Tag Archives: Italy

Our Trip To Europe: A Recap

After 9 plane rides, 8 train rides, 7 hotels, 1 AirBnB rental, 8 cities, 5 countries, 5 different languages, 3 currencies, more than 60 meals in restaurants, and 26 days of traveling, we have returned home from our trip to Europe.

Our adventure began in mid-June with a full day in Cinque Terre, Italy, where we hiked between the villages of Monterosso and Vernazza, ate pizza and local pesto, and sunbathed on the beach. We loved the peach, butter yellow and sunkissed pink colors that made up the landscape of this iconic beach town.

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From Cinque Terre, we took a train to a small village outside of Venice called Arqua’ Petrarca to attend Alina and Alberto’s wedding. The setting in the middle of the Italian wine country couldn’t have been better for this Ameican-Italian wedding. The meal at the event lasted four hours, not including appetizers, fruit or dessert, and the wedding itself lasted nearly 12 hours, going into the wee hours of the morning. Italian’s really know how to savor the best things in life!

Arqua Petrarca (29)

The best hotel and coffee on our trip was found here. We stayed at Villa del Poeta hotel and had the most incredible customer service we had ever experienced, along with divine Italian coffee. We couldn’t have asked for anything better.

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Our final stop in Italy was Lake Como. We took a cooking class, sunbathed, drank a lot of wine and toured the lake and a village by Ferry.

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Alex’s family was with us on this leg of our journey and we enjoyed getting to spend several quality days with them, especially his Great Uncle Larry and his wife, Jayne, who live in England.

Lake Como (22)

One of the highlights of our trip was the first day we spent in Switzerland where we took the Glacier Express train from the alpine city of St. Moritz to the ski town of Zermatt. We wove our way around mountains, through tunnels and across expansive landscapes dotted with brown and white Swiss mountain homes until we ended at the foot of the Matterhorn in Zermatt.

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My favorite city of our entire trip was Zermatt. Alex and I adore being in the mountains and I loved the small-town feel of the mountain town, as well as being able to look up and stare at a mountain peak as majestic as the Matterhorn. We had an incredible time hiking, taking in the scenery and eating fondue, which was our favorite meal on our trip. The meat fondue {pictured below} is from Whymper Stube and we also had a phenomenal cheese fondue from Restaurant Stadel.

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The customer service in Switzerland and Italy was by far the best in our trip. We were so impressed with the level of care and consideration that every person we encountered in the service industry in Italy and Switzerland had. The hotel we stayed in {Hotel Bristol} was great too!

{my little slice of paradise}

{my little slice of paradise}

The third country in our trip was Spain. We split a week between the bustling, cosmopolitan city of Barcelona and the quiet beach town of Alicante.

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Barcelona provided a lot of culture and tourist activities, a phenomenal wine tour through the Priorat wine region, as well as incredible sangria. Our two favorite restaurants in Barcelona were 15 Nights and Bilbao-Berria.

{overlooking the Priorat wine region}

{overlooking the Priorat wine region}

We were able to relax and work on our tans as we laid out on the Postiguet Beach in the coastal town of Alicante. By this point in our trip we were beyond tired of any type of ham, jamon or prosciutto and were really looking forward to a new type of cuisine. Even so, we had two exceptional meals at La Taberna de Tito and Piripi, where we dined with some new friends, Jose Luis and Conchita.

Alicante

Enter London, the fourth of five countries on our trip. It was a big change going from Spain to London, not just because of the language difference, but the architecture and overall feel of the city drastically changed here. We had the most idea of what to expect in London since there are so many iconic photos depicting the cityscape.

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It was really fun to visit places like Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abby, ride the London Eye, as well as see the bright red double-decker buses and telephone booths.

{view from the London Eye}

{view from the London Eye}

Other than simply walking the streets, the best parts of our trip in London were seeing the Tour de France come through and eating Indian food at Gopal’s.

{part of the Tour de France}

{part of the Tour de France}

The final city in our Euro-trip was Amsterdam, Alex’s favorite. We both loved how quaint the town of 700,000 people was. It didn’t feel crowded or over-run with tourists. The weather wasn’t great at all until our last morning in Amsterdam, but being Seattleites, we didn’t let that ruin our time there. Both of us adored the architecture and structure of the city, where it was situated alongside semi-circle canals. The people were very friendly and we really enjoyed the food.

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We are really looking forward to being able to return to Europe again one day. As Rick Steves says, plan to be back!

Trip to Europe: Lake Como, Italy

The third stop on our recent Euro trip was Lake Como, Italy. This has been an area that Alex especially has wanted to visit, as his great uncle Larry has a home there. Lake Como is situated in the northwest section of Italy and borders the Swiss Alps.

