After a fabulous week in Monza/Milano/Como, we said goodbye to Nadia and Emanuele and took a train to Verona. We were met at the station by Mr. Gaspari, who was to be our host (along with his wife) while we were in Verona. His daughter had moved to Rochester for a post-doc position at the University the previous year and he had come with her for a month to help her settle in. She just happened to move into an apartment a couple of blocks from us, and our bishop had asked us to check in on them. We got to know them fairly well and when he invited he said that if we were ever traveling to Verona, let him know and could stay with them. We thought, yeah great, one of those things you never think is really going to happen. Well, we did go to Verona, we let him know and he really was thrilled to host us and take us around for a couple of days. Anyhow. He took us to their little apartment and got us settled on a small fold out couch in their living room. They had a nice little meal of rucola, parmigiano reggiano and bresaola. Yummy.

After dinner, we piled into their tiny car and drove out to a tiny town, Borghetto, and just enjoyed the evening walking around, taking pictures and shopping. Lisa got a little bag and we bought some gelato.

Lisa at Borghetto

It was a very nice evening, and got rather funny on the way home. We weren't too far from Verona, but it was dark, and the Gaspari couple was a little older and he had a slight problem seeing in the dark. He was getting mad at the other cars that were driving around us and talking about how awful the other drivers were, and it was really him. He was driving so slow and really couldn't see where he was going. It was sad, but also kind of funny. He left his brights on to help him see and all of the other cars kept honking at him to get him to turn them off, and that just made him madder and yell about the lack of respect from other drivers. Again, kind of sad but also funny. He was a nice old man to be so good to us, I hope we didn't wear him out too much. We finally got home after several hours of driving around and taking wrong turns and trying to figure out where we were. About 1:40 am, the TV suddenly came to life for seemingly no apparent reason and it was REALLY loud. Random.

Lisa and Signore Gaspari looking at the hills north of Verona.

The next day, we walked around the entire city with our gracious host acting as a tour guide. It was really amazing, he gave us a running narrative about everything we were seeing, from how the city was constructed, when, why, and by who. There is quite the incredible history to the city. Part of Verona's fame comes from Billy the writer and his story of star-crossed lovers.

Lisa with Juliet's Balcony in the background.

We made a stop by Juliet's house and saw her balcony and her statue. Her statue was kind of interesting in that her breasts are very well polished because it is supposed to be good luck to rub them. Can't say that it has worked.

Juliet, in all her glory.

After our fabulous tour, we headed back to nap and get ready for a great night out. One of the big attractions to Verona is the Arena di Verona, and we were visiting right in the peak of opera season.

View of the Arena di Verona from outside.

The Gaspari family had gotten us tickets to that night's performance of Il Nabucco by Verdi. Wow. How do you describe sitting in a 2000 year old stadium, watching an opera written by one of the most famous composers ever? You don't. All I can say is it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I think that the most incredible part for me, was the performance of Va' Pensiero. It was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip, and an incredible finish to our stay in Verona.

Lisa and our wonderful hosts, the Gaspari family.

Looking at the crowd in the Arena di Verona.

Lisa overlooking the center of Verona.


Modern Medicine

My fairly normal life was interrupted this last week by my throat. We were eating mashed potatoes, beans and roast. Half way through the meal, the roast just stopped going down. By now we have the routine down pat, so we hopped in the car and went to the ER at Strong. The one good thing about the night was that we didn't have to wait at all in the ER. Long story cut short, I had to have an endoscopy. They had to give me three times the amount of sedative, and it still didn't do too much to put me out. I have several not so fond memories of being held down as I'm gagging on a tube that is continuously forced down my throat while someone is telling me to try and relax. I was pretty sore for the next several days, and Lisa did a good job of babying me. There was one humorous moment during the evening. Before starting the endoscopy, the ER tried some drugs on me to help me relax and allow the food to pass. One of the drugs they gave me through the IV was Valium. I'm not sure exactly what I did or said, but I know I made Lisa laugh.

