Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Big 3, and my Italy Top 5

When Americans think of Italy, the first cities that come to mind are Venice, Florence and Rome. Taking a romantic gondola ride in Venice (which only the tourists do- but it's still fun!), basking in the Italian Renaissance artwork of the museums in Florence, and then walking on the ancient streets of the Roman forum and seeing the famous Colosseum. But why is it that whenever someone tells me they are traveling to Italy, these are the only places they will visit? There is so much more to Italy than just these three cities! Yes, they are fantastic cities and must sees in my opinion, but when you come to Italy take more than just three days and enjoy all that Italy has to offer- not just "The Big 3". There is more to Italy than pasta, great wine, the Colosseum, and the canals of Venice.

Since everyone keeps telling me that they are only visiting "The Big 3", I felt it was time to post about my favorite places in Italy to help shed some light on this amazing and gorgeous country! Here are my top five choices for places to visit in Italy. When I thought back on all of the places we went to last year, and in the past, I decided to base my decision on where I would choose to go if I came back to visit Italy in 10 years. Assuming I would fly into Milan, I would also go to the following places:

5. Liguria
Liguria- It was overcast that day, but still beautiful!!
Liguria- land of crystal blue waters and amazing food! This is where basil pesto originates from, and they have wonderful seafood dishes. I could live on the Mediterranean diet very easily :) It’s impossible to drive on the highway and not be amazed by all of the shimmering seaside towns and the shimmering blue waters. You could stop in any town to find a beach and many Italians escaping the heat of summer (and most likely the heat of Milan). When I think of summer in Italy, this is one place that comes to mind instantly!

Nobel's house in San Remo, Liguria

4. Rome
There are so many things to do and see in Rome that it's almost impossible to get bored! I've been there a few times now and each time we see something new. I think we could spend two weeks in the city, do something new every day, and not see all that Rome has to offer. This is one of those amazing cities where history comes to life, and there is something ancient around every corner. For me, Rome is a must see when coming to Italy!

Trevi Fountain
3. Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a National Park on the Mediterranean in the region of Tuscany Liguria. There are five little fishing villages on the sea and they seem to be perched on the side of a mountain hanging over the sea. The villages are very charming and the water is absolutely breath taking. The views of the sea and the coastline go on forever. There is just something so special about this place and I want to go back every summer for a week of fun in the sun! There are great places to lay out and tan, go hiking, eat amazing, freshly caught seafood, and friendly people with tiny shops selling amazing wine and other things. Cinque Terre holds a special place in my heart and is always a place I recommend when people want to visit Italy. Hopefully they have recovered from the mudslides that devastated a few towns last fall.

2. Venice
Yes, I mock those people that come to Italy just to see Venice, but it's an amazing city! There is nothing like it in the world and may one day be completely under water. The city seems to have coined the phrase "shabby chic". Just by looking at all of the buildings with the chipped paint, faded house colors, and window shutters that seem to be battered by the salty sea air, it's easy to see why people try to copy this look. It's amazing! There are no cars in the city and it's easy to get lost in the tiny streets winding in between buildings and canals. It's as if you are stepping back in time. There are also great museums, glass blowing factories and opera houses in Venice that I hope to go to soon. Also, we hope to get to Carnival before moving home to MN. That is definitely a must see! We planned to go this year, but we just didn't have a free weekend :(

1. The Dolomites
View from Tre Cime, Dolomites
Many Italians don't believe me when I say that I've been to the Dolomites. The Dolomites are an undiscovered treasure that only Italians, Germans and Austrians seem to know about. It's an amazing mountain range in the Alps, north of Venice. In fact, when driving into Venice on a clear day, you can see the peaks of the mountains from the highway. This place is magical! There are rolling green mountain sides and valleys, and suddenly the grass stops and a huge mountain of rock comes shooting out of the ground. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before and the American Rockies just can't compare. Year round this is a place you can go to enjoy the impressive beauty of nature. In summertime there are great hiking trails, and in the winter there are beautiful places to ski. This by far is my favorite place in Italy and I feel that we absolutely have to find time to visit again this year even though time is running short with little Bambino on the way.

As you can see, Florence isn't on my list. Yes, it's a great city and I really enjoy going there, but after visiting a few times, I'm a little tired of it to be honest. There are so many tourists (mainly Americans and Asians) that it's difficult to enjoy the beauty and splendor of the city. After our first trip to Italy, it was my favorite city in the world, now it's dropped on my list. Although, if I did a top ten of Italy it would probably be at #6. And of course, you can't discount the rolling hills of Tuscany, Umbria and the amazing medieval hilltop towns in those regions.

