So, I’m back here on Sipping Espresso… blogging. Weird. I’m in America. I’m blogging aboutItalyfromAmerica. 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.
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.
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→
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.
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→
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!
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→
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.
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→
Who doesn’t love a good festival? The combination of food, games and fun in an outdoor setting is always guaranteed to be a success. I mean, what more could you ask for? But if the name of the festival is Primavera dei Vini (Wine in the Springtime) and the location is in the remote Italian countryside – then you’ve got all the ingredients you need and more!
If you check Wikipedia to learn about Rovescala, you will discover that this small commune (municipality) is located about 50km southeast of Milan. Aaaaand… basta (stop). That’s it. If you research the festival itself, you’re likely to uncover only two or three short blog posts about it, aaaaaand… basta! So this event is a relatively unknown festival in a small, remote Italian town – why on earth would anyone be interested in going?! Because it’s a relatively unknown festival in a small and remote Italian town, of course! In our experience, these are usually the best gatherings – genuine and unpretentious, just as it should be in Italy.
This was predestined to be a low-key Christmas. In fact, the most low-key Christmas either of us had ever experienced. When I was young, we would gather as a family and open mountains of presents before our grandparents came and joined in the fun. Jen’s experience of Christmas as a little girl was no different. Since we started dating over ten years ago, our two families have merged and we have always made the holidays the grand event it should be. Since it’s just the three of us here in Italy, we knew this year would be small in comparison. But at the same time, we were eager to set our own family traditions now that Julia is old enough to understand what’s going on.
Our low-key Christmas
We developed a plan based on our vision of how we wanted the day to unfold (OK, OK. Jen’s vision… Jen’s plan. I just helped when possible). Fortunately, our low-key Christmas did not disappoint. First we had to set up the tree, which we did well before the big day. We capped that evening off with popcorn (a real treat for Julia) and a movie (The Polar Express). Continue reading Buon Natale (Merry Christmas)→
If you are notoriously known for having eyes that are bigger than your stomach, then Italy is the ideal place for you during the holidays. You will eat some of the most delectable food known to man… but you will certainly eat far too much of it! If you possess a willpower stronger than mine and think to yourself, “nonsense Greg, I always stop eating when I am full” then you are mistaken.
A table like this means it’s impossible to pace yourself
First, it is impossible to “budget” your intake. You will definitely want to sample all the delicious and unique treats on the table. The courses come in waves bigger than Australia’s Gold Coast and there is no telling when they will stop crashing on the table. So even if you simply try a little of everything, you’re still going to eat three times more than a normal meal. But that’s hardly the main reason. If you are a visitor in someone’s home, the hostess is absolutely going to give you the largest portions. And before you’re even done, you should expect seconds. This will continue over and over until a cold sweat starts to break above your brow. The trifecta of being force fed occurs if:
A) you are a man (and therefore expected to eat copious amounts of food)
B) you are a visitor from another country (Italians are very hospitable and eager to show off their regional specialties)
C) you are in a house where a nonna (grandma) is present (as if the hostess herself wasn’t enough, a nonna is guaranteed to guilt you into taking another several portions of food) Continue reading Christmas in Italy… Your Taste Buds Will Thank You, Your Stomach Will Not→
You can have your two front teeth – I’ll take the Lamborghini!
Oh yeah, that’s the one I want!
Periodically, my father-in-law will send me Italian Groupon deals that he thinks we may be interested in acquiring. Through this site, we have found good deals on restaurants and hotels. Just like Groupon or Living Social at home – some of the deals are interesting, others are not. Some are phenomenal values – others are just cleverly packaged marketing schemes. Recently, he sent me one item that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing tall. The opportunity to take a Ferrari and/or Lamborghini out on a race track and really “open’er up!” Continue reading All I Want For Christmas is a White Lamborghini→
Most people visit Europe in the spring or summer. Of course, these are great times of year to see such a magical and historical place. But may I suggest to you a unique alternative?
Come in December, when the weather is at it’s coldest and the people are their warmest. When the cobblestone streets are strung with lights and the ancient buildings are trimmed with garland. Imagine your most magical place for the holidays – a winter wonderland, if you will. You will be sure to find something that fits your image here in Europe. There are amazing markets and festivals across the continent. Some countries boast cities that are particularly renowned for their holiday cheer. Finland, Germany and Austria are at the top of the list. Denmark and Switzerland are there as well. And of course, our personal favorite place to be for Christmas is right here in Italy. Before you plan your next Christmas vacation, add Europe into the running.
“Boy, Clark – I think we should go to Europe next year”
You may have recently read that our Christmas spirit was put into gear when we attended a Milanese festival early in December. We continued our drive toward Santa’s big day by slipping into second gear and crossing the border into neighboring Switzerland. Our Christmas spirit grew as we set out to enjoy one of the things we love most about Europe in December – the Christmas markets.
Christmas trees like this are in cities all over Europe – this is in the main piazza of Lugano, Switzerland
It just so happens that one of our favorite things about living in Italy is access to wonderful markets year round. In the spring and summer, we can stroll the markets to buy fresh vegetables and aged cheese. In the fall, we can purchase delicious homemade jams and carefully crafted grappa. However, the winter markets are undoubtedly our favorite. The backdrop is perfect – streets framed with Christmas lights. Good cheer around every turn. Wonderful food and beautiful artisanal goods at each stand. Beyond that, it is perfectly acceptable to walk around drinking the specialty drink of the season, vin brulé. This cooked wine is seasoned with sugar and spices – designed to warm your hands and belly as well as comfort your soul. No market visit on a cold December day would be complete without a cup (or two). Continue reading The Christmas Markets of Switzerland→