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.
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned three centuries and gave us some of the world’s most precious treasures. It changed the way people thought, it altered politics and it had an impact on art and architecture that lasts to this day. The exciting changes in art and philosophy reached across Europe and quite literally brought people out of the Dark Ages and into the light of a new era. There is little debate about the birthplace of the Renaissance; nearly all scholars will agree that it is Florence, Italy. Because of the city’s important impact on the world as we know it, as well as it’s own unique beauty – Florence is a city that everyone should see in their lifetime. If those are not compelling enough reasons, Florence is in Tuscany – one of Italy’s most beautiful regions.
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – the famous Duomo of Florence
I suppose that I’ve sufficiently succeeded in being completely cheesy and unoriginal, using the two most obvious cliche’s to name my two posts about Rome (first post). Oh well, this is what you can expect from me when I’m faced with the monumental task of bringing you up to speed on our many recent adventures. So, let’s begin!
When I last left you, we had seen the Pope’s home (Vatican City), a bunch of steps (Spanish Steps) and a some running water (Trevi Fountain). The next day, we wanted to see a pile of stones (Colosseum) and a big dome (Pantheon). And if anyone ever describes some of the world’s most precious treasures like that again, smack them! Continue reading When In Rome…→
If all roads lead to Rome, nowadays you could also say that all European cruises start from Rome. Well, maybe not all – but a good many of the cruise ships use this port of call as a starting point for their Mediterranean voyages. At least, this was the case on our cruise aboard Celebrity Cruise Lines ship, Silhouette. The Silhouette is one of five ships in their newest Solstice Class – a group of sleek, modern ships with a heavy emphasis on style and dining. The ship and the cruise did not disappoint. We had many ports of call and a lot of wonderful activities that I’d like to write about, so let’s start at the beginning… Continue reading All Roads Lead To Rome→
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→
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