As I sit down to write this post inside our home on a sunny Saturday morning, I am in a turtleneck, sweater, down jacket and scarf with a portable heater blowing directly on me. Winter here has proven to be just as cold inside as outside since the Spanish homes do not have heat and are not built for cold (and becoming less comfortable with climate change). I am appreciating more than ever before how not having the relief of a warm, comfortable home in the winter time impacts our well-being. It also gives me pause to think that so many people in the world live this way winter after winter.
Backpacking through northern Italy, in the cold over the holidays, was challenging but we did have heated Airbnb apartments in which to rest and relax. What a concept, staying in different “homes,” as if they were our own, rather than in hotels (which don’t accommodate families of five very well). It makes all the difference for us and it’s fun to try on different home designs.
Italy’s reputation for amazing cuisine held up well with us. You know a country has good food when you eat your first meal in a train station and exclaim “this is the best pizza ever!” Well, this was where our journey began and ended; in the chain restaurant of Rossopomodoro in the Milan train station (we didn’t realize it was a chain until we ate New Year’s Eve dinner at the Rossopomodoro in Venice and then excitedly returned to the same place in the Milan train station on the way home).
After some nourishment in Milan, we jumped on a train and headed to Lucca on the northwest coast of Italy where we spent 6 nights and enjoyed Christmas. Lucca is a charming old town surrounded by a big stone wall (which took 100 years to build) upon which you can recreate. Inside the walls are winding, mostly-pedestrian streets, and 100 churches are scattered throughout. I had pasta that melted in my mouth, the kids became addicted to spaghetti bolognese and George was in his element of endlessly exploring. Our highlights were climbing church steeples (one with trees on top), riding a 5 person bicycle around the wall, and our half day trip to see the leaning tower of Pisa. The tower was pretty awesome but even better was waiting for the train to return to Lucca when an Italian girl, also waiting, turned to George and asked his permission to give Quinton a kiss. While Quinton sat on a bench looking down at his phone, barely aware of what was happening, George shrugged his shoulders and said, “sure!” and with that Quinton got a big smooch on his cheek leaving some bright red lipstick to show for it that matched the color of his face.
Following Lucca, we spent 2 nights in Florence. Due to the shortness of our stay, we mostly strolled the city to admire the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, the Duomo, and replicas of famous statues of naked men. In fact, we decided that Italy is full of penises. Between the statues, penis pasta for sale in all the stores and the name of our wifi network in Venice, we felt surrounded. Ok, a slight tangent. In Florence, we stayed in an apartment situated on the Piazza Santa Croce where Michelangelo and Danté are buried inside the Basilica. We also took a cooking class and learned how to make pizza and gelato, which was great fun!
From Florence, we spent a fun 4 nights in Venice including New Years Eve. Highlights include our family gondola ride, our island tour of Murano (glass blowing), Burano (colorful homes), and Torcello (oldest of the Venetian islands dating back to the 5th century), eating pizza covered with octopus, clams, mussels, and shrimp, and watching fireworks on New Years Eve on the waterfront by Piazza San Marco. Finally, when George and I had a free moment on our own, we treated ourselves to a visit to Caffè Florian, the oldest cafe in the world.
Our final excursion took us up into the mountains for two days of skiing above the town of Brixon and with a spectacular view of the Dolomites. Much to our surprise, we found ourselves in German country. This part of Italy used to be part of Austria but after Italy won the war, the Italians claimed the land. So it is Italy but inhabited by friendly Germans everywhere. We managed to stay warm just enough to enjoy our skiing and eat lots of strudel (apple and vegetable) and yes, more spaghetti bolognese. Davis found his “Hot Love” (vanilla ice cream with hot raspberry sauce) which he ordered frequently during our stay.
Now that we are back in Almuñécar, we are appreciating familiar surroundings, trying to remember to say gracias instead of grazie and working off our Italian bellies.