Saturday, July 4, 2015

We practice drinking on the plane and come home - just in time to blow stuff up.

Happy 4th of July! We made it back to America!

Thank God, we made our flight back from Italy. To arrive at our gate in time, we still had to put on a light jog throughout the terminal. Got there about 15 minutes early. Complained about how bored I was having to wait 15 minutes. Word to the wise: Heathrow is a beast. Wear your running shoes.

Per usual we were served several complimentary meals and snacks (and copious amounts of wine) on both flights (Milan to Heathrow, Heathrow to San Francisco). All of which looked absolutely revolting but continued to taste quite delicious.

Flight #1 consisted of a very light lunch. Some sort of sandwich with bacon, a raspberry roll, coffee, and a tube of milk. My first time utilizing a tube of milk.

Tubes of milk. What will they think of next ?!

You would not guess how delicious this tiny sandwich is from it's grotesque appearance. 

Since it was before noon (barely), Doug decided to take a break from the wine and got a seltzer water with ice and a slice of lemon. He requested a photograph of this refreshing moment be conducted. I think Tanya is just about done with our posed and planned photography sessions at this point, as she refused to turn around and partake in these final shoots.

Doug demonstrating ultimate refreshment and hydration on the plane. Tanya not amused. 


Flight #2 some of these Kettle chips that you can't get in America (we snagged 4 bags at the airport).
 

Meal #1 was peculiar.

Crowded. 

I usually select the vegetarian option for the meals (it just seems safer), and again, my choice paid off spectacularly - the veg choice was vegetable lasagna! (I think... it was listed as lasagne, and I'm not sure if the different spelling is a British thing or if this was just a dish of fake lasagna, like Tofurkey or something). Anyway, vegetable lasagna is really, really fucking exciting if you are an avid Seinfeld fan. 

This vegetable lasagna looked a hot mess but was surprisingly satisfying. 

I can only hope that Lasagne is the same as Lasagna. And that I don't have allergens to any of these things. 

Seinfeld Vegetable Lasagna clip, for the sadly uninformed:


There was also a salmon potato dill salad thing. This airline is bold and brave, serving a cold fish salad to the masses! Again, it was good. May I also point out that I was served my second tube of milk? I choose tea over coffee this time.


Peach Melba. I have not heard of this dessert and was a little mortified when I pulled back the tab. Alas, I tried it anyway (my late Grandmother's name was Melba, after all - and I am a fan of Melba Toast, so how bad could Peach Melba be?). Again, surprisingly tasty and bizarre that a peach cake, whipped cream, and raspberry sauce can be served on a plane.

Peach Melba. Also, my thumb a little greasy from that vegetable lasagna. 

 Cheese and bath ovals, also known as "crackers". I liked that the name of the cheese was Butler's Secret. It's fun imagining a British butler serving me a cheese and cracker dish at my expensive London flat, as opposed to an airline attendant on the 5th hour of a 13 hour flight.

Calling crackers Bath Ovals just seems pretentious. 

On to the (coffee or) tea service! Again, Doug felt it was important to document these special poses of him drinking tea and trying to acknowledge other tea drinkers in our isle (they all pulled a Tanya and ignored him, thank god).

Preparation. 

Cheers, old chap! 

Pip pip! Cheerio! 

Ok, that's enough. We get it. A stiff upper lip. 

Sadly, dinner and tea only took up about 1 hour of this 10 hour leg. We refused the 2nd meal they served later (the food is good but there is zero reason to overindulge on it). After going through about half a season of the latest Game of Thrones (I had to stop... no spoilers but - shocker - there was a hugely disturbing scene in GoT and I needed a mental break) and some movies, we finally landed in SF. Uber to the car at Doug's parents house and then the drive home (luckily it was a holiday weekend, so driving thru SF at rush hour proved to be painless). 

It's nice to be home. Since we left, I got two tomatoes (both of which look really terrible and unappetizing) in our garden, and a huge tree full of amazing peaches. 

Welcomed home by our first two tomatoes of the season - both of which looked awful. 

One branch of our peach tree. Please come over and help yourself. 

Are you planning a trip to Italy? If so, here are my three pieces of advice: 

1. Do whatever Rick Steves says. 

Our Cinqueterre Apartment turned out to be a Rick Steves' Recommendation! No wonder it was so bitchin. 

2. Don't waste all your time in line. 

Get the Roma Pass and Firenze Card. Don't think. Just do. 

