Category Archives: Italy

Venice

Venezia!  I’ve been there a few times before and each time not only love the uniqueness of it, but something new seems to happen every time I go.  This time, it was the flooding of the streets!  While we were able to avoid most of the flooding into the streets, it was still rather wet all around and they even had the planks around on standby just in case.  The second night I spent there we were all woken up at 3:45 by the flood warning siren, joy!!  I adore San Marco’s Square, as well as the church in the square with the most unique multicolored marbled columns and warped mosaic floor!  I adore how a city built hundreds of years ago on water is still standing today!  I adore its romantic history rich with courtesans, beautiful gowns and Carnival!

This trip was unique for me however as it really wasn’t as much for me as it was for my family… Specifically my mom and dad:)  You see, each hit a major birthday milestone this year (70 & 75) so my two brothers, sister and I all chipped in to do something a little extra special for them.  My mom was the one who actually found the trip: a 7 night cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean “Splendour of the Seas” leaving from Venice, Italy with port calls to Dubrovnik, Croatia; Ephesus, Turkey; Santorini, Greece and Katakolon, Greece.  My mom obviously knew all of this information, however my dad was only told that the family had chipped in for a birthday cruise for only him and I to go on.  He had no idea that my sister and mom would be joining too…

For almost 3 months prior to leaving for the cruise my mom, sister and I exchanged probably about a hundred emails going over details and how we were going to spring the surprise on my dad.  There was a ton of confusion at first because the website for Royal Caribbean is absolutely bonkers!!  You would think that they would get it together and create a site that actually works!!  But no… It seemed that just about every day for almost a straight month something was wrong with our reservation because of that idiotic site.  But thanks to some nice customer service operators, things smoothed out well.

So the plan was for my dad and I to go to Treviso (where he has a cousin) and stay with them for a couple nights.  Then he and I would go to Venice where we would stay overnight the night before having to board the cruise.  My mom and sister were to arrive in Venice mid-afternoon) from the States the day before the cruise as well.  Then they were going to meet us “randomly” at a restaurant (one we would pick in advance so I could be sure that my dad and I would be there) and the surprise would be revealed:)

That’s how it was supposed to go… Now how it REALLY went is as follows:  My dad and I did go to Treviso to see family and were dropped off in Venice mid-afternoon.  Now, the WiFi in the family’s place wasn’t quite all there all the time… At some point in the morning before leaving for Venice I just happened to refresh my email and suddenly several emails showed up saying “flight was delayed”; “stuck in Heathrow”; “missed flight due to idiotic security people at Heathrow”; “trying to leave from Gatwick”; “hope to take the 4pm flight out”…

At this point I’m a bit panicked… I’m the only one who knows they are coming, so I can’t say anything to my dad about them being off track… They are supposed to be a surprise… But now I’m a bit worried because I can’t contact them…  I checked the airport site but had no luck with any information there…

We got to Venice where my first move was to get my tablet hooked to the WiFi so I could search for any updates… Nothing, nil, zilch… I still have to play it cool however so I spend the rest of the afternoon acting as if all is well (when really I’m a bit worried on what to do in case they didn’t show, lol!) strolling around beautiful Venice with my dad.  We walked quite a bit and opted to take a canal taxi back to the hotel.

Once there, we started to get ready to go out for dinner.  I shot off a quick email to my sister and mom, hoping they would get it, about where we were planning to go.  At this point I still hadn’t heard whether they had even made it on the 4pm flight to Venice!  Before heading out for dinner, I even filled in the hotel receptionist on what was going on in case my sister and mom stopped by there!

So off to dinner we went…  It was about 8pm at this point, and though Italian meals tend to take a bit of time, I was purposefully trying to drag this dinner out as long as possible.  9pm rolled around… “sure I’ll have another beer”… 9:30 came about… “Dessert?  Why not?”… almost 10pm was upon us…

At this point I was already out of reasons to stay any longer AND I was starting to wonder if they had made that 4pm flight after all??  For, if they had, then certainly they would have been in Venice and would have been able to make it to the restaurant by now!  I thought that I better not drag dinner out any more, but rather I’d better get to my email to see what’s going on…

Just as I went to walk out the door with my dad behind me, my sister came walking in the door!!  We saw each other, our eyes widened and we immediately did an about-face, her out the door, and me toward my dad so I could try to shield him from seeing her, lol!! Unfortunately he just happened to see her face as she was coming in and the gig was up!!  She came back in (on her own as my mom was hiding around the corner as a second surprise) to greet my dad and all the details started to come out as to why she was there.  Then my sister said “you wouldn’t believe the day WE’VE had getting here”… We??? my dad asked… Who’s we???  Lol!!  Ooopppss!!  So out the door we went and my mom came out of hiding, lol!!

