Tag Archives: Italy

Farewell to Cambridge

It has been far too long since we have written on here and a lot has happened since our last entry.  It has been a very busy, intense two months, but things are finally starting to settle down for us.  Well, sort of.  Our time in Cambridge has just come to an end and now we are spending about a month with our families before we move to Chicago.  We are moving to Chicago as Ben will be starting a job at Moody Bible Institute in July which we are beyond excited about.  I will be starting my own wedding and event planning business so as you can imagine, I am pretty elated.  We are excited, but there is also a lot of change ahead of us.

Before I start looking forward though, I want to reflect on all that has taken place the last few months.  Our time in England was such a wonderful, unique time in our lives and I want to share some of the highlights of the last few months.  In no particular order, here they are…

1.  In April my mom decided to take a last-minute trip and come visit us before we left.  It was a whirlwind visit but it was incredible.  I wanted to show her everything, so we did from walks to Grantchester (even in the freezing cold wind!!), afternoon drinks with my girlfriends, walking around the colleges, a day trip to London,  and afternoon tea, we did it all!  We had such a great time and it was wonderful to just enjoy the city I love with my mom.

A couple of days before my mom came she decided that she wanted to also do a short trip to Italy so we spent about four days in Venice toward the end of her stay.  It was an amazing trip and we had so much fun together.  We laughed so hard my mom was bent over holding her stomach and couldn’t even walk!  We kept getting turned around in the canals and we just couldn’t stop giggling.  We enjoyed gelato, Italian opera, views from the bell tower, a gondola ride, and of course, tasty Italian food!  It was such a memorable trip and I am so glad I got to share it with my mom.  The only thing that would have topped it off would have been having my dad, brother, and sister-in-law there!

2.  For most of the last year, we had been praying about what to do when our time at Cambridge came to an end.  Graciously, the Lord answered our prayers – after teaching us many lessons in patience – and opened some exciting doors for future ministry.  Ben couldn’t be more excited to start his job at Moody.  Chicago is going to be a wonderful city to move to.  We feel incredibly blessed, and we can’t wait to start the next phase of our lives there.

3. We went out with friends to Wimpole Hall one day and it was one of the most relaxing afternoons I have had in months.  We sipped on hot chocolate, walked the gardens, escaped a hoard of mangy looking cows, and strolled through fields in the fading sun.  It was afternoon of fun as we posed for photos, played on the bridges and hiked to castle ruins.  The setting was gorgeous, but it was the people that made the afternoon so wonderful.  The Brock family along with Jack, Jess, and David never fail to keep me laughing.

4. One of the things that we have not really shared on our blog has been our desire to start a family.  Through our training in natural family planning, we have known ever since we got married that we may have some problems with getting pregnant.  When we moved to England we began trying to have a baby, but after two and half years the doctors in the NHS told us that we would not be able to conceive without surgery and in vitro fertilization.  No sooner had we received that depressing news than we found out that we were pregnant!  That’s the NHS for you (sorry British friends…you know it to be true).  We couldn’t wait to tell our families once we returned home, but sadly we lost the baby around 8 weeks and this was devastating for us.  We had a very difficult few weeks as we grieved the loss of our baby.  Nevertheless, the very fact that we were able to get pregnant has filled us with a hope that one day we will get pregnant and eventually hold a baby in our arms.

5. Another highlight for me was a girls weekend away in the Peak District.  Me and 10 of my girlfriends rented a house in a little village named Calver and we had such a great time!  It was a weekend filled with great conversations, painting our nails, an afternoon at Chatsworth House (where Pride and Prejudice was filmed), cooking amazing meals together, reading in front of a cozy fire, dancing in the kitchen, playing games, and just enjoying each other’s presence.  This weekend came after my miscarriage so it was exactly what I needed in terms of rest, laughter, talking, and great food!  I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend or more amazing friends.

6. Our lease ended in late April and so we were in need of a place to stay until we left on the 21st of May, and our Cambridge family came to the rescue!  We stayed with five different families during this month and we could not have been more blessed.  We were not only given a bed to sleep in, but we were provided meals, rides to and from here and there, a washer to do our laundry, and best of all, quality time with each family.  While it could have been a really stressful time, our friends made it a time of real blessing and encouragement.

7. Our last two weeks in Cambridge were amazing.  We were showered in love nearly every day.  We had two going away parties that were just incredible.  The first one was a surprise party where everyone was dressed in Victorian apparel and it was unforgettable!  Not only was everyone dressed in Jane Austen style clothing, but they provided us with matching attire!  There was a five course dinner to follow complete with menus, candelabras, and place cards with me and Ben’s silhouettes on them.  Like I said, it was an unforgetable evening.

We had another going away party that was in the Tyndale garden and this was another memorable evening.  The night was filled with all the things we love…burgers, an all chocolate dessert buffet, vases and jars filled with peonies (which is my favorite flower!!), and country music!  My favorite part of the night was once the sun went down and we sat around a fire eating smores.  It was such a sweet time of everyone just enjoying being together.

