About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Monday, August 31, 2009

New Car...again

Katrina woke me up at 8:10 this morning.  We are trying to get into a 'back to school' routine before Thursday.  Brandon is up, but laying in bed.  I don't blame him.  I want to go back to bed. 

I started another load of laundry this morning.  As I've stated in previous blogs, I do a load of laundry every day - at least during the week - but sometimes on the weekend as well.  We have such a tiny Italian washing machine and they take so darn long to wash - 1 hr 49 min for the short cycle.  Then we must hang dry everything because most Italians don't have dryers.  Anyway, after this mornings load of dark laundry I think I am pretty well caught up after vacation.

We had to take our car to the Linate Airport Hertz office to renew the contract for another month.  Unfortunately, we had to return our very nice Altra wagon since it was a 'temporary' upgrade.  Bummer.  I really liked the car.  They tried to give us a car that would have been the tiniest yet - a Chevy Matiz.  No way!  We finally ended up with a Fiat Idea again, the same car we had for the first couple of months.  At least we are trading in a car because we have to, not because of damage.  4 cars, 4 months.  Maybe I should add that to the weekly count!

We have had the AC off for two days in a row now.  The high today is only supposed to be 84.  I like this weather so much more than the 90's.  So far its not too humid today. 

Spent the afternoon working on laundry, cleaning the house up a bit and helping Brandon with his summer homework....how's that for parental procrastination.  He has to make a vacation journal for one week of the summer and needs to do it in Italian.  We will rise to the challenge. 

We drove over to pick Katrina up at work, then headed to IKEA for dinner and to look for a few things.  For once we came away buying less than we intended.  Our trips to IKEA are usually end up with more than we expected. 

Sunday, August 30, 2009


The other day I had to buy a new hose for our water faucet on the balcony.  Buying a hose should be simple and straightforward...right?  Well, not so much in Italy. 

I found out that, just like electrical plugs, there are different hose adapters one might need to actually connect to the faucet.  All the hoses I saw at two different stores did not have ends on them.  Yes, they sell the regular garden variety hoses, just without ends.  One must figure out what type of end connector you want or need then choose from a wide variety on the display.  Its funny and interesting how, even simple things that we take for granted and never really think about, can be so different in a new culture.

We all slept in quite a bit this morning.  Katrina and I woke up around 8:45.  Brandon slept until almost 9:30. 

It rained a bit this morning.  First time I have seen it rain in several weeks. 

We all played a bit of Wii this morning.  Its a lot of fun and we have good times. 

Katrina wanted to walk over to Villa Reale to see and art exhibit this afternoon.  I talked her into getting some pizza for lunch, so we walked over to the cafe in Parco di Monza. 

After lunch Katrina went to her exhibit and I went for a walk around the park while Brandon rode his scooter.  About an hour later Katrina texted us that she was finished, so we met at the park gate and visited our favorite gelataria.  I tried a new flavor today - canella.  Its very good.

I decided to go do some shopping at Auchan this afternoon.  First off, I had to check online to see if they were even open.  They only seem to be open on every other Sunday, unless a holiday pops up.  They were open.  I wanted a few more flowers to fill out the balcony wall and we needed a few things. 

I cannot believe we have been here for 20 weeks.  20 weeks!  It seems like time has flown by so fast.  I also seems like a long time ago when Brandon was in school, yet he starts back this coming week and that seems so soon.  Its been a very good 20 weeks.  We've had some ups and downs, adjustments to be made and Italian to always figure out.  We jokingly ask Brandon if he is ready to go home yet and he has always said no.  We like it here.  It is an experience we may never have again, so we are trying to take advantage of every moment. 

I watched a movie this evening, The 14 year old Virgin.  Katrina read and Brandon went to bed on time.  He starts school this week and needs to get back on a schedule. 

20 Week Gelati Count = 108
20 Week Wine Bottle Count = 17

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Road Trip Slideshow

Katrina put together a short slideshow of our recent road trip.  Check our her blog to see it.

