Saturday, September 20, 2014

Spritz

A spritz looks like a neon orange glass of wine with a slice of fruit floating on top. I see people sipping them in restaurant patios all the time but never knew what they were called until now. We went to dinner at quiet ristorante in an old villa last night, and that was all I wanted. Not on the menu-but surely I can just ask for it.

"I would like a spritz, please."

"No we don't have Sprite."

"No, a spritz.....?"

"Sprite?"

"No." I replied with a laugh. Oh dear.

The server took the rest of our order and scurried off, returning with a another man who spoke better English.

"You have a request for a drink?"

"It's a glass of wine...and it's orange? and it's called a spritz, I think?"

"Of course, a spritz-ah."

"Ah! A spritz-ah!" The first server said with a smile, and hurried off again.

I knew that.

It was a little bit bitter and very slightly carbonated.

The spritz is a Veneto specialty, but it was really an invention of the Austrians. Veneto was once under the flag of the Hapsburg Empire. Austrians enjoyed sipping Italian wines, but preferred it wasn't so strong and would ask for a "spritz" of water in their drinks. Over the decades the drink evolved, and is varied today as the people who drink it, but usually the idea is to mix Prosecco, aqua frizzante, Aperol, and top it with a slice of orange or other fruit.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Le Piazze Dei Sapori

One of my favorite things about living in Veneto is that nary a day goes by when there isn't a carnival, sagra, street fair, or local market to attend. I see banners everywhere along the winding two lane roads advertising sagras celebrating anything from local wines, bruscetta, snails, rabbit, olive oil, you name it. (These particular events are usually set in a church parking lot in the center of whichever teeny community it's in, with a tent for a communal dinner). If you really want to do fun things like a local, this is how to do it. Just find an event and go try some regional specialties.

Today however, we went to one of the bigger street fairs in downtown Vicenza, "Piazza of Flavors." Representatives from as far south as Sicily were there selling everything from aged cheese, canoli, olives, honey, salami, and candy.

I'm stuffed!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Amsterdam and The Hague

I found out last year around this time Italy shuts down for the Ferragosto holiday season. Almost nothing is open for about two weeks. Gas stations, bakeries, bike shops, you name it-if it's anything but an international chain store or in a touristy downtown area, it's closed. I decided this year I would simply do as the Italians do and head north for some cooler air. It was just Emily and I this time, so after trying every which way to make a trip to the British Isles work to see family and friends, it just wasn't feasible- too far without any help, and too expensive for plane tickets, no matter how I split the time (high season travel, boo). So, I settled on The Netherlands, and pushed a trip to Scotland/Ireland back a few months.
The Netherlands is a country I've been hearing about my entire life. My Grandad held a job there in the 1970s, and stories from my family's time there have been retold over and over at dinners for as long as I can remember. My Dad had always hoped I'd get the chance to live abroad like he did as he remembers his time in The Hague so fondly.

This is them, doing something touristy. c. 1971-73

Amsterdam

Amsterdam was a blur. A good blur, but one filled with near constant downpours accompanied by powerful gusts of cold wind. Guess who packed light summer clothes? :D Next time I'll believe the forecast, I swear.
The evening we arrived was pretty simple; a quiet dinner at a great little Thai place, then we spent the rest of our time before bed watching SpongeBob Schwammkopf on German Nickelodeon.


We set out the next morning for the Anne Frank House, leaving plenty of time to wander, watch the leafy streets around the canals slowly wake, and grab a cheap bite at a tiny bakery. Like lots of people, visiting the museum has been 20 years coming. I read Anne's wickedly funny, introspective, informative account of life in hiding several times as a young teen, and reread it a couple months ago. It holds up so well for me as an adult-I think I got much more out of it this time around. There are so many lessons held within it and I can't wait for Emily to read it too. Anne was so incredibly bright and knew what she wanted out of life and had she not perished at Bergen-Belsen, there would have been no stopping her. You can watch loads of interesting videos over at annefrank.org. As for getting Emily up to speed, we spent several evenings looking at an illustrated biography and talking about the eight people in the annex. I kept it really simple and sanitized, just enough to give her a gist of where we were going and why people had to hide there (from mean people who didn't like them and didn't want them to live in Holland).
The tour is self-guided. The rooms are empty, with quotes, some small artifacts, and photos from a shoot to show what the furnishings would have looked like. You start in the warehouse and move up to the offices, and into the secret annex. Emily did pretty good and seemed to be listening as I explained what we were looking at and why, but she definitely didn't understand that we weren't going to meet Anne Frank. When she saw a photo series in the first room, she said she wanted to go see her. "She lived here a long time ago, this is just where she and her family and their friends had to hide." Later, we saw a video interview of an elderly Miep Gies. "There she is! That's Anne Frank when she got older!" *heart breaks in a million tiny pieces* "No honey, she never got to grow older. Let's go see what's over here..." The end of the attic has an exhibit about the holocaust which we skipped.
The layout of the annex and rest of the building wasn't at all how I pictured it. It's much smaller, and I got a better sense of how imperative it was to remain absolutely silent during the day. It was also shocking to realize how dim their quarters were. With one allowable window in the front attic and its small view of a chestnut tree being the only patch of the outside world Anne could gaze at and only at certain times, I can understand more clearly what that bit of light and fresh air meant. You know, but to see it...poor souls.

.................

We left and stepped out into a downpour. Conveniently, a nice warm and completely overpriced canal boat was docked across the street. A quick ride and short walk later, we were at the Albert Cuyp street market. I picked up some souvenirs and fresh cheese to bring home and headed off to look for a bite to eat.

