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Belle Panini e Gelati

Noah and Romi found food bliss in Florence. For Noah it was one of the best sandwiches he has eaten on this trip and for Romi, it was daily servings of gelato. Here are their musings on these finds.

By Noah and Romi

We have had a lot of amazing food on this trip – from heaping bowls of meat stew in Ethiopia to big plates of homemade bread and moussaka in Turkey. It has been surprisingly hard, however, to find a really incredible sandwich. Other than döners in Turkey and shawarmas in Israel, we have not found blog worthy sandwiches other places on our trip.

All that changed when we visited Florence, Italy and stumbled upon the All’antico Vinaio sandwich shop right around the corner from the famous Uffizi art gallery. We had just finished a delicious lunch of fresh fish, spaghetti, lasagna, eggplant parmesan, and gelato, but when we saw these sandwiches I knew I needed to get one.

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Inside All'antica Vinaio.

Inside All’antico Vinaio.

The line for the restaurant was out the door and down the block. After waiting for about 20 minutes it was finally my turn to order. The best part about this sandwich shop was you just tell them what kind of meat you want and they do the rest. They know exactly what kind of cheeses, spreads, and toppings to add and fold it all into warm, fresh focaccia bread. I choose spicy fennel salami and the man behind the counter cut off a TON of meat and assembled the masterpiece with homemade cream cheese, artichoke spread, and grilled eggplants. All for only 5 euros!! After I felt a little sick, but it was all worth it!

The meat selection.

The meat selection.

Followed by fantastic fillings.

Followed by fantastic fillings.

Enjoying the finished product!

Enjoying the finished product!

Gelato is the Italian version of ice cream, but is much creamier. Almost everyday in Italy we had gelato and went to some really good places. But the best place was Vivoli gelateria in Florence. Even the locals in Florence think this place is one of the best gelaterias.

We decided to have gelato before lunch and started looking for Vivoli, but using google maps took us to the wrong corner. We just kept going straight which led us to a big square. By this time we were getting hungry and decided to eat lunch. We ate outside at a cafeteria run by very friendly people who told us how to get to Vivoli after lunch.

Lunch at the cafeteria.

Lunch at the cafeteria.

We started walking in the direction they told us and after about three blocks we were lost. We decided to turn on google maps again. This time we found Vivoli and realized that we walked right past it the first time and didn’t notice it before because we were looking at a deli across the street.

They only serve gelato in cups, not cones. I choose half chocolate and half vanilla. They didn’t have my favorite flavor, stracciatella, which is like chocolate chip ice cream so I chose my usual flavors. I wish we were staying in Italy longer because there is so much to do there. Not just eat gelato, but other things too!

So many yummy flavors!

So many yummy flavors!

Here's what we ordered.

Here’s what we ordered.

I found a street named after my favorite gelato flavor.

I found a street named after my favorite gelato flavor.

Adventures In and Around Lucca

By Caleb

Our first stop in Italy was Lucca, about 45 minutes west of Florence. Lucca is still fully surrounded by a wall that was built in the 16th century and then planted with trees along the top in the 19th century. We stayed in Lucca for one week in an apartment just one block outside the wall. For a couple of those days we explored the old city of Lucca where there are many churches, a tower with seven oak trees planted on top, restaurants, and little shops.

The wall around Lucca.

The wall around Lucca.

Entry gate to the walled city near our apartment.

Entry gate to the walled city near our apartment.

Guinigi Tower in Lucca.

Guinigi Tower in Lucca.

In addition to seeing the sites in Lucca, we also took many side trips that week. One of my favorite side trips was to Pisa. When we arrived our first view of the leaning tower was down the long main road. At first glance the leaning tower doesn’t look like it’s leaning, but once you get up close you can really tell. Only my dad, Noah, and I went up to the top. As you walk up you can really feel the tilt.

Setting up a "pushing the tower over" shot.

Setting up a “pushing the tower over” shot.

View from the top of the tower.

View from the top of the tower.

Another side trip took us to the area called Cinque Terre – five small coastal towns located very close to one another along the Italian coast. When we got to the first town, Riomaggiore, the main path along the coast was closed so we decided to take the hiking trail through the hills to the next town, Manarola. The trail was only a little more than 2 km there and back, but it was straight uphill and then straight downhill on the other side in the hot sun.

