Sunday, September 30, 2012

Giovanni's Pizza!

According to Cole, one of the main things he and his coworkers discuss is food! They talk about it all.. ingredients, American versus Italian methods, whether or not McDonald's tastes the same here as in the U.S., what "real" pizza is like, etc. That seems appropriate for a country like Italy, where fresh ingredients are plentiful. So everyday at lunch, their conversations center around food... The result? Most of my Italian food knowledge is now second-hand information Cole has learned at work. For example: Cole once told his co-workers at lunch that I made fantastic (I may be embellishing here, but I'm sure he told them it was fantastic) chicken alfredo for dinner. They all laughed. Cold chicken? Is your wife trying to give you food poisoning? Mamma mia! Evidently a creamy sauce like alfredo is just not true Italian food... it's too complicated to be an authentic Italian dish - with too many ingredients. Much of the food here has a small list of ingredients, with simple, classic recipes. We were really excited when Cole's office-mate, Giovanni, who is known for making excellent home-made pizza, invited us over - for pizza! Hooray!

Giovanni and his sweet wife, Anna, may have thought I was a little crazy for bringing my camera and taking photos of him making our dinner, but they were very kind and let me capture the evening. I'm so glad I did! We had a wonderful evening. The pizza was truly fantastic - and Giovanni has even given Cole his recipe. I may get lucky and have a cooking husband by the time this year is over. Maybe we'll even have an Italian pizza party when we return... but let's not get ahead of ourselves. We haven't even attempted Giovanni's recipe yet!

Giovanni added fresh basil from his garden and used homemade olive oil! 
So, you're probably wondering if pizza in Italy is better than pizza in the U.S.A.? You'll just have to come visit and find out for yourself! ;)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sightseeing in Milan

"You FINALLY made it to Milan!" Our tutor, Dilva laughed at us when we told her... because Milan is very close to Como. As in, 45 minutes away. It's taken us months to squeeze in a trip to Milan.

Yes! We finally made it to Milan to sight-see and shop. Our train ride from Como was quick and easy. We had heard so-so reviews about Milan being "just okay." So we weren't in a big hurry to get there and see the sites. We were pleasantly surprised by the city center, including the duomo (cathedral) and Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II, a glass dome covered shopping center and architectural masterpiece. It was a nice, relaxing Saturday afternoon - we didn't have tickets to see Da Vinci's Last Supper (I'm finding it difficult to reserve tickets for that). They allow you fifteen minutes with the painting and are sold out months in advance... Next time we attempt to see the painting, we'll have to plan our trip far, far ahead of time. Instead of following a strict itinerary, we had a relaxing day - stopped at the duomo and wandered through Galleria (Yes! I spun on the bull's balls...), stopped for gelato just around the corner and walked through one of Milan's beautiful parks.

First stop: the duomo... Italy's second-largest cathedral, and the world's third-largest, this was massive and impressive. The duomo is said to have one of the nails from the crucifixion  but it's only moved to be visible once a year. We didn't take the elevator to the top, but you can walk the roof, winding in and around the spires. I think it would have cost around 50 euros to go to the roof, so we opted out. It was free to enter this cathedral and the line wasn't too long. I looked, but didn't see any signs saying that I shouldn't take pictures, so I turned my flash off (a pretty standard request in the cathedrals we've seen so far) and snapped away (respectfully, of course ;). Here are some photos from the interior:

There are many intricate, stained-glass windows throughout.

... and then we saw this guy. (Not the best picture, but I think you can tell..) It's St. Bartholomew, who stands wrapped in a sheet of his own skin. Bartholomew was skinned alive, so a lot of Christian artwork depicts him this way. What a terrible and gruesome death.

We left the duomo and headed next door, to Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II - the world's most beautiful mall! Of course, the stores there were a bit out of my price range, but a walk through the interior was completely free and gorgeous!

In the center of the building there is a tile mosaic on the floor - of a bull, who has no balls. Poor bull. It's said to be lucky for visitors to "take a spin" on the bull. Supposedly the locals will walk through and  stop for a spin mid-conversation, as if it's an everyday occurrence. While we were there, a small group was huddled taking turns - and photos of each other spinning. I don't believe in luck (in my humble opinion, God has got things under control..) but I'm definitely not one to miss an opportunity to make myself look ridiculous, either. :) So I did it - no photos or video, but it gave Cole a good laugh. Here's a really fun video I found on YouTube showing how it's done:

I was all worn out from spinning on the bull, so we stopped for gelato (any excuse for gelato!) at Grom, a popular little shop just around the corner...

