Archive for September, 2007


Flip Book Pop Quiz: Name this location.

Here’s another hint:

Still need a hint. Starts with a “V” and contains the word “nice.” The latter part of the word refers to the picturesque views, romantic dinners, and oh so dreamy gondola rides. The V stands for vivacious or vicious, depending on your experience. Ours was a smattering of both, but I prefer to put the sold-out train tickets, lost paintings, “unable to process your card, please contact your bank” (thank you Wells Fargo for conveniently shutting down your computers at 12:00 am CST. It’s so considerate of you to do it when everyone in the US is sleeping, but we happened to be awake and over the next six hours we are going to need to buy lunch and dinner, not to mention two train tickets), only five Euros in cash and three hours of sleep behind me. Only if you bring me a plate of warm, double-chocolate brownies will I retell the nearly forgotten woes that settled into the cracks of our most ROMANTIC evening in Europe.

Cause really, if you had to choose, wouldn’t you rather remember this:

or this–the view from our hotel:

And Venice becomes truly magical at night.

For my thirtieth birthday my dad and mom gave me dinner and a gondola in Venice. And since no Italian post would be complete without a shot of the food, here is me enjoying “Chocolat’s” Chocolate Cake infused with Chili Powder.

(My dad wrote a poem for me about the gondola ride. Well see if he will let me post it.)

After candlelit dinner over looking the canel next to Rialto bridge. Nate and I hailed down our very own gondelier who happened to be a seventh generation gondolier. His exquisite gondola (otherwise known as his dark mistress) had been in the family for nearly 300 years old, and had been in the personal service of the princes of Venice. We settled into the plush velvet cushions as he shoved off into the canal. He seranaded us as we floated through the postcard that is Venice beneath a blanket of stars. It was quintessentially romantic.

Oh, I really like this picture. Such an unforgettable night with my even more unforgettable knight!!

Like all dreams, the sun eventually breaks through and beckons you onward. Here we are. Bags are packed. Off to France we go.

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un tributo a gelati

Yes, yes, I have heard the voice-mails. I have read the e-mails. Thank you for liking this happy blog enough to complain about my mysterious disappearance. I apologize profusely for the profane lack of posts. I attribute my absenteeism to my daughter’s complete disregard for the sacred ritual of nap-time, sweet Yvette who just chatted away two hours of blogging time, and the fact that I’m virtually stuck on the continent of Europe.

At this point it looks like I’m never going to get to Northern Ireland. And I really want to get to Northern Ireland, because I want to introduce you to Vico and Rachel (not me). They are good craic and I really think you would like them. And then we could jointly start a campaign to bring them over here for a wee holiday.

But I’m still stuck in Italy, where there’s amazing food and even better art (have I even mentioned the Uffizi??), but no Vallelly’s. And I still have to cross across Italy, Switzerland, and France before I can take a plane to Northern Ireland. Do you see my situation?

And where does this leave me time to tell you about all of Ava’s antics or the fact that it’s warmer in our refrigerator than it is outside and it’s warm outside? So if you are still with me you have rightly concluded that our fridge is broken. Yep, it actually melted the butter on Wednesday. Melted it! How our new GE, stainless-steel, side-by-side managed to do what our microwave refuses to is perplexing beyond measure. This truly is imagination at work, people. So with new pets, potential preschools, and perspiring appliances, it is really time that I come Stateside.

So you are now in line to receive the flip-book version of our happy jaunt across the Atlantic.

First up, my triple scoop salute to the most savory treat in Italy!

And since we are now on the lighting cruise tour of Europe, here is the last look at beautiful, beautiful Florence (minus the amazing Botticelli, the unclad David and every other marble creature for that matter, the bohemian street dancers on the steps of the Duomo and the army of purse vendors–thanks to these brave recruits Florence can boast of housing more knock-off purses than pigeons).

Farewell lovely Florence!

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When most people travel to new and exciting places, like Italy for instance, they sample the local food as a part of their overall holiday experience. Others see the food as a means to grind through a long day of sightseeing. By the time we arrived in Florence it was quite clear that as far as my travel companion was concerned, eating is the reason that he came to Italy.

Perhaps that fact that Nate had budgeted more Euros for food than for lodging should have been a clue.

If Cinque Terre was the Primi Piatti (first course) than Florence was the Secondi.

Situated on the edge of Tuscany, the food in Florence is of another world. It was if the curtain was lifted and we were able to sneak of sample from back pantry of paradise. I am convinced that the Firenze chefs will be preparing the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. And directing the culinary creations will be the talented chefs of Quattro Leoni, a gem of a restaurant hidden away in a sleepy corner on the quiet side of the Arno River.

Unfortunately these pictures are not scratch and sniff, or scratch and taste for that matter.

