Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cruising the Danube: Geriatric Style!

What a whirlwind the past month has been!  Back in May, Tom and I decided to go on a river cruise up the Danube from Budapest, Hungary to Nuremberg, Germany, stopping at Christmas Markets along the way.  Having never experienced Europe before moving here, I wasn't ready for the level of dedication that the Bavaria has for Christmas.  The cities along the Danube filled their squares with stalls selling hand crafted decorations, candles, and all sorts of nick-nacks that you didn't realize you couldn't live without.  But then they also sold sweet heavenly food!!  The sausages in Nuremberg were probably the most delicious, the gluhwein (hot spiced wine) of Regensburg the most appreciated in the 4" of snow, and the laughter of children in Passau, the most heartwarming!

Once aboard our Viking River Cruise, the Freya was our ship, we started to thaw.  Amid the sea of blue/white hair, we stood out.  Being neither an AARP member nor collecting Social Security, we brought the median age down from around 72 to probably 65.  Thankfully, we also brought the median income down significantly!  We cruised each night, going through cute little river towns, waterfront castles of old, and the idyllic life of Germany and Austria.  Passau, Germany was my favorite of all of our stops.  Where time seemed to fade away and the decor of each corner seemed more darling and thoughtful than the last.

But what made the whole trip worth while, what made the countless stories about other people's children ("I have a daughter about your age.  [Insert 30 minute story about said daughter as Tom and I smile and nod, drinking quietly but heavily]") and their really amazing travel experiences ("How do we live in Europe and are way less traveled than these people??  For shame!"), we met our new besties.  Rex and Verne, two amazing gents from LA, had enough Kardashian stories to satiate even my celebrity gossip palate!  And, interestingly enough, news that the Kardashians are avid Costco customers.  Who knew???  They were incredibly kind, incredibly open, and above all, hilarious!  And then there was Libby and Jesse, fellow ex-pats living in Japan, traveled 27 grueling hours to putz around Europe.  They were the most darling couple, full of smiles and giggles, equally embarrassing stories about being a stranger in a strange land.  Libby and I had so much in common, so many similar ridiculous quirks, that there was never a shortage of "Tell them about that time that you...." which inevitably left us all close to tears.

When we all parted ways, I heaved a heavy sigh of disappointment.  Back to our cold Italian apartment, leaving behind the mini-America of life on board this cruise ship, where people brought me wine day and night, made me delicious meals, and my biggest concern was making sure that I didn't get left behind in some tiny town along the Danube!  After 11 days of traveling, it's back to work and the grindstone but I'll carry those snowy days and laughter-filled nights with me for so very many years to come. 

Ciao for now!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving: Down and Dirty on Italian Wine

There is a mystical land in the north of Italy that has the power to harness the sun and the earth and create a magical liquid.  Come with me, friends, as I tell you about the Veneto region and the time your friend, Lynne, bravely took on Prosecco Road.

Hyperbole aside, there really is a Prosecco region of Italy.  Here's some further reading to help explain the region, the process and the wine!  Veneto is the region, like Campania is the region where we live, and Venice is the capital.  We flew into Venice and then drove an hour north to the little town of Monfumo where we joined up with some more friends in a villa that we had rented.  It was lovely and rustic and high in the hills.

Here's a quick lesson in Italian wine.  There are many types and classifications, most of which is strictly reviewed by the government.  Of biggest note: there are 3 big distinctions: IGT, DOC, and DOCG. 

IGT: (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) Pretty much means that the wine is very typical of the region from which it is produced.  If you order a bottle of table wine in that town, this is what it should taste like.  It's not super controlled, so a lot of wine makers now are starting to add French grapes to their Italian wine.  While normal table wine is about 3-6 Euro, some IGT's can also be over 40 Euro.  Take aways: it isn't normally crappy wine, it's just not super specific.

DOC: (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) DOC is more precise.  The wine and grapes need to be from a controlled district of Italy to be classified as DOC.  There are rules about the type of cask in which it must ferment, the amount of time it must stay in the cask, and amount of time it must stay in a bottle prior to being sold.  Some DOC wines are still really cheap, but they tend to be a bit more "typical" of a more specific area and thus, normally more expensive than an IGT.

DOCG: (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) DOCG means it's from a very precise area, with very precise grapes, with a very precise fermenting and bottling process AND guaranteed to be all of those things.  Prosecco Superior, what we had in Veneto, is DOCG prosecco.  There is just one small region where you can grow real prosecco superior grapes and land up there is now costing millions of Euros a hectacre.  All of this helps to explain those little stickers that you probably never noticed on the top of an Italian wine bottle, if you've ever bought one.  That sticker is taken VERY seriously in the wine parts of Italy and the cost to get that sticker, the color denoting what level of classification it has been given, are no small matter.

Enter 9 Americans into this lovely little region.  We spent 4 days drinking our way through Veneto, specifically Valdobbiadiene and Conegliano.  If you butchered those names, fear not, you aren't alone!  Pronounced: Valdo - bee - yawd - di - nay and Co - nay - lee - awno.  And they say Italian is phonetic! 

The trip was a dream.  The colors of each vineyard were so bright and bold as the leaves dried under the brisk November sky.  We wandered through vineyards with winemakers learning about the curviture of vines, the proper way to pick the grapes, the amounts of sugar and yeast that are required, aging, carbonation, corking.  I mean, we learned a TON!  It was just funny to hear them say "Prosecco is a friendly wine.  It has a friendly wine making process that is not so difficult."  Because, my goodness did it seem difficult!  There is a huge inferiority complex in the Prosecco area about French champagne - that it's more famous, that it's more well known and respected, that it has a longer life span. 

But what I learned is this: prosecco IS a friendly wine.  It IS easy to drink.  It goes well with cheese or on its own.  The variations are crazy, even among close neighboring vineyards.  But what I also learned is this: Northern Italians are also amazingly friendly people.  Not far from the Austrian border, their food has strong Austrian and German influences and includes a lot of ingredients that we don't have down here, including, my goodness, duck.  We had this duck ragu.  Sweet merciful me.  It was amazing!

Four cases of wine later, we're back at home, back at work, back in Napoli.  I'm excited to open each bottle, hear that magical "POP" of the cork and remember those lazy days up north.  Sigh....

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Those Dam Dutch

I apologize in advance for my use of puns.  Amsterdam just requires it.  It's so 'dam awesome.  See?  I did it again.

Veteran's Day and our anniversary fall in line, by design, each year as the weather starts to change and leaves are notably lovely.  With tickets to Istanbul in my Expedia cart, Tom's office decided that he needed to go to the Hague for work that week instead and just like that, we were headed to the land of our northern breathren!  Hello, Holland! 

I love Amsterdam.  I'm committed to starting a one-woman campaign to convince people that it's a city of more than just hookers and drugs.  I mean, they are there, if that's your thing.  But, it's not really my thing and I still love that city.  It was the perfect time of year to be there, the canals lined with yellow, orange, and red leaved trees, lazily shedding their leaves with each gust of wind.  Strolling the streets, sipping whatever warm beverage we picked up along the way, hand in hand with my hubby, it was one of those wonderful European weekends.

