Wednesday, February 10, 2010
We are leaving Italy. soon. 41 days to be exact.
I try to put things in as positive as a light as possible, but I can't help but say I am excited to leave Italy. The last few (3) years have had some excellent highlights, but that probably has more to do with the fact that I'm with Mateo than Italy itself.
That's not to say that Europe hasn't been kind to us.
Most recently, I visited Amsterdam, Belgium and France. All of which captured my heart. I loved them all. I figured that French absolutely has to be the next language that I learn. I found the people in all three places to be so warm-hearted, jovial, open, patient with my lack of knowledge, and helpful. I can't say enough good things about all three places-- not to mention their gastronomic specialties!
With only a little over a month left here, Mateo and I have quite a bit on our plates to accomplish. He is getting out of the Army. We're moving into to "normal" civilian life in the states. And there is a lot to do with "out-processing" in the Army. Not to mention all our last-minute trips and visits to our favoured towns and restaurants and people.
To make things all the more "pressed," we've decided to take a trip to Poland and the Ukraine to see what life is like there and visit the town form which Mateo's grandmother departed to Ellis Island.
We're taking public transportation throughout the trip and leaving a lot of planning up to chance, as I've heard a lot of navigating through Poland and Ukraine is unpredictable. I've been advised to carry a $10 bill around for bribing the bus drivers and to avoid taking pictures of the teenagers taping cases of cigarettes to their legs at the border of Poland/Ukraine.
I am looking forward to the natural beauties that await us, including old forests, wild bison, salt mines, and the like, and the learning more about country living in these countries.
Our trip to Slovenia countryside was AWESOME, so I am expecting this trip to also be awkward and rewarding.
Wish us luck!
Our internet & phone will be 100% out of commission beginning March 15th. From then on out, we'll be depending on the library's internet connection and good old pay phones. We have a very portable laptop computer, which I will hopefully be writing jounral entries on. I will be able to put them on this blog whenever we are fortunate enough to come across some internet access along our travels.
We can't wait to see you and begin our new adventure in civilian life.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Today I tubed down a part of the Brenta river. River Brenta passes through the mountains of province of Trento, under the ponte vecchio bridge in Bassano del Grappa, past our town and finally drains into the Adriatic Sea. "A 174 km long river, River Brenta has a long history, dating back to the 16th century."
Andrew, coworker to my husband and friend of my coworker, took us on this death defying journey today. We were there to do a bit of recon because Andrew plans on taking a bunch of teenagers floating down this river a couple times this summer. I'm always up for a little adventure, especially if the alternative is to stay at home in the heat and do housework!
I was so excited for the adventure that I bought my own River Rat floatie, sure that I'd be wanting to repeat the experience several times this summer.
Well, let me say right off the bat that as soon as I took a look at how fast the water was moving, I knew we weren't going to be lazy river-ing it. These were near rapids, honestly. Then I walk right up onto an obese man and his belly sunbathing. Further, I fell chest deep into the biting cold water on my first step in. Foretelling? pshaw! That only happens in movies. All systems go!
Thank the heavans above that I thought better of bringing my Rx sunglasses with me into the water as I had originally planned.
Long story short, Mary got pulled under a tree and was wise enough to stay put at the startline. I went down the rest of the river and ran straight into a massive fallen tree myself. I was shaking, but I managed to pull myself up onto the tree, preventing myself from being sucked under. Then I climbed over the tree, praying that branches didn't break or beaver bedrooms weren't being stepped on. (Beavers have scarey teeth in all the movies I've seen.)
I made it down the river in one piece eventually. My feet still hurt. They hurt for awhile from the utter chill, but now I am feeling the bruises and scrapes from my fiasco on my hands and legs too.
While I was picking mulberries in the parking lot and rotweiler suddenly made an appearnce with a deep growl and bark. It was like a bear emerging while picking blueberries or something.