The easy path is closed!

The easy path is closed!

Only way is straight uphill.

Only way is straight uphill.

At the top before the steep descent to Manarola.

At the top before the steep descent to Manarola.

Our last side trip was driving through the mountains in the Garfagnana region north of Lucca. We started out driving to a small town called Borgo a Mozzano to see the Devil’s Bridge. The bridge is in a very weird shape so we stopped there to check it out. Next we visited the small village of Bargo and walked around. It was during the afternoon when everything was closed so it was very quiet. As we were driving home we spotted a little town in the hills (Coreglia Antelminella) and decided to go check it out. Once we got there it was practically empty; there were only a few old people sitting outside.

Devil's Bridge.

Devil’s Bridge.

Outside the main cathedral in Barga.

Outside the main cathedral in Barga.

Views of Barga and the surrounding hills.

Views of Barga and the surrounding hills.

Heading back to our car in quiet Barga.

Heading back to our car in quiet Barga.

Walking up the path to Coreglia Antelminelli.

Walking up the path to Coreglia Antelminelli.

This was a great week because we got to explore Lucca and take many interesting side trips.

The Art Museums of Madrid

By Max

I never thought I would be the one writing a blog post about art museums, but here I am thinking about how much I enjoyed my museum experiences in Madrid.  Truth be told, I still can get bored and have to fight off urges to touch the art, but as I worked my way through the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Reina Sofia, and the Museo del Prado, I found myself appreciating not only the individual works of art, but also how they so clearly intersect with religion, politics, and history.  I wasn’t just pretending in front of my kids, I was really viewing and reflecting with only brief mind wanderings to the upcoming NBA draft, the Yankee’s rotation, or my next meal.

There is something about being in a country, or a whole continent for that matter, with such a long tradition of art, religion, politics, and history that makes it hard to not to immerse yourself in these endeavors.  Plus, the fact that these great museums are easy to access for free or affordable prices does not hurt!

We started our museum visits at the Thyssen.  Formerly a private collection, the Thyssen provides a great survey of European and North American art from the 13th century to 20th century pop art (http://www.museothyssen.org/en/thyssen/coleccion).  Here we were able to move from early Italian art with its dark and somber depictions of the Holy Family on through to the Renaissance, Impressionism, Surrealism, and the wildly colorful work of Roy Lichtenstein.

El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza.

El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza.

 

Noah posing with an Andrea della Robbia.

Noah posing with an Andrea della Robbia.

A few days later, Sue and I took advantage of the free evening hours at the Reina Sofia.  Known as one of the top modern art museums in Europe, the Reina Sofia is the place to take in your fill of Spanish artists including Picasso and Dali.  The featured piece here is Picasso’s Guernica.  Covering much of a large wall, this mural depicts Picasso’s response to the Spanish Civil War.  While Guernica is cleary the focal point of the museum, each of its three collections (http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/collection) calls out the tension between industrial progress, war, and political and civil unrest.  Lots of brain power required to make sense of it all.

 

Entrance to the Reina Sofia.

Entrance to the Reina Sofia.

Picasso's Guernica.

Picasso’s Guernica.

 

Lastly, we descended upon the Prado, a seemingly never ending collection of pre-20th century European art.  To say we were overwhelmed here is an understatement.  Room after room of works by famous artists such as Rubens, de Goya, El Greco, Titian, Caravaggio, and many others began to blur into each other after the first hour.  Oddly enough, one of the highlights of this visit was a special exhibit of 10 Picassos on loan from the Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland; the only works on display from the 20th century. (https://www.museodelprado.es/en/exhibitions/exhibitions/at-the-museum/diez-picassos-del-kunstmuseum-de-basilea/).

 

Museo Nacional del Prado.

Museo Nacional del Prado.

Woman with Hat Seated in an Armchair - Picasso.

Woman with Hat Seated in an Armchair – Picasso.

 

While I had some museum fatigue set in by the time we finished the Prado, I left Madrid a slightly more aware viewer and eager for our next art museum – the Uffizi in Florence – stay tuned!

