Monday, June 27, 2011

Food and Friends: the solution to everything.

Although last weekend was the weekend from hell I can laugh about it and move on. My week was fantastic but this weekend turned out to be perfect.

The past week I met up with friends for lunch and returned to my favorite restaurant to meet a friend I hadn't seen in a year. We went to Caffè Della Piazzetta (they have the most fantastic sandwiches!).

The rest of the week I spent with my host family and with Beatrice. Going to the park and enjoying the beautiful weather. I am so happy to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.

After the week was over it was time to meet up with my friends. Friday evening I met up with Chiara and her group of friends at an outdoor bar - I had a few Italian lessons and called it an early night. The next morning I woke up and met Laura (the mother of my host family), Beatrice, along with a few of Laura's friends and their children for a day at the sea. It was indeed a hot day and although the drive there was spent sitting in a traffic jam it was worth the wait to sit seaside with the breeze, sea, and sun. The day was nice and the traffic was minimal on the way back to Abano.

In the evening I met up with Chiara and her group of friends again. We went to Sagra di Faedo for a grand feast and an unexpected game of kings. Sangra di Faedo is located in the Colli Euganei region. It was only about a half hour drive from where I am staying and the scenic route was completely worth it. As we drove up the hills the sun seemed to have a special light, a golden yellow reflected off the hills and it was as if the tiny villages below were on display. As we went round and round the curvy roads up the hill you could smell the fresh countryside trees and flowers. The most beautiful part was all of the vineyards that lined the hilltops.

Sagra di Faedo is a festival that took place in a tiny village a top one of the hills in the Colli Euganei region where the inhabitants of the village prepare their local Veneto cuisine to raise money. They charge you a small fee and in return you get more food than you could possibly eat and an endless amount of wine. There were 18 in our group and after patiently waiting for a table we were served and stuffed with some of the best damn gnocchi I had ever ate. Throughout dinner we drank the wine, and we drank a lot. At the end of our feast a friend of Chiaras informed us that they brought poker cards. At a previous dinner I had explained to them the American drinking game of kings and they were intrigued . A group of us decided to play with the bountiful supply of wine. In the end there were a few drunk Italians but I expect to be playing this game many more times as they seemed to enjoy it.

As if my Saturday night wasn't enough, I had what seemed to be a perfect Sunday...

My plans were to meet up with a new friend for a picnic in the shade in Prato della Valle.
We spent hours under the trees, eating delicious vegan food prepared by chef 'F', and listening to music while lying in the grass. If that's not a perfect Sunday, I don't know what is.

After the picnic we changed locations to the Botanical gardens, my new favorite place to go. A jungle inside a city.

My Sundays will forever be spent under trees... at least while I have the opportunity.

I think even a fun part of the day was lying in 'illegal grass' - apparently there are some areas where you cannot go and old men on motor bikes make you go to mosquito infested parks. I really don't mind.

I was told of a good Indian restaurant, at last.. my weekend can be complete. A picnic, Indian food.. what else could possibly happen you ask?

As I was waiting for my bus I happen to run into two Americans that are taking the same bus as I am, by chance they are living and working in Abano Terme, the same town I live in. They are both my age and work as cooks in a hotel. They were happy to meet me because after only being here a few weeks they were unable to meet many people and don't know the right places to go for dinner, drinks, etc. I am always happy to show people my favorite places for lunch and to have new friends in general. We ended up talking the entire bus ride back to my bus stop and exchanged numbers. New friends, a perfect weekend, and the most amazing weather anyone could ask for.

La Dolce Vita.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"The Out-Of-Towners"

There was a movie made by Neil Simon in 1970 called "The Out-Of-Towners" with Jack Lemmon (one of my all time favorite actors) about a couple that goes to New York for a nice weekend away and the husband to interview for a job. In the movie the weekend turns into a disaster and everything seems to go wrong.

I tell you this because after watching this clip it is somewhat of an idea of how my weekend turned out.