"Oh Fuck," was all I could think to say. I stood paralyzed. Really, I know I can't outrun a rot. I can barely trot across the parking lot. Thankfully he was tied to the gypsy van behind the trees.
My beloved Bodog hat that I got for free at the Snopp Dogg concert in Hawaii is thankfully the only casualty of the day.
Andrew still appears to be all greenlight on this taking teenagers down this river. I would never do it. I'll be taking Mateo there though. He was sleeping at home today in preparation for nightshift. I'll take Mateo to go swimming, because it is pretty there, but mostly to show him how insane the current was.
It is really pretty & somewhat peaceful out there though. At times the river slowed down enough that I dared close my eyes for a minute. And watching the trees as I glide by was nice. Pollen was floating through the air, and all I could hear were the gutteral croaks and persistent chirps of animals in the forest running alongside the river. I didn't see any river otters. I was told they live there.
The 34 degree celcius heat has died down a bit now. I am going to go water my garden, drink a spritzer, and put some icy hot on my neck.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Matthew and I have survived our first 2 years of marriage and living together. I have to say, I understand why people live together before getting married... there is just SO much to figure out about how to peacefully cohabitate. But, when things start splitting at the seams over comic book purchases or who is going to be washing those damn dishes, it is nice to be reminded that we made an oath to give this one more of ourselves than anyone else. There are rewards to painfully swallowing your ego sometimes. This second year has been awesome!
Growing pains aside, we've also been having a lot of fun. We've traveled to almost every place in Northern Italy that we wanted to, so we've started a second list of places to go and things to do.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Cinque Terre (pronounced chink-weh-terr-aye) is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For years the area was untouched and largely ignored by most of
Until the arrival of the train, the townspeople were mostly fishermen, exchanging goods with each other and basically living off the land (and water) with occassional boating trips to nearby ports for supplies. After the train made commuting so much easier, Cinque Terre residents began exporting their local products, which include wine and Limoncello. Today, tourism dominates this area's industry. In fact, in the summer months, the crowd of tourists (Italian and otherwise) are almost too much to bear in my opinion. However, despite the kitschy souvenier stores and hoards of people flocking to the tempting waters, Cinque Terre maintains a part of it's original charm, beauty, and importance.
In 1998 the Italian Ministry for the Environment designated Cinque Terre’s waters as a protected natural marine area to protect the natural environment and to promote socio-economical development compatible with the natural landscape of the area.
Then, in 1999, the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre was set up to conserve the ecological balance, protect the landscape, and safeguard the anthropological values of the entire location (land and sea).
"Tourism?! Environmental protections?yeah, yeah... but what's Lim...lemo...?"
Limoncello is a specialty liquor made from lemons. It's sweet and potent, used mostly for mid-afternoon or after-dinner apertifs, and is always served cold. On a warm day, it's a perfect dip into a cool lemon pool for your mouth. And that bright yellow color? Totally natural. It's a relatively new liquor on the scene... older than all of us combined, but a child compared to wine.
And, because the weather is amazingly beautiful today (cool, bright, and clear) and the lemons on my deck are fully ripened, I looked up some limoncello recipes online. The one found on the following website looks like a great tutorial on how to make your own at home to enjoy this summer: http://www.italylogue.com/food-drink/limoncello-recipe-in-pictures.html
If you don't have access to grain alcohol, use good quality vodka.
I suggest we all try it out.
party favors anyone?!?