{Bellagio, one of the infamous villages on Lake Como}

{Bellagio, one of the infamous villages on Lake Como}

The lake is massive – something like 30 miles long and 3 miles across. There is an excellent ferry service that provides transportation across the whole lake, which is helpful to get from one village to another, given the size and landscape of the lake. It is hard to describe the beauty of Lake Como because there really is nothing to compare it to. Looking out across the lake you see giant grassy mountains protruding thousands of feet up from the water. The shore is dotted with small Italian villages that hug the water’s edge, not climbing too high up the steep mountainside.

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The water itself was constantly moving, waves crashing on the shore, sounding more like an ocean than a lake. Lake Como is the vacation home to the rich and the famous and has been the stage of several movies, including Casino Royale.

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We arrived in Lake Como on a Sunday evening in the middle of July. The route took us through switchbacks and more than 10 tunnels before we arrived at Hotel Meridiana in Bellano, Italy. It was not the most pleasant of drives, given the topography, but Alex had fallen ill earlier in the day and spent the whole car ride nauseous and vomiting. Thankfully, though, he said the excruciating drive was worth it for the magnificent view we had once we arrived. He was back to himself by the end of the day.

{the view from uncle Larry's veranda}

{the view from Uncle Larry’s veranda}

Since we were all together at Alex’s sister’s wedding in Arqua Petrarca the day before, several of Alex’s family members, including his parents, Nana, Aunt Chris, Uncle Mike, Cousin Emily, Uncle Dave, Aunt Katie, as well as some family friends, Barb and Donna, made the journey over to Lake Como by train to join us for a few extra days. Alex’s great Uncle Larry and his wife Jayne have a vacation home in Bellano, the town we stayed in, and they were able to schedule some time there to overlap with our trip.

{admiring the view from Uncle Larry's house}

{admiring the view from Uncle Larry’s house}

The first full day in Lake Como the rest of the family set out to take a ferry over to Bellagio to check out one of different villages, while Donna, Stan, Alex and I attended a cooking class. As a thank you for helping out with the wedding, Alina and Alberto gave us the cooking class as a gift. We were picked up by Moreno, the owner and chef, at our hotel and taken to his home and restaurant in the next village.

{the outside of Moreno's restaurant}

{the outside of Moreno’s restaurant}

We were greeted with coffee and cookies {aka breakfast in Italy} by his wife and joined about 10 other cooking class attendees.

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The class turned out to be more of a demonstration than a class, which at first I was unsure of, but then Moreno proved to be extremely entertaining and I really just enjoyed watching him do all of the work. He showed us how to make pasta dough, then while that was resting he prepared an herb roasted turkey breast and au gratin potatoes. In the middle of the class we were served a snack of prosciutto, cheese, crackers and bottomless wine.

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Moreno showed us how to make a filling for our tortelloni {tortellini = small filled pasta, tortelloni = big filled pasta}, which consisted of milky ricotta, herbs straight from the garden and a smidge of garlic, but only rubbed around the inside of the bowl. We got to participate in shaping the tortelloni, which was good practice for when I prepare these dishes at home. Finally, he whipped up a butter and leek sauce for the tortelloni, cooked the pasta and served our first course.

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We all loved the freshly made pasta – that was my favorite part of the meal. Shortly after finishing the tortelloni we enjoyed the roasted turkey and potatoes. It didn’t seem terribly Italian but apparently it is. I am looking forward to making that at home.

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One of the other attendees asked him about making a tomato sauce and instead of telling her how to make one he brought out the fresh ingredients and showed us all how to make tomato sauce.

{Varenna, Italy - very close to where the class was}

{Varenna, Italy – very close to where the class was}

Moreno is an extremely genuine person who clearly loves food and making people happy. He is hilarious, so that was just the icing on the cake. We had such a great time in the cooking class, which turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

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That evening Uncle Larry and his wife, Jayne, met us down at our hotel for dinner. We sat together at a long table overlooking Lake Como, watching a storm roll in. Thankfully we all made it back from our adventures before the sky broke loose. There was squall after squall of high winds, fierce raindrops, cloud to ground lightning and loud claps of thunder that kept rolling through all night. I enjoy storms and it’s pretty neat that I can say I watched one roll its way across Lake Como.

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{uncle Larry & aunt Katie at uncle Larry’s home}

Throughout the week both Nana and Larry were feeling very nostalgic and shared many memories of their childhood together. We learned that their father was held as a prisoner of war and after he was released he ended up going to work for his captors on their farm with his family in tow. Nana’s given name was Desalina, which I knew, and her father crossed it out on her birth certificate and changed it to Maria, just like that. I had always thought she changed it when she and her husband moved to the US.

