Thursday, May 28, 2015

Orange + Fennel Salad

This salad is our first recipe of the summer, mainly because of the funny story behind it: we're constantly talking about how, in America, you can get anything at the grocery store, at any time of year, whereas in Italy we tend to eat more seasonally and we're never able to find things like jalapenos or coconuts. But. The other day, in our huge, American grocery store, we could not, for the life of us, find fennel. Fennel is a staple in Italy and it's one of the things that you can always find, so we got a big kick out of not being able to find it here. Of course, we went back two days later, and there it was, and so here is this delicious salad (which is popular in Sicily):

Orange + Fennel Salad
Serves 3

What You Need: 2 oranges, peeled and sliced (I usually cut across the orange);1 fennel bulb (remove the fronds but save), washed and sliced; a few slices of red onion; red wine vinegar + olive oil; salt + pepper

Directions: Arrange the orange, fennel and red onion on a large platter and drizzle with about a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and some good olive oil. Add some of the green fronds to the top, sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.


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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Travel Disasters! (and how to handle them)

With all the vibrant travel blogs and perfect Instagram pictures out there, it's easy to forget that traveling can sometimes be hard. Things can go wrong, it's easy to get stressed out or maybe something wasn't the way it was supposed to be. You could get lost or pickpocketed or your flight could be canceled. As great as glossy pictures are, it's important to sometimes share the other side of travel, because travel disasters can happen to anyone.

For example, last April, we took a big trip through Italy and most of our problems stemmed from taking the bus. In Rome we had no idea what bus we were getting on and we took it one way, only to take another bus back the exact same way. In Sorrento we didn't know how the bus system worked and we ended up in a tiny town center, a few miles away from our hotel, with all of our bags piled up at our feet.

But the worst thing that happened was on the last leg of the trip, when we were going to Sicily. We arrived in Palermo on the ferry, at 6:30 in the morning. We needed to get down to Sciacca, a fishing town on the southern coast, where we would be staying for the next week. We knew we were supposed to take a bus, but we didn't know which bus - and for some reason, we never thought to plan ahead.

When we got off the ferry, we asked for directions to the bus station and were told that it was at the train station, which was a little ways up the street (a little ways turned out to be about a mile, but it felt like five because we were lugging all of our bags with us).

It was early Sunday morning and it looked like Palermo had had quite a Saturday night. There was trash everywhere - smashed beer bottles, napkins matted to the sidewalk, paper plates blowing around in the wind - there had been a food truck festival the night before, but it looked more like the end of the world.

We finally reached the train station, but we didn't know which bus to take and we had to ask multiple people - but everyone we asked had no clue what we were talking about. One woman told us she had absolutely no idea; a group of men debated it for so long that I thought they forgot that I was standing there - until they told me that we had to get on the train at track 1 (there was no track 1) and take it for one stop and then get off and take a bus from there; another man told us that the bus to Sciacca left from down the street but for some reason, he wouldn't tell us exactly where.

We were getting frustrated and panicky and we didn't know what to do. So we went to a cafe and had a cappuccino. And while we were there, it occurred to me that I could Google it myself (hello). It came right up on Google and it turned out that we were right around the corner from where the bus left from (which was not at the bus station, of course).

Hopefully travel disasters are few and far between, but here are three tips for handling them when they pop up:

Keep a sense of humor. It's truly not the end of the world and panicking about whatever is going wrong will only make it worse.

Ask for help. Most people will be completely willing to help you. And, as in my case, if you think they're giving you the wrong information, Google it yourself. There is so much information on the internet that you should be able to find something that can help you.

Have a glass of wine. And remember that it could make a funny story one day - in the distant future.

We'd love to hear - what's your travel disaster story?!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

5 Things to do in Cinque Terre

Today we're starting a new series that will continue through the summer and will feature five things to do in different Italian cities (for summer travelers!). First up - Cinque Terre.

There are really only two things to do in Cinque Terre: eat and hike. This makes it the perfect destination for the non-sightseer and/or a great stop in the middle of a longer trip, when you need to relax and regroup. Cinque Terre is composed of five towns along the coast of the Ligurian Sea (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare). It's beautiful and relaxing and the food is out of this world.