Our going away parties were so special, but we had a hundred other ways that we were blessed.  We received some of the most incredible gifts and we could not say thank you enough.  From gigantic Cadbury bars (and I mean GIGANTIC) to lovely bracelets, an underground sign with messages from our youth to a painting of me and Ben, a book of photos and notes from friends to a slide show of photos of Cambridge with music by Taylor Swift, we could not have felt more blessed. We felt so, so loved these last few weeks and it made it that much harder to leave.  Thank you to all our Cambridge friends.  When I say that you have been family to us these past few years, I mean that.  Leaving you all and this special time in our lives has been very difficult, but we are so thankful for the time we had with each and every one of you.

There are so many more highlights, but I will stop there for now as anyone who has read this far is probably now in need of stretching their legs!  Below are some photos from the last few months (sorry for how jumbled they are).  More will follow I am sure!!

The whole gang at our surprise going away party...don't they all look amazing?!

The whole gang at our surprise going away party…don’t they all look amazing?!

The whole group at Wimpole...even the family dog made it in the photo!

The whole group at Wimpole…even the family dog made it in the photo!

I love the Brock women. :)

I love the Brock women. 🙂

Me and Lady Roe squeezing each other to death!!

Me and Lady Roe squeezing each other to death!!

Ben and Jack looking cool with their jackets over their shoulders!

Ben and Jack looking cool with their jackets over their shoulders!

Venice...so beautiful.

Venice…so beautiful.

Me and mom having a laughing fit in London

Me and mom having a laughing fit in London

Mom and me posing in Notting Hill

Mom and me posing in Notting Hill

Mom laughing in Venice...how fitting that it was in front of the crazy bar!

Mom laughing in Venice…how fitting that it was in front of the crazy bar!

Me and mom in the Peterhouse gardens.

Me and mom in the Peterhouse gardens.

Amy...our resident chef for the weekend!

Amy…our resident chef for the weekend!

Jackie and Ben posing in their period clothing!

Jackie and Ben posing in their period clothing!

Group photo at Chatsworth!

Group photo at Chatsworth!

Brittany and Laura in Mr. Darcy's garden...so fetching!

Brittany and Laura in Mr. Darcy’s garden…so fetching!

Dinner with the girls in the Peak District...so fun!

Dinner with the girls in the Peak District…so fun!

My beautiful peonies and chocolate desserts!

My beautiful peonies and chocolate desserts!

I love these girls :)

I love these girls 🙂

The guys playing it cool

The guys playing it cool

Amy LOVING her first smore!

Amy LOVING her first smore!

Amy making her first smore

Amy making her first smore


Rome-the new love of my life

Rome was the number one place on my list to visit so I feel pretty contented right now.  I love history in general but I am especially interested in ancient Rome and ancient Greece.  There were two things during my college years that heightened this love of history of all things Roman and Greek; a class called Freedom in Rome (and the following semester Freedom in Greece) taught by Professor Rufus Fears who year after year was nominated as Professor of the Year at the University of Oklahoma.  The second thing was a book series called The Mark of the Lion by Francine Rivers who is a Christian author.  My favorite of all time to be honest.  I was already interested in Rome but between my class and this book series, I became obsessed with Roman culture.  I wanted to see it all for myself and have everything I had read come to life. 

We arrived in the late afternoon and made our way to our hotel.  We basically checked in, dropped off our bags and headed out.  We didn’t want to miss anything!  We had read about a company that did free two-hour tours of central Rome and we thought this would be a good way to familiarize ourselves with the city.  We had a great time wandering the streets with our insightful, though very odd, guide.  We started the evening at the Spanish Steps which are actually not named the Spanish Steps which makes sense since they are in Italy, but funny enough, the money to build them came from the French.  In Italian they are called Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti which has something to do with being the stairs on the hill of Holy Trinity Church (a Catholic church located at the top of the hill…obviously).  They really were beautiful to look at, and from the top you had an incredible view of the city.  Not only were they beautiful, but they were WAY bigger than I had imagined.  But truth be told, that is what I found across the boards in Rome.  Everything was far bigger than I had imagined.  The Trevi Fountain, which was surprisingly one of my favorite sites, was enormous!!  The movies don’t do it justice.  You can’t see it from any road as it is in the middle of a piazza, but as soon as you walk out into the open space, you are completely captivated by the grandeur and beauty of the fountain (that is actually larger than most pools I have been in).

We strolled through the streets going from one amazing site to the next.  The Parthenon was amazing to see and to think that it used to be covered in marble!  Every time we turned into a new piazza, we were struck by the age and beauty of the buildings around us.  It was a fun night.  We wrapped things up on the tour and headed to off to dinner.  We ate a delightful dinner and finished off the meal with some tasty gelato.  So good! 

