Monterosso al Mare in Pictures

The first part of our summer vacation was spent exploring the villages of the Cinque Terre National Park in Italy. The original plan was to hike from village to village, but as some parts of the trail were closed, we ended up hiking some days, and making use of the highly efficient train system on others. I do have a lot of thoughts on Cinque Terre in general, but to start off, I’ll be posting a brief synopsis of our visit to each town, along with photos. So enjoy!

Monterosso's beach in New Town

Monterosso’s beach in New Town

Monterosso al Mare is the northernmost town of the five Cinque Terre villages. We hiked there from Levanto (more on that later!), and stayed one night. The village is split into two parts, the old and new sides, and we spent our evening exploring the new side after we ate dinner. We wandered the beach and promenade, enjoying the quiet evening atmosphere. As we learned, the Cinque Terre villages nearly empty at night, but are no less lovely.

monterosso al mare2

The beach at night is perfection…

monterosso al mare3

…but watch out for lounging couples!

monterosso al mare4

Rides at rest.

monterosso al mare5

Samoyeds forever!

We slept like rocks after our night of driving and day of hiking, but were up bright and early to head to the next village. The second day dawned much cooler so swimming was out (for a bit, anyway), and instead we took some time to wander the streets of the old side of town.

The most-photographed rock in Monterosso al Mare.

The most-photographed rock in Monterosso al Mare.

View from the promenade.

View from the Old Town promenade.

Monterosso alleyways.

Monterosso alleyways.

Italy in a nutshell.

Italy in a nutshell.

Shops setting up for the day.

Shops setting up for the day.

Balcony color.

Balcony color.

The quiet beach in Old Town.

The quiet beach in Old Town.

 

Have you been to Monterosso al Mare? What did you think?

Italian Month: An Antipasti

Ah, July. You are here, which means our summer vacation has already come and gone. The good news is that we were able to spend all last week eating and drinking our way around Italy from Cinque Terre National Park to Lake Garda. It was glorious, but I have to apologize to anyone who will be heading that way. Sorry kids, but there is no seafood or wine left. We consumed all of it, and our food babies will therefore be named Francesco and Francesca.

Since I’ve got quite a lot to talk about from this vacation (plus 1300 pictures from just last week!), not to mention our trip to South Tyrol back in May, I thought I’d make this month ‘Italian Month’ on the blog.

For today, I’d like to start off with antipasti… something that will hopefully pique the interest of my dear readers. I thought the best way to start would be with the first picture that I took from each trip. So without further ado…

The first order of business when we arrived in South Tyrol was to stretch our legs after the drive. We walked from the village that we were staying in to the nearby town of Dobbiaco/Toblach (most towns have both an Italian and German name), and this was the view as we came into Dobbiaco.

Dobbiaco/Toblach

Dobbiaco/Toblach

Mmmmmm… mountains.

Last week Sunday, after our loooooong drive, we arrived in Levanto on the Italian Riviera. The first glance of that gorgeous blue water had us bouncing around the car like dogs all the way down the mountain.

The beach in Levanto

The beach in Levanto

After almost three years of no real exposure to the salt air and sea views, I can’t even tell you how good that felt. If only we had our swimsuits on and ready to go!

I’ll leave it there for tonight, but there will be more to come!

So, what do you think… which place appeals more?

Can I Get a Thumb Press?

Or a finger cross, or a knock-on-wood, or whatever you prefer?

As I wrote in my last post, I am eagerly awaiting a letter which will enable me to pick up my new residence permit. My last appointment was on December 12th, and the woman at the foreigner’s office said it should arrive in 2-3 weeks. Tomorrow is the absolute last possible day that the letter could arrive, we could go to the Amt, and we could still get away in time for the New Year. Did I mention that I’m dying for a vacation? Because I am.

Last night we were sitting here googling cheap flights and AirBNB possibilities, because we thought we could maybe even fly somewhere if the letter had arrived today. Which it didn’t. I’ve been creeping out the window watching for the mailman like a hawk. Or a dog. (Incidentally, the same way we lurked in the window while waiting 2+ hours for our pizza to be delivered on Saturday night.)

So tomorrow. Please, please, pretty please (or pretty bitte) let it get here tomorrow. 2014 was a good year, but it majorly lacked in the vacation department… and I need to see this…

santa lucia1 toscana…immediately if not sooner.

 

So virtual folks… press those thumbs, please. And if anyone happens to see a Deutsche Post person with a letter for me… tell them to get a move on!

