Monday, July 22, 2013

Packing for Europe: Looking Back

I did a lot of planning before I packed my bag for our month in Europe.  I read online articles, I made a list, and I edited it.  (And yet somehow it was my sister who got made fun of for planning too much!  Ha!)  But even so, once we got to Europe, though I was glad of packing some things, there were also several things I wished I had, and several things I didn’t really need.  If you’re interested, here’s my personal run-down.

I was glad I had:
-A summer scarf.  Fashionable addition to a tank-top, but also could keep me warm if the morning were just a bit chilly.  Easy to tie it to my purse strap when I wasn’t wearing it. 
-My ipod.  I considered not bringing it, but I really enjoyed being able to listen to familiar music on some of the long train rides.
-A purse (with a long shoulder strap) big enough to fit a water bottle, my wallet, my camera, a small journal, and a sandwich if need be. 
-My sleep mask.  Not essential, but there was a night or two when I went to bed before the lights in our hostel dorm room had been turned off, or a morning when I wanted to sleep later than sunrise, and the sleep mask was nice.
-Hand sanitizer.  Every once in a while, I found no soap or no paper toweling in a public bathroom. 

I didn’t use:
-My laundry supplies—a sink stopper, travel detergent, and bungee cord clothesline.  If our trip had gone differently, maybe we would have, but the way we did it, twice the families we were staying with did a load of laundry for us, and once we gave in and paid to have the hostel wash and dry it for us.  $5 spent in exchange for not having to hand-wash or find a place to line-dry our clothes seemed worth it to us. 
-Ear plugs.  We didn’t stay in any party hostels, so I never had a problem with the area being too noisy when we wanted to sleep.

I wish I’d had:
-A pair of regular shorts or a short skirt.  I’d read that European women don’t wear short shorts, so I brought a pair of capris, a pair of bermudas, and a knee-length skirt.  Thing is, when it’s 95 degrees and you’re outside walking around all day, you stop caring so much about blending in with the locals.  Plus, chances are, you’re going to find yourself in a heavily touristed area where I guarantee there will be other tourists who are wearing comfortable clothes.  There’s no harm in blending in with them once in a while.
(I also wanted to make sure all of my clothes would be appropriate to get me into a church in Italy…I don’t know why I couldn’t just plan ahead the days in Italy and bring shorter skirts for the other 3 weeks of our trip). 

-A working umbrella!  I bought a brand new one right before the trip, and the first time I went to open it, it snapped in two.   Just my luck!  Make sure you test your umbrella before you leave for Europe.  Thankfully, we only had 2 rainy days on our entire month long trip, and I did have a raincoat along.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Backpacking Tips

I learned a lot about traveling while backpacking through Europe.  And the month Liz and I spent in Europe ended up being exactly what I hoped it would be—a compilation of amazing experiences and entertaining stories.  We got the chance to interact with tons of people, both locals and travelers, and we did a lot—more than just visiting historic city centers, that’s for sure. 

