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Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica – Destination Guide

Published November 8, 2017 by jillamatt

I have noticed that the title “Travel Blogger” can have many different connotations. Some travel blogs simply tell of the travellers experiences. Some travel blogs tell people how to travel; ie. what to pack, how to secure medical insurance, what kind of currency to bring etc. Some travel blogs tell people about locations and destinations, specifically how to get there, what to do, where to stay, and all the ins and outs of each spot.

As I do with how I live my life, I like to think that I don’t necessarily fall into any specific category. My ultimate joy is to share my experiences, those that I feel are WORTH writing about. They might be inspiring, they might make people laugh, they might bring insight into the places that I am visiting. But above all, they are what make me WANT to write. They give me great joy in sharing them with the world, which in turn inspires me to “put pen to paper” (I do try to still do that once in a while!), and to just get them down and out of my head.

However, I too realize that there is also great value in me sharing the things that I learn along the way. By sharing a few local statistics, information about where we stayed, what we did, and where we went, I may be helping those out there that are just getting started traveling, and who may need a nudge in the right direction. Or I may be helping those that feel like my information helps to give them a little insight into a place, which will make them more comfortable with going there. After all, there IS a reason that the website Tripadvisor is so popular. It’s because people can either recommend places, or not. In the grand scheme of things, all information that a person can gather before heading out, helps them to have the best trip possible.

But don’t forget one important thing! Some of the best experiences do not come about from sitting in front of a computer, doing hours of research about a place. They come from just TRYING it, from just DOING it, from just LEAVING your house, and heading out into the world! The beautiful thing about travelling, is that it is absolutely impossible to plan for every eventuality that you may encounter. That is the exciting part! That is what makes it so much fun! That is why we keep doing it over and over and over again. We get away from our day to day, predictable lives, to places where anything can happen, at any time. It sends our endorphins into overdrive, alerts our senses, and makes life adventurous. Humans are adventurous by nature! It is in our genetic make up that we want to see new places, explore different horizons, try new experiences. We wouldn’t have spread ourselves all over this planet, in every nook and cranny, if we didn’t.

So, what are you waiting for?

Get out there, have fun and explore!

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Manuel Antonio

To read about our interesting arrival to Manuel Antonio, please click here. 

Manuel Antonio, best known for it’s National Park, is located just south of the larger city of Quepos in the Province of Punteranas.  The town mostly services the National Park, and is heavily populated with hotels, restaurants, gift shops and other tourist amenities.

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The Air BnB we stayed at in Manuel Antonio was a great find, as it was located in a Tico neighbourhood, a little off the beaten tourist track, but accessible to all the amenities as well. (Email me at the address below if you would like the Air BnB link to this place, it cost us roughly $20/night, but prices may increase during high season.) Just a 5 minute walk from our place, got us to the main road leading down to the beach, and the National Park. For only roughly 350 colones (roughly 75 cents USD), we could ride the bus down the hill, and check out whatever was down there, then could catch the bus back up again. In fact, that bus came all the way from Quepos, and runs constantly throughout the day.  Even if you have your own vehicle, I would recommend this option of getting there as parking is limited.

As we were only staying there for 2 nights, our main priority was to go to Manuel Antonio National Park. Chris had yet to see wild monkeys, and I knew that this was the place to be guaranteed a sighting. However, much to our surprise, we did manage to see them swinging from the power lines, and climbing on our roof and trees, at our Air BnB early that morning as well!

Home to 109 different mammals, 184 different bird species and many different reptile types, Manuel Antonio National Park is a very diverse coastal jungle. It’s one of the number one visited parks in Costa Rica, attracting 150 000 visitors a year, and was listed in 2011 as one of Forbes 12 most beautiful parks in the world.

Obviously it was necessary to go there for more than just monkeys! The scenery, the beaches, and all the other wildlife, are truly spectacular as well.

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When I was last there in 2004, the entrance was along the beach, and I have to say, much more ‘entrancing’ (pun intended) than it is now. Almost immediately, when you would walk in, the monkeys would be hanging from the trees, and you could see the beautiful beach and ocean on your right hand side.

