Category Archives: History

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

“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”!

Michael Corleone Says Ciao to Taormina, Sicily

Sicilia (Sicily) was the birthplace of the original Godfather, Don Vito Corleone; its shores harbored his son, Michael Corleone and recently the island hosted Don Greggorio and his small family.  My only disappointment in visiting Sicily was that my wife, Jen wouldn’t let me wear a white suit and hat while walking around passing out fruit like I was Don Vito himself.  Oh well, there’s always next time…

The sun rises over Catania, Sicily
The sun rises over Catania. How can you be expected to walk around without a white suit?!

I was so excited to visit Sicily because I’ve wanted to see this unique part of the country for as long as I can remember.  This region of Italy is so far south from where we live that I wasn’t sure if we would ever get the opportunity to explore the island while living here.  Sicily boasts a plethora of interesting facts that I couldn’t begin to detail in a single post.  However, perhaps the most interesting few points are that the island is the largest in the Mediterranean, archeological evidence dates human inhabitants are far back as 8,000 BC and the terrain has changed hands dozens of times (from Greek to Byzantine to Roman and all over again and again).

Coastline along Sicily
Coastline along Sicily
Ìsula Bedda is local dialect for Isola Bella, or Beautiful Island
Ìsula Bedda is local dialect for Isola Bella, or Beautiful Island

Continue reading Michael Corleone Says Ciao to Taormina, Sicily

Murano, Burano & Torcello – The Keys To Unlocking Venice

If you read about our recent trip to Venice (HERE), then you’ll know that we finally unlocked the key to really enjoying Venice.  In a nutshell, it involves beating the other tourists to the finish line.  If the “finish line” is a guided tour in Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), then be the first person in line in the morning.  If the finish line is grabbing a moment of solace in an empty Piazza San Marco, then you’d better be there as the sun rises (conversely, you can arrive well after the sun has set and listen to  the beautiful music of the dueling bands). Or, more simply, you can do what we did; visit this magical city in the off-season and get to know the city of Venezia (Venice) without having to put up a fight.

San Marco Campanile and Doge's Palace seen from the water
San Marco Campanile and Doge’s Palace seen from the water

If you’re blessed with a couple of days in Venice, I would suggest that you go a bit deeper than the surface level attractions.  Skip the gondola ride (it’s overpriced anyhow) and instead tour the neighboring islands.  With 117 to chose from, you’ll have your pick.  You can visit the Jewish Ghetto on the island of Cannaregio.  Many of the beautiful parks and gardens on the island of Lido are free of charge to you botany lovers.  Or, for the real adventurers, you could opt to wade into the marshes and cast nets with local fishermen near the island of Chioggia.

The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore Church on the island that shares the same name
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore Church on the island that shares the same name

We knew that we wanted to visit the island Murano and watch how the world-famous Venetian glass was blown.  This would require a little preparation and so I enlisted the assistance of a guided tour.  I discovered a wonderful website that offers local tours at very reasonable prices – Viator.  Travel bugs, take note of that website!  It is a great resource for sight-seeing tours in cities all over the world. We will definitely use them again; my only regret was not discovering the website sooner.  When searching for a tour of Murano, we found a better option – a tour that also included the islands of Burano and Torcello.  You can find the link to our specific tour HERE.  I bought my tickets ($28 pp) and had the confirmation sent to my smart phone.  I showed up at the designated area, presented the pass on my phone and received our tickets to the boat.  Easy, breezy, lemon-squeezy. Continue reading Murano, Burano & Torcello – The Keys To Unlocking Venice

This Will Get Your “Kotor” Running!

I am not a dedicated student of history or geography, although I like to believe I have a little knowledge of the world.  I recently exposed my own ignorance on the recent affairs of eastern Europe and I am embarrassed to admit the depths of it to you now.  Let this paragraph serve as my confession booth when I tell you that just over a year ago, I had never heard of the country of Montenegro.  Allow me to further confess that as recently as six months ago, I didn’t know  that Yugoslavia was no longer a country, but rather a former Socialist Republic that had been divided into what stands today as seven independent countries (Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Slovenia) .img216

Of course, I knew that this entire Slavic area of the European continent was [very recently] rife with political tension and civil unrest. The result of which sparked years of bloody wars culminating in both great losses for many of the citizens and great victories for each independent nation.  I knew this because when I was younger, my sister and father each had friends from the area.  But eleven-year old Greg was more interested in tuning in to see how MacGyver was going to use a pocketknife to escape from a flooding submarine than he was to tuning into C-SPAN.macgyver

Continue reading This Will Get Your “Kotor” Running!

Let’s Set Sail Together Again (Corfu, Greece)!

It’s been nearly a month and a half since my last meaningful post and I am once again faced with the monumental task of getting caught back up.  I’m not sure how or why I allowed myself to get so far behind, but I do know that I have left myself a lot of work.  The wine, cheese and salami will just have to wait (well, I suppose it can’t hurt to have a little wine while I write).  I would like to apologize to my readers for this delay and I would like to acknowledge one loyal reader in particular;  Helen  actually reached out to me through our Contact Us page and basically said, “what the hell, Greg – where’ve you been?!”  Helen and everyone – even though it can’t excuse the lack of content, we  just got back from a two-week trip to the States where, in my capacity as Best Man, I roasted my good buddy Josh and toasted his beautiful bride, Abby (read about Josh and Abby’s trip to visit us here and here).

While we were home, I rediscovered some magical things – burritos, quality customer service and Netflix.  We haven’t watched as much TV over the past year as we did over the past two weeks.  I became obsessed with the Netflix original series, House of Cards – an amazing drama starring, Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a cagey and politically ambitious congressman who is constantly scheming and conniving to reach the next rung of the political ladder.  If Frank Underwood can work through all hours of the night and stay ten moves ahead of his opposition, surely I can bang out a few extra blog posts in the next couple weeks.

You and me both, Frank
You and me both, Frank

We still have tons of travel left to do together – I’ve only written about the very first part of our cruise late last year and so much has happened since.  So put on your boating shoes and let’s get going… Continue reading Let’s Set Sail Together Again (Corfu, Greece)!

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…"

Two Greeks in Italy

I don’t know anyone in their thirties that really goes around saying, “I’m Greek” because he or she was in a fraternity or sorority – but it was certainly fun to be a part of Greek Life during college.  Jennifer and I were both “Greeks” while we attended Virginia Tech together and we each established lifelong friendships that have opened world’s of opportunities.

Lauren and Jen in front of Lake Garda

One of Jen’s sorority sisters, Lauren recently came to visit – and they instantly fell into their old college routine.  We welcomed Lauren at the train station; she was arriving from Switzerland having visited another friend living abroad.  We went to downtown Como and had a nice dinner, before enjoying a few drinks in the piazza while a live band entertained us. Continue reading Two Greeks in Italy