Category Archives: Family Stories

Christmas in Italy – Bring on the Festivals!

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”… and that means so many things!  It means snow flakes and Christmas lights.  It means cold weather and hot chocolate.  It means Santa Claus and stockings stuffed with goodies.  When you live in Europe, it also means tremendous Christmas markets and delicious vin brulè (cooked wine, usually sold on the streets).  Over the past couple weeks, we have been taking advantage of it all!  Because Christmas is only four days away – I will spend the next four days posting about our Christmas fun.  In order to do that, I have to bend my “unbreakable rule” and publish blog posts out of order.  I’ll fast-forward to Christmas and then flash back to some exciting posts that I have in the pipeline.

Oh bej!  Oh bej!

No, you don’t have to say “gesundheit”!  I didn’t sneeze.  That is the name of a festival held each year in Milan, spanning from December 7th through the following Sunday.  How did it get that wonderful name, you ask?  “Oh bej!  Oh bej!” means, “oh so nice!  Oh so nice!” in the Milanese dialect.  It is by far, the most important Christmas festival held in Milan.  December 7th is the day of the Patron Saint of Milano, Santo Ambrogio.  The festival is said to date back all the way to 1510.

Vendors line the streets during Oh Bej!  Oh Bej!

Continue reading Christmas in Italy – Bring on the Festivals!

Thanksgiving in Italy

Can you believe that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Italy?!  They also don’t celebrate the Fourth of July, Memorial Day or Labor Day!  I know weird, right?!

Our Thanksgiving table is set
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  Of course I love the spirit of Christmas, the fun costumes of Halloween (another holiday that they don’t really celebrate), the fireworks of our Independence Day… but nothing can match the guilt-free ability to gorge on delicious food all…day…long!  And if that wasn’t good enough, you are then permitted… nah, encouraged to lay on your duff and watch football until it’s time to re-heat a plate of leftovers. Continue reading Thanksgiving in Italy

Vinegar and Ice Cream – A Delicious Combo!

It’s likely that you may think I’ve gone off my rocker.  Vinegar on a salad – of course.  Vinegar on french fries – sure.  But vinegar on ice cream?!  Greg, you must be crazy?!  I assure you, I am not (well, at least when it comes to this point).  Provided one very important detail is in play… that the vinegar used is aged balsamic vinegar from Modena.  This dark, delicious treat becomes sweet and thick (almost, syrupy) once it has been aged 12(+) or 25(+) years.

Old fashioned equipment used to make vinegar now stands as decoration

I have been a fan of all things vinegar for as long as I can remember.  Admittedly, a strange condiment choice (above ketchup or mayonnaise) – but the heart wants what the heart wants.  Although we use apple cider vinegar every single day, I have always been quite fond of balsamic vinegar.  Just the right amount can add the perfect hit of acid to round out a caprese salad.  However, I recently learned that I have become accustomed to eating the equivalent of a McDonald’s value meal when a readily available filet mignon was just around the corner.  But let’s back up and find out how I discovered this… Continue reading Vinegar and Ice Cream – A Delicious Combo!

Our Second Love – A Bunch of Old Grapes

Jennifer, Julia and I had a wonderful time when my Uncle S and Aunt Deborah came to visit us this past March.  That’s why we were thrilled when they mentioned that they would like to come back to Italy again this fall.  They wanted to do a bit of traveling and invited us to join them on their adventures, using our condo in Como as a “home base”.  They had sketched a rough itinerary and just wanted a little help filling in the blanks – assistance I was happy to give.  They knew that they wanted to spend some time with us here in Como, some time in Piemonte and Emilia-Romagna (two regions adjacent to our region of Lombardia) as well as a quick jaunt down to the historically significant city of Pompeii and another to Venezia.

