Thursday, May 21, 2015

Goodbye, Italy

Our time living in Europe is coming to a close. I don't want to go, but it's a good time for our family to move on to other things. As sad as I am to leave, I am looking forward to seeing familiar faces, and the choices and conveniences we don't necessarily have here in Italy. Cody had to go back to the States for a week last month and the way he described it, it was like stimulation overload; he could understand every conversation around him. Billboards and loud, cheesy infomercials were unavoidable and weird to see again after more than 3 years of monotone AFN spots. The consumer culture I think will be hard to get used to again, but knowing how to maneuver through it and get things done when I need to will be a welcome change nonetheless. Plus, burritos.

In total, Emily and I visited 11 countries and many more cities and towns. Cody's country count is a little different, and he has some interesting stories. I hope he writes them down soon.

Travelling with Emily has been a blast. I always imagined if I had a chance to live here, I would buy a rail pass and just go. I would read language books in between cities. I would stay in hostels, and drink good wine every night with people I met along the way.

What I actually experienced has been so much more rewarding. For all the things that are closed for me as a parent of a small child, I was not about to let travel be one of them. Why would I? Our European experience then was the family version, but it was no less adventurous. We were able to focus on the most important sights for mine and Cody's interests and Emily's cultural benefit. Through much trial and error, I learned a lot about what I can do with some planning, good hotel deals, and more than a little nerve. I hope I can pass that on to Emily, and that she isn't held back by anything. I hope she studies abroad, takes a backpacking trip, anything, anywhere, and that spirit carries on into her everyday life.

Emily has definitely picked up some European habits. She thinks nothing of using a bidet (the butt sink, as we call it), eating cold cuts and kaiser rolls for breakfast in Germany, and prefers to crowd in with the Italians and sit up at the bar when we stop off for a brioche (eating on the run is the surest way to spot an American).

Ciao, Italia.

Our Italian experience has been been a lot of things: beautiful, maddening, and educational among them. I learned more Italian than I ever thought I would. Where Germans speak not just English, but better English than native speakers, Italians are rarely fluent unless they deal with tourists constantly. Since we lived outside the city, learning key phrases was especially important. After almost two years and some previous experience with romantic languages, reading simple things and listening to basic conversations is easy enough. I picked up a ton of vocabulary words and can order food and ask for shoes in my size. A spontaneous conversation isn't going to happen, and I had to make several trips to the translator for tedious phone calls. But I have improved.

Of the other things I learned about Italy: I learned how to spot a Palladian villa a kilometer away. I learned through glares that putting on gloves to shop for produce is not, in fact, optional. I learned how to not freak out about other people's kids, and can see pretty clearly American busybody parenting is the real problem; children here rarely if ever wear bike helmets. Parents zooming through busy roundabouts with a bare-headed tyke in the bike seat now seems so commonplace it doesn't even register. I learned Italians are resourceful gardeners, a necessary skill in a country where food is tiny and expensive. I learned how to schedule my day around the riposo and memorized the seemingly random opening hours of various businesses.

This has been the experience of a lifetime, no doubt. We are already plotting our return. I was asked by a friend where I would live or visit again if given the opportunity. Dutchies are some of the nicest people I've encountered. Amsterdam is beautiful and I don't have it out of my system yet. I want to see much more of the Netherlands in the future. As far as where I would live, the obvious answer for a hopeless anglophile like me is England. I would move there tomorrow and never leave. Can I move there tomorrow?

Thank you so much to everyone who came out to see us, and for the friends here who made it so fun and memorable.

Here is an assortment of pictures from Italy that didn't make it into the blog. And so concludes our grand tour.

Villa Capra, Vicenza

At a theme park near Lago di Garda


Snow day


Vicenza Centro

Torri di Quartesolo

Our special day out in Verona

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Afternoon Bike Ride Through the Vineyards

A while back I found a post over at 3 in Giro about a gorgeous local trail and have been waiting for a nice sunny day to find it. I took off on my bike today, and though I didn't find the right place, I think I did pretty well anyway. A beautiful spring afternoon spent pedaling around the Berici Hills is pretty nice on its own.


