Monday, August 5, 2013

The Highlights of 42 Days of Travel: Italy!!

WOW what a memorable trip in so many ways! We stayed in 8 places in 7 different cities in 12 days, making a “circle” of the top 1/3 of the boot of Italy. (How great that all of our kids live within fairly easy reach of each other!)  

Our first evening in Italy, in Europe's largest plaza (Padua, Italy)

I think even before proposing, Jake asked what I thought of waiting until his summer vacation from school for our honeymoon, and what about going to Italy to visit our former Casa de Amor kids? Sure!! Who could say no?! It was quite the trip to plan (for months in advance and even while there) and quite a lot of train and car travel, especially at 5 months pregnant, but I wouldn’t change a thing! Italy was all we imagined and were told and MORE. From the very beginning Jake began calling it our "first trip" to Italy. We would love to return!

Jennifer with Juan Gabriel (Casa de Amor's very first child in 2004!) in Loreto, Italy, and the Adriatic Sea in the background

Casa de Amor currently has 12 adopted children in Italy. One little girl only lived with us a couple of months (long story) and didn’t stay in touch. We didn’t get to see another sibling set of three because we (Jennifer and the three) were quite attached to each other and the parents felt it was too soon to come back into their lives. (Just another reason to return later!) So we got to see eight of our former children—more of a highlight of our trip than the many breathtaking monuments!

Happy Brandon, quite pleased with the Italian cuisine!

The cathedrals were magnificent, no doubt about that!! We were taken to this particularly colorful one by Josue's family in Siena.

I was surprised, maybe more than Jake who planned this from the beginning, by how special each new place was thanks to our very generous “tour guides” - parents of the children! They picked us up from train stations in their cars and took us by the hand, showing us the best places of their cities, buying us tickets and English audio guides and 4 course meals for lunch and dinner, hosting us in their homes or else helping us find suitable and economical accommodations, and often making us WONDERFUL Italian food in their kitchens.

With three of our kids in Milan

Juan Gabriel and Family on their little farm

So as hard as it is to come up with only a few highlights from Italy, here are my top three:

Number One:  Eating and Touring with three CDA kids and their families

On Day Three of our trip, we were to be driven from Padua (near Venice) to Ravenna to meet up with the next family. Shortly before going, we found out that another family was going to drive across the "boot" and meet us there as well. So it turned out that we had three of our kids in one place, and that they had planned for us to have lunch at a delightful restaurant in a clearing of woods! This was our first experience with a multi-course meal and mmm....same as with all the food in Italy, there are just no words!!! 

Pannacotta with forest berries, a popular dessert that we enjoyed several times with various toppings but is hard to describe... It's a creamy pudding that is like cream cheese but lighter, sort of the flavor of whipped cream but definitely firmer... Mmm!!

Mayra and Juan Gabriel had lived together in CDA III, our family style home, and Brandon seemed to remember them. The three warmed up to each other within minutes and chattered incessantly in Italian. (It was a little sad to not be able to communicate fluently with the kids in Spanish, as in times past! Most of their parents spoke at least some, if not very good, English and Spanish.)

Lunch with three families in Ravenna

Afterwards we toured an ancient church at a former Roman sea port and that evening managed to stuff in pizza. (YES, the pizza is super delicious and even the Italians eat it all the time!)

I think it was a very valuable experience to be in our Bolivian children's new country, seeing how they live life now, not only in Europe but also interacting with a FAMILY. As one example, it was a joy to hear one child's adoptive mother often repeat, beaming with pride, how smart her son is. I couldn't help but think back 7 years ago when this same child's biological mother would ask us if we thought her son was a dummy and would never walk or even talk. Now this boy lives up to what his new mother says frequently and believes - and he's top in his class!! 

After almost nine years of Casa de Amor ministry, it was a special treat to see the fruit of our labor in such a different place.

Number Two: Venice

All of the big cities we visited were interesting in their own way, but how could Venice, an ancient city full of palaces built on water, not supersede the rest?! If we could only come back to ONE big city in Italy, Venice wins for me!

Jake on the ferry to Venice

The city!

Ponte dell' Accademia

Thanks to these amazing hosts (Brandon's parents)...

...we even went on a gondola ride!!!

Like everyone says, Venice is probably best seen from the water! It was a completely different feel and very interesting to hear what the gondolier had to say on the tour. Lovedddd Venice!!

Number Three: Cinque Terre ("Five Villages")

I added this place to our itinerary on a whim after reading about it online and realizing we'd be near, but friends and Italians quickly confirmed that it was a great choice.

It was a challenge figuring out where to stay because most of the rooms are rented out by local families and it can’t be done online—no big hotels here—and everything was FULL at the height of tourist season. Finally the night before we were to arrive, Jake found a suitable place in La Spezia, a short train or boat ride away. We spent one lovely late afternoon/evening and then a full day wandering through the villages.

The famous "Via Dell'Amore" was unfortunately shut down due to rains that had caused railing to sag, but we got a picture by the sign!

Some scenery while on the boat from La Spezia to Monterosso (one of the five villages)

This day was definitely one of the most memorable of our trip for me. We both ordered a snack once getting to Monterossa before changing into swim clothes and heading to the beach. I started to feel nauseous so stayed on shore, enjoying watching Jake power his way through the water out to some big rocks. By the time he started back, I was willing him to hurry so that I could go throw up somewhere! After doing that 9 times within 30 minutes, probably a record in my LIFE, I finally felt more human again. I just watched Jake eat lunch, willing my strength to return, and then we set off on one of the trails in between villages. This had been our plan all along and I wasn't about to let a little case of food poisoning to get in our way!!

LOTS of uphill steps. It was also humid and hot, but gorgeous views were around every corner!

Jake of course weathered the long hike better than me - doesn't he look all fresh and chipper?!

Turns out this was the longest hike in between all the villages. It took us 2 hours and 15 minutes but I needed to rest frequently. The next day I found out that the hike is supposed to take 2 hours. Not bad, not bad!!

The gelato once we reached the very charming village of Vernazza tasted HEAVENLY to me! (Jake later said it was actually some of the least good we had the whole trip.) Encouraged that I kept that down, we then had a lobster and linguine dinner overlooking the ocean at sunset, one of the more amazing meals of my life! So grateful that I recovered so quickly and was able to enjoy such a spectacular part of our honeymoon/babymoon. :)

After the hike and special dinner, sunset in Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful!!!

    I really love that you got to see so many of our kids! I get teary eyed each time I see reunion pictures!


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