Saturday, July 26, 2008

End of the Trip

After passing through Genoa, we could catch beautiful azure glimpses of the sea from our train. At last we arrived in the Cinque Terre - five magical tiny towns on the Italian coast.

We were staying in our favorite, Corniglia (pronounced Cornelia). It is the smallest and least touristy since it is on a cliff, not on the water, and requires a hike up many many stairs (or a bus ride, but what's the fun in that?).

Here's the entire town. The next town, Manarola, can be seen in the distance on the left.

A small train links the five towns and runs about twice an hour. From our home base we could hop from town to town.

We fell into a routine of waking up leisurely, having a morning cappuccino or ciaccolato, then the kids and I would head to the beach, while Anthony would explore and take fabulous photos with his new camera.

This is looking down the stairs toward the train tracks, about 3/4 of the way up to Corniglia.

Manarola from Corniglia.

Buon giorno! Anna loved her cafe latte, ma non troppo caldo.

This day Colin was so excited about getting into the sea he didn't want to even eat lunch. I dragged him to a foccaceria where we got pizza, sandwiches, etc. He finally got hungry enough to eat it, back in the water. Meanwhile, I had a heavenly piece of cipolle foccacia (onion) - the bread was crisp and perfectly anoited with frangrant olive oil, lip-smackingly salty but sweet from the oven-cured onions - simple but heavenly.

This beach was all big stones - no sand - and we all banged up our legs but saw some nice fish.

Ciaccolato freddo!

This is the main street in Corniglia, with our favorite restaurant on the left, and the amazing gelateria on the right. Its narrow and obviously pedestrian only, with all the locals walking up and down before dinner and saying hello to other locals. Fortunately we made friends with the gelato makers and thus, several locals regularly greeted us, too.

Video on the iPod -- the best way for mom and dad to enjoy a boring wine tasting or those long, multicourse dinners.

The water was an amazing color and so clear.

Note the tiny swimmer below for perspective.

Alberto, maker of wonderful gelato. Our favorites were the lemon (made from local fruit - tasted piney and citrusey and not too sweet), honey, pistacchio, fig, cafe, mango.

Even when you order a marvelous pizza in paradise, a five year old may howl and refuse it because of "green stuff" (scanty dried oregano). Sick of it, we made him sit on the other side of the street where we didn't have to hear it (but could still keep an eye on him). Empathetic Anna felt bad for him and went to sit next to him, and offered him a piece with green stuff picked off.

Amazing views, amazing camera... amazing place: Vernazza!

The view of the vineyards from our room in Corniglia. They make the famous Sciacchettrà desert wine from these grapes.

After playing for hours in the sun, we'd head home for showers and some rest, then mosey around until our 8 o'clock dinner reservation.
We were so sad to leave, and said arrivederci to all our new friends, on a foggy morning that they said at least would make us want to leave, but no, not really.

Two and a half hours later we were in Milano. After being in the suburbs with Romina, then the relatively quiet Riviera of Cinque Terre, Milano was a big city shock. "Stick close to us, and be careful!" we warned the children. "This is a big city, like New York." "But I haven't been to New York, either," Anna reminded us.

Milano was the first place we went where people tried to prey on us for being tourists - if we stopped to look at our map, tried to talk to us and get us to go to their hotel, or tied knotted thread bracelets unsolicited on the kids' wrist, then asked 5 euro for them. "Why did he give us that and ask for so much money?" they asked, so innocent they needed the scam explained over and over.

Fortunately, we knew how to read a metro map, and how to find the beauty in the city. The cathedral in Milan is much bigger than the one in Como, and under constant renovation.

Man, I'd love a floor like that!

You can take an elevator to the roof to see the incredible ornate decorations up close, and get great views of the city.

We ate some of the best pizza for our last night and some mediocre gelato (very lackluster after Alberto's), then prepared for our long journey home. The kids (especially Anna) were sad to leave Italy and Europe, but wanted to get home to see the cats, and their friends, and their stuff.

It was a really wonderful trip. We loved showing the kids a whole other way of living. There was lots of hand-holding and happy moments, and very few times where we wanted to leave them on the other side of the road. I know the kids will remember this trip, and I hope it is the first of many visits for them. I know we'll be back, and I can't wait!