S and Deborah standing near the divide of Lake Como

Jen and I share the responsibility of planning our trips – researching restaurants, activities and hotels.  But they’re usually in three or four day stints and one location at a time.  This time, I had to navigate through a two week itinerary, complete with activities, restaurants, hotel stays and all at new locations each day.  Putting the puzzle pieces of their trip together was a challenge not for the faint of heart.  Jen and I dug in, and by the time S and Deb landed in Milan, we had an itinerary that we were both proud of.  I think all of us agreed that it came together quite nicely.  Of course, the key ingredient was the company, mixed with a little food and wine! Continue reading Our Second Love – A Bunch of Old Grapes

The Perfect Recipe – Great Friends, Food & Tons of Fun

Sometimes living abroad is hard.  Like when you miss a good friend’s wedding in upstate New York – an event that turned out to be the social gathering of the year (according to Facebook pictures and word of mouth). Thankfully Dave and Jill completely understood when we declined to come.  Or when one of your best friends tells you that he’s planning on “popping the question” via email, because there’s really no easier way.  Those are the types of conversations that should be reserved for a late night in a neighborhood bar, complete with lots of back pats and free rounds for the groom-to-be.  Thankfully, Josh was great about keeping me in the loop, sending us pictures of his wonderful proposal to Abby in Charlestown earlier this year (and even calling us via FaceTime shortly afterward).  So, yeah – living abroad can be hard when you miss these special moments in your friends and families lives.  However… when we’re able to host our friends and family here, we are always grateful for the experience abroad.

Abby, Josh, Jill, Dave, Jen and Julia

For that reason, we were absolutely thrilled when we heard that Josh and Abby were going to come visit us.  We coordinated the timing of their trip so that they would be visiting during a beautiful time of year and the start of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.  As soon as they booked their airfare, I reserved our train tickets to Munich, which I’ll write about in the upcoming post. Continue reading The Perfect Recipe – Great Friends, Food & Tons of Fun

Our Final Days at Sea

We recently had the most amazing vacation aboard Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam  and I have had a wonderful time writing about it.  I have discovered even more about each destination as I’ve researched them further and I have had the pleasure of reliving it all over again as I post the pictures.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed your time aboard with us.  Sadly, I will close this chapter of our overseas adventure and move onto the next story in an upcoming post.  There is still plenty more to come in the blog pipeline…

“Dad, wrap this up already – you’re putting us all to sleep!”

If you joined us thus far, you’ll know we visited Venice, Olympia and Athens in our first post and then Istanbul and Lesbos in the second post.  The final leg of our cruise transports us to Kuşadası,  Santorini and Argostoli.  As always, we’ll include some of our shipboard life and hopefully you’ll be able to stick with me – I’ve got a ton of pictures in this final post. Continue reading Our Final Days at Sea

Come Here, You Turkey!

In my most recent blog post, we embarked on a cruise throughout the Mediterranean.  I’d love for you to continue the adventure with us as we head to Istanbul, Turkey and the beautiful Greek island of, Lesbos.  I’ll finalize our voyage in an upcoming post that will include the final ports of call and some more stories about our shipboard life.

“Oh, tell me… tell me all about it!”

When I last left you, we had visited Venice, Olympia and Athens.  By this point in the cruise, we really hit our stride and had fully immersed ourselves in everything Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam had to offer.  We were overeating delicious food (and then trying to work some of it off in their state-of-the-art gym), spending time in the casino (maybe too much time… literally every casino worker knew me by name), taking in shows and making friends all over the ship.  We found a couple of other families with small children, but for the most part – we were in the minority (not fitting into your typical “cruise-goer” demographic).  I’ll tell you what… if you ever want affirmation about your kids cuteness – go on a cruise with thousands of grandparents missing their grandkids.  They were all so happy to pay us compliments about Julia that it made us excited to take her anywhere on board. Continue reading Come Here, You Turkey!

"I Would Sail 2,700 Nautical Miles and-a I Would Sail 2,700 More…"

Admit it… you sang the title in your head, complete with the voice raising on the “and-a I”

I love to cruise.  Jen loves to cruise.  And now… Julia absolutely loves to cruise.  We have very few experiences aboard cruise ships, but each time we’ve been on one of these massive floating hotels (or mini-floating city’s… I couldn’t choose between adjectives – you pick your favorite), we feel like royalty.  We know that we will chose this method of vacation many more times in our lives.  Cruising requires little planning and you are always rewarded with the very best customer service, the opportunity to see many more cities than you normally could in a given time period, endless activities aboard the ship, wonderful food, the benefit of unpacking only once and perhaps best of all – a very affordable vacation (you can get very good deals if you hawk the last-minute deal sites).

