So, I’m back here on Sipping Espresso… blogging. Weird. I’m in America. I’m blogging aboutItalyfromAmerica. 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.
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.
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→
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.
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→
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 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.
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.
Sicilia (Sicily) was the birthplace of the original Godfather, Don Vito Corleone; its shoresharbored 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…
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).
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.
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.
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→
Have you ever wanted to sound like the world’s biggest a-hole and alienate multiple friends, all in one fell swoop? If so, pay close attention and do exactly as I say. Kind of roll your eyes a little bit in an exaggerated act of annoyance and say the following words with the smug impatience of someone who thinks they’re as classy as Ivanka Trump (but really only has as much class as her father, ‘The’ Donald). Repeat after me:
“Ugh. We have to go to Venice… again?! Bleeeehh.”
Do that, and you are sure to land on the top of most people’s sh*t list! At the risk of losing blog readers, friends and maybe even a few family members… that is exactly how we felt recently when we went back to Venice. I can fully appreciate this is a ridiculous thought to have and even more obnoxious to share… but hey, this is a blog that delivers brutal honesty. When we booked our cruise with Celebrity Cruises a little while back, we did it despite the fact that the ship spent two days at port in Venice. Don’t get me wrong, Venice is a beautiful city with a unique charm found nowhere else in the world. If you’ve visited Venice before, you may reminisce about the romantic gondola rides, the charming cafes and the stunning churches. But when you’ve faced with a visit to Venice for the fifth time, you are more likely reminded of the crowded piazzas, overprices restaurants and long lines full of pushy tourists.
Venezia (Venice) has an alluring history that I find to be more fascinating than nearly any other city in the world. I mean, the entire city has been floating on water for centuries, for Pete-sake! I detail a brief explanation of how Venice came to be in this blog post (definitely worth a quick read).
Even though we weren’t very excited at the prospect of squaring off against millions of other tourists in a space not much larger than the Mall of America, we abandoned our original plans to stay on the ship and instead ventured onto Venice’s shores. We were sure glad that we did! Over the next two days we rediscovered a new Venice; one with more magic and charm than we ever realized was possible. What’s the difference, you ask? We were walking around in the off-season. Continue reading Venice, Italy – Alfred Hitchcock’s Inspiration→
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.
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) .
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.
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.