So if you’re planning a backpacking trip, here’s my advice.
  1.  Plan ahead, and book hostels for the major cities ahead of time, but leave a window for flexibility.  Liz and I didn’t really have this, and it did work out fine for us, although I think we’d both agree we would have liked to extend our stay in Gryon, Switzerland for another day or two if we’d had the chance.  But we met plenty of people who booked hostels only a few days or a week ahead, thereby giving themselves a great deal of flexibility to get to a city, decide how long they wanted to spend there, and then figure out where to move on from there. 
  2. Cash in on all of the contacts that you have.  Don’t be rude about it.  There’s no need to email that girl you met in History 101 five years ago who according to facebook is now living in London and ask for a place to crash for the night.  But do use the resources you have.  Before we left for our trip, I sent a message to a girl I met last summer who lives in the Netherlands and asked her for tips on what to see in Amsterdam and whether she had recommendations on hostels.  She responded almost instantly, not only giving recommendations, but also offering her own home to us if we wanted to escape the city, or her cousin’s home in Haarlem.  She ended up taking a day off to visit us while we stayed with her cousin, and we had an absolutely fantastic day getting out of the city and seeing more of the “real Netherlands.” 
  3. Take some time before leaving to really plan what’s going into your pack.  Whatever you bring, you’ll be stuck with those outfits for your whole trip.  Make sure every type of weather is covered, just in case.  (I mean, you don’t need a winter parka, but bring a light jacket in the summer). 
  4.  Get out of the city center.  Get away from the tourists.  Find a local, or get advice from a travel guide or tripadvisor, and go see some of the less popular sights.  That’s how you’ll really get to know a place, and for me, those “side adventures” are the things I remember most fondly.
  5.  Bring your student id!  Even if you’re not a student anymore—if you’ve got that ID and there’s no expiration date on it, it can save you some money.  I left mine at home—actually took it out of my wallet right before we left.  Why? I don’t know.  But Liz got a discount more often than I did. 
  6.  DO IT.  I believe that for the majority of people in this world, saying that a trip to Europe is “impossible” is inaccurate.  It may not be intelligent right now, but it is possible.  The trip doesn’t have to be that expensive.  Liz and I saved up for 2 years, and our trip ended up being a little less expensive than we budgeted for.  It took planning and some dedication.  We’re not rich.  We’d never done anything like this before.  But I can absolutely swear to you that it was worth it, and if you have any interest in traveling, my best advice to you is this: Make it happen for yourself.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Iceland

**Note: this was written in an Icelandic airport on July 16, 2013.  I'm a bit slow to post, is all.**

I’m spending 16 hours in an airport today.  In Iceland.  Liz and I had a very long layover on our way home.  Originally, we planned to sleep in the airport after arriving at midnight, then leave early in the morning and take the bus into town to sightsee until our flight left in the afternoon. 

But when Liz checked the Reyjkavik forecast yesterday, the prediction was a cold and rainy day.  We did cold and rainy one day in Switzerland, and it’s not much fun when you don’t have a car or destination in mind to escape the rain.  And the prospect of returning to the airport and having to sit through a 6 hour flight being wet and soggy really didn’t appeal at all.  So rather than chance it, we opted to stay in the airport, save some money on bus fare, and hopefully create our own fun. 

The first five hours sucked.  They wouldn’t check us in all the way through to our final destination when we boarded in Amsterdam, so in Iceland we had to pick up my bag from baggage claim, then wait until the check-in desk opened at 5am to check in for our flight and move beyond the security point.  And of course, before the security point, there are no cushioned chairs to sleep on (and there are also yellow signs warning that sleeping or camping on the premises is forbidden, but we tried to sleep anyway).  We were cold and uncomfortable and really didn’t sleep much. 

Thankfully, beyond the security point, there are plenty of nice chairs that aren’t divided by arm rests, making them excellent for taking a nap.  And from 8:00am-4:00pm, the airport is pretty dead.  So each of us could take up 3 chairs for a few hours’ nap without feeling like we were stealing seating from others. 

We did make a bit of our own fun too, though the airport is smaller than we’d hoped.  We took silly pictures and laughed at some of the advertisements.  We perused the shops and got something to eat (after all, we’re saving money by not taking the bus, so we might as well eat a real meal).  We took a half hour walk (3 laps, up and down the terminal).  And we took advantage of the free wifi.  Mainly, though, we’re looking forward to getting on that plane and getting home. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Anne Frank House

I have taught the play The Diary of Anne Frank to my 8th graders for the past three years now, and I know the story by heart and have many of the quotes used in the play, online exhibitions, and movie that I use to teach it memorized.  So naturally, a trip to Europe would not have been complete for me without a stop in Amsterdam and a visit to the Anne Frank house. 

I may have even chosen our Amsterdam hostel because it was located really close to the house.

Sunday morning, we joined the line for entry to the house before the museum opened at 9am.  But the line moved quickly, and soon, we were inside.

