Sunday, August 28, 2011

La Sagra in Ponte Alla Chiassa

First, I must preface this by saying I have an amazing set of Italian family here around Arezzo. I call them my "cousins" because it's easier than figuring out and explaining the exact details, but I also call them that because it is how they treat me. It doesn't matter that we are a bit distantly related, they treat me as immediate relatives. And they have taken Andy into la famiglia and told him that he, too, is now a Carnesciali. They are the best hosts, and the sweetest people. (They also really make me miss my family and cousins back home in USA--love you all so much.)

Summers and falls in Italy are full of "sagre" or festivals. Often they focus on a certain food or drink, but offer full meals of great food and a fun sense of community. My cousin Luca and his family live in Ponte Alla Chiassa, a small town about 10 minutes north of Arezzo. This weekend Ponte Alla Chiassa was hosting a sagra, and Luca invited us to attend it with his family and his girlfriend Martina. One of the specialties of this sagra was a pig's nose. Yes, as food. I did not try it, but I was daring with a different type of food!

You stand in line, order and pay for your food, and go sit down at a table with your ticket. The tables are long, bench style tables under tents. It is crowded, and the service takes a while, but that is part of the beauty of the sagra. It is about community and talking with those around you, having a great time.

Here is a picture that shows an example the table area. This was later on, so not as crowded as the peak eating time.

Andy and Luca ordered pizza with prosciutto, I ate maccheroni, Martina ate trippa, Chiara and Francesco ate antipasti and steaks... There is a large variety of food, and you can't* (for the most part) go wrong!

Here is my maccheroni. As you can see, it is not what we think of when we hear macaroni in the US. It consists of long flat noodles topped with meat sauce. (Note: there are other forms of maccheroni in Italy too, but this is the type I have eaten at two sagre.) It is tasty with good flavor, and filling. I made Andy eat about half of mine. (And his pizza was delicious too!)
I was also told I act like a northern Italian because I eat my salad before my pasta. In Tuscany the order usually goes: antipasto, pasta, salad, meat (and then dessert if there is some. or fruit for dessert.) I got used to this last time, but haven't broken my American eating-salad-first habit yet.

Martina ordered trippa. In Florence, it references the cow's stomach, often pressed into a sandwich. But in this case trippa is cow intestines. It was a peasant's meal in the past, while the rich got to eat the actual meat/muscle off the cow. Andy and I both ate a bite of trippa. It tasted good, but the texture was a bit chewy for my taste. I am glad I tried it though!

Luca's parents, Babbo Carlo and Mamma Ambra, bought us four desserts to share and sample. They were all delicious! Clockwise from the top was blackberry, jelled fruit with some cream, chocolate and apple. Andy and I were asked our favorite, but it was an impossible decision. The pastries were all so good!

In addition to food, the sagra also hosted music and little carnival games. We played this and Martina won a little cow toy.

A lot of Italians are intrigued by cowboys, the Wild West, Indians, etc. I already knew this, but it was revealed even more when I saw them dancing after dinner. You know how Americans take classes and learn how to do foreign dances such as the tango and salsa? Well, they were dancing intricate square and line dances to country-ish music and songs from the movie "The Last of the Mohicans." (Note: when we were at a restaurant/bar last Thursday night we also danced to Cotton Eyed Joe and Oh Susanna, so it doesn't seem to be a completely rare occurrence.) It's so funny and cool.

We went back to Luca's house and I got to meet his new (new since last time I was there) cat Billie. He is very playful and reminded us of how our cat Nero acts. That's the funny thing, we named our cat an Italian name and Luca named his cat an American name! Anyways, Billie is very cute and we were glad to have a little kitteh time.

We went over to Chiara and Francesco's house and hung out with some of their friends, Luca and Martina. We got to drink homemade limoncello produced by Chiara's parents. It was delicious! We had a wonderful time and are so grateful to call these people our friends and family.

Andy, Devon, Martina, Luca

Francesco, Chiara, Devon, Andy

Ciao Arezzo!

On Monday, August 22nd, around 11:00 am, we departed Rome. Or at least we were supposed to. We had gotten to Termini early, all ready to hop on the train and head to Arezzo, but the binaro (the train line) number never came up on the board. We stood there, assuming they would put it up soon (and forgetting there was a board that listed where it usually comes in. Not always right, but would have helped us.) Well, 10:58 passed and the train went off the board, as in it had departed, and we were left standing in the station. Some stress, a few tears due to the stress (or was that just sweat? It was so stinkin' hot it was hard to tell), and a phone call later and we decided to take the next train two hours later to Arezzo. Our tickets were general ones for that route, so we didn't need to do anything to switch them.

