Saturday, June 27, 2009

What to do....

So, our block leave is right around the corner and I'm not sure what I want to do. I wanted to go to Rome and Pisa but money probably isn't going to permit us to get a hotel for the length of time I wanted to go so that is probably out of the question. Some friends of ours are going to Greece, others are going back stateside to visit family, and then there's the ones that just spend it here. We have from July 1st to the 18th together as a family. Brandon doesn't have to work at all so there is no set schedule to what we can do. I thought about going up to Austria but the borders are really strict right now because of some G8 meeting or whatever so I don't want to go through all the hassle of that. There is a castle up north called Castel Franco, it's got a moat, so I thought maybe that would be a good place to go. It's not too far away either. Some of the other things I've thought about are Volterra (the vampire city), Florance, Lake Garda (on several occasions!), Vo (to go to the winery), IKEA during the week (when we can actually enjoy looking around), Verona (to finish looking at what we missed the first time), Padova and other close towns (just to look around), and maybe actually get out and see more of Vicenza too. Really there's so much to do just in this little place we live that we shouldn't have to drive more then 3 hours to do anything! And as long as we have gas coupons and our picnic basket we won't have to spend much money at all! So, the big question is, what would you do in Northern Italy during the day light hours that didn't cost much money??? Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Driving in Italy

As most of you know from word or mouth or reading, not necessarily experiencing, driving in Europe is quite different then the United States. On my way back from taking Brandon to the airport I thought about writing a blog about the Autostrada so that is what I'm doing! Why did I decide to write one about driving in Italy, well, mainly because I was doing 150kph (95mph) and I was getting passed like I was standing still. Ever since I have had kids I haven't driven as fast as I used to so going this fast kinda freaks me out a little but it's either stay some what close to the pack or get run over! Literally!!!

Now, for an Italian to get a Drivers License they have to pay a hefty 2,000 euro and take classes that they too have to pay for. A lot of people don't drive because of that fact. Could you imagine the US if they were to do that. People would go crazy! If you are caught by the Carbinari for any reason and you don't have your insurance, registration or your safety stuff, they can take your car right then and there and it's possible you'll never be able to get it back. You are only allowed so many points on your DL and so it's important that try not to get pulled over. LOL

Anyways, The posted speed on the Autostrada is 130kph, on highways it's 110kph, in town it's 50kph, and out of town not on the Autostrada is 90kph. Do people around here follow those speed limits, um, not a chance! Even in town people are passing cars that are going the speed limit and no one seems to care. But I'll talk more about towns in a little bit. Back to the Autostrada....

This is something that everyone has probably been through at least once in their lives. It's a toll booth. Yes that's right, every time you want to get on or off the Autostrada you pay for it! You can of course take the back way everywhere you go but that takes so much longer to do. And let me tell you, it gets expensive! When we went to Lake Garda on Friday it cost us 3,10 euro to go there and another 3,10 to come back. Taking Brandon to Venice to the airport it cost a total of 8,20 euro! $11.17 just to go to the airport, not including gas which is $1.21 a LITER!!! And to make the Autostrada even better, there aren't exits like there are in the states. You can't just get off at the next exit and turn around because sometimes that next exit is 20k down the road! And of course when you get off at an exit to turn around you still have to pay the tolls getting off and back on again! So whatever you do, don't miss your exit! LOL... One of the good things about the Autostrada though are the Autogrills!

These are basically rest stops like in the States but at every autogrill there is a gas station and a restaurant. Most of the time the restaurants are in the part of the Autogrill that is over top of the Autostrada so it's nice to just sit and watch the cars go by. Also, you can go from one side of the Autostrada to the other, walking of course, through the top part. If you don't see what you like on one side, it's more then likely going to be on the other side as well. There is always a section with toys, books, candy, drinks, wine, meat and noodles! I saw heart shaped noodles at the one we were at. How cool is that! Each side also has little cafes in case you didn't want to go to the restaurant. They sell everything from pizza to sandwiches to desserts! In order to exit the Autogrill, you have to walk through every part of one side, I guess they figure if you walk by everything you are bound to buy something!

The restrooms along the Autostrada are usually "guarded" by a person sitting at a table outside waiting on tips or you actually have to pay to use them. Most that I have seen that you have to pay are ,35 euro (basically 50 cents) just to take a pee. Oh and ladies, if you aren't used to going outdoors you might want to get used to it before you get here. I'm not sure how the men's bathrooms are but a lot of places we've been too even off the Autostrada you have to "squat" to pee. I guess you could stand up and try to aim for the hole but there's no telling how dry you'd be once you left. Not all bathrooms are like this of course but every time we go somewhere and Trinity has to potty, it's always the hole in the floor! She has learned that she doesn't have to be scared of the hole anymore! The picture above means an automatic flush. Boy I wish everywhere had those here. Usually you have to "figure out" how to flush the toilets. Some are hard to push and others are the button on top of the toilet itself. The longer you hold down the button the more it flushes so be aware of that when you leave. If you just press it for a second and walk out, it's more then likely not going to flush all the way!

Sorry, got a little sidetracked there....

Driving in towns is sometimes hard to figure out. The signs aren't too hard to figure out for the most part but there are a lot of people that fail the tests 2 or 3 times! I've found that the hardest part is the roads themselves. Not only are they tiny roads but you usually have cars parked on both sides of the road and your mirrors come just inches from theirs.