As the park is now under some pretty major renovations, while they install miles of gangways and walkways that loop themselves through the trees, they have moved the entrance onto a non-descript roadway, where you have to walk for some time before spotting any wildlife.

I can see that these renovations are important, and will cut down on damage to the jungle floor, but in the meantime, the entrance is not what one would expect from one the 12 most beautiful parks in the world! They are also constructing a massive Welcome/Interpretive Center, which will definitely add value when it’s completed, hopefully soon.

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As we were told that it’s an absolute zoo in the high season, we were happy to have been there during the slower months. Apparently if you don’t get to the beaches by 9:00 on some mornings, you will barely find a spot. Not my idea of a relaxing day out. However, on this particular day, there were minimal people, but it was still busy enough to see that the high season would be much more difficult to even move around on the trails.

NOTE: The park is CLOSED on Mondays!! Guess the monkeys need a day off as well:)

As predicted, we saw many, many monkeys. And despite signs every 100 feet or so to NOT feed them, we did see some silly tourist throwing them an apple core! Argh! I had flashbacks of a trip that I did about 8 years ago, back to the popular tourist destination of Lake Louise, in the Canadian Rockies. My middle name is derived from this place and I grew up just down the road in Canmore. I witnessed chipmunks being fed directly from peoples hands and was thoroughly horrified by their domestication.  They certainly had never done that when I was growing up in the area, and they have now become quite the pests!

PLEASE! If you visit the park, DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS!! The animals will become more and more dependant on these food sources, will lose the ability to forage for food themselves, and will eventually become aggressive and hostile if not fed. When this happens, as it always does, people will get hurt, and monkeys will be killed. It’s a cycle that, unfortunately, plays out everywhere around the world where there are close encounters with wildlife. In the end, the animals ALWAYS lose this battle!

Upon entry, we heard the distinct howl of the Howler Monkeys, and were able to spot one high up in the trees. Though we heard more howlers through the day, the White Faced, or Capuchin Monkeys were the ones we saw many of. We also saw a sloth moving slowly through a tree, a South American Coati and a cool Iguana was hanging out near us at the beach.  Of course many different birds, insects and butterflies were spotted as well.

We did a bit of hiking and hung out on one of the beaches for a bit. Our total visit was probably only about 2-3 hours long, but it was a nice day and we were lucky as it had been raining many days leading up to our arrival.  We actually had decided to cut our visit short, because we didn’t bring any food with us into the park, and we were getting hungry.  Needless to say, I think it’s proabably a good idea not to bring food into the park, as it inevitably leads to what I mentioned earlier.

After the park we gave into one of the many street vendors outside the gate that had earlier tried to sell us a fresh coconut, to drink the juice inside. However, this one came with a catch! He added a shot of Rum to it, and we happily drank our coconut juice with rum, and (sort of!) re-hydrated ourselves, after having felt dehydrated from the sweltering tropical sun.

After poking around a bit, and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we headed down to the public beach outside the park, beautiful in it’s own right, and relaxed until we were chased away by the rain. We were able to very quickly catch the bus heading back up the hill, and we retreated back to our Air BnB to cook some dinner and relax for the evening. Well, Chris didn’t exactly relax, as our roommate and new friend, “Aaron from Canada” (as our host had called him) at the BnB wanted a tattoo! Chris happily obliged, further solidifying his thoughts on making a living as a travelling tattoo artist.

We didn’t really experience much more in Manuel Antonio, and I have to say that as a lover of places that are quiet, and less touristy, I would probably not go back there.

Where we are now, is so much more up both of our alleys! For example, yesterday as we laid on the beach relaxing with a book, I looked in both directions and saw nothing but sand, sea, palm trees and sun for literally miles. Not another soul was in sight! Plus, we have monkeys in our trees almost every day, and Iguanas that actually LIVE on the property. We even saw a sloth today high up in a tree on the side of the road!
But, I won’t spoil it all for you, because this place surely deserves it’s own blog post……..or 6!  Stay tuned……..

