Hello again… :)

Why yes! It is I, returning after so long since our last escapade. Where were we last time? Ah yes. On a plane, sailing across the blue open sky from the romantic lands of Italy, to the sweltering hot roads of the United States. Yes. It was summer then. A beautiful time where wildlife flourishes, children cheer and splash in either swimming pools or beaches, adults break out the grill for yet another neighborhood barbecue, ridiculously long lines of customers pile up for ice cream and ask if they can put two flavors in a single dip… (did I say that out loud?), and bugs eat you alive until the inevitable grace of autumn chill comes our way. Ah yes. A wonderful time for many… except those who love the cold… myself included.

Alas, Autumn brought forth its wonderful hues, and the gentle caress of the early chill, welcoming in the true warmth of home and a bountiful harvest. And yet, as I bask in the frigid touch of winter grazing its tips upon the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, I can’t help but feel that something is missing. It’s a sort of emptiness. A sense of melancholia. And it’s there I harken back to that glorious time I set foot in new lands I have either seldom explored… or never explored. It was something greater than myself. A new adventure. A distant calling.

And there it was

A beacon to go to a new land I have never set foot in, yet was so close in my grasp. And my dear reader, I can vouch that I’ve been wowed by the mystical world of Disney in Florida, I have ventured into the sparkling streets of Hollywood in California, I have even nearly gotten plowed by a truck in Texas (it’s a long and fun story). But my friends, never have I ever been in the South Land, where there’s a city, way down on the river. It’s where the women are very pretty, and all the men deliver. They got music! It’s always playin’. Start in the day time, go through the night. When you hear that music playin’. Hear what I’m saying make you feel alright.

"Grab somebody, come on down
Bring your paintbrush, we're paintin' the town
Honey, there's some sweetness goin' round
Catch it down in New Orleans!"
- "Down in New Orleans" by Dr. John

(You can hear “Down in New Orleans” at: https://youtu.be/RymwioSbABg)

See y’all in New Orleans!

Day 11: Finale

Here we are folks. The very last leap of the trip. Journey’s End. It feels as though an entire month has passed since we arrived in our small B&B in Rome, with no idea of what to do first except walking from one souvenir store to the next. We were in high spirits, ready to conquer each sight. Now as we bought our last breakfast cappuccino in Italy, I felt well versed in my broken Italian. I could practice and I was garnered with appreciation by the local population for my efforts. And here I was. Boarding a plane to a country that wanted nothing more than perfect American English out of its visitors.

Yet, the idea of returning home felt refreshing. I love Italy. It will always be like a second home to me as I had stated before in my Florence posts. But Home is home. Lancaster Pa is my home. And I can return with more stories to tell, an enlightened mind, and ignited inspiration.

Thank you all for joining me on this adventure. This was a great experiment, and hopefully, I can make more blog entries like this for future adventures. Again, thank you all, and I hope you stick around for what the future holds.

Day 10: One Day More…

Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angeli

We awoke early in Lugano, hoping to find not only breakfast, but the activities that we missed last night. The morning was brisk, as most early mornings were. Cool enough for a stroll through town. We came across a set of steps and saw they lead down next to the lake. An easy short cut for the way down, but not so easy coming back up. On the way down we noticed a railway going down the mountainside. For a moment I thought our life could be easier until I saw the weeds cultivating around it. Abandoned. It left for a hauntingly breathtaking image of what could have been or what once was.

Abandoned railway going up

Abandoned railway going down

As per our usual, we caught a cappuccino in one of the Cafes as well as a croissant to accompany it. Eating outside, some small sparrows hopped by, hoping for some scraps to fall. We tossed them a few crumbs, perhaps a little too large for their beaks and then they fluttered off only to return for more. This went on until a pigeon flopped in to disturb the peace.

Our morning cappuccino

After some time of walking off our cappuccino and croissant, we concluded that the stores were not opening any time soon. So we agreed to march back up to our apartment and gather our things for our final destination. Milan.

