All posts by Greg

Trieste… Italy’s Most “European” City

So, I’m back here on Sipping Espresso… blogging.  Weird.  I’m in America.  I’m blogging about Italy from America.  Can I do that?!  Is that even allowed?!  Well, I promised you in my Final Blog Post From Italy that I would finish our tale of overseas adventure and intrigue (OK, OK – more like overseas adventure of gluttony and transparency), so I suppose that I’ll have to make good on my word.  For those of you that are sick of hearing about these adventures… I’m sorry, but I’m OCD and I am not much good at leaving things unfinished.

"Well, get going already Dad and tell us this story"!
“Well, get going already Dad and tell us this story”!

So, let’s flash back; way, way back to this past spring when Jen’s sister came to visit.  Just as they departed for Venice and Rome, we took our own leave from Como and headed toward the metropolitan city of Trieste.  When I think about what brought us to Trieste, I finally understand the word bittersweet.  We undertook the four-hour road trip to Italy’s easternmost city so that I could run in the Maratonina d’Europa (Europe’s Half Marathon).  Despite having to add the somewhat embarrassing “ina” suffix to the end of Maratona (changing the meaning to “very little”), completing my first half-marathon was a very “sweet” accomplishment for me.  However, the impetus behind the race was a very “bitter” one.  Jen and I had started listing all the things that we wanted to do before our time in Italy came to an end.  This particular road trip checked many of our boxes; competing in a race in Europe, a visit to the city of Trieste, time in the region of Friuli–Venezia Giulia, capped off with a visit to Slovenia (upcoming post).  Now, that checked a lot of boxes, so careful planning began and hotels rooms were booked.

Julia and I stand in front of the glasses they had set up for the race
Julia and I stand in front of the glasses they had set up for the race

Here’s how I would sum up Trieste – it is a MUST-SEE city.  Sometimes I find myself guilty of trying to label a city by comparing it to another city.  “Rome is like New York, but much older and without the high-rises”.  Sometimes, you’ve just got to stop and appreciate where you are for what it is.  Don’t try to “label” the place or put it in a box; its easy to fall into that trap with Trieste.  A city that has bounced back and forth between Slovenian, Austrian and Italian rule leaves us with a place today that is proud of its blend in architecture and attitude. Trieste is a city not at all confused about its confusing identity.  With a rich mix of Slavic, Germanic and Latin influences – I am simply content to label this magical place as one of the most “European” cities I have ever visited. Continue reading Trieste… Italy’s Most “European” City

My Final Blog Post From Italy

Could that title be any more depressing?  I almost cried just typing it. What happened?!  Our “year-long sabbatical” in Italy came and went in a flash.  But that shouldn’t matter… we extended our overseas adventure another six months. Wasn’t that just a few weeks ago?! How is it that our return airline tickets have today’s date on it? We still haven’t seen the trulli huts in Puglia.  We never got the chance to visit Jen’s nonno’s town in Calabria.  I never proved my “Italianness” by grilling a branzino on our BBQ.  Heck, we never ate at that joint down the road that I’ve always wanted try!

"Get outta here pal, before you try to grill me"!
“Get outta here pal, before you try to grill me”!

Truthfully, I have been aware of the impending move back to America and it turns out… I am a guy capable of emotions.  Expressing them is something else altogether; but perhaps I’ll try.  Here it is – I am excited to move home.  I am eager to spend time with my friends and family.  I am anxious to begin working again (and especially eager to earn a paycheck).  I am pleased at the thought of a bit of “normal”.  At the same time I am also exceptionally sad to leave.  I am sorry to abandon our friends and family here in Italy.  I am mournful at the thought of missing the food and wine.  I become melancholy when I think about the mountains and the lakes I won’t see daily. Perhaps most of all, I am heartbroken that I won’t spend every day/all day with Jennifer and Julia and that I’ll never have the same uninterrupted bonding experience with my second daughter (who will be arriving this September).  I’m more mixed up inside than a perfectly stirred risotto.american_italian_roots

Before I continue with this post, I feel that it’s important to comment on the status of the blog.  Sipping Espresso will continue publishing posts about travel, food, and of course, a little more nonsense (at least for a period of time).  In an ideal world, I would have published a post every couple of days and been completely caught-up, allowing for this to be the final post.  Of course, I’m nowhere near finished blogging about our recent adventures.  I have a good twenty posts in the pipeline and I won’t let myself or my three loyal readers down by cutting our stories short.  Sadly, this will be my last post written from the comfort of my “Italian blogging chair”. Continue reading My Final Blog Post From Italy

Seven Systems Europeans Use That Make More Sense

With World Cup fever heating up, I find myself torn between my two favorite teams – America and Italia.  Thankfully, the teams are not in the same group and so I can root for both squads guilt-free (hopefully all the way to the finals).  As I was comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of both teams; it occurred to me that perhaps I had stumbled onto something much more important.  I realized that it might be fun to compare America vs. Europe… not just the ability to move the soccer ball around the field, but “bigger picture” things.  What common sense things do Europeans do that Americans fail to recognize?IMAGE

For the purposes of this first post, I will focus solely on the items that appear in the “win” column for Europe.  I will follow-up a little later with another post listing America’s “wins”.  It seemed only fair to publish the posts in this order since Italy logged their first World Cup win before America.

