Category Archives: Travel – Italy

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

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

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”!

Wine in the Springtime

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!

Vineyards of Rovescala
Vineyards of Rovescala along our drive into town
The farmers have been producing wine for over 800 years
The farmers have been producing Bonarda wine for over 800 years

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.

I was loving the group of Harley riders that rolled into town
I was loving the group of Harley riders that rolled into town
Of course, what Italian festival is complete with a collection of Vespa's?!
Of course, what Italian festival is complete with a collection of Vespa’s?!

Continue reading Wine in the Springtime

No Capri-SUN On The Island of Capri

“The journey should be fun, but if you haven’t learned anything along the way, you’ve not yet reached your final destination.”

If you can find Kim Kardashian quotes online, then certainly I should be allowed to try my hand at it!

"Excuse me... did you just try to author a quote?!"
“Excuse me… did you just try to author a quote – that’s my domain!”

There is a point to that quote however, apart from just trying something new.  Our journey abroad has been a wonderful and wild ride.  I have had a blast blogging about it and I appreciate all of my readers for tuning in.  But more importantly, I’ve learned a thing or two over the past year.  As it relates to blogging specifically, I’ve learned a lot. When I look back at my older posts and blogging habits I cringe.  I used to spend ages loading photos, and have just recently learned a shortcut that saves me hours.  I moved from Blogger to WordPress, which I would equate to a jump from junior high directly to college (my MBA is awaiting the day I can build my own website).  I have learned that Top Ten lists and featured images of scantily clad women get you the most page-views.  I used to write posts that seemed to go on for days (and you thought I wrote a lot now), but recently I am attempting to keep each post specific to one topic (as opposed to combining multiple cities and multiple food related stories all into one post).

"Tell me about these 'shorter' posts, daddy"
“Tell me about these ‘shorter’ posts, daddy”
"I think it's a good idea in theory, but let's see if you can really stick to it!
“I think it’s a good idea in theory, but let’s see if you can really stick to it!

Continue reading No Capri-SUN On The Island of Capri

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