Sunday, May 19, 2013

Heading Home

Flying Home

Wednesday we wandered around Milan in the afternoon with no plan. We stopped in the Duomo for another look, and some time to sit and ponder life in reverent silence. It was sprinkling so we went back to the café at the top of La Renascente. It is sad that we were unable to climb to the top of the duomo. Each time we made the attempt it was raining. Back home on the metro with Egle picking us up at the metro stop near her work.

She made salmon and zucchini, and we sat around chatting for hours. Gianluca opened a bottle of wine with his name on it. He explained that several years ago he had “adopted” a row at a vineyard. He was kept posted about its progress and he was allowed to help with various steps along the way. He finally got a call telling him that his baby was ready for pick-up . . . 15 bottles of Chianti. He gave us a bottle to take home.

Thursday; It was pouring rain, but we didn’t care. We had reservations to view The Last Supper by Di Vinci. We trudged through the city, hopping over puddles, until we finally found the church of Santa Maria de Grazie. We were checked in and told to wait in the lobby where we had a full description of what to expect written on the wall. Next we went to a vacuum sealed room, then another vacuum room, and one more. Finally we stepped into the dining room of the original priests here, for whom Di Vinci created this masterpiece. Just 13-14 years ago they finally restored it to its actual original painting. It had been painted over, plastered over, a door had been cut into it forever losing Jesus’ feet, the room was used as a military headquarters, as a stable for military livestock, and it had even been bombed. The walls all the way around it had been destroyed, but The Last Supper still stood. I show here a picture from the web. It is of a painted over version showing more detail. The cleaned version is much harder to appreciate as a photo.
The cool thing about this depiction of the supper is that other paintings done around that time almost always showed the disciples in communion, happy to be eating together. Di Vinci chose to represent the exact moment when Christ said “One of you will betray me”. Each disciple emotionally responds differently; “What the heck?”, “Who?”, suspicious stares, the one at the left end of the table is shown lunging to his feet with both hands on the table as if to say “What did you just say?”, all except Judas whose face is shadowed and he’s clutching a money bag in his right hand.
After the museum we tried to stay downtown, but we were just too wet, cold, and tired. Back home on the metro, a twenty minute walk in the rain and then a hot shower. Our last night was spent having dinner at a pub downtown and walking to a street-side wine café. We met Gianluca and Egle’s English teacher. He’s British and hilarious. We sat laughing and talking until the wee hours. Now I sit with an aching butt on a ten hour flight. Vacation is over.
See ya next time. We’re thinking Mexico . . .

Friday, May 17, 2013

Barolo and The Dolomites

I can’t believe how much happened since I wrote about Venice! Friday we decided to go into Milan by ourselves, which was an adventure in and of itself. We managed the subway, and we found the café on the sixth floor of La Renascente (a big Macy’s-type store). The café sits directly across the alley from the roofline of the Doumo. A spectacular view of the rooftop statues.

Saturday, Gianluca took us back into town to a big dog park which was having a flower market. We wandered, drank espresso, beer, wine, wandered, and ate more pizza. He took us into Chinatown to a wine bar called Cantine Isola, which has been open since 1896. I think the old guy running it has probably been there since they opened J We ordered a glass of wine and stood out on the sidewalk like locals.
Sunday we went wine tasting to the famous Barolo region. Egle planned it perfectly. We went to an excellent wine museum, called WiMu, in the castle. Then we went below to do some tasting. Afterward she led us through the ancient streets to a sidewalk café where we had the best restaurant meal so far. This was followed by a tour of the Cagliero winery and another tasting. The Cagliero vineyard has been owned by his family for over 500 years. The house itself is 400 years old! Sadly, thus far his children aren’t showing any interest in keeping the winery in the family.
Monday morning we took off for the Dolomites (in the northern Italian Alps bordering the Austrian Alps). We circled around Lake Garda and shot up the valley to the next small lake with its own castle on a little island. We sat and enjoyed the view of the massive mountains, and soaked up the sunshine like lazy cats. Back in the car to reach our final destination . . . Tione!

Tione is the village Egle was raised in. Her father welcomed Joe and I like we were his long-lost children. He immediately asked us to come to a friend’s house up the mountain. They were super excited about meeting “the Americanies”. We arrived at their home and felt like we’d stepped into the book about Heidi. When we were introduced to the household they thought my name was odd for a Californian. Marchela asked if Joe’s name was Peter. They teased in Italian about the irony of my being in the Alps. I was accepted into their lives when I yodeled for them.