The Duomo of Milan

I didn’t know what I would find in Milan. Four years back, my roommate suggested we go to Milan on one of our free days, but we ended up going to the beach because of the unbearable heat. All I knew was that Milan was a fashion capital (ugh. Fashion), and Pepperidge Farms Milanos we’re named after this place. Come to think of it, I was hoping to find a packet of Milano Cookies in Milan just so I could say I ate Milanos in Milan. But, I was not disappointed, because…

Hey look, a Milano shaped cookie on my gelato

I was a happy camper that day.

As I said, we had no idea what to do in Milan, but as we found out for most Italian towns, when in doubt, visit the cathedral. Entering the cathedral was easy enough, and I expected to see about the same Romanesque Gothic hybrid architecture I had seen in most other churches. But when I stepped through those door, I had felt something I had not felt for a long time on this trip.

Inside the Duomo

Just like the great mosaic in the front of Pisa’s Duomo, I felt the majesty of God surround me as I navigated between towering arches and high ceilings. Both believers, followers, and tourists alike gaped in awe of the work of human hands making way to a space dedicated to the King of kings. We paused for a moment to soak it in. We sat down and prayed.

Stained glass

After the calm of our Father’s house, we set out for another great point of interest, as per my sister’s request. Back in December of 2018, we had the privilege of witnessing the opening weekend of the Starbucks Reserve in New York. Now that we were in Milan, we just had to see that Starbucks Reserve. Needless to say, we couldn’t find it. We checked the maps over and over, and concluded that our phones must be broken because it was saying we were right on it, but it was nowhere to be seen… Keep in mind, most cities in Italy are ancient, and half the buildings are repurposed. We looked to our left…

Starbucks???

… there is was.

With no further ado, we crossed the busy streets and entered a wonderland of coffee. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. That cathedral we went to was nothing compared to this (not really, but you get the point). It was slightly smaller than the one in New York, but it had the same spirit. Tubes and piping full of coffee grounds and freshly brewed coffee coursed through to the bar dispenser. A giant wheel churned the coffee beans around. And a large vat sat front and center of the display. The best part, however, was the coffee. We ordered our usual cappuccino, and sat by the display, watching them work away at various brews.

Starbucks Reserve – New York City

Starbucks Reserve – Milan

Starbucks Cappuccino

We didn’t do much shopping… imagine that, going to Milan the fashion capital and not shopping. But we may have allowed ourselves to drool over the many Prada and Louis Vuitton purses hidden in the confines of spotless windows (my mom anyway. I hate purses). The most spectacular aspect of theses shops wasn’t the stores themselves, but the large barrel vault glass ceiling looming above. One would have mistaken it for a mall, but it was outdoors, and a walkway from one square to another.

My mom in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The rest of the day, we went to see two exhibitions, both dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci. Something I had not learn before was just how involved in Milan’s culture Leonardo was. I didn’t even know that The Last Supper was located here, and to see it we had to book two months in advance. He even helped in the design of the Navigli in Milan. So, the exhibitions we went to see were all based on his sketches. The first exhibition had more to do with the writings in his journal and thought process behind each sketch study. The second was much more interactive and involved live replicas of his machinery, as well as digital restorations of his greatest works. Upon leaving the exhibitions, we stopped in Piazza della Scala to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s memorial statue before returning to our hotel.

Leonardo Da Vinci statue in Piazza della Scala

Day 9: Team Switzerland

“Good Morning Emily”

I woke up with a bit of a hangover. A pounding headache and the feeling of exploding if I lay down the wrong way. Nothing a morning walk and cappuccino couldn’t fix. We sat by the lakeside and watched sailboats and speedboats float about. As we did, we were greeted to a steaming cup of cappuccino smiling back at us.

We had plenty of time to explore, even going to an open chapel for some quiet time with God. On our way back down the road, we found the ferry and came to the conclusion that we had time to sail across to Bellagio for a few minutes. The boat ride was refreshing as was our quick walk through the town. We would have spent more time, but we had a brunch to attend in the name of the newly weds.

The ride to Bellagio and back

Brunch at the Tremesso (such a pretty hotel)

We had many a conversation with family and friends as we partook in the great bounty before us. Before long we had to say our farewells and be on our way. Where were we going?

