Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Love it or leave it?

Our year in Italy was an emotionally complex one... to say the least. There are so many things about life in Italy that we loved - and a fair share of things that drove us completely nuts. Here's our short list, some of which will probably only make sense to those few who have been blessed to live in this crazy, beautiful place...

Italian Drivers 
I didn't actually drive in Italy. Usually I got a little carsick when Cole was driving. (I think it's a combination of riding in a teeny-tiny car and swerving around lots of round-abouts.) Motorcycles pass on the center line, stop signs are more of a suggestion and everyone is in a hurry. When they're walking, Italians stroll casually - the old men clasp their hands behind their back. Behind the wheel it's another story! There's constant honking, zipping around each other, constant craziness. So we're happy to say "Ciao!" to driving in Italy. Cole has a few things to add about driving in Italy. He may or may not have some unresolved tension: 
"I won't miss driving in Italy.  I won't miss the whiplash from the stop-and-start traffic.  Always being on the look out for cars or pedestrians suddenly dashing or pulling out in front of me. I won't miss the overly-complicated gas stations. I won't miss someone one riding inches (or centimeters) from my rear bumper because I'm only going 15 over the posted speed limit. I won't miss being honked at for yielding too long at a roundabout or for breaking some unknown traffic law.  I definitely won't miss seeing a squad (one or two) local polizia parked at a roundabout waving random cars over with their "driveway reflectors" for God-only-knows-why. This, by the way, is one of the most baffling things to me. Who really knows what the local polizia actually do?!? (Even our Italian friends agree!) I won't miss people driving in the center lane like their car is on a monorail. And I won't miss being startled by a car or motorcycle suddenly appearing in my blind spot just as I'm getting the nerve to actually make a move to pass the rare driver who is abiding by the speed limit." 
Ok, seriously... I had to cut him off. Get this guy into therapy. :)

Yum just doesn't cut it... American pizza doesn't really even deserve to be called "pizza."  It should have an entirely different name. Admittedly, it took us awhile to fall in love with pizza in Italy, but it's one of those things we already really miss. Cole's still perfecting his pizza crust... chop, chop!! 

Our Apartment
We lived in a third-floor apartment. It's really beautiful, but old... The windows are thin and there was a parking lot below us... Laying in bed at night, we heard people having conversations plain as day below. Also, noisy motorcycles. Why, oh why do these Italian kids think they need to make their motor louder? We have no drier... I can confidently say that I do not miss air-drying everything... There are just some things that need to be fluffy-soft. Also, no microwave. Some would say this is healthier. I say, blah. What WILL we miss? Hearing the music of a string quartet float up to our living room window... Seeing the beautiful terracotta rooftops from all of our windows. Walking a few short blocks to the scenic lake shore... there are so many things that we'll miss about our awesome location and beautiful apartment. 

Dining in Italy
Italians have mealtime down to an art... it really is a beautiful experience to dine - really dine. If you ever have an Italian vacay planned in the future, budget for a real meal out, order all the courses, and plan for at least three hours of chatting, drinking and eating fresh, delicious foods.

Will SOMEBODY please tell the youth of Italy that smoking is bad for you? They haven't gotten the memo. We saw many, many kids (who looked to be around 14-15?!) lighting up. 

Cole now has an espresso machine. He is officially a coffee snob and we're taking orders for lattes and cappuccinos... Mmmmm! Yum! Now if I can just figure out how to work the darn thing... 

Waiting In Lines
Lines? What are lines? Those orderly things don't exist in Italy... much to our frustration. Even checking out at the grocery store was chaotic... Everyone likes to crowd to the front and it drove us batty...

The Vino
It's delicious and cheap. We brought some home with us and I'm sure it won't last long! What's not to love about Italian wine?! 

The Friendships
This is one of those things that puts a lump in my throat. We left Italy with some awesome new friendships - parting ways with people we know we may never, ever see again. Thank God for the internet, facebook and instant-messaging. We hope that we will get to see some of these friendly faces one day soon. :)

We wrote much of this post while still in Italy and I'm just now getting around to putting it up... There are so many more things we could discuss... but this is plenty for now.

With any decision you make in life, there are sacrifices. Going to Italy was a tremendous blessing in many ways, but we also missed much, as well. We hope this long post captures some of the things we LOVED and some of the challenges from our stay, too. It was a beautiful, crazy experience and we wouldn't trade it for the world!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Goodbye is not forever...

I keep telling myself that goodbye is not forever... but lately, "goodbye" feels so very final.