So while it wasn’t exactly how we had planned the surprise, it was still a great surprise for my dad nonetheless:)  My dad said after the surprise that he had been feeling tired from dinner, but was now very wide awake, lol!  I’m just glad my sister and mom made it!!

In any event, the next day we all boarded the ship and waved goodbye to Venice as we headed out to sea.

By the way, I do have to make a mention about Hotel Canal in Venice… It’s located just across the street from the train station and both times I stayed there it was a very pleasant experience!  The staff were beyond accommodating, the location was unbeatable in my book, the rooms were very spacious (both times we ended up with a room that faced directly on the Canal) and while it could probably use a tiny facelift, I really enjoyed its old style Venetian charms:)

On to Dubrovnik

Back to Europe

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Scots in Italy??

The reason I had been traveling through Europe so fast was so I could make it back to Italy by mid-October… I got news while in Berlin that Anna (my neighbor in Costa Rica who I visited in Glasgow) and her friend, and now my new friend Morna were coming to town for the week!!  Yay!! But, that meant to push the gas on the pedal for my other travels.  Hence, after visiting the Neuschwanstein Castle I booked it via train through the Alps back to Florence to prepare for their visit:)

Preparing for their visit is really just code for stocking up with lots of wine, lol!!  I believe during their visit, my dad got 20 liters of wine and between the two of them, they probably went through 12-13 liters… LOL!  But hey, I can’t blame them, they were in Italy for crying out loud!  If you aren’t going to enjoy yourself while here, why bother at all?

I met them in Pisa and we stayed the first night and the next day doing all the tourist stuff, i.e. getting a picture taken holding up the tower.  Morna didn’t want to get in on that action, but we got her later when we were in the top  cupola of the Duomo in Florence cupping another dome of Florence… I Should now mention that all the pictures in this post were taken by Anna and her camera.  Gotta give credit where credit is due:)

In any event, our time after Pisa was spent hanging out at my dad’s place eating delicious home cooked Italian food; getting tipsy on wine and beer and chatting about good times both past and present; taking hikes in the National Forrest to Vallombrosa and Secchieta; going into Florence about 3 separate times trying each time to get into the Duomo but failing until our last try (which we then ended up walking to the very top for a panoramic view);

Going to see Michelangelo’s David, of course!  (the picture below is of my favorite part of David… (no, not THAT part;)))

My favorite part of David
My favorite part of David

Making a wish at the porcellino;

Wishing on the Porcellino
Wishing on the Porcellino

And staying after dark in Florence to watch night life a bit.

Night Artists
Night Artists

Probably the most humorous time for me was the hikes… The first day we went, not more than 3 minutes after we left the house it started to pour down rain.  Did we turn back?  Naw, it was just a bit of rain and we were SURE it would stop soon.  Thankfully I had brought an umbrella and poncho “just in case” since it was a bit cloudy, and while I caved and took out the umbrella for shelter after about 10 minutes of walking in the rain, Morna and Anna were still braving it with the light jacket/sweater they brought for the walk.  About 20 minutes later they were drenched!!  They took the poncho, which was large enough to share and onward we went.  Along the way we spotted several deer!!  And that was probably only because the deer figured “no human in their right mind would hike in this downpour!”  They were wrong, lol!!

We eventually made it to Vallombrosa all cold and quite wet.  Thankfully there was a teeny bar on the side of the road:)  We had cappuccino’s, a sandwich, some wine, beer, some more wine and beer… Then shots to warm up a bit more (we were still chilly) then another shot or two until it was starting to get too late and dark to walk back down, so we called my dad to pick us up, lol!!

The second day of hiking was much less wet, but still cold and windy!  We did make it all the way to the top to Secchieta (where we had planned to go the first day) and once again at the end of the trail, what was there to meet us??  You guessed it, a bar!  We brought our own lunch that day so we just purchased some cappuccino’s, two wines and a beer:)  We behaved that day knowing we had to walk down but not entirely… You see, along with sandwiches for lunch, we also packed about a liter and a half of wine to sip along the way:)  We did behave on drinking it however because we barely cracked into it until we were heading down:)  Ah, good times!

