically run to the subway and hope there was not a line at the train station. Oh yeah, by the way, due to our issues with finding transit upon arrival, we had forgotten to buy our return ticket and knew only that the train was supposed to leave around 3pm.

So, after rushing to the hotel, me running to the hotel to get our bags, rushing to the train station, trying to buy tickets at one counter, they said not here, then rushing to another counter with a huge line, then realizing that we could try the tourist office, me waiting in a shorter line there, expecting to have a huge mark-up, and finally getting tickets in hand around 2:48, we had 15 minutes to spare and our return trip only cost 14,000 ft. total (~$64)! So after finding about the last table seat left on the train, we settled in, let Nolan eat a little pizza, and enjoyed the train ride back to Vienna.

Pictures from Budapest
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Back in Vienna
We found our hotel, Hotel Papageno, pretty easily, settled in, and walked out for some dinner. We were recommended to try the Hofbauer. The menu was limited, but my goulash with spaetzle was pretty good!

We woke up at a decent time and headed down for breakfast. We were pretty sure we wouldn't see any other LGOs at breakfast because they don't have a traveling alarm clock. We really wanted to check out the Naschmarkt, only a few blocks from where we were staying. This was really neat! Tons of food, spices, desserts, swordfish, asian ingredients (which we purchased), people selling junk, and lots more food.

We walked back over to the hotel and people were up and getting ready for the day. Unfortunately it was trying to rain some, but we had packed two umbrellas so we ventured out and headed downtown via street car and started walking near the Opera. We started walking clockwise around the ring in the direction of Hofburg in hopes to take in it's vastness. We mostly just walked around and gazed, from there entering the Volksgarten for more views and water fountains. Next we crossed the street to check out the Rathaus, where there were many food vendors for the film festival. We ate some food and started walking toward the city center to see the two large churches there.

First we came to the Peterskirche. This is the smaller of the two but had some nice views inside. After our quick stop we walked toward Stephanplatz, the city center and home to Stephansdom. This is the big church with limited abilities to walk around inside unless you pay, but with my camera I was able to get shots of the alter area anyway. We really wanted to go up the north tower (taller than south, but no lift) so we left a sleeping Nolan with Donovan, Kevin, and Emily at a hotel nearby. The views of the city were pretty nice and the view of the brightly colored tile roof of the church was interesting as well.

Our last stop for the day was Karlskirche. Nolan found a playground next door so while Kacey played with him there I went in with the rest of the group to check out the church. I first I thought the entry fee seemed steep until I realized that the price included a ride up the lift inside the church where renovation was being completed on the dome. It was awesome! We went right up to the very tip top of the inside of the dome. The pictures I take don't quite do it justice, and although the views of the city were limited, the internal views were incredible. That night we walked around the Schwedenplatz area on the Danube canal and grabbed some food.

The next morning we knew we would be up early and we wanted to get out and see a few more sites. The weather was great and we headed up toward Hofburg to go inside something. Kacey did some reading and she picked the Imperial Treasury Schatzkammer. It was a little expensive, but it was pretty cool. We walked through in about 45 minutes and saw a lot of the Imperial Treasury. While dark, I was able to get some shots of the items there. We then wanted to check out the church at Hofburg. When we first arrived at Augustinerkirche mass was still in session so we grabbed some pizza for Nolan, fed him, and then entered the church. The church was still filled with the smoke from incense but it was still nice to see.

Next we walked toward Stephansplatz to look around, grab some food, get photos of sites in sunlight, and catch the subway out to Schloss Schönbrunn. This is where we met up with the other LGOs. They were just finishing up a tour when we arrived. I had already grabbed some Apfelstrudel and a coffee while Nolan ran around and threw rocks in to the fountain. We then all walked to the gardens behind the palace. Check out my photos, but this place is vast! I was able to put together some panoramic photos to show the size. We all slowly walked up the hill for some great views. After walking around for a while, the other LGOs wanted some food and since we had already ate, we headed for another site.

We took the subway back in to town and headed to the Belvedere Palace. While nowhere near the size of Schonbrunn, it was close to the city and also beautiful. We walked around for about 30-45 minutes then headed to our hotel to grab our bags and get to the airport.

Pictures from Vienna
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This was a fun weekend, stressful only a couple times due to trying to see many, many things, and we enjoyed many great sites while checking two top sites off of our "Must See Things While Living in Italy".