Manuel Antonio National Park facts:

Park Entrance – $16USD – tickets must be purchased from a bank that is about 100 meters from the entrance to the park, on the left hand side of the road, one block back from the beach and bus drop off area.  There are guides that are available to hire, and I’m sure you will see much more wildlife than we did as they have long telescopes that they carry with them.  Only hire guides that are part of the park service! 

High Season approx. November 15 – February 28

Website: http://manuelantoniopark.com

Phone: 1-800-381 3770

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Thanks for reading! Please know that above all else, I aim to inspire others to just get out and see the world. Traveling is such an enriching experience, and I can’t even comprehend how much it has shaped me as an individual. If you have ANY questions, or need travel advice of ANY kind, PLEASE don’t hesitate to email me at the address below! I will do my very best to help you in any way I can!

Xoxoxo Happy Travels!

To see more photos, and to follow our progress on Facebook, please follow our Facebook page Just Some Wandering.

Please follow my Instagram Page Just Some Wandering by clicking on the bottom right hand corner of this feed.

To learn about where I have previously traveled, click here.

To see my blog post menu, click here.

To email me directly, please do so at jillamatt@me.com.

 

 

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I dream a dream…..

Published January 28, 2017 by jillamatt

I dream a dream where every day is new and exciting.  Where the ordinary things in life, cease to exist.  Where time stretches on into infinity.  Where the sun kisses my skin, and the warm wind blows through my hair.

I dream a dream of visiting far off destinations, of meeting new people, of discovering the world. I feel like I was born a traveler, and there is so much to see out there in the world.  It boggles my mind…….  I want to see it all……..  I want to do it all.

This is my dream…….

It all seems so far off, but this dreams’ realities CAN come true.

And I have figured out how!

For about 6 months to a year now, I have really started to ask myself “Is there more to life than this?”  I would even go so far as to ask my partner what his thoughts were on the matter.  After a long and exhausting day at work I would look him squarely in the eyes and say “Do you ever think that there is more out there in life than running on the hamster wheel, working 9-5 and feeling like we are never getting ahead?”  He would shrug his shoulders and say things like “Well that is what we are working towards aren’t we?”

Yes, we worked!  And worked, and worked and worked……and then worked some more! 

We still work and work and work.  We are both self employed.  He is a Landscaper and I am a House Painter.  Together we make a good team.  We both have experience doing each others’ jobs, so helping each other when needed works well for us, and we rarely need to hire subcontractors.  We are also both artists.  Chris is a tattoo artist, and I muck about with many different art forms (visit www.jillianamatt.com if you want to see a bit.) Neither of us have ever made a living at our art, but it has been something that we have both wanted to do at some point.

Sometime last fall I realized that despite the fact that we were working and working and working as hard as we could, we were falling behind financially.  We were eating out frequently because we were too tired to cook, we were going away on weekends because we just needed a change of scenery.  We were exhausted from a busy summer of gardening and transforming our yard from a rectangular patch of grass to a stunning park like setting.  We also grew food!  Lots of it!  We didn’t buy produce or fruit for months last year, but we were still sinking into a pile of debt.

I also started to get completely overwhelmed with our stuff!  In fact, we had a shed built (that we couldn’t afford) with the intention of moving “stuff” from the basement to the shed, so that we could gain some breathing room down there.  Our ultimate plan was to open the basement up so that we could create the perfect artist studio, so that we could finally start working seriously on our passions.  (My passion, in fact, is not art after all……but there will be lots more about that to come.)

Now, I should also note here that with Chris being such a great tattoo artist, he decided to take over a tattoo shop in September that was about to close down.  He hadn’t worked in a shop in a while, and he felt it time to get back at it, and to build his portfolio once again.  (www.facebook.com/inkcaptattoos) While he was getting some business, it surely wasn’t paying for itself (we all know these things take time), so we were forced to try and pay for that, as well as all of our other bills that we already had.  We have payments on 2 vehicles, 2 car insurance policies, house insurance, mortgage, workers compensation, cell phones, utilities, business insurance, etc. etc. etc……. you name it, we have it.

But tattooing is Chris’ passion, so although we knew that it wasn’t currently sustaining itself, we held faith that the clients would come.  Unfortunately with the winter being a quiet season in the tattoo business (coupled with living in a smallish, and remote town), things were grim.  He was only in there 2 days of the week, while landscaping the rest, but being away from landscaping for those 2 days, while taking on more debt, was not a happy scenario.

