Friday, February 27, 2015

Favorite Travel Destinations

For our final Travel Week post, we asked a handful of seasoned travelers their favorite destinations and I love the wonderful descriptions they gave:

"I would have to say that going to North Haven, Maine is my favorite vacation destination.  Although, now, after so many years of going, it feels like I am going home again.  The minute the ferry leaves the dock I'm happy.  I love the local people.  I love the many friends that I only see in August.  The sun (if it's out) is brilliant.  There's light everywhere.  There's never a dull moment.  Lazy breakfasts with children running in and out of the house.  Boat picnics.  Afternoon naps. And delicious feasts every night with many, many (sometimes too many) family members.  Sleeping by the sea is sublime.  And then it starts all over again.  Same routine but somehow always different."

"Thailand: culture, food, history, beaches… it has it all and on a budget.  I’m happy that I did Southeast Asia when I was young and child free, because there’s just something special about meeting other backpackers from around the world while drinking cheap Thai whiskey out of a plastic bucket.  Now that I have kids, it’s at the top of my list to take them as well, because visiting temples, riding trains, exploring markets, snorkeling and relaxing on the beach are all kid friendly.  Even though it’s an exotic destination when you’re from North America, it’s an easy place to travel and so many people do it.  Oh, and I can’t say enough about the people.  They’re so helpful and it’s called the land of smiles for a reason!"

"Venice.  Because, obviously.  The first time I went to Venice was for a few hours; I figured that was enough, that I’d seen it and I didn’t need to go back.  But then we were lucky enough to live near the "water city” for a couple of years, and each time we visited, it became more magical.  With three small boys, it was fantastic to ride the water taxi for hours, visiting all the stops on the island of Venice as well as neighboring islands, with no whining or complaining, because, well, we were on a boat - cool!"
[**You can see Cori's amazing pictures of Venice on her website, here]

"Camping in France.  We left from Cologne, drove south through Lyon, Avignon, Marseilles and Nice.  At one campground, the owners came by in the evening on their golf cart to take orders for morning baking.  Croissant?  Baguette?  And some local preserves to go with that?  At another, we camped on a beach across the bay from St. Tropez, and the restaurant served a lovely meal of clams in wine sauce.  Fresh and local?  You bet!  You don’t need to bring a can of beans to camp in France. Most campsites have a restaurant and many have pools.  We did this with a one year old and it was a great family holiday."

"Imagine standing on a station platform, looking down the track to your left. In the distance, growing larger, is the headlight of the train that is going to take you on an adventure away from your structured life, and the excitement begins right there. It doesn't matter whether it's a 3.5 hour ride to NYC or 10 days traveling around the country on the trails. Both journeys provide an escape from the day to day. Both journeys provide time for reading, reflecting and napping without interruption or a nagging sense that you should be doing something. The longer, overnight trip has the added benefit of an opportunity to meet interesting people in the dining car: a mother going to help her daughter shear sheep on her ranch in Nevada, a retired policeman from Louisville, the former pilot for Pan America flight #1 (around the world), an actor playing opposite Brian Dennehy in the play 'Death of a Salesman', a husband and wife who run a vineyard in Sonoma, CA. Most travelogues that describe train travel talk about the scenery outside the train. Actually, for me, the scenery is inside the train. Furthermore, the communication that springs up between passengers is not going to grow into a relationship that makes demands on each other. It's just for now, and then it's gone.
"My favorite place to travel is Italy. Anywhere in Italy. I love the relaxed culture with its emphasis on a slower life with lots of pasta. I love listening to people speak Italian. I love the beautiful, old cities and towns, and popping into churches while wandering around or sitting at a cafe with a spritz, people watching. And most of all, I love Italian food."

