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Buon Giorno! Italy, part uno

Well I finally got a strong enough wi-fi signal to sign into the blog! Of course my connectivity did not go according to plan, but here I am and hello! Welcome to Italy! I will be able to keep you more up to date from now on, so these first entries are a bit long, then I will keep them to a day or so at a time. I hope you enjoy them!

Italy: Thursday, October 11, 2012

After 15 hours of travel in small airplane seats and a quick cab ride we found ourselves in our Verona apartment. A little loft with a small kitchen; it was perfect. And better yet, as we learned, it was quiet! We aren’t used to city noises and I really appreciate a quiet city apartment. The location was great, we could walk to anything and there were no tourists in our neighborhood. We pretty much set our things down, paid the landlady and walked to dinner. We had left for the airport at 2 pm on Wednesday, and it was now 8:30 pm on Thursday (Italy time, which is 9 hours ahead of Pacific time). I didn’t eat the airplane food and I was hungry!

Our first dinner in Verona was perfetto! Taverna di via Stella had delicious food, and the experience/service we really needed for our first night. Mark picked the restaurant and could not have planned it better! We really felt like we were in Italy and it was a great, authentic evening. We enjoyed it so much that we made reservations to take mom and dad there on Saturday. The pasta course was almost a cavatappi, thick corkscrews, with pumpkin sauce and it was DELISH! Before we left Elizabeth had made a cold pasta salad with a pumpkin sauce and we really loved it, from the vibrant color to the smooth flavor, she did a wonderful job of making it up! This dish was reminiscent of hers, though it was hot and a bit ‘saucier’. I could have eaten a whole plate, but we were smart and shared everything so we could try a few things.

This region of Italy is in the Northern part, eastern side, and the regional dishes include polenta and risotto. The wines of the region include Valpolicella, Ripasso and Amarone, as well as many others. One of the many great things about Italy is the inexpensive wine. We had a litre of house red, which was delicious, and cost less than $10! We had a ripasso with our cheese plate (dessert!) and it was so delicious. We walked back to the apartment a different way than we got there, previewing Piazza d’Erbe, and some shops that we looked forward to seeing in the daylight. We stopped for a piccolo coppa (small cup) of gelato, Mark had Nocciolo (hazelnut) and it was so flavorful. I tried a new one, latte miele, and it was good but I should have had the cioccolate for the first taste.

Friday, October 12
We had plans to go out to lunch today and part of the reason I was so excited was that we were headed further north and the foods are different in the Alto Adige, than they are here in the Veneto (and of course each region of Italy has very different cuisine, and that is part of what we love about this place!) Of course, just as in life, the real destination was not lunch, but the journey to get there (and back).

It started with us walking to the city bus and taking it to the train station,. With a little help from watching others get on buses, we figured out that we could purchase our bus ticket from a machine on the bus. It took us a minute but we got it working, then got to the station and purchased our train tickets to Bolzano, had espresso e capucco at the ‘snack bar’, along with a hot panino and a piadino (flatbread, almost like a tortilla, w/speck inside. Speck is a regional style of salumi, somewhat similar to prosciutto.) We have really become good travelers, adapting to each new city that we experience, being patient with ourselves in figuring out new transactions and going with it. We are both proud of being able to do that, maybe especially because we aren’t particularly well-traveled in the bigger scheme of things.

We hopped on the train and the extra 4 eu are totally worth it for the comfort of 1st class. The weather was a bit cloudy and damp but the views are great as we chug through the countryside. This is all new area for us… seenig sunflowers, vineyards, mountains and fields; the adige river is winding along next to us as we had north.

