Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend Travels Part II

During the month of May, the brigade has had several training holidays, so Nate has also been fortunate to have several three-day weekends.  We took advantage of his day off last Friday and almost finished all of our unpacking, then bought a BBQ and had people over for the evening.  It was the first real entertaining we have done in our new home and it was a great time and really nice to feel like we are starting to make roots somewhere.  
Bled, Slovenia

 Saturday, we headed out bright and early for Slovenia, a country neither one of us knew much about and had no clue it was so close.  With a group of about 9 we headed off on the autostrada for the eastern Italian border and arrived in Bled, Slovenia 3 hours later.  What a beautiful country!!!!!  We spent the day around Lake Bled, a relatively small lake, 6 km around, with an island in the middle and a castle.  It sits in the middle of the Alps and there are several ski resorts in the area (all closed for summer now); the mountain views are incredible.

After enjoying lunch with everyone and strolling around the lake, Nate, his buddy Chris and I took advantage of the closed ski run to ride the summer bobsled that is set up down one of the mountains.  It’s very similar to the alpine slides I have been to in Colorado and Minnesota, except that the car you ride is attached to the track.  It was well-worth the 11 euro for two rides and the amazing view from the lift ride up the mountain.  Nate recorded some excellent video of one of his trips down the track so we will see if we can post his “screaming like a little girl” ride on the blog somewhere.
Lift Ride Up the Mountain
View from the Top
Nates ride down

That was fun :)

A little big for the cart

Unfortunately, Nate and I could not stay the night in Slovenia with the others since we had already secured a spot for a wine tasting trip to Chianti, so we made the trip home and woke up bright and early again the next day to head to Chianti.  We will return to Slovenia in the near future to explore more of the beautiful country and possibly do some hiking and camping.

The Alps

The Chianti trip on Sunday, was part of an Outdoor Rec trip on base so we were able to sleep on the 4 hour bus trip down to the Tuscany area.  We had a great time, though it rained for much of the day, and got to stop at three different wineries and see some beautiful country.  Two of the wineries provided us tours of their cellars and we ended up buying some great wine from each.  The first winery we visited, Castello D’Albola, owns a vast majority of the vineyards in the Chianti region and even has vineyards in other areas like France and Virginia.  Since Nate and I have done some wine tasting in Virginia, we asked which vineyards they own and learned that our favorite vineyard in Virginia, Barboursville, is one of them.  Small World! Not surprising, our favorite wine at D’Albola (Chianti Classico Reserve) tasted very much like our favorite wine at Barboursville (Octagon).

While we had a great time on the trip to Chianti, we were pretty beat by the time the 15-hour trip ended and we finally made it home.  Nate returned to work on Monday and on Tuesday and Wednesday we attended change of command ceremonies for two of his friends.  
Change of Command Ceremony

After another busy work week for Nate, we decided to stay home and relax a bit this weekend since we’ve been on the go since we got here.  We enjoyed a nice weekend, going to the movies, BBQing and enjoying the sunshine here in Quinto.  It was a good chance to rest up before our Memorial Day weekend trip to the French Riviera J  More to come on that! Ciao for now!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Weekend Travels Part I

I think that I can speak for both of us when I say we’re pretty tired and worn out from the last two weeks.  Not to complain, since we’ve been busy with both necessary obligations and fun travel. 
First dinner in our new place
Nate took his first work trip to Germany two weeks ago, leaving me in an empty house (our household goods still had not arrived) with our standard transmission car (that I was not real confident in driving on the crazy Italian roads).  Thankfully, I picked up the driving quickly and successfully navigated the Italian roads while Nate was gone AND our household goods arrived the day Nate returned.  We immediately unpacked the downstairs in an effort to make the place feel as homey as possible and have almost completed the upstairs unpacking now too. 
Our driveway once the movers arrived with our stuff....

Because of a training holiday, Nate had last Friday off, so we took our first trip to Venice, hoping to avoid huge weekend crowds. It takes less than 40 minutes to get to Venice from where we live and it was nice to just walk around for the day and see the city a little.  We enjoyed seeing San Marco Square and made our way to the top of the Campanile tower to get a view of the entire city.  We then ventured off the beaten path a bit to a less “touristy” area, primarily occupied by locals.  It was nice to see the quiet part of the island and get away from the crowds.  We have plans to return to Venice several more times since it is so close and easy to get to, but we enjoyed our brief, leisurely visit to just see the sites. 

