travel

Travel // Italy

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Last week, John and I were fortunate enough to be invited to our best friend Matt’s wedding in ITALY!! John was the best man, as was Matt in our wedding, and there was no way we would miss it. Getting to witness Matt marry his bride, Nayiri, in such a romantic and ancient setting was beyond incredible. Truly a wedding and a trip of a lifetime for us! Congrats to Mr. and Mrs. Marinec!

Want to see what I mean…check out the photographic evidence HERE

 

But where to start?

A wedding in a castle

Waking up with views of the sea

Gelato on the streets of Venice

Sampling wines and cheese in Italian’s backyards

Slovenia’s capital in the shadows of a medieval fortress

Any of those things might have sold me on a trip to Italy, but the true souvenir I brought back that means the most to me was a realization that I am doing life all wrong. Italians got it figured out! Stress doesn’t appear to be as prevalent in their culture. They put away their phones, enjoy life every day, eat lots of formaggio (cheese), drink even more vino (wine), parents are laid back, woman nurse in public, embrace all bodies (young, old, thing and not), and stay active. Yes, I am generalizing what I witnessed in the area we visited, but even so…I am in awe of how happy the people we encountered were.

We flew into Venice and rented a car to drive to our hotel, the Alla Dama Bianca in Duino, Italy. A quaint little bed and breakfast type with only a few rooms but right on the Gulf of Trieste. Breakfast was included and featured morning croissants filled with apricots, and eggs, prosciutto, and the best espresso and cappuccino we have ever had. We highly recommend staying here if you are headed to Italy. It is close to so much on the northeast side of Italy with a short drive or train ride to Slovenia, Croatia, Venice, Austria, Verona, etc.  Plus, lots of beaches to explore. English is definitely limited here, but don’t let that deter you, everyone was so helpful.

Our suite had two large French doors that opened to our patios with views of the water. We would leave them open every evening and awake to the sounds of seagulls and people taking in their morning swim around the gulf and/or children already jumping of the cliffs or fishing. Swimming is a pastime we could tell starts at a young age here. Kids were unattended fishing or swimming at very early ages and some younger children (ages 2/3) would be with their parents, but with our life protectors. Parents seemed relaxed, sunbathing while children played. I watch in admiration because I am such a nervous nelly with my kids when it comes to the water. Not that this will change, but I do plan to try to ease my anxiety so my kids don’t start to pick up on it. I loved walking along the water seeing new moms with their children feeding from their breast with not a soul noticing or caring. How comforting is this for not only that mom, but for her baby.

We never saw friends and family dining together with cellphones on the tables, they were laughing and engaging with each other instead of with their digital devices. Same goes for the teenagers on the beach. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to see teenagers sitting on towels giggling and conversing, instead of snapping selfies. They probably thought I was the weirdo who indulged in this a couple times to document being in Italy.

Our favorite experiences were the Osmizas (also written Osmica or Osmizze). We were lucky to stumble upon this northeast Italian tradition, thanks to our friends at the wedding. They are a great way taste the specialties produced in the area by actually visiting the homes of local small-scale farms. They open up their back yards and allow you to sample their formaggio, prosciutto, meats, sausages, eggs, grappa, pickles, olive oil and other things they produce. I believe there might be a website to see how to find them but we followed our new friends advice by driving around and looking for the branches tied to the side of the road with arrows. You follow the arrows until you come across a house with a large branch hanging above the entrance. Then you just walk to their back yard. Sounds crazy, but it was great! The first one we went to you could hear men singing loudly in Italian and it was so lovely. Wine was cheap (4 euro for a liter!), the cheese was heavenly, and the ambiance was so romantic. I understand how this area inspires so many artists, authors, and musicians.

I had planned to post our day-by-day itinerary of what we saw and visited, but instead thought it might be more compelling to post my take on our Italian lifestyle experience.

This trip was so meaningful for me to be able to slow down with John. Being that we didn’t speak Italian, it felt as we were there just the two of us, able to block out distractions. This allowed us to be present during every experiences without interruptions, our cellphones, or social media (we opted for the no international service). I would get on about once a day with our wi-fi from our hotel to make sure our boys were good and post a few pictures. We let each day take us, as we felt compelled…no itinerary besides the wedding festivities. So, instead of a play-by-play, below is places we enjoyed on our trips, links to more information, as well as some helpful hints we took back with us.

Duino, Italy

Duino is a seaside village on the northern Adriatic coast. During the school year it is bustling with students (Matt and Nayiri both teach there), but in the summer it is less busy with vacationers. It is known for the Castle and the Rilke trail, named after the poet Rainer Maria Rilkein his Duino Elegies. The village is situated on the steep Karst cliffs of the Gulf of Trieste, and known for Duino Castle, which we were so lucky to get to visit since Matt and Nayiri’s was there, but they do tours as well.

