S: James & Lauri's Italy Vacation 2011
BC: “If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.” Eleanora Duse | Made by Lauri Newlin Summer 2011
FC: Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make even the gloomiest person happy." - Bertrand Russell | Our Italy Vacation June 2011
1: 7:08am, 1 Gugno, 2011 Mercoledi1i (Wednesday) Here we go! It was about 6 years ago I began saying, "On our next trip to Italy..." while still on our 1st one. Little did I know it would take 5 years to make it happen, but finally it's here! Thanks to to a bunch of frequent flier miles and a sweet husband that loves me (way more than he loves to be in Italy) we are sitting in seats 17A & B on our way from DFW to make our connection in New York City. | Buon Viaggio | This is the story of our happy journey...
2: That comment was James referring to our crazy way of getting to Italy at the mercy of American Airlines. Our tickets only cost $48 each thanks to frequent-flier miles, so we agreed to an awful schedule and changing airports in NYC. We woke up at 3:30am to get to DFW by 5 to return the rental car (thanks to my mistake of booking James' flight to DFW a day early) and go through security to catch our 7ish flight. We land at LaGuardia airport and find our way across NYC to JFK airport within 6 hours to make our over-nighter to Milan. "How are we going to get across NYC?" you ask? That is a story yet to be written! :) We'll see! | So the kids are at Grandma & Grandpa Newlins - hopefully not crying over their breakfast (like we were all sobbing last night) with faithful Molly dog, who is hopefully eating her breakfast and not starving herself in protest to my absence. Finally, we are at 30,000 feet, carry-ons securely stowed and electronic devices on "airplane mode, " ready for adventure (or hastle depending on your point of view). No, I'm still not sure why Italy. Somewhere several years ago God put it on my heart... and I fell head over heels in love with it. Could be its beauty, or the laid-back state of life, or its amazing central place in history. But it also has to do with how the Italians see life. They live it to the fullest, savoring every moment as if it were a delicious course-by-course meal. But their cultural religion leaves them hungry for more instead of filling their need for God. I've been praying for these years that God would send people (& ME) to share the good news with them. I'm so thrilled to go back & pray for these people and be a part of their world. | As we sat in the glass-enclosed waiting area at DFW eating our food-court breakfast, James reminded me that today was going to be such a hassle. That was right after I told him what an adventure today would be! I love the way we balance each other. From my view, the craziness and uncertainty is about being a traveler instead of merely a tourist. It all adds to the flavor of the journey! | The Story as we go...
3: After landing in NY @ LGA airport, we decided to take a shuttle into Manhattan for a bite to eat with Big Apple ambiance. We aren't here every day, you know! The shuttle dropped us off outside Grand Central Station. Right across the street, tucked under a bridge, was the cutest restaurant called Central Cafe at Pershing Square. It had a cork-tiled ceiling, plaid trim and polished brass everywhere. Very New York! | New York City | James enjoyed a burger and I had the best flank steak salad. (Last American food for a while!) Great people- watching out the windows! We caught a shuttle bus to JFK - and its AC was broken. HOT! It was a miserable trip through Queens. As we fanned ourselves, the bus driver kept promising the AC would start soon. James promised his tip was with the AC. But today was a fun adventure nonetheless. Hot or not - we are on our way to the airport...
4: We flew overnight to Milan where we picked up our little Fiat. A few exits later after trying to read driving directions in English & road signs in Italian, we turned around and got a GPS (& some Euros for toll booths that the GPS told us we'd need for our drive to the Lago de Como). Thanks to a GPS route change, we ended up in Menaggio instead of Bellagio for lunch. But what a lovely error it was! Such a quaint town on the water's edge, complete with a promenade to stroll hand-in-hand with my sweetie (mi amore!). We sat at a mediocre cafe for mediocre pizza and panino prosciutto and OPTIOMO view & atmosphere. The perfect accidental start of the day. | Giovedi, 2 Guinio 2011 - Day 2 - Travel to Varenna in Lake Como
5: We located the ferry dock and floated with our little car across the lake toward the idyllic Varenna on the opposite shore. As we moved closer it even seemed more unreal... more lovely. Unbelivably beautifu! The ferry kissed the dock hello, and we motored up the little village roads toward our albergo, the Eremo Gaudio. | Varenna, Lake Como
6: After seeing our little, unadorned room with the fantastic view in this quirky old inn (a former orphanage and hermitage) and its balcony view over the glistening lake & mountains, naps were in order to get our bodies synced with the time zone right for sight-seeing. We pulled ourselves out of jet-lagged sleep and walked into Varenna to acquaint ourselves with this little "diamond on the lake."Strolling through the passaged walkways up and down the ancient stone steps of Varenna was like unwrapping a present slowly. Olive and Cipresso trees lined the walk into town. The locals greet each other as they passed. We paused to read menus outside of cafes and window-shopped. Flowered vines perfumed the lake air. No word but amazing!
