Sunday, July 29, 2012

Verona Part II: Juliet's Balcony

This stop was one of those "must do" items for Verona, but it definitely didn't have the romantic feel we were expecting. It was extremely busy (although you can't really tell that from the pictures) and Cole was pushing Eva in the stroller... struggling to get through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. One thing we really miss about home is the general courteous way of Americans. We have found that Europeans just sort of walk wherever in public and don't really move out of the way. It's one of those tendencies that comes across as rude, but it's really more of a cultural difference that we're still adjusting to. It could be that we, as Americans have too much of a possessive claim over personal space, if that makes any sense... I'm sure it's a little bit of both. That's a topic for another post though.

Anyway, Juliet's balcony certainly wasn't the quiet,  romantic setting that Shakespeare depicted. First, you had to walk through a hallway covered in chewed gum (Darn! We had thrown ours away... should have saved it.) and scribbled declarations of love. Visitors are supposed to leave something behind for Juliet.

It has a romantic feel to it, doesn't it? :) Yes, I'm posting a pic of ABC gum.

There is even a club of volunteers who respond to emails and letters written to Juliet. They'll reply with personalized love-life advice, which I'm sure is most helpful. There were some little phones in this hallway, too. I guess you can also call with questions that just can't wait...

Literally, it was shoulder-to-shoulder with lots of young, excited teenage girls - and Cole doesn't do crowds. Have I mentioned that before? :) There were tons of locks along the gate by the statue of Juliet, it's said that locking yours ensures that your love will last forever. Aside from the crowd, the balcony really was beautiful... it was extra challenging trying to get a picture of it without people on the balcony, since you can go out onto the balcony for photos. 

We also posed for the mandatory breast-rubbing pictures. They say it's lucky in love and life to rub Juliet's right breast. Look how shiny and polished she is, poor girl. Tradition or not, it sort of felt wrong. 

I'm sure he's thinking... "My wife made me do this." :)
This is an awful picture, but yes I did it too.

Verona Part I: The Arena

Eva was a happy girl at the arena - squealing loudly and listening to her voice echo in the halls... :)
This weekend we took a day trip to Verona, which was a little over two hours' drive, about halfway from Como to Venice. We braved the autostrade (Italian interstate) for the first time, and it actually wasn't as bad as we were expecting. (Easy for me to say since Cole has been driving everywhere...) There were occasionally vehicles driving extremely fast, but most of the time traffic was traveling about the same speeds as US freeways. We were mostly worried about the toll booths and somehow making a mistake... At each one we approached, we stuck with the lines labeled carta and used our credit card to pay the fees. We had heard that you must have exact change for the cash lines, and weren't sure how to figure out what we would owe, so paying with a card was easier. We did use a credit card with a "chip" at these booths. We had heard you must have one for traveling in Europe - and that many businesses, especially on the autostrade, will not accept a credit card without this chip-and-pin technology. (More about this here...) Our regular cards have worked just fine everywhere else, but we wanted to be prepared by having the card with a chip for travel. Everything went well! 

These four arches made it through an earthquake in 1711.
Verona was beautiful - of course it was pretty busy on a Saturday, but we tried to make it around to most of the main sites and wandered plenty of quiet backstreets, too. We didn't get to enter a few of the churches we wanted to see because there were several weddings taking place. However, we did get to see Verona Arena, Juliet's balcony, several churches and the busy and colorful Piazza Erbe. 

Verona Arena is world-famous for being the largest open air opera house in existence and the world's third-largest amphitheater to survive from Roman antiquity. Many travel sites recommend attending the opera at Verona Arena as a "must-do" item in Italy. It's something we may still try to do later in the year. Neither of us is necessarily a fan of opera, but I'm sure it would be amazing in this venue! You can see from the pictures that crews were preparing the seating and stage in the arena for the evening's performance. Prior to becoming an opera house, the arena was the location for gladiator fights, jousts, circuses, theater, hot air balloon launches and more... It was originally built in 30 AD.

Imagine walking these halls nervously before competing in a gladiator fight to the death...
Here's an outside view from Piazza Bra, a busy area where shops and restaurants surround the arena.
Looking down at Piazza Bra from the arena. 

Piazza Bra also had several street performers working for tips... These two were our favorites, but we couldn't figure out how they did it - she even changed her costume mid-air. Impressive! Seriously, that pole looked like the only thing holding her up... 

These street performers were getting ready for a mid-air costume change. How???

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Italian Bureaucracy

Red tape. It's everywhere in this country! We were told to be prepared for the bureaucracy of the Italian government by many people, but there was just no way to prepare for this! Today we went to the immigration office at the questura (police station) so that Cole could be fingerprinted - twice - during two separate back-to-back appointments in the same office, by two separate police officers. We don't know why. We brought a stack of documents for the appointment, which we were told we absolutely had to have - and they never asked for any of it. At our next appointment they might need to see those documents... We'll have to go back to the questura when they send Cole a text message (Yes!!! You read that correctly!!!)with a date for his next appointment. If they text him an appointment date for a Tuesday, we'll actually have to go Wednesday since they are only open Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But they may text him a Tuesday or Thursday appointment date anyway. Oh, and he cannot delete the text message. He has to show the officers the text on his phone at his appointment. Not kidding! Hmm...this makes me wonder if we need some sort of paperwork to prove the phone is ours. Wow. They are seriously getting into our heads.

