Monday, September 3, 2018

Milan

Every city is different, and its markedly true of European cities. They have an internal culture all their own, which I find fascinating, but also difficult to acclimate to. Just as I think I'm getting the hang of a city, we are off to a new one, and I have to adjust again.

Milan is a BIG city, with lots of modern aspects because of all the high fashion and expensive shops. We were nearly murdered by taxis (ones we were IN and ones surrounding us) and buses and motorcycles seemed to appear out of nowhere right as we were attempting to cross streets.

We did manage to wander through the oldest mall in Italy, taking in the array of high end store fronts, and then leaving to hunt for a bargain shop. We ended up buying nothing...because we are weighed down with extra things already. Wait...I take it back, we bought things...we bought food, and we are absolutely weighed down by that. (insert frowning face here)

We've come to expect the soaring beauty of the buildings and churches and plazas in Italy, and we were not disappointed in Milan. There is so much history here. I swear, it speaks to me, even over the roar of traffic and throngs of people.

The Manza race track was a surprise. The oldest Formula One track in the world, and the second oldest race track in the world...I guess made me anticipate buildings and established borders. Instead...it seemed the entire village was constructed the day before, amid trees in a park outside town. Tents were randomly spread over miles of forest, with dirt paths navigating between them. And because it had rained the day before, the dirt had become mud. The seats were all bleachers, crammed together tightly. The toilets were all portable as well, and when we arrived in the complex (5 hours before the race) they were already out of toilet paper. Ashley and I finally found a couple stalls with partial rolls, and we took advantage of our chance to stash extra in our purses. Which was lucky, because we never saw another stitch of TP the whole day. The boys had it way easier, as in Europe its totally acceptable to urinate in the woods, against the side of a building, in the middle of the wide open...wherever. This phenomenon had me wrinkling my nose in horror at the multiple, visible, peeing men everywhere I looked...all day long. It also added to the adventure of navigating the mud, which may or may not have been combined with random strangers' urine.

My favorite part of the culture of Milan is that everyone, EVERYONE, sits down at a curbside cafe for appetizers and drinks, conversation and relaxation, beginning at the 5 o'clock hour and continuing until supper time, around 8. We found a lovely spot on the main square, with a perfect view of the Milan Cathedral, and we slipped right into that particular cultural experience. People watching is always one of my favorite things, and its even better in other countries.

It's early in the morning now, and we are sitting in the airport, bags checked, extra bags (loaded with souvenirs) sitting beside us, extra pounds from all the pasta and bread we've eaten sitting ON us, waiting to board our flight. A brief layover in Madrid, and then we will cross the ocean, heading home. We have had a fantastic adventure, mouth watering food, beautiful views at every turn, and lots of bonding time in tiny taxis. We are glad to be returning to our world. Not because the countries of the world aren't wonderful. They are. But our sweet little babies await us, and we can barely contain our excitement to hold them and kiss them and hug them and inhale their scent.

Ashley and I finally, finally, ate a croissant and marked it off our list of things to experience in Europe. The boys say it was at least our 50th croissant...but we don't remember it that way...

I'm thankful that Italy and France welcomed us with warmth and excitement.

I'm MORE thankful that our people await us on the other side of the ocean.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Florence

My first thought about Florence, after we exited our train and maneuvered through the masses of people and luggage and made our way out onto the taxi platform...was "Dear Lord, its humid here. My hair is going to be gigantic."

Situated in a valley between two mountainous areas, the atmosphere holds a great deal of moisture. Up to 85% humidity is not uncommon. I am pleased to report that my hair soaked up at least 15% of it while we toured the city. You're welcome, Florence.

As I have come to expect from Italian cities (and cities of the world in general) Florence had a very distinct atmosphere. It had a big city vibe in some ways, with lots of traffic and throngs of people. But also, in the old, historical section of the city, where we were staying and spent almost all of our time, there are so many old buildings and marble statues that they start to all look the same. Art and architecture are the things this city is famous for. And, of course, food and wine, as it is the capital of the Tuscany region.

