Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Florence, Playoffs, Home...Oh My!

I hope it's safe to say, Spring has sprung in Alleghe! It's been in the high 40's/low 50's this week and the sun has been melting away all of our snow. When this time of year rolls around, we find ourselves ready to get home and jump right into Summer!  Soon:)

At the beginning of Feb, Gino had a break from hockey so we decided to take a little vaca to Florence.  We took advantage of the 4 days off and made a quick stop in Pisa (hour west of Florence) on the way and also spent a day in Siena (45 min southeast of Florence).  We had a plan for Pisa...get there...park...walk straight to the Leaning Tower...snap a few pics...and leave.  Since having Lily, most of our "plans" never really turn out or we end up adding an extra hour or two.  Well, this one actually worked!  The Leaning Tower was pretty cool. We spent probably 45 min or so walking around the courtyard outside and the market across the street.  Since Pisa is on the coast, it was very warm, considering it was Feb 4th.  People were walking around without coats, laying in the sun and having picnics in the courtyard.  It was great!  We snapped a few pics and went on our way. 
Gino and Lily playing

After Pisa, we back tracked to Florence for the night.  Our hotel was in the historic district of Florence and if it wasn't for the GPS we borrowed, we would have NEVER found it.  We were literally driving down alleys that were no bigger than the Punto and as with most European cities, the street signs were basically non-existant.  Luckily, it only took us 45 min of driving in circles and a call to the hotel concierge to find the parking ramp! We spent the night in the hotel and decided to drive to Siena the next day (Tues). We read that on Wednesdays Siena is full of people enjoying the outdoor market, which would have been fun to witness but we also read that parking anywhere near the city was impossible.  So, we opted to enjoy the city on a less hectic day.  Driving to Siena was gorgeous. We took a back road instead of the highway which added a few extra minutes but ended up being totally worth it.  There's nothing like driving through Tuscany...even in February!
Gino at one of the entrances into the city

View of Tuscany from the gates of Siena
We'd been told by numerous people to visit Siena if we ever traveled to Florence.  Its a beautiful medieval city in the heart of Tuscany surrounded by a huge brick wall.  All the buildings are a burnt orange color.  Fun Fact: Crayola has a crayon named after this city that called "burnt siena".  Its beautiful and my pictures just don't do it justice.  The city itself dates back to 100 BC but most of the buildings and structures we saw were from the medieval days, 1200's.  We walked around for a few hours, just taking in the scenery.

One of the main sights to see in Siena is the Piazza del Campo.  It's listed as a World Heritage Site and is now used twice a year for the  Palio di Siena. We spent an hour or so roaming around the Piazza chasing birds....No Lily can't walk/run yet.  Gino was chasing them and Lily was amused.


Next stop, was the Siena Cathedral. This was by far one of the most beautiful and intricate cathedrals both of us had ever seen.  Not surprisingly, it's considered one of the most ornate cathedrals in all of Europe. The outside was just as incredible as the inside, when it came to detail. 

Every square inch was covered in some sort of design. The floors were covered in hundreds of  marble murals depicting various biblical scenes. Again, the pictures just don't do it justice!

Stained glass window of the Last Supper

It was pretty chilly the day we went to Siena, so it was hard to keep Lily outside for long. We  strolled to one end of town to snap a few pics of the famous burnt orange buildings and then made our way back to Florence for the evening.

We loved Siena and would recommend it to anyone visiting the Tuscany/Florence area.  It's truly a hidden gem!

We rolled into Florence at about 5:30. Just in time to take a walk around our hotel and find a dinner spot. I had originally planned to not eat any Italian food on this trip..we're a little "Italianed" out.  Don't get me wrong, authentic Italian food is delish! But after 6 months of eating it every time you go out to eat, all you want is a big burrito or some cheap chinese take out.  Unfortunately, we needed a fast meal in order to get Lily back to the hotel for bed, so we settled for a Pizzeria. 