Get the point yet? We have faced so much of this during our month in Italy so far, it's truly laughable. It all makes me extremely thankful for the team of people working with us to ensure we properly file the gobs of paperwork that need to be properly filed. I can't imagine how to begin to navigate the immigration process without help. The rules of this game are constantly changing! The Italians make the U.S. government look efficient. And we all know how efficient the U.S. government is...

Throughout the last year, Cole has also been working on his MBA and is currently in a Global Business course. He recently wrote a paper addressing the European economic crisis, specifically researching problems in Italy... If you haven't heard, Italy is in pretty bad shape economically and much of their problem stems from the bureaucratic nature of their government.

If only they could find a few ways to be more efficient...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ferry Ride to Bellagio

We had a fantastic weekend, full of activity, but none of it too far from Como. It was a great opportunity to see more of the local sites. There really are a lot of beautiful scenes right around Como, which has been one of our favorite things about the location where we're living...

It all started Saturday with a short walk to Villa Olmo and Eva's first time in the swimming pool... poor baby. The water was pretty cold, and they require swimmers to wear a cap. After awhile, she got used to the temperature.  She wasn't necessarily crying, but just sort of complaining loudly the whole time she was in the water. She definitely didn't enjoy the pool like she loves her time in the bathtub. Once the cap was off she was a happy girl once again. It cost 14 euros to enter the pool, plus the purchase of our lovely souvenir caps. Cole's co-workers later told us that this was actually an inexpensive pool! We were surprised... with the exchange rate, that equates to about $20 USD for two adults. We're used to pools in the states costing only a few dollars apiece. Maybe this is a method the Italians use to keep their pools from becoming a daycare center during the summer months like US pools so often seem to become... :)

Just in case you saw the first picture and considered reporting us... she really is a happy girl, we promise! :)
Saturday evening we enjoyed a dinner cooked by Cole's co-worker, Marika. We met her husband, Max and their five-year-old daughter at their home. Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos, but I'm sure we'll get together again - we had a really nice time. Truly, we dined in Italian style. The meal began around 7:30 and ended after 11! Max doesn't speak much English, so the entire dinner was sort of like an enjoyable lesson, with Marika translating and Cole and I asking lots of questions. It was helpful for us to learn more Italian words and discuss the differences between our countries. We started with a delicious antipasto (appetizer) of bruchetta, followed by a primo (the first course) of pasta with clams and the secondo (second course) was mussels. Cole and I had never had mussels before - I guess that's partially because we are from the land-locked land of Oz. Marika and Max were happy to demonstrate eating them for us... We didn't realize that you can eat them straight from the shell, prying them fully open and using your teeth to eat the meat. (Another option is to use one empty shell as your utensil, pinching and pulling the meat from another shell.) It was such a fun experience.We finished dinner with the dolce (dessert) of watermelon and ice cream. Then we each had a serving of limoncello, a sweet, strong lemon-flavored liqueur served in small glasses. Although they looked like shot glasses, limoncello is really meant to be sipped slowly. Yum!

On the way home we gassed up the car... and then just barely made it back to Como. Unfortunately, we unknowingly put diesel into our "unleaded-only" vehicle, which didn't work out so well... as you can imagine. It was one of those mistakes that just makes you feel so silly and just sick to your stomach. Today Cole picked up a new rental car from Avis and they towed off the old one, hopefully with no permanent damage. Lesson learned.

It's amazing to see the towns along Lake Como - they appear to grow straight up out of the water! 
The shoreline along Lake Como just before Isla Comacina. One of my favorite pictures of the lake so far...
Sunday we took the ferry from Como to Bellagio. The locals have told us that this route is really popular with American tourists in the area - thanks to the Las Vegas resort. We paid about 20 euros each for the scenic round trip ride. It took about two hours to reach Bellagio, stopping along the way at many small towns. Lake Como is shaped like an upside down Y, with Como situated at the southwest tip of the Y and Bellagio at the instersection of the three legs. Cole's co-worker Giovanni and his new wife, Anna, met us in Bellagio. We spent the day walking thoughout the picturesque town and, of course, eating pranzo (lunch) and some of the best gelato yet. It was a really enjoyable, relaxing day and for me it feels so nice to be meeting people! I love spending my days with Eva, but adult interaction is necessary for my mental health!

Ready to explore Bellagio! 

Our new friends, Giovanni and Anna! 
July 22, 2012 - Bellagio, Italy

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Io parlo Italiano. Un poco.

Full immersion in the Italian culture has been wonderful, but has certainly taught us that we don't know enough of the language. We often find ourselves asking, "Parli l'inlese?" Do you speak English? (While trying not to sound totally desperate.) Some people can... but most cannot. So we have been fumbling our way through partially understood conversations. We've gotten really good at ordering gelato. Totally a necessity. We've also spent a lot of time using Google Translate ( If you've never tried it, check it out - very useful!