Here are five things you should do while you're there:

1. Eat anchovies. Cinque Terre is known for its fantastic seafood but especially for anchovies. There are so many different ways to cook and eat them: with garlic, in casseroles, with lemon and olive oil. I thought I didn't like anchovies until I tried them here - I promise, they're completely different when they're so fresh.

2. Try a local wine. There are tons of vineyards in Cinque Terre (surprising, since all of the towns are perched on the tops of cliffs!) and each town makes its own wine. We stayed in Corniglia and loved the wine at Enoteca il Pirun.

3. Go for a hike. Trails connect each of the five towns - some of the main trails have been washed out by floods but there are other, smaller trails that take you up the mountain and then over and down into the next town.

4. Look at the view. Cinque Terre is so relaxing that sometimes there's nothing to do but stare out at the sea. There are great lookout points in each town and many bars/restaurants also have amazing views.

5. Buy pesto. Pesto is a regional specialty of Cinque Terre and makes the perfect souvenir or gift. Eat it on trofie, a short, twisted pasta, also local to that region.

And, here are some pictures from our trip last April, if you'd like to see...

Next up in June: Florence!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Summer Travel Tips for Italy

With summer travel gearing up, we thought we'd share a few travel tips that we've picked up along the way. If you're heading to Italy this summer, keep in mind:

Try to pack for your whole trip in one bag, especially if you're going from one place to another. It's such a pain to lug around three different bags.

Venice is NOT the place for roller bags because a) the alleys are so narrow and you will be dodging people b) you have to constantly carry them up and over all the bridges and c) everything is bumpy cobblestone. Venice is actually not a great place for luggage at all - there's a trick though: you can hire a porter to meet you at the train station or at your hotel and he'll load all of your bags onto a cart and wheel them to your next destination for you. Ask the front desk of your hotel how this works - if you have a lot of baggage, it can be worth it.

Watch out for pickpocketers in crowded, touristy places. When we announced that we were stopping in Naples for lunch during our big Italian trip, my mother was so.worried. She thought we were going to get pickpocketed, robbed, hit by a taxi, etc. While Naples is known for pickpocketing, you just have to be aware, not scared. Men should keep their wallets in their front pockets instead of their back and women should carry bags that zip closed so that no hands can wander in. Keep track of your belongings and be aware of your surroundings and you should be completely fine.

You will find hotels in Italy that don't have air conditioning. It can get quite hot in the summer, especially in cities, so if this is something that matters to you, check and make sure that your hotel has AC.

Many hotels also don't have elevators. If you're traveling with elderly or handicapped travelers (or lots of baggage), make sure there is an easy way to get up to the fifth floor.

Your hotel should be able to give you a good map of the city, better than what you'll find in a guidebook. Have someone at the front desk circle where you're going - restaurants, bars, sightseeing spots - they'll be much easier to find.

Research local foods ahead of time (or ask your waiter) and order at least one local dish. Each region in Italy has different specialties - different pasta dishes, types of meats, seafood, different sauces...

If you don't feel like spending a lot on a fancy bottle of wine, order table wine (vino della casa) because it's always delicious and inexpensive - and everybody does it.

If you're trying to save money on food, look for local markets. There are usually great markets in any city you'll visit (Mercato Centrale, in Florence for example) - getting lunch here saves money and you can take your food and eat outside in the shade. Also small sandwich shops - in Rome, we ordered sandwiches from a small cafe and took them to the Spanish Steps for a picnic.

Aperitivo - the Italian equivalent of American "happy hour" - can be a big money saver too. When you order a drink, it will come out with food - sometimes it's something simple, like little bowls filled with green olives or potato chips, but at many places you can also snack on pizza bites, meats, cheeses and breads - all for free!

Italy can get so hot in the summer - take a water bottle with you and fill it up as you go. In every city, you'll find fountains with drinking water and having a water bottle is much less expensive than buying bottles of water wherever you go.