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Nolan's New Ride

We have been on the lookout to get Nolan a new toy for his birthday. We didn't find one in time, but we kept looking. Finally on Friday night, we stopped at the Manganelli Baby Store and found what we had been looking for... a trike! He has been completely fascinated with motorcycles lately, so we figured he should have a tricycle of his own. We wanted one not too expensive (as we will probably abandon it) with a handle on the back for me to push for a while. We found both. And, if it lasts long enough (it is pretty cheap plastic), I may be able to break it down for travel home! We will see in December...

But for now, he loves having a motorcycle of his own!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Pienza e Montalcino

This weekend was a little different than most. Todd and Dannielle took a trip to Budapest while we spent some time ,*gasp*, as a family! On Friday we went out and bought Nolan a new toy (that post is coming) and on Saturday we stayed in and went in to Siena for shopping and dinner. On Sunday we traveled to Pienza, the home of Tuscano Pecorino, and Montalcino, the home of Brunello. I am not a wine connoisseur, but I think Brunello is pretty well known here as well as the states.

Pienza
We found some free street parking and walked in to the city. We first hit the tourist information booth to get a map as Ricardo Stepheno did not have one in his book. Once we saw the map, I knew why. This is a small town! Well, not as small as Monteriggioni, but too small to get a map in the guide book. We walked immediately to the Palazzo Piccolomini to get a tour of the museum, supposedly a highlight of Tuscano. A tour in english was starting in 20 minutes, so Kacey did some shopping before they closed for siesta. Let me say that the main street smells like pecorino and honey, it was quite a delight. Every little store has stacks of pecorino (check out my pics). We hustled back to the museum for our tour just in time. Luckily, it was only us! The now museum was pretty interesting (no foto). It was not that big, but had a lot of dated paintings, armor, and furniture relevant to their beloved pope.

After the tour, we walked through a few more shops, the church, and looked for some food. It was getting late and we didn't quite find anything we really liked, so we grabbed a few slices of pizza, bought a little cheese, and hit the road to Montalcino. We snapped this panoramic photo along the way.
Road from Pienza to Montalcino

Pictures from Pienza

Montalcino
Of course Nolan fell asleep right before we got to town, so we took our time getting out of the car and luckily a 10 minute nap did him just fine. We accidentally parked right in the middle of town without even knowing, so we were nice and close to everything. There was a little market going on there too so Kacey browsed for a bit. While she put an offer on something, the only thing we ended up purchasing was some Brunello (along with discounted docg Chianti). We actually spent *gasp* €20 on wine! We usually spend €1-3.

The church didn't appear to be open, which was a bummer, but I did venture up the fortress for several photos. Here is my favorite.
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I have one other panoramic photo I took up there I really liked as well, but I think this is my favorite. We looked inside a couple of other churches that were open and after our 2 hour visit, decided to get on the road.

Pictures from Montalcino

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pages That Someone Is Reading?

Apparently these are pages that someone is reading... I just passed 10,000 visits! Probably mostly family, but who cares! Stay tuned for our next few adventures. More hill towns, Vienna, Budapest, Palio, and Paris!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Switzerland

This past weekend we all drove up to Switzerland to visit some LGOs and see some sights. Thursday afternoon we drove up to Turgi, just north of Zurich, to stay with Karla. We arrived at about 1:30 at night. I was convinced the drive in was beautiful, but since I couldn't see a thing, I was kind of looking forward to the drive home.

Rhine Falls
Friday morning we got up and drove to the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen. They were decent size for America, but one of the largest for Europe. We snapped some pictures and walked closer (i.e. near the tourist area). Just as we decided to eat some food here, it started raining. So we ate while waiting out the rain, but it never stopped. So we ran to the car and started driving to Zurich.

Zurich
Apparently our Garmin maps are corrupt or didn't load properly for Zurich because once we got downtown, the Garmin got real stupid. It had nothing. We drove for a bit, finally figured we were close enough to walk downtown, parked, and walked in. Luckily we were only a 5-10 minute walk from the main downtown area along the water. It was still raining a little, but we made due. We visited the Grossmünster church, which is much different from the churches we are used to seeing in Italy. No photos were allowed, but it seemed more like what a church should feel like; less ornate, less decorated. We didn't want to pay 5 chiefs (our term for franks, derived from the abbreviation CHF) to climb the tower as the view was probably minimal due to the weather. Once we stepped back outside the rain had finally subdued and we walked around a bit more. There were a lot of American shops, which was depressing. We wandered back down to the river to walk back toward the lake. We got back to the car for our drive to Basel, to visit some more LGOs and stay for the night.

