Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What not to do when in Rome

We have been on the road for four months now, and other than crazy driving adventures and the run in with the Czech police, our travels have been pretty un-eventful.  We have seen some pretty spectacular countries and sights, sure - but no real ‘Lisa’ stories that would embarrass me for years to come.  I’m sure you have heard some of them like, serving raw strawberry pie to my in-laws, burning my hair before the Christmas dance - with peek-a-boo heals and nylons that would fit a giraffe, or the time I made a million batches of tea-biscuits for a retirement party at school, only to realize they 'may have contained nuts' – you know those kind of ‘Lisa’ stories.  Everything had been going pretty much as planned on our trip….until this morning, that was!

Yesterday, we reluctantly packed up the CRV, said goodbye to Sarah and Fabio, and the beautiful Tuscan countryside, and headed for Rome.  I am always a little apprehensive on travel days.  We have stayed in some beautiful spots and I am waiting to arrive in a not-so-beautiful one, it will come I’m sure, but not in Rome.  We arrived at our cozy little trailer in a gated community, greeted by our lovely hosts, two baby Saint Bernard’s, and a delicious Italian lunch, what a treat!  We got settled and headed to the grocery store.  Again, nothing too eventful, except for the fact that we noticed the parmesan cheese and coffee had security tags.  Similar to the exploding ink thingies attached to the clothing at home.  We thought that was kind of weird.  Both items were only about 11 euro, so why such high security?
Thanks Franco and Maro for the delicious welcome lunch!
High security seems to be the way of life here in Italy.  Everyone has gates, dogs (usually big, loud, and more than one) and stone fences around their property.  Even our trailer sits on the corner of a lot, which has a locked metal gate.  You need to use the key to enter the property and to exit.  The windows and doors also have metal bars, decorative ones, but still bars.  After seeing the security tags in the grocery store and reading some notes from our hosts (to watch our pockets and not to venture into some areas at night), we were starting to realize we would have to be a little extra cautious, while in Rome.  We were prepared for that. We knew this trip would take us to places where we would need to be more aware. 

Having taken all of this into account, we still felt quite safe in our neighbourhood, and this morning we all ventured out for a run.  It was spitting rain slightly when we left, but nothing we couldn’t handle.  It was fairly warm, and since we were not venturing into the city today, we needed to get some form of exercise.  After a half hour, we circled back to drop the girls off while Mark and I continued on.  The roads were quite something, lined with large trees and huge country homes.  We passed the horses grazing in the fields, the heard of sheep munching away on the fresh grass, and woke up every dog there was in the neighbourhood. 
Mark enjoying Franca's tiramisu…yes he ate it right out of the dish! 
About fifteen minutes from home, I realized I had to go to the bathroom.  Now for me this usually means trouble.  There is nothing like a good run to get things moving, if you know what I mean.  I had been in this situation before, and it usually didn’t end well.  Mark knew the signs right away, he picked up the pace and headed back to get the car, to pick me up.  I figured with Mark’s quickened pace, I should be back at the trailer in about 11 minutes.  I could hold it for 11 minutes, surely.  I continued to walk on slowly.  After what seemed like eternity, I checked my watch, still six more minutes. 

“I can do this, walk slowly, breath deeply, he will be here shortly.”

I turned down the road towards our place, and continued walking…still no Mark.  I had heard a car alarm in the distance, maybe he had trouble with the CRV.  He should be here by now.  As I walked further, I started to think that my surroundings were not familiar. Surely, I would have noticed this ornately decorated gate. My heart started beating a little faster as I realized I was on the wrong road.  The rain also decided to pick up and was now a full-fledged down pour.  How long had I been walking down this road?  I checked my watch, it read 0. I hadn’t reset it after the last 10 minute increment.  It couldn’t be that long, could it?  Oh boy, I really had to go to the bathroom now.  Where was Mark and where was I?  I didn’t even know the address of where we were staying.  Our hosts had lead us to the trailer from the train station by car, in the dark, as the road was not marked on the GPS.  I didn’t even know the last names of our hosts.  As I tried to quicken my pace to the main road where I had turned off, a man in a jeep passed me.  I could see the brake lights through the pouring down rain, then the reverse lights.  As the car wheeled back beside me he asked, in Italian, if he could give me a ride.  Sure, I thought to myself - if I knew where the heck I was going!