Somewhere between Nanto and Castegnero



I have another post about Lumignano here


Time to turn around. Ciao!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Vegan and Vegetarian Eats in Italy

I'm forever on the hunt for good meat-free dishes. These are some good alternatives to the usual pizzerias I always seem to end up at. If you found this page through social media, or through a google search, I hope this helps!

Bassano del Grappa

Il Garabaldi
Via Bonamigo Lazzaro 37
36061 Bassano del Grappa
Phone number +39 0424 523796

Vegan Plate!


Veggy Bar
Via dei Servi 8R
50122 Florence

Juice and sandwiches.

The Diner
Via dell'Acqua 2
50122 Firenze

American food with a lot of vegetarian options.


Via Germanico 43
00192 Rome

Organic juice, salads, sandwiches to go. Excellent.

Indian Fast Food
Via Mamiani 11
00185 Roma

No frills, just good Indian take away.

Torri di Quartesolo

Piccole Voglie
Via Roma, 71/c
36040 Torri di Quartesolo, Italy

Large vegan gelato selection, and you can get it to go by the quart. Which I did. Because it's vegan gelato.


Fata Zucchina
Via Don Carlo Steeb 25
37122 Verona

Seasonal, traditional, and you can watch the chef cook from a window in the dining room.


Bar al Barco
via B. Dalla Scola, 255
36100 Vicenza, Italy

Coffee house with vegan brioches, sandwiches, soy milk.

Via Divisione Acqui, 15
Vicenza, Italy

Organic market with coffee bar.

Indiano Buddha
Corso Padova 18
36100 Vicenza

Indian food for the Italian palate.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


We have been to Soave several times, and I want to talk about it today as a destination between major destinations. The town is very typical of the preserved cities in this region, and it's a great way to hang out with the locals.

Soave sits just off A4 between Milan and Verona on one side and Vicenza, Padova, and Venice on the other, and yet, I never see hoards of tourists. I love it as scenic town with something for everyone, especially travelers who want to go somewhere quiet and not spend a lot of money.

Looking over the walled city and rolling vineyards is a massive 14th century castle. It's open for tours, but if you make the hike up to find it closed, a trail loops all the way around the castle and back into town where an osteria serving up Soave wine awaits. This is me last August, doing just that:

A really cool spot to grab a spritz and lunch is Enoteca Il Drago. The restaurant was originally a courthouse built in 1375. It sits at the top of the street, and with the patio seating is makes for a nice place to take in the town. I don't remember a thing about the food, but the ambiance makes the place anyway.

photo credit

For the little ones, there is a huge shady playground just outside the walls. We had it to ourselves yesterday.

And the final and very important reason to visit Soave: ALL THE PARKING IS FREE.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Liberation Day

Today Italians celebrate liberation from Nazi occupation and Fascist rule. The song above, "Bella Ciao" was sung by the Italian Resistance during the war and is played at festivals and parades throughout the day. There is a really good post about Feste della Liberazione over at Never Ending Footsteps for a quick overview:


Bella Ciao in English:

One morning I woke up
Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao
One morning I woke up
And I found the invader
Oh Partisan, carry me away
Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao Oh Partisan,
carry me away
Because it feels like death
And if I die on the mountain
Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao
And if I die on the mountain
You must bury me
And you must bury me
Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao
And you must bury me
Under the shade of beautiful flowers
And all those that pass
Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao
And all those that pass
Will say 'what beautiful flowers
And this flower of a partisan
Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao
And this flower of a partisan
Is the flower of freedom

Thursday, April 9, 2015


My only regret about Prague is that I couldn't spend more time there. It's impossible to soak it all up over a long weekend. We saw most of the highlights in the centrum, but it was rushed. It was also a very busy time to be in Prague. Easter is a huge deal in the Czech Republic, as religous celebrations weren't permitted under Czechoslovakia's communist government.

Vendors sell real painted eggs to hang from branches. The wands are called pomlázka. They are made of braided twigs and ribbons, and used to swat girls on the legs. It comes from a tradition that says it will "chase away illness and bad spirits and to bring health and youth for the rest of the year to everyone who is whipped."