Back to School Shopping

Last night was not a good night.  We stayed up late watching Harry Potter.  After the movie, Brandon went to bed but Katrina and I had trouble falling asleep.  We read and I watched some late night/early morning TV. 

We all slept in this morning.  I was the first one up at 9am.  Brandon followed around 9:30 and Katrina got up at 10. 

Brandon starts school on Thursday, so today we are going 'Back to School' shopping.  He just continues to outgrow his clothes way too quickly. 

I found this video on a model train museum website.  They were proud of their use of LED's until they came across this video.  IMPRESSIVE!  BAAAAAAAAA

We headed out for some school shopping at the mall.  We found a couple pairs of pants and some shirts.  We also bought a new Wii game - Party Games. 

For some reason the mall seemed a little overwhelming today.  I was happy to get out of there and return home. 

We spent the afternoon just hanging out.  Brandon played with Legos and watched a movie.  Katrina worked on her pictures from our road trip.  I'm not really sure what I did other than take a nap.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Brandon and I made a trip into Milano today.  We didn't get much accomplished, but we had a good time. 

First off, we had to stop at the ATM to buy some money.  The exchange rate is 1.43 today.  Ouch.  As we walked to the bus stop, we just missed the bus we needed.  We waited and waited for the next one...about 25 minutes...until it came and drove by us!  The bus drived just looked at us and drove on by!!  We ended up walking towards Monza just to kill some time and stopped two bus stops down to catch the next bus. 

We rode the bus the rest of the way into Monza and had to change buses on into Sesto.  In Sesto we caught the red line Metro and rode it to Cadorna, where we switched to the green line to Ambrogio.  Once there, we had to walk about 4 blocks to find the hobby shop.  Closed!

On to hobby shop #2.  We never found it and ended up at the Duomo, where we bought some gelato and enjoyed it in the shade. 

At the Duomo we descended three levels to the yellow Metro.  Brandon was very excited since we have never ridden the yellow line before and it is the newest of the three.  We rode the yellow to Porta Romana.  At this point, none of the street names matched my directions, so we had to call Katrina and ask her to get directions for us from Google Maps.  She texted me the directions and we were off. 

We had to walk about 8 blocks and quickly found Stazione Centrale, a great looking hobby shop.  I say great looking because it was close and we could only see in the windows.  The sign said it was close for the afternoon break and reopened at 4pm.  It was 3:15.  We decided to wait around and found a cafe to get some drinks while we waited.  4pm rolled around and no store opening.  4:15 rolled around and still not signs of the store opening, so we decided to head home. 

Yellow line to red line, red line to Sesto, z221 bus to Vedano.  We arrived home around 5:45pm. 

We now know where Stazione Centrale is located.  I've heard about the store for couple of months now, but could never find it.  Now I have and address to put in the GPS. 

We are home and tonight is movie night.  Brandon finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban early this week, so now we can watch the movie. 

We had pasta for dinner, then I ran out to get Coke and chocolate for movie night. 

Its's time for movie night.....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Italian Thursday

I slept in a bit again today. I must need it. I think I woke up at 8:20.

We did have a late night with Brandon. He became sick after dinner and threw up several times until just after midnight. He ended up sleeping on the floor in our room.

This morning he was feeling much better. I was lazy and made hardly any attempt to go for my Thursday bike ride. Bad...bad...bad.

Brandon and I spent the morning on our computers while Katrina had her Italian lesson. Brandon played some games and looked at Legos online. I worked on this blog.

This afternoon Brandon built a funicular with his XTS trains while I did some house cleaning and worked on this blog.

We also had our Italian lessons today. Brandon is learning verbs - basically he is caught up to me and will be passing me shortly. He's a sponge, although he doesn't actually speak it very much.

My lesson went fairly well considering I wasn't very motivated. I'm still struggling with verbs a bit. Practice, practice, practice.