Some background… OK, this piece is not a serious look at which place is “better”.  I’m not weighing in on art & architecture, natural beauty or economic importance.  I’m not comparing the food or the people.  I’m only noting a few of the systems in place that perhaps we would do well to share with one another.  Without further adieu… Continue reading Seven Systems Europeans Use That Make More Sense

Bergamo – Italy’s Most Underrated City

I played with various options for the title of this post, ranging from “Italy’s Most Hidden Treasure” to “Italy’s Best Kept Secret”.  Really, any of those title would be apropos.   Bergamo is all of those things and so much more.  Ultimately, I went with “most underrated” because it seems that most people would rather bypass this northern Italian city for the sexier Venice, Florence or Rome.  Heck, even neighboring Verona pulls more visitors than Bergamo.  As a matter of fact, I had never even heard of Bergamo until I moved here and I had visited nearby Como plenty of times leading up to this adventure.

Città Bassa in Bergamo
Città Bassa in Bergamo

Getting to know Bergamo was truly a blessing, because it is the type of place that we will continue to visit over and over.  The distinguishing feature of Bergamo is that it is really two cities in one.  There is the older, medieval city at the top of the hill (Città Alta) and the much more modern city (Città Bassa) below.  Incidentally, I use the term “modern city” quite loosely… most notable development is still several hundred years old. Continue reading Bergamo – Italy’s Most Underrated City

Mercatone dell’Antiquariato – Milan’s Outdoor Antique Market

Jennifer and I simply love outdoor markets.  Jen holds on to the belief that she’s going to stumble across a vintage Louis Vuitton handbag or uncover that perfect piece for our future living room.  I’ve got much lower (and more realistic expectations); I’m just thrilled that I get to eat “street food”.  Nothing is better than a porchetta paninio (pork sandwich) from a food vendor with freshly fried zeppole  (Italian donuts) for dessert.  I love sandwiches, I love eating outside and I love feeding my entire family for less than €20!

Pack your bags, let's check out the market!
Pack your bags, let’s check out the market!
All of us at the Fiera
All of us at the Mercatone dell’Antiquariato

Jen has been trying to get to the Mercatone dell’Antiquariato del Naviglio Grande since we moved here nearly a year and a half ago. “What’s the big deal – why is it so hard to make it to a market”, you ask? Well, this particular market only takes place on the last Sunday of each month (except for July).  For those of you that aren’t math wizards, that’s just eleven chances a year to make it to Milan for this 80-year-old Milanese tradition.  Our first attempt was foiled – we set out one day in January of 2013, but got derailed when we couldn’t find parking.  It was ambitious of me to try so soon after moving to Italy – had I known then what I know now, I would have just thrown my car on the curb like the hundreds of other locals.  Instead, we stopped for lunch and found an amazing sandwich place, which I blogged about HERE.  After lunch, we lost the motivation to go back and agreed, “we’ll try again as soon as we get the next opportunity”.  Well, travel and other obligations delayed that opportunity fifteen more months. Continue reading Mercatone dell’Antiquariato – Milan’s Outdoor Antique Market

Our Lil’ Sis Comes to Visit

Since the moment my wife Jennifer laid eyes on her baby sister, Jessica, they formed a strong bond that has only developed over time.  Sure, Jennifer usually acts more like her mother than her sister and yes, there have been a few lively battles resulting in a couple “boo-boos”, but they are as close as any two sisters I have ever known.

Jen and her younger sister, Jessica overtop Lake Como
Jen and her younger sister, Jessica overtop Lake Como

That’s why we were thrilled when we learned of a last-minute vacation Jessica planned with her boyfriend, Matt.  We were doubly excited because not only were we going to spend time with Jessica, but we were finally going to be able to meet Matt.  Living in Italy comes with its obvious benefits, but we do miss out on a lot at home and so we are thrilled any time “home” comes to us. Continue reading Our Lil’ Sis Comes to Visit

Fun With Food ~ Chocolate Salami

I had the pleasure of first sampling this rich and tasty dessert at a friend’s house over the holidays.  After my first bite I was hooked and inquired after the preparation of the dish.  Luckily, everyone here is happy to share their secrets and pass on tips.  First, let me explain, chocolate salami is not salami at all (even though Greg wolfs this dessert down, he has a hard time getting past the name).  This simple, no bake dessert only resembles salami.  This Italian favorite was originally served around the holidays but now is acceptable any time of year.  I think it’s the perfect dessert to serve while entertaining.  The best part is that you can prepare it ahead of time and store it in the freezer.