Before you continue reading, I must let you know that I was raised with caution, not to accept rides from strangers, especially in foreign countries.  But all of your brain cells stop working, after you have been trying to hold off going to the bathroom in your running tights, for well over 20 minutes, in the pouring down rain.  I hopped into the jeep and told the fellow that I was lost (what was I thinking?)  Then I asked if there was another road that looked like this one near by.  He told me that all of the roads looked similar, but in a matter of minutes I was safely back at the gates to our trailer.  No harm done, right?  Except for the fact that Mark was still out looking for me, and the slight problem with the key mentioned previously.  You know the key that you need to get through the gate, both IN and OUT!  The key that Mark had! I couldn’t believe my luck, I could see the bathroom a few feet away, but could not reach it.  It started to thunder.  Mark would be wondering what had happened to me.  Surely he would know that I had made a wrong turn, he’s been married to me for seventeen years already!  I wondered how long he would continue looking for me.  He was a patient man, I could be standing outside the gate with my legs crossed for another twenty minutes, easy. 

The girls explained that Mark had already been back twice by this point and was out combing the neighbourhood again. We started to run through options as I was doubled over in pain, outside the gate.  Did Dad take his cell phone?  No.  Was there a ladder in the shed that I could use to climb over the gate? No. 

“Mom, are you OK?”

“Yes, I’m fine honey, (Oh my GAWWWWD…I'm totally NOT fine!) I just have to go to the bathroom, very badly” – breath, breath, breath.  I hadn’t breathed like that since labour and delivery…please Mark, come back soon, please…

The time ticked past slowly as I practiced everything I could remember from Lamaze class.  I tried to distract myself by having a snack of fresh berries from the tree, as the girls kept calling over the gate to me. Probably not the best thing to do while I was waiting, but I had to keep busy.

“Mom, we are making you a hot chocolate to warm you up, do you want a sweater?”

No, I want a toilet, a port-a-potty, an outhouse, ANYTHING, I thought to myself.  “No girls, (breath breath breath), I’m OK, (panting as my face turned blue), Dad will be here soon (where on earth was Mark!) thanks, though...”

Finally I saw the CRV in the distance, Halleluiah, Mark was back.  I didn’t have any time to guage his mood or to apologize, as I raced through the gate into the bathroom.  Mark listened to me through the bathroom door as I explained what had happened.  He had gone back to where he left me, circled around, headed back to the trailer once already, couldn’t find me and headed back out looking for me.  He wondered if I had been picked up, I had certainly scared him.  He even started to check out port–a–potties in the area! 

“What…?  There was a port-a-potty out there? You are kidding me… right?”

He grabbed the camera to try and capture the weather; it had started to hail.  Thank goodness I was in the shower and not still wandering the streets of Rome!

“Really…there was a port-a-potty a half a block from where you left me, and I ran right past it?”   

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Running to Eat in Italy.

I woke this morning to the sun shining through the arch shaped windows overlooking the Tuscan countryside and pinched myself.  Yes it was real, I was actually here, in Tuscany!  You have heard about my romantic ideas of afternoon tea in England and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, well…. I read Eat, Prey, Love too, and have watched several romantic movies set in Italy.  Tuscany has been on my bucket list for a long time.  Finally, I was in Italy, sitting beside the wood burning oven, listening to the wind blow through the olive trees.  I can’t believe I just wrote that!