My flowers on the balcony are making a slow comeback after our vacation. I tried to use a homemade drip system on the balcony to water them while we were gone. Upon our return we were informed by our portania that he head to enter our apartment and turn off the water because it was seaping down into the wood ceiling of the balcony below us. He told us he watered our flowers a few times, but they were in pretty bad shape. Not his fault.

We had a nice dinner of roasted chicken, risotto, salad and red wine. Brandon felt much better today, but is still not eating much. He'll eat when he's ready. I think he may head to bed early tonight.

We had a nice chat with the Noel's on Skype this evening.  It was great to see them and talk for a bit.  We loved seeing your new couch and windows.  We have the same shelves (like the ones under your window).  Ours is black and is near the front door to store shoes and to sit on when we put our shoes on. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mountains of Laundry begin to Shrink

I woke up today with the intention of going grocery shopping at Auchan before Katrina left for work. I was going to have a relaxing morning, then head out. Unfortunately, it was 9am when I got up. I had to hurry and get ready, then rush over to Auchan.

Katrina was working on her latest painting and Brandon was still sleeping when I left. I stocked up on some basics, including tortillas and sourcream for our Mexican fiesta dinner tonight. Thanks to our good friend Andy in Corvallis, we have all sorts of salsa, taco seasonings and refried beans to enjoy. Thanks Andy! Your pile of Italian goodies is getting bigger.

I spent much of the day sweeping, doing more laundry, and working on this blog.

Late this afternoon Brandon and I went out for a bike ride around Parco di Monza. It is very nice outside. Not too hot, but warm.

This evening we had a Mexican fiesta for dinner, thanks in part to our friend Andy who sent us a bunch of supplies.

Its a hot evening.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

From the Alps to Mountains of Laundry

Our first day back at home. I slept until almost 8am. Katrina was getting ready for the day when I got up. She had her Italian lesson at 9. I got dressed and headed out for a bike ride.

I forgot my cell phone, so decided to stay close and ride laps in Parco di Monza. 6 laps = 40 km. Not a bad ride, especially after 13 days of vacation.

After returning home from my ride I showered and began unpacking. Most of our clothes turned into a mountain of laundry. Not as pretty as the Alps...and the Alps smelled a bit fresher.

Brandon and I also walked over to Punto for some groceries so that we could eat some lunch and dinner.

This afternoon Brandon and I had our Italian lessons. For most of the time we took a fieldtrip with Rosella to a store a couple towns away. It was a nursery and pet store. Lots of house plants, garden supplies and pet supplies. We slowly worked our way through the store practicing our Italian. Brandon and Rosella stopped at the snack bar for gelato. Before leaving the store, Brandon and I picked out some fresh flowers for Katrina and some grass for Stevie to chew on.

This evening we had warm bean salad with tuna and some red wine. It is one of our favorite recipes in our Italian cookbook...and its simple.

Two loads of laundry done today.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Driving home through the Italian Alps

Today we are heading home after 13 days of road tripping.

We packed up and went down to breakfast one last time. After checking out and loading the car, we hit the road. The GPS took us a little ways back into Austria before turning south through the Alps and heading into Italy. What a beautiful drive.

We entered a toll road at the Italian border and were on it all the way to Milan for a total fee of e27. Sometime around lunch we stopped at an Autogrill. Italy has many of these roadside restaurants on its highway. Some of the Autogrills actually span the highway. Brandon has been asking to eat at one since he first spotted them months ago. We stopped and ate lunch while watching the traffic pass underneath us.

We eventually arrived home in the late afternoon. As great as vacations are, its also very nice to get back home. We were tired (Katrina calls it a 'good tired') from our travels. We feel very lucky. We have travelled so many places in 19 weeks. I've been to more countries in 19 weeks than I have been in my entire life.

Each place we travelled had its own unique experience and culture. Overall, my favorite was Switzerland. I loved the mountains, the fresh air and the alpine highs.

Now its time to get back into a routine. The summer is almost over. Brandon starts school on next Thursday, September 3rd. Katrina will be busy at work. I have a mountain of laundry to do.