To help promote Amsterdam, I'll give you hooker/drug alternatives.

1. Shopping:  Oh my goodness, I love shopping in Amsterdam.  It's amazing.  In Italy, I am a 2X.  Seriously.  It's depressing.  And that's in a normal sweater.  In Amsterdam, I'm a M.  My ego was padded with the knowledge that I am among my tall, heftier people.  Felt good!  Tom's luggage was mysteriously missing for the first two days of our journey and he was freezing in a windbreaker and short sleeved polo.  It must also be noted that Tom doesn't buy or pick out any of his own clothes anymore.  "You dress like a frat boy from 1992.  Just let me be your stylist."  Somehow, Lord only knows how, I convinced Tom to get a burgundy "old man" cardigan (his words, obviously).  Oh my goodness, he looks like the snuggliest, most adorable professor ever.  Wearing that while sitting by the fire place at our hotel, sipping cognac.  Adorable. 

2. Museums: If you are uncultured and unlearned, not unlike myself, you may not remember that the Dutch were once badasses and dominated like pretty much everything.  Also, if you are unlearned and easily confused, not unlike myself, you are often confused by the fact that the Netherlands and Holland are the same thing and that they are all Dutch.  I know, it took me an embarassingly long time to get that all under my belt.  Don't worry, you aren't alone.  But back to the Dutch: they were a pretty big deal and consequently collected a bunch of cool stuff way back in the day that is now housed in a ton of awesome museums.  We got to Rembrandt's (which was his first name, by the by!  See?  Bizarro kids names aren't just big now.  It was a thing even back in the 1700's!  Take that Apple Paltrow!) Night Watch and that group of Dutch guys that I only know is a famous painting because it's on a cigar box.

3. Yet another Zoo:  Tom was all museumed-out by the end of day 2 and so, as a special treat to him, we went to the zoo.  Tom immediately turns into a 7 year old kid the minute we enter any animal themed institution.  He was practically running from exhibit to exhibit, shouting when birds would hop around and checking off each enclosure on our park map to make sure that we hit all of the highlights.  We decided that it would be fun to see a show in the Planetarium and so stopped into 'Space Trip.'  Well it was entirely in Dutch.  So, we sat there, listening to what I am convinced is a fake language for 35 minutes. 
T: Lynne, what did they say?
L: Tom, I don't know.  It's in Dutch.
T: I thought your family is Dutch.
L: My ancestors.  From like the 1700's.  I mean, your family is Irish, how come you didn't know any Gaelic when we were in Ireland.
T: Shhh, I'm learning about space right now.

4. Spend time with your sweetie: For me, a chance to walk around, have meals just the two of us and just spend time with my hubby was the best.  Tom is one of the best men that I know, in my own, humble opinion.  He is the calm to my storm, the logic to my crazy, and the optimism in my sea of fear.  At some point, I'll figure out what exactly it is that he gets out of being married to me...  But I am insanely glad that he's stuck around with me, getting to share these little adventures throughout Europe, hand in hand.  Whatever is in our future, I know that I'll weather the storm with him by my side.  I love you, my darling.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Friends in Translation

Last week, my co-worker, Maurizio, asked me if I'd practice English with his friend, Assia.  I told him that I'd do it happily (and for free) if she would help me to learn Italian.  I've had this idea in my head for pretty much the entire time here, that I would find an Italian who wanted to learn English and with our powers combined, we'd become this bond of Babel and teach each other the intricacies of our languages.  Well looky here!  It worked!

Last week Maurizio facilitated our discussion and said "In Englese!" to Assia and "In Italiano" to me over and over and over again as we struggled to put our jobs, significant others and interests into child-like sentences in another language.  This week, Assia's boyfriend, Massimo, did the same thing, except that his English is really good and made the whole process VERY easy for me!  We keep finding a third party who speaks both languages well enough to make the whole process easier on both of us.

Assia, Massimo, and I sat around for an hour on Friday night, sipping caffes (read: espresso.  Read also: I didn't sleep that night) and chatting about our travels, lives and their very dedicated system for learning English.  They've been taking lessons with an Irish girl, an Australian girl, and a guy from Texas and have decided that my middle-America accent is the easiest version of English to understand. 

It was very comforting to have our mutual struggles to work through.  Both Assia and I pretty much only know present tense of English/Italian (respectively) and have been helpful in learning the details and pronunciation of some of the more complicated words.  (For her, as well as many of my co-workers, the difference between Tuesday and Thursday is ALWAYS difficult.  For me, "prossima volta" (which means "next time") is the phrase I could not remember at all!)  It's funny that we both feel like we have a mouth full of marbles when speaking a new language.  For the whole year here, I have felt like my mouth is just too confused to form words correctly.  Or that the words that I thought I was always saying correctly get a very common "huh??" from my co-workers/waiters/grocery store attendants. 

I'm hoping that the weekly chats with my new friend will help open my eyes (and my ears) to the intricacies of living here and help me to understand the culture on a deeper level.  I'm finding that Italy is more than just pasta and wine, old buildings and crazy lines.  The more time I spend here, the more mothers and children that I see interacting, the more times I hear church bells and see a family of 40 having Sunday dinner together, the more that it warms my heart.  Life abroad is now cake walk.  It's often frustrating and confusing and leaves me exhausted and homesick but then, there are the times that you can share an hour with a new friend and just talk and just learn about how life is different from their point of view.  It just takes little longer when you have to Google Translate every 5 minutes.  Let's be honest, every 2 minutes.

Buona giornata! (Have a good day!)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Canadian TV and Truffles

I hear more and more from my family about the impending doom of Hurricane Sandy, ripping her way up the eastern seaboard of America and bringing massive amounts of rain along with it.  I don't know if the Amalfi Coast felt left out by natural disasters, but we too have had a weekend full of rain.  That rain that brings this really creepy windy with it that sounds like whistling as it pushes against the walls of my apartment creak.  "This apartment is up to codes, I hope.  And reinforced with strong metal to hold it in place??" I ponder, feeling the walls once again creak under the strain.  "It's going to be JUST like Dorothy in Kansas.  My house is going to fall on some elderly woman wearing fantastic shoes and then I'll have to go on a very, very long walk."

What's more, Tom was gone all weekend and I spent my rainy Saturday watching Flashpoint, my newest obsession on Netflix.  "What's Flashpoint, Lynne?" you might (or more likely probably are not) asking yourself?  Well gather round, friends, and let me tell you a little story.  It's the tale of a band of misfits in, wait for it, Toronto, fighting Canadian crime in a SWAT-like environment.  It took me a good 3-4 episodes to figure out that the show was set in Canada.  For those non-American followers (there are about 3 of you total, but welcome nonetheless), Canada is like America.  Alarmingly similar, so it would seem.  Our accents, aside from "about" or "sorry" are very similar to those of Wisconsin, and as Sarah Palin has taught us, apparently Alaska.  Who knew?  But we have a jovial rivalry, much like Australia-New Zealand rivalry.  Everyone else in the world thinks that they are the same place.  But they know.  We know too.  Well it's the same with us and Canada.  We poke fun at them for their funny accents and love of hockey, but really, after watching this show, I'm convinced that Canada has potential.  I mean, they love nature, they have a large variety of attractive men, dressed well.  And aside from Amy Jo Johnson, the lone American (better known as the Pink Power Ranger), a group of surprisingly talented actors.  Canada is certainly looking up!  Granted, based entirely on this show, I'd never bank in Canada.  Too many bank heists.  I mean really, where is the safety in banking, Canada?  How is a person to put their trust in your financial institutions when your own tv series show them riddled with crime??  But I've digressed, in a big way.