We were off to Lugano.

On the surface of Lake Lugano

The Hotel Grand Cadenabbia was gracious enough to summon a taxi and hold our luggage in the mean time. Our taxi driver drove us all the way from Lake Como to our apartment in Lugano, Switzerland, which had a great view of the lake and was in walking distance of most of the town’s activities. As soon as we arrived we passed out for three hours. By the time we woke up to explore the town, half of the activities were closed. But I did spot something fun for us to do.

Paddle Boating!!!

I have only ever gone paddle boating in Baltimore’s inner harbor or that one time I went to Germany. It had been a while since I had done it, but there was a lake. There were paddle boats. I said to my mother, “Let’s do it!” So there we were, paddling away into the lake. Somewhere nearby, there we kids paddle boating, but unlike inner harbor, these kids were able to swim in the waters. They dove and splashed around, laughing in merriment as they invaded each other’s boats. We kept our distance, not wanting to ruin their fun. After half an hour of paddling, our legs were exhausted and we docked. It was time for dinner.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

We stopped at a restaurant where the gentlemen were very nice. I ordered a spaghetti alla carbonara, something I had been craving for a long time. There was one time I made it for the family, but once I revealed that the recipe calls for raw egg, they stopped eating it. Since then, I haven’t made it. But you should try it if you ever come across it. It has pasta, typically spaghetti, egg, bacon, and some cheese. It is really good. And this plate in front of me was to die for. We had a great view of the lake as we dined, and soon we were off and away.

Mandolin Orchestra in the square

On our way back to the apartment, we spotted what seemed to be an orchestra in a small square. We stopped to listen, but as we listened to the soft tones, I realized that they weren’t held like violins but rather like guitars. I looked between the people and realized half the orchestra consisted of Mandolins. I had wanted to learn mandolin, but in Lancaster there aren’t that many mandolin instructors readily available. I stayed around for a while, soaking in the music. Then we were gone for the night.

Day 8: Weady for the Wedding

A morning swim before the big day

We had a big day scheduled for ourselves, so we spent a relaxing morning on the poolside. And get this. The pool was on a barge that was floating on the lake. How amazing is that! Everyone was too chicken to swim because “it was too cold”, but I jumped on in and it was the most refreshing thing ever.

After about an hour of swimming and relaxing, we headed back to our hotel and got prettied up for the wedding. I normally wear tuxedos, because wearing a dress just doesn’t feel right. However, the bride preferred if every woman wore a dress, and since it was her big day, who was I to go against her wishes.

Next, we made our way to the docks for something special. A boat ride to the island where the ceremony would take place.

A very special Island, Villa del Balbianello

The island was remote, surrounded by nothing but the blue waves of the lake and green forests behind. A perfect place for a matrimony. The only difficulty however was the hike up the winding paths, particularly in heels (which I luckily did not have, but many other fine ladies did). As we waited for the ceremony to begin, I admired the various statues of what appeared to be Roman gods over looking the lake and guarding this reclusive place. They were sacred watchers, standing ever so firmly watching over as the ceremony commenced.

A lone guardian

They watch

Solidarity

The coordinators ushering us into the space where the couple would be finally joined. It was on the same lake that the young man had proposed to the fair maiden. Now it was here he would claim his bride. The ceremony was quick but heartfelt. Eager young lovers were joined together at last for (hopefully) the rest of their lives.

The bride and groom: Monica and Massi

From that point on, it was a merry celebration and Bacchanal (for me anyway. I must have had four glasses of wine). We danced the night away and made many memories for years to come.

The wedding cake

Day 7: Cocktail!

Eating a giant merengue

No sooner we had arrived to Venice, we were just about to leave. We had time to kill before our next train, so why not enjoy it? We walked along the narrow streets and over winding canals. Here and there we would spot gondola drivers eagerly waiting for customers to start their day.