We spent the next four days getting to know Rome.  We walked through this amazing park called Borghese Villa.  Huge trees lined the pathways and leaves covered the ground all around us.  The park was nearly empty as it was early morning, and it was quite romantic if I do say so myself!  We spent a good hour walking through the entire park, circling this beautiful pond that had a temple for Asklepius, the Greek god of healing.  We had planned to have another leisurely walk through this famously beautiful neighborhood called Trastevere, but the only way I can describe it is creepy!  There was no one around and every building and home was covered in graffiti.  If I hadn’t known that I was in an upscale area, I would have been nervous.  Every trip seems to have a low point or something that doesn’t go as planned, that was Trastevere for us.  We wanted to walk through a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood and then find a quaint coffee shop, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Oh well!

It wouldn’t be a trip to Rome if we didn’t visit Palatine Hill, the Forum, and of course, the Colosseum.  Again, I knew these were not small places, yet their size just amazed me when I saw them for myself.  I loved, loved, loved the Forum and the Colosseum.  I kept smiling to myself as we walked along the old flag stone road that led to the Forum.  As we walked beneath the shade of the trees on this path, I could just feel myself float away to another place in time.  I would have loved to have seen this place when it was still in all its splendor.  Truly the Romans knew how to build enormously huge, beautiful buildings.  I could have stayed there all day.  One thing I wouldn’t recommend at the forum is the audio guide.  Normally these are informative and entertaining (and they were at the Colosseum) but this was not the case at the Forum.  Half the time I couldn’t figure out which building or pillar they were talking about, and even when I could I would quickly become bored as they provided far too much information.  I know there is a lot there, but I don’t need a complete history in one afternoon!  I would recommend a live tour, those seemed to be far more entertaining and insightful. 

I could go on and on about the Forum and the Colosseum, but I don’t know if everyone is as interested in it as me!!  After a few days on our own we met up with some friends of ours.  Talbot (the seminary Ben went to in the California) does a trip every other year to Turkey, Greece, and Rome and it was because of this that we decided to go to Rome in the first place.  We were able to spend time with John who is one of Ben’s good friends from seminary, Rolane and Mick Boersma who oversee the alumni relations ministry for those students who graduate with a Masters of Divinity.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal together, lots of great conversation, and of course, some more amazing gelato and nutella crepes. 

We met up with them one afternoon after we had walked a part of the Appian Way (a major road during ancient times that is still in existence) and saw the catacombs of St. Sebastian.  Those were amazing and creepy all at the same time.  The next day we went on a tour with them to the Vatican Museum which was neat to see…but freezing cold!!  I think I was colder in the museum than I was outside!  We were able to see the Sistine Chapel which was a memorable experience.  First of all, it was nothing at all like what I thought it would be.  I didn’t know how bright it would be as I had only seen pictures of the church done before the restorations were finished.  It is no longer a dark ceiling where you can faintly make out what each picture is; it is as clear as day.  Too much so for my taste.  The guide said that most people either loved it or thought it was too much.  I think I am a part of that latter group.  I think the brightness gave it a cartoonish effect for me, which seems crazy.  The pictures themselves are amazing in their detail, and it is truly impressive when you think about how it was painted.  But it still was just a bit chaotic for me.  I mean there are paintings covering almost every inch of the church.  Unlike me though, I think Ben really liked it.  Most people seemed to love it.  Maybe I need a second look.  That must be it!

After four and half days in Rome our trip came to an end.  I think you could stay there a month and find new treasures every day.  The city is massive.  It is filled with history, stunning architecture, and oh-so-yummy desserts!  A couple of interesting notes.  While the desserts were just as delicious, I would say that Milan has Rome beat when it comes to food.  Now, you do pay out the nose in Milan, but the food is noticeably better.  But while Milan has Rome beat on food, Rome is the clear winner when it comes to speaking English!  Everyone spoke English.  And fairly good English.  It made it much easier to get around, order meals, and well, just be tourists.  I had come more prepared this time and had learned several Italian phrases, but I am sad to say that I only got to use one. 

Me, Ben and John were exiting a pizza place when this crazy old man came up to John and started talking in rapid Italian.  We just looked at him, and then it happened.  I opened my mouth and with more confidence than I actually felt, I said firmly, “mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano.”  Ben and John just stared at me.  The old man then switched to English and stopped asking for Euros and instead asked if we had 14 cents.  Wow, that is precise.  We eventually continued on our way and John asked me if I spoke Italian.  I felt so proud!  Ben and I laughed and I told him no, but that I had been practicing that phrase for the last several days.  Finally on our last day there, I got to use it!

Our Trip to Rome – Getting off the Plane

Our trip to Rome was incredible.  So incredible, in fact, that we’ll do a series of posts about it.  Today, we’ll start at the beginning:  landing at the airport and getting off the plane. 