After a wonderful week in Sardegna I was ready to enjoy the weekend with my friend Michelle, who lives and studies in Florence. We went to University together in Tennessee but she is from Florida and has already graduated. Anyway, we decided to meet up for the weekend in Padova and then spend the Saturday in Venice. While I was in Sardegna I had a terrible time trying to find an affordable B&B or hotel for our weekend stay in Padova because everything that I was interested in was fully booked. I finally came across a B&B "A Casa di Chiara" - I searched this B&B on tripadvisor and read the reviews, it seemed nice and the reviews were positive so I booked the B&B for 2 nights.

We arrived back from Sardegna around 6pm and I ran back to my 'home' in Abano Terme, packed another bag, and then I went straight to the B&B around 8pm to check in and settle in before my friend Michelle arrived. I met with Chiara (the owner of the B&B) and she seemed very nice and welcoming. The room wasn't a 5 star hotel but it was clean and seemed cozy. I began to get ready because we were meeting up with my friends Chiara and Alberto for drinks later on in the evening. We went out and enjoyed our night out. After our night at the bar we got a taxi back to the B&B.

*Sidenote: Before we left, the host of the B&B gave me the keys to the building/our room and told me which key to use for the front door.

When we arrived (at the wee hours of the morning) we tried to open the door with the keys we were given. The keys didn't work. I tried over and over and spent nearly 15 minutes at the door using different techniques to open it. We didn't know what else to do but to ring the buzzer/doorbell.

Chiara (the owner) came running down the stairs yelling and screaming at us. Yes, it was early in the morning and we had woken her up but she was the owner of a B&B and these things happen. It shouldn't be something to get angry or upset about. Michelle and I were apologizing to her over and over but she continued to yell at us about waking her up and made us feel very very uncomfortable. She gave me my money (or I thought it was all of my money but only half) and told us that we should find a different place to stay the next night. It was currently 5am at this point after spending nearly half an hour of trying to open the door and then being insulted by a very rude woman. Michelle and I did not want to be in this terrible situation any longer so we packed our bags after searching online for another hotel and made our way out. We were extremely exhausted and just wanted to go to sleep.

After nearly an hour of attempting to find a taxi and correct address for our hotel we arrive. The man working at the desk was elderly and seemed to not know how to process a credit card so we didn't get into our room until  7am.

We woke up midday in complete shock of what had happened the night before. I have never been in such a situation. Not only was this woman psycho but the owner of a facility should be prepared for situations like this and be understanding of any complications that may happen, not to be angry or go into an outrage because there is a mistake with a key. It was so incredible for someone to be so unprofessional.

Our day was nearly ruined because we were tired and the day was half gone. We decided to put everything behind us and to go to Venice for the night for free museums and for Michelle to see the city for the first time. Little did we know we were in for another night of chaos.

Venice was beautiful and our trip started out well, we had a nice walk in the piazzas and saw the canals and then went to a restaurant for dinner and spritz. After that we went into a few museums. We had bought our train tickets to return to Padova at 10.30pm to make it back in time to go out one last night in Padova. For those of you who haven't been to Venice.. it's basically a human maze. The streets are impossible to find and even if you have a map and you take one wrong turn you can easily be lost and never find your street on the map. Well, at 9pm we started to make our way back to the train station but we decided to stop at a shop on the way back and took a wrong street and was lost, it seemed every street we turned on was in a circle and that we were backtracking. Finally, we ask a group of locals where they were going and asked them if we could walk with them because they were going in the same direction. It was then 10pm and we were still far from the train station.. we finally got a boat taxi but it wasn't a single taxi, more like a water bus crossed with an immigration ship or the sinking of Titanic. The boat was so crowded that I thought small children were going to be crushed. I couldn't believe how unorganized and chaotic this boat was. When we arrived at the train station it was 11pm and we had missed our train. Luckily there was a train going to Padova at 11.30pm but it wasn't just a train to Padova the final destination was Napoli. It was a night train to Napoli that passed through Padova and it was the worst, dirtiest, oldest train I've ever seen while in Italy. Not only was this train terrible but it was overbooked and the last train leaving for the night which meant it was like a can of Sardines packed with people from Naples and tourists trying to get to Bologna or Rome. The train would normally take 19-30 minutes but this train took 1 HOUR. It made a stop to connect another train that took 20 minutes. We didn't arrive back to Padova until 12.45am. Aside from all the problems we decided to go out again in Padova and ended up having a really nice evening catching up and meeting new people. We still saw some really beautiful things and can look back on this experience and laugh. Things happen and we move on.