Lucerne
The next day we drove down to Lucerne to see the sites of the mountains and lake. While the weather didn't quite cooperate, Lucerne is a nice little town. We saw the Blue Balls Festival, the Dying Lion Monument, the big catholic church, walked around town some, and took the Golden Ticket ride. This consists of a boat ride across Lake Lucerne to Alpnachstad, then a ride up the world's steepest cogwheel railway to the top of Mount Pilatus, and a ride back down to Lucerne on the gondolas and aerial cableway. Now unfortunately the mountain was covered in thick fog at the top, so the view was absolutely gone. We took pictures anyway. Upon return to the bottom, we hit up the Blue Balls Festival for some food. It was nice, all types of food were represented so we could pick whatever we wanted! I really wanted more swiss food (rösti and a brat), but Kacey opted for the delicious green curry thai. After our dinner, we got back on the road to drive back to Basel for a free place to stay.

The next morning we got up and got on the road for home. The views were amazing and we tried to capture a few through the windows of the car as there were no places to stop for pictures. Once we reached the east side of Lake Lucerne, there was a pull-off, so we snapped some pictures.
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Pictures from Switzerland

The road system to drive from Siena to Basel is pretty good. You take the A1 through Italy, and a decent sized road in Switzerland. The swiss require you purchase one of their CHF40 road stickers for your car, which is ok considering the quality of their roads based on how hard they must be to build and maintain. And if you visit Switzerland, get ready for some expensive... everything!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Volterra, Monteriggioni and Montepulciano

This past weekend we did two days trips. Saturday we drove up to Volterra and on our way home stopped in Monteriggioni. Sunday we drove down to Montepulciano and to Lake Trasimeno.

Volterra
Volterra is supposedly rated high for places to see, and Monteriggioni is a fortress on a hill we see each time we drive home from Florence (so it has piqued our interest for a while). Volterra was nice and situated high on a hill, but nothing too great. We walked around the duomo and baptistery first and then ventured to Piazza dei Priori. After realizing there was no opportunity to climb up anything for a better view, we decided to venture down to the Saturday morning market. After buying some fruit and basil plants, we decided to head back up for lunch. Along the way we found a scenic overlook of the valley and of the Roman Theatre. After lunch we found the famous Etruscan gate, Porta all'Arco. We found another scenic overlook on our way back to the car and then headed to Monteriggioni.

Pictures from Volterra

Monteriggioni
Monteriggioni was right on the way and always looked interested, so we set our course for this fortress on a hill. This town is small, but nice. There was a wedding going on so many people were mulling around the piazza. We walked in to a few shops, watched the wedding party come out, and headed home for dinner after a long day. We didn't take many photos as we expect to come back; and next time we visit I plan on viewing the hillside from their wall-top walkway.

Pictures from Monteriggioni

Montepulciano
On Sunday we got up and drove down to Montepulciano. This was a nice little town high up on a hill. We made our way up to the piazza near the duomo. We saw that people were viewing the hillside from the tower so we quickly climbed up for some photos. While it didn't really get us that high, it was still some good views. The duomo here is pretty nice and luckily for us the organ was being played while we visited. After eating some lunch, we got on the road to head to the lake.
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Pictures from Montepulciano
Video #1 of the organ
Video #2 of the bells

Lake Trasimeno
This is the largest lake in Italy's peninsula. We drove to what is the nicest beach on the western edge of the lake, Castiglione del Lago. Of the beaches we have seen in Italy, this was probably the nicest so far. There was some real sand, surrounded by a large grassy area and the water was very warm. Although the edge of the lake is seaweed, mud and clay, once you venture out 20-30 feet, it becomes much more clean; this is where everyone hangs out. We played at the playground and in the water for a couple hours then ventured back home.

So I learned while in Montepulciano that both this town and Volterra were the setting for a recent, popular movie, T_wilight. While I was not real familiar with it, it seems many people are. We learned that while it is supposedly based in Volterra, it was actually partly filmed in Montepulciano. As small as this town is, I can't imagine what it was like filled with h_ollywood types.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nolan is Two Years Old!

