After almost two weeks in the hustle and bustle of some of Europe's most visited cities, we enjoyed our last week in Italy with some downtime in Maniago, the town my sister Pam currently calls home.
Maniago, located in northeastern Italy, is nestled in between vineyards and the mighty Dolomite mountain range.
It's a sleepy little town, with a population of about 11,000 residents.
We arrived in the dark, so upon awakening, I threw open the shutters and the view was just so....European. My hopes exactly!
Speaking of shutters, pretty much every Italian home had these amazing shutters. The windows open all the way, and the shutters are on the outside, when they were closed it was DARK! Why don't we have these in every home in the U.S., especially in Alaska for the never-ending summer sun!?
Pam's home was cute, even with the small and somewhat odd European layout. There were nice large windows in every room that let in so much light,
and beautiful Italian tile flooring throughout.
And can we talk kitchens for a moment? THIS was the kitchen upon move-in. Don't ever complain about your counter space again! Luckily, renovation plans were already underway.
Ahhh, much better. And they even have a dishwasher, a luxury for sure! (But there is no garbage disposal. Food scraps must be collected and disposed of in the proper dumpster outside, and all food containers must be washed and recycled appropriately.)
Just a short walk from the house, you can fill up bottles of raw milk from this little cow-print shack, for cheap.
And also a water shack- regular or sparkling. Italians LOVE their sparkling water. I wasn't much of a fan, I'm afraid.
And every Friday, the fish truck rolls into town.
But beware, stores in this sleepy town close every day from about one o'clock to four, for riposo, or the Italian version of siesta. Business owners go home for a large lunch and a nap, which sounds nice in theory until you need to get your shopping done!
As exotic as all of this sounds, and sometimes is, I know from experience that on some days, you would give anything to walk the hallowed aisles of Target!
Every small town in Italy has a town square, and a church- or several! And one of my favorite customs? Sitting in the town square, sipping coffee.
While we sipped, the kids entertained themselves on bikes.
and it was beautiful inside, as well.
Several times a day the church bells chimed. Think of the scene in The Sound of Music where Maria marries the Captain, and the bells are singing with approval. I don't think I would ever tire of that sound, also, on the hour was a simple chime notifying the time.
The adjacent park was the perfect place for the kids to run and play, on a gorgeous fall day.
Now, on to the market....
The olive oil selection was extensive,
as was the Nutella/hazelnut/chocolate spread section.
I'm still dreaming of the fresh hunks of parmigiano-reggiano,
and the girls were amazed that the eggs were not refrigerated.
After collecting our ingredients, it was time for our own Italian-style lunch consisting of; salami, prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano, breadsticks and a thick, sweet balsamic reduction sauce. Delicious!
(***By the way, in Italy, bread-y bread sticks (think Olive Garden) are not common, it's more a cracker-like stick. There are a million varieties, and I loved them!)
Dear Pistachio cream- Where have you been all my life? This cream was the consistency of peanut butter, but made from ground pistachios, and is the stuff with which dreams are made. Move over Nutella!
One of my favorite stops in town was to Mario's pizza place. Could it have a more perfect name?
Not sure if this was Mario, and he didn't look too thrilled to have his picture taken, but he did make an awesome pizza!
Pizza and presecco. Don't mind if I do. This was, hands down, the best pizza of the entire trip. Thin crust, wood-fired to crisp perfection with just the right amount of toppings. Italian pizza is a simpler version of it's American counterpart, and I savored every bite.
So did the kids! (Pizza seldom comes sliced in Italy, you cut your own, which definitely helped slow me down a bit!)
Maniago also has some ruins, as any good Italian town would have.
A castle, which was originally built sometime in the 11th century. I still can't get over the age old history in Europe.
The hike up to the ruins was lovely.
And lots of interesting things were found.
But when we saw some rats it was time to hike down- FAST!
We paused long enough from our rat-induced frenzy, to take in the views.
Idyllic for sure.
Pam and I even had the opportunity to get away without the kids on a few different days, but first coffee. A large group of Italian bikers took a pit stop at the café while we were there. I absolutely love when something is exactly how you pictured it would be. They were loud, expressive and talked with their hands, and I enjoyed every minute of the spectacle.
A gorgeous drive to the nearby town of Aquileia, was next on the agenda.
The basilica was completed in the year 1033, which is just mind-boggling, but so common place in Europe.
The mosaic floors were simply incredible!
The basement of the basilica is under ongoing excavation, with findings dating even earlier than the 11th century.
The church was amazing, but the best part of the day? Sitting on a sun-drenched patio, savoring a latte macchiato (yes, another one!), and having uninterrupted sister-time. Just what my soul needed.
Eva ordered the hot chocolate, which was thick, creamy and more like pudding.
Portobuffolè was the excursion of the day, for a once monthly antique market.
We really loved browsing all of the various treasures,
and saw lots of relics from Europe's colorful past.
Another absolutely charming town!
Pam found some great keepsakes, as well.
After shopping, a quick trip to Aviano Air Base was in order.
No visit to a base would be complete without a stop at the BX (base exchange), which is basically like the poor orphaned cousin of Target. Why we still have these in the States is beyond me, but they are lifesavers when living overseas.
But quite possibly my favorite activity of the week? Driving the winding country roads and gazing at miles upon miles of vineyards, interrupted every so often by a picturesque, quaint village. Yes, it was as dreamy as it sounds!
The vines were even beginning to turn the vibrant fall colors of red and orange.
Each region of Italy specializes in a different variety of wine, as dictated by soil and climate. Northeastern Italy is the prosecco region.
our last visit to the town square and the stately basilica,
our last pizza at Mario's,
But the most difficult goodbye? Leaving our sweet family on the train platform, as we began our journey home.
Off we go! The girls were quite thrilled to get a chocolate croissant on Air France, as opposed to a bag of peanuts!
And after a brief stop in Paris (yes, I was totally hoping for a flight cancellation), we were on our way.
From Venice, to Paris, to Los Angeles, to Seattle and finally back to Anchorage. Safe and sound, where Matt picked us up at the airport at two in the morning.
Whew, thirty hours of travel across several time zones is a brutal thing to do to your body.
Was it worth it? Yes....a thousand times YES!!