Beaches

Definitely visit Sistiana Bay, a short drive from Duino with small pebble beaches and crystal-clear blue-green sea. There are some restaurants, great places for kids to play and a beautiful marina. We opted to stand up paddle board at Caravella beach while we were there with a wonderful view of the Castle of Duino.

Another beach we enjoyed was the Sentiero Rilke hike, which is nature preserve with breathtaking views, winding by vineyards, and a wonder beach below. We also did the Beach Canovella de ‘Zoppoli hike which was well worth it too.

Our tips: Wear water shoes for the beaches and water, but hike in tennis shoes, also bring a backpack with water, snacks, and a towel.

Trieste, Italy

The Wall Street Journal called Trieste, “Italy’s most beautifully haunted cities.” I can see why. Here is a small synopsis on the medieval city of Trieste.

Trieste is the capital city of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy. A port city, it occupies a thin strip of land between the Adriatic coast and Slovenia’s border on the limestone-dominated Karst Plateau. Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Slovenian influences are all evident in its layout, which encompasses a medieval old city and a neoclassical Austrian quarter.

It is about a 30-minute drive from Duino but a really neat place to visit. Lots of shops, food, museums, and even another castle. Also home at one time to author James Joyce (one of my favs!).

Our tips: Don’t visit on a Sunday, as we did. A lot of the shops were closed so we didn’t get to see as much as we wanted. We here the nightlife is awesome there, so maybe an evening adventure would be better.

Venice, Italy

I can’t really say anything that has already been said. This place is amazing. We opted to ride the train in so we didn’t have to worry about parking. It was about 40 euro round trip and 1.5 hours to get there. You can purchase tickets online in advance to find the best deals/route at TrenItalia.com. One thing to avoid…make sure you are sitting in Class 2 seating once on the train, we ended up sitting in Class 1 since we were clueless, but the ticketing guy fined us 25 euro for sitting in first class. Whoops!

While in Venice make sure to visit the Grand Canal (which snakes its way through the city), Piazza St. March, St. Mark’s Basilica, Campanile bell tower, and the Rialto Bridge.

Our tips: Unless you are dead set on doing it, skip the Gondola ride (costs about 80 euro for 30 minutes) and spend it on souvenirs, gelato, and more vino! One other tip, food and souvenirs are cheaper closer to the train station. The closer you get to St. Marco the more costly everything is. We decided to go sans map and just walk around. We covered major ground walking about 7.5 miles in just a couple of hours.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital and largest city.  It was about an hour and a half by car to cross the border into Slovenia. It was a beautiful drive. The city sits in the shadows of the castle that has a train you can take up to it. One notable area to visit is the expansive Tivoli Park and Ljubljanica River that goes throughout the city. Some other areas of interest you’ll stumble across are the Dragon Bridge (the city’s mascot) and the Triple Bridge. The shopping and food options are expansive! We ate at the Druga Violina restaurant and tried some authentic Slovenian food! It was delicious. I also learned that Slovenia is almost 80% forest with a large production of blueberries. We sample some of their blueberry wine which was incredible!

Our tips: Traveling to Slovenia? Make sure when you cross the border, stop at the first rest stop and buy a Vignette sticker for your car. If you don’t, you will be pulled over and fined 150 Euro. Some people we were with had this happen and warned us or we might have done the same.

Wineries

This was a tricky one! Unlike in the states (or the ones we have visited) you have to call ahead or is it recommended. A lot of these wineries or vinotekas are at people farms so while they are “open” they may not be in the sampling area. We were able to do a sampling at Lupinc Vinoteka, which we really enjoyed, but the one we really wanted to see (Zidarich) wasn’t actually open despite an Open sign, we were able to walk in and see the space and vineyard though.

Our Tips: Anywhere we went and ordered drinks (wineries, restaurants, etc.) served snacks with their drinks at no charge. Sometimes it would fill us up before dinner. Think Mexican restaurants and chips. They served pretzels, peanuts, and chips. Also try the Aperol Spritzes, something we had never heard of but quickly fell in love with. Aperol is an Italian apéritif made of gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona, and some other ingredients. An Aperol Spritz mixes Aperol, soda water, and Prosecco. Seriously delicious and you can’t help but love the orange color!

~ ~ ~

It is safe to say, we loved our Italian Holiday and look forward to returning in the future. While we felt like we got to see a lot, there is so much more we wish to do. The jet lag was rough on the way out (7-hour time difference), but not bad on the way back.

The prices were really reasonable everywhere we went, the people were very friendly, the seafood was divine, the wine and espresso flowed, and we felt safe exploring as foreigners.

Thank you Matt & Nayiri for affording us this opportunity by making your love official a country drenched in romance and history.

We are eternally grateful for this experience! Ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

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