We wandered and shopped a little more, stopped for lunch, and just had a generally relaxing day in Milan - a pleasant surprise. The city center was an easy walk from Milano Centrale, so we walked back to the train station before heading back to Como early evening time... we'll definitely be heading back to see more of Milan in the near future!

Cinque Terre - Five Lands

The Cinque Terre region is located on the northwest Liguran coast, and it's an area in Italy that has become extremely popular with tourists... it's easy to see why. After taking a weekend trip to the area, we left in awe! If you're a "bucket list" kind of person, add Cinque Terre to your list! Someday you'll be glad you did. We rode the train, about a four-hour journey from Como - Milano - Monterosso, the town where we stayed overnight.

The five small, colorful towns dot the Mediterranean coast and are connected with hiking trails. Some of the trails are steep and not exactly "baby-friendly." Fortunately, there are also ferries that travelers can take to reach each of the towns. Our first day was spent on the beach, Eva's first sea-side experience! The water was cool, but the warm sunshine and sand were so relaxing! Such a nice day. We finished up by eating fresh seafood for dinner overlooking the coast. :)

On day two, we decided to venture out of Monterosso and check out the other towns in the Cinque Terre. We knew from a short walk along the beginning of the trail from Monterosso - Vernazza, that we couldn't hike with Eva and so we opted for the ferry ride. We rode from Monterosso - Riomaggiore. We then walked along the coastline from Riomaggiore - Manarola. This walk, called the Via Dell'Amore (Walk of Love) was stroller-friendly and about 25 minutes long... Literally, a paved/stone pathway that was a very easy walk. We were rained on for part of the walk, but continued to be amazed by the views along the way. It was gorgeous!

We stopped in Manarola for lunch and coffee - milk for Eva. During our meal, we saw a helicopter fly overhead and commented about how beautiful the views would be from above. We also talked about the possibility that they were flying in to pick up injured hikers. We assumed that any hikers who got injured would have to have been on a more difficult path, but actually somewhere behind us on Via Dell'Amore there were four Australian women injured by a small rockslide. (We thought this happened Sunday, when we were there... but news reports are all saying Monday. So our helicopter may have been sightseers and not a medical trip.) A helicopter came in to transport the women to a local hospital. After returning from Cinque Terre, we later saw several news articles, including this one - here  - with a little more information about the accident. The Walk of Love has been temporarily closed until they can determine what caused the rocks to fall... they are saying it's due to the summer drought.

Along our walk to Manarola - you can see others walking along the right side. What a scenic train ride, too!

A view from the ferry - we believe the rockslide happened just to the right of this walking bridge. 
Bottom line is this: we are thanking God for keeping us safe on our trip... A scary incident, for sure, and an example of how mighty and powerful nature can be. We are so blessed to have had a safe and positive experience! And so thankful that the injured women are recovering. It was certainly news that made us catch our breath - and count our blessings. Life is short and precious for sure.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Truth About Yoga...

Yesterday started out much like any other day - until I remembered that it was yoga day! Yay! I was so excited, full of unrealistically high expectations. Maybe I'll make a new friend! Maybe my new friend will speak English! (Yes, I'm getting a little desperate...) It'll feel great to get back into yoga! This could be "my thing" while we're here... You get the drift.

I'm sure that taking a yoga class in Italy sounds kind of glamorous, exotic and completely awesome. I was hoping for all of the above. What I actually experienced was a bit off of my expectations. :) Kind of a let-down, and a little weird... The class was an hour and a half long. So when I signed up, I was initially nervous that A) I'd look like an idiot because it's been awhile since I've taken regular yoga classes.   And/Or   B) I'd wind up hurting myself.

The entire time, I found myself thinking, "Keep an open mind! This isn't too bad!" I've learned that when you have to repetitively tell yourself that something "isn't bad." It probably is. I'm usually a glass-half-full kind of person, but this was one of those experiences where I just have to call a spade a spade. Beneath all of my unrealistic expectations, my most basic desire was for a good workout... and the toughest movement we made was raising our arms above the head and leaning side-to-side, seven times. Yep, that's it! In defense of Luigi, my yoga instructor, the first course was free - he wanted to make sure I tried it out before paying the hefty fee. And it's entirely possible that I misunderstood his brochure. The class was definitely more focused on relaxation, visualization exercises and breathing than anything else. I was one of three students. The other two were older women, neither had ever tried yoga before. One was a larger woman with an injured knee and her doctor had recommend some physical exercises (assuming I understood her correctly, judging by her gestures and the few Italian words I could decipher when she introduced herself). I'd imagine her doctor wanted her to actually challenge herself a tad. This yoga class is not going to strengthen her knee one bit. Here are some of my favorite moments from class...