A Hike to Remember

In his second installment of what may or may not be an ongoing series of trip reflections, Noah  recounts a hike up and down a steep trail to an amazing beach in Turkey.

By Noah

One of my favorite memories from Turkey was an adventurous, thrill-filled hike we took in the tiny coastal town of Faralya. By town I mean there were three tiny hotels, a mosque, a bus stop, and a restaurant. The hotel where we stayed, Hotel Montenegro, was a group of cabins perched high in the mountain above the water. To this day it is one of my favorite accommodations on the trip. Incredible food, friendly staff, and an unbeatable location all contributed to making it such a winner for me.

From the hotel you could see down the cliff and at the bottom was a beautiful beach in a sheltered cove nicknamed Butterfly Valley by the locals. From the moment I saw that beach I knew I had to get down there and swim in its crystal clear blue waters. The only problem was that to get down to the beach you had to take a very scary and treacherous hike down the side of the cliff and, of course, you had to make the VERY steep journey back up.

Many people told us not to go, that it was unsafe for kids, that someone would slip and fall off the cliff, but still I wanted to go. After hearing an older couple’s story about hiking down and how incredible the beach was I figured, if they can do it, then so can I!

My next task: find a willing adult to take 4 kids on a dangerous hike down a cliff at 5:00 pm and back up before dark. To the surprise of everyone, the only adult willing to do it was my mom, who is scared of heights, but agreed to do it for us. The hike started with all at the very edge of the cliff providing a very clear view of the many thousands of feet drop that awaited us if we fell off the trail.

The first part of the trail involved scrambling down the rocky path, trying not to slip and not to kick the very loose rocks down onto the heads of the people below. Our first obstacle came soon when we reached a steep drop that required you to propel down with a dinky little rope tied to a tree. As you can imagine we were all quite terrified. It was probably only a 20 ft long drop, but it took us half an hour to complete.

From there we continued down the cliff, through more ropes courses, scrambling along on our butts, and using baby trees as support so we did not fall to our deaths. When we reached the bottom is was 6:00 pm and we could all finally take a deep breath.

A short walk led us to the beach where we were blown away by just how incredible it was. The sand was soft and white, the water so blue and clear you could see 50ft down, the cliffs that formed the coves shot out into the ocean making the beach feel very secluded. And on top of all that except for two people lying in a hammock the beach was empty. Nothing feels better after a long hike in the hot sun than jumping into the warm water of the Mediterranean and we were in heaven. Unfortunately, we only had 45 minutes there before we had to head back up by nightfall, but it was all worth it.

Butterfly Valley beach

Butterfly Valley beach

Another view.

Another view from farther away

The Spanish Way

By Romi

Late nights, slow mornings, afternoon breaks and different meal times make Spain feel much different from Seattle. In Seattle, people really don’t stay up late except on the weekends, but in Spain, people are out late every night of the week! People in Spain are up late having fun, eating dinner (usually sometime after 9:30 pm), and relaxing. Even the kids are out late with their parents. Many are playing around in the plazas next to the restaurants.

Evening in Sevilla.

Evening in Sevilla and the plaza is busy.

Siesta is when everybody takes a break and either goes home to rest and eat lunch or eat out. Siesta starts around 2:00 pm and lasts until 5:00 pm. Most shops and stores are closed during this time, but the tourists sites are open. Some of the restaurants are closed too, so if you’re hungry you might be out of luck!

Siesta time and the shops are closed.

Siesta time in Madrid and the shops are closed.

In Spain many people eat tapas (small plates) instead of big meals. Lunch is usually around 2:00 pm during siesta. At lunch many people also like to eat at the bars which serve bocadillos (sandwiches), french fries, and seafood. On our walking tour of Madrid we learned that a bar with many crumpled napkins on the ground means people like that place. My favorite food in Spain has been cheese, bread, tortilla patata, churros and chocolate, and violeta candies.

Lots of napkins on the floor - must be a good place!

Lots of napkins on the floor – must be a good place!

Churros y chocolate - YUM!

Churros y chocolate – YUM!

Siesta time and the shops are closed.

Romi and Caleb outside La Violeta candy store in Madrid.

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