More Italy pictures!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brief Detour from the Trip Recap

I'll get back to Italy, but of course here in Texas life goes on. At work today, I did some tumor removals on a Chinese Crested, a mostly hairless dog. Then I did something I've never done before.I put a band-aid on my patient!

Monday, July 21, 2008

4 Wonderful Days with Romina and family

We flew into Milano late, took a bus to the Metro, then met Romina at her Metro stop. She drove us to her house and we collapsed into bed. The next morning, Anna and Colin couldn't wait to meet their new friends, Leonida (age 3) and Martino (age 1). Despite the language barrier, the kids got along really well. Leo especially loved Anna, and wanted to hold her hand everywhere we went.

The first morning we just walked into town, then came back for a beautiful lunch Romina made. It was a beautiful day to eat in the garden. We had pasta salad - with tomatoes, basil, arugula, and mozzarella - as well as a PLATTER of prosciutto and fresh juicy sweet cantaloupe.

Since we were there with kids, again we visited the playgrounds. This one had a zip cord that was a huge hit. Anna wants Anthony to build her one in the backyard.
Romina and her family and friends were so generous and kind to us. One day her extended family - her mom and husband, her brother and fiance, as well Romina and Corrado and the kids - planned a big day for us to all caravan to some historic sites together. First we went to a medieval town that had been restored and was full of little artisan shops.
One of the shops had local meats, and they treated us to an appertivo of proscuitto and salami - it was incredible.

Later we had another amazing lunch that they had all prepared for us - torta di vedura (like a spinach quiche in a pastry crust), pasta salad, chicken salad, bread, fresh fruit. I am very sorry we did not get a photo of it. They also opened, no kidding, 4 different bottles of local wines for us to try. Then, the masterpiece - Romina's mom had made a crostada di marmelada (cherry jam tart).

It was fantastic! We really admired how these people lived and enjoyed life - not just all this wonderful food, but how easy they were in each other's company, how they all just pitched in and had no expectations of being entertained. After the medieval town, we drove to a nearby castle.It was great, but the tour was in rapid Italian. Ironically, while Romina was out with her rambunctious boys, her mother would turn and explain the tour to me - in Italian - and I could understand her just fine. She would speak slowly and simply and repeat herself a lot, so that helped. Also, she is extremely expressive.
Anna was still bored.

We also had a wonderful bike ride through the Lombardy countryside - lots of flat roads through fields of rice, corn, and wheat. Romina would cook for us at night or we would order amazing thin crust pizzas from her local pizzeria.

The last full day we went to Lago di Como.

It was so much cooler up in the mountains, and very beautiful. Sadly, we did not see George. (Clooney has a villa there.) We did make use of the many water fountains - this one looked like an ornate dragon with clear, fresh, mountain water spewing from his mouth.
Italy is "drowning"in water, and much of it is either fresh from the mountain snows or bubbling up from mineral rich aquifers. Everywhere are fountains for drinking, washing your hands, and the water is cold and delicious. Italians empty their plastic water bottles with the dregs that remain that they paid for, then hold it under the tap for fresca, fredda acqua.

Across the lake, we saw a diagonal train track stepping up the mountain. A funiculare!
Funiculi, funicula! We got on at the bottom of the hill:
On the way up we could see all of the beautiful town of Como, and the huge cathedral.
We got off at the top and walked for some more incredible views.
You could see hundreds of miles - all the little towns, the huge lake, the snow covered alps in the distance. An amphibious plane droned below us.
We rode back down, had some gelato, then toured the cathedral.
The altar - looks small in this photo but was massive with all its marble.
Here is HALF of the pipe organ, located at the transept of the church. The other half faced it in a mirror image on the other side. Luckily for us, the organist was practicing. Colin especially liked it. "I can hear those big pipes, Mommy!" he'd say on an especially low note.

Of course, beautiful art everywhere - paintings, tapestries, scultures...
And, more dead people.
Our friends were so kind to let us crash into their lives for a few days. They had to get back to work and we had to get to the sea, so we said a sad farewell as we left to get on the trains. Anna and Colin wanted to stay with them forever, and Leo didn't want us to leave - even cried when we left. Too bad its not that simple. I'm sure we'll all be getting together again in a few years. Until then, grazie per tutti, ci vidiamo alla prossima volta, ciao, ciao, ciao!

Italy, to be continued....