Saturday, September 8, 2012

"The Five Lands"---- Cinque Terre!

Wine upon arrival... Cin Cin!
The weekend after Plitvice Park in Croatia, we (Nate, Chris, and I) were on the road again, this time heading west.  Only a three and a half hour drive away, on the rugged west coast of Italy are five small towns that make up Cinque Terre (“the five lands”).  The five towns are connected only by trains, boats and walking paths… no cars.  We stayed in the northern most town of Monterosso del Mare, known mostly for it’s nice beaches in comparison to the other four towns which sit on cliffs overlooking the ocean.  Thanks to the recommendation of Rick Steves, we booked a room at an amazing agriturismo situated in the hillside above the town and beaches.  Within minutes of our arrival, Nate and I decided that we would be returning again in the near future.  Overlooking a grove of lemon trees, the agriturismo, has an amazing landscaped terrace where we were immediately poured a glass of wine (produced there at the agriturismo), and instructed to sit, relax, and enjoy the beautiful view.  Our luggage was brought down the steep, narrow, gravel road from our car and taken to our quaint room.   With only three rooms available for rent, the agriturismo is a quiet retreat just a short walk above town.  We sipped our wine and enjoyed the view then headed out to explore town and enjoy more drinks closer to the ocean.  What a beautiful place!  Not yet too crowded with the tourists that come in the summer months.  We watched the sunset over the water as we drank sangria, ate gelato, and enjoyed a seaside dinner.
Agriturismo Buranco
By the sea
In old town Monterosso
We rose early on day two and were treated to a delicious breakfast served on the terrace.  We got an early start with the intention of hiking all the trails linking the five towns.  Hiking from north to south, the trails get easier and shorter, so we were happy to knock out the hardest and longest trails first.  The hike from Monterosso to Vernazza (the next town) is steep, narrow, and mostly uphill, but the views from high on the cliffs are well worth the hike.  Mid way through, Vernazza starts to come into view, nestled in a cove right on the water.  Unfortunately, in October 2011 heavy rain followed by mudslides severely damaged Vernazza and took out several of the trails in the area.  As a result, most of the town was still recovering and under construction.  The next trail on our journey, linking Vernazza to Corniglia, was also severely damaged in the floods and consequently still closed, so we were forced to detour and take the train to our next stop. 

Hiking up, up, up
Overlooking Vernazza
Beautiful and colorful Vernazza

You would think taking the train to town would eliminate the grueling hike we otherwise would have encountered.  However, once we arrived at the station, we learned that the actual town of Corniglia sits up on the nearby cliffs and we would need to hike up the 382 steps to get there.  We made it, though on weary legs, and with hungry bellies.  We decided it was time for drinks and tapas.  Shortly after lunch we met up with some friends also in Cinque Terre for the weekend who were hiking South to North from Riomaggiore.   Once again, we took the advice of Rick Steves and sought out a highly recommended wine shop.  What was meant to be a brief wine tasting, quickly turned into an all-afternoon event, when the straight faced owner began to take a liking to Nate.  With his willingness to chug wine, Nate challenged the store-owner at guzzling from a unique oddly shaped wine decanter called a pirun.  Outfitted with a bib, Nate “lost” the challenge several times to the much more practiced shop owner who impressed us with the range from which he could accurately pour the wine into his mouth.  The rest of us watched in amusement and were served a delicious platter of antipasti, "on-the-house", as well as more wine.  Apparently, we, or should I say Nate, won, the otherwise serious, Italians over.    
Made it to the top- Corniglia

The Competition

The Pro


         Though the rest of us were not chugging wine, we were all drinking it  liberally and by the time we removed ourselves from the dim lit store, it took all we had to drag ourselves back to the train station for the return trip to Monterosso.  The other two towns of Cinque Terre would have to wait until a more sober next visit. 
         After faceplanting in our beds and taking long afternoon naps, we awoke to darkness and hungry bellies.  We set out to find a good dinner with the help once again of Rick Steves.  Success #3!  At his recommendation, we ate an amazing seaside dinner of seafood stew poured straight from an oven-fired urn.   It was quite the meal with a whole lobster and octopus starring back at us from our bowls.  We loved it! 

Seafood Stew

         Knowing we will return to Cinque Terre again, we did not attempt to see the other towns before leaving for home on Sunday.  A little sore from the previous day’s hike, we awoke, ate breakfast, and got on the windy road for home.  It was a great trip, with great friends, in a beautiful place! 


Friday, June 29, 2012

Oh the Waterfalls!

