Saturday, December 17, 2011

2011: Year in Review

During 2011 my trusted HP laptop pooped out and in fear that I would lose all photo memories, I decided to create a photo album of our memorable adventures during this year.  In so doing, I've realized just how crazy this year has been.  Starting with a 2 month work trip to DC in January and February, this was the year of travel!

It was also the year of wine... We went to Napa with our friends Mike and Kathryn in April and up to Temecula about 20 times with friends from San Diego.

Then our great pack up and the Goodbye America tour.  We criss-crossed our way through state after state, taking ridiculous roadside pictures along the way and visiting friends and relatives.  I'm so glad that we got to see so many of our wonderful friends and family before we left on this crazy journey.  It's going to be a long time before we see everyone again and having those brief little visits was such a treat!

And before we knew it, we were shoving cats under the seats of a plane and bringing two months worth of clothes and cherished possessions with us to Italy!  Here the real traveling began.  As a girl whose dreamt of traveling around Europe, we've really hit the ground running.  From four trips to Rome to the three day Amalfi Xtravaganza with my wonderful friend, Kristine and then up to Le Cinque Terre, Pisa, and Venice, it's been such a wirlwind tour!  Beyond Italy's borders, we've been (sometimes together, other times on our own) to Berlin, Ireland, Paris and Isreal. 

Our 2012 trips hopefully will include:

1. Marrakech
2. Lisbon/Porto
3. Tuscany
4. Prague
5. Ireland (Cork and the South)
and hopefully many more!

To my wonderful hubby, Tom, I couldn't do this without you.  You are such a wonderful support network, balance to the crazy and partner in ridiculous.  Looking forward to a 2012 full of love, laughter and many more exciting memories!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Unpopular in the Office

Popcorn in an office environment is always dicey.  If you make it perfectly, you are the belle of the office.  If you burn it, you might as well have brought tuna caserole and heated it up in the office microwave.  So here I've been, nervous about making popcorn for fear of the retaliation if I burn it.  To this end, I brought my cup of tea into the break room and watched it popping, in case I needed to snatch it out of the microwave at the first unpleasant burning smell.

Well I cooked it perfectly.  The new Orville Redenbacher stuff has this fancy red celophane on top that you can see each little kernel as it turns, magically, into popcorn.  I mean, it's fancy.  I felt very high society with my microwavable, low-fat popcorn and sat at my desk to continue my boring training about recycled concrete (wow, Lynne, pace yourself here.  First a course on traffic circles and now one on recycled concrete?  Talk about an exciting workday!), eating my popcorn with the salty delight of being in a movie theater. 

And then Franco came over... "Mrs. Lynne, can I close your door?  That smell is making me sick."  He was dead serious.  I have smelled all levels of strange come out of the break room during lunch time and any other number of smells of the smoke-laden breath of some of my co-workers but I smile and back away in that WASP-y way that I have spent a liftetime perfecting.  Alas, popcorn was a bridge too far in my office.  That buttery deliciousness was not welcome.  And so, it was with shame and sadness that I finished my little 100 calorie bag of popcorn and tossed it in the trash can outside, just to be sure that the smell didn't linger.

Who knew, popcorn cooked perfectly in the US makes you a hero.  Popcorn in Italy makes you the villan.  Italy is full of popcorn haters.  I'll miss you, Orville. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Breaking Out of My Shell

For those who know me, the idea of me not being out of my shell seems both foreign and completely unlikely.  However, there are times when the comfort of knowing things seems like a safer bet and, I must confess, has been happening a bit here in Italia.  During a discussion at work, I commented that Tom and I have kind of fallen into an Americana Rut - shopping on base, eating out at our normal ristorante, hanging out mostly with our American co-workers - it was all just a little bit easier and more comfortable.  Well, this response was not acceptable.  "You've only been here 6 months!  How can you be in a rut already!"  To help push me out of my comfort zone, Liz (said co-worker), Molly and I decided we would go to the legendary and highly discussed "Shoe Alley."