Emily got to feed animals in a petting zoo and decorate an egg. She was too excited to sit next to the children's egg tree for a picture and ran around pretending to drop her egg and chase it as it bounced away over and over. It took a while but we finally snapped this:

On the flip side, a major part of what I hoped to see was pretty much shut down for Passover. The oldest remaining sites of the Josefov quarter- the Old-New Synagogue which has been operating for more than 700 years, the historic old cemetery, crowded with over three hundred years worth of tombstones, and the museum exhibitions detailing the history of the local community through the centuries. Most of the Jewish Quarter was torn down in favor of urban renewal at the beginning of the 20th century and these places tell an important story in the history of Prague. It's one more reason to return.

Prague survived World War II with much less damage than other European cities. In fact, the bombing it sustained was supposedly an accident by Americans who mistook it for Dresden. Because it fared so well overall, it is still one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with swirls of art nouveau decoration on tons of turn of the 20th century buildings (I can only assume this displaced a load of residents in Josefov, but haven't seen anything addressing it online though), churches, the beautiful Charles Bridge, and many other places that take you back through Prague for hundreds of years.

Monument to Jan Hus, early church reformer.

The astronomical clock. Once an hour the figures on the clock move to the delight of crowds waiting around to record it. We kept missing it by 5 minutes. :(

The Renaissance era Minute House, where Franz Kafka lived as a child.

Absinthe was a thing here I guess.

After walking all over the centrum, we stopped for lunch at a really average restaurant, but it allowed us to at least try some of the famously cheap local beer, along with some goulash for Cody.

Emily zonked out like 5 minutes after we left, so we took a nice walk back to our airbnb. One of the things I wanted to see on the way is the Church of Cyril and Methodius in the Karlin neighborhood. It was consecrated in 1863.

St Therese of Lisieux, c.1937/8

This is the neighborhood in Karlin where we stayed. Our cab driver told us it was a little unsafe. Another travel guide called it "shabby." If this is shabby, I'll take it. Side note, there is an excellent brunch place/coffee house here called Muj salek kavy (My cup of tea in English). All concerns I had about good vegetarian dining dissolved after my ridiculously good soy latte and whole wheat pancakes. The servers were lovely even though we were minus one reservation and plus a giant stroller.

The next day, despite having this feeling that it was going to be too much for a certain grouchy three year old, we set off for Prague Castle. I wasn't extremely interested, but it was close to the Kafka museum that did want to see, so hey why not? We took the metro, which included a serious hike. In hindsight, the 22 tram is a much better option as it drops you off right outside the entrance. Emily, as expected, was in a mood to shriek and run away and everything else she isn't supposed to do. We had to cut the visit short and nearly cut the whole day short (a nap in the stroller, followed by pizza, somehow, fixed everything).

A view from the castle. This is why I came to Prague.

A great hall and the throne room.

Outside St Vitus Cathedral, the central feature of the sprawling castle complex. We had to wait until after Easter services, and by then the line to enter was a mile long and Emily wasn't going to last. One more thing to come back for.

The Golden Lane. This was my favorite part. All the teeny tiny houses are either gift shops or recreated homes from different eras; the fortune teller's house, the silent movie theater crammed with film reels, the goldsmith's workshop. I didn't get to see it, but the little pink house next to the half-timber in the top photo is another Kafka home.

In the late afternoon we crossed Charles Bridge into Lesser Town. This is also the point where my camera battery died and I had to switch to a cell phone. Even if I had a better lens, it's very crowded, so to give you a feel of how magical it can be, here's a swiped picture:

photo credit

Our next stop was ye olde Starbucks and on to the Kafka Museum. The museum was interesting. I will avoid calling it Kafka-esque, which it was definitely going for.

photo credit

It did an excellent job of creating a timeline through letters and journals, photographs, family and cultural background.

We ended the day with yummy trdelník from a little shop near the Vltava river, wandered over the bridge, bought a half dozen painted eggs, and headed back to the flat for dinner.

Prague, until we meet again.