Our magnificent view.
We are staying in a villa on an olive farm.  They are just coming to the end of the olive harvest.   As I sit here typing, our hosts are out picking in the fields. We hope to join them later in the week.  It is not everyday that one gets to go olive picking!  Fabio told us that they have fresh pressed olive oil, the colour of the green walls decorating the kitchen. I can’t wait to try it; we picked up some fresh bread in anticipation.
Our home for the week, I loved the marble sink and drying rack for dishes above.
An olive tree in the front garden.
I exercise to eat… so after the cookie, chocolate and cheese factories in Switzerland, and now Italy… it meant running everyday – a lot!  Especially if I was going to be dipping bread in pure calories!  The time seemed to tick past quickly when running in the hills of Tuscany.  The wind was blowing, the sun was shining, and the farmers were out working in the fields.  The vegetation was unlike anything I had ever seen.  Foilage lined the dirt road with various coloured berries, and acorn trees were abundant. Right outside the door of the villa is a pomegranate, almond, and of course, many many olive trees.  There are gates and fences around the properties here, even in the country.  We have to ensure we close ours so the wild boars don’t get in and make a mess of the garden.  Again, I can’t believe I’m writing this stuff! Thankfully the gate was closed today as it headed off a herd of cattle that had escaped, only to send them back up the lane to meet Ally returning from her run.  I’ve never seen a more surprised Ally.
A pomegranate tree, right outside our door.
The acorn tree hangs over the patio.
Lunch included lupini beans (which my friend Miss Rosanna introduced me to), left over Gruyere cheese from Switzerland, fresh grapes and crackers.  One can’t complain about that, especially after enjoying Nutella for breakfast, thus the need to run!  Oh well, we are in Italy after all!  We enjoyed delicious homemade pizza that Ally treated us to last night, as part of her French studies.  While shopping for groceries, the girls couldn’t get over the rows and isles devoted to pasta.  We have a fairly extensive selection at home, but nothing like here in Italy.  Amazing.  Later in the week we will head into the local market for more goodies to enjoy.
Ally making us pizza. yummy!

Right now we hate to leave our cozy little villa, so we will spend some time getting caught up on school work, writing and enjoying the countryside.  Throughout the week we will venture into Florence, Pisa and Siena.  I’m sure we will add many more delicious meals and treats to our adventures here in Italy, after all, we have only had gelato three times – not nearly enough!  Until then…I’ll keep running.

Our outdoor classroom!
We put on a little concert for Fabio, Sarah, Zoe and Jack.  The girls danced and the
pipes sounded beautiful in the hills.
This photo with the front door open, captured the character of our delightful hosts.  Fabio and Sarah were so
welcoming and kind.  We thoroughly enjoyed; our stay at Tamignano,  getting a glimpse into their lives on the farm
and, the most exquisite olive oil we have ever tasted.  

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Dancing in the Garden

We started off our Italian leg of our stay in Venice, what a way to begin!  It was amazing and described by a friend as, “the perfect place to get lost in”.  We took a water bus (vaporetto) around the outside of the island, then ventured into the interior along the narrow, winding streets.  We tasted feasted on gelato and pizza and admired the architecture, masquerade shops, and beautifully coloured glass.  Although we tried to resist shopping, we picked up a few leather purses, ok maybe five.  I have been really good on this trip so far, so no judging!  The canals were a buzz of activity and we got a kick out of the striped gondoliers on their cell phones. Somehow that just didn’t seem to fit our picture of Venice.  (Heather, Katrina and Sherry Lee – they were playing Candy Crush!)  The weather was cool which made the air fresh, not smelly like many had warned us about.  It certainly was magical, romantic and everything I could have dreamed of and more.  We are going back, not tomorrow, but one day!
Wow, what a sight!

The parking lot in Venice.

Another beautiful shot.

Another one of Mark's selfies to add to the collection.

Venice at sundown was also spectacular.

Arrivederci Venice!
After exploring Venice we woke early to get packed up and hit the road for Tuscany.  When we stepped outside the front door of the estate we met Luigi, one of the residents living year round on the property.  He was enjoying his breakfast with the chickens that ran wild.  Rita and Carlos, the couple that managed the property, also came out to bid us farewell.  Luigi was able to speak fluent English and Italian, so he was able to translate for Rita and Carlos. Just before departing, Mark offered to play the bagpipes and the reaction and conversation that took place was amazing.  
The chickens in the garden.

Adding another place to the list of countries Mark has piped in.

Luigi jumped from his seat and started dancing with Rita, and they thoroughly enjoyed watching the girls perform the Highland Fling.  Although we didn’t speak Italian, it was easy to understand what Rita was trying to convey.  The musical interlude lengthened our good-byes by an hour.  Not quite long enough for Luigi, Rita and Carlos though.  They wished we could stay longer; Luigi wanted Mark to play the pipes on the canals in Venice (can you imagine that?) and Rita would have liked to plan a party for friends and family on the estate, to hear the bagpipes. They were thrilled with the music in the garden, begged us to come back, and couldn’t believe the good fortune Monday morning had brought… and either could we.
Dancing in the garden!