7: Our dinner choice tonight was an accidental blessing. While wandering all the narrow passages through town seeing all the little treasures around each cobbled corner (only a couple of paved streets), we happened upon a charming place tucked up away from the tourists with two petite tables (tavolini) outside. We asked about the menu and specials. The nightly special was such a "segret" that he couldn't tell me all the ingredients. So, I HAD to order it! We were refreshed on the Italian practice of ordering in courses: Antipasti, primi piatti (usually pasta dish), secondi Piatti (main dish) insalata (salad last), formagi (cheese) and dolci (sweet). James had potato gnocci with sage & butter followed by steak. I had the "special" pasta with pancetta and parmesan. Perfecto! Our waiter who was from Stockholm had actually been to Springfield, MO on a trip. SMALL world. The owner, Mara told us which gelato place was best, all preparing us to sleep like logs. The sunset view from atop the hotel was icing on the cake for us. Just before we fell asleep James mentioned how much he enjoyed being together in Italy. Music to my ears!. Buona Notte! | The harbor of Varenna
8: We slept late today...all the way to 8:00! (Can't do that at home!) Breakfast was nice - typical for Italy with pastries, yogurt and cheese... and good coffee . I burned my tongue on cappuccino in Italy, and it was still worth it. (It's not every day I can say that!) Before leaving on our hike, we sat on our balcony relaxing, finishing postcards and reading. Seeing the Castello di Vezio high above town was next. The path was rugged up the hillside through the locals' olive groves with antique stone walls for terracing the hills. Who knows how long it took for ages-ago Lombardy farmers to build these little dividers and paths. I'd love to know the stories these walls could tell. At the top of the escarpment was a small village with a tiny family cemetery and church. I snapped a shot or two inside this place of worship from 1458. The way these lovely people portray Jesus fascinates me. It is easy to see how the Catholic Italians share in the sufferings and death of Christ so much more than in the joy of his resurrection. I pray they will see more! We continued the short climb to the castle and poked around, watch the poor little hawks, and made our way to the top of the castle look-out where medieval natives would guard themselves from terrifying invaders from across the lakes and mountains of Switzerland in the beautiful distance.The view was worth the hike! | Venerdi, 3 Guinio 2011 - Day 3 - Varenna
9: On our way back back down the cobbled paths to town, it was a trip through history as we saw the old, handmade tile roofs, ancient barns, antique doors and beautiful iron gates. I see a photo collection coming... | Imagine a perfect little cafe by the harbor overlooking the heavenly view, with the smell of delicious Italian food coming from the kitchen and children playing near the water - laughing at the ducks. Italian, Swiss and English were swirling around our ears. That's where we had lunch - enjoying the local spcialty - dried beef pizza. Dreamy!
10: The Villa Monastero, famed for its magnificent lakeside terraced gardens, was our afternoon escape. We strolled through these imaginative lanes flowing with beautiful plants, flowers, trees and ornamental statues with many places to stop and observe the planned and natural beauty. | Amazing citrus trees were growing beautiful fruit right here next to the Alps! Cipresso trees, hide-away benches and balconies bejeweled the lake. I took photos of this Italian beauty until my camera batteries could take no more. It is in the soul of Italians to make a thing of beauty out of everything around them. I love that.
11: Our dinner was an unusual treat. The hotel helped us make a dinner reservation at a little place called Ristorante il Caminetto, high up in the hills in Gitana. Rosella, the wife of the owner and cook, picked us up in the rainy piazza and drove us up the hair-pin turns, honking at each one to let everyone know she was coming. Funny! | Our dinner over the next few hours was full of delights from our gruff hosts: Ravioli stuffed with artichokes, garlic risotto and white lake fish - a local specialty. It was a uniquely charming experience. It's always fun to go with the locals. James was heavily scolded for asking for "burro" (butter) to go with his homemade bread. "Butter-is-a-for-a babies who do not-a eat-a what the adults eat-a! No burro for you!" The wife lectured in her broken English as she hurried off to the kitchen. No butter for James! :) | Our last night in Varenna was just beautiful. "Buonna Notte, bella Vista!" Electric converter: check. Noise machine on: check. Good Night!