{nana and her brother, uncle Larry}

{nana and her brother, uncle Larry}

We also learned that their family’s surname was originally Iori {pronounced your eye} and they quickly changed the spelling and pronunciation to Yori {pronounced your-ee} after Larry got repeatedly punched in the eye by the Brits saying that his eye was theirs. Alex and I really enjoyed hearing Nana and Larry lament on their childhood stories all week long. We were happy to be a part of their reunion, as well.

Lake Como (22)

The next day was Tuesday and Alex and I decided to take a few hours to ourselves and head over to another village for the afternoon. We hopped aboard the ferry and enjoyed a lovely boat ride across Lake Como to the darling village of Bellagio. Some time when we were aboard the ferry the clouds parted and the sun found its way out. It turned into a spectacular day.

Lake Como (24)

Alex and I loved strolling through the narrow cobblestone streets of Bellagio, poking our head into a few shops and admiring the pink and orange facades that made up the cityscape. Everywhere we turned boasted a view of Lake Como.

Lake Como (19)

Our ferry ride back to Bellano was quite enjoyable. We found some seats on the sundeck and basked in the heat of the day. When we arrived back at the hotel we were greeted by the family outside sunbathing next to the lake. They had all just taken a dip in Lake Como together. We quickly retreated to our room to grab our bathing suit and join them. While we were looking forward to the evening ahead at Larry’s home, we were perfectly content spending as much time in the sun as possible.

Lake Como (16)

One thing I have heard Alex speak of for much of our relationship was his great uncle who has a home on Lake Como. Needless to say, he was very excited to get a chance to see this home for himself. Larry and Jayne’s home is situated up the hill with a 360 degree panoramic view of Lake Como and its surrounding area; it has a veranda that circles the entire house. If I lived there I don’t think I would feel the need to ever go inside. Nonetheless, Jayne has a beautiful state-of-the-art kitchen at her disposal. The kitchen has bright red accents and clean stainless steel furnishings. An Italian’s dream!

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We were spoiled by Jayne’s culinary skills throughout the evening as she continued to feed us small bits to tide us over until the pizza arrived. Would you believe that Italian’s, too, order delivery pizza? We all were enjoying the view too much to want to leave and go eat inside a restaurant.

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The evening was quite lovely. Larry serenaded us with his accordion and showed us photos of some old cars he had restored. We heard more stories of Larry and Nana’s childhood together, as well as how he and Jayne selected the plot on Lake Como. Somewhere along the line a burst of rain came in, and no sooner was it gone, leaving a vibrant rainbow in its shadow. We even got to see a double rainbow for a short time. Quite an evening, to say the least.

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Our trip in Lake Como was a wonderful end to the Italy chapter in our journey. The next morning Donna and Stan graciously drove us across the border to St Moritz, Switzerland.

An Italian-American Wedding: Alina + Alberto

Italian’s know how to eat and they know how to have a party! We recently attended Alex’s sister’s incredible Italian-American wedding in Arqua Petrarca, Italy. Alina’s now husband, Alberto, was born and raised in a town not far from the village where their wedding took place which is what inspired the exotic destination. The newlyweds met in New York a few years ago when both of them were attending graduate school. Alberto had no plans to stay in the U.S. but Alina quickly changed his mind.

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The wedding was a mix of Italian and American cultures and it seemed like it highlighted a lot of the best of the two. The wedding ceremony was a traditional but abbreviated Catholic mass. Alina and Alberto did not see each other until they met at the altar and boy was Alina a stunning bride.

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The church where the wedding ceremony took place was in the quaint town of Arqua’ Petrarca. The church itself is 900 years old. It has a gray stone façade and boasts a lovely view of the town.

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In Italian weddings they do not have bridal parties, so there were no bridesmaids or groomsmen. Alex and I were honored to serve as Alina’s witnesses; however, and two of Alberto’s friends, Giulia and Lorenzo, were his witnesses.

Arqua Petrarca (20)

After the ceremony we relocated to Villa del Poeta, the hotel the Americans were staying and the site of the reception. The reception took place out on the veranda which overlooked the Colli Eugene valley. It was a quintessential view of Italian wine country with the fields of grapevines, rolling hills and small Italian-style homes scattered about the countryside. The veranda was extremely large and dotted with olive trees.

