Italy

Visions of Sarzana

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Sarzana, Italy

After exploring the town of Lucca, my family and I spent a couple hours in the hotel trying to find last minute accommodations somewhere more north, near La Spezia. I was determined to go to the Cinque Terre, and La Spezia is a good spot to take ferries or trains from to visit the Five Lands. After contacting a bunch of people on Airbnb, we finally got someone to accept our last minute request, and they were located in a town called Sarzana, which we had never heard of before. We packed the car back up, and headed north. It wasn’t too bad of a drive, and after getting lost and finding someone who spoke English to help us with directions, we arrived at our new house. We were relieved to have found something and it was nice and spacious, and worked out great. The owners lived downstairs, and they were all very sweet and helpful. There were vineyards across the street, and we were happy to be able to walk into town.

The view from our bedroom window.

The view from our bedroom window.

Sarzana's multi-colored buildings in the center of town.

Sarzana’s multi-colored buildings in the center of town.

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This place had some of the best gelato we’ve had so far in Italy.

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Sarzana was not totally packed with tourists, so it was fun to be in a place where we could see what it really felt like to live in a small town in Italy.

I went on some nice runs too, passing many vineyards and olive groves on the way.

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I really wanted to stop and buy some fresh olive oil, but it was too early in the morning.

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One day we had a full-day sailing trip to Cinque Terre booked, and I was really looking forward to it. But alas, in the morning when we were supposed to leave to go to La Spezia to catch the sailboat, it was storming so badly that there was no way a boat would go out on the ocean in those conditions. It ended up clearing up in the afternoon, and since I was determined to be by the ocean, we drove to Carrara, in search of a beach to spend the afternoon. After trying a couple different beaches and being told they were all private and members-only, we finally found (what seemed like) the only free beach. The ocean was really rocky due to the storm so I didn’t swim, but at least we enjoyed a couple hours of sunbathing.

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Finally got my feet in the Mediterranean!

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The rest of our time was spent taking a 4×4 tour of the marble quarries in Carrara (which was SO COOL), and taking a ferry to Portovenere… more on that later!

Running on the Walls of Lucca, Italy

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After my parents, Jeremy, and I left Turin, we headed south for the coast near Cinque Terre, hoping to spend some days by the ocean and explore the towns around there. We didn’t have any set plans until a few days before leaving, and we looked for last-minute houses on Airbnb and VRBO until we found one that looked perfect. It was a picturesque Tuscan villa with a pool, near the town of Lucca.

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The pretty Tuscan villa that wasn’t meant to be.

Basically, the house ended up being waaaay far up windy, narrow roads, pretty far from Lucca, and the host accidentally booked the wrong house for us and it was too small. We decided not to stay there, and at 7pm on a Saturday night, had nowhere to sleep. We luckily found a hotel right outside the center of Lucca, and stayed there for the night. We got to the hotel pretty late, and we didn’t feel like walking the mile into town to eat dinner, so we did something I haven’t done in years: ate at McDonald’s. I was hoping they would have some interesting things on the menu since McDonald’s in other countries are known for this, but the only different things they had were pasta and beer pretty much. They did sell a pistachio McFlurry though, and I had to try it. I am not very picky and can eat pretty much anything, but I actually couldn’t stand it.

Vespa inside McDonald's.

Vespa inside McDonald’s.

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My gross pistachio McFlurry.

My gross pistachio McFlurry.

I read online about how the walls that surround the old city center of Lucca had been turned into a walking/bicycle path. I didn’t know how long we’d be in the area, so I woke up early the next morning to make sure I got a chance to run the walls. The city was nice and quiet, and the only people out were runners (I heard a fellow American runner comment on my San Diego Half Marathon shirt) and a few bicyclists. The wall circles the city, and is 4km in length.

Early morning streets in Lucca.

Early morning streets in Lucca.

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Up on the walls – the path is very wide!

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The weather was perfect and there was so much to look at, the run went by very fast. I did a total of four miles, then went to the tiny hotel gym to get some strength training in, and use the Stairmaster.

This was a lot harder than I remembered.

This was a lot harder than I remembered.

Before we left for our next destination, we took a quick walk around Lucca. It’s a really charming town!

