Saturday, October 31, 2009

Country Livin'

Our house is sort of in an odd location - odd as in I don't know quite how to describe it. We are on a very busy main route yet behind our house are fields. It's rural yet not at the same time. We have quite the variety of insects, I have seen mice running up the fig tree to eat figs, and an odd creature I had identified as a hedgehog.

I was really excited to see one because hedgehogs are only found in parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and New Zealand. They are primarily nocturnal and like to forage for earthworms after a rain storm.

Tim finally got to see the infamous hedgehog tonight. Emma was stalking something in the yard and he went out to investigate. Yelling for me to come quick, I went out to see the little guy was back in our yard.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Festa della Zucca

The Festa della Zucca is held every year in Venzone, Italy. The historical town center transforms into a Medieval town with fire eaters and dancing. The streets are lit by torches and candles, and are peopled by nobles, knights and ladies, innkeepers and tavern keepers, shopkeepers and merchants.The shops are decorated with pumpkins and gastronomic delights such as pumpkin pizza, pumpkin gnocchi, and pumpkin crostini can be found all throughout the town.

The origins of the Pumpkin Festival are legendary. The Noble of the village of Venzone had made available all his wealth and his own money to beautify and fortify the town. In short, their availability for the completion of restoration and renewal of the country ended and many workers were not rewarded. Among them, a master of Udine, who was called by Venzonesi, was hired to complete the copper dome of the Cathedral of Venzone with a golden ball. But he too was not paid for his work. He then replaced the ball on the golden dome of the cathedral with a pumpkin. The townspeople realized that they were tricked by the artist only on the day when the ball fell from its position on the dome and smashed to the ground.

This is a popular festival, so prepare for a walk from where you can find a spot to park. We walked a little over a mile into the town. The main square had a stage set up where musicians and the fire eaters performed. We sampled the pumpkin pizza with pancetta and pumpkin crostini, both which were delicious!

Festa della Zucca event information

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Piancavallo Hike

We headed up to Piancavallo with our dog, Emma, for a hike. We found a trailhead that started after passing through a sled dog farm. Most of the sled dogs were chained up but a few that were not greeted us and even hiked for about a mile with us. Emma was loving running on the hillside with her new doggy friends!

The hike was about a 2 mile loop that passed by a site where there had clearly been an avalanche in some past winter season. The weather was nice - not too cold up on the mountain. We were all enjoying ourselves.

As we came back to the sled dog farm, more of the dogs were unchained. A pack approached, including two of the dogs that had hiked with us. All of a sudden, Emma got bit several times on the face and head. Tim ran over to shoo the pack of dogs away. Our poor baby had a gash just over her eye.

Luckily, Emma did not seem too bothered by it but you could see the top of Emma's eyelid through the gash. We decided to put Emma in the bathtub and wash the cut out so as to avoid any infection setting in until we could get her to a vet on Monday (Aviano Air Base does not offer any emergency vet services). We continued washing the cut out every few hours to keep it clean.

As the night wore on, we could tell Emma was beginning to feel not so well. We found an emergency vet number, which was a cell phone number rotated among the Italian Nationals in the Aviano area. He told us to give him a call in the morning if Emma still wasn't feeling well.

This morning, Emma's cut was a little bit pussy, indicating the beginning of an infection. We took her in where the vet shaved the hair around her eye, cleaned it out, gave her a shot of antibiotics, and sprayed some blue gauze over it so the cut would stay together. Luckily, she didn't need stitches.  After the antibiotics and many treats, Emma is already feeling better.  Looks like she will be fine. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wish My House Came With an English Instruction Manual...

Well, tonight is going to be a cold one in the house. Turning on our Italian radiators seemed like such a simple task, but then again, nothing is ever simple when it comes to living in Italy.  After tinkering with the switch, which I assume is in the on position at the hot water heater and turning the valves to what should be the on position, I don't feel any heat. And I managed to spray myself  and the kitchen with cold water when I messed with the smaller twisty valve at the other end of the radiator.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Budapest is comprised of Buda on the west side of the Danube River and Pest on the East and is the capital of Hungary.

Day 1

We arrived in Budapest after a relatively easy drive and checked into our hotel, the Radisson SAS Beke. We headed out to explore and found our way to the Hungarian Parliament building, the second largest Parliament building in Europe next only to the Parliament in England. We learned on our segway tour (Day 2) that there was a competition in Hungary to build a Parliament building. The plans for three different buildings were so great that all three were built in the square. Imre Steindl won the competition but the other two buildings still occupy the square as the Ethnographical Museum and the Ministry of Agriculture. The back of the Parliament faces the river, with stunning views of Castle Hill and the Buda Palace.

After a walk back to the hotel, stopping to scope out some possible restaurant choices for the following day, we got dressed to head out on a romantic dinner cruise on the Danube.

We were welcomed aboard the ship with a choice of a glass of champagne or a palinka (Hungarian double-distilled fruit brandy) and seated at our table. Salon music is performed by three members of the Rajko Folk Orchestra. We set off down the Danube with views of the Four Seasons and the Parliament on our right. We cruised the Danube to Margret Island, then turned around for views of Buda side of the river. We were invited to enjoy a buffet of traditional Hungarian foods including traditional Gulash soup, Tokaj style chicken, Vienna sausage, and stuffed cabbage. Accompaniments were buttered parsley potatoes and a variety of salads. Dinner was followed by an assortment of mini deserts and fresh fruits. We cruised by Castle District, Gellert Hill, and under the Chain, Elizabeth, and Liberty Bridges all by candlelight.