Well, we made it! Our little boy turned two years old on Sunday. While we only officially entered the "terrible twos" on Sunday, I think we started venturing down that path toward the end of May. Don't get me wrong, Nolan is a wonderful little boy, but he is definitely entering a stage where he wants his way and he knows how to "work us over". He is counting to 6 (8 if you say seven for him). He is a super active little boy and loves to run, play, jump, and bounce on the bed. For a couple months now he can repeat just about any word we throw at him, and does a pretty good job remembering them too.

Nolan has done very well at adjusting to Italy. We teach him some Italian words and sometimes he uses those words, but in general he probably won't be speaking fluent Italian when we return. Most of this is probably due to the fact that Kacey and I don't know enough to really speak it around the house much (we do some).

As for Nolan's stats, we are unofficial at this point as he won't really get a check-up for the rest of the year. I am going to try to find a place to weigh him, but not sure where at this point. He still doesn't have a butt, but oh well.


Outside our Villa


At one of our two playgrounds
Update: Nolan is about 35 inches long!

Orvieto

This past weekend we traveled down to Orvieto, one of the coolest hill towns in Umbria. Every time you drive to Rome, you pass a town very high on a cliff right off of the A-1; this is Orvieto. The duomo here has quite the interesting facade. We also had some very delicious gelato here.

Pictures from Orvieto

We stayed the night just outside Orvieto and the next morning, drove to Lake Bolsena. We drove toward the water in Bolsena in hopes to play at the beach for a while. We thought for Nolan's birthday, he would like to do that. We played for about an hour before getting on the road for lunch and to get home. We didn't have a good chance to take some good pictures of the lake unfortunately (it was beautiful), but on our way back to the A-1, we captured this panorama of Orvieto.
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Monday, July 05, 2010

Roma: A Whirlwind Tour

Saturday my mom arrived into FCO airport on her first transatlantic flight ever. We got in the car around noon and headed in to our hotel near Termini. By time we got on the train to head to our Vatican tour, it was almost 2pm and our ticket was for 3pm. We grabbed a few pieces of pizza and got a move on. The combination of the heat (90's) and a late plane arrival, we didn't have much time for relaxing for a few minutes. When Kacey and I visited the Vatican 3.5 years ago, the line was huge so this time we booked tickets online. We arrived at a surprisingly line-less Vatican around 2:45 and prepared for our entry. We gave ourselves about an hour and a half to reach the Sistine Chapel. We had to start rushing at the end, but we still got to see quite a lot.

We took the back door exit to St. Peter's after the Sistine Chapel. I was looking forward to seeing my mom's reaction to the size of this church; I think she enjoyed it.

After the Basilica we took the subway to the Trevi Fountain area for dinner and a night viewing of the fountain. It was crowded as usual but mom was still able to throw her change in the fountain. I also attempted a panorama picture here. We then took the subway to see the Colosseum at night, which was pretty cool. By time we got back to our hotel and got the A/C working, it was after 11.

The morning we headed toward the Forum. This was pretty cool, but not as cool as Pompeii. Kacey and I didn't have time to see the Forum when we visited a few years back, so it was also nice from that aspect. While taking my shots for the panorama it struck noon and all the church bells started sounding! I took a video of the action, check out the link below. This was also my favorite panorama I got.
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Video from the Roman Forum

We exited the Forum and walked toward the Colosseum. We were very glad we had our Roma Passes; there was at least a 2 hour line in the heat! We walked right in and spent about 90 minutes walking around and taking pictures. I also took a few panorama shots here.

After a short walk to St. Peter in Chains we got back to the car for the 2 hour drive home. Although very hot and pretty busy, the trip was pretty successful.

Pictures from Rome

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Parma, Modena, and Bologna

This was a nice little weekend. We left early Saturday morning in the new Ford C-Max. This car will make for much nicer weekend trips! Wider back seat, more leg room, bigger trunk area, better mileage, and cheaper diesel fuel. This time Cynthia was in town for work so she came along on the trip.

Parma
We drove up to Parma first to walk around and have lunch. We walked the main street and there were many little food shops and a market in full swing (looked mostly like clothes and shoes). We walked far enough and found the grassy area. We figured we would eat a picnic style lunch with some food from some of the bars across the street. We had pizza, pastries, and a few other random things. It was pretty good. After lunch we started our walking tour of the town. Unfortunately, most churches and sites had closed for siesta (usually doesn't happen) so we have only outside pictures of most places. We ventured over to the large park across the river before stopping in at a couple stores for gelato and cheese. It is Parma!