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Perfecting my tourist pose.

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Gelato place with swings inside. Too bad it wasn’t open.

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This is kind of heartbreaking.

Hope everyone had a great Fourth of July!

Exploring the Northern Italian Countryside

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Turin is the capital of the Piedmont region of Italy, and it’s a good base if you want to explore the charming villages and wine country that surrounds it. My parents, Jeremy, and I set out from Turin to drive to Cinque Terre along the coast, but after a late start, decided the journey was too much to do in a day, and settled for driving to Alba instead, famous for its white truffles. The drive was only about an hour, and much of it was through pretty countryside, where you could see villages perched atop hills surrounded by vineyards.

DSC_4581Immediately when we arrived in Alba and exited the car, Jeremy and I looked at each other and exclaimed that the air smelled very sweet. We had landed in some magical village that smelled entirely of chocolate. I remembered that I read that the Nutella factory was in the region, so I knew it must be it. We were determined to take a tour of the factory, but finally found out that it wasn’t open to the public. What a shame.

The city of Alba is proud of their Nutella heritage.

The city of Alba is proud of their Nutella heritage.

We spent the afternoon leisurely walking around Alba, eating a nice lunch, and visiting a couple churches. Truffles were not in season so we didn’t get to try any, but Alba was still a very nice town to visit.

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I love Italy’s brightly-colored buildings.

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After leaving Alba, we kept driving west to Barolo, famous for its excellent wines. As a friend of mine put it on Instagram: “The king of wines, and the wine of kings.” We found a big winery/resort and Jeremy and I went wine tasting. We tried at least eight wines, and they were not tiny pours. They were all delicious, but we only actually tried two types of Barolo at the end, and they blew all of the other wines out of the water. They were also the most expensive by a long shot. We walked away with some nice wines, but had to pass on spending the money on the Barolo. (Side note: I discovered online that the Barolo vineyards have just been made into UNESCO World Heritage sites a few days ago, which is pretty cool.)

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Barolo vineyards.

We then drove into the center of Barolo, and walked around its narrow, winding roads and alleys, and admired the beautiful views.

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I have to also mention the best meal we’ve had during our travels by far (and which led to the worst run of my life), a few nights after our excursion to Alba and Barolo. It was in a tiny village called Revigliasco in the hills above Turin, and the restaurant was La Taverna di Fra Fiusch (not easy to remember). My parents treated me and Jeremy to a wonderful meal, and it was the most full I’ve ever been in my life. I was actually sad that I was so full after the second course because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat all of the third and fourth courses. I didn’t get pictures of all the food served, but I managed to take a couple.

 

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Cute little village of Revigliasco.

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I know this is just a bread basket… but it was the most delicious bread I’ve ever had, especially the focaccia straight out of the oven. It also contributed to my extreme fullness, which is a rookie mistake. Never fill up on bread when you have four courses yet to come.

Course one – I really wish I had written the menu down so I could remember what all it entailed.

Course one – I really wish I had written the menu down so I could remember what all it entailed. The pesto “mousse” with burrata on top on the right was incredible.

Dessert – a work of art that consisted of pistachio cake, told you I can't resist pistachio.

Dessert – a work of art that consisted of pistachio cake and some extremely delicious sauces.

Running in Turin, Italy

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Feeling disheveled after running in Turin.

Happy July! I officially have one month left of being 28, and June 27 marked three months in Europe for me and Jeremy. Today is also one of my best friends Nicole‘s birthday, so happy birthday Nicole!!!! She is trying to come visit me and Jeremy while we spend the month of August housesitting in Paris, and I REALLY hope it happens. Just think of all the croissants and macarons we’ll eat! Of course we’ll get some exercise too… Nicole and I met the first week of college my freshman year at UGA in Athens, Georgia. We became fast friends, and have been close ever since.

Me and Nicole circa 2003

Me and Nicole circa 2003

On Nicole's wedding day

On Nicole’s wedding day in 2009

Nicole flew all the way out to Palm Springs from Atlanta for my bachelorette weekend.

Nicole flew all the way out to Palm Springs from Atlanta for my bachelorette weekend.