"Bonaire has been one of the most idyllic places that I've traveled to over the past decade. As one of the ABC islands located off the coast of Venezuela, it's securely nestled in a relatively safe area free from the frequent hurricanes. I originally planned my trip to Bonaire because of its incredible scuba diving, but once I arrived on this fantastically manicured Dutch island, I discovered that it also had a rich slave and salt mining history. The little slave huts located near the salt mines are an incredible reminder of the harsh living conditions of the slaves who were essentially housed in what looks like dog houses. The best part of my trip though, was the scuba diving. There are innumerable off-shore dive sites with beautiful coral reefs and magnificent marine life. We saw frog fish, moray eels of ginormous sizes, dolphins and loggerhead turtles. There are also a number of expats and artisans who live on the island, and there are some fantastic restaurants."

"North Haven, Maine is my most favorite place in the world. I love the little island that generations of family have called home in the summer; the sound of the fog horn on a brisk August night; fresh lobster from the crate hanging off our dock; eating oysters from the farm down the road and throwing the shells back into the ocean; the accent of a hardened Mainer; waving to each driver on the road; the Camden Hills; and fond memories of treasure hunts up the Knob when the fog was too thick to see Vinalhaven."

Where are your favorite places to travel? We'd love to hear....
 And, if you missed them, here's the first Travel Week post on our favorite travel memories and the second on how we travel.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How We Travel

Living in Italy allows us lots of opportunity for travel adventures and we've been able to take advantage of this. Over the past four years, we've figured out our travel style and what works best for us.

In the past, I used to meticulously plan every detail of a day trip, long weekend or end-of-hockey-season-excursion. I would read guidebooks (this one is usually spot on), book restaurant reservations and order museum tickets online, all weeks ahead of time. Sometimes this is good, especially if you're traveling at a touristy time and you want to eat at a popular restaurant or make sure you get the tickets you want at the time you want.

Then, two years ago we went to Rome. We tried to cram everything that you're "supposed" to see into three days which is basically impossible. We ended up running all over the city, from the Colosseum to the Forum to the Pantheon, eating scheduled meals in between sights. It was completely exhausting and we slept for about three days when we got back to Cortina.

So, now we have a new strategy: we plan a few things (like what museums we want to see or if there's a great restaurant we want to try). But we also make sure to spend an afternoon or a day wandering around the town exploring on our own. We pop into churches, stop for cappuccinos at local cafes and try regional wines at tiny wine bars.

Instead of solely relying on our guidebook, we ask locals, friends who have already been or someone who works at our hotel where the best places to eat are, and what kinds of things we have to see before we leave. A lot of times, these people can give you undercover advice that you wouldn't even know about from a guidebook!

We also make sure to make some time for naps....after all, it's supposed to be a vacation! There are only so many sights you can see in one day - plus, if you're too tired, you'll never enjoy it.

We're in the early planning stages of our end-of-the-season trip now and we're picking out a few destinations/tours/restaurants/museums that we want to see and do. But for the rest of the trip, we're winging it, taking recommendations from locals (or readers!) and going wherever we feel like. With plenty of time for naps in between.

PS - My article on the different Italian regions is in the Steamboat paper today, here.

And did you see our first Travel Week post?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Our Favorite Travel Memories

As I mentioned earlier, we're starting to plan a big trip for a few weeks in March and April (any ideas?!). We've already been lucky enough to have had some amazing travel experiences these past four years in Europe (and at home in the US!), so we compiled a few of our favorite moments:
From Ryan:

Florence. To me, Florence embodies everything Italian: it has culture, history, incredible food and great wine. Plus the city is so manageable - you can walk everywhere. I've only been once, for a few days, but it was my favorite trip we've taken in the past four years. When I walked into the Accademia and came face to face with The David, I was completely taken aback. Its size, the details, the beauty of it and the idea that a person could make that - the whole thing was incredible.

Moab/The Grand Canyon/Mesa Verde. This was an impromptu trip that we took in May of 2014. We were sitting at home in Colorado one day when I suggested that we go on a two-night camping and hiking trip in Moab (Sophie had never been). Sophie is more of a planner but to my surprise, she agreed to leave the next day. The hiking was great, the summer crowds weren't around yet and we were having so much fun that we decided to continue on to the Grand Canyon (where Sophie had also never been before). We did two nights there and and then went down to Mesa Verde for one more night before heading back to Steamboat. I loved showing my wife these amazing western landmarks that she had never seen and I loved taking her on a camping trip. Camping was a favorite activity of mine when I was young and it was fun to recreate that with her.