In addition to saying goodbye to my Uncle Tom and his family (they stopped in Como for two nights this week - I'll write more about their stay soon!), our tutor Dilva had us over for dinner last night. We had a wonderful evening and probably stayed later than we should have - it was just really tough to go... I've never before had to look someone in the eyes and part ways, not knowing if we'll ever get to see each other again. Dilva, especially, was more than just a teacher and resource for us during our time in Italy. She was also a very good friend - so kind and forgiving of our terrible efforts to learn Italian. We really connected with her and her wonderful family. We are so hopeful that we'll be able to see them again soon. Here's the email she wrote us today - such a sweet note which, of course, brought more tears!
Dear Amanda and Cole, I am not very good at writing Thank-You-Notes and saying Good-Bye or letting my feelings  out. I wonder why you Americans are so good at this kind of stuff – it must be a subject that you are taught in school, I suppose. Yet I feel like writing this short message to thank you for everything and for being our guests last night. We all enjoyed your company very much. I regret not spending more time with you while you were here… anyway, this is no time for regrets. 
As a reluctant, part-time teacher, I was very lucky to meet two kind, good-hearted students from Kansas who didn’t care too much about learning Italian, but still endured my grammar lessons with a broad smile and a grin. I really enjoyed your company. I will never forget you,  or your lovely daughter Eva (oh, she’s so funny J)
Buon viaggio! Dilva & Rest of Family

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Our Final Italian Getaway - Sardegna

Last weekend we were able to squeeze in one final trip before our impending departure (June 15!). We took an easyJet flight from Milan to Alghero, Sardegna. This was our second time flying easyJet, and we actually had a really good experience... We had read that it can be kind of a headache, but it was... easy!! The flight was direct, only about an hour long, and Eva was an angel both there and back. We were able to get her to snooze on my lap, so it was pretty stress-free.

Once in Alghero, we rented a car and drove to our hotel in Stintino, a teeny tiny town located on a beautiful peninsula on Sardegna. (NW corner of the island.) Having a rental car throughout our stay wound up being the best decision ever - the temperature wasn't exactly tropical-wear-your-bikini-weather. It was cool and windy. Which was honestly, a bummer... Someday, we want to go back. When it's warm. When we can actually put our swimsuits on. Yep. It was that chilly. :(

We checked the forecast before we left, and knew we weren't going to have warm and sunny days. But deep down we were hoping Mother Nature would surprise us with hot, hot sunshine. She did not...

We were really excited about choosing Stintino for our stay because our tutor and several of Cole's co-workers commented about how beautiful of a location it is. I'm sure they also thought we were crazy for going in May (the off-season), but they all gave it glowing reviews. They were right. Stintino was a sleepy little town, very quiet - almost oddly quiet. But our hotel was just a short drive from several beaches, and a short walk from views like this one...

Sigh. Makes me want to go back just looking at it... So the day we arrived, we walked around a little bit to some small beaches very close to the hotel...

On day two, Sunday, we headed back into Alghero at the recommendation of our hotel staff... to see the city center, which has a lot of Spanish influence, since it was originally ruled by Spain. It was really neat to see the differences between Alghero and other Italian towns we've visited.... There was much more stucco, simple clean-line architecture, less extravagant churches, etc. While there, we also planned to take a boat ride to see Neptune's Grotto, marine caves. We were sold ferry tickets and then told, once on the boat, that the caves were closed to visitors on Sundays... felt like a total scam. A staff member at our hotel had called to inquire for us, and we asked questions at the ticket sales booth - never did they mention the fact that the grotto was closed Sundays. Blah. Other passengers left the boat angry before departure, but we decided to go for the boat ride anyway. So, the ride was scenic, but we didn't get to see the caves - I guess we'll never know what we missed.

Instead of visiting the caves, we stopped off for about 20 minutes at a small, crowded beach. The single bar there was cleaning up... We got a little sun before heading back into Alghero and then making the drive to Stintino.

Before reaching Stintino, we stopped at Le Saline Beach - it just may be our favorite beach ever. It's made up of tiny white and gray rocks... so gorgeous and peaceful. The sound of all the tiny pebbles being pushed around by the waves on shore was completely soothing... We had the beach entirely to ourselves. Eva loved playing in the rocks and we didn't have to wipe sand out of every nook and cranny when she was done! Hooray! :)

The next day was our 7th anniversary! Cole surprised me with a beautiful ring - handmade at a little jewelry shop near our apartment in Como. I am one spoiled girl. It was such a sweet surprise! No photos to share - since it's being sized right now.