12: We said "good morning" to our beautiful view for the last time today. Every time we look out our balcony doors we still can't believe how amazingly unreal the beauty is. We also woke to the sound of slamming doors, but that's another crazy story. I'm so glad to be right here with my James. | Sabato, 4 Guinio 2011 - Day 4 - Varenna to Parma "Buongiorno, Bella Vista!"
13: After breakfast and checking out, the car hugged the lake on the road back toward Milan. James skillfully motored us down the A1 "Autostrada" south for the three hour drive. We made a diversion into the town of Piacenza for an exploring walk and a bite to eat. It was Saturday, market day, with booths set up all in the square selling all sorts of goods, flowers, and locally made meats & cheeses. VERY chaotic. So we had our lunch and (almost) got lost tracing our way back to our car through the winding narrow maze of streets and ancient buildings. A quick stop today. | Back on the A1 toward Parma, we zoomed at 110km per hour (almost as fast as our little Fiat would go) toward Vicofertile to Agriturismo Leoni - a dairy farm not far from town. The air was a mix of sweet flowers... & cows. :) We heard breezes blowing through cipresso trees, bees buzzing and cows mooing. It was full of country charm. We met the cows & chickens ("kitchens") before a quick afternoon rest (respect Italian traditions!) then on to dinner in the town of Parma at the recommendation of our inn-keepers.
14: came upon the Parma Baptistry and Cathedral - almost 1000 years old. We slipped into the reverent Catholic Saturday night mass where only a handful of worshipers attended the service - grey and seasoned. It is a symbol of who the religious still are in Italy.. Beautiful buildings with frescoed and ornate ceileings.... Marble everywhere., including carvings of a lifeless Jesus. I pray God will stir their hearts here... for the people's souls to be as beautiful as their cathedrals. | We drove the few miles into Parma and parked near the Centro Storico. The stone streets and expansive park were filled with stolling families, joggers and young college students from the university there. We walked for our "passegiatta" holding hands, enjoying the maze of streets in town. As we rounded a corner, we pleasantly | Parma | Dinner tonight was waiting up the crooked, crowded streets toward the main piazza, an upscale part of town The restaurant, with its glass tents crept out into the square below a bell tower that has watched the years go by. James had sliced steak and I nibbled at my "Tonne" (tuna) steak covered in orange glaze. The best part was the fresh parmiggiano, mozzarella & prosciutto salad. We'd seen a busy gelatteria that we wandered back for - BEST ever! Posso Avere Uno Cono Gelato Chocolatti?" The girls even made them into rose shapes!
15: This morning was a light breakfast of warm homemade cakes made by our hosts, and we were off for the cheese-making tour. Our host began to explain about their 200+ cows that made their butter and cheese and were milked at 6:30 each morning & evening. We learned the history of Parma & Reggio | Emilia - and how the rivals came together to make their now-famous cheese. She took us to the place where her farm "Leoni" and others co-op to hand-make each wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano and told us of the entire year it takes to make each $750 wheel We viewed hundreds of wheels aging on wood shelves | which can only be made from trees lining the river Po nearby, and that all the ingredients must come from this region. Then each one is thumped, inspected and stamped when passed by inspectors then aged up to two more years. Unbelievable! What precious gold this turns out to be! | Back at the farm we were served a lovely brunch and taught how to properly cut and use the great PR cheese and given a little dish as a parting gift from our hosts. | Dominica, Giugno 5, 2011 - Sunday, Day 5 Parma to Cinque Terre | Agriturismo Leoni
16: La Spezia | Car loaded, we headed down the A1 toward La Spezia- James & the GPS continually disagreeing with the street signs about the directions of the winding streets. After a blood-pressure-raising run through the back streets of this Naval seaport , we were on course to the hilltops of Corniglia. Our stomachs wouldn't let us go all the way there, so a quick stop in Manarolla for (Rick Steve's recommended) Pesto Lasagna - a local specialty. It was our first taste of the Cinque Terre and its charms. | The anticipation was getting to us of seeing our next stop. We followed the road of the piney hills & stunning ocean views to round the hilltop to see beautiful Corniglia, the most quaint of the 5 sea-hugging villages. Parking above town was easier than we'd heard, and we easily found the main path through the carless town (grocery store aisle width), Via Fieschi, to our B&B.
17: Corniglia in the Cinque Terre
18: After settling in, James rested while I explored the narrow lanes of town, looked for postcards and an espresso. Meanwhile an ocean storm quickly rolled in - keeping our afternoon hike at bay. But like the tide, it quickly rolled on too, so we took a little path down to where the cliffs meet the waves. | As I ventured too close after a photo, I was welcomed with a great spray of salty water all over, soaking me head to toe. HA! "Ciao to you too, ocean!" What a lovely view! It is still surreal that we are even here on the Mediterranean sea.