2013 Recapped

Some bloggers are kind enough to post regularly, and keep their readers up-to-date on all the goings-on in their lives. I…. am bad at it. December was chock-full of things to do at work, things to do at home, things to do out and about, and so here we are with more than a month between posts. How time flies when you’re having fun. Or doing mountains of paperwork… could go either way in my case. But luckily I’m nursing a massive hangover from a little too much New Year’s celebration last night, so post time!

Since 2013 is coming to a close, I thought I’d take a cue from every other blogger out there, and try to figure out what in the world I’ve been up to all year. So hop on into your time machines and let’s journey on back…


January:

We rang in 2013 in Tuscany with hiking, sight-seeing, and eating more than anyone should probably ever eat. Thankfully we even saw the sun in Italy, because we supposedly had the darkest January on record back in Germany. It was looooong and dark.

February/March

I have nearly no recollection of February or March. I’m guessing the weather was still crappy and I protested it by watching too much bad TV. In good TV news though, my episode of House Hunters International finally aired, and Courtney and I didn’t seem like total spazzes, much to the relief of friends and family. 

April:

The clouds lifted and we celebrated with some weekend drives to the Franconian Switzerland.

May: 

Germany came out of hibernation, which meant it was time for my balcony to get prettified. I also found the cutest Gartenhaus in history.

We took another drive to the Franconian Switzerland, where I made a tiny friend.

Across the street from the horses, we visited the Felsengarten Sanspareil. Today it’s a forested park filled with huge rock formations, a natural theater (above), and wandering paths, but in the 1700s it was a pleasure garden.

Katie, my old Prague friend, visited from the States over BV’s birthday weekend. We took a big group beer hike, and Katie made friends with some locals.

June:

May ended with us on a plane bound for San Francisco. We had a great time visiting my college friend Aaron, before we hopped another plane to spend a few days in Las Vegas with my friend Courtney. We wrapped up the trip with a week in Wisconsin. We did some hiking, visited German history at Old World Wisconsin (above), and I stood up in my friend Angie’s wedding. I even managed to not completely botch my Maid of Honor toast, thank goodness. At the end of June, my great-aunt and great-uncle stopped in Nürnberg on their European river cruise, and we gave them the local tour.

July: 

In July we visited my friends in the village and their ever-growing menagerie. The goats always provide some entertainment if the kids, rabbits, and cats are too boring for you. We took an accidentally long hike and found this crazy purple field, before we spent the evening at a local wine fest which could give Oktoberfest a run for its money in the crazy department.

Another weekend was spent hiking in the Allgäu, where I found one of my happy places. With marmots!

August:

I turned 30 in August, and decided the only possible way to deal with that number was to run away from civilization for a few days. We drove to Berchtesgaden, spent a day at the Königsee, and then the next few days hiking up and down the Watzmann. We also hosted a small barbeque with friends to celebrate, lest anyone think I’m an anti-social weirdo. 

September

Of course, September means Oktoberfest, and this year I even made it there on opening day with the ladies. It was such fun that I even went back a few days later when my buddy Karl was visiting us for a week. He charmed our table mates and pledged to come back as soon as possible. We might even get him to buy some Lederhosen before the next visit…

BV and I also celebrated our first anniversary, and prepared for moving in together. Somehow I seem to have acquired a lot of stuff for a person who moved abroad with two suitcases…. 

October:

I officially moved out of my apartment in October, and in with BV. We also took a trip up to Gladbeck for a family party, I got to meet a bunch of his extended family, and learned that dance parties can go all night even if I can’t.

November:

 BV and I took an impromptu trip to Brussels and I absolutely loved the city! We will definitely be going back, because we didn’t get a chance to do all the museums and touristy things we had planned on. 

One thing we did manage to do was drink a lot of tasty Belgian beer, including this one for the pretty price of €15 per bottle. Thankfully it was delicious, and got us bonus bar snacks. They were very necessary as the beer has an insane 10.2% alcohol content.

The reason for the Brussels trip was a concert, and it was great show! I’ve loved Jimmy Eat World for years, but never got a chance to see them live until now. It was well worth the drive to Belgium, so thanks guys for the excuse!

December:

December was spent buried in a sea of paperwork, and hunting for additional work for 2014. I came up for air a few times though. My village friends visited Nürnberg for an afternoon at the Christmas market, and a week later I visited them (and goats) at their new place outside Regensburg, so we could do a little cookie-baking.

BV and I got our Christmas tree and the tree man even remembered us from last year.

Work finally ended and I got to spend some time enjoying the city. Christmastime in Nürnberg is really nice, but I’d advise against coming on the weekends….

BV and I spent our second Christmas together with three days of family celebrations. We hosted his dad and brother on the second day and I introduced them to some exotic American specialties… or, biscuits (thanks for the recipe Allie!). 