At some point, I realized that I had been down this path before.  My now ended (for 5 years now) marriage was a string of bad financial choices and too much stuff.  We were also constantly drowning in stuff and to top it off,  we moved 5 times in 6 years!  Not a happy scenario!  (Oh did I say that already?!)  I knew that I was headed in the same direction (although this time I wasn’t moving anywhere), and I knew that things needed to change.

After Christmas, when I got back home, I decided for once and for all that it was time to seriously sit down and take a look at what bills were coming out of our account, and how much it all was.  I’ve never been a budget-er, but I have excellent credit.  I always find a way to make just minimum payments, but even that was starting to become really hard.  2 credit cards had approached their limits, and there was no sign that this was going to be corrected anytime soon.  After doing my calculations, I knew that something major had to change.  We were in way over our heads, and there was no end in sight.

Coincidentally (or more appropriately “synchronistic-ly”), an interesting documentary had just come out called Minimalism. I’m sure you have heard of it, it is getting rave reviews right now.  I watched Minimalism on January 11th.  That evening as I sat and watched it, while working on my artwork, it was like a lightening bolt erupted out of the sky and blasted me right in the back of the head.

I thought “This is it!  Can it really be this easy?”

I left my art bench and went into the living room to talk to Chris.  I said “Can I talk to you for a minute?”  He said “Sure.”  I could tell that he was nervous about this conversation.  After all, we have been dealing with a huge amount of stress around money, and conversations weren’t always the best as we really started to realize the situation we were in.

I said “How do you feel about selling everything and going traveling?”  He took a deep breath and said “Well, I wouldn’t mind, but what about my tattoo shop?”  And in one sentence I said “Sweetie, the whole world is your tattoo shop.”img_0637

Within 10 minutes, he was completely on board and even super excited!  On January 11th, our lives changed, our perspectives changed, our focus changed!  On January 11th, the world became our Oyster again!

Since the decision we have been excited to face each day.  We are driven and focused, and we know that there is finally an ultimate payoff for all the hard work we have been doing.  Everything we are now working for, is worth it and has meaning.  Clarity is falling down all around us like bright comets descending from the heavens, helping to guide our way.

We don’t know ALL the details yet, but we have a general idea of how this will play out.  First off, we are headed to Central America/Southern Mexico.  Chris really wants to learn Spanish, and I could certainly use more practice.  We don’t want to flit about from place to place, but would rather rent an apartment or small house ($275 a month furnished in some places!), for 3-6 months and REALLY experience a place.  Experience the people, the food, the culture.

Chris will bring his tattoo gear with us, and be a roaming tattoo artist, while I attempt to create a living at writing.  Which, by the way, I have wanted to do for quite some time, but never felt like I had the time (surprise, surprise!).

The plan is ambitious. We have A LOT of stuff!

It will take us a few months, maybe a year, to get everything sold, and get our ducks in a row.  But we are focused!  Focused on creating a life that we LOVE!  Focused on finding HAPPINESS and CONTENTMENT!  Focused on cultivating our passions (mine is traveling in case you didn’t figure that out yet). Focused on living a meaningful, exciting and, even, EXHILARATING life!

I knew when I turned 40 in October that life was “just beginning”, but I could never have predicted how true that was!  Look out world!  Here we come!

** Follow our letting go process (already there has been tears!) through this blog by signing up with your email address.  I will update frequently and let you all know how it is going!**

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Italy in a wink ;)

Published January 10, 2016 by jillamatt

As the fireworks exploded over the Piazza in Reggio Emilia, our group of friends exchanged hugs to officially bring in 2016. I hugged Jasmine, we gave each other an extra squeeze,  and she said “I’m glad you are here.”

It had been about 5 years since I last saw her in the town we both lived in. One year before that, she had moved to Italy to chase an Italian man that she had fallen in love with in Canada. She was an English teacher there, and students arrived from all over the world to experience the Canadian culture and learn our language. One of them caught her eye, and her heart, and very quickly, she was off, chasing him across the globe. 