3. Hike in the Cinqueterre during your last leg. It's beautiful, blah blah blah, AND, it will help make up for all the pasta, pastries, and vino you will undoubtedly consume.  

14 bottles of Italian wine, 34 cartons of  fresh pasta, and 57 anchovies later, I'm 2.8lbs in the black. Thank you strenuous Cinqueterre hikes for ruining my left achilles, but not my waistline. Also, good God, it is time for a pedicure. 

Arrivederci! 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Cinqueterre Day 5 and 5 1/2: International Book Club, Trains, and the Way We Bidet

Our last full day in the Cinqueterre! 

We hiked to the last of the five cities from Manarola today - Riomaggiore. The towns are all pretty similar, but we've officially decided we like Manarola the best. It has two great swimming spots, excellent restaurants, and the hike from Manarola to Corniglia was the most spectacular hike we took. Like all the other hikes, the incline is super steep and it's an uphill battle, but the views are well worth it. 

All of the towns have this interesting monorail system to get produce from the top of the hillside gardens to the towns below. 

View of Manarola and one of the rails. 

The contraption that somebody drives after produce has been loaded up in the carts. 

View of Riomaggiore from the top of the mountain from Manarola. 

After we came back and lunched on some fresh produce from the store (I am actually getting sick of pizza and focaccia - I knew this would eventually happen, the timing is working out well as our trip is coming to a close soon). We took a few swims in the sea and came back and relaxed.

We combined dinner with our monthly book club meeting. Book Club has already gone intercontinental, and now, it has gone international!

Italia Book Club! 

Per usual, we sat outside on our balcony and took in the sunset, went over our Peaches and Pits (a la the Kardashinans) of the Cinqueterre, and reminisced on our Italy trip to date. Since the next two days are mainly travel days, this seemed appropriate and was a nice way to end the trip. Of course, we also went over things we missed about the United States, which helps soften the depression of an ending vacation. There were a few good "misses", including: showers big enough for normal people (you know if TANYA is feeling crowded in a shower they are definitly too small), free tap water, speaking in English, free and abundant restrooms, food with higher fiber content, bigger washing machines, and dryers. So while the vacation was awesome (and our list of things we will miss about Italy far outweights the things we miss about the US), we have a lot to look forward to in our return :)

Our last actual day in the Cinqueterre, we had a restful morning. We walked up to a peak where you can see the water and read and relaxed. Which was important, because to get to Milan (where we are staying the night) we had to take 3 trains and one metro to get to hotel airport.

Every train was different, and high speed rails are still an awesome way to travel, but the best one was when we got our own little cabin with a door and large seats.

Doug, seriously pondering the awesomeness of our private train cabin. 

Door closed. AC on. Keep out, Snack Cart Man!

Saying goodbye to the Cinqueterre

At some point in between stops, I grabbed my first take-away (to-go) cappuccino. There is one size, and one size only:


Vast difference than the US, where you can order a cappuccino in a 20oz cup! I'm actually digging these smaller portion sizes.

As we headed off to Milan, the Wershings left France and headed to Germany. I was missing everybody. Then Kendra sent me this pic. I think that they're going insane from my absence. That, or they're in an un-airconditioned train cabin and just ate too many gummy bears (Kendra is providing some real-time updates).

Wershing Christmas Card, 2015

Upon arriving at our hotel in Milan, we were pleased to discover that we've been 5 for 5 in terms of getting a bidet at all our Italian lodging accomodations.


We made a lot of bidet progress on the trip. Rome, everyone was too scared to try it. We watched YouTube videos. Weighed in on tje towel issues and other ways that you personalize your own unique bidet experience. Traded theoretical tips and tricks to a successful bidet session.

In the end, everyone came to a consensus: bidets are awesome, why does the US not have bidets, how can we change this tragedy, etc. The revolution is coming!

We stayed the night at the Moxy Malpensa in the Milan Airport. We opted to skip a quick tour of Milan (including the Milan Expo) in favor of the additional half day in Manarola.

Fingers crossed we have a successful flight experience tomorrow! :/

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cinqueterre / Manarola Day 4: Rock jumping and prosecco sunsets.

Today we slept in. And by "we" I mean me and Doug, since Tanya is waking up at 5AM and I can't really consider that sleeping in at all.