After almost a full day of watching Canadian TV on the couch, I bathed.  It was a big step.  I unlocked my front door for the first time and ventured out into the cold, rainy day ahead.  But it was the weekend of the much-loved Truffle and Chestnut Festival.  In Italy, I've recently learned, the word "sagra" is used to describe country festivals that often include food (check) and music (check).  Sagra season is starting to wind down for the colder weather, so we were sure to check this one out again!  Off we trudged to Bagnoli Irpino, about an hour west of Napoli and into what seemed like another world of Italy.  Once outside of the hustle and bustle of Naples, things moved slower.  The grass was green once again, fields were spotted with cows and sheep and pigs and trees grew tall, their branches filled with orange and gold.  I've never considered myself much of a country girl, I've always preferred city life, but since living in such a dense, noisy city like Naples, I felt my roots sigh at the ease of life in this quiet, quaint little town.

                               Gillian and I enjoying the Truffle Festival!

There were a seemingly endless number of stalls holding everything from wild boar sausage (bought it!) to truffle ravioli (ate it!), cheap wine (drank it!) and some very disappointing corn on the cob (whomp, whomp.  Tried it, regretted it immediately.  Who messes up corn on the cob???).    But there were good friends to spend the day with and lots of good food to be had!  Another successful truffle festival, even if my sweetie wasn't there to enjoy it with me, and the promise of next year ahead!! 

Please forgive the quality of my pictures, once we arrived, I realized that I had left the SIM card for my camera in my computer.  These are entirely iPhone photos.  Did what I could with what I had. 

Same as last year - incredible delicious cheese toast.  To make: 1. Roast cheese over flames.  2. Scrape onto toasted bread.  3. Top with truffles.  4. Make guttural noises while consuming.  Mmmm.... sooooo delicious! 
                                            Pig head.  Just hanging out. 

 Truffle pastas: close up is "paccheri" which is really big, tube pasta.  The far one is truffle ravioli.  Which was very, very, very good!!

                Truffle eggs!  Oh my goodness, they were soooo delicious!!

                                          Close up of my truffle eggs.

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

London: Top Hat, Tights and Tea

For the second time in 2012, I left my poor husband at home and took off for London, England!  Some day we'll go together.  Or he'll go by himself.  Or with a bunch of dudes.  Who knows?!

While I didn't meet the actual Queen, I got this picture with the M&M version of the Queen!

One of my dear friends here is leaving next month and in discussion of her time in Europe, we discovered that she'd never been to London.  WHAT?!?  The land of Jane Austen and the Queen!!  GASP!  A girls trip was promptly planned.  But what to do in London with just girls???? My immediate plan went to: "What would my husband never want to do?"  And the answer, like divine inspiration, fell into my lap: see a bunch of shows.  Some razzle, a bit of dazzle, sequins and jazz hands.  It would be enough to drive him to insanity and to drive me into giddiness.
Eve (left) and Micaela (right) take pleasure in the Cheapside stop on the Tube! We loved the British snobbery and gleefully quoted Jane Austen!
4 ladies boarded the insanity of Easy Jet and set off for Stansted Airport with gusto!  A few games of iPad Air Hockey later, we were in the land of the Queen!  Friday afternoon we took in London in all of its rainy glory, grabbing a pint, briskly walking through Picadilly Circus and literally sprinting through the London Underground.  Lesson learned: The Apollo Victoria and The Apollo are two different theaters.  About 15 minutes apart.  We got to the Apollo only to see a show that was decidedly not Wicked on the billboards.  Whoops!  Somehow, the Tube schedule worked in our favor and magically, we ended up in our seats with a bottle of wine 5 minutes before the lights dimmed and the chorus began.  Phew!!

There was so much in London that I loved but in an effort to sum up a whimsically wonderful trip in a few paragraphs, here are the highlights.
Top Hat at the Aldwych Theatre in West End!
1. Top Hat:  I have long been a fan of musical theatre.  My mom would gleefully blast "Oh What A Beautiful Morning" from Oklahoma each Saturday morning as a call to chores.  Rogers and Hammerstein musical melodies mingled with the smell of Windex on a weekly basis.  Top Hat is one of those plays that has a forgettable plot thankfully mixed with some very well timed tap dancing, lots of singing and, oh sweet heavens, costume changes a-plenty!  Silk and sparkles, top hats and tails danced their way between the dry-humored British butler and a very politically incorrect Italian fashion designer.  It was marvelous!!!  I sat on the edge of my seat, grinning ear to ear for nearly 3 hours straight.

High Tea, the Downton Abbey Blend!
2. High Tea:   For any of you who loved tea parties as a child, high tea in London is like your grandmother's tea parties on crack.  Tiered trays with abnormally small sandwiches, silver tea strainers in their own little strainer holders, and doormen in top hats (sans the razzle dazzle of the musical).  The host was so friendly and quick to take our picture from multiple angles.  It was probably the most expensive tiny sandwich that I have ever consumed but my goodness, it was such a fantasy of 5-year-old some 20+ years later that it was totally worth it!

There she is: Old Rosie, the Cloudy Scrumpy.  Love it!

3. Eating Ethnic Food: Aside from watching musicals and wandering the streets of London, we ate.  A lot.  I feel like looking back, most of my pictures were of fancy gates and food.  From my hilariously named beer ("Old Rosie, the Cloudy Scrumpy"  Seriously???  That's SUCH an awesome name!!  For like anything!  Cloudy Scrumpy could be such a great band name.  Or what you call your car.  Or your dog, though that's a long dog name.  Ponder it.  Cloudy Scrumpy's going to catch on like wildfire!), to an Indian brunch place (oh my goodness!  Naan + sausage??  Stop it!!!  You're killing me, London!) and finally some serioulsy divine sushi at a very authentic little Japanese place.  We Americans living in Italy always seem to miss extremely flavorful ethnic food since living here.  It was very nice to get that little piece of multiculturalism that I often miss.

London, Round 3 is going to have to go on the books soon! 


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Czeck-ing out Prague

My affinity for puns is made even worse by humorously named cities and even countries.  I sincerely apologize.  Actually, no I don't.  Puns rule.  Get on board.

So, like the assholes that we are for living in Europe, we put four cities on a list and then elected an official (how thoughtful that everyone, except my husband, voted for me!  Y'all shouldn't have.  No seriously, you shouldn't have, I rule with an iron fist) and that lovely, talented, intelligent, and witty (stop it, I'm blushing) who picked from the list.  And you know what won?  PRAGUE!  Or Praha, as they call it there.  I find that the number of cities with double names is growing.  Paris/Parigi.  London/Londra.  Chania/Xania (crazy Greeks and your X's...).  Prague/Praha.  Anywho, we went to this city with double names and man oh man, was it lovely.