I had been telling her for AT LEAST 4 of those years that I wanted to come and see her, and experience her new found life. I was incredibly proud of her for taking such a leap, and chasing her dreams. I marvelled at her courage, and her belief that across the world, she could carve out a better life for herself.  

I was certainly NOT surprised to find that she had INDEED found the life of her dreams, but I was a bit surprised that she DEFINITELY is an old Italian soul at heart. I couldn’t imagine seeing her more happy, content, and at peace with her surroundings, as I experienced during our visit. 

For many reasons, the original relationship that brought here there, was no longer. But she had found new love, and this I can see, is love that will last. She is now in very high demand as an English teacher, commanding a very reasonable wage in a country where the economy is definitely not what it once was. She has declared Reggio Emilia “her town”, and every where we went, she would hug and kiss and wave at familiar faces. One of her ex students we met declared her “the best English teacher in the city!”  Her Italian is so flawless that friends she has had for years, are still just realizing that she is Canadian and her native language is English. Yes!  I would say that she has found her groove alright!  

We arrived in Milan, still reeling from our experiences in Greece, but feeling better after our 2 complimentary (small) bottles of wine on the plane. We are sure that the old Italian lady sitting next to us, was a little disgusted with our drinking at 9:00 in the morning, but we were certainly beyond caring about that.  (I’m also realizing that by now, many of my readers are starting to see a trend in our behaviour. Yes, we do like to drink!)

  We caught the train from the Milan airport that would take us to the Milano Centrale train station, where we would then catch the train to Reggio Emilia, a city of 170 000 people, close to the more major center of Bologna.  

Happy to touch down in Italy!

  

Milano Centrale Train Station.

  

Waiting for our platform to be announced.

 As we rode the train to Reggio (as the locals refer to it as), we were very aware of what time it was as we had noticed that nobody was announcing what station we are arriving at, during the previous stops.  Therefore , we devised that it would have been very easy to miss our station, as we had no idea where we were or what we were looking at.  A couple minutes past our scheduled arrival time, the train came to a stop.  It was just a concrete platform a ways away from the station but we got off anyways, hopeful that it was the right place.    

Milan to Reggio.

 

 
Sure enough, once we entered the station, we saw the familiar name on a sign and felt immediate relief. Jasmine (but I prefer to call her Jasi) was there to pick us up a few minutes later, and we were off to explore Northern Italy!

As it was December 30, Jasi and her partner Raffaele, or affectionately referred to as Raffa, were finished with work for the next few days, so we were able to do some exploring together. Her brother and his girlfriend were also coincidently visiting her at the same time, and the 6 of us rented a mini van together, to be able to have the freedom to drive around and see the sights. This would also ensure saving money on individual train tickets, and make our schedule more flexible. 

New Years Eve we explored around Reggio, taking in sights and learning various tid bits about the city. For example, the Italian Flag was designed and made in Reggio, and the ever so popular, world renown cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano, or better known as Parmesan, was invented there, both of which bring great pride to its residents, fondly referred to as Reggiani.   

Upside down Christmas bicycle lights, and of course, PIZZA!

  

Beautiful archways abound!

  

One of the many amazing buildings in one Piazza.

 The Italian architecture and beauty of the streets was something that we had been eager to see, and we were not disappointed. Within the city Center, where Jasi’s apartment was, there is very limited car usage, making it a mostly pedestrian friendly zone. In fact, in most Italian communities, you need to go through an extensive proof of residency to be able to actually get a permit to bring your car into the Center of the city. Of course, with many things in Italy, there is a fee attached, which likely deters lots of people who, thankfully, do not bring their vehicles into the ZTL (zona traffico limitado), and park them in one of the many parking lots dotting the City Center outskirts instead.  Because of this, it was nice to wander around without worrying about tons of cars flying everywhere.

We meandered from Piazza (central gathering squares) to Piazza and marvelled at the sights as we went.  

These grande promenades link storefronts and bustling coffee shops.

  

Very pedestrian friendly.

  

Plenty of huge, beautiful doors!

