One to Grow On

July 23, 2010

Seven Hours to a Different Planet

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 4:52 pm

In one good day of driving we left the heat and passion of Rome behind.  We drove through Umbria, through Tuscany, up to the Lombardy region and the beautiful lakes.  We only stopped for gas.  We had a mission: we were on our way to visit out friends who live near Thun, in Switzerland, and we didn’t want to be late.  And, to be honest, we were pretty motivated to be settled in a hotel on the other side of the Swiss border before kickoff of  the World Cup game between Germany and Spain.  And we made it! 

I cannot convey how funny it is to drive from Italy into Switzerland.    My mind cannot grasp that two such different countries can share a land  border. In Italy the air is heavy and horns blow constantly.  Couples on mopeds buzz like mosquitos up and down the sidewalks, and women in huge sunglasses thump themselves in the chest and fling their arms out while they talk.  The sorbet is so good, and the orange juice is almost always freshly squeezed.  The espresso is a small tablespoon of oily black in the depths of the cup.  Heaven.  Switzerland?  Cool, crisp air.  Stunning mountains and hiking trails connecting every valley.   Highways and roads functioning perfectly, in total order.  A woman in a bookshop took 15 minutes to wrap a book that cost $5 .  On the streets were not only trash bins, but bins to sort recyclables about 7 different ways.  Also heaven.  But how can they be so different?  Not only that, but for a while into Switzerland, the official language is still Italian.  We headed into the San Gotthard tunnel, and all the signs were in Italian.  We came out to find ourselves in a German-speaking Alpine wonderland.  Bizzarre.  

Rory and Nora were thrilled to be in snow-covered mountains.  After 9 weeks in Spain and Italy they were no longer excited about dry hills topped with castle ruins.  My exclamations from the front seat of, ‘Hey, y’all, look at that!’ were meet with increasingly dull, “Oh, yeah, wow,” just to humor me.  They hardly ever glanced up anymore.  Now, in Switzerland, I was the one called on to witness stunning scenery and amazing sights.  I pulled over near the Susten Pass, and those two burst from the car and scampered all over the hillsides until I rounded them up again half and hour later.  Nora, after our two months last summer out west in the US and Canada, was delighted to discover that some mountains come with cafes on the hillside.  Hiking with stops for juice and hot tea?  Now you’re talking! We drove on to our friends’ with Nora and Rory foreswearing Switzerland to be the best country in the world and Larissa and Valeria the luckiest kids to live in it.

Well, two days with Silvia and Daniel and their family didn’t change Rory and Nora’s mind one bit.  We played in the shadow of flowery chalets.  We swam (well, they swam- I was too cold) in a gorgeous pool at the foot of a massive mountain.  Nora in particular loved their spacious, bright wood-filled house.  I learned to make syrup from mint leaves (or from Holundeer leaves, if I can figure out what they are).   It was great to catch up with these guys, friends from a year we all lived in Kansas when our husbands were in school together.   Over long chats with Silvia I realized how much I miss the company of other women who send their husbands off and then carry on the best they can.  I feel so lucky when, out of all the folks in the world and in Army circles,  I meet a friend like Silvia.

Silvia and Daniel helped us plan a route into Germany that was peaceful and jaw-droppingly gorgeous.  We stopped in Luzern for a couple of hours, then followed the road around the lake and headed north.  Now, we’ve gone months on this trip without crossing an international border, so imagine our delight to find that in one day we were (however tangentially) in four countries.  The road we were on started in Switzerland, went into Lichtenstein, cut across a little finger of Austria, and then entered Germany.  How exciting is that?

July 14, 2010

Rome for three, hold the pizza

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Italy — midway2go @ 3:20 am

July 1, 2010

The Happy Wonders of Agriturismo

Filed under: children, food, Food Allergies, Italy — midway2go @ 5:09 am

We left Palau and ended up almost by accident in Cala Gonone, a town nestled into the base of a mountain on a gulf dotted with stunning  beaches and coves accessable only by boat.  Talk about happy accidents.  And what could make this one have an even happier ending?   How about an agriturismo perched on the side of a mountain with massive tent pitches?   The idea of an agriturismo is to have a working farm offer rooms (or tent space) to tourists.   The tourists get to see a farm up close, and the farm gets extra income.  This farm was well-known for serving up amazing dinners, family style.  The kind woman who ran the show (Signora McDonald?) didn’t bat an eye when I said we couldn’t have any gluten.  She barely flinched when I added milk and cheese to the no-no list.  I could hardly bring myself to mention my being a vegetarian, but I did, and she handled this final blow with grace and dignity.  She informed me that they couldn’t serve me fish, since all the meals featured the products from their farm, that they could only offer me an egg dish for my main plate.  I was thrilled.  A seafood reprieve!   We beamed at each other, Rory and her sons discovered that Pokemon transcends language, and a friendship was born.

Rory and Nora and I spent the next day taking a boat service from beach to beach.  The water was incredible.  The beaches were mostly white rocks, not sand, which hurt horribly climbing in and out of the steep surf, but didn’t cling and linger on our towel.  We spent a happy hour doing “math,” grouping and regrouping the beautiful jellybean-like rocks there by the sea.  

As fun as that was, my favorite memories will center around the food.    Both nights we started with an antipasti, marinated eggplant and roasted peppers for me, prociutto and other meaty delicacies for Rory and Nora.  Along with these came the best olives I’ve ever had.  I know, I know, I’ve said that before.  Still…   after that came, the first night, a simple pasta in a tomato sauce.  It was delicious.  So delicious,in fact, that when we weren’t served it the second night, Rory sat at the table and cried.  Really, it was that good.   Just look at those big, sad brown eyes.   The first night Rory and Nora were served braised “cabra.”  Nora didn’t care for it and swiped my fritata, but Rory polished off his and hers, raving about the complex flavor that reminded him of cheese.  He said it like meat from heaven covered with melted cheese.  I thought, after that, that he wouldn’t mind being told it was goat, and he didn’t, although he was sad to think it would be hard to find back home.  The second night we had the best lentil soup I’ve ever had, and I know beans.   After we ate we were summoned around back to see Signor McDonald roasting some suckling pigs by an open fire.  After fruit and coffee they came around with a digestivo,  mirto, a Sardinian liquor, like concentrated red wine syrup.  Monumental meals, both.  This may be the pentacle of camping.  We slept without our rain flap, under  a full moon as orange as freshly squeezed juice.  In the early morning I awoke  to the deep rumbling of bells as the sheep were brought to their breakfast.  All day we shuttled from one amazing beach to the next, and came back to a meal that was local, fresh, and delicious.   Possibly the rest of our camping life will  be, well, less.  Such a burden to live with.

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