We didn't really do anything today. It felt great. Had a long breakfast and read and relaxed on the balcony. I needed the rest day (I think we all did) - my legs are pretty sore from the steep incline hikes we've done the past two days.

Walked over to the cemetary before lunch and checked it out. Peaceful and pretty as cemetaries usually are.

View of the cemetary we visited from our balcony.

Grabbed some focaccia breads, pesto lasagna, and fried calamari for lunch. Ate it on the balcony. Not sure if I'm mentioned the view from our balcony yet... ;)

Calamari, very lightly fried - very delicious. 

Pesto tomato focaccia, salami focaccia, and pesto lasagna. 

Swam in the Ligurian Sea again. We jumped off a giant rock twice. And by "we" I mean me and Doug, since Tanya is not jumping off any giant rocks. The sea is super salty. I think.... this might be my first time swimming in a sea?

After some afternoon limoncino (this stuff is good), Doug and I set out for a date night. We hiked up this hill and had a good view of the town and of the sun setting over the mountains. I am failing to grow tired of these sunset views.

We climbed up to the top of this hill for the sunset. 

View of the town, and our apartment, from about halfway up the hill.

Manarola as the sun began to set. 

On our way up, we could actually see Tanya sitting and reading on our balcony. Middle house, shortest rooftop, the third balcony from the top. We decided to scream her name from across the town to see if she could hear us. Doug's yell REVERBERATED throughout the hills. She immediatly looked over and saw us and waved. This was from at least 300 feet (not meters, feet - I'm an American after all) away (about the length of a football field). High on the Obnoxious Tourist scale, but also high on the Hysterical scale, so it was worth it.

Tanya reading from the balcony. Just when she thought she was finally getting a moment of peace and quiet...
 It was hot (and we had just climbed an intense hill) so we cooled down next to this.... structure, with some sparkling white wine we'd bought at the winery a few days prior.
Shade while the sun went down. Admired the town, the view, and the grapes. That bag of cement also made a good backrest. 

The selfie stick continues to come in very handy.


That selfie was good, but, can we make it mushier somehow?

Yes.

Lucky girl!

Also handy: Doug removing the rock from  his butt after 30 minutes of resting (un)comfortably on it.

Happy with the butt rock extraction. Celebrating with the selfie stick. 

Doug watching the sunset. Sans butt rock. 



The sun is done for the day. 

Good ending to another great day in the Cinqueterre.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Cinqueterre / Manarola Day 3: I eat horse while admiring the sunset.

Today we got up early and took the train to Monterosso. There are several hiking trails that connects all five cities in the Cinqueterre, but several of the most direct ones by the seaside are closed because of mudslides. So to hike all the way to Monterosso would have taken all day. Instead, we took the train over (this time, paying attention to the schedule, so our wait was less than ten minutes) to the city furthest away.

Monterosso is more of a beach town. We were there early so it was a sea of empty beach umbrellas and chairs, waiting to be rented!

The beach of Monterosso.  

Not too crowded at 9 in the morning. 

We stayed in this town for less than 15 minutes. We had thought about coming and swimming for a bit before starting the hike to the next town (Vernazza). However, we decided we liked Manarola much better. Not that Monterosso is bad, it's just that, coming from California, we've had our share of sandy beaches (I know, I know) and would have rather spent the day in our "home" town or exploring a different one.

So we took off for the hike to Vernazza. We were told by the ticket office (you have to purchase a daily hiking pass to hike the main trails in the Cinqueterre) that it was difficult and took more than 2 hours. We finished it up in a little over an hour so we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We were also feeling super sweaty :)

View of Montarosso as we hiked away. 
For some weird fucking reason, there is a cat sanctuary along the trail. Doug was excited.

Doug with some cat houses on the trail from Montarosso to Vernazza. 

Cat Chat

A little over half way there, view of Vernazza. 

Doug and Tanya snagged some lunch at a takeaway cafe. Focaccia's of different varieties. This was some of the best focaccia I've had, strangely (since it's pretty readily available everywhere in the Cinqueterre). It was light and fluffy and not too oily. I feel most foccacia I've had is perhaps stale or over-oiled? This was pillowy and delicious and tasted fresh. The pizzas were warmed in an over before handed over.

Best focaccia pizza so far. 

Me? I had a poor-man's leftover packed lunch... of lobster.
My lobster leftovers, Doug's tomato-pesto-cheese focaccia and plain foccacia. All delicious. 

We ate on the rocks next to the sea.

