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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
When you are young, the world is your oyster. You can do anything… be anything. Many kids have grand plans to become a cowboy or a princess or even travel through space and time. Most kid’s plans become a little bit more grounded in “this” world as they get a little older. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still be grand. I specifically remember sitting in my seventh grade Spanish class, penning a list of activities that I absolutely had to do in my lifetime. This list included activities such as climbing Mount Everest, sky diving and hang-gliding, running with the bulls in Pamplona and skiing the Swiss Alps. I think even then, I knew that I would be lucky to complete more than a handful of the activities. The one activity that persisted most in my mind was skiing the Swiss Alps. All throughout high school and college, my friends and I spoke of the day we would make this dream a reality. But after a decade and a half of dreaming, I started to believe that was all it would ever be. Sometimes the real world (jobs, kids, schedules, finances) just get in the way. Continue reading A Lifelong Dream, Realized At Last!→
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→