I should have known the ride was going to be an adventure when we had to walk out to Termini's new terminal, 1 East. Far, far away, dragging our heavy suitcases. Before departure, a man came on board with a bucket of cold water, juice and beer. We had a bottle of Gatorade and a bottle of water, and thought there was no need to buy more. Spoiler alert: we would regret this decision immensely.

There was supposedly air condition (it worked for about 10 minutes as we left the station) but trust me, we didn't feel it. It wasn't putting out any air, and we were stuck on this train for the next 3 hours. The guy across from us smelled like B.O. and would get off at some of the stops to smoke, before sauntering back on across from us. Lovely mixture of smells, I tell you. I tried to spin it into a positive, thinking that if I hadn't walked enough pounds off in Rome, I sure was sweating them off on this train. (Makes room for more gelato??)

Halfway through our journey, with about an hour and a half left until Arezzo, we were making sure to ration our water. We had brought some bread and prosciutto onto the train to make sandwiches for lunch, but knew we could not eat because the saltiness of the prosciutto would only make us more thirsty. I decided that if we made it through this train ride without fainting, we definitely deserved a spot on the television show "I Shouldn't Be Alive." There was a reason this trip only cost us 12 euro each. I was sweating, exhausted, and convinced I wasn't going to make it.

But, alas, we did. We got into Arezzo, walked over to the main part of the station, and met up with Lucio, OUA's local student coordinator person. He recognized us because I had "Oklahoma colored luggage." These bags have been in my family for years, and even since attending OU I have never made the connection that they were crimson-colored. We grabbed our stuff, walked over to our apartment and starting moving in. Even after 5 long flights of stairs with heavy luggage, and no air conditioning in our apartment either, I was ecstatic to be off that train.

Tuscany in general is beautiful, but I love Arezzo. I was so happy to be back, and so so glad that this time my husband could join me. (Thankfully, he loves it too!)

We have a community rooftop terrace in our apartment building!

Here is the view of the beautiful countryside from atop the city in the park, Il Prato.

There is beauty all over. I love it.

We are blessed and grateful to call this place home for the next four months.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Computers Can Be Creepy

Dear Internet Ads,
Although I am impressed you have figured out I am in Italy, I do not wish to emigrate to the United States. I am, in fact, a citizen, and do not require a green card to return home. Thanks though!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rome-ing Around (part 2)

In Rome, you feel like a true gladiator. Your life is a constant battle. A battle against foreign vendors trying to sell you random toys, knock-off purses, roses, singing cat dolls, rabbits whose ears hit each other and have bells, bubble guns, laser pointers and more. Most spoke English to me, but a few chose Spanish thinking I was a Spaniard. Interesting. I, however, would just say "No grazie." If they were pushy, I would start saying random things in Russian because I knew that was a language they likely would not speak, and they would leave me alone. At one point, a guy near the Colosseum started following me trying to push roses in my hands so I had to loudly say "Lasciame sta!" or "Leave me alone!" That did the trick.

Rome has its vendor problems, but the monuments and scenery outshine anything else. On our second day we walked past Trajan's Column, walked to the train station to purchase our tickets for Monday's ride, walked to the Vittoriano, Colosseum, everywhere. Took the metro twice because our legs were far too tired to keep up all this walkin' business.
(Trajan's Column)

There are beautiful buildings hidden around every corner.

Il Vittoriano

Il Colosseo

We walked and walked some more. We came to the ancient ruins kitty park. That is not the official name, but sounds good enough to me. Basically, in the middle of Rome there is an area of a bunch of old concrete building ruins, and 50-100 (in my estimate, but probably even more hiding) cats live there. The city pays for them to be vaccinated, etc, and they are available for adoption. There was one that looked just like our kitteh. We miss him a lot, it was fun to see his Roman twin.

At night we did a tour of the Colosseum. Uh-may-zing. It is so beautiful at night. Gorgeous, incredible. Even cooler being inside of it at night. They had an exhibit on Nero going on, so it was fun to learn about this man, our cat's namesake.

We also got to go down to the bottom of the Colosseum and visit around a bit. Didn't get to walk out in the middle, but it was amazing to think we were standing where lots of animals and gladiators used to stand, the history of the ground upon which we were walking.
(Nerone, our cat!)

On Sunday, we woke up and walked some more! We walked out to the Villa Borghese and visited the Galleria Borghese (full of paintings and sculptures, particularly some of my favorite Bernini scuptures). We went to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch, in order to make Andy's parents jealous. Walked around the city more, saw the kitties again, explored. We bought some bread and cheese and prosciutto for dinner, and planned on using it for lunch on the train the next day.