We were pushed into the house and sat at a table for 12. Wine from the barrel was poured and everyone talked at the same time. Bruno was quiet and looked like he’d been carved from a tree trunk with his barrel chest and massive arms and thighs. Their 18 year-old daughter Mekayla showed up (I’m spelling the names how they sound to an American). She was an absolute spitfire. She sat between Joe and I, and spoke rapid-fire Italian/English/Spanish/and Tione dialect, hands flying everywhere. Then she dragged Joe off to see the view. I followed at a more leisurely pace with the ladies. No photo does it justice. Marchela suddenly presented me with a bouquet of Daisies and Joe with Forget-Me-Nots. Priceless.

We stopped for pizza on the way back to Saviero’s house (Egle’s father). Each with our own pizza, of course. Mine is the one with a salad on top. See my flowers in the vase :)

The next morning, Tuesday, we piled back into the cars and went up to the vista point for the jagged Dolomite Alps. Once again, photos don’t do it justice. Back down the mountain to the glacier fed waterfalls. Back in the cars and down the mountain to an ancient church. The whole time was spent talking, talking, talking. It didn’t matter what language you spoke, they just talked as though you understood. After awhile you do begin to understand. Hugs and kisses all the way around and the four of us climbed back into the car to head back to Milan.

One last stop . . . Let’s stop in to say hello to Gianluca’s folks . . . around dinner-time. Of course we were invited to stay and eat. We’re not stupid enough to pass up an offer like that. I don’t care how tired and dirty I was, not to mention the fact that all four of us are sick with colds. Giuseppe and Ana fired up the barbeque, pulled out the coke bottles full of Sardinian wine from back home where they came from, and raced up to the store for fresh ribs and sausage.
I asked Egle about at tower visible from the back yard, and she said “Oh, that’s a castle.” Of course it is, what was I thinking. Off for a walk . . . we went to see the castle. The church next door beckoned, so we went inside for an impromptu concert as the choir practiced. Back to the house. A mountain of ribs, a platter of sausage, thick cucumbers peeled and quartered, salad with Sardinian olive oil. I don’t know how these Italian women stay so thin! As we left at 10:30 I was presented with a handmade beaded rose from Ana.
Gianluca thanked us and apologized for having to stay for dinner. Joe and I wouldn’t have passed it up for the world. This is the kind of stuff money can’t buy. You can’t go to the travel agency and book an evening with Sardinian parents or an overnight stay with a Sicilian dad. It’s priceless.
Finally home and wiped out. Egle and I began the exhausted giggling as we each took our different cold medicines. She made me a cup of hot milk with honey . . . this is a must try.
I may not be able to blog again until I get home, so we’ll visit then okay?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


This one is for the guys! It all started when I saw a Lamborghini in downtown Milano. I heard it before I saw it. I brought my camera up in anticipation of seeing something cool. It had a low rumble like a Mustang, but looked like a Bat-Mobile. I snapped a photo having no idea what it was. By the way, for you Lamborghini buffs, this is the new color . . . a matt black.

This car, the Maserati, was a surprise to me. I thought it would be more race car-like, but it’s actually sort of elegant. I saw one illegally parked on the sidewalk in front of the Armani Hotel. Gianluca said it was probably the owner or CEO of the hotel. He could afford the ticket J

The Ferraris are bright red at the store, but they are different colors elsewhere. Black is the most common here. The red one still garnered the attention of the guys though.

Porsches are not as common here as they are in the US, so they draw some attention.

A beautiful car caught my attention that I couldn’t identify. It turns out it was a Bentley . . . the sports edition.

All this being said, the Italians’ really love the traditional American cars. Especially the Camaro. It made me laugh when everybody’s heads turned to catch a glimpse of a car. I stopped scrambling for my camera when I realized it was a Range Rover. I went into a clothing store in the fashion district and they had the Duke’s of Hazard’s car there. People were posing for photos with it. I showed the picture to Egle’s father and he immediately said “Ah, the General  Lee”.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Back to Milan

I sit here rocking gently back and forth on the speed train from Venezia to Milano thinking back on my impressions of Venice. Thousands of little streets are lined with shops selling Burano lace, Murano glass, Venetian Carnevale masks, fashion boutiques by Gucci, Prada, Georgio Armani, Brunello Cucinelli, Pucci, Puma, Rayban Sunglasses, and of course the Ferrari store (which is odd considering there are no cars). I guess I didn’t think I’d see those types of stores on this 2000 year old island community.