As we wandered, I would say "What is THIS amazing building?" (expecting it to be something famous and unlike anything else...) And then we would discover it was a museum, and we would take in its lovely renaissance architecture, and move on. After the 3rd of 4th time this exact same thing happened...I changed my approach. I began, instead, to count how many different museums we passed as we explored the old city. I am pleased to tell all of you that we laid eyes on 12 museums in the 2.5 days we were in Florence. I feel that keeping track of it was brain power well spent.

In addition to soaking up some of the humid air, my hair also received an original Florentine treatment, designed to instantly moisturize and perfume the strands...and by that, I mean...a bird pooped in my hair while we were exploring the old, original bridge crossing the river.

Not just a little bit of poop, either. It was a giant PLOP that soaked into my hair and onto my shoulder. Of course, we hadn't yet checked into our hotel room, so I had nowhere to go to wash it out. Instead, we stole some napkins from a street cafe, and I handed them to Heath to clean me up.

He barely kept from throwing up (eye roll) so Ashley took over picking the pellets out of my rapidly growing mane.

I have now developed a fear of birds.

Nature has been toying with us this trip, for sure. Ashley got stung by a bee in France, I got pooped on by a bird in Italy...and we were rained on in Cinque Terre.

But, oh my, how different that part of the Italian landscape was from the bustling cities we have stayed in.

It took 2 hours to drive from Florence to the coast, and as we went, we passed through several different regions of the country. Each one is known for a different specialty of food or wine or natural materials. For miles and miles we drove past nurseries, with rows upon rows of different trees, grown there due to the high volume of rainfall and then shipped all over Italy. Then, almost as soon as we entered a new region, the fields changed, housing grapes or olives. And then again, a new region, with many textile factories. Then we entered a mountainous region, and our guide pointed out a set of tall, white peaks nearby.

"This is not snow," he told us, then asked if we knew what it was. We were stunned, because anyone would immediately consider them snow capped mountains.

"The town is the town of Carrera," he hinted...and we blinked, not understanding. "The white you see is Carrera marble. It is only found here."

You've never seen anything like it. Actually, that's not true. If you've seen snowy mountains, you have seen something like it. But this was MARBLE. An entire mountain range of marble. Unbelievable.

The 5 tiny towns that make up the Cinque Terre region were charming, picturesque, adorable. We were amazed by the fact that they terraced gardens and buildings were built into the side of sheer rock mountains. And all of the planting and harvesting and working was done by hands and feet and backs, no matter how young or old. It had to be grueling work. And after everything was built, the grueling work continued. The people who live in that area work from morning till night, just to sustain their way of life. They produce wine and olive oil, they grow lemons and figs and prickly pears, and they fish, pushing their boats by hand down and up the precarious dock, and through the winding, steep streets, every time they want to use them. With such small space, and so much work that is required for everything they do, they don't have enough of the wine or olive oil or lemons available to sell it outside the region. If you want to taste it, you have to visit the towns and eat at the cafes. And so we did.

I can't describe how charming we found it, to sit down to a meal made entirely of things grown on the surrounding hills. It was my favorite Italian experience so far. And I've seen and done a LOT of really cool things here.

We climbed more stairs here, because we are eating so much pasta and bread that we keep looking for things to do to burn them off. (That last part is a lie. We ARE eating all the carbs, but we are only burning them off because their are very few elevators, and none of them were installed in the old structures we are touring.) Another 400+ steps to look out over Florence from the top of the Duomo (dome). It was oppressively hot. As in, Ashley and I are considering burning the undergarments we wore that day. My hair did its part to soak up the moisture...but we still sweat puddles onto the stone steps. The view from the top was magic, as all the elevated views have been.

The statue of David did not disappoint either. People with any artistic ability amaze me, as I have NONE. Seeing the famous art of the world makes me feel a lot more cultured, even if I know deep down I'm just a little old country girl who gets a daily hankering for sweet tea and bare feet.

Now, we can say were are country folk who have laid eyes, in person, on a few of the art world's masterpieces.

It's off to Milan now, but only for a short bit of touring. Tomorrow is the Manza Formula One race, so this evening will be our only chance to look for discount shopping. "Is there a Ross, dress for less, in Milan?" Ashley asked. And there is, in fact, a discount store. I'm not sure that the retailers of Milan have the same idea as us about what price is considered a discount...I'll keep you posted.

Arrivederci for now!