In our first seven years, we have been amazingly blessed, in so many ways. We're looking forward to celebrating many more anniversaries - but we know that this one was special, since we won't get to travel like this each year! :)

We spent the morning at another nearby beach, La Pelosa, "The Hairy Beach" - not sure why it's called that. :) This is probably the most popular beach for tourists - with soft sand, a gorgeous view and sparkling blue water. Even with the cooler weather, we had a fun time hanging out and letting Eva play in the sand and water. Eventually we had to stop and get her into dry, warm clothes, but she could have played all day. She wore herself out!

 That afternoon, we drove about an hour to a nearby town, Castelsardo. The center of the town is perched on top of a cliff, and has a castle with incredible views of the sea and colorful town, along with small shops and restaurants. The view overlooking town reminded us of Cinque Terre...

Flying out of Sardegna was a really neat experience, too. Eva was asleep on my lap, so I couldn't snap any photos. The sky was cloudy until we got over Stintino. There the clouds broke and we were able to clearly see the entire peninsula, including the beaches we had visited. Somehow, it felt like a fitting end to our Italian travels - bittersweet in many ways!

Starting to Say Goodbye

Our hostess! :) 
If we learned anything from leaving Kansas, it's that saying goodbye is a painful process. We leave Italy June 15th, and the next two weeks are full of goodbyes that must be said... it's tough. Unfortunately, for me it's also emotional! I have found that there is just no easy way to do it...

We had a fantastic BBQ with some of Cole's coworkers recently. It was such a beautiful afternoon - full of delicious food and warm, sunny weather. The guys even threw around a rugby - Cole tried to teach them how to throw a spiral! The food was fantastic! We had grilled ribs, meat skewers, peppers and zucchini... There was a rice salad, lots of wine and delicious desserts, too. It felt like we ate all. day. long. :)

Marika kept saying that we would be eating Brontosaurus ribs. :) They were almost that big! Yum!!

These photos weren't staged at all. ;)

We have been incredibly blessed by these wonderful people and all they have done to make us feel welcome. We hope that someday we'll get to cross paths again. In the meantime, we'll take advantage of email, facebook and (for Cole at work) instant messaging to stay in touch as best we can...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Work Trip | Road Trip

THIS is what Eva does at the beach! "Put me down, Mom!"
When we first arrived in Italy, Cole's boss mentioned sending him, along with is colleague Giovanni, to another facility located in Ortona... along the Adriatic coastline, near the beach! Naturally, Anna (Giovanni's wife) and I heard and immediately started trying to figure out how we could go, too! Well... Cole's boss made good on his promise. A few weeks ago, we took a six-hour road trip and stayed in Pescara. Giovanni and Anna drove on another hour and stayed with his parents in his hometown, Termoli.

The spring weather has been extremely rainy and cool, which most of our friends tell us is abnormal. Typically by now, the weather is warmer, sunnier, and just plain nicer. So our beachy vacay was a little windy and cool at times, but we still managed to fit in lots of sand and sun.

She loved the sea so much, she just wanted to.. put her face in it... ? Weird kid.

We were excited to see how Eva would act at the shore, so we headed straight to the beach Wednesday afternoon when we arrived. We weren't prepared for her to "jump right in." We didn't change into suits - just planned to hang out in the sand for awhile. She was really entertaining... it wasn't long before we had her stripped down to a diaper and there was sand everywhere. In her ears, eyes, mouth... She wanted to run straight into the sea! This little girl was definitely not holding still for photos.

Our hotel in Pescara was right along the shore and there was a wide sidewalk that stayed busy with walkers, runners, roller bladers and bike riders. We rented bikes from our hotel on Saturday morning and went for a nice ride. Pescara has a pedstrian/cyclist bridge over the inlet, which was really cool. We stopped at the top, out of breath, and took a few photos.

Then we headed back to the beach and I got a few more photos... This time with her swimming suit! :)

Saturday evening we drove to Giovanni's hometown for a quick tour of the city center and dinner with his parents. Termoli was a beautiful little town, the city center looked down over the beaches - an awesome place to grow up! Giovanni and Anna spend a few weeks back in Termoli each August, lucky them!

This band was exiting the entrance to Termoli's city center... right when we arrived!

Fishing hut along the shoreline...

We headed back to Giovanni's parents just in time to miss the storm!
Tomorrow we're off on our FINAL Italian adventure. It's bittersweet to be wrapping up our time in Italy, for sure... We are heading to Sardinia for a relaxing few days at the beach. Hopefully the rain stays away!