The next day I said goodbye to Michelle and returned to my sweet sweet home in Abano. It felt so good to be back home and around my host family.

After a Sunday morning and afternoon of relaxing and recharging I met up with my friend Alberto to go to our friend Chiara's house for dinner, drinks, and card games. It was a perfect end to my weekend and I look forward to spending many more evenings over good food and drinks with them.

Sardegna: My new obession.

Last week I went with my host family to Costa Smeralda in Sardegna. We were in the area near Porto Rotondo and Porto Cervo, very famous areas in Sardegna. I had heard from everyone how amazing Sardegna was and how clear the water was but it wasn't until I saw it with my own eyes that I realized how magnificent it really was.

The house we stayed in was beautiful and the view was hard to not love. The view from our house wasn't actually a part of the crystal blue sea but more of a gulf. Still, as you can see it was not a bad sight.

The week there was a sort of escape from everything. It was not crowded as it was early in the season so very few people were around and the weather was nearly perfect. The first few days were a little windy but at least there was sun and sea. The remaining days were sunny and warm and the nights were cool and you could smell the scent of the Myrtle plants that made the night smell like sweet Mirto. It was not hard to become obsessed with such a beautiful place.

The sea reminded me of a movie I love called "Blue Lagoon", I was always fascinated with this movie and wanted to go to a place with a sea so clear that it would be mistaken for a swimming pool. I have finally discovered such a place.

I suppose that clear blue water, sunny skies, and a fantastic host family would be enough to make this obsession complete.. but while in Sardegna I discovered something beautiful. Panne Carasau. I had panne carasau in Morlupo last summer because the families' parents were from Sardegna and you could often find panne carasau in the kitchen but I hadn't had it in the correct way. Panne carasau is a very thin like bread, almost like a cracker crossed with a tortilla or something - it's completely unique. I wasn't very interested in it until I had it made right. I had tried it before but it was quite bland. It is to be baked in the oven with fresh rosemary until it's a toasted to a golden color then salt and olive oil is placed on it right before serving.

One night we went into Porto Cervo to have a walk and an aperitivo. Porto Cervo is famous for it's yachts and high end shops,hotels, and bars/restaurants

As we were on the road to Porto Cervo there was a view from the street of the surrounding area.

The week in Sardegna went quickly but I will return for the month of August to see and experience more.

Feeling at Home

After my wonderful week in Rome I arrived to Abano Terme, my new home for the summer. My host family welcomed me in the perfect way and I couldn't feel more at home. They are really fantastic and Beatrice (the little girl I am looking after) is just an angel. After just a few weeks of me being around her she already speaks a few words in English and can understand some things I say to her. Oh, and she's only 2!

My new 'home' is beautiful and I love my new host family. I don't know how I keep getting so lucky with host families. Ever summer I hear stories from other au pairs I know and they say how horrible some families are but I have never came across any family in this way. I feel lucky to have found such a welcoming and genuine family. They are not just a host family but also my friends who I can share my stories and experiences with.

Here is a look at my room.

Abano is an area for swimming pools, thermal baths, and a good place for families because it's quiet and child friendly. I enjoy it here because it's relaxed and easy to get to places. If I want to go into Padova for lunch or out with friends it's just a short bus ride away.

I have met some really great friends already. One in particular, her name is Chiara. The story in how we met is quite interesting. When I was an au pair in Sydney, Australia in 2008 I met an Australian girl named Cynthia. We kept in touch throughout the years and she even came to visit me in Tennessee. Last winter she traveled all through South America and went to Peru... while she was there she met Chiara who just happens to be from Padova. When Cynthia heard I was going to Padova for the summer she put me in contact with Chiara via Facebook and now we are already having dinners together and she is introducing me to some of her wonderful friends.