When we landed in Rome, we naturally wanted to get off the plane.  Unfortunately, so did everyone else.  And true to their reputation as continental Europeans, the Italians on the plane didn’t feel like waiting around to disembark in an orderly manner.  Ben was in an aisle seat, Rachael was in a middle seat, and there was an Italian girl on the window seat.  As soon as the plane touched down, the aisle was packed with weary travelers eager to light up their cigarettes.  This presented a problem for the lovely lady to our left, who cast a glare of death our way and started to demand for Rachael to move out of her way.  She awkwardly tried to push by Rachael, who was twisting over her seat, knees half-bent and thoroughly perplexed as to what the girl could possible expect her to do.  The three of us stood pressed together in a space meant for two, patiently waiting for the aisle to clear.

Within minutes, a swarm of Italians had shoved its way past the Slow, the Decrepid, and the Americans, only to find once it got off the plane that everyone had to load into two small buses.  For the next fifteen minutes, every passenger pressed into the busses one by one, gradually seeping into every last crack and crevice on the vessel to make room for the final few flyers.  ‘Busses start your engines!  Now go about 30 yards.  Stop!  Time for everyone to get off.  Thank you for flying with Ryanair!’

Without exaggeration, the bus seriously did not go more than half a football field from point A to point B.  That’s it?  I could have thrown a grapefruit from the door of the plane to the door of the building we entered.  We could have walked the distance in under a minute, but then I guess we would have missed out on the premium shuttle service, and who would want to avoid the chance to get up close and personal with a bunch of total strangers who smell like a Tijuana heatwave?  It truly was the perfect way to start an adventure in Rome!

We’re Back!

After weeks of not posting we aren’t sure how many of our friends or family will still even read our blog but we wanted to explain our absence and apologize for our neglect.  We had planned on staying in Cambridge for Christmas this year.  As we just arrived here in late September, we felt it was really soon to go home and we knew we would see our families this summer at our sibling’s weddings.  But as time drew nearer to Christmas, we got the itch to head back to the states.  There are several reasons we were excited to go home, but more than anything we just wanted to spend time with our families.  So we packed our bags and headed to the airport about a few days before Christmas.  Actually, leaving was an adventure but we will save that story for later. 

We were able to spend about three weeks with our families and we had a great time!  We really enjoyed quality time with our parents and our siblings and our future brother and sister-in-law.   After three fun weeks in the states we returned to Cambridge for a few days where we felt the disastrous effects of jet lag.  As much as we just wanted to sleep the days away, we had to prepare for another trip.  Before we ever made plans to go home, we had booked a trip to Rome for mid-January.   So though we were still jet lagged, we boarded a plane for five amazing days in the eternal city.  We just arrived back in Cambridge last night and man are we tired.  Tired, but happy to be home.  It feels good to know I don’t have any packing or running around I have to do.  The only thing I am concerned about today is what to make for dinner. 

So dear friends, know that we are sorry for our neglect over the past month.  We truly have felt blessed these last few months to feel so connected to everyone through our blog.  Thanks for all your comments and emails.  They are so encouraging!  We will be sure to fill you in on all the details of our journey and what funny things happened along the way.  We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Our Christmas Photo Album

With Christmas approaching we wanted to put together a quick photo collage of our time in Cambridge so far.  We hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Click on the following link to see our Christmas photo album…3 Wonderful Months!

Italy-the land of amazing food!

Yet again I have allowed myself to get distracted from finishing our posts on Italy.  So this is it folks, the last one.  Up to this point we have shared (a bit too exhaustively judging by the length of my last post) about where we stayed, and what we saw, and the funny mishaps that happened along the way.  Now for the fun part…the food!! 

I don’t think Italy would be nearly as much fun without all the amazing food.  Even if you had a crummy day (say perhaps you had been in the rain all afternoon) one meal could turn the whole day around.  Something about massive amounts of carbohydrates and cheese just seem to make everything better.  Our first night in Italy I was a bit overwhelmed to be honest.  All the restaurants have these picture book menus and I had never seen so many Italian options.  There would be five different kinds of lasagna, and then fifteen different chicken dishes, ten seafood plates and the list goes on and on.  I didn’t know where to begin.  That first night I ended up eating the biggest plate of lasagna I have ever seen.  I am pretty sure that even Man v. Food would have been challenged by its size.  We are not entirely sure what Ben ate that night but he seemed to enjoy it as his plate was clean by the time the bill came! 

Almost every restaurant in Italy has an outdoor cafe which seemed so romantic!  Candles from the table create an intimate glow and the warmth of the outdoor heaters makes the experience especially cozy.  Then someone lights a cigarette.  The wind that just a few moments ago was none-existent is now not only stealing the warmth of the heaters but is drifting the smell of cigarette smoke right across your table.  Yay.  It is only one cigarette you think, and surely the wind will die down.  Then, as if the they are teenagers again, diners all around you succumb to the peer pressure and light up their own cigarettes.  And suddenly you find yourself at a cold table with a haze of smoke around your head.  Not so romantic.  We quickly realized that if you wanted to escape the smoke you had to eat inside.  Why is it that this is never the scene pictured in the movies?  No one ever coughs from the second-hand smoke they are inhaling; they just laugh and smile and flirt on film.    

