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→
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…
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.
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)→
If you’ve been a loyal reader of this blog or have spent a little time playing around on the pages, you’ll see that I’ve started a “series” that highlights some of the differences between Italy and our native America. Some of the differences are strange to us, many of them make perfect sense and others are just plain silly. If you’d like to see where the series began, take a look back here:
Living in Italy grants us access to a lot of great restaurants. We fully take advantage of that and eat at… a lot of great restaurants. I recently read that 75% of the food in Italy is great and 25% of the food is exceptional. I would agree with that – most meals leave you feeling completely satisfied and pleased with the overall experience. But occasionally, you’ll find yourself “mmm’ing” and “aahhh’ing” with more delight than you intended to express aloud.
We can usually spot these exceptional places before we’ve walked in the door. We may have heard about the joint from a friend or relative. It’s possible I’ve read about it on the internet or a travel book. Or sometimes, we just walk into a place and the intense amount of “old-world charm” smacks us in the face. We’re greeted by a little nonna (grandma) who then scurries to the back to cook our meal – and we just know that we are in for a treat. Since it is usually one of those three paths that lead to our exceptional meals, I had all but dismissed, Osteria da Clo’ Filomena when we made our reservation. The reason for the swift dismissal, you ask? Well, the restaurant was in our B&B, in a remote part of Emilia-Romagna, surrounded by nothing by small villages and towns. I’m usually quick to dismiss restaurants in hotels anyway, with a few exceptions. Furthermore, the place was empty. I wasn’t surprised, because it would probably be a 20-30 minute drive for most patrons to arrive. I assumed that the restaurant was in place, merely to service the guests of the hotel and therefore had to serve mediocre food (which, if you remember still falls into the 80% “great” category).
The Osteria at night – the outdoor patio is used in the spring
Before I’ve even written the first word of this post, my OCD brain is trying to figure out if this post should be categorized under the “Food” or the “Travel” sections of the blog. I will be taking you along with us on our travel adventure to go eat some of Italy’s best food. It’s quite the dilemma…
A selection of salumi (cold cuts), formaggi (cheese) and the cinghiale (boar) that gave his life to the cause
You may have read about part of our visit with Aunt Deb and Uncle S where we ventured into the wine region of Piemonte during the first portion of their visit. Their two week sojourn in Italy included a mission to explore the best of what the country has to give. It was no coincidence then, that their adventure had been neatly divided into three of the country’s best offerings. Part I was Vino (wine). Party II was Cibo (food) – the subject of today’s post. Lastly, Part III was Storia (history). Since they experienced the rich history of Pompeii and Venezia on their own, I will let them tell you all about it at their next dinner party. I’ll simply report on the parts during which we were present… and luckily for us, we were present for a three day trip into Italy’s richest “food region”, Emilia-Romagna. Continue reading Loosen Those Belt Buckles – Some Serious Eating Ahead→
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→
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→
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.
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
No, I didn’t wear one myself, but only because we were already half-way through our trip before I came across a store that sold them. Real men also eat haggis (sheep’s heart, liver and lungs encased in it’s own stomach) – I did do that! Of course, so did my two-year old daughter… and she probably had more than all of us combined.
A scenic shot of the River Dee in the Scottish Highlands
Since living abroad, we’ve been able to get in touch with most of Jen’s roots. Her father is Italian (hence us living in Italy) and we’ve gone to many of the places where he has or had family. Since he grew up in Africa, we still have that left to do. Jen’s mother grew up in Ohio, and having crossed that off the list multiple times – it was time to go a bit further. Diane’s lineage is a mixture of Irish (we went to Dublin in March, HERE) and Scottish. Now, it was finally time to go to Scotland! And since Jen’s parents and sister were here visiting us, we would all embark on this adventure together. Continue reading Scotland – Where Real Men Wear Skirts→