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Upon our arrival at the reception we found two enormous tables covered with plates and trays of appetizers, as well as a cocktail table that hosted spritz {aperol, Prosecco and soda water – a drink that is traditional to the region} and Prosecco. We were overwhelmed by the selection of food. There were probably 30 different appetizers to choose from, including, of course, cheese, prosciutto, breads, bruschetta, fried olives, fried zucchini and some crostinis with various spreads. Everything was terrific.

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We mingled until around 8:00 when we were shuttled inside to begin the four hour long dinner.  Did I mention that the Italians love to eat?

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Our dinner began with a vegetable risotto for the first first course {yes, there were two first courses} and was followed by a delicious ravioli. The first second course was an incredible pork dish with a thick and flavorful demi glaze and the most amazing roasted potatoes on the side. The second second course was beef Wellington.

Alina & Alberto had a bit of a New York theme to their wedding and Alex made their New York Subway inspired seating chart for them - it turned out awesome!

Alina & Alberto had a bit of a New York theme to their wedding and Alex made their New York Subway inspired seating chart for them – it turned out awesome!

Throughout dinner, the Italians kept starting cheers and chants and singing songs to get everyone excited about Alina and Alberto. 

Inside the light-filled dining room

Inside the light-filled dining room

 

After the meal we headed back outside for cake and the fruit course, and of course dancing.

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{Alina with her new nieces, Elena and Alessandra}

Alina and Alberto’s first dance was so fun to watch. They put together a compellation of a few different songs and choreographed a dance. From there, the rest of the reception was a mix of dancing, chatting and random pranks and jokes from Alberto’s Italian friends. It is an Italian tradition to play jokes on the bride and groom at the wedding, and Alberto’s friends pulled out the best ones. They wrapped Alberto up in saran wrap then put a silly hat on his head with a lit candle attached to it and gave the bride a squirt gun to put out the flame {yes this is normal, I guess!}. They also lined up 8 or 10 ladies and blindfolded Alberto to see if he could pick out which foot was Alina’s. Alberto remained a very good sport throughout the evening charades.

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In Alberto’s family no one had ever attended a wedding with a DJ, but needless to say his friends and family sure knew how to bust a move. The wedding wrapped up around 3:30 a.m. when everyone decided they had had enough and were ready for bed.

We had such an awesome time at the wedding. It was so fun to spend the day with my sister in-law and help her get into her dress and go get our hair done together. Everything was incredible!

Congratulations Alina and Alberto!

Trip to Europe: Arqua’ Petrarca, Italy

The second stop on our recent trip to Europe was Arqua’ Petrarca, the site of Alina and Alberto’s wedding, and one of the primary reasons for our trip to Italy. There were around 25 of Alina’s friends and family traveling to the wedding, mostly from the US, but also from England and Chile. All of the out of town guests stayed together at Villa del Poeta, a magnificent hotel in the heart of the small town.

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The hotel is situated mid-way up a horizon of rolling hills and boasts a stunning view scattered with ancient stone-built homes and rows of vineyards. There is a veranda off the back of the hotel that makes you never want to leave.

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Throughout our stay at Villa del Poeta we received some of the best service we had ever experienced. David {pronounced “dah-vee-day”}, one of the owners, was extremely genuine and you could tell how proud and appreciative he was to have us there. Karla, the manager, had her hands in everything. I have never seen a hotel owner or manager be so involved with the day-to-day operations of a hotel.

{Karla assembled trays with espresso filled tea cups and served steamed milk in its own carafe for us to add as desired to make a cafe latte}

{Every time I absentmindedly walked off after ordering a coffee, Karla would bring me a tray assembled with espresso filled tea cups and a carafe of steamed milk for us to add as desired to make a caffe latte}

The food and coffee at Villa del Poeta was wonderful. We enjoyed the inclusive breakfast and espresso, and Karla was constantly keeping our glasses full. Truly the service was one of the highlights of our stay.

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We arrived in Arqua Petrarca on Friday, the day before the wedding. Once we got settled we spent much of the afternoon catching up with Alex’s family. Alex’s parents, his Uncle Dave and Aunt Katie, Aunt Chris and Uncle Mike and cousin Emily, as well as his maternal grandmother {Nana} made the trip from Illinois, along with a good family friend, Barb, and her friend Donna. Additionally, Nana’s brother Larry and his wife Jayne traveled from their home in England to attend Alina and Alberto’s wedding.

Arqua Petrarca

Separately, Donna and Stan, Alex’s parents, took Nana to England on their way to the wedding. They spent three days with Nana’s brothers and their families, whom Nana rarely sees. Nana was born in Farneta, Italy and moved to England with her parents and three brothers when she was a child. Shortly after meeting her husband Larry and having their first child, Christina, they moved to Illinois were they raised their family, while Nana’s brothers remained in England. The Yori descendants had an incredible time catching up and getting to know one another. It was wonderful that Larry and Jayne were able to travel to Italy for the wedding.