Aside from the smoke at the outdoor tables, the Italian eating experience is really quite relaxing.  You don’t pay for anything up front, even at the cafes, and you just lounge until you are ready to go and then pay.  They don’t rush you to order which is odd for someone from America.  They want you to take your time.  The wait staffs don’t rush all over the place and it creates a very tranquil environment. 

Ben and I are pretty committed to always having to have dessert after dinner.  Ok, lunch and dinner.  We can’t help that we have overactive sweet tooths.  It is something that we have just come to live with over time.  During our time in Italy, our hankering for sweets was at an all-time high.  As it was cold while we were there, I drank hot chocolate practically nonstop.  What can I say, the Italians know how to make their hot chocolate!  It isn’t really a drink so much as a dessert.  It is pre-made and swirls in this funny little machine but it tastes delectable.  It is chocolate to the extreme (which always makes me happy) and is so thick that it is served with a spoon.  Yes, a spoon!  You could drink it, and I did on a few occasions, but spooning it out makes it last longer and I was all about making it last as long as possible!  Then there was also the gelato.  When we weren’t drinking hot chocolate, we were eating gelato!  At least Ben was.  He tried hazelnut, coffee, pistachio and of course plain chocolate.  He couldn’t get enough of it.  I was too cold to partake most times but I enjoyed chocolate and stracciatella (basically chocolate chip) on the few occasions that I ate gelato.   We had amazing nutella crepes sprinkled with powdered sugar that had to be sent from heaven above.  I could practically hear the angels sing as I took my first bite.  Then there were the chocolate croissants and fruit tarts.  Sigh.  I miss the chocolate croissants (though I have found a little Italian cafe here who makes them almost just as good).  While I loved the sweets, I had to save room for the real food which was just as tasty!

As most of you know, I am a relatively picky eater.  That is probably why I ate mostly margherita pizzas (plain cheese) at almost every meal.  Oh yeah, and because it was the cheapest thing on the menu!  The pizza is amazing so I didn’t feel the need to venture out too much.  I just savored the unique herbs and spices they used in their sauce and the quality of their cheeses.  Truly, they were phenomenal pizzas.  Ben was far more adventurous and tried things such as a four cheese pizza which was crazy looking and extremely rich.  He tried a pasta dish with this bizarre looking sauce that had prawns in it.  Yuck!  Despite my pickiness though, I was truly adventurous one evening.  We went to this fabulous restaurant on Varenna (called varenna monamour) and enjoyed a night of fine Italian food.  We ordered this hor d’oeuvre called carasau bread napoleon with grilled vegetables.  We didn’t know what to expect.  It was basically this extremely thin piece of bread with grilled vegetables, cheese, oil, and seasoning.  It sounds simple but as I put a bite in my mouth I experienced an explosion of flavor in my mouth that I had never had before!  It was beyond a doubt the best thing I have ever eaten.  The flavors were unbelievable.  Ben and I sat staring at each other across the table while we chewed on this amazing appetizer.  Neither of us could believe how great it was.  It was the first time I ever wanted to ask to see the chef to personally tell him how much I loved a specific dish (naturally I was too shy to actually do this).  Then we ordered our main entree.  I didn’t know what to get, so for the first time in my life, I asked what the best item on the menu was and ordered it.  Ben was shocked and to be honest, so was I!  I had ordered tagliatelle with scallops, sword fish, and leeks.  Was I crazy, I didn’t even like seafood?!  I felt confident though.   We waited for our dishes in anticipation and we were not let down.  Now, somehow Ben’s order got lost in translation and he got the same thing as me but it was amazing so I didn’t hear any protesting from him!  It was one amazing dish after another ending with a small tart of wild berries.  It was exquisite. 

I could go on but I am getting hungry just thinking about it.  The only other noteworthy thing is the beverages.  You can’t get tap water anywhere for free so you have to pay for every beverage you want.  You can get a bottle of still water for about three euros ($4) and bottles of coke start at five euros and go up to ten ($13)!  Ten euros for a small bottle of coke…no refills.  That is nuts!  Literally the soda costs about the same as a glass of wine which just seems crazy to me.  I love coke with my pizza as it is a match made in heaven, but while I was there I could only indulge on soda a time or two.  Who in their right mind would ever pay thirteen dollars for a cup of coke?!  Not me my friend.  Thankfully the pizzas were cheap and the desserts satisfied that overactive sweet tooth of mine.  All in all, I would say were pleased as punch.  So, Italy anyone?



Warning:  This is an exhaustive blog entry about Varenna.  If you aren’t interested in reading the whole thing you can just skip to the pictures below.  I got a little carried away as I reminisced about our trip. 

You may have forgotten that we said we would write more about Italy as I have spent the past week writing about Cambridge, but here we are back to our Italy trip.  So as Ben told you, we spent the first two days in Milan.  By the way, I just feel the need to elaborate on Ben’s post regarding the Duomo.  Walking on the rooftop of the Duomo ranks in my top 5 of amazing experiences (really I only have 3, so I guess I should say it is in my top 3).  If you ever get the chance to see it, walk around inside but DO NOT miss the roof top. It was spectacular. 

