Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Genoa Aquarium

On Saturday, the church took a charter bus down to Genoa, which has a nice aquarium. Seeing the fish was enjoyable, but the real entertainment was riding the bus.

Here are Courtney and Meredith gazing whimsically out the window.

And Nolan sporting his M&M t-shirt.

Safety was a big concern on the trip, especially for the little ones.

Finally, after two grueling hours, the aquarium! We won't bother posting pictures of all the fish, but the piranhas were too eerie not to include. You can't tell it from the picture below, but none of them were moving. It was as if they were waiting for the caretaker to drop a cow, or some unlucky visitor, into the tank.

Dyfan, Caroline, and others looking kindly into the dolphin tank.

Meredith hailing a pregnant or deformed shark (couldn't tell which).

A short walk from the aquarium was a pirate ship, which was built for a Roman Polanski movie, appropriately called 'Pirates.'

And finally, just to be spiteful, a picture of Lloyd and our buddy Giorgio getting some rest after a long day. How innocent they look!

Fireworks and Mountains

Last Wednesday, our friends Roberto and Antonietta invited us to join them in watching fireworks for St. John's day. This is a big holiday in Italy and the fireworks were spectacular--I think it was the most inventive firework display I've seen. St. John would have been proud!

A brief video to give you an idea of what it was like.

On Friday, as a belated celebration of our 2nd anniversary, we went to Bardonecchia for some quality dining and a hike in the mountains. We couldn't have asked for a more relaxing time together! Here are some shots from our day trip.

As we got to the top of our little trail, it started to rain. It was very romantic, taking shelter under a tree and, later, an old stone house.

Castle Bramafram (only open three days a month) and me trying to stay dry.

And to finish it off, tasty little cakes from a great little bakery.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Scholl, Menke trip: Florence

After spending a few days in Siena, we took a train to Florence for some sight-seeing and shopping.

Our first impression of Florentine style was, frankly, a little disappointing.

But things got better. This is Florence's equivalent of a city hall; in the Renaissance, it was the administrative base of the Medici government/family. Oh, and there are Rob and Kay in the foreground.

Here I am with the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) in the background. It really is old; it dates from the medieval period, where it was a popular commercial thoroughfare. Things haven't changed much: now it's lined with jewelry shops.

The Posse sporting their tell-tale uniform, the baseball hat.

A would-be statue. If you give it money, it turns and looks at you!

The disapproving statue, who does not want your money.

The Duomo (Cathedral) of Florence. The dome is famous because it was the first dome of the Renaissance and the first one built since the Roman period--the technology had been lost for almost a thousand years.

Some of you may note that the below picture was not taken in Florence. On a lark, John, Mills, and Uncle Charlie decided to take a day trip to Rome while the rest of us stayed behind. Mills and Uncle Charlie had never been there and they had an enthusiastic tour guide in John! Here they are at the Roman forum.

Here are the Menke men contemplating the Colosseum. . .

. . .and learning about ancient inscriptions.

John and Mills in front of the Vittorio Emmanuele monument. . .

. . .and Mills trying to fit in at the Vatican.

They all returned in plenty of time for dinner, however. We found a great little place off the beaten track (thanks to a recommendation from a shopkeeper) and had good Florentine food. Here's Tom showing us how to drink a cafe macchiato.

We still had a little time for shopping before we left Florence the next morning. Here are John and Rob rubbing the boar's snout for good luck (don't ask; we don't know). Behind them, you can see part of the 'Straw Market,' which doesn't sell any straw but lots of beautiful leather items.

Relaxing at the Florence train station. Sometimes, you just have to go with what you know.

Not so relaxed at the Milan train station. We had to change trains there and for some reason, all the regional trains from Milan to Torino were being cancelled (one at a time, of course, to heighten the tension). After a frustrating hour and a half or so, we upgraded our tickets to Eurostar to get to Torino. We made it a couple of hours later than expected. . .

. . .but still in time for a high quality meal! Here are John and Mills sporting University of Oregon colors with Mills clutching a long-anticipated kebab.

That's all, folks! Hope you enjoyed taking this virtual vacation with us! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Scholl, Menke trip: Torino and Siena (a long post!)

After our day trip to France, we spent Saturday in Torino. In the morning, we went to Porta Palazzo, which is Torino's huge outdoor market. We bought bread, cheese, fresh pasta, and many other things for a home-made italian dinner that night.

Here are John and Tom deliberating on the cheese selection.

John and our favorite pasta lady; we buy exclusively from her not just because her pasta is good and affordable, but because she's nice too!

While John went to pick up the Menkes from the airport and Tom took a nap, Kay, Rob, and I went to the Mole, which looks like a skyscraper but also serves as a movie museum. There's a glass elevator that goes to the top, which provides a spectacular view of Torino.

Later that night, after Charlie, Ann, and Mills joined us, we had dinner at our apartment. It was our chance to give them an appreciation of fresh pasta and sauce. After dinner, we pointed out our neighbor who was watering a garden seven stories below us. Mills decided to summon him and Franco, who only speaks five words of English, came up and shared some wine with us!

After church on Sunday, we roped Dyfan, Caroline, and kids into having lunch with us (eating was a very important part of this trip). It was good to bring our Torino life and our Texas life together.

John and Mills sporting their complementary A&M shirts, thereby looking very Italian.

A must-do Torino activity was to try the favorite local drink, called a bicerin (pron. bee-cher-een), which is a coffee-chocolate drink. Everybody seemed to like it and Tom talked for the rest of the trip about getting a second one, though he never did get the chance.

Rob and expensive Italian suits; note the bars preventing the two from coming together.

The train ride down to Siena. The night before, Mills had bought his mom a rose; the next morning, she appeared with it safely ensconced in a Coca-Cola cup, which she held for the entire five-hour train ride to Siena--even while sleeping!

Some shots from Siena. This building was the medieval equivalent of a city hall.

And it overlooks 'Il Campo' ('The Field'), Siena's main piazza. Twice a year, Siena holds a Palio, which is a horse race whose track is around the Campo itself!

Siena has a big, beautiful cathedral and several centuries ago, they wanted to make it even larger. But alas, their dreams were bigger than their pocketbooks and this is all that ever existed of the 'add-on.'

Here's the door of our little hotel, which was a two-minute walk from the Campo. Rob picked the hotel and he did an excellent job finding a good location.

One of Uncle Charlie's favorite vacation past-times was hanging out in the hotel room and playing cards. Here he looks just like a native, sans the A&M ball cap.

Our first night in Siena, we ate a nice place that served an amazing wild boar dish. Other options were tuna and veal (together, served cold), rabbit, or lasagna.

Other meals were not quite so fancy and were boycotted by certain family members (not pictured here).

A view of the Tuscan countryside.

Yet another train ride. This time we were taking a day trip to Orvieto so Kay and Ann could get their pottery fix.

A good, if overly cozy, time was had by all.

Although we weren't in Torino (and therefore couldn't have GROM, which is the best gelato ever), we didn't suffer too much. Here's a glimpse of the mounds of gelato we got to choose from.

Uncle Charlie, inevitably and always, chose Straciatella (or 'Scratchatella', as he dubbed it), and a lot of it.

Because of the Palio, the town of Siena is divided up into seventeen different sections. John, Mills, and I were wandering through the elephant section when we spotted this sculpture. Thus, the University of Alabama gets free publicity on our blog.

Here we are relaxing at a pizza-by-the-slice restaraunt. Not as good as wild boar, but serviceable in a pinch.

Next stop, Florence!