On Monday we met Dilva, our new tutor. She will be working with us 1-2 times per week, trying to teach us the basics of the Italian language and mostly conversation. We probably won't learn much in regards to writing, punctuation or grammar, since neither of us has a real need. It's most important right now that we can say basic phrases and interact at restaurants, stores, etc. Of course, Cole needs to be able to speak to his coworkers, but most of them can speak English, which has been helpful for him.

Dilva gave us a few little tasks to test our knowledge of the Italian language. Not much. Then she asked us about our expectations for the lessons. We both agreed that more information about the local culture and also help with finding resources would be nice. I mentioned needing to get Eva a pediatrician. She talked a little bit about her two daughters, the way healthcare here works and then offered to go with me to Eva's first doctor's appointment, at which point I burst into tears. I looked up at Cole and he was tearing up, too. This woman we met for only 45 minutes has already been so giving with her time. We are both pretty amazed by her generosity and kindness. So Dilva will be back again tomorrow evening. As much as I dreaded our online Italian lessons before leaving the USA, I am excited to see her! I'm going to try not to cry this time. I don't want her to think I'm a total nut job. But Dilva just might be my very own Italian angel. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Funicolare to Brunate

Our adventure for the weekend took place in the small town northeast of Como. Brunate is a quiet community situated in the pre-Alps surrounding Lake Como. To reach Brunate, we took a quick ride on the funicolare (cable car), which departed from right here in Como. Round trip tickets were very inexpensive (5.10€ each) and the ride took less than 10 minutes total up the steep mountainside. Originally our plan was to ride up in the cable car, take lots of photos and eat a picnic lunch before hiking back down to Como, following a zig-zag trail along the funicolare route.

We wound up hiking up even further from the station to the Alessandro Volta lighthouse... Since we're living in Piazza Volta, we feel a special connection with this great man who invented the battery... Let's face it, having no batteries would make modern living very difficult! :) We also knew the views from the lighthouse would be spectacular. Sooo up we hiked. Up. Up. Up. We took a trail to the lighthouse and then the more smooth, paved road back down. The views were breathtaking, looking down over Switzerland, Como and Cernobbio. (More about Cernobbio here.) The small town was a refreshing stop, since Como is usually pretty crowded on the weekends; Brunate was extremely quiet and peaceful.

Taking a breather on our hike up... 
Here's a video clip of our view once we arrived at the lighthouse. Today it was a little overcast, so the sky is not crystal clear. That might also have something to do with smog from Milan... at any rate, the view was pretty awesome. Here's a quick look around:

To the right along the shoreline is Cernobbio, to the left out of the frame is Como.
From the lighthouse, you couldn't see much of Como - there were trees in the way. 
Zooming in on the shoreline of Cernobbio.

Who parks their motorcycle on the back porch? Italians do. :) 
Another creative parking solution... The homeowner was watching us take this photo. No shame.
I guess this is the only way you can own two (identical) cars living in a town with no parking spots.
I wonder if that hydraulic lift uses Parker hoses. Hmm!

I had a lot of fun playing around with my camera. It's easy to get carried away when you are surrounded with tons of beautiful architectural detail and an endless array of flowers and plants. :) 

We walked down from the lighthouse and had better views of Como at a lookout point just down the street from the funicolare station... Here is Como! 

There's our place! Can you see the statue of Volta? 
After returning to the funicolare station we decided hiking down to Como might be pushing our luck a bit... Eva was wonderful, but it had been raining on and off - and we didn't want to get soaked on the way down. We ducked out of the rain for a coffee and some delicious lemon cake before riding the funicolare back into Como. (I think this little restaurant was our first celebrity spotting, but neither of us knows exactly who the celeb was... oh well!) 

Here's one more Eva pic for the grandparents. :) She was a sweetie today, happy as always. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

FOUR Months & THIRTY Years!

It's 12:02 as I begin writing this... so Cole is now officially 30! :) He says he's been robbed of seven hours by Italy. Poor guy. If we were still in the USA he'd be 29 for a little while longer...

Miss Eva is now four months old. She is a blessing in so many ways. Each day we see more and more of her personality - lots of babbling, reaching, grabbing, rolling around and smiling. Her sweet little voice and smiles just make us melt. This time last year we had recently found out I was pregnant (finally!). I will always remember telling Cole late one night a few days before his birthday. I can never keep a secret. When I first realized we were expecting I thought I'd keep it to myself for a little while and then tell him on his birthday. Fat chance. Instead I ended up waking him immediately. What a tearful, exciting and overwhelming moment that was.

These two are my whole world. Many, many people told us (before Eva) how becoming a parent teaches you to love in an entirely new way - a way you never thought possible before. Of course they were right. Our love for Eva amazes us and definitely has strengthened our relationship and love for each other. Watching Cole as a father has really been incredible.

Our shipment was delivered by the movers Saturday, so the apartment is a complete and total disaster right now. Instead of getting organized, we took a long walk around Como. Makes sense, right?! :) This town was a busy place today. Many stores here are closed on Sundays, but that didn't stop people from enjoying the weather... We mostly walked around the lake. I think it'll be our new favorite route - we went much further than we intended to go. There was amazing scenery the entire time!