Shoe Alley has been touted as a great place to get anything from shoes (obvi), to clothing to jewelry to curtains (one of these is not like the other...).  So, off we went!  At 8:45 the three of us met at Piazza Vanvetelli in Vomero to take public transit to Shoe Alley.  Molly had researched our route on WikiNapoli and found all necessary funicolare and metro stops involved.  With our 90 minute tickets, we set out, through the rain, with adorable apparel and inspired thoughts.  About an hour later, we were at the last metro stop and thought that a mass of people would likely be heading to this massive market and could easily follow them.  Assumption #1 = wrong. 

We proceeded to ask a fellow metro traveler if she could help us find "mercato di scarpe" (which is totally the wrong gender agreement but va bene) to mean "market of shoes."  Her husband told us, in Italian, to go left at the bridge and then straight for a while and then turn right.  Solid, fool proof directions.  So through the tunnel under the bridge we went with men urinating openly against walls, some other guy following us telling us we were beautiful and the general fear that we would be mugged and need to defend both our bodies and our honor with nothing more than our umbrellas.  I had convinced myself that Molly and Liz were trained assassins and that I was significantly safer with the two of them.  I'm sticking by the assumption.  Assumption #2 = probably correct...

Well we got lost.  And ran into probably the most helpful Neopolitan woman who spoke amazing English.  The number of people that you run into on the street who actually speak English is incredibly small here.  Probably 10%.  She gave us directions and onward we went only to have an old man follow us and yell things at us in Italian.  Fearful for our lives (though I'm not sure why given Liz and Molly's trained assassin skills...), we crossed the street in earnest and went on in a totally different direction from the old man.  In hindsight, I'm fairly certain he was saying "If you turn right here, you'll get to the market" but we thought we was going to lead us to a crack house and kill us.  I've seen the previews for Hostel, I'm not following an endearing old man or prostitute into any warehouse looking building.

At this point, we were lost, in the rain, in the sketchy part of downtown Naples with cars splashing us with dirty rain water and the fear of being sold into the cast of dying victims in the next Hostel movie.  Smart Phone Time!  I put the coordinates of the market, from WikiNapoli, into my Tom Tom and we walked the route.  Along the way, no less than 20 Italians asked us where the market was.  "Mi dispiace.  Solo Inglese" (I'm sorry, only English!).  They would grunt and drive off.  However, a man and woman started following us and told other lost travelers that they should follow us as well.  I think 10 people were behind us when we finally got there.  "No need to thank us!"

So shoe alley.  It was like a lot of the other markets we've been to.  Italian men screaming things and banging things together to get to you to go to their stand.  "Armani!  Gucci!  Prada!"  The thing is, almost all of this stuff was gained illegally, I'm pretty sure.  I bought a peacoat in navy blue for 14 Euro, so that's a pretty good deal!  However, I tried on 3 sizes of Puma shoes and all of them were the same size, despite saying they were getting larger.  I mean, no joke!  They look identical to the ones that have been sitting in my cart on Zappos.  Wandering about, we felt both overwhelmed and a bit uncomfortable but slowly gained confidence in asking for larger sizes ("piu grande" - more large.  The coat I got was a XXL.  I'm a medium in the US.  Talk about disappointing.  No wonder my online shopping habits have spiked.  I'd rather not see "You're enormous" on all of the labels in my closet).  

In the end, we made it to the market, we bought knock-off goods for embarassingly low prices and even got back onto the metro and back to our apartment!  To top off our trip, we ate at Rossopomodoro, a chain ristorante which was very crowded, though not particularly delicious.  However, to really push the envelope and determine if our three versions of Italian would be enough to figure out the menu, we played menu roulette. 

I must admit that I foresaw our lives in Italy a bit differently than they've actually been thus far.  For some reason in my head, I imagined more berets and rain coats, probably about the same number of machiattos, and an Italian mama who would cook for us and whom I'd gain a great deal of insight and affection.  Alas, no luck there.  I also always thought that I'd be a bit more composed and confident.  Here, alas, there is also no luck.  Awkward seems to pervade just about every interaction with people who are not my Italian co-workers and even there, I'm afraid to admit, the awkward seems to sneak in.  I'm hoping with time, with practice and more confidence in myself that Tom and I can pull through and become those composed travelers who stroll about in a casual, elegant manner.  One can dream...

Love and hugs to all of our faithful reader!
Lynne (and Tom)