On my wedding day, 2013

On my wedding day, 2013

Running in Turin

My runs in Turin were okay, but not stellar. The house we were renting was up in the hills and the roads around it were steep and narrow with endless amounts of blind turns, and I didn’t feel comfortable running on them since Italian drivers are a little crazy and I was worried I’d get sideswiped. Thankfully, my dad nicely drove me to two different spots to run where no cars were allowed. The first one was in a big green park, Parco della Rimembranza, with hiking trails running all through it. I ran to the top, and then up and down a couple times to make up some distance, and I figured it was good to practice running hills. The view at the top was pretty great.

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Afterward, my dad and I found a nice café at the top of the park, had a cappuccino and just sat and watched all the local Italians eat and drink coffee with their families.

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It looks like we were the only patrons, but it filled up fast as lunchtime approached.

The other place I ran was along the Po River in central Turin, starting at the Parco del Valentino. This is a such a great place to run; pedestrian paths follow the river for miles, and there were so many other runners out. It was in the middle of the day, though, and it was hot, and I felt miserable. I had eaten the biggest meal OF MY LIFE (not exaggerating) the night before, and felt very heavy. It was one of those runs where you feel like you are running as fast as you possibly can, and it’s still a minute slower than your normal pace. It was rough. But I got through it, and saw some nice sights along the way.

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Medieval village in the castle in Parco del Valentino.

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Castello del Valentino

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The castle from across the river.

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I have returned to Hal Higdon for a half marathon training schedule for a race I’m trying to run in September. I have used his plans for my past four halfs, and I like them a lot. Having a plan helps me stay on track, although this week we’re in Rome and we’ve been walking so much that my legs are too tired to run. On Saturday we walked for six hours straight, and since I don’t want to overdo it and re-injure my knee, I didn’t run on Sunday like I had planned. Since I’ve been pretty consistent otherwise, I think that I’ll be fine to continue the training plan and be prepared to run a couple half marathons this fall. I REALLY miss racing, and can’t wait to get on the starting line again.

Introduction to Italy: Verona and Turin

First gelato of many in Italy.

Having my first gelato of the Italian portion of our trip in Verona. 

The train ride from Munich to Verona went through the Austrian Alps, and it was beautiful. The ride was about five and a half hours long, but most of it was going by mountains and rivers and snow-capped Alps, so there was plenty to look at and it went by fast. We also got first-class tickets, since when we bought them they were virtually the same price as second class (which is always exciting when that happens). The first-class cabin was roomy and nice, and a lady across the aisle had a biggish dog on her lap that amused me for a big chunk of the ride. The towns near the Italian border were indistinguishable from Austrian towns, but as we started to get farther from the border, the hills began being covered in vineyards, and the towns started taking on a more Italian feel.

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Train view.

First glimpse of Italy.

Italy!

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Slight backtrack: we had to meet up with our housesitting host at the Munich train station at noon, and I was really nervous about this. Driving in bigger cities is always a bit scary, and figuring out parking can be difficult. I knew there were parking lots at the train station, but we didn’t know if finding them would be hard. Turns out it wasn’t that bad, but when we pulled into the parking lot, there was a big door covering the entrance. We figured that lot was closed, so we moved onto the next one, which had the same door. I decided we should risk it and drive up to it and take a ticket to see what would happen. The door opened, revealing a small room, completely enclosed, that we were obviously supposed to drive into. It didn’t even look big enough to hold our massive Volvo station wagon, and we had no idea where it was going to take us. We drove into the car elevator, the doors closed, and it’s a good thing neither of us are super claustrophobic, because it was a tight fit. The elevator eventually started moving, and we were brought to the sixth floor of the parking deck. Thankfully everything worked out and we didn’t get stuck in a weird car elevator, but it was kind of scary.

Anyway, our final destination was Turin to meet up with my parents, but since our train was at 1:30pm from Munich, we couldn’t catch a late train from Verona to Turin, so we decided to spend the night in Verona. As soon as we got there (and after lugging our suitcases and heavy backpacks 20 minutes longer than we should have because we got lost), we immediately headed to dinner. We had pizza and wine on our minds, and we were on a mission. We found a place recommended online, and didn’t have to wait that long to get a table. We ordered a liter of red wine, and for some reason we didn’t think it was going to be that much. It ended up being a big pitcher (bigger than a bottle), and got many strange looks from our dining neighbors. As we looked around more, we noticed that people were mostly drinking Cokes, with a small glass of beer or wine occasionally in the mix. We thought it was strange that nobody was really drinking wine, but tried to discreetly gulp it down quickly so we would stop getting attention from it (didn’t work). I don’t have any pictures of our dinner, but I did take this one of the mural that took up the entire wall of the bathroom.