Of course, we haven't been able to visit all of Italy, so there are a few places that I can't count for this top five list. We haven't been to Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, or the rest of Southern Italy. We are hoping to make a long weekend trip this year at some point to see one, or more of these places. Hopefully soon!!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Big Update from Italy!!

I've been thinking about this post for quite some time and I'm so excited to finally write it!! Josh and I have some big news for everyone- we're starting a family!! I'm 14 weeks pregnant and we'll have a little one in mid-September. It's a little crazy to think that our first child will be born in Italy, but everything seems to be working out very well. I keep getting a lot of questions from people, so I'll try to answer them here for you:

Will the baby be Italian?
As far as I know, the baby will only be American. From what I understand, we would have to live in Italy for 10 consecutive years for the baby to be able to apply for citizenship when he/she turns 18. I think the US is one of the last countries to give citizenship to babies born in it's territory with foreign parents...

Did you figure out the doctor situation?
8 weeks
Yes, we found a hospital that is great! They have a team approach like Mayo and there are doctors/nurses that speak English. The name is Buzzi, and I keep hearing that they are the best in Milan. From what I've experienced, I would agree!

Boy or girl?
We're going the old fashioned way and will found out when the baby is born. I keep having dreams that it's a boy though, so that is what I think. We'll see though!

Feeling pregnant yet?
A little- there are times where I get really uncomfortable sitting in certain positions, but I'm still pretty small so it hasn't really hit me yet.

Morning sickness?
Yes. Unfortunately I was nauseous for about three weeks at the beginning, but thankfully I never got sick from it. It was just an upset stomach for a few weeks and felt like the world’s longest hangover! I haven't felt nauseous though for about a month :)

Any cravings?
Yes! In Milan we don't have good Mexican food at our fingertips like back in the States. So I've been wanting Mexican food. This week I've been craving Chinese... go figure. Otherwise, on a daily basis I just crave healthy foods- lots of fruit, milk, yogurt, and veggies. I try to have these every day to stay healthy.

14 weeks
How have I been sleeping?
OK. I toss and turn a lot these days. Partially because you're "supposed" to sleep on your side (I'm used to sleeping on my back), and partially because of the vivid dreams I have. I've read that during pregnancy you have some crazy dreams, and they are right! They aren't scary dreams, just very colorful. Before pregnancy I would dream mainly in black and white with a few pops of color here and there (IE: a yellow bus, a red jacket, the blue ocean, colorful flowers, etc). Now it's like going to a movie inside my head.

How have I been feeling?
Now that the morning sickness is over, I feel great! I have more energy now and don't need naps anymore. Although, I eat an extra snack during the day and get hungry earlier than before. I'm no longer able to run which is a bummer... I was only about one month along when my body started to reject the idea of running. When I ran I got nasty cramps moving up and down my abdomen, that happened a few times. So, now I walk everywhere to get exercise.

Emotions running high?
A little... I've had a few moments when I've broken down and started crying for no reason. Seriously. The first time it happened was when I was trying to make my doctors appointments for my first ultrasound. The woman on the phone was trying to help, but she barely spoke English, and my terrible Italian didn't help. It was frustrating because they kept trying to set the appointment for a day I wasn't available. Eventually we figured it out and got something on the calendar. After the call I just lost it and started bawling! Uncontrollably! It was so ridiculous! Thankfully Josh wasn't home to witness that one.

Ok, that's all for now. Just wanted to share the good news!! We're pretty excited about the upcoming year :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Budapest Part 2

coffee at the Central Cafe before our trip to the Gellert
For the rest of the weekend in Budapest we took our time enjoying the city and its sights. On Saturday we spent the day at the famous Gellert Spa swimming in the pools and thermal baths, and getting massages. The hotel itself is absolutely beautiful with mosaic ceilings, tiled baths, and many pools with varying temperatures. They offer full spa services and it is very reasonably priced. The only downfall was the service at the Gellert Spa. For being world famous, you would think that the staff could at least speak English... Most of the staff members only speak Hungarian. They were all drinking coffee when we arrived, it took 30 minutes to get our tickets to enter (and that was speaking with the lady at the ticket window)... Her computer wasn't working, then the printer broke, etc, etc. When we finally had our tickets, we didn't know how to enter and we wandered around until someone stopped and offered to help us. The experience was relaxing and wonderful, but they need to train their staff to be more helpful, and they need to teach them English since people from all over the world travel there.

the entrance to the Gellert Spa

We all had a massage that day, and poor Josh came away like he was a tenderized piece of steak. He said that a 300 pound Hungarian man gave him the massage, and literally pounded on him at the end. When I saw him later he was in the hot tub trying to relax his aching muscles. The poor guy!

Restuarant 21

I finally bought a hat- it was cold!