Pictures from Parma

Modena
We then drove about half an hour to Modena, hoping that Nolan would get a quick nap. Of course he didn't fall asleep until we were almost there, but he is a trooper and the quick nap was good enough. We didn't want to spend too much time here as we still had to drive to Bologna to get checked in for the night. We walked down the main street and checked out some little shops and were once again disappointed by a closed tower. We walked around the square, took some photos and then realized we could go in the church! This was a nice, big one made of brick. We walked around for quite a while then figured we should get a move on. Of course on our way to the car we stopped in and bought some balsamic vinegar!

Pictures from Modena

Bologna
We drove our 40 minutes to Bologna so we could get checked in, sit for a few minutes, then find some dinner. The Zanhotel Europa is a pretty good deal! Deeply discounted on the web, a decent breakfast, and pretty nice rooms! We were recommended to eat at Ristorante Bolognese. While we got a pretty good taste of local food here, their desserts were not good. At this point we realized the US v Ghana game had just started, so we got back to the hotel to relax and watch some soccer.

The next morning we walked to the city center and checked out the sites. We wanted to get them in before lunch/siesta. This town is known for it's two towers, both of which are leaning. We climbed the large tower (Asinelli) as the smaller one is under construction. This was quite a hike with a little guy on my back! But the view was great and I attempted some panoramic shots. From there we went back to the piazza to check out the church and were delighted to see such a wonderful fountain outside! (Check out the pictures) The church was in service but we were allowed to stand in the back. It was pretty nice to witness part of the service, although it seemed pretty much like a catholic service in the states. We walked the streets for a while until lunch. I saw a sign for Trattoria Pizzeria La Mela, which means pizza but we can sit down inside. The pizzas were decent and there was a wide selection. After this the heat picked up outside, and everything closed, so we got on the road back home (with a stop at Ikea in Florence, of course)!

Pictures from Bologna

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Owning a GPS

Now that I am a co-owner of a Nuvi, and living in Europe, I am very interested in POIs. But, I have found very little explanation to the different options I have in the way of speed cameras, and sites that provide the data for free.

What is the difference between Mobile Cameras and other things? Why does the speed limit shown by a camera on the display many times seem to be less than the speed limit on the road?

What are some good sites for getting up to date information for free? I have found gps-data-team.com and while they claim most "safety" data is free, I can download very little for free.

My favorite POI so far? ZTLs!

Please leave your comments!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Our First Few Weeks

We have been in Italia for almost three weeks now. It has taken some time to get settled, but we are close. We have also been on a couple more trips.

Cinque Terre
Back in 2006, Kacey and I visited Cinque Terre during our trip to Italy, but it was the off season and there was not much open. So this time we all set up our base camp in La Spezia on Friday night and on Saturday morning took the train to Riomaggiore (the southern most town). That Friday night we arrived late in La Spezia and after some traffic and hotel mix-ups, we headed out for a late dinner. While most things seemed closed, we finally found Antica Trattoria. The food was good but it was late by time we were done, so we headed off to bed.

After our quick morning train ride to Riomaggiore, we hiked the ridge from Riomaggiore to Manarola (Lover's Lane) and walked around Manarola for a bit. We then hiked the ridge some more to Corniglia. We ate lunch in Corniglia, and prepared for our mountain hike to Vernazza. This was a pretty good hike with some nice views. We rested in Vernazza by the water for an hour or so, ate some gelato, and then took the train to Monterosso. We walked around Monterosso for a while, found the wine and olive oil shop we liked 3.5 years ago (Enoteca Internazionale) and purchased two more bottles of Benza Olive Oil, and ate dinner at Ristorante Via Venti. We barely caught the 8:30 train back to La Spezia and found some gelato to eat while watching the US v England World Cup match.

Pictures from Cinque Terre.

On our way home we bit the beach for a bit in Massa. While the public beach was about the size of 4 beach towels, it was a chance to catch some rays. We ate lunch at a water-side bar and Nolan and I walked around a bit and played at a playground. The cooling of the temperature indicated it was time to go and just as we were getting in the car to leave, the rain started. Perfect timing.