Lake Como. We went to Lake Como in January (!!) of 2012 for a weekend. It was one of those trips where sometimes you just need to get out of town and have a change of scenery. When we got there, it was completely empty and quiet and peaceful. We ate dinner in the same restaurant both nights (and had this amazing pasta dish with buckwheat noodles, sage, cabbage, potatoes and tons of butter), had coffee both mornings in the same cafe and stayed in the only hotel that was open. All we did was walk, play cards, nap and watch sunsets over the lake. It was perfect for re-charging and we got to see a side of Lake Como that only the true locals see.

From Sophie:

Siena. The first trip that we took together was to Siena in November of 2011. We figured out the train schedule (and got on the right train, which is half the battle), found the hotel easily and ate dinner in a tiny restaurant where we shared a table with two charming gay Frenchmen and ate an amazing pine nut cake for dessert. We arrived at night when it was already dark but when we woke up in the morning and opened the shutters, we were looking out over a sea of red tile roofs....not what you see in Cortina! It was so much fun to explore a new part of Italy together AND we learned that we're pretty good travel partners which is important for our lifestyle.

Prague. On our way to Prague, we made it to Innsbruck before we realized that our GPS didn't have maps of the Czech Republic and could only take us as far as Germany before we were on our own. The only thing we could do was buy a paper map and wing it. In a country that loves to put together as many consonants as possible, it's not a good idea to travel sans GPS! I don't know how this happened, but we drove around the city for a while before stumbling on our hotel by the side of the road. It was truly a travel miracle. And not only did we successfully find the hotel, we remained in good spirits which is half the battle. That was a time when I knew I had married the right person.

 Moab/The Grand Canyon/Mesa Verde. This impromptu camping trip was a huge learning experience for me. My previous self-imposed camping limit was two nights, max. When I ended up camping for five nights, voluntarily, I was really surprised. This trip really pushed my boundaries and I was happy to find that I LOVED it. I wasn't worried about my dirty hair (actually I brought dry shampoo with me, so I guess I cheated a little, but whatever) or lack of fresh vegetables and I felt healthy and strong from all the hiking. I proved to myself that I could do something that I thought I couldn't or didn't want to and I was really proud of myself (and Ryan was too).

We'd love to hear....what are your favorite travel memories?

Also coming up this week: how we travel, why we travel and favorite places to visit.

It's Travel Week!

This week is Travel Week on Here We Go Again! We're getting excited for our big end-of-the-season trip and we can't stop thinking about all things travel-related so this week we're going to talk about it.

Here's the deal with our trip: for a few weeks in March and April we're going to travel around Italy, stopping in different cities and towns that we've never been to before. We're going to visit churches, vineyards, museums, beaches...anything and everything.

We'd love your suggestions on places to stop, things to see, what to do, where to eat, anything you can think of and want to share.

In the meantime, this week we're going to talk about our favorite travel destinations, memories and experiences. Hope you enjoy!

PS - A few of our favorite trips so far: Trieste, Prague, Rome and Lake Como in January.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pasta with Slow-Simmer Sauce

For February's pasta, I'm sharing our winter go-to: homemade pasta with a ragu sauce that simmers for hours and hours until it's the best ragu sauce you've ever had.

I originally found the recipe on Pinterest, here, and I made it for Valentine's Day two years ago. It was so good that I made it again the next year (again for Valentine's Day) - except last year I added homemade pasta to the mix as well. Then we realized that we don't just have to eat it on Valentine's Day! Now we eat it all winter.

The recipe makes a big batch and it freezes really well (unless you're serving 6-8 people, in which case you might eat it all). In the past, I've substituted dried herbs for the fresh ones that it calls for and that works fine too. It's the perfect thing to eat as we enjoy the last few weeks of winter.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Expat Interview: Rick Zullo in Rome

For our third expat interview today, I was very excited to have the chance to chat with Rick Zullo, an award-winning travel writer living in Rome!