Beautiful Rita!

Luigi wanted to be sure to hold part of the pipes for his photo!

Outside Tenuta Zuccarello Estate near Venice, with Rita, Luigi and the family.

We promised to say only good things to Miss Alessandra the owner of Tenuta Zuccarello, about Luigi, Carlos and Rita, and that was an easy promise.  Rita was worried about us posting the photos of her dancing in the garden, but I think everyone would agree the spontaneity and joy that was captured was wonderful to see.  Luigi, Rita and Carlos are among the many people that have made our travels exceptional. We were truly blessed to have met them.  Luigi, we hope that you will translate and share this with Rita and Carlos for us.  Thank you so much for touching our lives, the memories are everlasting.  Arrivederci!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Photo Journey

At the risk of sounding too cliché, I'll let the pictures do the talking about our visit to the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland.  To be honest, I am feeling a little under the weather and not quite up to my chatty self.  A nasty sore throat has been with me since Berlin, and I can’t seem to shake it!  BUT…I need to get a post out for my demanding fans!  Actually, I kind of like that you subtly remind me of how long it has been since I last wrote.  It makes me feel wanted!  So without further adieu, here is a short commentary from yours truly.  I certainly cannot do justice in words to our breath taking experiences here anyway!  I hope you enjoy our photo journey.

Our wonderful host Luc, in the Czech Republic, created a walking tour of Prague.  It was amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed our day in the city, and our time spent with him.

The Astronomical Clock.  At noon the clock comes alive. Saints
can be seen dancing in the windows at the top.

Mark and I on Charles Bridge.

Another view of Charles Bridge, I can't imagine how busy it would be in the summer!

All along the bridge are brass images of Saints.  It is believed that if you touch the plate, you will be
blessed by the Saint.  It was incredible the number of people touching the plates.  You can see the affects of people's hands above.  Incredible.

The John Lennon Wall.

Attaching a lock to a bridge and throwing away the key is a sign of enduring love.  This has
become quite popular in Europe and is believed to be compromising the integrity of the bridges.

A view of Prague.

Charles Bridge at night, even more beautiful.

A marionette shop we visited.
In Austria we were treated to a tour of Salzburg by an old family friend, Louisa.  We took a ride up the funicular railway to the castle, snacked on "Mozart Balls" chocolate truffles and laughed until our sides hurt.  Thanks for the wonderful day, Louisa!

The view from our chalet in Austria, breathtaking!


More beauty!

What more can I say?

Another 'love' bridge in Salzburg, Austria.

Mozart's birth place.

The view from the bottom of the funicular, we ventured up to the castle.

The view from above.

Get your tickets for the Sound of Music starring, the world travelling Mitchells!

Mark had to pipe in Austria too!
 Switzerland was absolutely beautiful.  We started off with visiting friends we had met on a volcanoe in Iceland.  Hanna, Patrick and Nina prepared a wonderful meal for us and Hanna toured us around Shauffhausen.  

Our wonderful friends we met in Iceland, Patrick, Nina and Hanna.

Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in mainland Europe

A view of Schaffhausen.

Quite the building, check out the paintings!

We visited a cookie factory,

a cheese factory,

and a chocolate factory!  What more could we ask for?

A beautiful restaurant in Leysin, Switzerland.

This photo was taken during a walk in Leysin, Switzerland.  Chilly but oh so beautiful.

What a beautiful shot captured by Mark.

The sides of the mountains were covered in grapes, in Switzerland.

This photo was taken in Zurmatt, after a cog train up the mountain.

The Matterhorn at a distance.

This picture almost looks photo shopped, but it wasn't!

The Matterhorn, a little closer!

We left the girls perched on this rock while Mark and I continued the hike up the Matterhorn.
We made it to 2000 metres above sea level.  It was quite chilly up there!

Another one of our hikes in Leysin, just around the corner from our chalet.  It was amazing how warm it was
even though there was snow on the ground a little further up.

All of the cows in Switzerland wear these enormous bells so they can be heard when they are in the mountains.

We boarded a 'car' train to travel through the Alps to Italy, so cool!