View from our hotel room of the Cathedral St Lorenzo Dome
Some of you know the bath issues we've had with Lily this year, so you'll find this entertaining.  For those of you that don't know our issues... you will also find this entertaining.  Our apartment in Alleghe only has a shower. When we first arrived, Lily was 2 months old and too small for the baby bath we recieved from the team.  We ended up using the bumbo seat in the shower to bath her up until she was about 6 months old.  After that, we were able to use the baby tub.  In Rome we didn't have a bath tub so we bathed her in the sink which was luckily large enough to fit her. Well, surprise surprise, the hotel in Florence didn't have a bath tub either and the sink ended up being WAY too small for our now, 7 month old.  So, we bathed her in the next best thing....the bidet.  Don't worry, I cleaned it first:)
After she was bathed and in bed, Gino and I drank wine and played family fued on the Ipad in the dark...whispering. Oh the joys of traveling with a baby! Honestly, those will be some of my fondest memories of traveling with Lily:)  Gino and I have a ball!

We had 2 full days in Florence, which was just enough.  Day 1 we started early and strolled around the entire city...which, for those of you who have been there before, know that it doesn't take long to walk the entire city.  I won't go into the long boring details but the highlights of that first day were touring the Duomo, enjoying the street life, walking along the famous Ponte Vecchio and LILY CUTTING HER FIRST TOOTH.  Great... Lily had to pick this one, 4 day trip to get her first tooth! It made for a very interesting day...lots of joy, tears, and screaming by all 3 of us. 
Duomo from the side and also part of St. Johns Babtistry which is connected.
Front of the beautiful Duomo Cathedral- the outside was nothing like the inside.
If you know Gino, then you know that he has a thing for European churches and cathedrals.  They're pretty amazing but he loves to tour through and take in all the beauty! The outside of the Duomo was a site to see. It was made up of different colored marble that dates back to the early 1200's.  If we hadn't been warned by my parents, that the inside was bare compared to the outside, we would've thought, the interior may have been even more spectacular!  Even though we knew, it was still a little disappointing.

The one cool area of the interior was the Domes.  They must have put all their energy and creativity into those!!
The Last Judgement
***This was about the time Lily got her tooth... and after 30 min of crying and screaming, she was sleeping.***
Standing near the Arno River

After the Duomo, we walked straight to the Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") along the Arno River. It was built in the mid 1400's and was the only bridge in Florence that wasn't destroyed by Hitler during WWII.  There are a number of shops along the bridge that are ALL JEWLERY shops.  When it was first created, these shops had more of a variety (Butcher, etc).  It wasn't as big as I had anticipated but very pretty with all the colored plastered shops!


That evening we found ourselves a sushi restaurant to eat at and called it a night.  We wanted to start driving back to Alleghe mid afternoon on our last day so that gave us the morning/afternoon to finish exploring the city.  We took a walk to the otherside of the Arno River and up to the Japanese Rose Garden.  We'd wanted to hike up to Michelangelo Park for the beautiful view of the city, but by the time we got to the rose garden, with a heavy stroller and crabby baby...we wern't about to push our luck. 

The ose garden, itself, wasn't anything special to look at in February but the view was really nice!

Walking up the stairs to the rose garden...while carrying the stroller:/

After a few pics, we hiked back down for one last walk over the Ponte Vecchio and took a family shot.  We would've loved to take Lily out of the stroller for this one, but she would've never let us put her back in!  These days, she's pretty independent and likes to do everything on her own and doesn't like to be confined for too long.  I shouldn't complain. She's let us tool her around alot of cities this year and hasn't given us much grief:)  What more can you expect out of a baby! The trip was a good one, buuuuuttttt we are more than ready for a relaxing beach vacation in a few weeks.

Now for more pressing news....WE'RE COMING HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Gino's playoff run wrapped up this past Saturday in Val Pellice (6 hours from Alleghe).  They ended the regular season in 4th place and ended up losing out in the first round of playoffs. 
They were two evenly matched teams but it didn't help that they had such a long road trip every other game.  They played the best 4 out of 7 games. So back and forth every 3 days.  It got to be a long series in that sense. I never could understand why they do that.  Why not play 2 games away, 2 games home etc. Whatever, I guess I don't make the rules....but I should:)  I hadn't been taking Lily to the games since they start over an hour past her bedtime but decided to try and keep her up for what could have been the last home playoff game. 

Arrived nice and early!...we're never early to anything anymore!

