Sunday, August 25, 2013

No seriously, this is our life.

July was an expensive and drinking-intensive month.  After Belgian beer and Irish Whiskey, we came back to Italian wine and dove right in to a ridiculously awesome launch party for a bottle of wine.  If that’s going to be a thing for life, I’m very readily available to attend as a seat filler.  

Il Palazzone is this vineyard up in Montalcino, Tuscany that is run by an Italian man and his Scottish wife, who, not surprisingly, is able to easily communicate with the hoards of Americans here in Naples.  Back when in May, when my mom was visiting, we went to this winery at the strongly worded encouragement of just about everyone of our friends down here.  When we were up there in May, the American owner was in town to sample the varietals that would go into their 2008 Rosso di Montalcino.  Again, not to nerd out too much on wine, this is normally like your crap table wine.  But Il Palazzone lets theirs sit in wood and the bottles for 5 years.  You can get a rosso for as cheap as 2 Euro a bottle at some places, but this one is actually legitimately delicious.

Into our little Honda Civic Tom and I hopped and raced northward to Toscana.  If there is one thing about Tuscany that is amazing, well that’s obviously wine.  But if there was a second thing, it’s steak.  Florentine steak is what I want heaven to be like.  Just heaps and heaps of Florentine steak and pretty much wine from Toscana.  

We stayed at this quiet (until we arrived en mass) agriturismo that had amazing wine.  Fear not, we bought 2 double magnums after learning that they age well.  It felt very, very necessary.  If in 15 years you get invited over to our house when we open one of those, you are a truly, truly good friend.  So, feel pretty privileged.

Il Palazzone has this ridiculously fancy infinity pool overlooking the valley of Montalcino.  The view is so horrible, I’m including a picture so you’ll feel sorry for us.  We do it all in the name of freedom.  You’re welcome.  And by “we,” I mean Tom.  I stand by him with a glass of wine in my hand and my TripAdvisor account active.  Dangling my feet into this fatty infinity pool, a glass of prosecco in my hand, a plate of antipasti in the other, it was pretty much the worst ever.  Ok, I’m 100% lying, it was crazy swanky.  Tuscan bread salad, rice salad, regular salad, pasta, and like 2 WHOLE COWS were on the menu for the evening.  Steak after steak followed bottle after blissful bottle.  Laughter was abundant as the sun set over the vineyards.  It was one of those days where I’d catch Tom’s watchful eye from across the table and see that glint that still makes my heart full.  We live a life that I could have never imagined and I share it with the most amazing man who loves me, flaws, crazy, and all.  

Now that we’ve been here for 2+ years, a lot of our original friends have come and gone and new people are taking their place.  We’ve met a ton of fun new people who I have hung out with a few extra times since our Tuscan adventure and had such fun with.  It’s funny how long it takes to feel like you belong somewhere, but it’s finally feeling that way here.  Don’t get me wrong, Bella Napoli has an expiration date and I’m kind of glad about that because it’s batshit crazy, but we have met some really wonderful people.  Each one that comes into your life, be it friend or foe, teaches me something.  I’ve found friends who would move mountains for me and for whom, I’d do that same in a heartbeat.  It hasn’t been the easiest path and, believe me when I say that there have been a lot of lonely nights and more drama than I ever thought possible, but from this comfortable perch where I sit now, the view is pretty spectacular and the blessings are more than I ever thought possible.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Land of Our People. Or... Tom's people...

Remember that time that I said I was getting back on the wagon?  Like most struggling bloggers, I keep finding things that distract me.  Like rewatching episodes of Criminal Minds or that pesky idea that I should finish my thesis, or those 40 hours of work that I am obliged to complete each week.  You see what I’m dealing with here?  Blogging killers.  I’ve also devoured the book, Divergent.  It’s Young Adult, so it’s not like it was nearly as dull as my Public Policy textbooks or my own, incredibly dull thesis paper with the short and concise title, which I no kidding just had to look up because I couldn’t even remember it myself after working on it for 6 months: “Redevelopment Models: A Comparative Analysis of European and American Adaptive Reuse of Failed Industrial Cityscapes.”  Trust me when I tell you that it is a real page turner.  I’ll sign advance copies for interested parties.


This is an incredibly long winded excuse for why my blogging has been at an all time low.  So, Public, I apologize.  I’ve been working.  And traveling.  And drinking far, far, FAR too much.  I have stolen my friend Katie’s “Healthy August” idea, hoping that a month of dedication to fitness can undo a month of dedication to good times and careless drinking & eating habits.  I am also adding the bonus of Facebook stalking myself from college to determine if I can tell from pictures that I’ve been careless for a month.  But then realized that I’m incredibly kind to myself and that my penchant for A-line dresses is helping my confidence.  That and that Italian men will still mutter “Bellissima” when anything in a skirt walks past.  “Thanks, boys, your extremely tight pants look good too.  Are those jeggings in August?  Respect.”  [we fist bump and carry on our merry ways.  At least, we do in my head.]