After our wonderful stay in Milan we boarded a train for Varenna (which is a tiny village on Lake Como) for two days.  We were so excited.  We had rushed around Milan seeing all the sights and enjoying the city life, but now we were ready for a few relaxing days on the shores of Lake Como. 

When we go on trips we research like crazy.  Let me rephrase that, Ben researches and I google things and click too quickly on links that are both uninformative and unrelated.  Ben calls what I do “going click crazy.”  I barely read the link summary and just click on the first thing my eyes settle on.  Needless to say Ben is the better researcher.   Anyhow, Ben researched and found this lovely B&B that got great reviews, so I emailed and found out that they were booked but the owner said she had an apartment in town that was available.  At first I was disappointed because the views from the B&B were spectacular as it sits on top of a mountain, but after looking into things a little more, I realized this was perfect.  As we would have no car, we would have no way of getting to and from town from the B&B every day and by staying in the apartment we would really get to experience a little bit of local Varenna.  So we quickly got over the idea of the B&B and got really excited about our own little apartment in the heart of Varenna.

Our host was incredibly kind and told us she would  meet us at the train station because she wanted to personally drive us to the apartment.  Now that is what I call customer service!  As we got off the train, we surveyed the platform and quickly found our smiling host.  She was Italian, but she spoke fairly good English so we chit chatted to the car.  This was going to be great!!  This was the thought in my mind as I opened the door to her car and was instantly assaulted by the smell of wet dog and trash.  If only you could have seen this car.  It was covered in dog hair, and I mean covered!  Then there was trash everywhere.  Without another alternative, we crammed into what I am sure is one of the world’s smallest cars (about the size of a child’s power wheels car) and sat down…in damp seats.  Naturally, this would be the case because her (wet) dog apparently lives in the car when it rains outside.  Awesome, we get to ride into town in a dog house!

As I sat a foot away from the dashboard of the small car I took in the sights around me as our host chatted away.  Something about another couple with a child, lots of pastries, not quite sure what that was all about.  It didn’t take long to realize that we were leaving the town and headed up the mountain.  I was unsure of what was happening and our host just kept talking so I didn’t want to interrupt her.  Maybe we were going to see the views and then she would drive us back down.  Yes, that must be it!  We drove for about fifteen minutes up the windiest, steepest road.  Then we came to the village where the B&B is located.  We came upon this narrow alley which the car couldn’t fit between…no, wait!  She was still driving!  This alley way was no bigger than Ben’s arm span (see picture below) and she managed to get through in this tiny car (see I told you it was small).  Now she did scrape a side mirror but not much.  Then we came to a flight of semi-stairs where I assumed we would be stopping, but oh no!  She smiled at us and told us to hold on.  Is she kidding?!  She floored it and bounded up the stairs with our heads banging into the seat backs and the ceiling.  This was turning out to be quite the adventure.  Finally we made it to the B&B.  When we climbed out and were told to grab our luggage I felt my disappointment rise.  This is not what I had planned.  Despite my initial disappointment, I tried to get excited about this change in plans. 

The B&B was hidden behind a tall fence, but upon our host opening the gate, we were amazed by the landscape before us.  While the views were truly stunning, we didn’t pause long because the rain was steadily falling.  We rushed toward our room in eager anticipation to get out of the rain and dry off.  Our host turned to us and said she had turned the heat on when she left so the room should be nice and toasty.  For anyone who knows me, you know I like a toasty room as I am perpetually cold.  We walked up the little path to our room to find that the door had already been opened.  Strange.  Then our host cried out, “No!  What have you done?!”  Uh oh.  We walked into our apartment to find that the dog, the wet dog, had somehow opened the door and ran around the apartment.  We stepped inside and the first thing that I noticed was that it was absolutely freezing.  Now, I have said I was freezing in 70 degree weather so I can see where some of you might be thinking that this is an overstatement.  Not so.  It was less than 55 degrees in this place.  Seriously.  I was cold, I was wet, my teeth were chattering, I was hungry (as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was now past two), and now I was standing in a room with all tile floors that were covered in muddy paw prints.  Our host quickly shut the door and told us the room would heat up in no time as she tried in vain to clean the floors for us.  Within a few minutes we were left alone in our room.  How had this happened?  We were not in the apartment in town, we had a filthy room that was covered in mud, and it was colder inside than it was outside.  This is not exactly the relaxing weekend I had looked forward to. 

 The apartment itself was very nice, but it was hard to get past the uncomfortableness of the cold and mud.  Now it was just after lunch time and we were nowhere near town so what were we going to do for food?  We ate all the chocolates that she had left us and quickly realized we would need more to sustain us.  We decided that we would attempt to walk down the hill to go to town where we would eat an early dinner after taking in some of the little shops.  I called our host who insisted on driving us half way as it was raining and the roads were steep.  It seemed to me that if you really wanted to keep your guests dry and safe, you would drive them the whole way, but maybe that’s not how they do things here.  So we turned up the heat and locked our room and headed off for town. 