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Our first evening in Arqua Petrarca was spent drinking wine and eating pizza. Alina arranged a tour of a local winery for us to attend.

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We all took a shuttle out to the winery together and were offered a tour of the cellar, as well as a tasting. My favorite was the champagne, and I also enjoyed the dry moscato.

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Later that evening, Alina’s friends and family were joined by Alberto’s immediate family and a few close friends for a dinner at a local pizzeria. We were all seated together at a very long picnic table and enjoyed conversations with new friends.

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The dinner, being Italian, lasted several hours and consisted of a few different courses. Everyone ordered their own pizza and was served the same appetizer and dessert. We had a wonderful time getting to know Alina and Alberto’s friends and family before the wedding the next day.

First Stop on our Europe Trip: Cinque Terre

After 22 hours of travel we finally reached Cinque Terre, Italy, the first destination in our 26 day trip to Europe.

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We arrived by train from the Milan airport to the village of Monterosso. When we made it through the train station we were greeted by the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea just in front of us. The sun was shining, there was warm breeze coming off the sea and we both felt a sense of relief to have made it there.

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Both of us had passed the point of exhaustion but wanted to make the most of our first evening in Cirque Terre. After getting settled in our AirBnB apartment rental, we walked down to the town center and found a local pizzeria to dine at.

{the view from our apartment}

{the view from our apartment}

 

We waited in line for about an hour, fighting the locals for a table, then we were finally seated. Our first meal began with a ¼ liter of vino de la casa, prosciutto de melone and fried pizza dough {not sure how to say that in Italian}. We each ordered our own pizza, which ended up being way too much food. Neither of us cared much, though, because it was fantastic and it provided a free lunch for the next day.

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After our meal we decided to take a walk and get some fresh air and treat ourselves to some gelato. We shared a bowl of stracciatella as we walked through the village of Monterosso toward the city center.

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The World Cup was on while we were in Europe and this particular evening Spain was playing. It really made us feel like we were in Europe to see so many people in the streets watching the soccer game together.

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After our jaunt through town we headed back to the apartment. One big hill and 221 stairs later we were moments from laying down in a bed and falling asleep. The instant our heads hit the pillow we were both down for the count.

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Having only one full day to spend in Cinque Terre, we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible. The sun was shining brightly from the light-filled apartment and we knew it was going to be a great day. Our first stop that morning was for cappuccino.

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I accidentally ordered a doughnut instead of a croissant, the first of many mis-orders in a foreign country, but once I tasted it I didn’t regret that mistake. We ate our pastries and sipped our coffee al fresco, just feet away from the sea. It was the perfect way to start our first full day in Europe.

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With full bellies we set out to do the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. In my mind it was going to be a nice walk along the beach. Not so in reality. The hike truly was a hike. We climbed stairs and hills and wound our way across the mountainside, clinging to the cliffs as we moved towards the next village.

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Vernazza looked more like what I had expected Monterosso to look like. When we approached it you could see the village dotted with brightly colored buildings, just like in the pictures I had seen.

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Monterosso never seemed to look like that to me. While there were bright buildings it just didn’t look like what I had expected to. Monterosso is more spread out than Vernazza and the buildings didn’t seem as tall. The beach was what did it for me.

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We spent some time strolling through the sidewalks of Vernazza and admiring the ancient architecture, pink and peach colored facades, the laundry hanging from the windows and the cute boats lined up along the seawall before settling in for a drink and some bruschetta.

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Eventually we made our way back to Monterosso by way of a boat. The rest of the afternoon was to be spent lounging on the beach.

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Our final evening was spent at a restaurant right on the beach where we ordered a liter of sangria {because why not?}, caprese salad, focacce e salami e formaggio {I expected this to be some focaccia with salami and cheese on the side but it ended up being basically a salami and cheese sandwich on focaccia bread}, then trofie pesto (trofie is a pasta that is short and skinny and has the bite of gnocchi, it was covered in delicious pesto, which originated in Cinque Terre). Of course we capped our evening off with some more gelato.

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We were very glad to have gotten a relaxing start to our month-long excursion. Both of us enjoyed touring Cirque Terre but ultimately felt like it was over-hyped. It is a beautiful area but whenever we spoke with someone who had been there before it seemed like they made it out to be the most incredible place in the whole world, which in our opinion it is not. I know I am going to get a lot of hate for that, but it just is our perception.

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Next stop… Arqua Petrarca for Alina and Alberto’s wedding.