I’ve already covered our 4th of July in Belgium but one short week later, we hopped on a plane to Ireland!!  The impetus for this trip was to see Mumford and Sons who we foolishly missed when they were in Rome earlier this year.  Not making that mistake again!  But the added bonus is that Ireland is awesome.  Seriously.  The people there are so ridiculously nice, which my sister will quip, I said about 1,000 times in my previous Ireland post, but it’s absolutely true.  I’ve not met a kinder group of people, except for drunk Irish hipsters, to whom none of this applies.  You drunk Irish hipsters, you’re just as bad as hipsters everywhere.  You hear me hipsters??  I’m on to you.  And you’re corruption of even the most pure things, like Irish sweetness.  So go ahead and knock that off, you hear me?  And then ironically wear a Starbucks shirt and explain to someone why it’s ironic.  [grumbles profanity about effing hipsters…]

So we’re up in Ireland.  We started with a drive to Cork, Tom’s white knuckles gripping the wheel on the wrong side of the road.  Katie and I didn’t seem to mind and shouted “COWS!!  SHEEPIES!!” at each field of livestock.  I never thought of myself as a City Girl, but my Jane Austen-like love of the country rises up each time I see an expanse of open greenness.  After most likely numerous unbeknownst traffic violations, we pulled into Cork and wandered around to find a drink.  Like Belgium, the sun doesn’t seem to want to set in Ireland either.  But we found some fish and chips and friendly bar-keep followed by an evening of pub music.  The musicians seemed to just appear and overtake a large corner table.  Pints, shots, wine glasses, various instruments, chairs and bar stools and laughter all seemed to co-mingle in this section of the pub as song after song began and ended with no apparent break.  The group changed sporadically, some people plopping down on a bar stool with a violin and then equally spontaneously, leaving.  “Did that guy just walk in with a drum?”  No really, he did.

After discovering that Katie is my soul-mate of old man habits (drinking Scotch, drinking Irish whiskey, smoking cigars, wearing bathrobes), we decided to start an independent Irish Whiskey tour.  One shot, with one ice cube, from each bar.  Patty’s was our favorite, mostly because it was dirt cheap, about 2 Euros depending on the level of dive bar, and Middleton’s was the best, but significantly more expensive.  

From Cork, we traveled down to Blarney, kissing some level of the Blarney Stone and rolling our eyes repeatedly at the annoyingly whiny American family behind us.  “This is why people hate Americans.”  We decided to claim Canada for the remainder of the trip.  No one hates Canada.  Fun fact about the Blarney Stone – you have to hang upside down, a 90 year old man holding your midsection, to kiss the darn thing.  Despite (or perhaps in spite of)skydiving, I find myself absurdly afraid of heights and end up kissing about 2 feet about the darn thing.  Tom got more serious and believes that he kissed the grout between the Blarney Stone and the rest of the Blarney Castle.  But Katie, she got in there.  She committed.  

After Blarney, we wandered around more of the country parts of Cork, but I won’t bore you with that.  Flash forward and we were back in Dublin.  Here’s the thing about Dublin, it’s not really the most amazing city.  I mean, it’s cool and it’s in Ireland and they have pretty delicious burgers and beer, but it’s not like the destination that you think it’s going to be.  Prague, Budapest, hell, even Paris, are all such iconic cities and so remarkably different, poor ol’ Dublin just seems like a city.  Harsh truth, I know.  Look, I can’t always say amazing things.

Dublin gets the following notes: Phoenix Park, where we saw Mumford & Sons is enormous.  And about a 2.698047295 mile walk from anything else.  Once inside, after a significant amount of pub crawling pre-gaming, we found a pleasant spot, listened to the openers, (one of whom was Ben Howard who is no kidding awesome.  You should listen to him.  Right now.  I’ll wait.  Download hisalbum “Every Kingdom” and then come back.  I’m going to get a cappuccino freddo while you do this.) drinking crappy but expensive beer, and making fun of drunk hipsters in high-waisted jorts (jean shorts, which are apparently back in style???  False.  Take them off and find real pants.  Also, are you wearing a crown of flowers??  This isn’t Woodstock.  Not even Woodstock ’99.  Take those off.  You look ridiculous.)  Mumford was about as epic as you’d expect.  Upon the concert’s completion, our group somehow got separated in the mass of people, failed miserably at hailing a cab, and due to lack of seating, ate a bucket of fried chicken next to a fountain and mountain of trash.  At one point during the concert, someone walked into me, chin first, with an enormous beer.  Beer to the face is now one of my least favorite things.  I spent the remainder of the concert covered in that pleasantly pungent cheap beer smell and very sticky.  (I know, “that’s what she said.”)  Sitting next to the mountain of trash, drunkards walking through the fountain, in my beer-covered dress, I thought “This is how a vagrant lifestyle starts…”

So other highlights of Ireland: I finally met my sisters’ Irish friends, Caroline and Danielle.  We met up for Moroccan food and spent hours laughing harder than I can remember.  They are both planning on moving away from Ireland next year, their fearless wanderlust making me equal parts anxious and envious.  Being so far away from my family, it has been several years since someone has said “Oh my gosh, you look exactly like your sister.”  It was so nice to hear that and remember our similarities.