We went for just the first period but Lily did pretty well and got to see her daddy score!  It was nice for both of us to see him end the season on a good note.  Although, Lily freaked out when they blew the air horn after the goal and started crying.  A little too much stimulation for one late night! I'm glad we made it because it DID end up being their last home game. 

We're unsure of our plans for next season and only time will tell if we end up making it another year in Europe or settling back in MN for good.  It's been a very interesting year with hockey and our little Lily but given the ups and downs of the season, we still feel very grateful and humbled for this experience.  The places we've seen, people we've met along the way, and the friendships we will continue to have through this "hockey world" are a total blessing.  We realize that we've been living a pretty special life for our first few years of marriage and given an unbelievably priceless 6 months with our daughter that we will always cherish.  I will never ever regret that...
So for now, Arrivederci!

The last 3 years

Friday, February 1, 2013

Here and There

(This post will be short and sweet, just a little update) 
2013!!  Wowza.  I remember in high school envisioning years after 2010, thinking we would for sure  be flying around in jet packs.  Maybe we'll be there by 2015? 2020?  Anyways, where do I begin!   Well, I turned 30 this month...  Another "mile marker" I had pictured taking place much further into the future when I was in high school.  We spent the day taking a drive up the mountains and having a pizza lunch at a restaurant in Alleghe.  Gino had a game the next day, so we ended up having a date night the week after.  One of the guys on Gino's team and his girlfriend were sweet enough to watch Lily for the evening while we enjoyed a spectacular dinner at Hotel Europa in Alleghe, on the lake.  It's a Michelin award winning restaurant.  If you're not familiar with the Michelin award, it's an award based on a star rating given to European restaurants and hotels.  Certified Michelin raters go in undercover and rate the food, service, experience. Afterwards, if they meet certain expectations/requirements, they get the award.  Needless to say, the food was great. 

The large brown building right off the lake.  Obviously looks a little different in Feb, but this is much prettier.
I would say this winter has been mild compared to MN winters and of course, Norway.  Even though we're in the mountains situated about 3,000ft above sea level, the temp has typically stayed above 20 degrees Farenheight.  We've gotten alot of snow, but not as much as I thought we would, living in a ski town.  Even now, in Feb, we're able to go for walks along the river outside our house on a clear, snow free sidewalk.  I can handle that!  The winter driving is another surprise to us. We thought that driving through the mountains in the winter would be unimaginably hard and that we would be using chains on the tires the whole winter.  Not the case! The few times where there's been a good amount of snow, the plows have been on top of it and clear the roads really well.  There doesn't seem to be much ice either, which is a relief.  As in Norway, they don't use salt on the roads, but gravel.  It does the job.  After one of the big snow falls, we took Lily out for her first sled ride! I think Gino and I enjoyed it more than she did, but she seemed content.

If you haven't seen on facebook or heard through the grapevine, we've got a crawler!!!  That was a big surprise this month, you can tell our excitement in the video.  We knew it was coming, but not this soon.  Now, she hardly wants to be held:(

Lily has quite the personality and is constantly on the go. She loves to play with everything especially items that aren't toys, eat, laugh, mimic sounds, and "pick out" books she wants us to read. She also likes to play peek a boo, dance, get tickled, and get surprised.  She's a happy, silly little girl.

Right before my birthday, on Jan 6th was the Epiphany, which we've heard of before but in Italy they also celebrate La Bafana. We think that this may be where the idea of "Christmas stockings" came from.  What do you think? Here is the description...
Tale of a witch known as La Befana who arrives on her broomstick during the night of January 5 and fills the stockings with toys and sweets for the good children and lumps of coal for the bad ones.
According to the legend, the night before the Wise Men arrived at the manger they stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along but she replied that she was too busy. Then a shepherd asked her to join him but again she refused. Later that night, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the Wise Men and the shepherd bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. She got lost and never found the manger.
Now La Befana flies around on her broomstick each year on the 11th night, bringing gifts to children in hopes that she might find the Baby Jesus. Children hang their stockings on the evening of January 5 awaiting the visit of La Befana.
The whole week after Christmas, people started dumping their cardboard boxes and paper from Christmas off at a clearing across the street from our house.  The pile kept growing and growing and on the 5th there was a huge bonfire! That same night a lady dressed up like a witch knocked on our door and dropped off a little package of goodies for Lily.  She said in English, "this is for your daughter".  We were in shock to see this witch at our door at night but also that she was speaking strange!  After that, we asked around and figured out what was going on. 