Prague looks like Harry Potter's Diagon Alley every once in a while.  (I just want to continue my magical theme from last week)  And then Old Town Square with its magnificently beautiful spires and the clock tower right in the heart, it just felt like being in this magical little town.  It was one of my favorite spots that we've been to so far in Europe, it was just so incredibly beautiful!  But let's be honest, no one reads this blog to hear me say things were pretty.

That said, when did things get weird??

1. Medieval Themed Bar.
Nothing says Eastern Europe like a medieval themed bars.  No seriously, it's totally a thing.  We (Kim and I) wanted to go to this bar the moment we saw a guy in a jester costume, complete with shoes with bells on the tips.  Seriously, when are we going back?  Once inside, we heard the faint sound of "Eye of the Tiger" playing downstairs and lots of lighter fluid.  Something great was about to begin.  The show included a fire breather, a belly dancer (who also brought in fire to her act) and a guy laying on a bed of nails.  Nathan was probably a foot taller than most everyone in the bar and for some reason, was picked to stand on top of the guy laying on the bed of nails.  With both feet on the guy's chest, Nathan claims to have shifted his weight a bit.  Well the guy screamed.  And Nathan practically jumped off of him only to discover that there was quite the blood trail dripping down his back.  Whoops!  I mean really, what do you expect when you are laying on a bed of nails???

 2. Pork Knee
I saw on Anthony Bourdain's " show No Reservations" about 2 years ago the time that he had a pork knee.  I've wanted one ever since.  My travels through Berlin with a vegetarian didn't seem promising.  But Prague, it turns out, has pork knee on like every menu.  It's incredibly fatty and tastes like regular spiral cut ham, but hacking the hell out of this things with a tiny little knife and my slightly intoxicated husband was great fun!

3. Hot Wine
You want to know Europe's best kept secret?  Lean in really close.  No, closer.  Here goes... Hot Wine.  Mmmm....  It's the sweet nectar of the Gods.  Start with red wine.  Add magic, Brandy, spices, and a bit more magic.  Simmer in a crock pot for an extended period of time.  Serve to cold tourists.  It was SO delicious!  I know, it was like 70 degrees outside.  But I didn't care.  I had a scarf on!  Totally counts! 

Prague gets my vote for prettiest city we've yet seen in Europe.  It was amazing! But what really sold us was the foodie walking tour that we did through Taste of Prague.  I cannot recommend it highly enough!  Totally amazing and we got to eat and drink to our heart's content!

Ciao for now!

North Carolina After Party: Rockin the Suburbs, 1st Grade Style

The wedding weekend and insanity ended.  Lauri, my sister, and John, my now brother-in-law, full of love and wedding loot headed back to Chicago to begin a life of wedded bliss.  The hubs drove north for a work conference and I stayed at my parent's house to get some dental work done by my childhood dentist, whom I haven't seen in 6+ years.  You know, since graduating from college, getting a job, having my own insurance, getting married, and now living abroad.  Yeah, I'm not the bottom feeding little brat who was here last complaining about my econ final.  Now I'm complaining about my Master's level econ final.  Totally different!!

But I digress...  Left behind by those who moved on with their week, I was carted around in the passenger seat of my mom's SUV feeling the odd familiarity of being home.  Sometimes when I step inside my parents' house, I'm automatically 15 again.  The fact that they won't let me drive their cars just solidified the feeling.

Blah blah blah, fast forward a few days and I came down to see my sister in NC.  You know what's awesome about America?  American TV.  Bravo, in particular.  Competitive cooking shows.  Oh sweet sassy molassey!  I watched Bravo, unbathed and unashamed for HOURS!   My sister at work, her husband at work, I sipped pumpkin beer alone during the day and watched other people work hard and have their dreams shattered.  Damn, it felt good. 

But then I had to clean up my act.  Litterally, I had to bathe.  I finally introduced myself to hygene long enough to go visit Christy's 1st grade class.  I spent a day in a room with 22 first graders.  Holy smokes, it was different.  No breaks to check People magazine and judge Anjolina's outfits (I always vote against her "Looks from Last Night" on principal.  Home wrecker.).  Talk about exhausting!  Through hours of teaching kids to read (sheesh!) and realizing that I have no idea what a baby giraffe is called (it's a calf, by the way.  Can't believe you didn't know that!), we finally got to my 30 minute lesson in Italy.  I blabbed on and on about Rome and things being old, showed them pictures of castles, taught them the 6 Italian words that I know and then dazzled them, I mean it, with European plugs.  Should you ever be forced to talk in front of first graders, always bring funny outlet adapters.  They.  Loved.  It!  I killed it with plug adapters.  I'm not even kidding.  I got the biggest laughs and the most questions about how to plug in my Nintendo DS (which I don't have) and how to make that plug fit into the American outlet.

Here's the video my sister made about the day I spent in her class.  It's so awesome!!  Brava, Christy!
We're capping off the trip to NC with the purchase of a dress for the upcoming Navy Ball and as much Thai and Mexican cuisine and possibly one sushi pit stop before I dash back across the pond on the morrow.  I won't lie that I am not very excited to be leaving.  I've missed my homeland.  I've missed my family.  Eavedropping in my native tongue.  I've missed feeling super fancy when I casually say "Oh, I live in Italy."  I've missed the comfort of a Southern drawl, the endless hours of entertainment that my 1 year old niece can provide and the familiarity of my sister's hugs.  But most of all, I've missed being back where I know how things are done.  We've spent now just over one year in Italy where I have mangled an unknown number of bathrooms, butchered thousands of Italian words and most definitely offended someone on a nearly daily basis.  The entire thing sometimes leaves me exhausted.  I must admit, and you can judge me if you wish, that I am not anxious to go back right now.  I want to stay here, away from my job, my inconsistent shower temperature and my cat's litter box just a little longer.  But I know that I can't.  It's the journey that makes us the strongest.  I sometimes wish I could just fast-forward to that part where I have a house in the suburbs and a yard full of impecably dressed, well-behaved, brilliant children, and pictures on my walls of the next two years.  But I know that I must face each day, each long distance phone call and let's be honest, each additional broken car window, with my own courage behind me.  I feel bad when I complain about the distance or the lonely nights or how much I miss my old friends.  I feel so incredibly guilty when I complain.  I wish I loved everything about Italy and Naples and living abroad.  But when I come home, I have to really force myself to remember that going back is what I have to do.  Put on your big girls pants, Lynne.  It's time to leave your American dreams on the shelf for a few more years and be that international lady of mystery that you someday will become.  Or at least, the one woman whirling durbish of crazy that you already are. 

Love and hugs from this weary traveler,

Monday, September 24, 2012

All American!