We saw a sign that said no photographs, and I respected that, though it pained me to do so.  There were plenty of things I wish I could have photographed, and no guards to catch me if I’d done so, but it was a place that deserves a lot of respect, and so I followed the flow of the crowd solemnly taking in each room and each exhibit. 

The exhibits started with quotes painted on the walls and some background information on the Frank family and why and how they’d gone into hiding.  Then we progressed through to the jam factory, treading the very rooms where Miep and Mr. Kleiman and Mr. Kugler and Bep used to sit and work each day.  Some rooms played video interviews on a loop.  In the room where Miep’s desk once was (all the rooms are unfurnished now) she explained on the screen how she’d come to work for Mr. Frank, and how she’d immediately agreed to help the family when he’d told her they would go into hiding.  Seeing her on video, standing in her office, looking out the window at the view of canal she would have seen over 60 years ago, it all gave me chills.

And then we passed behind the bookcase hiding the stairs (the original bookcase is still in place—I think the only piece of furniture which is still in the house) and took the giant step up.  Edging around to the left of the steep stairs leading to the Van Daans’ quarters, we found ourselves in Mr. and Mrs. Frank and Margot’s room.  On one wall, you can still see where Margot and Anne’s height was marked progressively over the two years when they were there.  Anne was almost as tall as me at last marking.
Talk about history coming alive.  Even writing it makes my eyes go a little misty for some reason.
Then on into Anne and Dussel’s shared room.  Anne’s photographs of her movie stars are still on the walls, the window still blacked out.  It’s a small room, and it was interesting for me to imagine it filled with two beds and a desk.  From the bedroom, we passed into the bathroom (reading the play, I wouldn’t have remembered/realized that Anne’s room connected to the bathroom, but it does).  Then up the steep steps to the room where the Van Daans slept and where the kitchen and dining room existed.  Peter’s room is just as small as one would guess, with the stairs to the attic cutting the room almost in half.  We were only able to glance up to the attic and not go up there, but there’s a mirror placed so that from the top of the stairs, you can see the tree top Anne wrote about. 

That’s the end of the tour of the rooms, but the museum goes on.  There is a room dedicated to the fates of those in the Secret Annex, with a video interview of Hannah Goslar, Anne’s best friend, who was also in Bergen-Belsen at the end.  The actual diary is on display, and Otto Frank speaks in a video about fulfilling Anne’s wish to be a published author by compiling the diary into a book.  Next to that video, there’s a display of the book in its many translations.  I can’t help but wish Anne could see that not only is she a published author,  but she’s one of the most famous in the world, her book one of the most read after the Bible.  There’s a wall of photographs tracking Anne from birth until age 13, and a rolling video with interviews from her classmates.  This I really found touching, because it was a reminder that Anne was a real person and not some saint.  Some of her classmates say things like, “She could be a bit mean.”  Or “She was often pushy when playing.  Not in a mean way, of course, but she liked to be in control.”  They all agreed she was full of life and energy, as you’d guess from reading her writing.  Anne’s boyfriend from pre-hiding, Hello (he’s in the movie I show my students and I’d never verified whether he was real or not) speaks too, about how he went to Anne’s house for the first time after the Franks had left and felt in his heart that he’d never see Anne again when she didn’t answer the door. 

All of the exhibits made the story come alive.  They made it real.  The Franks and Van Daans and Mr. Dussel (Anne’s pseudonyms for them in her diary, not their real names) were real people.  The attic where they stayed—without ever going outside or making loud noises—really exists, and it’s small and would have been cramped, and it’s a miracle they went unnoticed for so long. 

