Saturday, February 19, 2005


I waited a while to blog anything on Italy so I could reflect a little. Here are my thoughts:

1. Iris and Guiseppe are absolutely wonderful people and terrific hosts. Not only did they give us a free place to say (in the foothills of the Alps), she cooked for us every day, they treated us to meals, and they escorted us into the mountains and into Milan. Who better to see Italy with than an Italian from the area and a Texan fluent in Italian?

2. Some of the pictures I've linked to here include Flat Matthew.

3. We arrived on Monday night on time. It appeared that one of our bags was lost, but not the carseat. Just when we were about to give up, an Alitalia employee buzzed on his the walkie talkie that he found the bag. We found Iris and Guiseppe and loaded up into their spacious car. Helen enjoyed getting to ride in the carseat while in a quiet car again. It took 1 1/2 hours to reach Torregno, their town. Iris prepared a delicious late supper of an Italian ham-cheese-herb platter and Ministrone soup. A prelude to the meals we would be eating.

4. On Tuesday Iris prepared a sweet breakfast, then we took off for the Alps. We got within 10 miles or so of France (close enough for me), and stopped at a restaurant. I tasted my first Italian ravioli... I was blown away by how good it was. It didn't look different than what we get in the states, but it was incredible. The secret, I think, is in the pasta. Italians require good pasta. Mary had another pasta dish that was delightful, too. We spent some time in the car appreciating the mountains from the car, stopped by a nearby castle (there are lots of them), and headed home. The snow covered mountains of Courmayeur (Mont Blanc) will stay etched in my memory. On the way home we stopped at Aosta or Aoste, which has several Roman ruins. I write Aosta or Aoste because it depends on the language, Italian or French. Of course, in that area of northern Italy, they speak a very French dialect of Italian.

5. On Wednesday we went into the nearby town of Biella and saw the duomo and some ruins and just appreciated the town. We got $150 changed into €110 (euros), which was unneccessary because I&G insisted on paying for everything, and, as a result, we still have over €70 left. We went to the supermarket in Biella, similar to America's, and then stopped in a cafe where Mary had her first taste of Italian hot chocolate... thick, chocolatey, and her favorite. We went back to I&G's for lunch (real Italian spaghetti in a cream sauce... mmmmm), then we drove half and hour or so into the mountains to a little village which was literally at the end of the road. There, Mary and I hiked for a little while and Helen enjoyed our hosts' company. We stopped at another cafe and I got some expresso. The village was small and we stuck out as Americans. It was neat to meet an older man whose grandfather moved to the U.S. in 1904... to Fayetteville, AR. This guy's father was actually born in the states, but he came back to Italy. Now the family is split - the descendants of one brother in Italy and the descendants of the other in America. They have lost contact because no one in one family can speak the others' language. Back to a description of the village... beautiful snow covered mountains surrounding, houses hundreds of years old, narrow cobblestone streets, old people on bicycles, shrines to the Virgin Mary strategically placed throughout.

That night, our hosts treated us and Guiseppe's nephew and expectant niece-in-law to real pizza at a restaurant in Biella. It was great. As we left we met two Americans from NY state and shared a little small talk. He does alot of business in NY, Nashville, and Milan. Interesting.

4. On Thursday, we got a late start (purposefully) to Milan because we wanted to spend most of the day seeing the city before our flight at 9pm. The 2 most famous attractions in Milan are Da Vinci's Last Supper and the Duomo (cathedral). We were 0 for 2 because the Last Supper required reservations days in advance, and the exterior of the Duomo was entirely covered for cleaning. Thankfully, we went inside. I have never seen such an impressive cathedral in my life. I'll suspend further comments until I can compare it to some London cathedrals.

We enjoyed more expresso, hot chocolate and conversation until it was time to check-in. We bid I&G farewell and waited for our plane, which departed on time. We got back here on Thursday night at around 11pm. Helen did extremely well, but by the time we were landing in Birmingham she was constantly dropping her head on Mary's shoulder. She has slept much the past 2 days and she is as happy as ever.

Monday, February 14, 2005

It will leave a scar

I've held off blogging on my bicycle accident that I had last Friday evening. It was dark, I was leaving Dr. Hull's office... about 1/4 mile out. I crossed an intersection/roundabout and went for the sidewalk. It was a 2-tiered sidewalk, with the first tier being a short cobblestone protrusion, presumably for pedestrians to stand on and watch for cars. The second tier, about 3 inches higher, was the normal sidewalk. I hopped the first tier fine. I was approaching the second at about a 30 degree angle... bad angle... because my front tire popped up on it just fine. The back tire, however, preferred to skim down the side of the other edge. This resulted in the bike pitching left, hard, and slamming me into a brick wall. Actually, I just slid down the wall. Actually, my left forearm just slid down the brick wall. It happened so fast it didn't even hurt... for about 10 minutes. Then the pain of having a layer of skin scraped off started setting in. It has taken until today to "dry up" enough for me to let clothing touch it. So, without further ado... here it is. So sob for me.

I ran 7.6 miles today... the most since I've been here. Trying to get ready for a half-marathon in Milton Keynes in March. Now off to Italy...

Flat Matthew

We just received a letter in the mail from friends in Moulton. Inside, we found Flat Matthew. The son of our friends, the Namies, sent us a picture of himself dressed as an Auburn football player. Flat Matthew wants us to take him around and see the sights, get his picture in some cool places, and mail them back to 3-D Matthew. Alot of schools are doing this now. We even did it in my youth group in Winchester, TN. Since we'll be in Italy Feb14-17, FlatMatt will see more of Italy than the UK. This will be fun.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Dissed Again

We weren't invited to the wedding of Charles and Camilla. But I object to royalty marrying anyone from the average citizenry anyway!

Well, we were able to go to church (3 miles), preacher's house (10 miles there, 10 back), home church, abd back home (3 miles)... all in 2nd gear. Our top speed was 35mph, but that was coasting downhill. When we hit a clear road we did hold 30, though. The preacher, Mike, called out there equivalent of AAA (they call it AA, but are they dropping the "American" or the "Association"), who fiddled with the car for a minute and decided something was wrong in the gearbox... go figure... and he couldn't fix it. But at least we know.

We leave for Italy tomorrow, which will most likely mean no blogging for a few days. I'm sure I can squeeze in 1 or 2 before then. I'm doubting that the folks we are staying with have internet access at their house. Not that they aren't sophisticated. He's an Italian who speaks 3 languages, she's an American who speaks 3 (4 if you coun't Texan). I intend to 1) eat real pizza, 2) eat real spaghetti, 3) eat real italian sausage, 4) eat a member of the mafia.