And we're back on American soil!  My lovely sister, Lauri, got married last weekend at the Norfolk (Virginia, USA!!) Botanical Gardens.  And good gracious me, was it a beautiful day.  Our family isn't as Southern as we'd like to be, but we make a wedding rise to the challenge set forth by our foremothers in Steal Magnolias.  Sigh... I love that movie.  And I sob, SOB, every time.  "HERE!  HIT WEEZER!"  [Insert quiet sobs, my husband handing me the 14th box of tissues in the house and me muttering "You'll just never understand..." about 100 times]

But marriage is exciting!  I flew in from Bella Napoli to my hometown of Virginia Beach on Wednesday night and the minute I hit  American soil, there were events planned.  My mom can make any event worthy of 3 or more sub-events with careful thought, 10+ Tupperware containers and a cleverly placed cooler.  My mom LOVES three-ring binders.  Loves them.  It has become a cult following to see just how large of a notebook my mom can make for any given event.  For each of our weddings, the official wedding notebook began at 1" each time and gradually ballooned to 3" and even more!  We took the task of marrying off my sister VERY seriously. 

Well wed they did!  It was a seriously GORGEOUS ceremony.  Lauri looked more beautiful than I've ever seen her.  Seriously, if I weren't already married and it wasn't illegal, I'd contemplate marrying her!  But alas, John got there first.  Queue the white dress, a rendition of "Bless the Broken Road" that brought nearly every person to tears, and a supposed bald eagle sighting (Come on, really, Kara???  I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, but it seemed a bit too good to be true) and you had the makings of a great wedding.  And then came the reception. 

My mom had booked the same wedding photographer that did Team Keenan's Wedding, Andi Grant (HEART!) and with her came a photo booth.  Now, no photo booth is worth its salt if there are not two critical ingredients: 1) sparkly hats 2) a rubber chicken.  People underestimate the value of a good rubber chicken.  Those people are fools.  And I don't even want to socialize with them.  For those of you who haven't scoffed at the rubber chicken, go buy one.  You'll find that it comes in handy in SOOOOO many situations.  Dinner parties, Mexican dinner nights, laying it casually on a really well decorated bookshelf.  Seriously, I could go on and on.  But those would be $7 very well invested.  Leave Pier 1, go get your rubber chicken.

A wedding brought me to America.  My family was so awesome, I extended my trip right before flying out and stayed.  Stay tuned for next week's exciting conclusion: America, the NC after party!!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

You Bet Your Ass(isi)

Let's be honest that I'm probably going to hell for this blog title.  But come on!  Assisi?  My inner 7th grade self just couldn't resist.

So it's hot here in Naples.  And everyone's gone.  And I wanted to be gone too.  Our apartment is stagnantly hot.  It's miserably hot.  There's that weird smell of hot things probably spoiling around me, the source of which is less important to me than the idea of sitting within inches of a fan's rotating blades.  With all of that in mind, we packed up the Civic and headed north to Umbria, which was equally hot, so perhaps that wasn't our best plan BUT there was crazy effective AC running in the B&B where we stayed, so va bene!

Totally unrelated to Assisi but, as I was drying my hair on the world's least efficient hair dryer at our B&B, I'm not ashamed to say that I mused.  And mused and mused.  I had recently read an article about the Spice Girls defining our generation on HuffPo, my go-to source for celebrity gossip (which I openly refer to as "the news"), and fancied that if this chick could get published writing about the Spice Girls that I certainly had career potential in the online writing world.  (I mean, at some point in time I'll end up getting more than 36 followers, I hope.  Not that I don't appreciate every single one of you who continue to read my mindless drabble each passing week(ish))  BUT ANYWAY!  There I was, using this horrifically slow hair dryer and thinking about how it looked like a Harry Potter wand and that if I was a witch at that time-honored school, I would be a Hufflepuff.  I know, it's not fancy and EVERYONE wants to be a Gryfindor, but I'll say it, I would be a Hufflepuff.  And my patronus would be a floppy eared bunny named Pugsley because, why the hell not?  [At this point, I was at like minute 7 of the 25 minute hair drying experience.  Tom had shoved a bar of soap into the wall-mounted hair dryer to force it to stay on because I was whining.  I know, I know, me... whine?  Shocking.  And almost impossible to imagine.  On rare occasion, it does happen, though.  And poor Tom just watches the crazy unfold.]

Still drying my hair, I then began to ponder the European shower experience, having just completed it for the day.  Showers in Europe have these strings with a little plastic thing at the bottom.  For a long time, I thought it was for travelers to hang their clothes on when they wash them in the shower.  You know, you're putzing around Europe for a month and want to wash your delicates.  And then someone told me that it's an emergency signal.  Which made me begin to wonder if there is a rash of shower-related injuries in Europe.  Are people falling all of the time in these confusingly small little showers?  They drop the soap and in an attempt to bend down to pick it up they get stuck?  I mean, it's plausible.  The "space pod" shower is very popular....  I was now entering minute 17 of hair drying and began to ponder pulling the emergency cable, just to see who would come.  The little hamster that runs my brain saw it like the Beacon of Gondor from Lord of the Rings letting all of Middle Earth know that they need assistance.  I expected the Rohirrim to crash through the door to my aid.  (If you haven't seen LoTR, first of all, watch it.  This instant if you can manage.  By fiscal quarter is really the best way and director's cut.  I'm always available.  [Puts LoTR Marathon in my calendar as "Important Meeting"])  Anywho, I'm a chicken shit and didn't pull it.  Because as I was pondering pulling it, I remembered that time that I called 911 as a child just to see what would happen and you know what?  911 calls you back!  And lectures you.  And that's scary.  So, I just forsaw the Rohirrim getting all decked out and riding in from New Zealand just to discover that I wasn't in any peril aside from a case of the crankies and my hair still not dry and how their lecture would probably be REALLY scary.... 

But Umbria!  It was great!  That about sums it up!  Of note:

1. We had the most fantastic meal at Redibis in Bevagna.  New-Italian, the bastard child of Italian food and openly called such by "real Italians," is amazing.  You know what?  In America we bastardize everything.  And we love it that way!  So I thought that this place was freaking amazing.

2. At the urging of my co-worker, we went to Santa Maria degli Angeli (Santa Maria of the Angels) cathedral just outside of Assisi.  There's this monstrously huge church there, built in 1776 (holler, America!).  Inside of this monstrous church is a little church, supposedly St. Francis' original church.  It was weird.  One of those things that my co-worker told me was the most amazing thing and when we saw it, Tom and I both said "That's kind of weird, right?  That they built a church around a church?"  Also, if you are sitting just behind the little church, good luck seeing what's happening on the altar.  You are just going to have to picture it mentally. 

2.5 days, 6 hours of the weekend spent in the car and 6 cases of wine later, we returned to Naples and... wait for it.... someone broke into our car again.  Mother effing Hubbard.  They stole my headband from Pier 1 and the cable for our GPS which was in the glove box.  I keep hoping that who ever broke my window is wearing that headband and it's given them lice.  Special lice that hasn't taken to my hair but will flourish in their thieving hair.  It's cool, I'm sure that's what you're supposed to think after spending the weekend in a city of churches....  Now go forth and do great things.  And let me know if you've pulled the emergency beacon cable before, because I'm super curious if you've met the Rohirrim!