19: Back in town, we saw the lovely church of San Pietro (built in 1354), wandered through the town passageways, and smelled the salty-floral air. Then we were on the hunt for our terrace picnic dinner: 2 bottles of water, a fresh lemon still on the branch, a salami pizza, an insalata mista (local-style salad with tuna) and a beautiful view. The perfect light meal under the gazebo and the Ligurian sea as our backdrop. Next: a $15 phonecall to the kids, who hardly seemed to miss us at all. | Gelato was our nightly routine now, but tonight's version got a "B+." Chocolate & Hazlenut. Today I'm praying for our German friends from the B&B & more conversation with Giulia back home. And a quiet night with our paper thin walls. Buonna Notte!
20: It was hiking day along the Cinque Terre! Thanks to a landslide, we had to take a train to the next town instead of the trail. So off we went, along with our new friends from Philly, to see the "5 lands." Vernazza (town #4) was first, our favorite town with a beautiful crystal harbor! Then a 90 minute, up and down, hike through the terraced vineyards to the touristy Monteroso del Mar (#5) where we had lunch and put our feet in the pebbly sea. | Lunedi, 6 Guinio 2011 - Day 6 - Hiking in the Cinque Terre | Vernazza
21: our last dinner by the sea. What an amazing day of seeing the beauty here. The paths between and above each town were challenging, but worth every drop of sweat and every breathless moment. | Next the train took us back to town 1, Riomaggiore, for pasta shopping and gelato by the blue harbor. We left by the Via del Amore, the path for lovers, on to Manarola where we watched cliff diving & strolling people while snacking on focaccia. Thanks to another landslide, we took the train back to Corniglia. The 300 steps back up to town were our last obstacle to our B&B before | Riomaggiore
22: Lunedi, 7 Guinio 2011 - Day 7 - Corniglia to Milano | We topped the day off at a charming trattoria on top of town. We shared pastas for Primi Piatti - a pesto and a bolognese, followed by a whole grilled and seasoned sea bass, which our Sicilian waiter filleted for us in | front of our eyes (& the fish's). A little cat begged for his dinner at the feet of each table as the sun set over our town and our time here. One last passeggiata as we said "arrivederci" to the Cinque Terre | Up & packing for our trek north to Milan. Even the fish peddler's truck was offering tonight's dinner in the square - all before breakfast. We bid farewell to Maria, our inn-keeper and hopped in the Fiat for the winding road and one last photo op at San Bernardino above town.
23: We past Genoa and drove on to the 1.6 million city of Milan. Three hours zoomed by on the autostrada in the rain as we made it to the Idea Hotel near the central train station. Our modern room needed another hour, so for a break from the 3P's (pasta, pizza & panini) we walked to McDonalds (ironic - French Fries in the Italian fashion capitol) We also stopped in a Tabacchi shop to buy our city parking passes to keep our little car parked. Gotta love the city! | Our Modern Hotel in Milano
24: Seeing Milan | The town was waiting, so we purchaesd a subway pass for 3 euro to get us all over town. We took in this amazing city over the afternoon. We started at the Piazza del Duomo (Mussolini 's famed speech locale) and then walked to the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel (named for the 1st Italian president) with its famed glass cieling mall, full of high-end stores. To follow tradition for good luck in this inlayed hall's great marble floor you spin your heel on the bull's umm, privates. I don't know what kind of luck that is supposed to bring! I chose to spin around in Gucci and touch their $1,500 purse for luck. I'll see if it works. More shopping at Ferrari, seeing the Italian fashion district, the Scala Theatre & opera house and Leonardo di Vinci's marble statue wrapped up our time here. Quick trips across town to see the river & Castello finally led us to a local's hangout for dinner - fresh olive bread, salad & pasta Bolognese. The fouth ride we took led us back to Piazza del Duomo to backtrack to awesome looking gelato. Dark Chocolate and biscotti for me. Milk Chocolate for James. Our last ride took us to the amazing central train station hotel. It was truly a fun adventurous day despite James' dread of the big city. Worst part: rain in the city. Best part: being part of such a historically significant place.
25: Our highlight of the day, of course, was the Gothic wonder of Milan - the Duomo (cathedral) It was begun in the early 1300's and finally finished in 1786. A true wonder, built to impress the European royalty of that day - and it still works on us! Descriptions of the view from the top and all the stone carvings can't begin to do it justice. We spent an hour exploring from bottom of the sequoia-sized marble columns to the top of Mary's gilded crown above. A marvel! I especially loved the first quote in the recorded message in the Duomo. This Pope said he hoped many would come to know God by the majesty of this place. I hope so too.