Day 2

Having read many rave reviews of City Segway Tours, we had to experience it for ourselves! We arrived at the City Segway Tours office and met our guide, Agnes. Another couple from England, Ben & Katie, were also on the tour with us and a nice man named Yew Wei. Yew Wei was the only one that had been on a segway before, so we all got a lesson. We learned how to get on, move forward and back, make turns, go up and down curbs, and how to get off.  After the lesson and a little practice in the street, we were off to our first stop: the Opera House on Andrássy Avenue.

Statues of the world's greatest composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi adorn the main facade of the Opera House, which was built in 1875. Scenes from the film Evita were also filmed here. We continued on down Budapest's famous Andrássy Avenue, which is part of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites list. The street is lined with sycamores and many expensive shops such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Gucci. 

Next we zoomed off, with many looks from people on the street, for a quick stop at Vigado Promenade and then onto Vaci Street, which is one of the main pedestrian shopping streets in Budapest. Vaci Street opens into Vörösmarty Square. At the centre of the square facing west is a large statue of poet Mihaly Vorosmarty and at the north end of the square is the famous Cafe Gerbeaud.

We carried on to the Danube Promenade, which runs along the Pest bank of the Danube between the Elizabeth and Chain Bridges. From the Promenade, a great view of Buda stretches out before you with views of the Taban Church, Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and the Chain Bridge.  Here we got to switch from slow to fast speeds and zipped down the promenade to the Chain Bridge.The Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge and it was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Budapest, and was opened in 1849.

From the Chain Bridge, we continued zipping along to the Parliament building. The rain was coming down a bit harder at this point and I literally ran into a pole on a building trying to avoid the rain run-off from the gutter above. With a now broken segway, Agnes kindly handed hers over and walked on with my broken one.  Mortified, We continued on from the Parliament to St. Stephen's Basilica and then back on to Andrássy Avenue to end the tour. 

Hungry, we walked back down Andrássy Avenue with hamburgers at the Folet Cafe catching our eye. These Hungarian hamburgers had to have been the biggest hamburgers I have ever seen and they were delicious! The hand cut steak pototoes (thing potatoes quartered and fried) and cabbage with mayonnaise (kind of like cole slaw) were equally as tasty.

We headed back to St. Stephen's Basilica to see the interior of Budapest's tallest building, built in 1851. In the very back left of the church is St. Stephen's chapel. The Holy Right Hand rests in the chapel. King Stephen died on August 15, 1038. On the same date in 1083, he was canonized in Szekesfehervar.  His right hand found intact was has been highly esteemed by the Hungarian nation ever since. Now shruken and yellowed, the hand still clutching precious jewels resides in a reliquary shaped like Matthias Church. We also visited the dome of the Basilica for a panoramic view of Budapest.

Ready for some relaxation, we visited the Szechenyi Bath, Budapest's first thermal baths on the Pest side in 1881. After a little confusion getting checked in, securing our changing cabins, and finding the towel rental, we headed outside to the three outdoor pools. From left to right, the first is a pool with streaming water, an effevescent bath, and massaging whirpool (32 - 34 degrees Celius). The middle is a swimming pool. And the last is a thermal sitting bath (38 degrees Celius). The hot spring contains a significant amount of fluoride and metabolic acid, along with calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium and sulphate, effective to cure degenerative illnesses of joints, as well as chronic and semi-acute arthritis. It is also fit for orthopaedic and post-injury treatments. The inside rooms of the bath house have 12 more thermal bath sections of varying water temperatures and a variety of dry saunas.  The thermal sitting bath was our favorite, especially as the sun set.

For dinner, we walked back to the Danube Promenade and had a lovely outdoor dinner at Duna Corso,  Warmed by the heaters, each table even has blankets if you need them, we dined on Cesar salad, fillet mignon of pork in smoked cheese with vegetables tagliatelle and red wine sauce, and roasted chicken with parsley potatoes and crispy vegetables.

We topped off the night with a stroll along the Danube Promenade and across the Chain Bridge to the Buda side of the river.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Aquileia and Grado

Aquileia was founded by the Romans around 180 BC as a frontier fortress along the Natisone River and was intended to protect the Veneti during the Illyrian Wars. The ancient buildings of Aquileia served as stone quarries for centuries and no edifices of the Roman period remain above ground. Excavations have revealed one street and the north-west angle of the town walls, while the National Archaeological Museum (one of the most important museums of Ancient Rome in the world) contains over 2,000 inscriptions, statues and other antiquities, as well as glasses of local production and a numismatics collection. The site of Aquileia, believed to be the largest Roman city yet to be excavated, is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Via Sacra, the archeological path, begins with the entrance which is a high brick gate and fence designed to protect the ancient ruins. Immediately upon entering the gate, the remains of the port structures are visible on the right side of the river. Il Foro (the Forum) stands facing the main road that runs between Aquileia and Grado.

Grado is reached by a causeway running across the lagoons of the Adriatic and is known commonly as L'Isola del Sole ("The Sunny Island"). Grado is also famous for being a spa town. On a clear day like today, stunning views of Trieste, Slovenia, and Croatia can be seen.

The Basilica of Sant Eufemia has an octagonal Baptistry and dates from 579, with a simple hut façade and a bell tower from the 15th century on the right side, which is surmounted by a statue portraying St. Michael and known as the Anzolo (1462). The interior has a nave and two aisles. The main point of interest is the mosaic pavement from the 6th century, restored in 1946-48.

Many shops, bars, and restuarants are located in the pedestrian-only center. We dined at Pescada, one of the many resturants boasting a menu of fresh seafood. The prosecco coupled with spaghetti alla vongole and calamari fritti with salsa angordolce was an excellent choice! A scoop of gelato from one of the many gelatarias lining the harbor was the perfect way to end the day.