During the day when the cruise ships spill out their passengers the southern edge of the island is packed with tourists near San Marco. All you have to do is walk three or four streets inland and enjoy the cool stone walls towering six stories above, providing shade and quiet. It is easy to sit and enjoy the services provided with a happy smile, but eventually you have to ask yourself, “How do they do it?” Not just being nice to up to 150,000 visitors a day, but the sheer logistics of it all!
There is not a car anywhere on the island. None. Everything has to be delivered by boat and then hand carted in. Up over bridges, through congested alleys, and up stairs. Because everything on the island is basically a national monument, it is under continuous renovation and maintenance. The average Venetian can’t afford to live there anymore because of prices and difficulty just getting a new set of curtains.

Joe and I went to the hospital to check it out. It was part of a huge church on the north side of the island. As we stood admiring the canal-side of the hospital, a medic team pulled up in an ambulance. That’s when we noticed all of the ambulances lined up in the canal. That began a quest to see the other side of Venetian life. The nuts and bolts, you might say.

A Home Depot-like shop near the lagoon had a large upside down track with a pallet hanging from it. A flurry of boats waited in line to get their construction material. They slide under the outgoing pallet and either take the whole pallet into their boat, or they offload what they need. It was incredibly efficient.

A little further down a master craftsman was putting the finishing touches on a sleek wood boat.

We decided to sit at a waterfront café and watch the hustle and bustle. A large four lane water highway is intersected by several other passages coming from outer islands. Whenever an ambulance would come roaring out of the hospital, all boats would pull over to their right side. Coca Cola boats, produce boats, water taxies, ferries, police, construction, furniture, etc. . . all vie for space. Teachers march their classes of elementary school children on and off the water busses.

Venice is much more than lace and Gucci.

Thursday, May 9, 2013



This has been on my bucket list for a long time. I was afraid I’d be disappointed because I’d built it up too much in my mind. In some ways I guess that is true . . . for example I have seen the buildings at the water’s edge in a lot of movies. I have seen gondoliers taking guests for a ride.
However, now I’ve seen massive thousand year old palaces of some of the wealthiest merchants of the ancient world. Castles groaning under the weight of marble floors, pillars, and facades. Like elderly dignitaries leaning on each other while the young look on. The famous Rialto Bridge looks both tired and bored with its job.

I’ve received a wink from a handsome Italian man as he dips his oar in the silky water. The striped shirt and cheeky grin is the standard uniform of the gondolier. Occasionally you’ll see one chatting on his cell phone. A group of young Italians may go by too fast in their boat causing a wake. The gondolier will steady the gondola with his oar while glaring at the rowdy kids. At the main loading docks by the Duomo, the crowds of Japanese tourists will nimbly trot down the steps and jump into the gondola when beckoned by the gondolier.

The days are equally split up between walking, shopping, eating, and of course drinking. Now wait a minute . . . I know what you are thinking! We drink other things besides wine. About every two hours we stop for a quick shot of espresso called café, or café with steamed milk called macchiato. About every three hours we stop for a beer and a glass of Italian wine (lighter in alcohol). Late afternoons are spent on our patio sipping good wine, and eating cheese and salami from the little grocery store. We opened a bottle of Modus Operandi from home (2009 Petite Syrah). The landlady came out on the patio to say hello and stayed for an hour sipping our wine. I learned a new Italian word, “Fuertisimo!”, very strongJ
Egle and I were sitting out here the other day when we heard a man begin to sing a traditional love song. His voice was amazing. We leaned over the balcony to see who was singing and saw a waiter beneath us. He sang while he set the tables for the evening. When he finished, Egle and I called out, “Bravo!!” and clapped our hands. He was startled to say the least. His coworkers came out and looked up. They laughed, patted his back and went back to work.

Last night we all walked to the other side of the island and found a pizzeria Gianluca had heard about. It was worth it, but it brings me to an interesting subject. Pizza. Firstly, I was told at home pizza didn’t come from Italy. Here, I have been firmly told that pizza originated in Naples. Secondly, at a snack bar you can get a piece of pizza, but at a restaurant you get the whole pizza. Let me clarify, each person gets a whole pizza. What we would call a medium pizza is a single serving here. Thirdly, the American pizza is disgusting! One has red sauce and a pile of french-fries on it, and the other has those floppy pink hot dogs sliced up on it.
We’ve heard about the regular flooding of San Marcus Piazza, and I have to admit I kinda wanted to see it, without the inconvenience of course. Well yesterday I got my wish. The high tide forced the water up through the ancient cisterns creating giant puddles. It was just enough to give you an idea of the flood without having to wade through knee deep water.