Wouldn't it be amazing to actually live in Rome where you could walk by the Colosseum every day? Rick says:

"I first came to Italy in the summer of 2010. I was participating in a literature program in Venice for about six or seven weeks and decided to extend my stay and travel around a bit. Also, I took the occasion to visit my great-grandparents' village in Molise. Then I wound up in Rome where I met an Italian woman who would eventually become my wife. So I went back to the States, sold my things, got a visa and moved back to Rome three months later. How's that for the quintessential 'American abroad' love story?"

What do you love most about living in Italy?
 Wow, hard to pick one thing. And in fact I think it's not just one thing, but the overall mix that creates such an interesting atmosphere in daily life. I love that my evening's entertainment is a passeggiata and an aperitivo. I love that some of the best museums in this incredible, historic city are churches in my own neighborhood.

What do you miss most from home?
Not much, really. I guess mainly the ease of getting simple tasks done, which in Italy often requires a monumental degree of stamina and patience. Something as mundane as picking up a package at the post office can consume an entire frustrating day.

Aside from post office troubles - which I've struggled with myself - what do you think is the hardest part of living in a different country?
It's hard to make deep, lasting friendships with local people who have such different cultural reference points. In Italy, it's very easy to make the acquaintance of someone, but there always seems to be an invisible barrier that prevents a closer bond. That's why expats typically hang out with other expats. The language can be a big part of that too, of course.

Have you adopted any Italian habits or mannerisms over the past few years?
That's a great question! There are several. I no longer put ice in my drinks, and I no longer tolerate air conditioning unless it's VERY hot. I wear more scarves than ever before. And for anything food related, I've been completely converted to the Italian ways. Also, I hate to admit it, but I've acquired some Roman driving habits. Enough said.

What have you found to be the biggest difference between Italy and the US?
Well, there are so many small differences that play a role in daily life, and those are the ones that I notice the most. But if I had to pick one big one, it would be related to how commerce and finances are handled. There are so many regulations and barriers in place in Italy, that one can be forgiven for not wanting to participate at all. This goes for anything from hiring employees, to opening a bank account, to signing a rental contract, to making simple purchases. Try to return an item at any retail store and you'll find out. I'm often reluctant to buy some things, because I know what a major issue it will be if I have to return it for any reason.

How did you learn to speak Italian?
Initially, I made huge strides with a software program. That got me to "functional" before I ever even moved to Rome. Then once I got to a basic conversational level, it was just a matter of using it in everyday life.

What's your favorite Italian meal?
Oh, so many! I love all the typical primi piatti in Rome, but I have a favorite Sicilian dish called bracciole di pesce spade - grilled swordfish fish rolls. There's a restaurant in Rome called Capricci Siciliani that does a good job with them.

Do you feel totally comfortable living in Italy now or are there some days that can be overwhelming? 
There are moments that are difficult, but overall I'm very comfortable in Italy. No matter where you live, you gain something, you lose something. But on balance, life in Italy suits me better than anyplace else that I've lived.

Where is your favorite place to travel to in Italy?
I always tell people that if you want to live in Italy, you should look for places from Rome to the North. On the other hand, for the pure pleasure of traveling, I like to go south to Sicily. Not sure I would live there, though.

Favorite thing to do?
What I appreciate about Italy is that the best things are the simple things. Go for a walk, poke your head inside a church or local museum, stop for an aperitivo and just enjoy the surroundings. Then once in a while, sit in a cozy trattoria with good friends and a few bottles of wine for about 3 hours of eating, drinking and conversation. Life can't offer much more than that, in my opinion.

Thank you so much, Rick! I loved what Rick said about some of the best museums in Rome being churches in his own neighborhood - I think that's one of the most fascinating (and different!) things about Italy. Rick writes a great blog which you can read here and check out his eBook, Live Like an Italian! You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, too.