We got into the station, found the tabacchi (a tobacco shop, but they sell everything you need from maps to bus passes and lottery tickets!) and bought 2 bus tickets to Alpine di Siusi, about 22.5 km from Bolzano, in the Domolites, aka the Italian Alps! We did a short hike up to the cable cars and boarded for the 15-20 minute ride up the mountain with spectacular views the entire way. Verdant fields, farmhouses, grazing dairy cattle, horses, sheep and other farm animals. Where there were no farms it was forested and at the top were ski runs. We rose to about 5000 feet and I could tell the air was thin as we were hiking and it seemed like I couldn’t get a decent breath. For my workouts I have been walking hills at a fair clip, so I know what I can handle, and I was definitely more winded than I should have been. When we started out this morning it was dark, damp and chilly. Up in the mountains it was bright, sunny, quite warm as we were hiking (we both got a little sunburn-pink cheeks from the sun) though if standing still or in the shade the chill was definitely still there. As we rode towards the top and saw hundreds of cows, we marveled at how much it looked exactly like we thought it would up there! Heavy Austrian/German influence here, so much so that everything is printed in both German and Italian. At the top of of the tram line we got out and breathed deeply to experience true Alpine air… and let me tell you, the hills are alive with the smell of cow poop.

We set off on one of the trails to hike Europe’s highest alpine meadow. We were wowed at every turn with amazing views of the dolomites and the fields below them. There were so many people up there, as we hiked we saw that the buses actually take you all the way up, though we couldn’t imagine doing that over the tram and the hike. We meandered through forest and fields, passing other hikers from other countries, including nuns and priests. Ever since we were in the Vatican City and I realized that most of the nuns, priests and monks there were tourists on holiday, I love seeing them other places, too. I don’t know why, it just tickles me to know they are out exploring the world, too! While I can show you the pictures of our hike (after we get home), I am really sorry that I can share the sounds with you. The farmers there all use cowbells and you can hear them clanging and ringing probably throughout the entire mountain range! When I think of cowbells I think of the sort of dull clanging of the typcial cowbell, but there were different tones out there. Some were tinkly and some were clangy and it sounded like we were on a mountain of wind chimes.

We got pretty hungry out there and needed more water, so we found a little ‘hutte’, called “Rauch hutte”, a restaurant that caters to the visitors to the area. The buses all take the people to the bigger hotels and ski villages, so there weren’t a ton of people at this place, and nearly everyone was sitting outside in the sun, so we did too. We each got a beer, as is appropriate for this Germanic region. We shared an antipasti of mixed cured meats and cheeses, and we also shared their house pasta, or ‘maccheroni’ as it was printed on the Italian side of the menu. The pasta turned out to be penne, and the sauce was of Porcini, tomato and a tiny bit of speck. It is strange to drink beer w/Italian style pasta, but when in the Alto Adige…

So yea, we went out to lunch… in the Alps! We enjoyed that lunch very much. We hiked back to the tram a different way than we hiked in, so we would see a few different things (we do this a lot!) ending back on the same beginning trail because I wanted to enjoy the views from the other direction. We timed it so that we got our own cable car for the ride down and that was fun! We were free to move around and check out all the views from all the angles, and we did not have to be mindful of other people’s conversations. Once down we figured out where the return bus would pick us up, but not how to purchase a ticket, so we asked in the tourist info office. It’s nice to not have to figure it out on our own, once in awhile! The bus ride down was warm and I snoozed a little, jolting awake each time the driver slammed on his brakes to barely avoid smashing one of the vehicles coming up the narrow, winding road. Our side of the road dropped off a pretty serious cliff and I decided to feel confident that it was not our time to die. It wasn’t! Back at the train station we got our return tickets (we didn’t buy round trip because we had no idea how long we would be and wanted the flexibility of no set schedule.

We had an hour to kill so we walked around Bolzano. We found a public street market and an amazing church to look at, while wandering about their cobbled streets. Those cobble stones tend to hurt my feet, no matter how good my shoes are. We ended with an espresso and a couple of bottled waters to go. While waiting for the train to arrive Mark found Jason Parker! We forgot we had brought him along to take pictures with (it’s ‘Flat Jason’, a caricature of our Jason printed out) so we got a couple of shots of him and me at the station. I regret that we didn’t get one of him on the tram! We will find another great shot, I am sure. Since we have had no luck finding a “TIM” store for wireless connection, we will walk back to the apartment from the train station to look for some sort of wireless card for me to use. If you are reading this while we are still in Italy, you know I succeeded! The rest of this evening and tomorrow will be spent exploring our neighborhood and Verona in general. My parents join us tomorrow (Saturday) and on Sunday we are all renting a car to explore Lake Garda (Lago di Garda), or at least the east side of it and the surrounding hills. Hopefully I will see my friend Jill!!!