San Gimignano
We traveled here last Saturday for a quick day trip. This was a nice little town, known for it's many towers. We were able to walk up the tallest, Torre Grossa, and snap a few pictures before the fog completely encapsulated the tower. I also took a panoramic shot from the tower.
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We ate lunch at Ristorante Perucà. The portions were a little small, even for here, so while we left hungry the food was pretty good. We decided to just walk around the town and avoid the rain as best as possible. We went in and out of many little shops but didn't quite find what we were looking for. We decided to find a place to eat dinner on our drive home, which would go through a few little towns.

Pictures from San Gimignano.

Our drive took us through Colle di Val d'Elsa and as we left town we spotted Il Casato. The sign said Pizzeria (we were all craving pizza) so we stopped without delay. We walked in at 7:10 and they said we could sit and order drinks, but they didn't open until 7:30. After glancing at the menu, we didn't care. It was full of pasta AND pizza! We found it strange that the rather large dining room was full of tables and most of them had reserved signs on them with different names. Between 8:15 and 8:30, we learned why. This was definitely a family-friendly local joint! Lots of big families with kids came here for dinner. So if you are ever in the area and want a good dinner, stop in!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Napoli, Round Two

There were some things I didn't write about during our trip to Napoli, Pompeii, and Vesuvius. Here we go with some more details!

Napoli
I have now uploaded photos of Napoli showing the town. We also took a couple pictures of our Friday night dinner; fried pizza. We thought we were ordering calzones, and while they look just like calzones, they are fried. While they were ok and interesting, they were not traditional pizza that we were hoping to sample while in Napoli. The good thing about dinner: two fried pizzas, a bottle of water and two beers, and the seating charge was 14 euro. I also uploaded some pictures from our Saturday night walk around the beach and waterfront. Their beach isn't much, but they love it.

Pictures from Napoli

Pompeii
I uploaded some videos to Youtube from Pompeii. They show the Forum, the Ampitheatre, and Apollo's Temple.

Pictures from Pompeii

Vesuvius
I created some panoramic shots while hiking up Vesuvius. I have included one in this post and the others are available by searching for the panorama tag.

Pictures from Vesuvius

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Buongiorno da Italia!

Well, we made it! We arrived in Siena on Thursday afternoon and were dropped off at our villa. Todd and Dannielle were already here, but sound asleep. We started unpacking a little and then decided to plan a weekend trip!

Friday around lunch we rented a car (we don't have our cars yet) and drove to Napoli (Naples, and for future reference, I will use the Italian spelling as we have no idea why the english renamed their cities). It is about a 4 hour drive. We ate at an Auto Grill along the way (roadside gas and food joint), which was decent. While the GPS helps tremendously, it has a hard time keeping up due to quick road changes and roads very close to one another; it gets confused if you took a turn or not. After a few u-turns on my part, Todd successfully navigated us to our hotel in downtown Napoli. We had booked two rooms for two nights at Hotel San Giorgio via Expedia. Considering the trash hole that is Napoli, this hotel was decent. We walked a bit for some food and also walked around the docks a little before turning in. Pictures from Napoli are here (http://www.chrisandkacey.com/Vacation/Italy-2010/Napoli/)

Saturday we woke up, ate some breakfast at the hotel and drove to Pompeii. Pompeii was quite an experience. Todd had been before so he was able to direct us off the beaten path somewhat. Pictures are coming soon. After about 4,5 hours in Pompeii, we ventured toward Vesuvius in hopes to do the hike, but we were unable to get there in time before it closed. To that end we drove back to Napoli to walk the nicer beach/park area and eat along the sea. We ate at Gusto&Gusto‎; while the house wine was poor, the food was decent again. Pictures from Pompeii are here (http://www.chrisandkacey.com/Vacation/Italy-2010/Pompeii/)

Sunday we decided to attempt the Vesuvius hike again as no one had done it before. Sure enough, we were able to get in! The hike, while not too long, is a bit strenuous. I hiked Nolan up on my back. We also have many pictures of this that I will post soon. The views were beautiful and Vesuvius was steaming just a little bit. At this point, we drove home in hopes to buy some groceries. Pictures from Vesuvius are here (http://www.chrisandkacey.com/Vacation/Italy-2010/Mt-Vesuvius/)

But alas, everything is closed on Sunday afternoons. With no food or car, we were forced to order delivery pizza. It is not the greatest, but in a pinch we will definitely do it again.

Pompeii was high on my list of things to see in Italy, so the trip was great for me. My bottom hurts more from driving than my legs from hiking, but it was worth the trip!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Craziness

So it has been over a week since we left Cambridge. There was much craziness last week. Here is a recap...