We escorted Gianluca and Egle half-way to the train station via twenty bridges and a taxi-gondola, and waved goodbye. We are now on our own. We eventually found our way back to the B&B. Tomorrow night we must find the train station and hopefully get on the right one to take us back to Milan.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Our New Home

Italy Blog
We left Sacramento at 6 in the morning on Thursday, and arrived in Milan the next day at 10 Friday morning. Intellectually I understand a nine hour time difference. Emotionally I don’t understand it really, especially when my internal clock is going hay-wire. I don’t know how our friends, Josiah and Heidi cart their four children back-and-forth to India! It was all worth it when we saw our friends Gianluca and Egle waiting for us at the airport.
They whisked us off on our next adventure. They live on the sixth floor of a condominium complex. The process of getting into the complex is a bit complicated with all of the different keys. And the elevator is an older style we’ve never used before. The view is great, and Egle has turned their little balcony into a garden. She whipped up a meal for us before going back to work. Pasta with her father’s homemade marinara, sformato ( a quiche with filo dough), and a salad. I was so full I thought I’d never eat again . . . until Gianluca mentioned Gelato. They left us with a set of keys and directions to the gelato shop (they had a concert to go to). We accidentally went to the wrong floor. Here we are trying to open this door, and it won’t open. So we try the key, but that didn’t work either. Finally a man comes around the corner and asks us if we need the dentista? We finally figured out we were on the wrong floor and were trying to break into the dentist’s home.

Saturday morning we took the subway, another first for us, to downtown Milan. First a quick cup of café macchiato, then we set off to see the city. Milan is different than I expected. I thought it was more industrial, but it has an ancient history as the capital of the Roman Empire at one time. Leonardo Da Vinci lived here and painted The Last Supper. Napoleon was crowned king here in Milan. Some of the city plazas date back to medieval times.

Naturally the most astounding site is the Duomo, the Cathedral. It is a meant to be a Gothic style, but being built over a five-hundred year period can influence the design. Our hostess, Egle is an architect. She has given us great insight. Inside the Duomo is a grotesque sculpture of San Gerolamo. He was skinned alive for his faith . . . he stands there with his skin drapped over his shoulders like a fashionable Italian scarf.
We walked until my legs felt like they were going to fall off. Lunch was a deep-fried fried ham and cheese sandwich at the popular street-side restaurant, Luini’s. They have been feeding the masses since 1888. We ended the evening at a small restaurant where, believe it or not we ordered a Tex-Mex hamburger!
The next day we went to Mass in Monza at their Duomo. More  coffee, pizza, beer, wine. Then Gianluca and Egle took us to her public high school. It is the former villa of the last king of Italy, Umberto the First. He gave it to the community upon his death. The grounds are massive and lush reminding me of the movie ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ or ‘Pride and Prejudice’. It had a lake for fishing, an area for hunting stocked game. We went back to the Duomo and had a private viewing of one of the most important church relics in the world, the coronation crown for the kings and emperors of Rome and Italy. It has the nail used to crucify Jesus imbedded into the interior rim of the crown. The outer side is a crude gold band embedded with semi-precious stones, such as amethyst . It was originally the crown of Constantine in the sixth century.

We came home and drank more wine, ate more food, and watched ‘The Tourist’ to get us in the mood for Venice. Now I am trying to stay focused on writing as we rocket through the valley leading to Venice. We just passed Lake Garda and Verona (famous for the story of Romeo and Juliet). It is overcast, drizzling and beautiful. Gianluca and Egle have been amazing hosts. We are going to have our work cut out for us when they come stay with us!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Italy, Here We Come!

When we were in the Bahamas last October, we met some amazing people. I guess because of Hurricane Sandy, we bonded in a special way. Whatever the case may be, we connected with a delightful young couple from Milan, Italy. We invited them to come to California to stay with us! They invited us to come to Milan to stay with them!

I began thinking “Where will we go for our vacation this year? It must be special because it is a special year for us.” I turn 50, Joey turns 55, and it is our 25th wedding anniversary. What is more special than Italy?

Gianluca and Egle wrote to us and asked where our next Dashing Bold Adventure would be. I answered “Funny you should ask . . . We want to come see you!” In true Italian style they responded with enthusiasm and grace. We leave Thursday to spend 2 weeks with them in their home in Milan. We have plans for Venice, Barolo, and the Dolomites.

Veronica from Florence is coming up one weekend to sleep on the couch and go wine tasting with us. We can’t wait to see her.

So stay tuned for our next adventure.