Me and my veiny feet. I think the lobster was causing my blood to pump a little harder this day. That or the hike. 

I did end up jumping in the water for a bit, which felt great after the hike. We took a boat ride back to Manarola. It was about 15 minutes. It was overcast, which is bad for pictures but great for sitting on top of the boat and avoiding a sunburn :)

Doug, hair blowing in the wind on the boat. 

View of Manarola. 

Headed home! 

Got back to the apartment so Doug and Tanya could put on their swimsuits. I sat on our balcony - the sun had come up and we had a great view of the hillside gardens on the opposite side of town (which is really a five minute walk from our hillside apartment).

View of part of the town and some of the hillside gardens. So cool. 

Spent the afternoon swimming in the Ligurian Sea. Very salty.

Ligurian Sea - Dock at Manarola




Rested up (we had really late dinner reservations) and read on the patio. This place is like out of a movie. Every day, 3-5 local Italian ladies come to the area downstairs from our apartment and gab for a few hours in Italian. It's cute and makes a good backdrop to the trip :) Another good backdrop is that clothes and sheets are literally hanging of the balconies in every Italian city we have visted to date. We have yet to encounter a dryer. This is not a holdover from the old times - people are literally hanging their laundry out to dry in big and small cities here. I love it (as I'm a hanging clothes dryer person myself - gotta make good use of that hot Sacramento heat!). So hanging laundry has accompanied us all throughout the trip, too.

The noontime Italian gab session with these local Manarola residents. 

We read and relaxed and grazed the afternoon away with espresso, white wine, leftover focaccia, and leftover crossaints that Tanya had bought in the morning (before Doug and I were even up).

Me, the city, the laundry, the leftovers. 

To kill time before dinner (I'd been starving since 6PM) we walked to the other side around the corner to take in the sunset.

Sunset from the town. 

Fishermen below. 

Tanya

Doug

View of our city during sunset. 

For dinner, we went to Trattoria del Billy, per the recomendation of our hosts again. It has a great backdrop on the patio so the best time we could get for a reservation was for 9PM - they were pretty booked this week. But the views we got during our meal as the sun set to dusk made the late dinner totally worth it. (Plus we'd been eating dinner around 8:30PM anyway). This was the "nicer" restaurant in town, and the food delicious, local, and on-point, but I have to say I liked Aristade and Marina Piccola better.

TripAdvisor tip: request the hot chili oil. It was spicy and good - went great with their balsamic cream sauce. 

View from the balcony where we had dinner. Beautiful, and perfect weather/temperature. 

My babe. 

They had horse on the menu. Actual horse. I clarified to make sure that the translation was accurate. It was. Obviously, I had to order it. I am always down to try a new animal or animal part.

Horse meat, wtih arugula, cheese, pine nuts, and tomatoes inside. 

Doug got the spicy spaghetti, which had a definite kick to it and was really good. You cannot beat fresh made pasta.


Tanya got the local specialty - Trofie pasta with green beans and potatos and pesto. It was good, and we agreed that the pesto we had at Marina Piccola was better.

Trofie alla Ligure

Close up of the horse meat - inside. 

Neigh! Neigh! 

The view changed dramatically as we ate (we were there over two hours).
"So I says to the guy..."
On a whim, Tanya ordered the cheese plate. Biggest cheese plate ever for less than 10 Euro.

Pecorino Romano, Parmesean, camelized onions, and gorgonzola. 

I got the fresh catch of the day. I think he refered to it as Blackfish, and he did not know the English trnaslation for the type of fish it was. Our server literally brought out the fresh fish on a plate (and it almost slid on to a customer's lap as he was simultaneously serving bread to another table) to show it to me before the cook's prepared it. Pretty neat. I've never approved my fish before they grilled it :) They served it just like this, ready to dive in to.


Doug got the veal scallopine, which was tasty and unlike any I'd had before - it was very acidic and had been flavored with lemon. Delish.


You can see the progress made on the cheeese plate did not match the progress made on the fish.


They serve complimentary limoncino at the end of the meal.


The desserts were not amazing, so we were a little disappointed. I mean they were good, but we've had some outstanding desserts so I think we were all a little let down by these.

Tiramisu

Chocolate almond cake. 

Lemon almond white chocolate cake. 

While it wasn't our best dinner in Manarola, it was still one of the better, and fresher, and local-er, dinners we've had in Italy. I'm loving the Cinqueterre!