Thursday, April 16, 2009

Amalfi Coast Photo Montage (Melissa)

Last weekend we drove from Naples down to Sorrento, and then along the Amalfi Coast. We stayed at a B&B in Ravello, which reminded me of the movie The Sound of Music for some reason, maybe because they have a huge music festival there in the summer. Overall, absolutely loved it, completely breathtaking, and these photos simply CANNOT do it justice!

Coffee on the patio of our B&B

The piazza in Ravello

Exploring Atrani

Villa Cimbrone with our neighbors and their kids

We only stayed Friday and Saturday night, leaving early on Sunday. Who knew such perfect paradise could be just a little over an hour from the house? Next time we'll hike The Path of The Gods. Based on what we've seen so far, I'm guessing there's a good reason for the name. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Is it Thanksgiving? (Melissa)

I cannot believe the Italian meal. I’ve been completely puzzled by it. Almost every time we go into a restaurant, they attempt to provide us with as much food (if not more) than Thanksgiving Dinner. And I’m not exaggerating.

From my experience so far, restaurants typically do not offer a menu. And from watching Italians, they typically do not use a menu. It seems like everyone just knows what they want, asks for it, and the restaurant provides something along those lines. So, since there is no menu, the way has been working is the waiter comes over and gets a drink order and ask if you want antipasti. Sometimes there is a choice of antipasti, sometimes not. So not knowing what to expect, you say “yes” to the antipasti…and then the parade of food begins.

One by one (or sometimes on a separate rolling cart brought over and left beside the table) they bring out 7, 8, 9 plates with various snacks on them. The food is delicious and they are only small portions, so of course you are going to eat it all. But after a half-dozen little snacks, one tends to start feeling full. But this is only the beginning.

After you polish off all the antipasti, the waiter appears again and now asks what primi piatti you would like. Well, you are kind of full, but the pastas they are offering sound wonderful (even though you are still wondering if you are ever going to see a menu during this meal) so you decide to try a primi piatti. They bring you the most delicious pasta you have ever eaten and surely you assume the meal is over.

But no, the waiter is back asking what your choice is for the secondo piatto. You are confused and looking around to see what other diners in the restaurant are doing. Not sure what else to do, you take the secondo piatto. Of course it is also the most delicious thing you have ever eaten (meat/fish/whatever). They ask if you want any contorni (side dishes) – luckily you say no and give a sigh of relief that you can now roll yourself out of the restaurant.

Not so fast – there is still dessert, caffe, fruit plate, cheese plate, digestivo. It goes on for about 12 rounds of fun. And the food is all heavenly, but you are so stuffed that you feel sick. So how on earth do the Italians have Thanksgiving dinner every single night?

Fortunately, I met Pierpaolo and had the good sense to ask him about this, because I was getting concerned about my waistline. Naturally he laughs and tells me “no one eats every course of the meal (unless maybe you are at a special event and plan on having a huge meal), you just pick and choose the ones you want”. Thank God! Now I know.

Commentary on Joe’s Blogs (Melissa)

Since I’ve been such a slacker and have not contributed to this blog until now, I have read through Joe’s postings and here is my input:

Being named Casale – Just two things to add here.
1. Every time I have written my name, there has been an Italian that has excitedly asked me if the name/my husband/the family is ITALIANO (picture me saying that word in a strong, heavy accent with big hand gestures). We then have a fantastic discussion about where Joe’s great-grandparents are from…and then wonderful things happen. The person asking me about my name is now my friend. They will buy me coffee or take me next in line, offer something better than what I currently have in some way, shape or form. And they are so happy to do it, all because my name is Casale.
2. Also, one note on the Casal d’Principa area that is off limits – there was also a story about how one or two Navy people that were renting homes in that area had their doors busted in during the middle of the night by the police. The reason had something to do with the “landlord”. It was shortly after that when the housing area relocated those military families to homes outside of the Casal d’Principa area - homes that had landlords outside of the Casale family.

Destroying my Knee Snowboarding – The most amazing part of this entire “torn knee” experience was taking a trip to the Italian hospital. I have heard some wonderful stories about socialized medicine – and I now think those people that told me those wonderful stories are CRAZY. Joe’s ambulance ride – seriously? No medical attention, just a “ride” in the back of a truck on a gurney that wasn’t even strapped down. So he was rolling around creating more trauma to his knee, which wasn’t even looked at. Not that when he got to the hospital it was looked at, not until he was there hanging out for hours. And don’t even think about picturing our bright, cheery, aseptic hospitals. Move your mind to a darker place, with dimly lit bulbs hanging from the ceiling, walls that have not been painted in 10 years, buckets of open bio-hazardous waste laying around with blood dripping out of them onto the floor (no, not kidding, not exaggerating). The “hospital” was awful and scary. So, um, yeah, I’m gonna to vote “NO” on socialized medicine.

Getting Caught Up! (Melissa)

Getting Caught Up!
Wow! I have been GROSSLY NEGLIGENT in maintaining this blog. We have been here for 3 months now and although I had managed to find the time to set-up this blog within the first two weeks, I obviously haven’t touched it since! At least Joe has been keeping everyone up to date and entertained. So, I’m going to quickly get caught up with an abbreviated version of the past 3 months, and will then be able to stay a bit more current as things progress.

Flying into Naples on the morning of December 30th was a quick reality check. I had been told that Naples is the most densely populated city in Europe but I didn’t actually think that was true. I would no longer question that information. The city is ENORMOUS! From the airplane you get a view of buildings as far as you can see. The buildings spill out from the city center and spread out everywhere, all on top of each other, each one a different color. If you get a chance to fly into Naples, make sure you get a window seat!

Of course we really didn’t know what to expect once we landed, but lots of people have told us that Italy is “law-less” in the sense that they do have laws but nobody follows them. I thought of this as we walked into and out of the airport without any customs inspection at all. Nothing. No one questioned our visit, no one looked at our bags. We just wandered through. And it seems that most things here follow that same sort of careless attitude. It’s not necessarily bad, just different.

New Years Eve was quite a site – apparently Italians LOVE fireworks. Who knew?! I certainly do now. We were very jet-lagged and pretty beat up from our travels so we didn’t stay up to ring in the New Year. I think we went to bed around 11:00ish but the deafening noise from the millions of fireworks woke us up. I was so tired I didn’t want to get out of bed, but after over 30 minutes had gone by and the noise was still going strong, I just had to get up and look out the window. The entire sky was filled with sparks and smoke. If all of the fireworks I have ever seen in my entire life were put together and shot off at one time, that still wouldn’t compare to what I was looking at outside my window. And the fireworks went on for about an hour. It was ridiculous. I’ll be prepared for next year.

We spent our first month on the military base (which I call “Little America”). We did not like being there since we were very isolated from all the fantastic treasures Italy has to offer (eating at Applebee’s instead of una trattoria – yuk!). We spent the first few weeks in orientation, learning our way around and house hunting. Immediately after orientation Joe tore up his knee and then we started the medical rehab phase of this adventure. Fortunately he has not needed surgery and is doing fine.

This was a major pain – absolutely unbelievable. It amazes me that Italians just accept the fact that things will take weeks to get done and things will just randomly stop working with no explanation. It was a big and important lesson to learn up front. I also started Italian language immersion classes in February - that is going to have to be a separate blog.

That about sums it up. The dog is finally adjusted and happy – back to her normal spoiled self. I finished school and have been finding lots of random things to occupy my time – again those items will have to be a separate blog. And we are loving Italy and ready for visitors – so come visit!