And PS - our first two expat interviews are here and here.

Monday, February 9, 2015


After having just said that Ryan never gets the weekend off, he got another one off (!) and we went to Vienna! Technically, we were there to watch the Italian national team play the Austrian national team...

...but we also managed to squeeze in a morning of sightseeing, plenty of goulash and schnitzel and lots of walking around, exploring. Here are a few pictures from the weekend:

Vienna has so much to see and do that we didn't know where to start. On Saturday morning, we settled on Hofburg Palace, the former imperial palace right in the center of the city. We went to the Sisi Museum (dedicated to Empress Elisabeth, wife of Franz Joseph), saw the imperial china collection and the imperial apartment where Elisabeth and Franz Joseph lived.

Everything in Vienna was incredibly beautiful - the buildings, the statues, the moldings on the windows...and there were horse drawn carriages everywhere, which made it feel like we were in a different century.

We were told that we had to go to Figlmuller for schnitzel and it was one of the best recommendations we've ever received.

The schnitzel was bigger than the plates it was served on, but it was so thin and light that we were about to eat the whole thing!

We were also told that we had to go to Cafe Sacher for a slice of their famous Sacher Torte...

...and after that lunch and snack, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city and taking everything in.

Vienna seems like the kind of place that you could revisit again and again and see something new each time. So we'll be back!

PS - Thoughts on what to do in Vienna for the weekend from the New York Times...and did you know that Vienna is the wine capital of Austria? We didn't realize how well known the city is for their wine, but we tried a few different bottles and they were all delicious.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Seven Things to do in Bassano del Grappa

Two weekends ago Ryan had...

...the WEEKEND OFF, which is unheard of for a hockey player in the middle of his season. So we decided to celebrate by heading to Bassano del Grappa (located in the province of Vicenza) for a night. Here are a few pictures if you'd like to see and a few recommendations if you're in the area...

1. Order a "mezzo e mezzo" to drink on the Ponte degli Alpini - The Ponte degli Alpini is the famous covered bridge of Bassano del Grappa. Originally designed by Palladio, but rebuilt several times, its name refers to Italy's Alpine troops, the "Alpini" who rebuilt it after it was destroyed in World War Two.

The "mezzo e mezzo" is the signature aperitivo of Bassano del Grappa (recipe here). You can order one from the Nardini Grapperia which is located at one end of the bridge, and then take it outside to hang out on the bridge and chat with friends.

2. Poli Museo della Grappa - Bassano del Grappa is famous for inventing grappa (of course) and this museum teaches you the history of grappa, how it's made and why it's important to, you can sample a few different kinds at the end.

3. Museo degli Alpini - This tiny, two-room museum is located in the basement of the Taverna al Ponte, just off the bridge. It's fun to have a coffee upstairs in the tavern, and then head downstairs to check out their collection of photos and letters from World War One, and specifically the battle at Monte Grappa.

4. Try a new wine - One of our favorite things to do on trips is to sit outside in cafes, people-watching because you can really get a feel for the city and the locals this way. This time, we discovered Valpolicella Ripasso - not really local to Bassano del Grappa as it's made in the Veneto, near Verona - but now we can't get enough of it.

5. Eat radicchio - Bassano del Grappa is about 30 miles from Treviso, the home of  red radicchio - which spills into Bassano as well. On this trip, we ate radicchio with steak, in ravioli with hazelnuts, mixed with sausage and fresh pasta and on slices of pizza.

6. Buy grappa and ceramics - If you're looking for souvenirs, grappa is the obvious choice. Grappa gets a bad reputation for being strong (and frankly, quite often disgusting) but we took home a bottle of blueberry grappa which is delicious. There are so many different flavors, it's easy to find one that you like. Bassano is also known for their ceramics and there are lots of little shops that we had fun exploring before settling on a dish that now sits on our kitchen table.

7. Walk, walk, walk - We spent most of Sunday morning wandering around the city, poking our heads into the churches and bread shops and cafes. As you can see from the picture below, everyone else was doing the same thing...