After a nice day at the Gellert (I enjoyed it, but next time would go to a different spa), we went back to the hotel and changed for dinner. Josh and I took Marina and Andrea to a fantastic restaurant called 21 in the old town of Buda. We didn't realize until later that it is one of the best restaurants in all of Budapest. Well, we found out why! The service was excellent, and the food was amazing. We had a great time learning new Italian phrases from Andrea, and laughed our way through dinner.

Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel through the lit up city. We stopped for some pictures on Buda Hill before heading back. The city is beautiful at night!!

On Sunday we spent the day with Andrea's friend Peter and his family. Peter was nice enough to be a tour guide for us- we took the UNESCO World Heritage metro system out to Hero's Square, drank a coffee at a nearby coffee shop and spent some time at the zoo where I felt like a little kid looking at the lions, tigers, bears, giraffes, hippos, alligators, chimps, leopards, flamingos, etc. Zoo's bring out the kid in me:) We also saw Vajdahunyad Castle, which is near the park behind Hero's square. The Castle was built to resemble all of the amazing structures that were a part of the Hungarian empire at its most powerful time. Pieces of the castle include the tower in Sighisoara, Romania (we have a painting of that in our living room from when we visited Romania two years ago!), a church in Rome, as well as an Austrian palace, and other structures. Peter also drove us to see St Stephen's Basilica and the Parliament Building. We ended the night around 8pm and said goodbye to Peter, ate some pizza and crashed for the night. We had an extremely early flight to Milan on Monday morning- our flight took off around 6:30AM, and we arrived back at the Bergamo airport at 8AM.
Found another statue!

Hero's Square
The "Founding Fathers" of Hungary- the 7 tribal leaders

We had a great time in Budapest with lots of laughing with good friends, relaxing at the spa, and sightseeing with new friends. I would like to return to Budapest to see some of the museums and the opera house, as well as the other baths, but I'm not sure we will have the opportunity. Budapest is extremely clean, very cultured and has a great relaxed energy- I would highly recommend visiting this city if you are ever in Eastern Europe.

Vajdahunyad Castle

Sighisoara Tower on the left

St Stephen's Basilica

Parliament Building

Friday, March 16, 2012


Welcome to Budapest! It was an early morning...
Looking back at all of our pictures from Budapest I realized that I'm going to need a few blog posts to show you all the pictures! Josh and I went to Budapest, Hungary two weekends ago with our friends Marina and Andrea. This was our first time there, but it was their second time. I found Budapest to have a similar look and feel to Prague, but with a few differences. Both cities have amazing history, architecture, and plenty of things to keep you busy between the old towns and the newer parts of the cities. The energy of the two cities are very different though- Prague has a fast paced, busy feel to the city (which I like). Budapest has more of a relaxed and chilled energy, similar to Amsterdam (I like this too). This could possibly be from the fact that Budapest is famous for its spas and it's amazing coffee shops (and yes... they are real coffee shops, not like the ones in Amsterdam). The coffee culture in Budapest is one that I can definitely embrace! You go to these amazingly beautiful coffee shops in old buildings that look like palaces, eat AMAZING sweets/deserts, and drink excellent coffee. The shops are a place where you can relax and spend the afternoon contemplating life. This is the complete opposite of Milan where you spend literally 2 minutes in a coffee shop standing at the bar. You shoot your coffee, pay your 80 cents, and go on with your busy day.

The market had lots of sausage (apparently Hungary is famous
for it's sausage and this stuff is the "original")

Inside the market- it was awesome! I wish we had something
like this in Milan
Outside of the Cave Church

I have a weird obsession with mocking statues... don't ask
Coffee break at the famous Gerbaud Coffee House

It was super windy and cold that first day and I didn't have a hat...
The old lady had to come out- I was freezing!
On our first day we saw many things!! We walked around town and saw the market in an old train station (or what seemed like an old train station), the Cave Chapel, the Gellert hotel (which we visited the next day), and then we kept walking towards the parliament building, up the opposite site of the river to the Buda Castle which is now a museum but previously was the Hapsburg royal palace, the Fisherman's Bastion, and the old town of Buda. By the end of the day I was absolutely exhausted and we had to take a cab back to the hotel because my feet couldn't handle anymore! But it was a great first day.

The Parliament Building

Looking at Pest from Buda Castle

A really cool fountain outside of Buda
Castle- it was a scene of a hunt

the main entrance to Buda Castle

Andrea found a new car when we were there ;)

The Fisherman's Bastion

Old Town, Buda

A few things about Budapest:
-It is the capital of Hungary
-Budapest was under the Ottoman rule for nearly 150 years before it became...
-The second capital of the Austria-Hungary Empire
-There are technically two parts to the city- Buda on the west side of the Danube, and Pest on the east side of the Danube
-The spas have a Turkish bath influence due to the cities history with the Turks
-The city is impeccably clean!