And I think most of the visitors get that.  Visiting the house and museum was not like visiting Versailles or the Vatican.  Though there were plenty of people, there was no pushing or shoving, no shuffling your way to the front to read the next bit of information.  The whole place was filled with a mood of solemn respect.  People waited their turn and took their time.  And I think maybe that was the best part, and proof that the museum is functioning as it should in spreading Anne’s story.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Dutch Food Tour

The Dutch don't always brag about their food.  In fact, if you ask them to define their food, they may tell you it's nothing special, or that there are no Dutch delicacies (at least none that weren't first stolen and improved from other cultures).  And our first day and a half in The Netherlands, spent in Amsterdam on our own, we didn't really sample Dutch foods.  Of course, we didn't mind that.  We didn't know what we were missing, after all!  After a rushed and exhausting two days in Paris, we found ourselves in Amsterdam, where everyone is friendly and welcoming to tourists, most people speak English, the city is really beautiful but not in that “we have so much history and it only makes sense you felt the need to travel across the world to see it” way that Paris is, and the whole vibe is relaxed and liberal and environmentally friendly, somehow.  We spent a day and a half enjoying the city on our own (helped the first day by a fireball redheaded tour guide who led us around the city and enlightened us about the red light district).  One of the highlights for me was our visit to the Anne Frank house on Sunday morning, but there will be a complete blog post just about that in the future. 

But the best part about the last leg of our trip?  Sunday afternoon, we boarded our last train and went to Haarlem, just outside of the city, where we spent our last 24 hours with two real live Dutch girls—Mirjam and Annemarie.  I’d met Annemarie last year on the Inca trail in Peru, and we’ve kept each other on facebook since then.  When I told her we’d be in Amsterdam and the dates, she recommended we get outside the city if possible and mentioned that her cousin Mirjam opens her home up to couchsurfers in Haarlem.  And that’s how we found ourselves with the best two hosts we could have hoped for!  (Annemarie was just starting her holidays, so it worked out for her to come and stay with Mirjam as well and spend Monday with us). 

Sunday night, the women greeted us with big smiles, and told us they’d been busy making plans on their drive.  Mirjam took us first on a “Dutch food tour,” and really the whole trip became a continuation of it.  Walking around Haarlem to get a feel of the picturesque city, we stopped first and had Patat, which is  Dutch French fries served in a paper cone and smothered with mayo.  Hot, fresh, and quite delicious. 

We continued, joking as we went about the practicality of the Dutch when naming things.  As we passed a church, Liz asked about it.  Mirjam didn’t really know, so she did as any good tour guide would do, and made up a plausible answer (all in good fun).  “Oh that?  It’s…the New Church!”  But then 30 seconds later, we passed the placard over the door, and “Oh my gosh, it really IS the New Church!!”  Sure enough…we’d just passed Nieuw Kerk. 

We arrived at the Big Square (practical name!) and stopped at a café for bitterballen.  Thanks to a love of John Green (YA author and video blogger…check him out), Liz and I had both heard of this food and were pumped to try it.  It was delicious.  Hard to describe.  Try it yourself and save me the trouble.

Next stop: the Jopenkerk.  It’s…the beer church.  If you’re like me, you’re going, “huh??”  If you’re not, then gold star for you, smarty pants.  It’s a brewery/bar housed in a former church.  The high ceilings and stained glass is still there, and the interior is really cool.  The food’s not bad either!  We had a cheese plate (the Dutch are famous for their cheese) before moving on.

The last stop of the night was the “city beach.”  It’s right on the water in the city, and in the outdoor seating area, they’ve put sand and benches.  We sat around a small bonfire (and learned of Mirjam’s hidden scouting talents as a skilled fire-tender) and indulged in nachos and drinks.  The nachos were interesting—they came with melted cheese and jalapenos, but also sweet and sour sauce.  They was so good!  Different than I’d ever had before, but really delicious!

The next morning, after Mirjam made us a tasty breakfast of  poffertjes (small puffy Dutch pancakes made in a special pan--which she told us is not a usual breakfast food, but she likes them), we were off on the next leg of the girls’ plan for our Dutch experience.  Mirjam secured bicycles for all of us, and we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the beach.  Our route took us through town, then into the countryside and eventually into a national park.  Talk about beautiful!    It was a different landscape than I ever expected to see, but truly breathtaking.  And I loved being on a bike—what’s a trip to the Netherlands without joining the masses on their bicycles, after all?  And it’s so nice to bike in Haarlem.  There’s always a bike lane, and not even close to the amount of traffic (both bikes and cars and pedestrians) as in Amsterdam.