Since returning from block leave, we have had few weekends at home. We’ve been taking full advantage of 3- and 4-day weekends throughout May and June and have visited some amazing places!  The first weekend in May we finally made it to Plitvice National Park in Croatia, a place we’ve been planning to visit since we first discovered the beauty of Croatia last year.  This park did not disappoint!  Situated in the mountains with 16 lakes sprawled across the park, connected by large and small waterfalls, it was absolutely breathtaking.  We enjoyed taking in the landscape from above, as we hiked a perimeter trail high on the hillside, and then from the surface as we took a short boat ride back across the lake after a leisurely lunch and (for the guys) naps in the grass. 

Nap time in the grass for the guys

We got to appreciate even more of Croatia’s outdoor area by declining to sleep in a hotel or B&B (though there were many) and choosing to break in our new tent and camp.  Our good friend Chris joined us for this wonderful trip and we had a great time “roughing it” and of course roasting marshmallows for s’mores! Now, when I say roughing it, I do not mean the American version of the term, where a bathroom is a bed of pine needles behind a tree are, stars shine bright without the lights of the city, and neighboring campsites are beyond earshot.  We’ve had a hard time finding anywhere in Europe that allows true camping as we know it in the states.  Instead, there are camp “resorts” with assigned campsites with plug-ins, community toilets, showers, a cafĂ© and restaurant, and many other amenities (more like a trailer park in the states).  Though we couldn’t even build a true campfire, and it wasn’t quite the outdoor experience we were seeking, we had a great time and enjoyed seeing another beautiful part of Croatia.
Proud of his new tent... just fit the two of us

S'mores and beer... ahhhh camping :)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Block Leave Vacation!

I would apologize for the huge lapse in time from our last blog, but the truth is we've been taking full advantage of our time together and here in Italy by traveling like crazy!  We have so many places to fill you in on, there is no way I will be able to cover it all in this post.  The two weeks after Nate returned from his rotation in Germany, were the busiest weeks we've had.  Nate was not only trying to reset from the rotation, but also trying to get a grasp on his new company command and organize his soldiers.  In the meantime, with everyone back, the FRG was kicked into high gear and I was busy trying to recruit volunteers, organize company rosters, attend trainings, and organize a company family BBQ.  All the while, I was eager to spend some much missed time with my husband, which was just not happening.  I was not a happy camper.  Fortunately, after those two weeks, Nate had two weeks of block leave so we finally got some much needed R&R and quality time.

We set off on an amazingly relaxing vacation to Mauritius, a small island off the northeastern coast of Madagascar.  For 6 days we soaked up the sun, swam with dolphins, ate amazing food, and enjoyed getting to know each other again.  No cell phones, no internet, no tv... it was wonderful!!!!!  I don't think I've ever been on a more relaxing vacation.  The color of the water, as you can see, was breathtaking and the mountain peaks toward the central part of the island were also impressive.  We had great weather, despite the forecast calling for thunderstorms the entire trip, with occasional light afternoon showers which were a welcomed relief from the heat.  One of the highlights was a day trip out to swim with dolphins and see other parts of the island.  Though there are no pictures, we did get to swim alongside a small pod of dolphins.  We had hoped to see one of the larger pods, but it was a cool experience none-the-less.  After snorkeling around for a bit, we were taken to rural part of the island, where a lunch of grilled fish, lobster, chicken and plantains was prepared for us- and Nate's favorite, beer was served!  To reach this section of the island, the boat had to anchor a long way out because of the shallow water.  We walked the length of at least two football fields into shore and the water never came above our knees!
The only downside of our trip was our 9 hour layover in Dubai on the way back.  A very cool airport, but not for nine hours at 3 in the morning!

The walk from our boat into the island.... water never got deeper than our knees!


Heading out to swim with dolphins
Back in Vicenza, we had a few days to hang out at home, do some wine tasting, and repack for our trip to Garmisch, Germany for the Brigade Ball.  We love Garmisch, a cute, quaint German town settled in the mountains and a beautiful venue for such an event!  We lucked out and had perfect weather the day of the ball, making for excellent pictures of everyone in their uniforms and gowns. However, the weather turned for the drive home and by the next day we were facing sleet and heavy snow the whole way through Germany and Austria.  What a change from the beach and sun a week before!!!!  We had a great time at the ball, eating an authentic German meal, dancing, and mingling with friends and General Hertling, the US Army Europe Commanding General, who spoke during the formal portion and then cut loose on the dance floor with the rest of us.

It was a wonderful two weeks and we returned feeling rested and gearing up for more deployment preparations and weekend travels.  More to come on those travels to Plitvice National Park in Croatia, Cinque Terre, Italy, Barcelona, Spain, and London, England!  Ciao for now!!!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What a month!