Wear sneakers or really good walking shoes. Everyone in Italy, real Italians, do this for a reason. There are lots of cobblestone streets and you'll be doing a lot of walking and you'll want to be wearing good shoes.

Book tickets ahead of time. Many sights can get really crowded in the summer and it's best to already have tickets when you arrive so you don't have to wait in a long line, or get shut out entirely. Your hotel can help you book (or a travel agent, if you're using one) or you can book them yourself online.

Carve out nap times. It's the worst to be sightseeing when you're tired and you won't appreciate what you're seeing anyway. Make time to just's supposed to be a vacation, after all. 

There are some sights that you can see at night (sometimes they're even more spectacular in the dark, when they're lit up) when it's cooler: the Rialto Bridge in Venice for example, or the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps in Rome.


And - if you're going to Venice - here are our Venice favorites...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Reverse Culture Shock

Now that we're back in the US for the summer, we're experiencing some reverse culture shock. We actually got used to the fact that in Italy there is no cheddar cheese, that everything in tiny - from the washing machine to the coffee cups - and that no one follows any driving rules. During our first week back in Colorado, we put together a list of the eight things that we immediately noticed about life in the US:

1. The roads are HUGE. Highways in Denver have five lanes and sometimes two lanes for merging, while the autostrada in Italy has two tiny lanes with tiny cars that go 150 mph. The cars here are so big and everyone is driving reallllllllly slowwwwwly.

2. The Parmesan cheese is terrible. We've struggled for three summers trying to find one that resembles anything close to what we're used to in Italy and doesn't cost 15 dollars.

3. When you go to a restaurant, the waiters are always there. In Italy, when you sit down at a restaurant, the waiter may not show up for 20 minutes. When they do get around to it, they take your order, bring your food and disappear for the rest of the night. You could sit at your table for hours and no one would bother you, as long as you had finished all of your food and had an espresso afterwards. In the US, the waiter is always right there, taking your drink order, then your food order, then asking if everything is okay, then double checking that everything is okay, then asking if you want the check, and then do you want change?

4. Now we have to tip. I suppose it's worth it since the waiters above are so attentive.

5. The produce is so good and so expensive. In Italy, we tend to eat seasonally and since we're there in the fall and winter, that means we eat a lot of squash and zucchini and fennel. In the US, you can get any vegetable at any time, and I noticed that since we've been back, we've been standing, staring, at the produce display at our local grocery store, looking at the wide array of  exotic things like limes and jalapenos and coconuts. Unfortunately, when you can get anything at any time, it usually comes from somewhere like Bali and it can get pricey. Once in Italy, I bought 7 different vegetables for a soup and my bill was 70 cents.

6. There is so much variety. These days, a trip to the grocery store takes me 2.5 hours because I have to inspect the 50,000 types of cereal and do I want green tea with pomegranate and melon or white tea with orange and lemon? Should I buy organic chicken or all-natural chicken or regular chicken and will I die if I don't eat organic chicken?! Do we like peanut butter or almond butter or cashew butter? Is it better to eat whole grain bread or 7 grain bread or 12 grain bread? And the coffee: light roast, dark roast, medium roast, medium-dark roast? Usually after the grocery store, I need to take a nap or drink a glass of wine.

7. But the wine is super expensive too....TEN DOLLARS is the cheapest bottle?!

8. Ryan keeps looking at the temperature in the car and thinking of it in terms of Celsius rather than Fahrenheit. For example yesterday we drove through a May snow storm (hello, Colorado) and when he looked to see how cold it was outside, he saw 37 degrees and wondered "how can it be snowing when it's 37 degrees out?!" For me, I keep thinking that we need adapters to plug things in. Our phone chargers suddenly got a lot lighter...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


After our fourth season in Cortina followed by an amazing trip through Italy, we're back in Colorado now for the summer...and the good news is: we've decided that Here We Go Again is going to remain up and running this summer! In the past, I've taken a blogging break when we're back in the US but this year we decided to keep it going.

And we have lots planned: summer-y recipes, a new series starting later this month, travel advice for summer travelers and a few fun trips of our own.

Thanks to all of my readers who followed along for our fourth year in Italy and stay tuned for lots more!