The beach was beautiful, with clean, soft sand.  The water would have been a bit cold, but the temperature on the sand was just right for sunbathing.  And for lunch, we continued our Dutch food tour with typical candy, called drop, which is sort of like black licorice but with an added dimension.  Kind of a salty/buttery flavor in addition to the anise…?  It was definitely a different flavor.  And, in addition to egg sandwiches, raisin bread, and cheese, we also had stroopwafels.  OMG, stroopwafels!!  The best cookies ever.  They are thin, crisp waffle cookies coated in sugar, and in between, a layer of caramel.  They taste like Christmas. 

And then, after a stop at a super cool beach café for liquid refreshment, we biked back to town, showered, and bid our new friends goodbye at the bus stop.  It was everything I could have hoped for in our last day in Europe.  Culture, a new experience, nature, good food, relaxation and new friends!  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Roadside Assistance

Today was great.  All of it.  Liz and I spent the day with Fuse and her friend Ines touring the Alsace, a really picturesque region in northeastern France.  We visited Strasbourg and the tiny village of Riquewihr, then had a stereotypical “French picnic” on the shore of a river in Kaysersberg—a baguette, a wheel of brie, grapes, and French wine, and we were set.  In a word, perfection.

But it wouldn’t be a true adventure if everything went right all day long.  So as we were coming home over the mountains of the Vosges, we ran into car trouble.  Thankfully it happened going down the mountain, rather than up it, because suddenly Fuse found that she was unable to put the car in gear…any gear.  We were just coasting down the hill. 

So when the road leveled out, we pulled over and started making phone calls.  First a call to Fuse’s dad in the States.  After a description of the problem, it became pretty clear that the clutch had gone out.  Then a call to Guillaume, of course, and finally a call to their insurance company. 

Now, we’d been feeling a little bit stuck, because 1) we were over an hour away from home when this happened, and 2) it was almost 9:00pm, and the last train for Nancy had left a nearby town about an hour before.  Soooo we weren’t really sure how much the trip home was going to cost us.

Luckily, though, it turns out that Fuse and Guillaume have roadside assistance.  The tow to a nearby garage and a taxi ride home for us would be covered, and we wouldn’t have to pay a dime for that! 
Our spirits lifted considerably. 

After waiting what seemed like quite a while, the tow truck arrived.  Since there were 4 of us, the driver informed us that we wouldn’t all fit in his cab, and 2 of us would have to ride in the car.  We said (or perhaps just thought and didn’t vocalize), who wants to ride up front? We all rode in the car.

You know what’s really fun?  Sitting in a car that’s facing backwards and attached to the bed of a tow truck and watching the world go by.  And waving at the kind townspeople sitting outside who were definitely laughing with us.  They seemed as happy as we were.    

So, we got back to Nancy about an hour later than planned, and Fuse and Guillaume will have to deal with getting their car fixed and paying for it, but even so, I think everyone along today would agree that today was pretty great anyway.  

To Be French

In Nancy, France, we are visiting our friend Fuse (pardon the nickname) from college.  She studied abroad here, met someone, and after graduation, returned to get her master’s degree in Mathematics (taking all of her classes in French, which was her other major for undergrad).  We have the pleasure of staying with her boyfriend Guillaume’s parents. 
It’s perfect. 

Once again, we are experiencing the authentic France.  Danielle and Michel’s home is beautiful, and to me, it (and they) embody everything I define in my head as “French.”  The décor, the architecture, the beautiful patio and garden with roses and an elegant weeping willow.  Danielle makes delightful French food, much of it made with fresh ingredients.  We were greeted upon arrival Saturday night with a glass of champagne and yummy little cheesy puff biscuits (which I cannot remember the French name of).   Dinner consisted of vegetable soup, followed by quiche Lorraine, a cheese course which included goat cheese, camembert, and two others I don’t recall the name of, and to finish, a dome of hazelnut ice cream covered in a chocolate shell (which Fuse told us was a very special treat for the house).  Sunday there was ratatouille and rotisserie chicken with fresh strawberry pie (made with strawberries Liz and I picked from the garden that morning).  And always, there is good wine. 