Watching the bonfire
Today, we went for a walk at Sottoguda to see the ice climbers.  The last time we were there was in November, so it was quite a change to see all the waterfalls turned to ice and people climbing them!!  I could barely keep my feet from slipping on the paths and couldn't imagine climbing the ice.  These people are nuts!  We were definitely the weirdos with the stroller in the midst of all the cross country skiiers and ice climbers.  You can see in some of the photos, the ice had this blue tint.


Can you see one of the climbers in orange! CRAZY
 The hockey season is dying down. Lastnight was the last game before playoffs!!  They have about a 2 week break from games and start playoffs at the end of Feb.  I beleive they're in 4th place right now, but to be honest I don't have alot of time to keep on top of the hockey stuff with the little energizer bunny.

We're going to get out of here for a few days and see Florence.  The weather there is in the 50's, which will feel like Spring!  Hoping Lily can sit still and not freak out in the car.  It's a little over 3 hours to Florence and about an hour more after that to get to Pisa.  We're basically stopping in Pisa to take a picture of the leaning tower, then onto Florence for 3 nights and onto Siena for a day trip. Wish us luck!  Shouldn't be as crazy as the Rome trip (there was just too much to see and do with a then, 4 month old. 

Miss everyone and hope to see you in a little less than 2 months!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Italian Christmas

I know this is a little late but Buon Natale! As with all of you, the days following Thanksgiving have been busy. After Rome, we had just enough time to get back into the swing of things before hosting the CanAm (Canadian American) Thanksgiving and the Guyer visit at the end of Nov/early Dec.  Thats ok, it's good to be busy right? We were so excited to have more visitors and were more than ready for Pat and Tessie to arrive!  Lily was pretty ecstatic too:)  I'm sure she's sick of seeing the same two faces everyday all day. They stayed for 10 days, which gave us a good amount of time to show them some of our favorite destinations.  The first Sunday they arrived we took a day trip to Venice.  This was about 2 weeks after the big flood and they still had risers up for people to walk on in case the city flooded again.  From what we could see, the water was very high in the canals and many steps coming up out of the canals were buried in water.  We had to walk on planks in some areas but nothing horrible. The day we visited, it was overcast and slightly rainy so not the best day, but we still were able  to tour around and enjoy ourselves!
San Marco Square- preparing for more rain

We took them to the usual spots, San Marco Square, Rialto Bridge, Grand Canal, Gelato stop and alot of Merano glass shopping.  It doesn't matter how many times we go to Venice, it's always a new experience and a fun trip. I think Gino's parents were in awe that they were "walking the streets of Venice", a place that they only pictured in the their dreams.  Venice is a place that I think everyone would agree, is one of the only cities that can be described as "truly unique".  I could go on and on!
I'm not sure if we'll ever be back to Venice, perhaps Gino and I will go once more before heading home in the Spring. But I think it's a blessing that we visited 3 times this year and amazing to say that we have been to Venice with both sets of parents! As you can see below, we each have a photo in the same spot ♥.  Many unforgettable memories...
Enough reminiscing! Moving on...
Later that week, we decided to do Christmasy things.  We decorated the tree while listening to Christmas music. Tessie had brought supplies for Lily to make a few ornaments/tree skirt, and we watched Christmas movies.  Gino and I would both agree that it was the first time , in a long time, where Christmas actually felt like Christmas.  Gino hasn't been home for Christmas in 7 years and I in 5.  A part of you gets used to it and you just go on with your day by trying to make it as merry as possible!  The other part of you tries to remember what it was like to go to Grandma and Grandpa's for Christmas and be surrounded by family.  It feels like so long ago! 
***Debbie Downer alert***  Gino and I were talking about it just the other day, that the last time he was home for Christmas and his last memories  are with people who are no longer with us anymore. So much has changed for him and his family in the last 7 years.  It puts things into perspective and like so many moments, makes you realize how precious life is.  You can't take a minute for granted! 
Wow, I'm on a roll today!  I promise the rest of this post won't be sappy.  Here are some pics of Lily's craft projects and decorating.
Hand Print Ornaments