 We had decided to experience New Years from one of the near by Piazzas, and then to mostly celebrate back at their apartment. We loved the local feel if it all.  Families, the young and the old, counted down and then danced waltzes to the local 5 piece orchestra that played while fireworks lit up the sky and many bottles of champagne were uncorked and consumed. It was a wonderful cultural experience. We took it a little bit easy as the following day Raffa’s family was to host us for a traditional Italian meal at their home.  

A fitting display for the birthplace of the Italian flag.

  

Countdown!

  

Happy Revelers!

   

The orchestra.

 We arrived at the family home around 12:30, and were immediately welcomed with open arms. It was 2016, and everyone was in a festive mood. Although, we didn’t speak the language, Raffa’s relatives knew a bit of English, and Jasi translated for us when needed.  (I’m bummed that I didn’t get any photos to remember is event.)

We had an incredible meal that lasted over 3 hours, several courses, and many bottles of wine. I knew that Italy in general had a bit of a thing for food, but I never really realized that it’s (Italy’s) actual THING IS FOOD!

Every Italian community has a specialized food item that comes specifically from their region. Certain types of sausage or cheese, and many times a whole dish, belongs solely to the community that invented it. We also learned that specific sauces go with specific types of pastas, and heaven forbid if you mix them up!

It just so happens that other than being Reggios best English teacher, Jasi is also, likely, Reggio’s most informed officianado on Italian food. She travels around Italy as much as possible and experiences each local dish as she does it. In fact when we were in Milan, we both had the Risotto Milanese, Milan’s specific risotto made with its own unique sauce. While we were there, I had pestered her to write an Italian food blog on her experiences, and I still hope she does it. (Hint hint if you are reading this!!)

Our meal at Raffa’s parents’ house was very special indeed. Being that I don’t eat wheat, his mom and sister, went out of their way to make me gluten free dishes, and also bought me some gluten free, freshly made baguettes, which are surprisingly available in a couple different bakeries around the city. Such a treat!  There was so much happiness and joy, and even with language limitations, there was plenty of laughter as we exchanged stories and jokes all round. And Uncle Sergio, who with broken English told us many things, proved to us that he is QUITE the character. 

We felt so lucky and thankful to have had a real Italian experience such as this!  I have said it before, but it bears saying again. Travelling is such a wonderful way to bring people from different cultures together. It makes the world a smaller place when we take the time to talk with people from different backgrounds, and to experience their traditions and customs. It makes you realize that we really are just one, one unique being that walks the planet, however, all in different ways. It’s a beautiful thing!

We pretty much rolled out of Raffa’s families house, and all fell into heavy afternoon naps. We really only woke up for a small snack, and then hit the hay again to prepare for two full days of sight seeing. 

Day one we were off early to Florence.  We drove through rain and wet weather to get there, and unfortunately through plenty of fog, which meant that we didn’t get to see the famous rolling hills and fields of Tuscany, the province that contains Florence. Jasi told us that there really isn’t much to see in the winter anyways, and like most places we have been on this trip, we were told to come back in the summer. 

Back in Canada, friends had informed us that Florence was really worth seeing, and they were not mistaken!  In fact, Forbes has declared it one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1982.  

  

Florence’s Duomo (church).

   

Is it just me or is this guy being rude;)?

   

Carved marble pillars and cast bronze doors.

  

Wonder how many times this knocker has been knocked??

  

Dante’s House

   
Known for its culture, renaissance art and architecture and its numerous monuments, it is home to approximately 382 000 people within the city limits. It attracts millions of tourists every year, and in fact, I could have sworn there were millions of people there that day!  I’m sure half of Italy, and many other tourists, had decided that the Saturday after New Year’s Day, was the perfect day to visit this lovely city. We jostled around and bumped around with hoards of eager tourists ecstatic to see the fabulous sights it offered. 

Despite the foul, wet weather, we managed to see many famous Florence sights, do a little shopping, and of course, had a wonderful Italian lunch. Our restaurant even had gluten free pizza and pasta!  I felt completely spoiled all round.  

  

No visit to Florence is complete without walking on the famous Ponte Vecchio.

  

Massive statues everywhere!

