Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Villa Balbianello

On Sunday some friends had organized a private tour of Villa Balbianello at Lenno on Lake Como. We decided to join them since there was no way we'd be organized enough to arrange such a tour ourselves. And we're sure glad we did.

It was a beautiful afternoon. On our way there, Dario took a little detour to show us the lake's famous resident, Clooney's home. Then it was off to meet the rest of the gang for the tour. Our tour guide was really friendly and kept it interesting as we explored the inside of the villa. I understood some of it but not everything. There was even a cool secret passageway that the cardinal had built connecting his bedroom with the guest bedroom. Ah-hem!

After the tour we checked out the beautiful gardens and then decided to hire a boat for a ride around the lake. It was when we were sitting at the dock waiting that we spotted Clooney himself on a boat passing by. Our boat ride around the lake was nice. The weather was perfect. What a day.

Val de Aosta

All my American friends were having Memorial Day bbq galores and I had been lamenting about the lack of bbq culture here in Italia. Luckily Leo and family came to the rescue by inviting us to their mountain home in Val de Aosta for a bbq. Yay!

It was a 1 hour drive from Milan and it didn't take very long before the city was long forgotten and we were driving up a quiet country road to the house. It was the cutest house with a warm and cozy interior. I could only imagine holing up inside on a snowy winter day. The bbq outside was a whole structure by itself. Little G busied herself immediately doing what sweet little girls do, picking flowers from the meadow outside. :-)

We had a variety of meats, sausages and vegetables on the grill. Everything smelled and tasted good!

After lunch we decided we take a walk. We found more beautiful views and lots more flowers to be picked. The rest of the afternoon we relaxed, played frisbee and just enjoyed the beautiful countryside.

Then we decided to visit Leo's hometown, Pont Saint-Martin. It is a cute little town with an impressive Roman bridge. The annual festival was going on and they were setting up stands selling food, drink, and a bungee jump off the bridge. Too bad none of us were brave enough to attempt it.

We had a really fun day in Val de Aosta. Thanks to our hosts, Leo, Nadia and Ginevra!

An Italian Wedding

Summer is here and our weekends have been incredibly busy. This past weekend we were at our friend's wedding near Crema about an hour away from Milan. Honestly, the church ceremony with all the Catholic rituals was really boring. Things started to pick up when we got to throw rice outside the church doors.

The reception site was a beautiful villa set seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The weather was perfect and there weren't too many bugs out. The food was good, especially the appetizer buffet at the beginning. The night ended with and outdoor dessert buffet - tons of delicious goodies - by candlelight with a string quartet playing. It was nice.

Auguri, gli sposi!

Monday, June 15, 2009

George Sighting!

We were out on Lake Como again yesterday afternoon. Some friends had organized a private tour of Villa Balbianello, and we decided to join them since we'd never be organized enough ourselves to book such a tour ahead of time. After the tour, we were sitting at the villa's dock waiting for our ride to show up. We were watching the passing boats wondering which one was going to be ours, when a familiar face sped by.

It was George Clooney! He was on a boat with three other people, wearing a blue shirt open at the collar and long sleeves rolled up. We all got a short but good look and we were sure it was him. Plus the fact that there has been other sightings in Como - something about cops pulling him over to get pics for their personal collection?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Piemonte, Wine and More

This was 2 weekends ago. My uncle R who lives in Malaysia was in England for business and decided to come visit us. Let's see, we started out Friday evening with aperitivo, just to give him a taste of the Milan nightlife. Then Saturday morning we drove to the Piemonte region, famous for wine, truffles (not the chocolate kind), hazelnuts and chocolate. It's where the Ferror Rocher factory is, home of Nutella and other chocolate goodies. We visitied Asti, then had a big lunch - it stretched out 3 hours long and it sure was good.

Then we went on to visit some other hill top towns, drinking more wine along the way. This area is all rolling hills and wineyards; very much like Tuscany except this is much closer to Milan. We decided the wine we had at lunch was really good so we called the restaurant who gave us the number to the winemaker. Called him, and he said to come on over and he'll sell to us direct. He is one of many small winemakers in the country and the setting is just his family home; nothing fancy, just a farmhouse. Nothing like visiting the wineries in Napa, that's for sure. This guy talks our ear off for a good 1/2 hour, maybe more.