Buon Ferragosto!

It's August in Italy which means that most all of the Italians are gone somewhere south of Napoli, lounging on a beach somewhere.  But!  There was a big festival this week which managed to keep a few in town for a moment longer!

Ferragosto is one of those holidays that I have never experienced before.  On August 15th, Italy shuts down to celebrate the Assumption of Mary (which for you heathens is the day when the Virgin Mary ascented into Heaven).  I ventured up to Monte di Procida with a few girlfriends (taking a day off of work mid-week) to see what all of the fuss was about.

At 10 AM a crowd of no less than 2,000 Italians had gathered outside of the main church in this little town of Monte di Procida, waiting for a statue of Mary to be carried out and then to process through the entire town, making stops at four other churches along the way.  We were watching the crazy from a bridge above this crowd, just waiting and speculating which way Mary would be carried throughout the town.  At 10:30, (it was supposed to start at 10 but let's be honest, 10:30 is close enough for Italian time!) clapping ensued around us and a hodge-podge band of children, adults and elderly men began to make their way through the crowd.  A collection of elderly men followed closely behind the bands, making sure that the mob ahead of the group cleared a path.  Behind them, groups of younger men dressed all in white with yellow scarves around their necks held hands along two lines - they made a passageway for a group of priests wearing microphones and chanting.  The microphones were linked into speakers that broadcasted their prayers and chants throughout hte entire town, allowing the mass of thousands to sing the responses regardless of their relative location to the parade.  And finally, there was a probably 6 foot tall statue of the Virgin Mary on a platform carried by several Italian men.  Behind her, around her, in front of her, there was a mob slowly walking, some holding hands, some fanning themselves from the unrelenting August sun.

It was one of those moments where spirituality has truly gripped me.  There is something about being in the middle of a group so large and so devoted to their faith that moved me nearly to tears.  It was beautiful.  I honestly cannot even put into words how amazingly spiritual it was to be in the middle of this event, to hear thousands of responsorial songs and prayers to the Virgin Mary in Italian.  It was amazing.  And crazy.  And exciting.  And about 10 other emotions all at once.

The day concluded with prosecco and one of those amazingly large Italian lunches that makes you really appreciate the need for riposso (the mid-day nap).  I can honestly say, it was just such a wonderful experience that I am so very glad to have been a part of it and experience a little piece of Italian culture.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

It's all Greek to me!

I never thought I'd say it: I came back from Greece and actually let out a sigh of relief upon hearing Italian again!  "At least I can sort of eavesdrop here!"  Greek is a tough language.  Somewhere between what sounds like Arabic, Russian, Italian and made-up language is where Greek lies to my ear.  I think it's all an elaborate rouse to make tourists feel foolish.  Maybe I'm a bit too paranoid, though...

Tom had a work meeting on the island of Crete so I tagged along the weekend prior to explore a bit.  Observation: Greek food is heavenly.  Everything was so flavorful and interesting.  Italian food is good, don't get me wrong.  But Italians love things to be very simple.  If you are eating pork, it should taste like pork.  Everything tastes like the best  version of itself.  Which is nice and all, but sometimes, I like to hide my food under layers of spices and cream sauces and tons of herbs.  Greeks, it turns out, do too!  We have so much in common already! 

Crete is a hard island, made harder by the blazing sun, 100+ degree temperature days, being overtaken by Romans, Turks, Germans and being in the middle of the ocean!  The people, much like Neapolitans, have struggled and persevered and somehow come out on the other side. 

We stayed in Chania, pronounced "Haan-ya" which is bustling with tourists, fishing boats, and tons of shopping!  It seemed like Sorrento, walking down the leather goods alley, with all variety of purse, wallet, jacket and sandal hanging outside of stalls until midnight or later.  The streets were narrow, made of stone and crammed with people!  In our very European way, we dined at 9 or 10 at night, conducting an independent study on tatziki, dolmas and vegetable fritters at each place.  Shockingly, Tom was a fan of all three! 

Before we left, I found a horseback riding company on TripAdvisor which was very highly rated and emailed the owner to set up an appointment.  He emailed me back to tell me that I was crazy, that his establishment was far from Chania and again, that I was crazy.  I booked it anyway and we spent a hot day driving through the coastline and exploring the ruins of Knossos, King Minos' palace where the Minotaur Labyrinth is said to have been.  The whole place was 4,000 years old but had been rebuilt in the 1920's to look like it might have looked back in the day.  We thought it a bit hokey, but did relish at the site of a German man, in a white linen suit with beach flip flops.  Now that's how you do business casual in Germany!  So after judging the German, seeing an ancient site and eating approximately 40 dolmas, we made our way to the horseback riding place. 

It was all in all, a pretty fun little trek.  The landscape was lovely, full of olive trees and little farms, Greek children stared at us as we rode by on our horses, shouting inaudible things to their mothers.  The owner of the horseback riding company was a fairly insane man, foul mouthed and raunchy but very generous at the same time.  Tom's horse, picture above, was bat-shit crazy (and that's putting it nicely!).  He was constantly about 1/2 a mile ahead of the rest of the group, his horse likely to freak out if another one came too close to him.  It was all a bit odd, but we got to spend some really quality time in the car (the town being some 2 hours from Chania), me singing Tom various whiny Indi songs from my college days and having serious discussions about future Christmas plans.

One thing to know about Tom: he hates the sun.  Loathes it.  Thinks Italians (and me) are crazy for laying in its rays for hours on end, seemingly enjoying that form of torture.  Now me?  I LOVE the beach.  It's my favorite place to be.  I'll spend hours swimming and floating and lounging and swimming some more.  It reminds me of my childhood, of building drip-drop sand castles with my mom and my sisters, finding enormous pieces of kelp (which we invariably called "Lioney" each time) and dragging it all over the beach for hours.  My mom thought we might have been part fish.  I took this with me, this constant love of the water and the sun and the lazy days at the beach, onwards to Greece.  We spent a day, surrounded by the Tower of Babel clad in various levels of Speedo.  The clearly northern Europeans already blotchy from the sun, laying out again as proof of their Greek vacation.  Tom hid beneath our umbrella, covering it with our towels just to be sure that no sun snuck in.  I swam and swam and floated and swam and read and swam and drank several beers.  It was my favorite day in Greece.  It was perfect.

Now back in Naples, I find myself missing those lovely beaches, complex food and relatively courteous drivers!  But I also have that feeling of familiarity that comes with living somewhere for over a year.  Our brief sojourn in Greece was lovely!  Some day, when our internet is working again, I'll add the rest of the pictures.  These are uploaded via my iPhone, so please forgive the quality!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pigging Out

Back in October, we openly mocked our friend, Molly, for suggesting that we go to a Truffle and Sacred Chestnut festival.  Then it turned out to be one of the most fun days in Italy.  Since that time, when someone says "There's a random festival for [insert food item here] going on this weekend, do you want to go?"  The answer is unequivically 'yes.'  This past weekend it was 'cinghiale' or wild boar.  We met up with 11 of our closest friends and hopped into various cars, driving northward to the tiny town of Dugenta. 