It is a little weird to go on vacation and come home to Italy. While we have only been here since April and have travelled quite a bit, we still have so much we want to see and experience before our two years is over. Time to start planning our next trip. We fly to Paris for a four day weekend in late September! Life is good.

Final Trip Stats:

1915.81 km
30.38 hours of driving.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Slovenian Capitol

Today we headed to Ljubljana after another good breakfast at Pension Kovac.

Ljubljana is the capitol of Slovenia and is a very beautiful city. It was about an hour drive to the city. We had been given directions to some convenient parking, but got lost. We finally found the parking after some backtracking.

Brandon spotted a playground, so we let him play for awhile before walking to the train station. The tourist information office is located in the train station. They gave us a great tour book for the old city.

We walked about 5 blocks toward the old city, arriving at the Dragon Bridge. Katrina really like the Dragon bridge. You can read her comments on her blog.

(Unfortunately, last night when I was downloading my pictures from the memory card, I left the memory card in my laptop. So, I didn't have a memory card to take pictures today. Hopefully Katrina will 'loan' me a few of her pictures and I can post them later on.)

We walked through the open air market (closed today - Sunday), and over the triple bridge to Preseren Square. This is where Brandon found a relief map of Ljubljana.

We followed the walking tour past Congress Square, the Church of the Holy Trinity, Town Hall, the University and over the Cobblers Bridge, back into the old town. We took the funicular up to Ljubjanski grad, the castle.

We had some great views from the top of the castle, including from up high in the tower.

After riding the funicular back down we headed back to Preseren Square where we had seen a Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately (for Katrina, Brandon... and for me) I was in a bad mood at this point and that made for a long afternoon. Katrina was very patient with me and I love her for that. I know it may be hard to believe, but sometimes I can be difficult...even high maintainance, some would say.

Anyway, Katrina wanted to go back to take more pictures of the Dragon Bridge. Brandon wanted to go back to the relief map, so I took him there and Katrina went off on her own for awhile.

When Katrina returned, we meandered back to our car and attempted to drive home. We got lost getting out of the city and ended up on a country road instead of the highway. We got lucky. The country road was heading in the right direction and would eventually meet up with the highway. We just took the scenic route.

We arrived back at Pension Kovac late in the evening. Brandon was hungry, but we didn't want to go to a restaurant. Katrina stayed in the room while Brandon and I headed out to find some food. We ended up at a gas station in Bled. Dinner consisted of Coca Cola, potato chips, and German chocolate....our healthiest meal yet!!

We packed up at bit before watching some TV and eventually going to bed. Tomorrow we drive back home - about 5 1/2 hours.

19 Week Gelati Count: 102
19 Week Wine Bottle Count: 16

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bled, Slovenia

We spent the day in Bled.

After getting ready for the day, we went downstairs for breakfast. What a faboulous breakfast. They had fruit, meats, cheeses, juices, breads, cereals, crepes, coffee cake and more. It was the best selection so far.

After getting some tips from the staff, we drove over to Bled and found some parking.

Joze Hudecek wrote: "When a foreigner, a traveller, comes to Slovenian land, people say to the one accompanying him: Take him where our land is most beautiful, richest and where our speech is at its most sincere, most generous with the truth. There he should make up an image of where we are and how we live. Take him to Bled." Once in Bled, travellers are advised to go and see the Bled Castle.

Perched atop a steep cliff rising 130 meters above the glacial Lake Bled is a symbol of Bled and Slovenia - Bled Castle. The image of the castle forming a dramatic backdrop to the romantic island and the church on it.

Our first plan was to hike up to the castle. We walked down the lakefront and headed up the path to the castle.

Lake Bled

Views of the castle

I'm not sure what was wrong, but I wasn't feeling all the well. My stomach had been bothering me for a couple of days. Maybe it was all the eating out. Anyway, we hiked up to the castle and I felt hot and nausaus. I decided I would just sit on a bench outside the castle while Katrina and Brandon went in. Brandon decided to join me, so we just sat, watched people and rested.