Once dropped off we started our trek into town.  It was raining which made our progress slow but we actually enjoyed ourselves.  We wound our way down the mountain and found these pathways that were extremely steep but surprisingly not slick.  It was great!  We held each other tight under our single umbrella as we made our way down the steps toward town.  We felt the tension flowing out from us as we descended into Varenna.  We were smiling and laughing as we walked along the pier toward the botanical pathway that led into town.  It was beautiful.  The pathway was covered in brightly colored leaves that were just beginning to change and ivy trellis’ meandered along the length of every wall.  It was so picturesque.  We didn’t get to take a ton of photos as it rained nearly the whole weekend but we tried to get as many as we could. 

We walked through the streets of Varenna which looked so much like the pictures in my head of old Italy.  Tall, warmly painted homes built on top of one another with battered, but well maintained shutters.  Laundry lines were draped across the narrow alley ways that housed terracotta pots filled with flowers and herbs of every kind.  The cobblestone streets were illuminated by brightly lit lanterns and you couldn’t escape the feeling that you were being transported back in time.  It truly was one of the most romantic places I have ever been.  The rain only enhanced this feeling of intimacy as the streets were empty and the warm glow from the lanterns reflected in the pools of water collecting under our feet.  I was giddy with delight!  We decided to go ahead and grab a hot chocolate as we really wanted to warm up so we stopped off at one of the cafes in the town plaza.  Once we ordered our drink we stepped outside to grab a table under the heaters.  We talked about how lovely the town was, and how delicious our hot chocolate was, and what wonderful afternoon this was turning out to be. 

After we talked for a while we realized that the cold was setting in and since our feet had gotten completely soaked on our earlier trek, we decided to head out for an early dinner.  Our host had recommended a few places to us so we set off in search of these two restaurants.  What we soon found out was that every restaurant in town was closed until seven.  It was only four. 

As we had no other choice we walked through the little shops that were open and after about thirty minutes found ourselves again with nothing to do.  We were now thoroughly soaked through and it was at this point we decided that another hot chocolate was in order.  We managed to find one little cafe that was open and to my great relief, also had indoor seating.  We wasted another hour or so until we felt that we should probably begin wandering again.  Time flies when you are having fun, but that afternoon I felt as though time truly stood still as we waited impatiently for the seven o’clock hour. 

Seven finally came and we were some of the first people to enter the restaurant that had first been recommended to us.  During our three-hour wait we came to the decision that we were going to really enjoy this dinner in true Italian fashion and drag it out for hours.  We had an amazing time.  The ambiance was warm and inviting (which was exactly what we needed) and the wait staff was perfectly attentive without being intrusive.  We ate amazing food (which you can read about in our next blog entry) and had even better conversation.  Again, we felt all the tension of the day melt away.  In the grand scheme of it all, the day had been good. 

After dinner the restaurant called a taxi for us which was great as we couldn’t speak any Italian!  Luckily dinner had been amazing so we were a little less perturbed about the fact that we had to pay 15 euros for a cab ride to a room that we hadn’t booked.  We were still smiling and laughing as we made our way up the path to our room.  I smiled even broader as I walked up the path to find that our host had lit candles inside the room to give it that romantic feel.  We unlocked the door and walked inside and instantly our smiles fell.  The room was no warmer than it had been earlier and in fact, it was colder.  How could this be?!  I turned and looked and saw that the not only had the heat been completely turned off but a window had been opened.  WHAT?!!!  I was irate.  We were both still wet and now we were going to stay in an igloo. 

 As mad as I was, what could I do?  It was after ten and we had nowhere else to go.  I took off my soaking wet shoes at the door, rolled up my muddy jeans so I wouldn’t make the floor even muddier (as it was still gross), and headed over to the heater.  I should mention at this point that this is a wood burning (or in this case, pellet burning) stove type thing.  I hit the power button and waited.  And waited.  Nothing was happening.  I added more pellets and waited while it said it was waiting for the pellets to load.  I walked over the window and tried to be calm and not slam the window as I shut it.  Ben was absolutely soaking so he went to change while I worked on the heater.  After fifteen minutes, we still had no heat.  I called the host and explained that the heater would not turn back on and she rushed down.  She explained that when she came to light the candles she found the room to be too hot and turned the heat off and opened a window to allow for ventilation.  I held my tongue from telling her exactly what I thought of her plan.  After another fifteen minutes, we finally got the heater going.  At this point the host said, she would never turn it off again as she didn’t realize how hard it would be to turn it back on.  I am so glad we were the ones who got to help her figure this out. 

So after an eventful evening we headed to bed.  Fully clothed.  In the middle of the night we turned the heater off again as the noise and smell of burning pellets were driving us absolutely mad.  As you can probably surmise, this was one of the worst nights of sleep I have ever had.  And let me just say, when I was twelve, I got hypothermia and had to sleep naked in a sleeping bag in between two girls (in there separate sleeping bags!) in a dorm room in the mountains of Colorado, and I slept better then than I did that first night in Varenna.  That is how cold I was. 