(CLICK ON THE NAME OF THE TOWN FOR A PICTURE OF IT):
2. Vernazza (pronounced Ver-natz-ah)
3. Corniglia (closely pronounced like Cornelia)
and, 5. Riomaggiore (Rio-mah-jor-reh, the biggest/most modern)
Below are pictures we took of our short one-day visit to all five of the towns. Unfortunately, I was recovering from a sinus infection and the antibiotics that the doctor prescribed did NOT agree with me. The heat combined with the intense nausea I felt from the drugs made the day almost intolerable for me and prevented us from hiking the 5-6 hour trail that connects all the towns together with gorgeous views. However, the feel of the cold, clean water and a tasty Farinata helped a bit, and we stuck to doing the easy milling about, taking pictures, and relaxing under our 14euro/hour umbrella at the beach. We should return again soon in good health this next time.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
We went to Merano, Italy for my birthday and stayed at the Steigenberger Hotel. It's a luxury hotel--especially luxurious for a European hotel. The best part about the place (aside from the personal pillow ordering system) was the underground tunnel which connects you directly to one of the biggest and best spas in Italy. Merano Terme has radioactive water, but it didn't stop us from spending hours in it. A bathing suit is required in the pools, but the separate sauna area has its own rules: no suit, no shoes, no towel. If you're old enough, you can enjoy the saunas from 9am to 10pm, 365 days of the year.
I wasn't surprised by the no suit rule. I was expecting it. But, I wasn't at all prepared for the no towel rule. Oh my! After you get past the em-bare-ass-ment of sitting across from a sweaty naked man cross-legged, the whole experience is really quite enjoyable. There are steam rooms, saunas of varying temperatures, a snow room, outdoor jacuzzi, ice pools: the works. There is also a bar in the nude zone. Beer, teas, or fresh ginger juices are easily charged to your wrist band for minimum hassle.
The water and salt scrubs had me and Mateo marveling at how soft our skin became.
Merano is a beautiful little town. The homes and hotels are mostly Gothic or decorated with Art Nouveau details, which look especially dramatic when the trees have lost their leaves. The Forst brewery was closed for "ferie" (holiday), but we were still able to sample their dark brews unavailable in bottle at the Gato Nero restaurant. The night that we ventured out for dinner in the centre of Merano, we shared a table with a couple and legroom with a small dog. The food was great, the wine medicore but cheap, and the atmosphere great.
The last day we were there, we ventured over to the Merano 2000 snow/sport area at the top of the mountain (accessible by cable car). The ride was a little scary, but the views were incredible. Once at the sporting area, we ventured about, took a short hike, sat and enjoyed teh view, then decided to catch a ride on the Bobsled. Going up to 44 km.hr in a bobsled is great! After our last ride we saw someone literally jump off the side of the mountain (at a steep slope point) and paraglide into the valley below. 95 euro and you can do the same. Guys, there is a 10% discount if we can find a third person to join us!
On the ski/board website I saw that there were sledding trails "for the advanced sledder." I didn't know what the hell that meant until I saw the trail. I don't think I could traverse the loop without a helmet and some lessons first. Germans take their snow sporting SERIOUSLY. Even sledding is a "sport."
I say Germans because although Merano is in the sudtirol area of Italy, there is a distinct difference in the mannerisms, culture, and language of these people in the area. It seems as if 95% of them speak German, or another dialect/language that neither Mateo nor I could wrap our heads around. According to the 2001 census, 51.50 % of the resident population speaks German as mother language, 48.01% Italian, and 0.49% Ladin.
Perhaps I should call them Austrians instead of Germans, as they all speak the same language and Austria is closer. Anyhow, traveling just 2-2.5 hours away from our town felt like living in a completely different world.
As a side note: Ladin (Ladino in Italian, Ladin in Ladin, Ladinisch in German) is a Rhaeto-Romance language spoken in the Dolomite mountains in Italy between the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and Veneto. It is closely related to the Swiss Romansh, Surselvan, and Friulian.
The Ladin alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet. It contains 27 letters:
A B C D E Ese F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
You can visit the following news website to get an idea about how the language looks: http://www.noeles.net/
Here are some pictures from our trip. Unfortunately no pictures of the spa. Sorry. No towels. No camera. No cell phones. Nada.
I don't know, yet, what the significance of the locks are (in the picture below). However, along the river, chained to the railing, there are these metals signs with lots of locks. I am figuring they are a wartime custom.