We ended the year at our favorite Greek restaurant in the city, eating and drinking far too much. Clearly far too much, as I’ve spent most of today horizontal. Ouch.

Looking back at all this, 2013 was a pretty darn good year. Here’s hoping 2014 is the same… and best wishes to all of you reading! 

Happy New Year…. any favorite moments from 2013 to share?

Brunch in San Francisco

One of the most-discussed things in the expat community is food. What you can get, what you can’t get, and what you’re going to have for your first meal whenever you head home. Technically brunch was our second meal upon arrival in San Francisco, but since my stomach didn’t know what country it was in when we got there, I only had five bites on our midnight burrito run. Those five bites were delicious, and I’m already regretting not having been able to eat more of it. Damn you stomach and airplanes and jet lag!

Saturday was our first official day in the States, and we headed out for a leisurely brunch. My friend Aaron was our gracious host in SF, and he promised to take us to one of the best places in town. Off we went on the train, passing about a thousand other options on the way. I had no idea what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to arrive at Zazie to see at least 50 people waiting outside! It’s such a popular place that reservations are pretty much out the window.

I didn’t get a good crowd shot, but you can see a guy awkwardly standing there waiting, as well as a girl waiting to get her name on the sign-in sheet. In the doorway, the manager in the white belt is checking names off of the sign-in sheet. This is how it works: when you arrive you add your name and headcount to the sheet and then you wait. You wait, and you wait, and you wait. We were a group of three, and two was the magic number for the day. He must have called out the names of two dozen couples who had signed in and then left before their turn. Sucks to be them if they just ran around the corner to get a coffee! 

We must have waited at least an hour, but at least the people watching was good. Finally it was our turn, and we were escorted to a table right in that front window. I was parched at that point from our long stand out front, and was oh-so-happy to see a magically refilling pitcher of free water on the table. Welcome to America! Woo! Water! 

But more importantly…

Hello, Bloody Mary, my old friend. I’ve missed you so. Aaron claimed that they had a Bloody Mary at this place that came with tiny sliders on sticks in it, but I didn’t see this magical unicorn. 

The menu was pretty awesome, full of classic breakfast items with crazy twists. (Or at least crazy to someone who’s been in Germany eating nothing but sausages for the last thousand years.) I finally settled on their gingerbread pancakes, with lemon curd and bosc pears.

And because my stomach had finally joined me in California, I got home fries too. Word to the wise… ask how big things are first. You could choose 1-3 pancakes, and I went with two. One would have been more than enough because as you can see, they were huge, and THICK. Lesson learned. Yet another one of those times when you want to eat something so badly and just can’t do it. They were delicious though. Since Nürnberg is famous for its gingerbread, I feel like this would go over well here.*

BV opted for the french toast with an orange cinnamon butter, and it was also fantastic.

My only complaint is not about this restaurant… it’s a general complaint in all American restaurants. We weren’t even finished eating when the check arrived, so then we felt a bit hurried. But the line outside was still there, and we even witnessed two girls sneaking in and stealing a table. They were kicked back out to the curb pretty quickly, but it’s clear that Zazie is in some major demand. I don’t know about the rest of the time (and Aaron hadn’t been there for anything besides brunch), but the menu looks good so I’d be interested to hear if anyone has been there! 

If you go….

941 Cole Street
Oh, just a side note: 
If anyone has been trying to leave comments lately and had problems, please drop me a line via email. I was forced to put the captchas back on due to a ridiculous amount of spam comments that wouldn’t stop. If anyone has some advice on how to curb those, please fill me in! 

*Hear that local restaurants? Hop to it!

Gone Hiking: A Light Hike

In between meals and visits to Tuscan cities, our vacation included a good bit of outdoors time. In retrospect, that was WONDERFUL, as one of my students told me today that we had less that twenty hours of sun in all of January. How rough is that? 

The original plan was to do a New Year’s Day hike, but unfortunately the weather was a bit gray and wet. Instead we postponed a few days and waited for the sun to come back out. The chosen destination was the Croce di Pratomagno, or the highest point of the Pratomagno mountain range, near Arezzo in Tuscany. 

It’s an easy hike, along a gorgeous rolling ridge with views of the Tuscan hills giving way to the countryside below. We took a slightly easier route, driving most of the way up the mountain on a very windy road that only made me slightly carsick. I would also recommend having a lot of faith in your car to make it up that road in winter, as the last bit is unpaved, and there was a lot of water as well as snow/ice as we got up to the top. The climb from the parking area to the summit was the steepest part, and a bit rough straight out of the car. Needless to say, our legs were stretched pretty quickly. We didn’t have an exact plan for the hike, and just wandered along the ridge for about an hour and a half. Then we turned back, went back to the summit, and then wound our way along the side of the hill back to the car.

