King Joffrey might just be the most evil little man-boy on the planet, but he has got one thing right – he gets to live in a beautiful and unique city (King’s Landing) with a history no more interesting than the real-life city in which the show is filmed. If you’re a fan of the show Game of Thrones, you may know that most of the filming takes place in Dubrovnik, Croatia. This site was chosen after season one wrapped (they originally filmed in Malta) because of the city’s perfectly maintained medieval appearance. It is purely coincidental (and perfectly fitting) that the city of Dubrovnik happens to have a past that is as violent and completely peppered with dastardly deeds as King’s Landing itself.
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→
“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.
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→
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’svalue 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!→
I have a love-hate relationship with running. I love the feeling of finishing a five or six mile run. I hate the agony I get in my calves the next day. I love pushing myself to run a distance further than I’ve ever run before. I hate pushing myself through that first mile after foolishly taking four months off during the winter. Currently, I’m learning to find a proper balance in my on-again off-again relationship with running. Since living abroad, I’ve discovered a renewed commitment to running. I am lucky enough to have some of the most amazing routes in my own backyard – a benefit that definitely keeps me on the trail a little longer.
“Please, come join me along my run”
Julia loves to join me on an occasional run
We have been really lucky with some wonderful weather this fall. Just this morning, I went for a jog in shorts and a lightweight jacket. I understand it’s a lot colder at home, so I would like to invite you to “come for a run with me”. I have several routes that I take on a regular basis depending on how long, how far, or how much of a vertical climb I want. Or sometimes, I’ll just go out and try to find something new. Continue reading Would You Like To Join Me For a Run?→