Our ship – Holland America’s MS Nieuw Amsterdam

The first time that Jen and I took a cruise was on our honeymoon.  We spent three weeks sailing around South America (from Buenos Aires, Argentina all the way around Cape Horn and on to Santiago, Chile).  I chose Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) for our first cruise, primarily because the itinerary was perfect and I found it to be reasonably priced.  I wasn’t nearly the internet-nerd I am today and so I did little research beyond that.  We had a wonderful vacation, ate way too much food, enjoyed some lovely scenery (I have thousands of pictures to prove it) and had an absolute blast.  However, I had no idea how amazing cruising could really be until we recently boarded Holland America’s, MS Nieuw Amsterdam (pronounced, n-e-w); one of the newer ships in their fleet.

Boarding the Nieuw Amsterdam

Continue reading "I Would Sail 2,700 Nautical Miles and-a I Would Sail 2,700 More…"

Villa Carlotta’s Beautiful Gardens

There is a wonderful town along Lake Como, called Tremezzo.  Most people have heard of Bellagio, which sits on the exact shore opposite Tremezzo, but the lesser known town is a true gem with far fewer tourists crowding the streets.  Tremezzo is home to a couple of our favorite restaurants and gelaterie (ice cream parlors).  It is also home to Villa Carlotta, a 17th century treasure that has been beautifully restored and maintained.

Villa Carlotta

Jen and I have been wanting to visit Villa Carlotta since we moved to Como.  The beauty of the villa and the gardens are well known in this area and attract thousands of visitors each year.  We had planned on going in March when my aunt and uncle were visiting, but the villa is not open to the public until the 15th (just a few short days after they departed).  Since the gardens are the main attraction, the preservation society wants to ensure all the flowers are in full bloom.  Jen and I decided that since my mom is a big fan of gardens, we would visit while they were here (read about the first part of their trip HERE). Continue reading Villa Carlotta’s Beautiful Gardens

Recreating a Photo 63 Years Later

I’ve always been amazed by my father’s dad, even though I have very few memories spending time with him.  My “Poppy” was a career photographer for National Geographic.  He was born before the turn of the century (February 24, 1898… have you ever known anyone from the 1800’s?!) in a rural town in Delaware that even today only boasts a few hundred residents.  He raised his family in Washington DC and got to travel the world for his work (long before traveling the world was something you actually did).  These are all things that I find particularly fascinating and I have discovered we even have a few parallels in our lives.  Except, he was a rather short man and I’m basically what you call basketball height (5’9″ is about the tallest you’ll see on the court, right?).
A scene along Lago di Maggiore

Of all those attributes, his long-standing career with National Geographic is probably the most interesting to me (and one I’m happy to brag about).  On a whim one day (several years ago), my sister-in-law, Jessica googled his name and was surprised at the results.  Over 400 of his images appeared on websites like art.com and others (I’m still researching how I can lay claim to the royalties… lawyers feel free to message me).  Jessica conspired with Jen and they surprised me with an huge print of one of his 1950’s Washington DC images (I was living downtown at the time).  Since Jen’s parents, Dominic and Diane had just purchased their condo in the Lake Como, Jessica and Diane also purchased one of his more famous 1950’s lake images in order to surprise me twice, as well as Jen.  When the gifts were presented, my dad, beaming with pride ran out of the room for a moment and came back with the two original copies of National Geographic magazines that contained those exact images.  I kept one magazine with my image at my home in Washington DC, and we took the other magazine to Dominic and Diane’s condo in Italy to be with the print that now hangs above our bed.

My grandfather’s photo that appeared in the August 1950 issue of National Geographic

Continue reading Recreating a Photo 63 Years Later