Voilà!  A salame di cioccolato (chocolate salami)
Voilà! A salame di cioccolato (chocolate salami)

INGREDIENTS  (serves 8 people)

>One (1) cup of biscotti or dry cookie broken into pieces
>Eight (8) ounces of dark chocolate.  I used 70%
>One (1) stick of high quality butter, softened
>Two (2) eggs, very fresh
>Half (½) cup of sugar
>Quarter (¼) cup, freshly brewed espresso
>Confectioners’ sugar, as needed
>Chopped nuts optional (I didn’t use them but I think I will try next time) Continue reading Fun With Food ~ Chocolate Salami

You “Massa” Check Out This City (Massa, Italy)

Man, do I love the bad puns in my titles or what?  Probably about as much as I love posing rhetorical questions to my readers…hercules__bad_puns_by_masterof4elements-d75obi2

Roughly twelve days ago, I was as proud of myself as Arvind Mahankali when he successfully spelled knaidel to beat Pranav Sivakumar and secure the championship title during the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee (apparently, this particular Indian-American knows a thing or two about Jewish comfort food).  Why was I so pleased with myself, you ask?  Well, I thought that I had finally caught up with our stories on the blog.  And then a whirlwind of activity commenced in a flash as Jen’s sister arrived for a visit with her boyfriend.  We had such a nice time traveling and eating with them (really, is there anything else you would want to do in Italy?) that now I have a ton more to write about.  Additionally, we left them to their own devices while we embarked on a rewarding road-trip, which I cannot wait to tell you about.  So, now once again –  I am behind the times again faster than you can spell prosciutto.

An accurate portrayal of me as I struggle to keep up with the blog
An accurate portrayal of me as I struggle to keep up with the blog

When I was looking ahead toward the next 5-8 posts, I realized that I would be remiss not to step back and mention our visits to Pisa and then Massa in northern Tuscany.  When I last wrote, I detailed our trip to Lucca (HERE).  During the drive home we detoured to marvel at the Torre pendente di Pisa (Leaning Tower of Pisa) before getting back on the road.  We hadn’t traveled too much further when our perfectly timed Italian stomachs told us it was time for lunch (at first I thought our three stomachs growling in unison was a tractor-trailer honking furiously at me).  I was more in the mood for a leisurely lunch than a quick stop at an AutoGrill (picture a rest-stop along the NJ Turnpike with better food and espresso).  I turned to my trusty “TripAdvisor” cell phone app and searched for a restaurant near us.  I discovered Il Fatty (yeah… you guessed the translation; The Fatty) in the city we were approaching.  With a name like, “the fatty” – how could you go wrong?!  I took the exit toward Massa and headed into the center of town. Continue reading You “Massa” Check Out This City (Massa, Italy)

Le Violette – A Bed & Breakfast Full of Charm

You know when you visit a charming little restaurant or hotel and turn to your significant other on the way home and say, “what a wonderful place.  I wish them all the success in the world – I’d love to come back soon and relive this experience all over again”?  Or, have you ever been so impressed with someone personally that you truly want them to succeed at whatever it is they decide to do with their life?

Well, when we recently visited Le Violette in Lucca, Tuscany; I had the rare occasion to think both of those things.  Le Violette is such an inviting place and its proprietor, Elizabeth is such a warm and genuine person that it is impossible not to fall in love with the entire experience. Continue reading Le Violette – A Bed & Breakfast Full of Charm

“Lucca Over Here… This Tuscan Town is Amazing”!

If you read the title of this post with your best impression of an Italian accent, then you probably nailed the pronunciation of one of our new favorite Italian towns.  Lucca has been on our bucket list to visit for quite some time and now we can happily say we’ve been.

Lucca, Italy
Lucca, Italy viewed from the Torre Guinigi
Torre Guinigi - Lucca
Another angle from Torre Guinigi
Lucca viewed from the city walls
Lucca viewed from the city walls

The city is renowned for many things, not the least of which is the giant annual gathering of comic book nerds and fantasy film geeks. Lucca plays host to Europe’s version of Comic-Con, the Fiera Internazionale del Fumetto (International Festival of Comics) or as it’s commonly referred – Lucca Comics and Games.

Some participants of Lucca Comics.  Photo courtesy of Francesco Petrucci
Some participants of Lucca Comics and Games. Photo courtesy of Francesco Petrucci

Continue reading “Lucca Over Here… This Tuscan Town is Amazing”!