Sunday, October 23, 2011

CioccolandoVi = Chocolate Festival!!!

This weekend they had the annual chocolate festival in downtown Vicenza called CioccolandoVi.

If you know me at all, you know there was no way that I was going to miss this! There were tons of tents set up with chocolate makers from around the area showing off their best chocolate. I was in chocolate heaven. And of course there were lots of free samples.

They had all sorts of creative ways to make chocolate. They had....

Chocolate Salame

A tower of chocolate. This man is shaving chocolate pieces to
go on a piece of wafter with chocolate sauce and whip cream inside.

Chocolate Fettuccine

Blocks of Cremini

Chocolate in the shape of hammers, wrenches,
high heel shoes, drills, pliers, and other tools. They made tools
because the chocolate made them looked old and rusty.

A package of chocolate for your dentist.

I know it looks like cheese, but it is really chocolate!!


Logs of Chocolate

And much more!

Even Taylor partook in the chocolate festivities.

But it was me who truly enjoyed and appreciated it. :)

After walking around for over an hour tasting chocolate, Taylor had to get what he calls "real food." So we went to a little shop where they sold meat and cheese and he got some salami and cheese.

It was a great day for both of us! :)

Bonamini Olive Oil Tour

Saturday I attended my first coffee here in Italy. A coffee is a monthly social event where the wives of the battalion get together. There is really no coffee involved and I'm not sure why it is called that. So, what else would you do at a Coffee in Italy other than go visit an olive oil processing factory! There were about 15 wives that met, toured, had lunch, and bought lots of goodies!

Here are the olive trees. The green nets underneath are to catch the olives when they take them off of the trees.

Sabrina was our tour guide and she was very sweet! Here she is holding olives and leaves which are held in the green bins behind her.

The olives and leaves are then put in a machine that sorts out the leaves from the olives.

The leaves are blown out of a pipe outside into a large pile.

The olives are then cleaned.

The olives are then mashed in a blender.

They are then sent to different containers which mix them for several minutes.

This is then put through a machine that separates the olive oil from the rest of the olive mash.

The oil is then put into large containers to be filtered.

The olive oil is stored in large vats.

We then went inside and taste tested 3 different extra virgin olive oils.
It was like taking little shots of olive oil!! But there was a professional
process to it!

First, you warmed the olive oil in your hand. This is Jeanna, our battalion
commander's wife. She is super nice.

You then hold the olive oil in your mouth and suck in air through your teeth. This air breaks of the particles and makes the flavor of the olive oil stronger. After you do the weird air sucking thing a few times you swallow the olive oil. Have to say that I have never drank olive oil before and it was definitely an experience. After we drank it, we tried it on small slices of bread which was a much more pleasant experience.

One of the olive oils that we tasted was one of the top 20 chosen out of like 60,000 different olive oils in Rome this year. This small factory is very proud of this accomplishment!

We had a nice lunch afterwards and then got to go shopping in their little gift store. They made different flavored olive oils, pesto, soaps and lotions, and much more! I had such a great time and now I have a new appreciation for olive oil!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Re-fillable Wine bottles...BRILLIANT!

Just outside of post they have a store called Le Rive. It is a refillable wine bottle store. The coolest idea EVER!! Why don't they have these in the states?

So this is how it works. First, you choose the container. You can bring your own, or pay for the containers that they have available. They have everything from a half a liter to a 5 gallon jug.

Second, you taste test however many wines you would like and decide on your favorite. The wine is held in large Vats. The red wines are on one wall and the white wines and prosecco on the other.

Third, they take your container and fill it with your choice of wine.
The best part is that it is so cheap! It ranges in prices from 1,60-2 Euro for a liter!

I wanted this size, but Taylor wouldn't let me... :(

We got this wine carrier as a gift from Jeanna, the Battalion Commander's wife. It is perfect!

And this is my cute wine carrier! :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We finally decided on an apartment!!