For about twenty minutes, Luigi asked us to visualize ourselves sitting in a favorite chair, staring at a computer or TV screen with images flashing through our minds. (He was kind enough to translate bits and pieces of each exercise for me.) Then he began to list body parts. Right this, left that... For a LONG time. The best part for me? Practice with the Italian language - learning which body parts are masculine and feminine, based on sinistro (left masculine) or sinistra (left feminine)  and destro (right masculine) or destra (right feminine). :) I know this exercise was about visualization and relaxation and connecting with your body. I tried. I really did. It just wasn't working for me...

Another favorite moment was the very end of class. Luigi had us quickly rub out hands together and then cup them over our eyes (but not touching our face) to feel the warmth over our eyelids... We did this several times, and it was the one time during class when I had to resist the urge to giggle. Don't worry. I didn't actually laugh - I know that would have been awful! Anybody out there in blog-land know something I don't about yoga? (Maybe European yoga versus American? Or something?) Feel free to comment and educate me! I have gone to enough classes to know that this wasn't the yoga I'm familiar with....

So I'm probably not going to return to another Italian yoga class, but I did get a flier in the mail for Pilates.

... to be continued. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Bluegrass Blues...

Last weekend my hometown hosted the 41st National Flat Pickin' Championships and I had to miss out... an awful tragedy. I am not being dramatic. Missing Bluegrass is like dying a little bit inside. Really! The Walnut Valley Festival, known to Winfield natives as "Bluegrass," to all others as "Winfield," and to my dad as "Big Blue," is an event I refuse to miss. Unless I am out of the country and it's nearly financially impossible (and impractical) to attend. Or one of Cole's cousins gets married that weekend. Why on EARTH anyone would choose the 3rd weekend in September for a wedding is beyond me. (Sorry, Becky!)  :) Some of you reading this think I'm being ridiculous. You're wrong. Others think those are both poor excuses for missing WVF. I know. {Head hanging in shame.} Unacceptable.

Our family started attending the festival in 1998 (right, Mom?) when we moved to Winfield, and I've only missed twice since then. Making me the black sheep of our family... and campsite. For me, the festival officially marks the beginning of fall. I was so excited for Eva to experience her first Bluegrass... tye-dyed onesie and all. So I've been a little down lately. Slightly homesick and just bummed out about other fall things we're missing out on. Like another important one... K-State football. Yay for a great season so far, but each win makes me SAD not to be there... Poor me.

You probably aren't feeling very sorry for me. I'm in Italy, for crying out loud... living La Dolce Vita! (Someone out there is saying... and you don't even have to work! Yeah, yeah..) Don't get me wrong. I am extremely thankful for every moment of this opportunity. We are seeing amazing things, experiencing amazing things. And I get to spend a lot of quality time with Eva. Trust me, I am so grateful! Unfortunately, that doesn't stop me from getting a little down now and then. There's a lot that we are missing out on. Life back home hasn't stopped, and that often makes us wonder how we'll adjust when we return... and everything we left behind has changed.

Now that the 2012 festival has passed, I will let myself think about Bluegrass again.. I honestly have just tried to avoid any thoughts before, it was just too much of a bummer. At least I'm not alone. I know I'm not the only one this week with a case of the Bluegrass Blues. Everyone who was in attendance has them, too... because the 2013 festival already seems so far away and the countdown has only just begun.

Day Trip to Lucerne

Things have been a little quiet around here lately. Cole just finished up his MBA program, as in doneski last Sunday! Hooray! Of course, he didn't actually feel any relief until his final grade was posted. So proud of him! He even got straight A's! We are THRILLED that he is finished and we can "reclaim" our time together...