The next morning I awoke with a headache from the smell of the pellets and a phone call from our host saying that we needed to be ready in ten minutes as she was taking us to town for breakfast as she didn’t feel like cooking.  We crammed back into the wet car and headed off for breakfast.  Now breakfast was amazing.  We ate at this great little cafe that had the best chocolate croissant I have ever had.  Gooey chocolate oozing out of a flaky, honey covered croissant.  Now that is how I like to start the day. 

After breakfast we were driven back to town where we jumped out and headed to the ferry.  We had decided that we would venture out to the other cities lining this small part of Lake Como.  We first went to Menaggio.  This quaint town was absolutely adorable.  It was slightly larger than Veranna and had a better selection of shops and cafes but even more than that, it had this beautiful boardwalk that lined the edge of the lake.  It was gorgeous.  We wandered through the streets for a bit, taking pictures here and there and stopping in the shops.  Eventually we stopped off for lunch and then headed over to Bellagio which is the largest of the three towns.  While Bellagio was pretty and had the most shops and restaurants, it felt more hectic and touristy.  Despite the busyness we enjoyed our afternoon there.  That is largely in part to the multiple hot chocolate and gelato stops we made!  As Bellagio is bigger, not all there restaurants close from 2-7 so we were able to eat an early dinner and head back to Veranna.  We rode the ferry back and then walked to the train station where our host said we could always find a taxi.  But when we arrived, there was no one to be found. 

While we waited in the rain, we noticed that across the street an old woman kept creepily pulling back her curtains to stare at us.  We called our host after about ten minutes and asked if she could call a cab for us as no one was at the train station.  She agreed to call and we hung up.  Twenty minutes later we were still there.  Our host called me a little later and asked if we were back in our room.  I politely told her we were still waiting at the train station to which she asked why I had not called a cab or asked the old lady across the street for a ride.  I was baffled.  Why would I walk over to an elderly woman’s house, knock on her door at ten at night, and ask her in my non-existent Italian to drive me to my B&B that I don’t know the address to, only the name?  That sounds like a brilliant plan.  After a few minutes of misunderstanding she said she would call a taxi.  A few minutes later a taxi pulled up and drove us home.  It was the scariest drive I have ever been on (and that includes drives with my father-in-law)!  I thought my life would surely end that night.  But alas, we made it to our B&B.  Of course, after we paid another ten euros (the cab fares in Varenna are somewhat arbitrary). 

We walked up to the gate and went to open the door only to find that it was locked.  After attempting to unlock the gate with our room key and failing, I called our host…who didn’t answer.  I left a voicemail and we waited.  In the rain.  Again.  Thankfully we were in far better moods this evening so we laughed about the whole thing.  Ben tried ringing this enormous bell that rang out so loud I thought for sure you could hear it all the way back to Varenna…but still she did not come out.  I attempted to climb the slippery gate but Ben eventually talked me down as he pointed out that the top of the gate had sharp spindles and I would have to land on wet rock on the other side.  Not an optimal landing surface…so we waited.  About fifteen minutes later, our host came rushing out saying she was sorry.  We said it was no big deal as we were feeling rather chipper at the humor of it all and we walked back to our room.  I cringed inwardly as we opened the door but I was instantly flooded with relief at the warmth that enveloped us.  It was warm!!  For the first time in two days, I felt warm!  We basked in the glow of the pellet stove as we drifted off to sleep later that evening. 

We awoke the next morning and got ready to leave for the train station as it was our last morning in Varenna.  Thankfully we had ended our trip on a positive note and a good nights sleep.  Ben had shut the heater off again in the middle of the night but the room stayed toasty warm up until we left.  We walked outside and found the most spectacular view.  It was relatively clear out and you could see the glassy waters of Lake Como with hills and mountains rising up on all sides to frame the majestic, snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps. 

Despite the crispness in the air and the damp earth we had to pause for a while to take in the beauty surrounding us.  It was an exquisite moment.  After snapping a few pictures of us, our host drove us into town again and I was practically drooling for another chocolate croissant.  I wondered where she would take us today before we left.  Thankfully we would have a good breakfast before we left as we had just enough euros to buy us train tickets back to Milan and then the bus fair to the airport.  No money for lunch today as the unexpected cab fares had taken all the extra money we had brought.  We drove to town and she stopped right next to the ferry dock.  We got out of the car and grabbed our luggage as we would need to leave pretty quickly after breakfast and then to our great shock she said goodbye and drove off.  We sat in the road with our luggage, no breakfast, and no extra money.  Strange to only have one breakfast provided on a two-day stay.  We looked at each other and laughed at the whole situation as her car disappeared around the bend.  Truly this was a memorable stay.  We eventually made it to the airport and we boarded the plane with about twenty cents left in euros.  Now that is adventurous traveling!