Brandon being goofy while we wait for Katrina.

Katrina had a nice visit inside the castle. She said it was different from many of the others and offered some nice views.

We headed back down the hill, with me starting to think that they should just take me back to the room. It was a tough decision. I felt pretty bad, but didn't want to miss anything.

Ultimately I decided to stay and just take it easy. Brandon decided it was time to walk over to the alpine slide.

While the first slide was 2km long, this one was only 500 meters long - 1/4 of the length. I decided to just watch and not push it. Brandon and Katrina bought passes for 3 rides. I waited at the bottom and took pictures. I think this was Brandon's first time on an actual ski lift.

Alpine slide

Views from the top

Brandon heads down

They rode the slide three times and had a great time. I took a couple pictures with my camera, then took a bunch with Katrina's much faster camera.

One happy speed racer

Katrina and Brandon were hungry for lunch. We walked back into town and found a cafe. We all ordered tuna sandwiches. I was feeling brave and though I would try some food. I was starting to feel a bit better by afternoon.

After lunch we took a boat ride out to the church on the island. The boats, seen in pictures above, are rowed out to the island, usually with 10-12 passengers. It took about half an hour to get to the island.

The church is a favorite place for weddings. From the boat landing, there are 90 steps up to the church. Traditionally the groom is to carry his bride up the 90 steps without setting her down. They say about 3 out of 4 make it. While we were on the island, there was one wedding going on in the chapel. There was another bride and groom in the cafe waiting their turn.

Boat ride to the island

The church on the island.

Brandon found this duck inside a hole in a tree.

We rode the boat back to town and wandered through the market a bit. Katrina found a necklace and we both sampled some honey brandy. OH MY!..that was good. We bought a bottle to take home. The Bled area is famous for its honey production.

We were tired and felt it was time to head back, but once in the car we decided to make one last stop, the Vintar Gorge. It was about a 10 minute drive outside of town. Once there, we parked, paid the admission fee and started walking through the gorge.

The Radovna river cut the Vintgar gorge deep between the hills of HOm and Borst. The gorge is flanked by steep slopes overgrown with beech forests. it was discovered in 1891 by Jakob Zumer, mayor of Gorje, and Benedikt Lerget-porer, a cartographer and photographer from Bled. In 1893 the gorge was opened to the public. Constructing a secured tourist trail through the gorge was a demanding and and extremely dangerous task.

The roar of the Radovna river echoes along the 1600 meter long gorge, full of waterfalls, rapids and erosion potholes. Trails, narrow passages and bridges lead visitors to the end of the gorge, which is marked by a magnificent 16 meter high waterfall Sum, the hightest fluvial waterfall in Slovenia.

Brandon makes another cat friend near the entrance.

By the time we reached the waterfall and turned around to head back upstream, the skies were getting cloudier and the gorge was beginning to get misty. We hiked back to the entrance, bought some ice cream and it began to rain. We ended up eating our ice cream in the car.

By the time we arrived back in town we were hungry, so we stopped at a little restaurant and had a Slovenian meal.

Another late night with heavy rain and high humidity. I was feeling mostly better by evening.

Tomorrow we head to Lublijiana for the day.

Salt in the Mountain

First off, there was a sign in our hotel that we spotted last night and it made us really laugh. I don't know if its because we live here and understand it a little more, or if its just funny in general:

Heaven is where -
The police are British
The cooks are French
The mechanics are German
The lovers are Italian
and all is organized by the Swiss.

Hell is where -
The cooks are British
The mechanics are French
The lovers are Swiss
The police are German
and all is organized by the Italians.

We are heading to Slovenia today, via Hallstatt. We got ready, ate breakfast in the hotel and hit the road. Our route initially took us through farm country with mountains in the distance. This quickly changed to mountains and highway tunnels.