More Florence pictures- notice the very artistic pictures on the Ponte Vecchio done by Anna:)

The three of us posing as stereotypical Italians (Mamma Mia!)

Acting Italian
Acting Italian

On to Venice

Back to Europe

Isola d’Elba

Isola d’Elba!!  Though I am half Italian, I never knew that this little archipelago off the coast of Tuscany in the Mediterranean Sea even existed!!  The shame, I know!!!  Thankfully my dad did as he suggested a weekend trip there to explore the little land and its numerous beaches!!  From his house outside of Florence it took about 4 hours to get to the dock at Piombino where we drove on to a ferry-boat (called MOBY) and headed to the port in Portoferraio on the island of Elba.  Though the weather had been very sketchy for several weeks prior to our trip, and though it even rained on the ferry ride over, we got two full days of sun on the island and only had cloudy days on the day we arrived and the day we left:)  Seriously lucked out since it was toward the end of summer/early fall that we went to begin with!

Our hotel (hotel Gabbiano Azzuro- hotel Blue Seagull) was located in a town called Marciana Marina on the North Western section of the island.  The town itself is a cute little quaint place with the usual shopping, restaurants, beaches, marinas and hiking trails from here to there.  The hotel, while really not terribly impressive inside offered quite a delicious breakfast including some of the best brioches I’ve personally ever tasted!  They were filled with Bavarian cream… YUM!!!  Just looking at them however pretty much capped my daily allowance of sugar intake… lol!!  I should probably clarify that the hotel itself was quite clean, the people very nice, the location an easy walk to/from the town center, but the rooms were not that big and while they boasted that each room had a private balcony, the majority of those balconies looked on to an abandoned building and you could only see a sliver of a nice view.  However, we were not there for the hotel… we were there for the BEACHES!!!

As far as beaches are concerned, I seriously didn’t think the ones in San Blas could be topped but the ones on the Island of Elba sure do give them a bit of a run for their money!!!  The colors of the water surrounding the island at the various spots are out of this world beautiful!  I found myself literally taking the same exact picture 3 or 4 times over just to make sure I was properly capturing the colors!!

The beaches are quite different from one another and some were even different from any I had previously been on before.  While I’ve mainly been used to beaches with sand, many of the beaches on Elba consisted of stones!!  I wasn’t expecting this aspect at all!!  The stones are like river stones, therefore not sharp in any way, but smoothed out from years of sea water sanding them out.  While they weren’t that comfortable to lay out on, they weren’t completely terrible either and it was due to these stone beaches that the colors remained so crisp and lovely, even when in the water!

Needless to say, after mapping out several beaches for us to visit, the next few days were spent just going from one beach to the next, sunning and tanning, swimming and snorkeling and generally just loving the water and life!  It was a great and relaxing time to be sure!!  Even more of a bonus was that we were still in Italy so dinners were to die for!!  I Love Italian food!!  The last day was spent driving almost all the way around the island, taking several pictures along the way before heading back to the ferry and then home.

Pictures:

On to Return to Treviso

Back to Europe

Portovenere

The day trip to Cinque Terre and Portovenere was mainly just for a viewing of each place.  It had been a while since I had been to either spot, so it was time to reconnect, even if just for a day.  Portovenere, which means the port of Venus (in my first version I said “door” of Venus, hence the comment below, lol!!) is another lovely seaside town located not far from the Cinque Terre in Liguria.  The cutest of its features in my opinion is a little church at the end of the town that is built up on the rocks jutting out to sea.  It is a very popular place to get married, and in fact while we were there, one wedding was just ending and as another bride was making her way up the steps for her turn, lol!!  Portovenere also has a grotto and often times the waters of the area are blessed with pods of dolphins!!  Unfortunately for me, the day after we were in Portovenere, a pod of 50 dolphins was spotted!!  Oh well!  It was probably just as well because otherwise I would have jumped in the water to chase them, lol!!  Anyway, as the trip to Portovenere was really just for a quick reconnect, not a ton happened aside from wandering around and taking pictures.  So enjoy them while they’re hot! 😉

On to Isola d’Elba

Back to Europe

Italy

I was born in Italy and lived there for the first 7 years or so of life.  Obviously, it will always have a tender and warm place in my heart:)  But that doesn’t stop me from recognizing things that drive me crazy about the country either!! 😉

First I will start with the positive: Italians in my opinion have mastered the art of enjoying life!  From the meals with friends that take hours (and almost always several courses) to complete then always end with a shot of liquor, then an espresso, followed by another shot and another espresso, lol!!  They really have a passion for life and the enjoyment for it!  They don’t really have personal space, which for some is really hard to accept, and they express themselves very passionately with their body language.  This is another aspect that is hard for non-italians as while it looks from an outsiders perspective that a fight is going on (from their flailing arms and raised voices) they are simply discussing the weather!!  Lol!!