Verdure fritte (this included rabbit, which I respectfully declined)

Not pictured, but fully consumed, was this indescribably amazing pasta dumpling thing stuffed with pears and chicken and smothered with this creamy asparagus sauce. Oh it was incredible! And now, I’m starving and tired and need to go to bed before I start banging sauce pans together in attempt to recreate this savory memory.

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il dolce far niente

I sincerely apologize for leaving you hanging in Roma for so long! That is definitely not a place to be stranded in for long. Since returning home I have become amazed that I ever found time to blog in my pre-europe-holiday life. I am still searching for that time and hope to find it, because I really do miss this crazy, blogging world.

Anyway, after our Catholic pilgrimage we took a late train out of Rome and arrived in the sleepy town of Manarola past its bedtime. Manarola is the second of five towns on the coast of Italy that make up Cinque Terra. We had reserved a room at the home of Giovanni which was situated at the very top of this steep town. There is nothing like the sound plastic roller wheels banging on cobblestones to announce: the Americans are here! The Americans Are Here! THE AMERICANS ARE HERE!!!!! We didn’t even have to ring Giovanni’s buzzer, we only had to bring the suitcase marching band to a crashing halt outside her door–she was pleased as punch to have us as her guests.

After helping ourselves to all the hot water in Manarola, we successfully washed away the Roman queues, buses, and trains and were ready to settle into our room. I threw open our shutters and this is what I saw.

The picture completely fails to capture the starry sea at the end of the town, or the salty breeze, or quiet hush of a sleeping village or anything it was supposed to, including the spooky, plastic tarantula hanging in the upper right side of the photo. Suffice it to say the view was a double helping of tranquilizers; I think I was sleeping before I got in the bed.

And this is what we woke up to:

I call this a sea view, see the lovely patch of ocean nestled between the pastel town and the wine groves. Nate insists that it was a town view with a bit of sea at the end. You can cast your vote here (be fair warned that only one sort of vote gets you in the optimism camp).

We set off from the hilltop for a three day crash course on Italian beach life and coastal cuisine. First stop, smoothie shop.

No frozen jambas here, Francesca slices fresh, local fruit and blends it up with or without yogurt. I had the strawberry-pear three times–it was perfection!

Since the beach in Manarola is a bit rocky…

We opted to take the little train each day to Monterosso to swim (and eat).

You can zoom, but you will not find a swim shot of us on the internet. It’s just not wise folks, it’s just not wise. If you must zoom, you will find that bikinis bottoms are the preferred swim wear for every member of the Italian family: mamas & papas, girls & boys, even grandma & grandpa. Thankfully most mamas and grandmas wear the optional bikini top.

The Lingurian Sea was so warm and so clear, we could not get enough swimming in each day. On the last day we swam way out to the rock ridge (it was quite far, don’t believe the picture).

And by swim, I mean hug a water mattress for dear life and kick with all you got, while your husband swims alongside of you and laughs. And really it’s much wiser to swim with a water mattress than to laugh while swimming in saltwater. For the former keeps your head clearly above the water line, while the other gets you a nose full of salt. Once again, you can cast your vote here.

And the reward for making the trek from soft, sandy beach to rocky rocks–dozens of little crabs scurrying over to greet us like a welcome committee on spiny legs. Personally, I prefer my crabs stuffed with mushrooms and served with a buttery, wine sauce.

As for the food, everything tastes better in Italy–even their fries are better, it’s true. There was this little french fry stand stationed between the beach and the train. The first time Nate got in line for the patate fritte, I gently reminded him that he had already consumed a smoothie, a panini, two slices of pizza, and gelato–and we were on our way to eat dinner. Nate, however, has a serious weakness for fries (or food, especially hot food for that matter), so he remained unwavering in his pursuit of the two Euro basket of fries with a stick. Oh, oh, oh they were so good. You can be certain that we were back in that line each time we boarded the train.

Back to sweet home Manarola for the fresh catch of the day: Sea Bass and Mussels, and another helping of their claim to cuisine fame: pesto. See the little blue umbrellas at the base of the town, that’s where we enjoyed the next several courses of our Cinque Terra feast. It’s a wonder that we didn’t have to be wheeled away like our bags.

No, the woman on my right is not my new friend whom I met on the beach and invited to have a romantic dinner with my husband and me, she is actually at her own table, just like the woman on my left. It’s quite cozy, actually. And thankfully, it’s not considered eavesdropping when you can’t understand the language.

Two things that Italians have absolutely perfected other than arranging tables so close that the wait staff has a weight limit are gelato and cappuccino–and this cafe had the genius to put these together–it was heavenly. Of course, this discovery was made on the last day and at the last hour for that matter.

Ahh, the sweetness of doing nothing.

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