Saturday the 15th - I loaded the car and took a load to storage. Kacey packed some more stuff up while I was gone and once home I did some more as well.
Sunday the 16th - I rented a U-Haul 10' truck and took a load of things I could carry by myself. I took many boxes, a desk, and some other things we didn't need around the apartment. The day involved much more packing, too.
Monday the 17th - We had to get everything ready to go on the big truck I was renting Tuesday. The beds, desks, all the big stuff had to go while I had some help on Tuesday, so everything had to get ready.
Tuesday the 18th - This was the day all the big stuff had to go. Cynthia came over and watched Nolan for about an hour so Kacey could get stuff ready with me. Thanks Cynthia! Then Chris Hopkins came over to help me load up all the big stuff. Thanks Chris!!!!! This was a massive task; we had way too much stuff in Cambridge. I want to leave it all in storage when we get back, it is just too much! Once Chris and I got back to Cambridge, we met Kacey, Nolan, and Todd for dinner. Oh, about half way through loading the truck, I realized all the big stuff would not fit, so that meant I was renting another truck on Thursday, the day we were leaving the city. Tuesday night I was able to sleep somewhat on the air mattress, mostly because I was pretty tired.
Wednesday the 19th - Kacey had her final in the morning. Nolan and I did some playing and then daddy got busy packing up all the remaining crap we still had left. I sectioned off an area with the gates and put everything there. While there wasn't too much big things left, there was a lot of small stuff. Wednesday night, I could not sleep.
Thursday the 20th - I picked up the truck and Todd (thanks Todd!) and we loaded up the remaining things. Then I drove them down by myself while Kacey drove our stuff and Todd and his stuff to comcast. Turns out that I returned the truck just after they got back to Central Square. Since I finished so early, I grabbed a sandwich and helped Chris, Todd, and Cynthia load up their things in their truck. We finished around 4:30 so I walked home and started getting the car ready for our drive back to the midwest. Our goal was to leave around 9-10pm and drive until we got tired, then pull off for a quick nap during the night. We grabbed some dinner at The Friendly Toast and went back to finish off the loading. I administered the cat meds around 8 and we spend the next two hours packing, throwing away trash, and saying goodbye. It was kind of sad because this is where Nolan first walked and spent a lot of his life to that point. But by 10:30pm we were on the road. I drove until midnight, then Kacey drove until 2am. We stopped for a 3.5 hour nap at a rest stop in New York somewhere. At 5:30am, I started driving again and we arrived in Ft. Wayne at 5pm Friday. We were done!

We have been doing a lot of visiting while back in the midwest. We started off with my family on Saturday down at my cousin's house in Martinsville. It was a fun day of running with the kids and chatting with family. On Sunday we went to our old church and then had lunch with our old small group. After lunch we had a cookout with the Indy Rose Pikes at Tom & Jenny's house. It was a very fun day!

On Monday we got to visit with my grandparents. We had not seen them since August and probably won't see them again until next June. We had a very nice visit. On Tuesday we had lunch with a couple of Kacey's friends, dinner with Adam and Sarah, and play time at the Charltons house that night. On Wednesday we spent more time with the Charltons after lunch and then had a nice dinner at Adam and Amanda's house. This is where we said our final goodbyes as we were leaving Thursday for Toledo.

Thursday Eric came down and we dropped off the car at my mom's house and loaded up Eric's car with our stuff. We drove to the Fort and Eric spent some time playing with Nolan. It was a nice visit. Then Mike and Maggie met us for dinner and drove us up to Toledo.

In all this madness, Kacey has been dealing with visa issues. We find out Tuesday around lunch if we are allowed to leave for Italy this week. I hope so - I don't want to sit indefinitely and have to change multiple flights at great expense.

So in all our craziness, there are many people who helped make it all possible. Cynthia, Todd, and Chris all saved our butts by helping us move out of the apartment. Karl and Nancy took in our kitties while we are away. Eric gave us a bed AND drove to get us in Indy. Vince and Sharon offered us a bed in Indy for 5 nights. My mom arranged a family get-together and took in our car. Mike and Maggie made us yummy food and came and got us in Ft. Wayne. And a thanks to my little boy who had to live through this, being in a car way too much, and not having toys and not getting the attention he deserves (it made me sad). Thanks to you all!