San Marco

Venice Campanile

Sunday, we ventured out again, this time to the town of Valstagna (near Asiago) to climb the 4,444 steps of the Cala del Sasso.  The steps date back to the 14th century and were used by the Venetians in the fifteenth to the eighteenth century to supply timber for the construction of the Arsenal ship.  The Cala del Sasso links the towns of Sasso and Valstagna and is the longest staircase in Italy.  The steps are no longer in ideal condition and are very uneven and crumbling so it was a taxing climb and actually seemed a bit more challenging coming down due to the uneven footing.  Needless to say, we felt it in our legs the rest of the week.  After our descent, we ate lunch and of course gelato in the small town and had the opportunity to watch the local kayak competition that was being held.  I must say, we have been very fortunate to have such wonderful weather since arriving in Italy.  There have been only a few days without sunshine and the temperature has stayed in the mid 60s to 80s.  It was another perfect, warm day to be outside.

Are we there yet?

Getting close to the top

Relaxing afterward
Town of Valstagna

Marostica Castle
On the way home, we decided to stop in the nearby town of Marostica.  The city is completely surrounded by a brick wall originating at the castle that sits atop the hill.  Inside the walls is the famous life size chess game as well as small cafes and shops. Every even year in September, a game of chess with live human pieces is played on the giant chess board at the center of town.  Marostica is also well known for its local variety of cherries which are sold along the roads leading into town and throughout the city.  Since we didn’t get our fill of hiking at the Cala del Sasso, we decided to hike our behinds up to the castle to get a view of the whole city and the land of Veneto beyond the walls.  It was well worth the hike and we found that a great looking restaurant resides in the castle.  We’ll have to return when we look less worse for the wear. 

View of Marostica from the Castle

The busy weekend led into another busy week and we have already come to the end of yet another weekend of travels.  I will continue this blog in the next post in a few days, but for now it’s time for bed J  Buona Sera!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A few sprinkles, but still beautiful....

Well, we are officially in our new home.  Our household goods have yet to arrive, so for now we are sharing a full size bed the army lent us  (beats the twin we shared the first night) and living primarily around a kitchen table the landlord left.  Thank goodness we sent some silverware and dishes over early!  This week has proven the most frustrating for me as we’ve transitioned yet again and have had to deal with all the Italian loopholes of renting.  It seems that nothing has gone smoothly from issues with electrical outlets, cable setup, phone and internet service problems and of course the utter lack of anything to make the place feel like home.  I have to admit (as awful as it may sound given the high quality espresso available here), the familiarity of a corner Starbucks and a skinny vanilla latte while sitting outside reading has been sounding more and more appealing.  I also miss my family and the ease of talking to them in the US.
That’s not to say that we aren’t still enjoying our time here in Italy.  We have found great excitement in our newfound freedom since buying a car (the jeep also has not arrived yet) and setting out to explore the countryside.  This past weekend we traveled west to Lago di Garda (Lake Garda), the largest lake in Italy, which is situated against the Alps.  Despite an overcast morning with some light rain, the day shaped up and we spent a beautiful afternoon walking the streets of Malcesine, touring the Castello Scaligero di Malcesine and sitting lakeside for lunch.   The lake is absolutely breathtaking with numerous small towns scattered along its edge.  In the summer it becomes a popular vacation spot for Italians and Germans and it clearly becomes a hopping resort town.  We are anxious to return with our bikes and ride along the long stretch of road that runs along the lake.  There is also a 360 degree gondola that begins in Malcesine and travels up the steep mountainside while slowly spinning.  I can only imagine how wonderful the views are from the top and we may have to return just to take the ride.
Rather than take the autostrada home, we took a windy back road thru the Alps….yes, car sickness did become an issue, but it was worth it for the views (comparable to scenes in Glacier National Park, including the steep drops at the edge of the road).  We found several small villages scattered within the hills while driving back and stopped in one surrounded by vineyards.  There was a small market offering several samples of olives, salami and wine and we came away with three bottles of red for a mere 10 euro!
We’re in the process of planning some bigger trips later this month and into the summer.  Next weekend we’re heading to Venice and the Dolomites in Northern Italy and then heading to Chianti the following weekend on a wine tasting trip.  In June we’re heading up to Germany.  Later in the summer we hope to make it to Spain and maybe a couple other countries while Nate has more time off.  Lots of adventures ahead!!!!  Ciao!
(I think the comment button should work now... I played with some of our settings so it should be possible to leave comments)

Lakeside piazza in Malcesine
Nate sharing his pizza

Castel Scaligero di Malcesine

Climbing the castle tower




Road back to Vicenza
Winery along the road