The last picture is of Mateo in an Austrian hat of which we are now the proud owners.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Thank you for all the holiday wishes and presents from everyone. It's an especially hard holiday season for almost everyone economically, but I was moved by everyone's sentiment and cheer. I did not celebrate Christmas growing up, so I don't as an adult. However, it's hard not to wish everyone a joyous season, because all of you are so wonderful and deserve the best regardless of the time of the year.
For Christmas Eve, Mateo and I went to an organic winery for lunch. I left simply stuffed to the gills! The food was so good and the portions small, but there were over SIX COURSES!
For New Year's Eve, Mateo had to work. I was invited to Munich, Germany and to my neighbor's house, but the weather was so awful I decided to stay home. Besides, it's not much fun to kiss a stranger at midnight while your husband's off working. New Year's Eve snowed and snowed and snowed. All night. They were the biggest snowflakes anyone here has ever seen! I literally keep opening the window to catch a few in my hand to shake my disbelief!
Needless to say, New Year's day the driveway needed to be shoveled. The only shovel we had was an emergency one we keep in the car, but the handle broke on it before I even started. Can you believe that not a single person I asked had a shovel?! Of course, it's also a holiday, so no stores were open either. Unlike in the states, we don't have 24-hour convenience stores. I guess that's why they call them CONVENIENCE stores because they are a convenient privilege instead of a right, which I had mistaken them for.
So I squatted down and scooped all the snow up with a handle-less shovel. It was a workout! The next day I was sore in the strangest ways.
In Italy, the holidays continue until January 6th: The Day of the Epiphany. It's the day when La Befana (the witch) comes and brings presents to all the good boys and girls. Yes, not Santa. A witch. I find this very odd. It's a bigger gift-giving day than Christmas. Christmas is strictly a religious holiday here: church and dinner with the family.
Christian legend has it that La Befana was approached by the magi (the biblical three kings) a few days before Christ's birth. They asked for directions to where the baby Jesus was, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village with the most pleasant home. They invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the baby Jesus. She leaves all the good children toys and candy, while the bad children get coal or bags of ashes.
Another Christian legend takes a slightly darker tone as La Befana was an ordinary woman with a child whom she greatly loved. However, her child died, and her resulting grief maddened her. Upon hearing news of Jesus being born, she set out to see him, delusional that he was her son. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave La Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.
Also, popular tradition avers that if one sees La Befana one will receive a thump from her broomstick, as she doesn't wish to be seen. This aspect of the tradition may be designed to keep children in their beds while parents are distributing candy (or coal) and sweeping the floor on Epiphany Eve.On this special holiday Mateo and I were in Merano celebrating my birthday. You'll see another post about that.
So, our hoidays were low-key, spent mostly with just each other, and enjoyable. Hope you all have picked resolutions you can stick with!!!
Monday, December 22, 2008
Above is a video of Mateo in the Combatives course he took in July-August 2007. This is what gave him a certificate, an award, and a dislocated shoulder, which ended up giving him a new job in the Army, too. This is a commercial that's been featured worldwide on the AFN network cable that pipes through every service member's TV in Europe and on post in the States.
Below is a picture of Mateo's group in the Army. Gosh, he's gonna kill me for not knowing the real word to describe that group. I think it is Command, or something. The HSC SETAF Command. He is in the second row from the front; the third one from the right of the flag (the tip of the flag points to the guy next to him). They took this picture when they switched their berrets from maroon color to black. Click on the picture to enlarge.
AND, the famous guy also has a spot on the radio wishing his family a Happy Holiday. Some of you have reported to me that you've heard it already on the radio in your cars and at work. Awesome! You can listen to it here: http://www.969wtkk.com/HOME/SupportTheTroops/tabid/113/Default.aspx Just click where you see "Army Sgt. Jeffery Bicknell & Air Force Senior Airman Diane Berthiaume & Army Sgt. Matthew Bielecki" written.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
- Dec. 19th, 2008 at 4:55 PM
Aside from getting pulled over by the police and having major communication issues with the ladies, we got to Verona in time to watch the sunset from the top of the Arena (Verona's Colosseum).