Another bother to me is the round-a-bouts. If you get car sick then you really need to stay out of those! However, there is no way to avoid them! Some of them have 4 lanes all the way around, I haven't quite figured that out yet, I stay to the outside so I can get out of them as fast as I go in them. They use round-a-bouts here instead of stop lights or stop signs. Of course there are still a few places you'll find those but not very many. I have only seen 2 stoplights here in Vicenza, then again, we haven't really toured by car around here yet. That was all done on foot which is always soooo much easier.

Anyways, that is the basic gist of driving in Italy. It's a pain in the but and I'm going to have a hard time readjusting back to the states when we get back there. I've trained my eyes to go straight to the kph on the dashboard and am always on the lookout for the Porsche or Ferrari that are going mac 10! But all in all, it's been fun! Driving in Italy is something I'm learning to like!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Castel Brando...

We had an incredible time on our Marriage Retreat. Sorry it's been so long until I was able to post something about it but with Brandon home I don't spend much time on the computer.

So about our retreat....we stayed at Castle Brando which is located between three little towns actually. It's a different type of Castle then most around the area. This castle is set on a hill so they could see everything coming from all directions. To get to the castle you can drive but since we were on a bus we had to park at the bottom and take the tram or the stairs to the top. It was really neat. The tram was all glass so you could see out over the town while you were going up.
The tram and stairs to the Castle
One of the many views from the Castle
The castle itself was built in three different time eras. There was the mid-evil, the 17th century and the 19th century. The only part standing from the mid-evil time was the towers and what they used as the garage. The pinkish part was the 17th century and the small horseshoe shaped white building was the 19th century.

The front of the Castle, I believe these could have been part of the Mid-Evil Era

Mid-Evil Era

17th Century and the corner of the 19th Century on top of Mid-Evil Era

The court yard of the horseshoe, 19th Century part of the castle

Walking into the castle for the first time is very overwhelming. It's a huge open area where the carriages used to drop off people. They would stop at the bottom of an extravagant staircase which has 3 levels. Each level is made up of 14 stairs and each flight is made out of one piece of marble. The first level was the Brandolini bedrooms, The 2nd level was for the Dining and the top level was for guests who had arrived. The count would stand up at the top of the staircase and the guests would walk up the stairs and they would all go sit and drink tea/coffee that kind of thing.

Stairway to the Count and Theater as well as the cells/torture chambers

When the carriages droped the people off at the bottom of the stairs they would "park" down here in the "garages" until the guests were ready to leave.

A Winding staircase that went down 9 floors!

The chandelier in the Counts bedroom (we weren't supposed to go in there)

Just about every room had a chandelier

At the top of the stairs is the Theater. There are two fireplaces in this room that are original that were given to the Brandolinis as a gift for a wedding that had taken place. When a Brandolini got married their family seal would change. The Brandolini symbols were the three looped rope up top and the scorpions in lines on the bottom. If it was on the left it meant a male Brandolini got married and on the right a female Brandolini got married. There was one seal however that had two Brandolini crests. Of course we asked about incest and it sure was. When a female married back then all their riches and property went to the man no matter what. There was no separation of things, it all just belonged to the man. So in order to keep the castle and riches in the family a female Brandolini married her cousin who was also a Brandolini. This way the castle and riches went to the man but since he was a Brandolini it stayed in the family.

Some of the crests painted on the walls in the theater.

If you look at the seal in this room it is the "incest" seal!

In the 1900's the castle belonged to the monks. They didn't have the money to fix it up so it just kept falling apart. The final restoration of the Castle was done by it's most recent owner and finally opened to the public in 2001. It was changed into a hotel then and all the updates had been made. It was sad to see it had changed so much from time to time but it was still an incredible experience.

There are three museums in the Castle, 1 of which we got to see. We saw the museum of weapons. There were only 5 pieces that were original and those 5 were body armor and helmets.

There are also 8 bars in the Castle. They aren't all drinking bars. Some are snack bars and that kind of thing but they do all serve drinks. There is one in the main lobby that isn't real big but always has someone at the counter, and one downstairs called the Donetello. We went there to get drinks but there were too many people in line and we had already waited 15 minutes so we just decided to raid the mini bar in the room! It was still fun that way and wasn't too terribly expensive.

There wasn't much to do at the Castle but there were plenty of paths and people to hang out with. We walked quite a ways away from the castle out in the woods and it was great. So peaceful. And with there being so many other couples on the retreat there was always someone willing to take pictures for us.

Brandon and I on our walk in the woods

A Marble statue of Mary and baby Jesus. There were so many rosaries hung on them, it was neat!

Of course the castle has it's own winery!

A different view from the castle, this time at night.

The castle lite up at night!
Of course at a marriage retreat you take a class on healthy marriages. We actually took two classes, one each day and they were only about an hour long. A little longer but only because we talked alot. So, did we learn anything? Nothing new really. It was nice to see other marriages that work out like mine and Brandon's does and also those that really did need help. Everyone had great ideas about how a marriage should be and all that. The Chaplin's were incredible and very funny so it made the classes that much more fun. We had snacks that were great, cookies, tea, coffee, juice. There were these little round cookies made out of some kind of wafer that had chocolate in the middle and oh they were soooo yummy! For dinner we had pasta, chicken and Tirimisu and for Lunch the next day we had Pizza. It's weird, you order a pizza here and they don't bring you a slice they bring you the whole pizza!!! There were 10 whole pizza's at our table. But now I know.
Well that's our retreat in a nut shell. We had an incredible time and I can't wait to go on another one! The best part is you will always learn something new because you aren't always going with the same people.