Our days have—and will continue to be—fantastic here too.  Fuse is an excellent hostess, making sure we experience all that Nancy and the surrounding area has to offer.  We saw a light show in Place Stan, a museum of pieces unique to Nancy, and walked through the countryside and through a small village.  We toured the cathedral and “Le Petite France” in Strasbourg, and followed a self-guided walking tour through the picturesque village of Riquewihr.  We had a picnic next to a river in a tiny village of the Alsace.  Tomorrow we leave France (briefly) in order to take in Luxembourg.    I’m so blessed.  This trip just makes me unspeakably happy, and I’m so glad to be experiencing it all.  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Take on Couchsurfing

Before Liz and I left, and even on our Europe travels, we often heard how crazy and/or brave we were when we told people we planned to try couchsurfing.  For those of you who don't know, couchsurfing is made possible through an online community.  People create profiles describing themselves and then offer up their couches or spare bedrooms to travelers--complete strangers--free of charge.  Surfers and hosts review each other, so you hopefully read the reviews and get an idea of who's a creep and who's not.

All my friends who had tried it assured me it was a fantastic experience and a change to get to know a local. And of course, being free doesn't hurt.  So, we went for it.

Liz found us a host in Geneva, Switzerland (one of the most expensive cities we'd be visiting).  He is an Italian born physicist working at CERN, which we planned on visiting, so the match seemed like a good one.  And now, at the end of our stay in Geneva, I can give my take on the entire couchsurfing experience.

We had a really great host.  He was generous and accomodating, and definitely not a creeper.  He picked us up from the train station, made us a fantastic Italian dinner our first night, took us out for drinks and gelato (his treat), met us for coffee when we were at CERN, and was overall just an interesting person to get to know.  (The guy speaks 4 languages, has lived all over Europe and has traveled all over the world).

Even so, Liz and I both felt a little awkward at the beginning of our stay.  We found ourselves in a stranger's home, and he was offering to make us dinner and let us stay with him for 3 nights, and we didn't even know him.  We weren't sure what exactly was expected of us in return.  Should we let him make us dinner, or politely refuse?  Or would that be more offensive?  How should we repay him for his generosity?  How would we best adapt to his schedule to avoid being a nuisance?  Even though our stay was great, at times it felt a little stressful finding a good balance.

We did the dishes on our first night, and we took him out to dinner on our second night.  We also brought him a small gift from our travels in Italy.  At the end of our stay, I feel like we've thanked him sufficiently and I think we both feel a lot more comfortable in his flat.  It really was a good experience.

So, would I do it again?  Probably.  (Actually, in fact we're going to one more time on this trip, in the Netherlands).  But I'm not sure that in the future I'd ever do it alone.  There would have been far too many awkward silences over the past 2 days if Liz hadn't been here to keep the conversation going.  After a long day of sightseeing for me and a long day of work for our host, the two of us didn't always have the energy to think of new talking points.  Thankfully Liz did, and as a reward I got to know an Italian physicist and saw a bit more of Geneva than I might have.  So in my book, couchsurfing=a good deal.  I'll join the masses recommending it.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Con Famiglia

Con famiglia…say it with a thick Italian accent if you can; it sounds infinitely more loving and welcoming.  The words were never said out loud last weekend, “Relax, you’re with family now,” (perhaps because we’re not actually related by blood), but I have felt them.  Liz and I have spent the last two days with Heidi and Fausto and their two children, Nikolai and Rafael, in their beautiful home in Trento, in Northern Italy. 

The story of how our families met is an interesting one, but to read it you’ll have to ask another time, as I want to focus on the present.  Suffice it to say our families are linked because of Heidi’s father and my grandmother and great uncle, and have kept in touch for at least 50 years now. 