26: Despite the frustrating trip from Milan with the "Pazzo" GPS that didn't recognize this place - we finally came upon a sign near Lake Maggiore that led us to the cobbled streets in the hills. The charm of the antique mansion, a hunting lodge for Milanese roalty in the built in 1597, melted all my frustrations. Our hostess Simona (with her husband) greeted us in her best English while guiding us past the 400 year old (internationally acclaimed) wisteria, through the frescoed rooms to the kitchen, warm with centuries of fires and food, to our antique-filled room. Later we wandered the little villiage's every corner and I fell in love with it. I was completely unsure of my choice of this stay due to many reasons, but by far, this locanda wins my 1st prize for ' "authentic charming Italian Villa" of the trip. Now if only I could talk Simona into hiring me or selling it to me... | Mercoledi 8 Guinio 2011 - Day 8- Castello Cabiaglio | Locanda del Glicine Antico B&B est. 1597
27: This is the kind of charm that you come to Italy to feel for yourself
28: Luinio on Lake Maggiore was our fun afternoon - shopping the largest outdoor market in Europe. We browsed and bought a few little treasures. My true love bargained for a red purse I had my eye on, just like he did in a Roman market 5 years ago. Love this guy! The amount of food, clothing and housewares here was crazy! A great wood-fired pizza and we were on our way to cross the Switzerland border a few miles away just for the fun of it. Then back to our Locanda (Inn) to make Dinner Prenotazione (reservation), ran to town to another Bancomat (ATM) for more Euros for our inn & chena (dinner). The dinner choice was said to be not "cuisine" but "cucina cibo" (kitchen food) like you'd eat at your relative's home. We found it to be true! Our host eagerly practiced his English on us translating the menu they had chosen for the evening. | The menu was full of unusual things - dishes with rabbit, veal with tuna sauce, and our complementary pea & carrot jello-thing with vinegar! But we were ultimately happy enjoying each other's company over our rosemary & pecorino-filled tortellini with a butter cinnamon glaze (odd!), creamy risotto with crispy potatoes in it. The star of the show was the steak - best we've had ever in Italy. We finished with warm chocolate cake for dessert and a hand-on-hand stroll back to the inn. BRAVISSIMO!!
29: 6am came early as we opened the antique shutters to see the view one last time. Breakfast (Colazione) at "Sei e mezza" was cereal with HOT(??) milk and traditional Italian fare. I fought misty eyes as much as my suitcase zipper fought me, which was full of pasta and other treasures. Next: hurried trip through nearby Varesse to Malpensa airport. Return Rental Car (check!). Check in at AA and gets seats together (check). Security Screening (check). Customs (check) Last minute shopping for the kids (check) Fly across the atlantic (check)! Unfortunately our New York stop didn't go as well. A storm rolled through as we waited for our plane to Texas, delaying our flight hour after hour - and cancelling it at midnight, along with all the other flights too. A $75 cab ride to Long Island got us one of the last remaining hotel rooms available - with broken AC... at 2am. Just grateful to sleep and that it didn't happen on the way TO Italy. Almost funny - if we weren't so tired. The next morning I was trying to figure out what God was up to on this. I had Kari Jobe playing on iTunes on the plane when she began to sing of God's sovreignty and how He is still in control even when life seems out of it. "God, Thank you for your sovreignty and your hand on this blessed trip. You are so good to us and I am humbled to be able to be in Italy this past week." Now on our way home to see our sweet kids faces. But I honestly can't wait to go back! | Giovedi 9 Guinio 2011 - Day 9- Leaving Italy
31: What I loved in Italy this time... | 1. The way Italians talk and laugh. Music to my ears! 2. Meals are events - slow and enjoyable 3. Watching and hearing cathedral bells ring in their towers. 4. James liking the trip even more this time and trying to speak the language on his own :) 5. The smell of the flowers perfuming the air in spring 6. The way these hill towns spill down to water's edge. | 7. Good green olive oil - mmm... peppery & Olive bread 8. The blue-green color of the Ligurian sea 9. The use of tea towels all the time (Tovaglietta) 10. How old things are wonderfully embraced 11. Artisan & Artful everything 12. James keeps saying, "Next time we come to Italy..." | Questions I have for the Italians... | -Why do you not have wash cloths? Ever? (Glad we brought our own on the trip this time!) -Why don't the locals say Buonna Sera to me too? -Where is the chicken at dinner? -Why no clocks in the bedrooms? Ever? -Why not just give James a little butter? Lets keep him happy! -How soon can I come back?