Next stop, another small hill-top town for a wine festival that we saw on a flyer earlier that day. Turns out it's a really small and very hometown festival. There are about 20 stands and mostly locals eating and drinking. We find out it's 3 euros to buy a glass that comes with a holder so you can wear it around your neck as you walk from stand to stand. With the glass, it's all the wine tasting and drinking you want for the night. Wow. Unfortunately, we were pretty wine-d out from the day and one of us had to drive. We still drank a little and bought some of the food that they were cooking up.

Sunday, our friend Dario decides to join us and proposes that we go to Lugano in Switzerland. Ok, I've never been! We get there in about 1hour in his super-fast BMW 330d. There were stretches where we were going over 210km/h (130mi/h) and you couldn't even feel it. We walked visited the lakeside town - nice, clean, but nothing special - and marveled at some nice cars at a car show that was going on. Then we headed back over the border to the town of Como on where else, Lake Como. It was also my first time there and it's a pretty town. Definitely worth a visit. On our way out some boat tour guys were yelling, "last-tour-of-the-day for 5 euro". So we hop on a boat and saw some of the beautiful villas on the lake.

Ok, by now the sun is going down so we head home, but the day is not over yet. We had planned to cook dinner for everyone at our place. Appetizer, pasta, and then I grilled some fantastic steak fillets on a stove top grill pan. It was melt-in-the-mouth tender. My uncle agreed the meat here is really something. Yes, I will cook steak for you when you come visit! Wine, dessert and limoncello... it was 1am when I went to bed.

What a fun weekend. I hope more people will come visit!

Daytrip in Malmo, Sweden

*older post - I've been behind on my blogging!

On Sunday, I went to the airport with my sis and found luggage storage after seeing her off. I was sad to see her go, but we'll see each other again very soon!

Then it was back on the train for another 20 minutes across the Orestad bridge and into the town of Malmo for a half day.

Malmo turned out more interesting than expected. It was nice and warm walking around in the sunshine. Good thing I swapped Puff (that's what I call my down jacket) with my lighter jacket before storing my luggage. It turns out some shops were open on Sunday after all.

I got to visit H&M in Sweden! ;-D I bought another dress, blouse, shoes and a swimsuit... all items that were too cute to leave on the rack.

Then I wandered into a mall and found more stores. There were so many houseware stores! I loved pouring over the clever and cute little gadgets. I'm definitely a fan of Swedish design. This one Bed, Bath & Beyond-type store had reasonable prices, and I had to hold myself back from buying lots of stuff. I bought the coolest bathroom hook, a rubber-ducky kitchen timer, and some other misc. items. Sigh, I sure wished I had more luggage space.

I actually didn't know what the exchange rate for the Swedish Kroner was. I knew it for the Danish kroner, but hadn't checked for the other since I didn't think any of the shops would be open. All I knew was that the Swedish kroner was supposed to be lower than the DKR, but I didn't exactly how much. Well, turns out the Swedish kroner is ~40% weaker. Well, I guess it's a good thing I didn't know. Already my carry-on was stuffed to the brim.

All that shopping was making me hungry so I stopped to try the Swedish McD's. I had a cheeseburger and a small coke - 20kr (1.9euro) and sat in the window and people-watched. You can definitely tell Sweden was different from Denmark. It's slightly more gritty, and the girls are all dressed very trendy - in a good way. Not in a Giorgio Armani, Prada-way like Milan, but not too punk-ish or off-the-wall either. Kind of the way I could see myself dressing. The girls were all those black leggings but each with their own touch so it didn't look like they all dressed the same. With the coolest shoes. Also, the demographics seemed more diverse compared to Denmark... not just the blonde blue-eyed types.

It was such a fun little trip. I sure would like to visit Stockholm, Sweden, next!

Birthday Boy

We celebrated Stef's birthday a few weekends ago. Kicked it off Aperitivo with friends in Milan. The birthday boy almost didn't show up. He didn't know his friends would be there...

He decided he deserved a treat and bought these giant prawn and scampi specimens. We had them for lunch with his mom the next day.

We cooked some in a pan with some oil, parsley and garlic. The others were done in the oven. All were delicious!!!

We also celebrated with friends in the Valley. We had 4 May birthdays. Auguri a Marcella, Daniele, Giancarlo e Stefano!

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