Then, more rain. All the rain! All the crying. I decided to give up and head to the hotel, but I got horribly lost, and it was at least a 20 minute walk away. As I held the stroller with one hand, Emily, the umbrella and a map in the other she finally just lost it-and then I saw the ultimate tourist hell restaurant shining before me and we ran for it, scooping up the last table during the busy lunch hour. 13 euro nachos are worth every penny to see a happy toddler.

The rest of the day went better. We chased each other through Vondelpark, then a nap for Emily and age inappropriate American dramas for me (Our free military tv service is very limited and almost not worth turning on, so good programs tend to be a real treat when we're out on the economy).

The next morning was reserved for shopping and exploring the city center. There are so many things I miss that aren't available in Italy. Like Starbucks, which was my first stop. Some writer once called European shopping streets something like tacky outdoor malls that never represented the spirit of a place. Sure, but the things and the stuff-the stuff I haven't seen in over a year. For me, no matter where in Europe they are they will always be the charming way to shop when you hardly see pedestrian commercial districts like these in the States.
After I had my fill of familiarity, we wandered through the famous flower market, picked up souvenirs and ate probably too much falafel from my beloved Maoz. It was a good.

After a short break in the afternoon, we walked to the Van Gogh Museum on a whim. I figured the bright colors would be fun for Emily and keep her interested. I figured a lotta things. I did not figure the line would go down the block. We spent an hour waiting to get in, only to find so much crowding the paintings were barely visible. Emily finally had had enough and started whining, quite loudly, to go back to the hotel. A snack, two back to back potty breaks, and a stream of pleas for a toy from the gift shop later, I finally just gave in. We only managed a really fast circle of each of the floors, bought some crap and took off. Heed this warning travelers: buy the advance ticket during peak season, and go early, especially if naps are an issue!

The Hague

Our final full day in The Netherlands was all about much deserved kid fun. We went to the Madurodam, a miniature city that shows kids of all ages how a modern Dutch city operates. You can watch planes taxi at Schipol International Airport, play games at the kiosks, use pumps to spray water on a blazing oil tanker, learn your weight in wheels of cheese, and my favorite: order up a miniature pair of ceramic clogs from the miniature clog factory, delivered in a miniature truck, of course. It was a huge hit.

video


We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach. I had given up on the idea due to the weather, but accidentally hopped on the wrong tram, and in the spirit of adventure decided to see if it took us anywhere interesting in the next ten minutes. Wouldn't you know it, a few short stops later, there we were at Scheveningen Beach, just as the clouds began to part.
We had lunch at a place right on the edge of the sand, and watched the clouds roll over the North Sea, quite cozy behind the glass walls. The food was okay but the view was gorgeous. We all know what clouds look like so I guess a dead camera doesn't matter. :(
We ran up and down the boardwalk, and Emily climbed all over a huge public art display (I think it was meant to be climbed on. I hope so.) that she thought was silly but I think was meant to be a serious comment on the environment. She then went round and round for 4 turns on the merry go round. As soon as the music started, the attendant would say, "you don't want to sit in the carriage, you want a pony!" For every safe thing I plopped her in, dude was like, motorbike with no safety harness! *sigh* I have a big girl. She didn't fall off or die and she was thrilled. Europeans just can't with helicopters like me, which is such a refreshing cultural difference, even if in the moment I was like Whatno! My baby!
So that wraps up our much too short visit to The Netherlands. Emily didn't want to go home. She could hardly stand the idea of leaving the hotel with its glorious cartoons, and cool suspended orb-chairs in the lobby. If we must return, we must.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Marostica

The small city of Marostica is a local favorite, set against a sweeping mountain range north east of Vicenza. A large castle sits atop Pausolino hill overlooking the city below. Two walled pathways lead down either side. We set out yesterday to hike to the Castello Superiore and I was under the impression we could march up through the walls to see it, but the only route currently accessible cuts straight through the center of the city around the old churches, and up a shady stone trail. It was a good hike, and well worth the view.

Castello Inferiore

Before we got started we took a tour of the Lower Castle. From the early 1400s on, it was used for day to day governmental operations and as a residence for the governor.

St Anthony the Abbot's Church on the right, The Blessed Sacrament's Chapel "Scoletta" on the left, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the rear (the most important of the three).

Marostica is known for its human chess tournaments, with a huge board in the square, and two smaller ones with over sized pieces for anyone who wants to play. Emily played her first game...and won! Amazing. Can you believe she's never had a lesson?

I liked Marostica. I'm so glad we finally got a chance to check it out.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mantova

We did a day trip to the city of Mantova yesterday. It's a small walled city on a lake about 20 minutes south of Verona. To reach it you take a bridge over the river and are greeted with this grand view of the east side of the city. I was driving of course, so here's a swiped picture from the web:

photo credit

Small cities like this are great to explore without a plan; you can never get lost, and most of the points of interest are crammed within a five minute stroll. We wandered all over before circling back to see the castle and palazzo. We had lunch on the piazza and ended the day with stop at the playground. A fine Sunday.

A 17th century chapel.

La Rotonda di San Lorenzo

This is the oldest church in the city, dating from the 11th century. I'm going to take an educated guess and say it was probably the site of a pagan temple. What is most interesting though is for hundreds of years it was hidden by newer buildings and totally forgotten until 1907. Restoration went until 1911 when it was opened to the public. It's free to see today but donations are welcome.

You can just make out the frescos on the walls.

Castello di San Giorgio

Only a few rooms are open to the public, but luckily what you get to see is a room painted with beautifully preserved, bright frescoes done by Andrea Mantegna.

Sneaky fine art selfie!

Palazzo Ducale

Right around the corner is the palace, home to the noble Gonzaga family who ruled Mantua for about 400 years.

Seriously, every museum needs a puzzle play area for restless toddlers.

Pretty corridor.

Thanks for reading!