Our last morning we ate breakfast once again in the beautiful Piazza della Rotunda next to a nice fountain and the Pantheon. We saw a movie being filmed a block away. We boarded a taxi and headed to Termini to start our next adventure in Arezzo!

More photos on my tumblr.

Rome-ing Around (part 1)

I was disappointed with our taxi ride to Rome. I had told Andy about last year when there was a traffic jam on the highway, and everyone was just ignoring lanes, fitting through whatever small spaces they could find. I saw some of the worst Rome driving. (See what I mean with this video.) Unfortunately, it was a pretty smooth ride.

We made it to the hotel around 11. We figured our room wouldn't be ready yet, but amazingly it was. Even more amazing, they had upgraded us from the annex of the hotel to a room with a view of the Pantheon.
It was perfect! You are right there in the middle of everything. It was about a 5 minute walk to Piazza Navona, a little more to Campo Di Fiori, 15-20 to Colosseum, etc. Lovely. Except it was deathly hot. I think I was sweating more there than I was in Oklahoma.

The nice thing with Rome is that they have public water fountains all over! You buy a bottle of water once, and just keep refilling it whenever you need. Saved us so much money to be able to drink out of those. I will miss them when in the rest of Italy.

Our first stop after dropping our bags off and cooling down for a bit was Tazza D'Oro for coffee granita! It is so delicious. Shaved ice/coffee stuff with some whipped cream (too much but I scrape it off haha). Perfect way to cool down a little.
Then went to Mercato in Campo Di Fiori and got some pizza.

Then we walked. and walked. and walked. Probably about 10 miles that day. Had a lot of fun exploring Rome. Andy got to pick up country #4, Vatican City (yes, it does count as a country). We went all over, and then visited many of the places again at night.  The Four Rivers Bernini statue below.

More of the Piazza Navona.

We stopped at Tre Scalini and picked up some tartufo (cherry wrapped in chocolate ice cream and chocolate shavings).

And then we passed out, so tired!

For more Rome pictures, check out my tumblr.

Jetting Over the Atlantic

We said goodbye to our families after breakfast at Original Pancake House (Dear Features Fam Eating Fanatics, visit this in Dallas or where ever you find one. yum!) and going to the airport. My bag was 49.5 lbs and Andy's was 49, packed almost to the limit. We flew to Chicago (one of the shortest flights you will ever ride) and then to Rome!

Enjoyed reading about football and how OU is going to dominate this season. But was sad when thinking about how I won't get to see the games front row in the stadium.

On the way back from London we will be on a 777, but for this flight we rode a 767. I forgot how there is a pretty big difference. There was so little leg room (and that's for me, so I feel even worse for Andy!) We flew with the UCLA Women's Basketball team, they were doing some tournament and tour in Rome. (While walking around Rome we also saw the UConn team.) The team was friendly, but also quite loud in a variety of ways. #1 - The Bear. This girl snored so loudly, it was crazy. We thought there was a grizzly on the flight at first. #2 - While I'm trying to sleep, a player and manager in the row behind me are having a discussion about religion and God. I wake up, kinda turn around to give a friendly but pointed "you are quite loud!" look to them. They apologize, but continue at the same volume! Didn't sleep much, but oh well--I'm going to Italy!!

At one point during the flight I had a dream that I was playing volleyball. I went to dig the ball, and my arms flew up hitting my tray and waking me up. It was pretty funny, and Andy was so confused.

Dinner was the same as last year besides a different entree. Felt bad for the Italians on the flight eating the ravioli because it was no buono. Check out the creamy salad dressing and its motto "Pour it on!" #thisiswhyyou'reobese

And the last picture, a beautiful sunset over the Atlantic.

We arrived in Rome, went through passport control, picked up our bags and walked out the door. Yeah, you know how in the US you have to fill out the entry form, claim whatever you are bringing into the country, they might check your bags? None of that. Customs is just at the exit, where you either stop by an office and the floor is painted red, or you walk through the green zone, out the door and into a taxi.

Devon & Andy

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Beginning

Andy and I are leaving two weeks from today (add 50 minutes and two weeks from right now to be precise) for Italia! We will spend a small honeymoon in Rome and then head to Arezzo where we will be living for four months. I cannot wait to return to Arezzo, and Andy is so excited to get there. We are starting this blog so our friends and families can keep track of us since cell phone use will be pretty minimal.

Sure, I know that travel blogs are overdone these days. But we're still going to do one. Not to promote it and say "Hey! You! Look at all the cool stuff we are doing!" but because so many people have asked us to keep one. If you're not interested, I don't want you to read it. But if you choose to read it, I hope you enjoy. We will post stories, photos and more from our travels this fall.

Devon & Andy
(or Dandy as the Features Family likes to call us)