The driving in the country makes me absolutely crazy, as in my opinion all drivers in Italy are absolutely crazy!!  The country is so diverse for being so small and each section has a very strong and individual culture (sometimes to a fault as there are many rivalries between regions that sometimes break out in violence which again speaks to a different kind of passion).  I do love the country and of course recommend it to all travelers!  However, do be aware of petty thieves and pickpockets… They are quite talented in Italy!!  That’s all for now- enjoy my most recent experiences in Italy:)

Oh and by the way- Ice cream and gelato are NOT the same thing… Gelato is to die for whereas ice cream I could pass on:)

On to Florence

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Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre in Italian literally means the 5 lands.  The 5 lands in this case is made of 5 villages on the Tuscan Mediterranean coast including, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  Monterosso al Mare is the northernmost village, and the Riomaggiore the southernmost.  In the summer time these spots are quite a popular vacation destination, and from the few pictures I’ve included, it’s easy to see why!!

My dad and I drove there on a sunny late-summer day through the windy roads and arrived in Vernazza, #4 village of 5…

Seriously I will put this out that if you get car sick easily, you may want to consider taking a train into any of the villages of Cinque Terre… Because those roads are seriously no joke!!  It’s really amazing that there is even a road to begin with that connect each village, as I’m sure that they started as simply foot paths then expanded to allow cars!  Mind you, they haven’t really expanded that much… The roads are barely wide enough for 2 cars, and of course Italians speed around the blind corners of the really windy and narrow roads as if they could see the other side…

Since I’m on the topic a little, I’ve just got to vent for a few seconds that Italian drivers area absolutely NUTS!!!  I’m not even being prejudice in that statement because I include my father in there too, lol!!  And he knows about it, lol!!  But seriously, anyone who has ever been to Italy knows exactly what I’m talking about!  If there is an inch of space, it will be taken by a car or Vespa or bus!!  It amazes me how there aren’t more traffic accidents than there are!!  They are all crazy drivers yet somehow it just works out!!  It’s beyond me how, but it does!  My only saving grace on this trip was the absolutely stunning views around each and every terrifying corner!!  Simply beautiful and amazing!!

Sorry for the tangent!  Back on course here: We arrived in Vernazza about mid-morning, parked the car in the lot outside the village and walked down to the village for some exploring.  Now, this area of Italy is sometimes quite prone to dangerous and damaging floods.  Everything is literally built on the edge of the mountain that dives into the Sea, so when the floods come, it leaves lots of damage in the wake.  About 2 or 3 years ago a flood had happened in the Cinque Terre area and in fact as we walked down the road to the Village, you could still see evidence of the damage it did years ago.

We wandered around the village, spotted a cave that led to a little beach that is only visible (and passable) when the tide is down, wandered up to the church and tower at the top of the village, then had some lunch at one of the restaurants with a view of the water:)  The region of the 5 lands is in Liguria, which is famous for its pesto sauce!!  Yum!!!  In addition, Liguria is also known for a special shape pasta called Trofie, which is a hand rolled pasta made from pieces of dough that are twisted together.  So “when in Rome” I of course had to have a plate of Trofie al pesto!!  It was quite delicious and hard to stop eating until of course the plate went empty… So I had to stop, lol!!  We wandered a bit more, had a gelato then headed back to the car for Portovenere.

Oh, before I leave this section- for those into hiking, there is actually a pedestrian trail that goes from the first village to the last!!  It is quite a long hike though (remember to calculate in stop times to take a gazillion picts!) and the terrain has lots of ups and downs (literally)!!  It would probably take all day to walk one to the next, but I imagine it would be well worth it for the views alone!!