Finished product! We may have a Picasso on our hands?
Painting her feet for the tree skirt stomp! (and that's a full diaper)

 Celebrating Christmas a little early with family in town was awesome!  Before I jump onto  Christmas, here was one of the highlights of  the trip...Lily loves her shadow!
The Christmas markets opened in Northern Italy on Nov 30th, so we made it a point to take Gino's parents to the Bolzano market which is about 1.5hrs from us.  I had been there in 2010 with friends and had always talked about it with Gino.  Christams markets arn't really a big thing in most of Italy and there are literally 4 or 5 big markets but they're all on the German/Austrian border.   They're in  Italian cities that don't really consider themselves Italian at all, but more German.  Luckily we're within 2 hours of all of them! We told ourselves that we're going to go to one Christmas market a week.  Anyways, we went to Bolzano on Pat and Tessie's last day in Italy.  The weather was great and the drive was beautiful.  Pat is a little afraid of heights and you go up two mountain passes to get there,  so the drive can be heart pounding.  You pass by a few castles in the valley's and miles and miles of vineyards.  We walked around the busy Christmas market for a few minutes and decided we were hungry. So the guys got in line for wurstel (brats) and gluhwein (hot wine).  Tessie, Lily and I grabbed a table under a heat lamp.  The food was delish! and I nice break from pasta.
Lily was also a fan of the gluhwein...
 We've talked about this a number of times, but we always wonder why Christmas markets haven't taken off in the US?  They're amazing and a great way to spend the month of December, celebrating and getting ready for Christmas.  The difference between Europeans and Americans is that many Americans tend to hibernate in the don't even need to buy winter boots or heavy jackets because you're basically never outside for more than a few minutes, running from your car to a store...unless you're playing some sort of winter sport.  Europeans take walks in the winter, eat outside under patios with heatlamps, etc.  It's just a different culture. I will tell you, there's nothing like having a hot chocolate at a cafe on an outdoor patio in the winter.  You have a blanket on your lap (provided by the restaurant or cafe) and warm heatlamps!

The Christmas market was a perfect end to a wonderful week with the Guyers!

On the Lily front, she turned 6 months old this month!!  People say kids grow up fast, well I'm really starting to realize that. Here's a photo of me, Lily, and Gino at 6 months old.  I'm still thinking she looks like Gino.  What do you think!?

We also started her on solids.  She did pretty well considering she has no teeth!...I swear the poor babe has been "teething" for months and can't seem to pop one through.  She started with bananas and it took a little getting used to the taste...

On Christmas Eve, we went to a couple on the team's house for dinner which was fun! It was nice to spend the evening with friends.  We left early to get home and put Lily to bed. Gino and I spent the rest of the night watching Christmas movies and doing "Santa" duties. Christmas morning was alot of fun with the three of us! As soon as Lily woke up, we brought her in bed with us and she had her morning bottle. We let her open a few gifts right away and then every couple of hours she would open another one. After weeks of trying to think about what Gino and I wanted for Christmas, we decided not to get gifts for each other this year.  There's been too much going on healthwise with a number of friends back home that we decided to make a few monetary donations.  We have everything we need right now and to go out and buy the new Iphone 5 or Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag (sigh) seemed silly.  I always say, that when we are home for good, we will surprise eachother with gifts again.  This might sound cheesy but there is no bigger happiness or nothing greater we could have ever wished to call ourselves but mommy and daddy.  That is honestly the best present and I don't think anything could really top it this year!!  Except for maybe that Louis Vuitton....jk :)