Arc de Triomphe
 Whew!  I can't believe March is over.... February seems non-existent too.  We've been busy to say the least.  To catch up from my last post over a month ago, Nate took me to Paris the weekend before Valentine's Day as a late birthday/ early Valentine's Day celebration.  It was the first time either of us had been there and we absolutely fell in love with the city!  We stayed in a hotel only 1300 ft from the Eiffel Tower and spent our days strolling the streets of St. Germain des Pres, taking in the sites, and indulging in the delicious French cuisine.  We visited Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo in the Louvre and marveled at the arched ceilings and beautiful stained glass in Notre Dame, meandered through the Luxembourg Gardens, and enjoyed an evening ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower enjoying a sunset view of the city the whole way up.  It was a magical place made only slightly less enjoyable by the below freezing temperatures (9 degrees!!!).  We kept ourselves warm with several stops for cappuccinos, croissants, and crepes... to die for!  And of course vino :) We have obviously decided that we will return again soon... hopefully in warmer weather. We still have so many more places to see, having only scratched the surface and at only 60 Euro a person to fly there from Venice how could we not go back?!

Breakfast :)
Amazing stained glass in Notre Dame
Love in Luxembourg Gardens

Sunset view from top of Eiffel Tower

The Louvre

Notre Dame
Passing of the guidon
Less than a week after our Paris trip, Nate's mom and step-dad arrived.  We showed them around Vicenza, visiting some of our favorite shops, wineries, restaurants, and other nearby towns.  Unfortunately, it was a very busy week for Nate as he prepared for his Change of Command ceremony and I was busy with training at the hospital (no job, just Red Cross Volunteer) so they set off on there own to see some of the other major sites in Verona and Venice. After a great deal of time and preparation, Nate's Change of Command occurred on time and went very well, with us hosting a reception immediately after and celebrating in downtown Vicenza that night.  He is now the Commander of Easy Company for 1/503rd and I am now the new FRG (Family Readiness Group) Leader for his company... go figure!  We spent our last evening with Nate's parents back at Ca'Bruzzo (previous blog) winery sampling wine from the barrel and eating a delicious meal paired with the wine.  It's a beautiful place and the owners have become good friends of ours.

The New Commander


Less than a week after Nate's parents returned to Iowa, he left for another training rotation in Germany.  I must say, I'm starting to feel like I never spend more than a month with my husband before he has to leave again:-P  This rotation lasted 3 1/2 weeks (blah!) but thankfully, I was also very busy with FRG trainings, meetings, and social events.  Even better, we have had some unseasonably warm and dry days in March, so I followed the Italian's lead and planted some flowers, zucchini and tomatoes.  Now that Nate is back, warmer weather also means that the grill has been fired up and we are once again enjoying evening walks into town to our favorite gelato shop :)  Spring is here!
Pictures from the outdoor market in Vicenza

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Italian Cooking Classes and Wine!!!

Weekends like this make us truly realize how lucky we are to live in Italy.  Saturday we spent the day at a local winery with friends learning to cook a four course Italian/German meal, drinking wine bottled right there in the cellars, and enjoying the company of our Italian hosts who serenaded us on guitar following our meal.  It was an amazing day!
The group: Nate, Leslie, Allison, Tom and Anne, ready to cook

I must expand a bit on the menu, to give you a full idea of how amazing the day was. We started by preparing the meat dish: osso bucco, which, once settled in a bed of carrots and onions was covered in wine and cooked slowly over the course of 3+ hours.  We then learned the art of making homemade spinach spaetzle (more German than Italian) which once cooked, was served with a gorgonzola cream sauce with speck (Italian bacon).  Our appetizers were equally as delicious…. Young asiago cheese encrusted in polenta and hazelnuts and heated until gooey and served with a warm berry sauce.  They were amazing!!!  Once the osso bucco was done cooking, it nearly fell off the bone into the accompanying creamy saffron risotto we had also whipped up.  As if we weren’t stuffed enough, we were then taught the art of crepe making.  The whole meal was to die for and best of all, my husband was totally enthralled by the whole thing and insisted we buy a spaetzle maker the next day at the Italian grocery store.  He replicated the spaetzle dish a couple days later! Wahoo! 
The guys are focused... women supervising

Making spaetzle!

Osso bucco ready to be cooked

The finished product with saffron risotto!

Cooked spaetzle
As if the meal wasn’t enough we were treated to more amazing Italian wine.  We are getting so spoiled!!!!!  We were taken into the cellar; an amazing large room  with arched ceilings and a large table in the middle for hosting dinner parties (we are returning later this week) and of course rows of wine barrels.  We were given samples of wine straight from the barrel while learning about the history of the winery and the process of wine making, all the while drinking with the owner.
The cellar

Wine pulled straight from the barrel

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We’ve now become good friends with the owners, who are going to start hosting these cooking classes once a month!  I’m thrilled to learn some more true Italian recipes to impress friends and family with when we return J  What an amazing time!