The next day, Thursday, I had an appointment with Strong Orthopaedics where they took x-rays of my left knee which has been really bothering me lately. It was taking me several days to recover from playing basketball or something similar, so I finally went in. They couldn't tell anything for certain, so I went in the next day for an MRI. I get to go back in the next couple of weeks in order to see what is wrong and what will have to be done.

It was definitely a week in which I gave generously to the medical establishment. You're welcome, all of my doctor friends. Just doing my part to keep the medical industry up and running smoothly in spite of the economic downturn.



During our stay in Monza, we utilized the Italian public transportation system to grab a quick train up to Como and it's splendid lake, early in the morning, for a day trip. We got off of the train and walked a few blocks to the lake front and caught a boat tour of the lake. It was extremely relaxing to sit and watch the small towns along the shore, all of the beautiful villas, mountains and scenery. We got off at the jewel of the lake, Bellagio (the real one, not the Vegas imitation) to shop, eat and explore. While our culinary delights might not have been as fantastic as in other places, we nevertheless feasted upon what was available. It was certainly tough to make do with our fresh mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto crudo, ciabatta and olive oil sandwiches. Then to have to eat pasticcini and wash it down with aranciata. Life is indeed rough. What a day.

Lisa on Lake Como going up to Bellagio.

Approaching Bellagio from the western leg of the lake.

Lisa on the streets of Bellagio.

Lisa and I from a park in Bellagio looking north along the lake towards the Swiss Alps.

Lisa on Lake Como.

The magic of Italian pasticcini and me.

Lisa on the trip home.



Returning to my old stomping grounds. It was pretty fantastic taking the train from Vernazza to Milano Centrale. I can't remember how many times I went in and out of that station as a missionary. The time that we spent in old areas of mine was truly incredible, especially to be there with my wife. We caught a connecting train to Monza, and called Nadia to pick us up when we got there. It was fun to see her again. She is my Italian mother and took good care of me for the better part of a year while I was in Italy. She's great. Better than great. Fabulous. Her and Emanuele fed us food to die for the whole week we were there and treated us like family. Plus they loved Lisa.

We spent one day in Milano with me playing the tour guide to Lisa. I think my favorite part of being with Lisa in Italy was just how excited she was to see and hear and yes, taste everything. We spent most of the time in Milano running from site to site.

We started in the Piazza del Duomo and walked through the Galleria, a huge shopping center before going over to the Duomo di Milano and walking in, around and up to the top of it. It has some pretty spectacular architecture and quite the history. We took lots of photos and had some beautiful views of the city with the Alps in the background. For lunch we went and ate at Luini's. How does one explain the magical amazingness that is known as Luini's? Luini's sells panzerotti, the original pizza pocket, like a mini calzone. Just think of homemade dough, great cheeses, meats and sauces all rolled up into one and then baked. Drool. We used to the love eating there as missionaries and I wasn't disappointed when Lisa and I went. Panzerotti and aranciata sanguinella (blood red orange soda). We ate our exquisite cuisine overlooking La Scala before meandering off to Europe's most expensive street, Via MonteNapoleone. We were quite appalled at the expensive fashion on display in the windows. I think Lisa's favorite was a handbag in one of the windows, but she was out of luck as the price tag was 12,900 Euro. The rest of the day was spent walking through Castello Sforzesco, Parco Sempione and shopping on Corso Buenos Aires.

During our stay in the center of the Po River Valley, we talked and talked and talked with Nadia and Emanuele. Nadia was baptized while I was serving in Monza and she kind of adopted me. Her husband, Emanuele never joined the church but was really supportive of Nadia. It was somewhat surreal being there with Lisa. I have so many memories inside of their home, and with them, that are tied to being a missionary, so it was strange to be there and experience that with Lisa.