On to Portovenere

Back to Europe

SpanItalish

SpanItalish is what I’d like to call the language I was basically speaking when I arrived in Italy and throughout my time in Italy… Let me break it down for ya:

Span-Ital-ish: Span = Spanish, Ital = Italian & ish = English 🙂

After my time in Central and South America, all the conversational Italian that I did know converted completely to Spanish!  So now before going back to Italy I was trying in my mind to think Italian instead of Spanish…. That was definately easier said than done as I kept speaking Spanish to myself, desperately trying to recall the Italian words again… In fact, I was sort of doing that in my mind (converting my Spanish to Italian) while in the Gatwick airport, but obviously gave up when helping out the woman from Spain:)

When I first got to Italy, while I could understand everyone and what they were saying (depending on their speed of speech and whether they had a heavy accent or not) I would reply pretty much completely in Spanish, lol!!  Needless to say this was rather annoying to me though luckily everyone seemed patient with me as I repeated myself to them, slowly converting Spanish to Italian.  Slowly but surely Italian came back and took over my Spanish!  Now I find myself thinking “how would I say that in Spanish???” and not being able to recall, lol!!!  It’s seriously a case of “when in Rome” because when in the environment it’s easier to be and speak Italian or Spanish as needed!

I threw English in there of course because first I am fully fluent in English and second because it was my last resort if Spanish or Italian didn’t work in asking questions, lol!!!  And since neither Spanish nor Italian helped while I traveled the rest of Europe, I was glad that at least English did!!

On to Cinque Terre

Back to Europe

Florence

For those who personally know me, the next sentence won’t come as a surprise, but for everyone else… I am fortunate to have been born and raised (for the first 7 years or so) just outside of Florence.  My dad has been living here for several years now, and since it has been 4 years since I’ve been back to Italy, why not #1 spend some time with my dad, #2 use our home in Italy as a base to explore other European countries and #3 make the eventual trip to Thailand not such a painful one from a flight perspective:)

I know, I know, I sound totally spoiled.  But I can’t help where I was born, I can only recognize how fortunate I am in many ways and most importantly to be thankful for what I am able to do and to have such an international family!!

Now that that is cleared up, I am currently still in Italy writing furiously to catch up on this blog from the years past travels so that I can write about more recent adventures and ones that are still to come:)  I arrived here in Italy at the end of August (2014- I know, I’m really almost caught up with blogging about my travels to present day!!!) at the Florence airport and was greeted by my dad at the airport with one of his famous “daddy” pick-ups, as we call it in my family.  That is simply where he insists on parking the car so he can go into the airport and greet the new arrival from the gate, instead of waiting outside in the car for the new arrival to walk out of the airport:)

We had a lovely dinner at a pizzeria near where my dad grew up and has been going for over 40 years!!  Let me just say, for the record that, in my opinion, there is no better pizza IN THE WORLD than the pizza in Italy, and more specifically the pizza in Tuscany!!!  The thin crust is to die for!!  Now the further South you go in Italy, the thicker the crust gets… Just a warning for those going South wondering why I’ve described the pizzas as being thin-crusted:)  Oh and the ham too… I’ve never tasted better ham either (on my pizza of course!!) than in Italy!!  Ok, I better stop talking about food for now… I’m making myself hungry!!

We headed to the house (about 40 Km outside of Florence) after dinner and turned in for the night.  The next few months were spent catching up, hanging out, hiking in the National Park that we back onto, exploring several surrounding cities, reconnecting with Florence, a trip to the Island of Elba, going to Salzburg, Austria for a few days together (then I left to explore more of Europe on my own), entertaining some friends from Scotland, blogging (for me:)) and now we are getting ready to head out on a cruise that the family organized for my dad’s 75th birthday present!!

It’s been a busy few months for sure!!  Not to mention that while I’ve been here I’ve been making sure that my dad has stayed busy making me homemade lasagna, limoncello, meat sauce, arista, crostate di more, pasta with the favorite sauce (can’t tell you the recipe it’s a family secret:)) focaccia, pasta fagioli, and on and on!!  It’s a miracle I’m not obese!!  Lol!!  Actually, it’s not a miracle… I workout vigorously everyday to counter the calories I indulge in while here:)

On to SpanItalish

Back to Europe

Oh… I should mention I’ve cheated a teeny bit on the pictures… All are current except for the Florence pictures… They are ones from winter 2010… But in coming posts of Florence I will have pictures from this trip, I promise!!  Just wanted to give you a little teaser to start;)