Side Note about Louis Vuitton (this may get long winded):  I think I was first introduced to LV back in the early 2000's when I saw Jessica Simpons multicolored purse on MTV's "The Newlyweds".  I thought it was cute! But nothing more.  I've never really thought much about big purse designers. (I'm not talking Coach or Michael Kors more like Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Balenciaga etc)  Don't get me wrong, I love a good purse and think they're gorgeous! but I could probably find about a million other things to spend money on then a $1,000 purse.  Not to say that if someone bought me one as a gift that I wouldn't take it! Because I would:) HINT HINT.  BUT after living  in Italy the last few months, I've developed this obsession (maybe facisnation is a better word) for LV, which isn't even an Italian brand haha.  EVERYONE has one in some style and size...EVERYONE.  I've never seen so many of them on the streets, its nuts.  I was told by one of my Italian friends that people over here don't buy fakes, they just don't. You can tell a fake from a mile away and its more of a status/ reputation thing and no one wants to tarnish that.  They care much more about the brand and not cheapening it.  Much different than in the States.  Honestly, if I saw a 16 yr old at Rosedale with an LV...I would assume it was fake. If I saw one here, you assume it's real and think, "Where did she get the money to buy that!?".   If you have one and it's real, I respect you! and appreciate you didn't purchase a fake:) . With that said, now I want an authentic LV... but I still can't see myself spending $1000 + on a purse...maybe one day.

Anyways, we spent the rest of the day skyping with family, taking a walk into Alleghe, baking, and watching Christmas movies.  For not spending the holidays with family, it was a really nice Christmas.

Lily with her favorite gift of all...the bow on her present.  She's a simple girl


A little hockey news.  Gino's team is in 4th place.  They will have a mini tournament (Italian Cup) in Turino (yes, shroud of Turin, Turino) next weekend. The top 4 teams at the half way point in the season qualified for this tournament.  Only 4 more games left of the regular season, followed by an 8 game re-seeding, where teams will be in their final spot for playoffs. It's crazy how fast this year went!  After the re-seed, they will have a short break in Feb where we're planning a trip to Florence, Pisa, and Siena.  Then playoffs start at the end of Feb.  Finally, a much needed and overdue warm vacation to sunny Florida with family before setteling back in at home for the Summer.

For New Years, the team was having a 10 course meal at one of the hotels in town but it didn't start until 8:30pm and we couldn't really see ourselves putting Lily through hour after hour of a sit down meal at a nice restaurant.  So, we decided we would drive to Bressanone (Brixen, in German) for the Christmas market. First, we had to make sure the mountain passes were open.  There's a sign right outside of our house that lists the passes that are closed for reasons ranging from, too much snow/ice, to avalanche.  Earlier that week it had listed the Campolongo pass being closed.  That happened to be the one that we had to go through.  But on New Yrs Eve it was open.   Bressanone is about 2 hours away from us and about 30-45min from the Austrian border.  The drive was beautiful! I think I counted about 25 different ski towns along the way.  One of the nicest/most popular was Corvara (45 min from Alleghe).  It's right on the otherside of the Campolongo pass.  I had thought maybe the pass had been closed earlier because of snow and ice but we noticed right away that wasn't the case.  There was a huge boulder! about the size/width of 2 small cars that had fallen off the mountain onto the road.  It looked like the side railing had been damaged and a truck must have moved the boulder off to the side. 

Corvara- skiers all over the place

We heard about this ski pass you can buy called the Dolomiti Superski. You buy one pass that gets you access to over 1200 km of ski runs/lifts.  I didn't know this, but the Dolomiti ski region is one of the largest in the world! You can take runs and different lifts from Mount Civetta in Alleghe(Black Arrow) all the way to Cortina (Green Arrow-45 min away) and even further.  It's really amazing.

After our drive to Bressanone and seeing all these ski towns, it looked like so much fun! We decided we want to take a trip in the next few years to a quaint ski town like Vail or Park City, rent a cabin with friends and have a little ski weekend.  We've started a list of "different/unique" trips we want to take.  Along with a ski vacation, Gino added salmon fishing on the Kenai River in Alaska and an Ireland/Scotland golf trip. I added a Safari at Masi Mara in Kenya and a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru.  Far stretch?  The list continues to grow. 

The Christmas market was a great way to spend New Years Eve, especially with Lily.  The sun was shining, the gluhwein flowing and music playing.  We did make a stop for a sushi lunch before hitting up the festivites.  Have to savor the rare sushi visits over here. 

I'll end this long post now! Here's a video that pretty much sums up the Christmas market vibe.  Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and I wish you love, health and happiness in 2013!