Nadia spent a day with us, as a guide to the fabulous city of Monza. We went to the Villa Reale in Parco Monza and walked through the city center as Nadia gave us a running history of the area. It was great just to be there and see familiar sites. It is not the prettiest part of Italy, not by a long shot, but it is my Italian home. I love it in that little city north of Milano.



About a month ago I posted about our time in Cinque Terre, the fifth stop on our magical Italy tour (all Beatles songs performed in Italian). As we embarked from Florence to go to Vernazza (one of the five towns comprising the Cinque Terre), Lisa was treated to an authentic Italian train strike. The cool authentic experience involved lots of sitting around in the train station in Florence, trying to figure out how we were going to get to Cinque Terre.

Vernazza and the back of Lisa's head.

We stayed in Vernazza, and divided our limited time while there among eating, hiking, sitting and watching the waves, eating some more then hiking again so that we didn't feel too bad about eating yet again. I won't bore you with descriptions of the food that we ate, I'll just say again that it was the best I've ever had.

Lisa loves hydrangeas and saw them all over Italy. She even learned how to say it in Italian, ortensia.

One neat experience occurred as we were sitting on the rocks overlooking the waves and eating gelato. The waves were particularly rough that day, and there were some large breakers crashing down on the rocks and concrete dividers protecting the little harbor in front of the city. These three local guys came out to entertain all of us tourists by going out on the concrete divider, waiting for the waves to recede, and then leaping off into the ocean! It was rather amazing to watch. They would ride the waves as the water level at the divider would fluctuate by about 10 feet or so, and then when a really big wave came along, they would ride it right back onto the divider, seemingly walking out of the wave and back onto the concrete. I apologize for my lack of ability in describing the spectacle, because it really was incredible to watch.

Some of the great waves breaking just inside the little harbor.

Vernazza so far is my favorite place in all of Italy, and if I had to choose just one place to go, it would be Vernazza.

A slightly off-kilter view of the backside of Vernazza.

Here I am at sunset, at the opening of the little harbor.

Vernazza from the water.

This is another great shot of Lisa. It's very similar to the one from San Gimignano, except that we changed the background for this one.


San Gimignano

Our second medieval hill town that we visited in the fairytale-esque Tuscan wonderfulness, was San Gimignano, town of 100 towers. Well, there used to be 100 towers, now there are only 14 or so.

The towers of San Gimignano.

We took a bus from Florence and arrived on market day, which has been happening in the same spot for the last 1000 years. We continued our shopping excellence in San Gimignano's market, buying linens for our mothers as well as for Lisa.

Lisa at the market.

I also managed to find some local artisan honey for my dad. Great stuff (assuming you like honey). As we meandered the town, we found several fun shops. Lisa lost me for a little while as I happened upon a small place full of cheese, wines, and vinegars. I struck up a conversation with the owner and he offered me a taste of fresh pecorino (as I think of that cheese, I'm doing the Homer Simpson drool face with accompanying sounds). He had me hooked. He then introduced me to his balsamic vinegar supply and a very happy fool was soon parted with his euros. He had me try several different years, and the 15 year old taste was the best. So I got some, along with some of the pecorino. Drool.

Me finishing off my pecorino. I think Lisa got one bite and then it was gone!

San Gimignano is a tiny town, all cobblestone with tiny narrow streets. We wandered around and shopped and generally just enjoyed the beautiful sites, sounds, and yes, tastes. We found a great little park full of olive trees, with wonderful views of the town as well as the surrounding countryside.

San Gimignano and Tuscany.

While shopping, we found a fun little shop that recycled old roof tiles and painted Tuscan scenes on them. They were perfect for Lisa's dad, so we got him one. About an hour later, the normally sure-handed blogorific me, dropped the tile, breaking it beyond repair. Luckily, the shop had one more of the same style, and they even gave me a great deal on tile number two, along with this sage advice, "don't drop it." I'm happy to say that the tile is hanging in my in-laws home in Lander. All in one piece.

Lisa looking out over San Gimignano.

This is one of my favorite pictures from our entire trip. Lisa framed with Tuscany in the background.