About an hour later we arrived.  And it was decidedly not open.  A few humorous photo shoots later and we had an open bottle of prosecco, some plastic cups, a blanket and 3 iPhones coming up with a new plan.  The reason I love our friends here is this: killing time normally takes the form of wine tasting.  With an iPhone in one hand, a glass plastic cup in the other, our good friend, Gillian, was quickly chatting with a winery and setting up a tour.  So up we drove, through vineyards and cute little towns as I squealed about my deep love of roadside produce (which I will still note, we did not procure.  Totally a missed opportunity.  Drat!  Those peaches!  They would have been lovely for the ride back.  Drat!). 

The little vineyard was adorable.  For about 20 minutes, we wandered around on a tour of the vineyard in Italian.  Now, I'm not fluent in Italian.  I won't pretend to be.  I know enough to figure out that when someone points to a huge cask and says something about it that they are probably talking about fermentation.  Then they point to bottles and say something and it probably still has to do with winemaking.  See?  I've had enough practice at this whole "drink wine at a vineyard" thing to know what comes next.  Explain your product, nod, nod some more, wait a bit, then, at long last, drink.  The wine was fairly good, for 5 Euro and a way to kill some time, it was definitely worth it.

And we were off!  Back at the festival, things were not quite as bumping as I thought they might become.  To be fair, it was the last day of the festival and 2:30 pm and a Sunday.  That's pretty prime riposo (similar to "siesta" in other countries. I have also very recently discovered that I've been saying "riposto" which is a town in Italy, NOT the afternoon rest. [Re-read above where I am very honest about not being fluent in Italian]) time in Italy, so the festival was more like a smooth jazz crowd than an electronica concert.  Regardless, there was a little menu and cinghiale (wild boar) was a star in almost every dish.  Cinghiale ravioli was probably the best, second to the Wild Boar festival caraffes of wine, of course.  They were stamped with a wild boar.  Oh stop it!  That is too darn cute!  They were 3 Euro and as the festival was winding down and they people running it had brought us more and more caraffes for free, we figured we'd take one or two for momentos.  The rules on whether 3 Euro bought you a caraffe were fuzzy.... 

Fat, dumb and happy, we piled back into the carivan of cars (with a quick and delicious gelato stop on the way back.  Mmmmmm gelato....) and back we came to Napoli!  A quiet little weekend, but still something fun nonetheless. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy 236 Birthday, America!

In celebration of America's 236th day of birth, we took to the sea.  Somehow, that made sense.  Plus, it was one work day off in the middle of the week.  This seemed like the easiest plan. 

After the massive success of boating when my sister was visiting, it seemed only logical to give it a go again.  On our first boat trip, we were advised that a trip to Ischia would be too far for us on one tank of gas.  Well this time, we went for it!  And it was awesome!  As we pulled up to this island, covered in brightly colored houses, castles and vineyards, I felt the air escape from my lungs.  Holy crap, we live in Italy.  I have these revelations every once in a while, reminding myself that life has changed so much and that I should totally take advantage of each of those moments.  Something about staring at a castle which is older than the country where I'm from can just help to put things into perspective.

Floating around the bay, we relished in some creature comforts (read: juice box wine).  They have juice box wine in the US, I know.  But there's something about 1,50 Euro wine that doesn't suck that also makes me appreciate Italy.  When I took my sister to Ipercoop, our equivalent to Kroger, Food Lion, Ralph's or whatever you call a grocery store in the rest of the US, she couldn't get over the funny wine choices.  I find that it still makes me smile as I'm plopping a few boxes into my cart.  "Don't mind if I do...."  And while I'm on the subject of grocery stores, let me also touch on one other revelation: some food that I've always thought of as very American is also very European. Hot dogs, I'm looking at you. Hot dogs, or wurstle as they are called here, are HUGE! Like crazy huge. Like, there are multiple chilled display cases of them at Ipercoop. Oh, that isn't the type you like? No worries, here's 197 other varieties that you can browse. Beer flavored, cheese infused, 2 packs, 12 packs, 48 packs. How many friends do you have coming over because for sure, you can get 12 hot dogs a person if it comes to that. No buns, that's another story. Secondly, watermelon. While lemonade may not be all the rage, huge hunks of watermelon sold out of the back of 3 wheeled trucks definitely is. The problem is this: try to mentally calculate the cost in Euro and the metric system. If you can do that in your head, you are a better person than I. I take that back, you're just a better mathematician. Wouldn't want to sell myself short.

So, alas, no fireworks for us on the 4th of July.  And yet, even with all of the awesomeness of boating and juice box wine and extremely old castles, there was something about a Wonder Bread sandwich with baloney that just made me smile and think fondly of the good old U S of A.  We're heading back there in September where I fully intend to spend hours lazily wandering the aisles of Target, eating Thai food and sipping Yuengling.  Until then, from all of us on this side of the pond, hold down the fort, America.  We love you all and miss you so much.

Baci a tutti! (Kisses to all y'all!)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Christy and Todd Take Italy!

My wonderful sister and her amazing husband came to Italy for an entire week last week.  It was one of the best weeks that I've had in a really long time.  Just wonderful and relaxing and full of good food and good wine and seriously, seriously good people.  Having never been to Italy before, we started off with a bang in Rome spending two days at break-neck speed seeing everything!  The Vatican?  Check.  The Coloseum?  Check.  The Roman Forum?  Check (though Christy was never entirely sure what it was all about.  We even took a little break to read the Wiki definition and check out a wiki map.  Still no luck.  Alas, it was hot.  We need gelato.  And water.  And shade.  And oh my heck, it was so stinking HOT!!!).  Trevi Fountain?  Check.  Piazza Novona?  Check.  Pantheon?  Check.  I mean, seriously, I ran these two bleary eyed travelers into the ground and then happily tossed them onto a bullet train back to Napoli.  Phew.  Napoli.

Because so much of the week was so awesome, I'll just give you the highlights:

1. Well Rome, obviously, is always awesome.  Each time I go back, I find something new to amaze myself with.  To smile and gawk and stare, mouth open and attracting flies, in sheer awe of the splendor of this great city.  What can I say?  I'm a huge nerd who wasted my impressionable years learning Latin!  We ate spectacular food and gelato almost hourly and pinched ourselves to make sure that it was all real.  (Also, Todd, not me, had trouble with the shower.  See?  It's obviously a Europe thing!!  Everyone thinks that showering abroad is difficult.  Don't question it, just get on board and agree)

2. The Boat Times.  If you haven't seen the incredibly weird and somewhat disturbing video for OId Greg, look it up.  If you don't like British humor, don't look it up.  It's weird and uncomfortable and did I mention, it's weird?  Regardless, my sisters and I (and by extension our hubands) can quote just about any line from that sketch on a moment's notice and do, quite often.   We spent a day on a boat, puttering around the island of Procida just outside of the Bay of Naples.  The clear, salty water, the warm day and a cooler of beers made it all even better.  We had such a fun time!!