Our first destination, Hallstatt Austria. Halstatt is a tiny town nestled on the shores of Hallstattersee Lake and a steep mountainside. The town can be toured in 15 minutes, its that small. It is one of the oldest towns in all of Europe, dating back centuries before Christ. The symbol of Hallstatt is two adjacent spirals, a design based on jewelry found in Bronze Age Celtic graves high in the nearby mountains. Hallstatt's charm is its village and lake. Tourists go there to eat, wander and paddle. The lake is famous for good fishing and pure water.

Extra tidbit: We learned that 80% of Austria's waters are drinkable 'as is'. They have some of the purest water in Europe.

One of our goals while driving to Hallstatt was to find an alpine slide. We read about them in the Rick Steve's book and saw brochures for them in our hotel. Brandon really wanted to find one.

About 20km before Hallstatt I spotted one. We pulled in, bought our tickets and rode the tram to the top. This alpine slide boasts one of the longer tracks in the area - 2 km. It looked steep and fast! I was a little nervous about Brandon. He can tend to be cautious with many new activities. He seemed fine, but I was nervous for him. The rules state that you should not stop on the track or use your break very much. I could just see him riding his break all the way down.

After checking out the view at the top, we got in line for boarding. Me first, then Brandon and Katrina. We had to wait for about 10 minutes, inching up slowly to the stoplight they used to spread out the riders.

Views from the top.

Brandon gets buckled in for the ride.

Ready for some high speed fun.

Finally it was my turn. The light turned green and I was off. What a thrill. At first you start heading downhill and around the first curve and realize just how steep the mountain is. Then you relax and just go for it.

Near the bottom I got stuck behind a family taking it slow. The next thing I know Brandon is speeding up behind me. He loved it and is a little speed racer.

We all had a great time. We wanted to do it again, but it was a bit expensive and we needed to get to Hallstatt. We promised Brandon we would try it again if we passed another one.

Many of the Alps look like this - folded rock.

We drove on into Hallstatt and found some parking near the salt mine. Hallstatt is famous for its salt mining. There are indications that salt was mined here as far back as centuries before Christ.

The salt mine claims to be the oldest in the world. To get there, we first had to ride a steep funicular high above the town. Then we hiked 10 minutes to the mine, past excavation sites of many prehistoric tombs and a glass case of 2500 year old bones. Once our tour was called, we put on miner's clothes then hike another 200 yards higher to meet our guide.

The steepest funicular we have ridden so far.

The guide then escorted the group down a tunnel dug in 1719. Inside the mountain we walked through several salt caverns, watched a slide show, learned about salt mining techniques over the last 7000 years, watched a cheesy laser show, saw some early miner 'scenes' and rode a mine train back out of the mountain.

Tunnel from 1719.


The highlight of the tour is sliding down two banisters to lower levels. This was a blast. The second slide actually clocked out speed. I hit 30kph. Brandon hit 29kph. Katrina hit 27kph.

The mine train followed a very narrow and low tunnel.

View of the lake from the salt mine.

After the tour we headed back down the mountain in search of lunch. We found a little Italian cafe. We had a nice lunch outside, although it was threatening rain.

The skies were getting darker as we finished lunch, but we decided to walk around town a bit anyway. We walked through a couple lanes with homes, Katrina taking lots of pictures. When we got to the main part of town, we only made it about 100 meters before the skies opened up and we got dumped on. Everyone was scrambling for cover. It even began to hail a little bit. We skipped back and forth down the street, running for different covered locations as we headed back towards our car. Finally, we ended up under an awning near the traffic zone. I decided to go get the car and come back to pickup up Katrina and Brandon.


Rain and hail

By the time I arrive with the car, the rain had stopped, at least temporarily.

We were now heading for Bled Slovenia. The drive took about 3 hours and we arrived at our hotel, the Pension Kovac, a little after 8pm.

What a wonderful room. This was definitely the best of the trip. Big and roomy, nice and modern...and also the cheapest of the trip.

We were tired and ready for bed. Tomorrow we go into Bled for the day.