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After dinner, we wandered around Verona in search of gelato. It wasn’t hard to find. There was a really nice piazza near Juliet’s house (we got there too late to visit the house and balcony), and the weather was nice and pleasant. Here are some bad quality pictures that I took with my phone around Verona.

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Juliet's house.

Juliet’s house.

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Looking through the gate at Juliet’s house, with love notes written all along the hallway.

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The arena in central Verona.

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The next morning, we took the train from Verona to Turin, which only took a couple hours. After talking to my dad and hearing how difficult it was to find the house we rented on Airbnb in the hills above Turin, we decided to take a cab there. Our cab driver got kind of lost, but nowhere near as bad as the one that my parents hired to lead them to the house in the rain the night before. The road leading to the house went through tiny villages that could only fit one car, so cars were constantly trying to get out of the way of others, and honking to let them know they were coming around blind turns. It was pretty harrowing, and my dad had to drive our rental car through many roads like this in our time in Italy, and it never got easier. Once we reached the house though, it was so nice and spacious, and the view was incredible.

The view from our bedroom window.

The view from our bedroom window in Turin.

The view of the Italian Alps from the house on a clear day.

The view of the Italian Alps from the house on a clear day.

We spent our six days in Turin visiting the National Museum of Cinema, I ran a few times, we took day trips to the countryside, and we ate really good food (including all the meals my mom cooked).

Not sure if anyone has been to any of the Eataly locations, but the one in Turin is the original. It is a haven for upscale Italian groceries and food. The one Jeremy and I visited in NYC was so crowded with tourists it was kind of impossible to actually look at anything. This one seemed like it was just a grocery store where local people were buying their bread, meats, cheeses, fish, fresh pasta, or pretty much anything else you can think of. I highly recommend visiting one if you are ever near a location.

Not sure if anyone has been to any of the Eataly locations, but this is the original. It is a haven for upscale Italian groceries and food. The one Jeremy and I visited in NYC was so crowded with tourists it was kind of impossible to actually look at anything. This one seemed like it was just a grocery store where local people were buying their bread, meats, cheeses, fish, fresh pasta, or pretty much anything else you can think of. I highly recommend visiting one if you are ever near a location.

Rows and rows of pasta.

Rows and rows of pasta.

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I can't resist things that have pistachio in them, and this cheese we got at Eataly was delicious.

I can’t resist things that have pistachios in them, and this cheese we got at Eataly was delicious.

The first day we were in Turin, we made sure to get a bicerin, a drink that originated there. It’s a layer of espresso, then drinking chocolate, then whole milk. We went to the café that claims to have first created it, and it was heavenly.

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The bicerin, one of the greatest creations of all time.

The National Museum of Cinema was really fun, and not at all what we were expecting. There were many interactive exhibits, and I had to put aside my fear of heights to take a glass elevator to the top of the building to look at the view.

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Hopefully the future of movie theaters: there was a huge screen above these comfortable seats playing movies, and speakers were in the seats.

There were a lot of references to different movies, which unfortunately I didn't get because I haven't watched enough movies.

There were a lot of references to different movies, which unfortunately I didn’t get because I haven’t watched enough movies.

Jeremy sitting on a toilet watching Young Frankenstein.

Jeremy sitting on a toilet watching Young Frankenstein.

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The glass elevator went through this big room and into the hole at the top. Felt like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

At the top.

At the top.

We asked a nice lady to take a picture of us with the view behind us, but she insisted on taking only super close-up pictures.

We asked a nice lady to take a picture of us with the view behind, but she insisted on taking only super close-up pictures.

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Jeremy partaking in an interactive exhibit that also felt like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Jeremy partaking in an interactive exhibit that also felt like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Next up: our adventures into the Italian countryside and my runs in Turin.