To the summit:

Northern mountains in the distance: Photo courtesy BV

Photo courtesy BV

Crazy snow at the top: Photo Courtesy BV
Croce di Pratomagno: 1590 meters
Summit Cross

 A long walk on a long path:

Great light: Courtesy BV

And on the way back to the car….

Clouds rolling in: Courtesy BV

Friends far ahead…
And one BV behind.
Pictures of pictures: Courtesy BV
He took this one too. I’m in there somewhere.

I just think this is dramatic: Courtesy BV
Back down at the car park.

As you can see from the pictures, it’s not a tremendously high or steep climb. I think you can walk for a pretty long way along the ridge, and the trails that join it as well. I got pretty whipped on the way back, but I think that was something to do with all the heavy food we’d been eating the last few days. Plus being that it was January, I hadn’t exactly been doing a lot of outdoorsy/physical stuff in the previous weeks. That was recipe for one tired Heather.

After the hike, we did a half-hearted search for an open restaurant, as one of our group members was ravenous and craving pasta carbonara. Unfortunately for all of us, it was mid-afternoon and if you’ve been to Italy you know that mid-afternoon is NOT the time to try and find real food. You’re better off grabbing some bread and hoping that holds you over until everything reopens for dinner. So be warned! 

Since it’s not a super-hardcore hike, I wasn’t able to find a whole lot of information as far as directionals, but if you want some info on the Pratomagno, you can check this out.

 
If you’re in the area, and are interested in a nice day outdoors, I’d check it out. 
Any other suggestions for good hikes? Italy or elsewhere?

Italy: Artsy Accomodations

It’s cold and snowy here in Germany, and I’m on the dawn end of an all-nighter due to some pressing paperwork. That is a perfect storm of blah, so we’re going to step back a few weeks and talk some more about Italy today.

Not a bad view on a January morning.

You already know that we ate some fantastic food over our New Year’s vacation, but today I’m going to give you a little peek into where we stayed. The accommodation was about as far from a typical hotel as you can get, but in this case it was not a bad thing. Some friends of BV operate a Ferienwohnung on the side of a hill in Tuscany, so that’s where we stayed. 

Dining area in our house

A Ferienwohnung is a ‘holiday apartment,’ and they have three or four of them on the property. BV and I stayed in the largest one, which had a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping area for at least five people, and the biggest table. This meant that all of four of the shared meals were held in our house. 

We traveled with some friends, and their apartment was a bit smaller, and would only sleep two comfortably. All the apartments are heated by wood stoves which have some major pros and cons. Pros: they smell good, they get very warm, and you can throw all paper garbage right into the oven. Cons: they smell a lot and so will your clothes, and as my friend said, “it’s like a test baby.” Meaning that you have to get up every two hours all night, or you will have a very cold wake up call. Tuscany in January is much warmer than Germany, but still pretty chilly at night. Brrrr.

All the houses were furnished in a mish-mosh of objects, from the dishes to the bedding. Even the tiles in the kitchens and bathrooms were a mix of “normal” tiles, to pieces of mirror or mosaic tiles. (I slacked… I forgot pictures. But the bathroom floor was fascinating). There was something interesting to see everywhere you looked in the houses. If you didn’t bring anything to read, there were tons of books from previous guests (as long as you didn’t mind reading in German), and even some board games that had been left behind. Schwabach Tycoon, what?? Who knew.

Can you see me in the door decor?

Hand-painted accents were everywhere.

But if you’re in Tuscany, you don’t want to hang out in the house, right? Well if you thought the inside of the flat was interesting, you were in for a treat outside. My old sculpture professor would have called it “found object art,” and that’s about all I can say. 

Lots of cairns. Loooots of cairns.
What vacation doesn’t need a swing?

That’s the front of our house in the background.

These jugs were all over as well.
Outdoor dining area as art (those glasses are glued down).
Enormous nativity scene

Tibetan flags featured heavily as well.
View back up towards our house. Two more are behind the trees.

Oh, I miss that sun.

So that’s a glimpse into where we stayed. This kind of a place probably isn’t for everyone, but it’s an experience to be had. So if you are into Tuscan hillsides, wood stoves, found objects, good food, and don’t mind driving 15 minutes up a potholed dirt road, this might be your kind of place. German skills are encouraged though, just as a warning. There are a lot of stories at the top.