So his assignments have meant sticking close to Como as he finished up his studies. A few weeks ago, however, we did take a Saturday afternoon drive to Lucerne, Switzerland and spent a really enjoyable day there. The weather was pretty rainy, so we didn't take a boat ride on Lake Lucerne or get to Mt. Rigi (two highly recommended activities in Lucerne). We took it easy and walked throughout town, stopping to see the Lion Monument and Chapel Bridge. Both were very impressive. In fact, Lucerne was definitely our speed... we plan to head back, hopefully for a weekend trip. It was a nice, orderly escape from the chaos that is Italy. :) I say that with love, truly...

On the drive there, we hit construction... it was slow going. Our two hour drive wound up taking closer to three. All was not lost, however! We stopped for "inexpensive" gas and refreshments... Swiss chocolate... YUM!
This little package did not last long.. :) 

One of the "must-see" sites in Lucerne is the Lion of Lucerne, a monument that Mark Twain called, "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world." Truly, it was a beautiful work of art, a monument to honor the lives of more than 600 Swiss guards who were massacred during the French Revolution. The dying lion has a spear through his shoulder and near  his paws are both the Swiss and French shields. 

Our sunny day was about to get really rainy so we walked back towards Lake Lucerne and made it onto Chapel Bridge just in time to avoid getting totally soaked! We also found a STARBUCKS (Hooray!) near the bridge. :) Italian coffee shops are awesome in many ways, but it was nice to see a familiar brand and duck in with Eva for a break from all of our walking! 

Lucerne is known for beautifully restored, old, steam powered boats - a must for our next visit! 

Chapel Bridge covers the river Reuss, which separates Lucerne. The wooden footbridge dates back to the 1300's, but was rebuilt in the 1990's after a fire ruined the original. Along the ceiling of the bridge are around 150 paintings - some of which were saved from the fire and others restored. Quite a few of the paintings had actually been in storage when the fire occurred, so they are originals.

Waiting out the rain... we were entertained by all of the swans and ducks enjoying a shower!  
Of course, Eva kept us busy, too. :) 

I've always been told Niederee (my maiden name) is German... am now wondering if we might be Swiss!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Busy Little Lady

Eva is already SIX months old, and the time has flown! Soon she'll be crawling and we'll be chasing... She can get herself up on all fours already and then she sort of belly-flops to reach for objects in front of her. She still hasn't mastered the idea of moving her knees along with her hands.

Her favorite word is still, "Mamamama." What a sweet, little voice. And she is a charmer, full of smiles for mommy and daddy or whatever stranger oogles over her. She gets plenty of attention from the Italians!

She does eat some green beans and pears... but to look at her afterward you wouldn't think she gets any down! 

We are so in love! :) 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Memories from August!

Here's a peek at a photo book I created with some of the pictures from Mom, Dad, Hannah and Tonja's visit in early August! We took a lot of pictures... I could have made this book twice as long! It's fun to look back on our travels... :) Enjoy!

Create your own personalized photo books at

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Rome {The Vatican}

Our second day in Rome was spent entirely at the Vatican. Including St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum - finishing in the Sistine Chapel. We started out with our handy Rick Steve's audio guides (I know, I know... you're tired of hearing about Rick. :) Haha!) and began the day soaking up the sites in St. Peter's Square.

St. Peter's Basilica is truly a work of art. One of the most amazing things about the Basilica is how enormous it is.. yet there is so, so much detail! For example, there are statues going up into the dome and as they go up, the statues are built larger so that they all appear to be the same size from the floor... make sense? Instead of appearing to be smaller and smaller because they're further away, they all appear to be the same size. Which is kind of deceiving because the basilica is huge, but the scale of the artwork doesn't make it feel as enormous as it actually is. And the mosaics are incredible. All the artwork on the walls (like St. Mark's Basilica in Venice) are made up of tiny chips that create the larger picture...  We climbed to the top of the dome and looked down into the basilica and out over Rome. The view of Rome was incredible, and looking down into the dome gave us a better perspective on exactly how huge St. Peter's is... (brace yourself for picture overload!)

Looking down through the cage at the top - WOW! Those words in navy blue are 7 feet tall. Perspective. 

Looking up into the dome from the floor.

Mosaic tile everywhere...

Literally climbing around the dome - almost to the top! 
Dad with Rome in the background! The view was incredible. 
A view of St. Peter's Square from above...
Wish I had gotten more pictures looking out over Rome with Hannah and Tonja... Hannah was a little intimidated by the height, so she stood back. :) Dad has some good shots, but then his memory card went bad and we lost them. Bummer!

Next up - the Vatican Museum... 

Love this picture... 
We had an awesome dinner after a long, hot, exhausting day! :)