Waiting for customers

We followed the narrow streets and signs pointing towards Piazza San Marco. Slowly but surely we made our way there when finally, through the last archway we emerged into the light. And there we were. Piazza San Marco. No other places could replicate it. Not even extravagant Venetian Hotels catered to gambling. We arrived, long enough to soak in its enormity before we had to leave.

Piazza San Marco in the Venetian (Las Vegas)

Piazza San Marco in Venice

We quickly made a dash for our train, nearly getting lost along the way. We still had to gather our suitcases. Somehow we made it. And next we knew we were on our way to Lake Como.

Do you recall that wedding I was talking about in the last post? Well, that’s the destination of the wedding. Lake Como. And tonight was the cocktail party, where we would meet the bride, and their families as well as ours from far and wide.

Our view of Lake Como

Lake Como was almost out of a dream, and I could see why they bride and groom chose that destination. This was first time seeing the lush Alps and the expansive lake before us. We acquainted ourselves this the stretch of town alongside the shore before preparing for the cocktail and welcome dinner.

At the cocktail, we familiarized ourselves with other guests and caught up with relatives we hadn’t seen in a while, including my Aunt Arlene and her family whom we just saw the day before. We couldn’t have asked for a better day or evening.

Moonrise over Lake Como

Day 6: Venice!

A view of the Bargello before leaving

Leaving Florence is always bitter sweet. Once you leave, all other place just don’t feel like home. But we had places to be and sights to see. And our next place was a town known for its canals. That’s right. We were going to Venice.

The Grand Canal

Upon arriving in the train station in Venice, we were overwhelmed by large crowds of people swarming in and out. Before us was the sight of the Grand Canal, a sure sign that water was their road and boats were the only way to get around quickly. Our hotel wasn’t too far, but we found something else that was very surprising.

A familiar face in the crowd? Asking for directions I couldn’t help but wonder. She caught sight of me, to which I included, “Don’t I know you?”

Look who we found! (Photo by Arlene Arboleda)

With joyous exclamation we embraced one another. It was my dear Aunt Arlene, who traveled with my cousin, the other Emily, and her boyfriend. They were quick trying to catch the train to Verona, the city where the great tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was set. They gifted us water bus tickets and were off in a hurry with promises to see us at the wedding. (Wedding, you ask? Yes wedding, but that will be for another day.)

The Grand Canal before our tour

After settling into our hotel, we made a quick dash to Piazza San Marco to meet with our tour group. We awaited along the pier, taking in the sights of boats passing by on various errands. Looking into the water, it certainly wasn’t as clear as the water we had seen before. Not with all the activity transpiring on the surface. Soon we boarded a large boat and were ferried to our first island, Morano.

Outside of Morano glass factory works

I had seen glass sculpting before. As a matter of fact, when I was searching for art schools, Tyler School of Art won me over due to their glass work courses and studios. But in the end it wasn’t in the budget. Anyhow the glass works in Morano were a sight and art to behold. The careful maneuvering as well as attention to detail brought the glass sculpture to fruition before us in the hands of the glass sculptor. Before us we saw an old and traditional art come to life.

Morano glass work space

Morano glassworker giving sculpture form

Morano glassworker forming details

Finished glass sculpture

After our time in Morano, we sailed across to Burano, a town of lace. It was the perfect opportunity to to have lunch by the waterfront. And it was the perfect opportunity to partake of the wonderful local cuisine, particularly in the seafood department.

Breaded crab claws. Hit the spot

Our last stop on our tour was the town of Torcello. It is the oldest part of Venice, being the foundations for the famous city. It was founded around the 4th century AD, and the style of the buildings showed. There was a small chapel open to adoration and prayer. Seeing as no tickets or lines were involved, we went into our Father’s house and sat down for a while. It was a much needed break and breath of fresh air from the cacophony we were exposed to throughout this trip so far. It was great to have some time to sit down and reconvene.

Chapel in Torcello

After Torcello, we returned to Venice. The rest of the night was ours to do as we wished. We had wanted to venture back to Piazza San Marco, but it got dark and things were closing down before we could. So instead we sat down for dinner and had one of the best marisco dishes I’ve had in a long time.

Fettuccine with Mariscos (seafood)