Well, we have finally decided on an apartment. We had narrowed it down to two and were doing a little negotiating to see which one we would go with. We decided on the 3 bedroom because they are going to put in a new kitchen, add screens to the windows, and they found a second parking spot for us!!!
Parking spots down town are not easy to find and are very expensive. When we told them we would like another spot we figured we would get a pass to park on the street or have to walk several blocks to get there. When we went to see the garage they had found it just so happened to be right across the street from the door to our apartment!! A woman who teaches in the American schools lives there and has a hard time parking in the small garage so she offered to "rent" her garage to us. We are so lucky to find another parking spot!!!
We will not be able to move in for another two weeks or so because they have to clean, paint, etc. We are set to sign all of the paper work on Thursday so hopefully everything will go smoothly.
I do not have any pictures of it, but will post them as soon as I get them. It has three bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (one with lovely pink tile). We will use one of the bedrooms for storage and the other as a guest bedroom. The living and dining room are one big room and the kitchen is just off the living room. The kitchen is quite small, but it will work. It is in a great location. We will be able to walk to restaurants, markets, bars, and shops very easily. It is about 3 miles from post where Taylor will be working. We are very excited!!!

We are still in temporary housing at the Ederle Inn on post. It has not been a bad place to live for what will probably be a little over a month. We did a video tour if you would like to see. It is nothing too exciting, but we have a lot of time on our hands these days! :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

We are official Drivers!!!

It is official! We have our Italian driver's license and we are driving! After waiting for about a week for their printer to get fixed, we finally got our license. We went to pick it up and got our new European license plates.

Then we had to take it to get inspected. Unfortunately the long crack across the windshield (that I have been driving with for 2 years) doesn't pass inspection here in Italy, so we had to deal with that. Luckily they were able to get a new windshield in one day. We were very surprised since they don't make this vehicle here. But, unluckily we had to pay a lot of Euros. :( Everyone take a few moments to admire the new, costly, clean, windshield.

When driving in Italy you must have our insurance posted in the bottom corner of your windshield at all times. See the little parking meter thing on the left that says "Ora de arrivo?"
They do not have parking meters here, so when you park your car you are supposed to twist the nob (on the inside) to the time you arrived at the spot.

Before moving here we heard about how crazy driving in Italy was and that driving laws were seen as suggestions by most citizens here. So, I was prepared for the worse...and it isn't too bad. No one goes the speed limit. They say that it is very rare for people to get pulled over for speeding. They have speed cameras set up in various places that take your picture and mail you a ticket. There are very few stop lights, mostly traffic circles which can get a little chaotic when you add bicycles in the mix. There are tons of people riding bikes, so you have to always be aware of them. Lanes are not always clearly marked, so you might be driving down the road and all of a sudden someone decides to create their own lane.

I think many people are intimidated to drive here because the signs are unfamiliar and in Italian, other drivers are not patient with slow drivers, traffic circles are not that common in the states, there are tons of people on bikes, and it takes awhile to get to know your way around the town. I feel pretty confident about driving, I just don't know where anything is, so we will soon be investing in a GPS.

Everyone thought we were crazy for bringing our truck to the tiny streets of Italy. So far it has not been a problem. Of course we have yet to drive in the narrow streets of down town, but I think we will be fine. Luckily our parking spot is in an open courtyard type area, so I don't have to squeeze into a garage. We do get a lot of looks from other drivers though. Even though I took off my Texas Tech window sticker, it is obvious that we are Americans since we are 1 of like 10 that drive a truck.

We drove on the Autostrada last week for the first time. The speed limit is 130 kph or 81 mph. That is actually slow unless you are a big 18 wheeler. Most people are going about 85-90 and then you have the crazies zooming by at over 100 mph! Taylor of course, loved it. I am perfectly fine letting people pass me while I go 75!

Gas is insanely expensive here! That is why they all drive small cars and ride bikes/walk/take the bus everywhere. Right now a liter of fuel is 1.60 Euro/$2.20!! One gallon is equal to 3.78 liters. So they are paying about $8.35 a gallon! Luckily we get gas coupons every month. We purchase them at the PX on post for about $4.45 a gallon. We then take our coupons to certain gas stations and use them as money. You are allowed a specific number per month depending on the number of vehicles you have and the size of the gas tank. I think we get 400 liters/105 gallons per month which Taylor thinks will be more than enough.

