Sunday, September 14, 2008


Right after we got back from our trip, we finally got our air shipment from the US. After three months, it was difficult to remember what we'd packed. The usual suspects: bikes, winter coats, golf clubs, scrapbooking materials. My personal favorites: scuba gear and little packages of Kleenex. A: what the hell am I going to do with my scuba mask? Even if somebody were to push me into the Maas, is it likely I would have my scuba gear on my person? B: I shipped Kleenex across the world? Did I think that Dutch people wouldn't have access to facial tissue? More likely- I was too cheap, and couldn't bear to throw away perfectly good Kleenex. Just think of all the children in Africa without Kleenex! On a positive note, the Dutch are famous for being cheap, so I fit in just fine.


Our last three days were spent in Venice. Venice was a little like Disneyland- very crowded with visitors and expensive food. The streets are very narrow, and maps are nearly useless. Each time we found our hotel instead of a dead end canal, it was a happy accident. Walking around Venice, I did not feel romantic. I felt a little claustrophobic and always lost (hence, pissy and impatient), half expecting to see David Bowie as the Goblin King. But, Venice of course does have a unique beauty, so we're glad to have seen it.

Venice street


Smiley Doorbell:

smiley bell

On top of the Duomo:

Duomo Venice

We also went to the island of Murano, which is famous for its glass:


Murano boat

...and that's all folks! Nick and I are back in Maastricht now. Our car liked Italy so much it couldn't leave!


After Florence, we headed to a bed and breakfast near the town of Cortona for two days. (This is in the wine region of Tuscany.)

We had a great time doing very little.


We took an Italian cooking class- we learned to make bread, ragu, tiramisu, and gnocchi!


The owner had a few dogs and a kitten who would play with us when we ate dinner outside. The dog's name is Dante, he's still a puppy- the mischievous look on his face cracks me up.

Dante and Patricia

There were so many highlights on this leg of the trip, but here is the big one: a hot air balloon ride! We had to get up so early to watch the balloon fill up (and help, sort of) and lifted off about 7am. We took off from the lawn of the B&B, and it was very loud- we woke up the other guests. Here they are taking pictures of us...


Our own version of "Under the Tuscan Sun"... take that, Diane Lane!




We also went to one vineyard and winery called Avignonesi and had a tour. It was amazing, especially considering our limited basis for comparison (ahem, great wines of Minnesota). We learned about things like planting vines in a hexagonal pattern like the Romans did, and a few of the DOC regulations for the region.


Everybody who visits a Tuscan winery expects to try the Vin Santo, a traditional sweet wine of the region. Well, here's the rub: Avignonesi has (apparently) an amazing Vin Santo. If you're lucky enough to preorder it, you can expect to pay about 200 euro ($300) for a small 375cl bottle. The Vin Santo is produced using some special one of a kind yeast called "the mother" that was a wedding gift to the Avignonesi family during the Renaissance times. It's kept in barrels for 10 years, during which time the mother is quite picky about temperature, light, etc. So needless, to say, we didn't get to try the Avignonese Vin Santo. God willing, this red Vin Santo will be opened in 2017 at some party with the top wine critics in the world and sold in exchange for a small country.

Vin Santo

And we picked fresh figs from the tree!


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Milan and Firenze

We took off from Maastricht on Friday, Aug. 29 and drove to Milan. The following Sunday, September 7, we flew from Milan to Eindhoven and then took a cab to Maastricht. Where did the car go?! It's actually still in Milan. We stayed in Milan one night and intended to drive to Florence. The car wouldn't start, so there was a bunch of drama, which included me standing in front of a tow truck in the middle of a Milanese street so the Romanian driver (who didn't speak English or Italian) would wait for a damned minute. The car drama and ensuing phone calls with the Dutch lease company put a little undercurrent of stress on the whole trip, but at least we made it home! The big lesson is that we ought to learn how to drive a manual. Milan itself wasn't particularly notable. We saw the Duomo and la Rinascente (fancy department store) and the train station..... where we bought tickets to Firenze after learning that there were zero automatic cars in Milan. Florence was beautiful, and we had a fine time walking around, shopping, eating gelato, etc. K, now for the pictures:

What Nick discovered while I popped into yet another shop:


Child's truck?


We also went to Pisa and climbed to the top. The climb was quite exhausting, you can really feel the lean, so it's funny to see how the steps are worn on either the extreme inside or outside of the step.