If you go to Dublin, skip the Jameson Distillery, just take yourself on a drinking tour of their various flavors, and instead go to Guinness.  And eat there.  Oh my heavens… it’s sooooo tasty.  Nom nom nom.

Our bank accounts drained and our livers drying out, we came back to Italy.  But I miss that beautiful island – covered in lush green, easily understandable use of the English language, and their embracing nature for international food.  Thai food, I miss you so much.  Let’s rekindle our flame…  Tom told me he didn’t mind.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

4th of July in Belgium!

When people think of the freedom of America, they often think of Belgian beer.  No?  Well, it was worth a try.  We hopped on a couple of flights and found ourselves in the land of beer, chocolate, and waffles for the 4th of July weekend!

Everyone has been telling us that we absolutely have to go to Bruges, Belgium.  And you know what?  It's true.  It's about the most darling little town ever.  Adding to it's adorableness (no, my sister confirmed it was a real word via text.  Just go with it.) are the following things:

1. Mussels.  I love mussels.  They are delicious.  I can, embarassingly, eat the shit out of some mussels in Italy.  And have on many occassions.  And then craftily attempted to hide the very obvious lack of portion control by pawning the shells off on someone elses plate.  "Geeze, save some for the rest of us!"  I never said that I was a good person. 

But mussels in Belgium had so many flavor options!  I got curry!  Curry, friends!  Living in Italy, we don't get a lot of curry, unless I make it myself.  But up there in Belgium, with my own entire pot of mussels, I ate myself silly (there is no photographic evidence of this.  I, instead, am modestly posting a photo of Tom with his mussels).  What's extra adorable about Belgium is this: you use your first mussels little shell as a utensil to pick out your other mussels.  Like a somewhat disturbing set of chopsticks, but made from the carcass of something you've already ingested.  No, seriously, and I thought that was adorable. 

2. Beer: Belgian beer had so many options!  Delicious options!  Dark beer, light beer, hoppy beer, ambers.  And we tried the hell out of them!  From mid-day on, we stopped about every other hour for a beer pit-stop and you know what, it makes traveling pretty fun!  Rochefort 10 was my personal favorite - really dark, very rich flavor, super SUPER high in alcohol content.  That's the problem I have with Belgian beer, sometimes you forget that 13% alcohol in a beer is pretty effing strong when you are sweating your ass off and bottles of water are an astonishing 6 Euro each!  Mother of pearl, are you serious?!?  Beer is literally cheaper to drink than water.  So we did.  And supplemented Excedrin Migraine for fluids.  It felt like a good life choice at the time...  My liver may beg to differ in the long term.

3. The Midnight Sun: Talk about messing up your internal clock - the sun in Northern Europe refused to set.  Just refused.  Crossed it arms and just stayed up.  "I'll go to bed when I'm good and ready!"  The sun setting at 10:30 led to many very, very late night meals.  Because we're so used to eating at 8:30 (or later) in Italy, it didn't seem that weird to go to dinner late, but the folks up north are used to the other side of the coin as well, those pesky cold months when daylight is scarce.  Despite the late setting sun, most people still ate at about 5-7 pm and when we went out for dinner at 9:30, we were the only ones there!  "Oh hey... are you still open?  Can you feed us?"

I'd say our weirdest stop in Brussels was the Magritte Museum.  Rene Magritte, famous for the faceless businessman in a bowler hat, was also really trippy.  Wandering through the museum, more than once I thought to myself, "Modern art is really weird.  And I like modern art."  I felt like my mom, wondering, 'what does this mean??'  If you're in Brussels and you really want to go to a museum, just take my word for it, and skip Magritte.  You're welcome, I just saved you 8 Euro.

Here are some pics of the midnight sun in Brussels and Bruges.  As well us Kim, Nathan, and Tom measuring street distances.  It's scientific, trust me on that.

Lovely, lovely places.  Bruges, definitely so.  Between the chocolate, the massive amounts of beer, the constant French fries and occasional Belgian waffles, my diet has gone to hell in a handbag and I'm look for more A-line dresses for the remainder of the summer. 

Coming up next, Ireland!

Team K