 I must admit that being allergic to wheat, had me quite concerned that there wouldn’t be much for me to eat in this famously wheat filled country. However, Jasi had informed me prior to coming, that there were plenty of gluten free offerings, and she was certainly correct. One just DOES NOT starve in Italy! This, I’m sure would certainly be the biggest crime against humanity in a place that worships food at every level. (However, as with every country in the world, I’m sure they do have their problems with those less fortunate, and I’m sure many may actually be starving, so please don’t take this too literally, or think that I take it lightly.) 

Veggies are everywhere!

  

Yum! GF PIZZA!!

  

Beautiful displays.

 At around 4:00 pm, we declared ourselves wet and sight see’d out (if that’s even a thing), and headed back to Reggio. We were all eager to get back by 7:00 for happy hour at one of Raffa and Jasi’s local watering spots Mexicana, where they offered half price drinks for happy hour. Their signature drink is the “Hurricane”, featuring 5 different types of rum and a bit of juice for flavour. They are definitely delicious, and they definitely make you feel like you have been hit by a hurricane after a couple! 

Hurricanes from below!

 It was a great day, but we knew there was more to come!  The next day we were off to Milan, and then Bergamo, where we would be flying back to Bulgaria from, the day after that. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in Milan. Of course I knew that it was the home of much fashion, high end clothing, run ways, and shopping. I think I actually envisioned the city to be one, modern, giant shopping plaza, with the likes of Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton and Prada emblazoned on the sides of buildings.  Although these shops did exist, I was delightfully surprised to find that the historic city Center, also has a huge history (duh), and features many spectacular sights itself. 

The Duomo, a term for an Italian church, was absolutely mind blowing. In fact, while writing this, I was not surprised to find that when I typed Duomo into Wikipedia, to provide the link above, that the feature picture is in fact Milan’s Doumo. I certainly cannot imagine a more fabulous Cathedral than that building. 

    The entire structure is made out of marble, and bronze. The detail of which the carvings are done, are absolutely mind blowing, and I felt obligated to take a bazillion pictures to try and prove my point. Thank god for digital is all I can say!!  Be thankful that you only get to see a few here, and believe me it is painstakingly difficult trying to pick just a few! 

The portion of the bronze door that everybody touches. The tarnish had been rubbed right off revealing the beautiful bronze below.

  

All bronze under the tarnish! MASSIVE! And check out the carved marble around the door!

  

All marble. So many faces!

 We also wandered around looking at other cool sights, including the Castello Sforzesco (Castle Sforza), that was built in the 15th century. We ate roasted chestnuts, and drank mulled wine from the street vendors, and floated along, lazily taking it all in. We had another wonderful Italian meal, and as stated before, Jasi and I ate Milan’s signature dish, Risotto Milanese. Delicious! 

A bit of an optical illusion with the archways leading elsewhere

  

Entering the castle.

  
 

I’m thinking that is where the royalty sat, looking down on the commoners.

 
 

One shopping plaza we passed through. Notice the brand names and the Swarovski tree! it was covered with hundreds of crystals!

  

Balconies of Milan.

  

Lunchtime with wonderful people and amazing artwork!

 
Unfortunately, we knew our time was short, and we needed to head off to Bergamo, so that Jasi and Raffa (her brother and his girlfriend had opted out on the trip to Milan) could get back to Reggio in time for another meal with his parents. We parted ways with much sorrow, but all so thankful for the absolutely wonderful few days that we had spent together. As Jasi told me, the Italians love to fuss over their guests, and never rest until they are sure they are completely happy and satisfied. I can attest once again to Jasi being an old Italian soul, because we both left feeling very satisfyingly fussed over!  

Our Italian experience had gone by as quick as a wink!  But we have both gotten a taste for more. Like most places we have been on this trip (except for the one certain island that I’m sure you can guess) we look forward to returning.  Next time will be longer!  I can imagine that Italy has so many more secrets to reveal. Thank you soooooooo much Jasi and Raffa for such a wonderful introduction to your exquisite country. WE WILL BE BACK!!

Next up, we are heading back to Bulgaria for our ski holiday in Bansko!  Skiing in the Balkans, another great start to the New Year. 

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