Every now and then I'll try to talk Taylor into writing something on the blog. I will call it...

Taylor's Two Cents...
Its not that they drive crazy. Its just that people do not have the American notion of "personal space". No space is given to bikes when you pass. You drive 30 mph on a narrow street lined with parked cars and pedestrians. When merging you pull right out in front of people because they will yield. After all they don't want to hit you anymore than you want them to. Plus all they cars weigh about 30 lbs, so they stop pretty quickly. I must say if I had kids I would let them take candy from strangers before I would let them ride bikes on a public street.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Eating in the Cinque Terre (cheen-kwa ter-ray)

We had some great food in the Cinque Terre. There was a plethora of fresh sea food since we were right on the coast.

Our first night in Riomaggiore we ate at a restaurant located on the top of the top of the hill. Taylor had wine and french fries.

Just kidding! That was a side! Here in Italy they bring your food whenever it is ready, so you might get your meal a few minutes before the person that you are eating with. Taylor and I usually split a pasta and then a meat of some sort so it works out well. The first thing out of the kitchen was the oh so yummy french fries.

No we did not get pancakes! We were not expecting this when it came out. They fry Linguine pasta into cakes giving it a crispy texture and a pancake-like appearance. The toppings were pesto, Parmesan cheese, and a tomato sauce. It was kind of weird eating this dish because when you put a bite in your mouth you were expecting a pancake taste, but instead it was pasta!

We also ordered a grilled fish fillet with sweet and sour veggies. The veggies were not the sweet and sour you would think, but they were good. The fish was cooked amazingly well!! It was crisp on the outside and flaky on the inside.

The next day for lunch we had pizza. Taylor's had olives, artichokes, and Wurtsel (a German sausage) on his and I had the pesto pizza. This place is known for their pesto, so I ordered something with pesto almost every meal!

The second night we had Ravioli di Pesce which was ravioli stuffed with fish and a cream sauce. It was so good, I didn't get a picture of it before we ate the entire thing! We also ordered Swordfish which neither of us had ever had. It was very good and came with some potatoes. We knew it was fresh because on the way to the bathroom Taylor looked in the kitchen and saw them cleaning the fish. Fresh by our standards, but some Italians don't consider it fresh unless they buy it at the market, alive, and carry it home in a bucket or bag. Its kind of like winning a gold fish at the fair.

Anchovies is another popular dish in the Cinque Terre. I don't know that I have ever even tasted an anchovy in the U.S., but I hear they are salty and nasty. They are served fresh here and are quite good. They have them as appetizers in a lemon juice on crackers or bread or in pasta. We had anchovy pasta the third night and it was very good (pictured above).

We also shared this dish called "Mixed Grilled Fish." I guess we didn't quite know what the word "mixed" really meant. The dish came out with octopus, squid, a lobster type thing, a prawn, and a little fish. See below.

I will pretty much try anything, but I am not a fan of eating food that can look at me while I am eating it or eat food that I've seen alive shortly before or food that looks like it did when it was alive. But, I had already had about 3 glasses of wine and was hungry and would eat anything! :) My favorite was the octopus. It was very good. My least favorite was the squid because it was too squishy for me. Taylor's favorite was the little "bait fish" as he called it. We decided that the dish should more accurately be called "Grilled Mixed Crustaceans and A Little Bait Fish." The people were very nice and we got 10% off with our Rick Steve's book! What what!

On our way back to the train station which passed an open window looking into the kitchen of a restaurant. It was so cool that we took pictures and video.

These are the clay pots that the dishes were
cooked and served in. That large metal pot
was the sauce.

Focaccia also originates in Liguria. It is kind of a flat bread, and comes with a variety of toppings. We each had a slice for breakfast on the last day. It was so good. I have had Focaccia from a nice grocery store, but it was nothing compared to this.

Overall, we were very happy with our food in the Cinque Terre and can't wait to go back and try some different sea food dishes!