Heidi will be quick to tell you that Trento is not much of a place to visit, but she’s selling her city short, as most people tend to do.  (Think a minute: how would you describe the city you’re from to someone from Europe? I bet you undersell it.)  Heidi and Fausto’s house is just outside of town, in an area called Vela, tucked up against the mountains, with vineyards directly below.  Their house is light and airy, with an excellent mix of old and new.  In the attic room that Liz and I share (Rafael’s room, judging by the Eminem backdrop on his computer and the strong scent of cologne lingering in the air), there are two skylights in the sloping ceilings, powered by remote control to open and close the blinds and the windows themselves.  Super cool.

On Saturday, after breakfast, we took the car up the mountains for a panoramic view of Trento and the rest of the valley.  Fausto took his bike.  We passed him on the way to the panorama, but as we stayed there enjoying a view before continuing, he was waiting for us at agritur Malga Brigolina, a small farm with beautiful views of the Alps and, in the distance, the snow-capped Dolomites. 
After savoring the view for a few long moments, we went into the café there and had yogurt with fresh fruit.  The yogurt was fresh made from the cows at the farm, and even without sugar it was perhaps the most delicious I’ve tasted. 

We stopped once more on our way down the mountain, at a bee farm (bee hivery?)  There the older Italian man in charge told us a bit about how they raise the bees (all in Italian, with Heidi translating) and showed us pictures of the life of the bees.  Pretty cool.

We came back to the spot of our panoramic vista and Rafael and Liz and I rode the cable car down the mountain for another perspective.  It was a short trip, yet enchanting.    

Then, after a walk around town with Nikolai and his friend Claudio, we returned to the house where Heidi had prepared pasta with homemade pesto, fresh ricotta, and fried cheese that had also been purchased at Malga Brigolina.  We ate too much.  Heidi’s is one of those homes where at every meal, if your plate is empty, it must mean you want more.  But the truth is, everything was so delicious I always did want more…I just couldn’t fit it all in. 

In the afternoon, we went into Trento and visited the town’s Duomo.  The cathedral is a beautiful medieval church.  Its huge vaulted ceilings, lacking the embellishments and art of St. Peter’s Basilica, are grandiose and in a way more beautiful.  They respect the age they bear, nod tribute to medieval times. 
Perhaps the best part of the church lies under the foundations, though.  There, there are the ruins of a much older Roman church.  And the best part—you are actually allowed to go down and visit it!  It felt like something out of the book Angels and Demons.  Even with everything in Italian and no English translation available, I was in awe of the history surrounding us. 

After some gelato, we thought to go to the castle where the Council of Trent decided the fate of the church so many years ago, but it was closed by that time.    So we returned to the car and headed to “the lake.”  (I was never told the name of it).  We enjoyed a beautiful view there, then went to Susa, the small town where Fausto is from.  Behind the house where he was born, there is a small cherry orchard that his sister still tends.  The cherries are in season now, and we wandered among the trees, trying the different varieties in the early evening sunlight. 
I mean, wow.  This is Italy!  The old house, in need of renovations but still beautiful, the cherry trees brimming with fruit, a perfect temperature…it was heavenly.  And the cherries…I am not sure any store-bought cherry will ever top the ones I ate in Susa.  So sweet, so juicy and firm.  They tasted divine.

After one more stop at the home of Fausto’s sister (where she and her son and daughter-in-law were moving a pile of firewood from the yard to the house to be stored for winter), we dropped Rafael off in town with a friend, and returned home.  Though we weren’t at all hungry, Heidi insisted that “surely, you will eat a little something.  Something light.”  We agreed, and she made us lemon chicken and salad…and though that might have been a light meal in itself, the portions made it quite filling. 

At almost eleven, we slipped off to bed, and immediately fell asleep under our skylight.  My cheeks hurt from the smile that had been in place all day.  With Heidi and Fausto and their family, Liz and I saw beautiful, beautiful sights, ate delicious foods, experienced a piece of true culture, and were wrapped in the love of “family.”  Though we’re only halfway through our great European adventure, I can confidently say that Trento has been my highlight so far. 

As always, pictures will be added when I return home and can take the time to upload them.