Of course, we were having a dandy time in the Arena: taking pictures, freaking out over my sudden vertigo at the edge, admiring the view, "running" up the seats, testing the acoustics, etc. Finally, the cold breeze at the top got to me, and I wanted to move on, which turned out to be more difficult than expected. First, we had to remember which door we came in.
Perhaps I was mistaken?
ALL of them were closed. locked.
We got locked into the Arena. We walked along the edge, the bottom, we even pushed past barriers and got an interesting, albeit panicked, look behind the scenes.
"I'm breaking down this wooden barrier!" Mateo says determinedly.
"Well, you try that. I'm going to bang on the metal door and scream for help through this rust hole," I said (thinking it was a decidedly better idea) "AUITAME! PER FAVORE! AUITA!"
None of that worked to our unpleasant surprise. I was about to bust into the fire hose and pull the alarm, when a couple enters the Arena. They snuck in... through a wide opening cleverly marked in large letters: "USCITA" (exit)
Oopsy. Everyone had gone home. They locked all the doors, except the large can't miss it EXIT door, which neither of us seemed to be able to see for the last 45 minutes.
All that excitement, panic, and final relief brings hunger, so we stopped at a market food stand and got Fritelle con Nutella. Yum! Orange scented dough, fried in a disc shape, dipped in sugar and smeared with Nutella, folded in half: Sweet Italian tacos. We enjoyed those listening to a Peruvian flute and avoiding an angry, drunk man on a cell phone.
We also shopped around in the square for a hat and moved on to stroll the decorated streets.
How romantic everything was! And, the cold, but not bitterly so, weather was clear and perfect.
Thirst over came us, and this wine & grappe store/bar was too intriguing to pass up. Enoteca Dal Zovo. Fabulous. Mateo bought a bottle of absinthe. You should check the guy's website out for some amusing pictures of the owner who tended to us and to get an idea of what the store looks like inside. It's crammed with dusty bottles, liquors, magazines, bags, and knick knacks. He's even got a naked chicks calendar at the counter. The clock is a large spider and he seems to really enjoy the nautical themed items. www.enotecadalzovo.it
When I was sitting in one of the only two clear spots in the store, I picked up a magazine. The first picture I looked at in the magazine looked familiar: It was the store we were sitting in! This pleasant little bar/shop was featured in Bell'Italia. Alongside it, there was a review for an osteria not far away. We decided the article was spot on about the bar, so we ventured over to the osteria for dinner.
Boy, the osteria was indubitably an excellent choice for people watching, fine wines, and fabulous food. Our waiter wouldn't stop smiling in this hilarious and endearing manner. The menu is written on a small sheet of paper for the night. The list, you can imagine, is not long. I got carrot soup and Le Crespelle. Mateo got the first thing on the menu. The owner said something about it being horsemeat. He was all IN on that. The food was great. My Crespelle turned out to be crepes stuffed with ricotta and radicchio. It was incredibly rich and divine. His horsemeat was a stew with a side of polenta. We got out of there for under 45 euro, which, considering the quality and amount of wine and food we had (including an appetizer and small apertif, we were stuffed nicely) was not a bad deal. The crowd arrived just at the end of our meal. I can imagine the menu sells out nightly.
Then we went onward for sightseeing in the dark along the river.
Around a dark corner I heard commotion. Apparently the traveling German Christmas Market was in town (this side of town). So we bought a tin robot and more wine: gluhwine. The square was one of the best finds. The architecture around there was great: variety and detail and colors. The frescoes on the walls were disappearing, but enough remained that you could easily imagine how fanciful it looked when it was a new neighborhood.
Around the corner from THAT square I fell in love with a building. It was like a set from some play I'd dream I was the lead.