3. Positano.  I love Positano.  It's my favorite little town along the Amalfi Coast, most likely, because of a magical day spent there last summer with my dear, wonderful, fantastic friend, Kristine.  Going back again, for the 5th time (?), it certainly didn't disappoint.  We had the most heavenly meal with food that looked like it came right out of a magazine.  Everything was beautiful and artfully placed on each plate.  With a glass of cold white wine, mamma mia!  Perfection!  Everyone bought a truly European hat that day, completing our day of leisurely strolls and casual spending.  You're welcome, Economy of Italy, we were quite the stimulus package this week.

4. My sister.  Christy brings out every part of me that is the best.  I have been feeling low lately, feeling insecure and small about myself.  My Italian isn't good enough, I don't do this well enough or that well enough or I'm letting someone down.  All of it was just getting my down and I was disappointed about this place and my life in it.  Christy pulled me up and dusted me off and spent a week building my self esteem.  She is, truly, one of the most selfless people I've ever known.  She is kind without an agenda and has the affection that makes her the world class teacher that she is.  She is married to a kind, hilarious man who is quietly brilliant (disregard aforementioned shower difficulties).  I cannot write enough of their praises and can never, never thank them enough for leaving behind their 10 month old daughter to come spend a week in Italy with us.  These next two years will be rough so far from home.  I will not pretend that I'll not be sad or low again, but for now, for this moment, I am so full of happiness.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Hungary Games

Just like District 12 and the Hunger Games, so too are the Hungary Games.  Whatever, we got to shoot a bow and arrow and felt like Katniss Everdeen for a minute.

A few weeks ago my friend, Molly, wrote me an email and said "Let's go on a trip.  Do you want to go to Budapest?"  And I said "No, not really."  Then we started comparing ticket prices and length of travel and Budapest became the least cost, shortest travel time alternative and thus, tickets were purchased, hotel room booked and research began. 

We flew on Wizz Air, highly heckled because of their pink and purple (both the brightest version of those colors) color scheme.  "No real airline picks those colors."  Wizz flys mostly to small, crappy airports in parts of Eastern Europe that you haven't heard of.  Maybe you have, but I hadn't.  Wizz, like Ryan Air, Easy Jet and the other budget European airlines is a crapshoot of crazy, involving jamming of bodies onto buses, running down the runway once the bus stops and elbow jabbing old ladies in the face to get a seat.  And, at the Budapest Airport on the way back, a pack of 6 very large Hungarians who tore open their Duty Free Palinka (which is the Hungarian version, except more delicious, of grappa - which for you who don't know what grappa is, it's like fire water that is made from the stems and skins of grapes after they were first used to make wine.  You drink it after dinner, exhale fire and feel the warmth go into your belly while you try not to vomit in front of the waiter.  It's a fun game, for sure!) and downed the entire 750 mL bottle before getting on the plane.  That stuff's 80 proof.  They drank it in under 10 minutes.  Holy crap.  I clapped.  They judged.  But seriously, damn. 

But we got there.  One cab ride later (involving a significant amount of secret searching for the exchange rate app on my iPhone - "How much is 7,600 HUF???  Is that a lot???  It sounds like a lot..."), we rolled up into the Boscolo Autograph Collection Hotel.  It was one of the fanciest hotels I have been inside.  Ok, go ahead and judge, I don't stay at fancy hotels all that often.  So in walk Molly and I, mouths gaping open, attracting flies, to this crystal palace filled with hydrangeas in elaborate vases, the most attractive doormen known to Eastern Europe and chandeliers like crazy.  "We should make sure this is the right hotel before we get too excited," I whispered out of the side of my mouth to Molly.  When I asked, the very hot doorman smiled [swoon] and reassured me that we were in the right place.   [Swoons]

[Enter Lynne's battle with awkward showering #492]  I booked through Orbitz.  I shouldn't have.  Molly and I walked into this massive, super modern hotel room and again, our mouths dropped.  But for one tiny, itsy bitsy problem: super modern hotel rooms in Europe think that also requires them to have an all-glass shower in the middle of the room with no door.  I wish I could say that we are graceful people (sorry Molly, I'm lumping you in with me on this one) but we just aren't.  We had to come to agreed upon areas of the room that required your back to the shower while the other was in there and then ended up getting the entire bathroom soaking wet because there was no stinking door on the shower!  Come on, Europe!  Put doors on your showers!  People need that!  Or put a drain in the middle of the floor.  Or don't make your floors marble.  I mean, it's like the perfect storm of dangerous bathing situations, and I can do that all on my own, as the sheer number of posts labeled "Awkward Bathing Situations" would lead one to believe.

And we were off!  The day before we left, I bought tickets to the Budapest Opera House for their evening show of some random ballet.  The tickets were 1,200 HUF a piece and I was nervous at first that this would be too expensive.  Well, with the conversion rate, that's roughly $5 to see a ballet in a world renowned opera house.  During intermission, over a $1 glass of wine (#winning), we discussed the plot.  "So, is that guy supposed to be Satan?"  About half way through act 2, we gave up.  "Why is he in a wheelchair?"  It got complicated.  But people danced in spandex and looked really beautiful. 

Budapest cafes are possibly the most adorable in the world for one reason: they have blankets at all of their outdoor tables.  It is the most adorable thing I've ever seen and I was obliged at each location to put the thing on, whether I was cold or not, because seriously???  What kind of place has outdoor blankets?  Adorable places.  When I open my perfect pub, which will be called Prim & Proper, it will have outdoor blankets.  And people will say "Do you want to go grab a drink at that adorable pub with blankets?"  The answer is yes.

But back to the trip!  We spent all day Saturday on the most heavenly tour of my life.  I think back on it, much like the doormen at the Boscolo, and sigh frequently.  Taste Hungary is the most amazing company for tours.  We went on the Somlo (pronounced "shom-low") Region wine tour with Gabor, who had the most hearty, authentic laugh that convinced both Molly and I that we were, hands down, the funniest people on the face of the earth. 

Lynne: "Gabor, is that a grape?" 
Gabor: "Hahahahahahha" 
Lynne: Damn, I'm funny.

On the tour, we tasted about 1,000 wines and walked away with 28.6 KG of wine.  Holy cats.  That's a lot.  Our second winery, Spiegelberg, is owned by the Istvan, a slightly lecherous German who relocated to Hungary after working for both BMW and a movie theater.  Somehow, those skills translate into wine making gold because his wines were probably the best that I've had in Europe.  And I live in Italy.  From his crisp, mineral-rich whites to the stuffed cabbage that his girlfriend made over the flames of a campfire to the sweet farm dog named after his prize-winning grapes, Furmint, it was one of the most amazing days of my life.  No words, no photograph, no explanation can ever truly capture the serene, lovely, peaceful nature of that place.  We returned back to the city, our hearts full of the Hungarian countryside and yet already missing that idyllic, magical place.  Even now, I still feel a tinge of sadness to have left.

Budapest surpassed all expectations.  It was such a magical, wonderful trip.  I will hold it dearly with me as the years pass and remember my dear friend, Molly, our day in the heavenly countryside and a little dog named Furmint.