Welcome to our life!

Hi, I'm Allison! I'm a thirtysomething, freshly baked, stay-at-home mom. I'm originally from Connecticut, now living in Germany, hence the name of the blog. I live in southern Germany with my German husband and our baby boy. Life has turned out to be nothing I ever expected, and am so incredibly happy with it! We certainly do have a lot of laughs! I hope you will enjoy following our new experiences raising a little half American/ half German in a little German town.

Mittwoch, 29. April 2009


On Tuesday afternoon, after our fun salt-filled morning, we drove to Ravenna. Ravenna is a more well-known town in the Emilia Romagna area, especially among religiously motivated tourists. Ravenna gained some importance within the Roman Empire and became fairly wealthy.
It is famous for the incredible mosaics contained in the churches. There are 8 UNESCO listed sites in this one town, all of which house sacred mosaic works.
I am seriously uneducated when it comes to art. If I could do it over again, I definately would have taken an art history class before moving here. But, I am always taken by mosaics. The amount of time and detail existing in mosaics absolutely blows me away. I fell in love with mosaic in Barcelona and Istanbul, so when I read about the mosaics in Ravenna, I knew I wouldn't regret my decision.
Besides the mosaic work, the town of Ravenna is also wonderful. It has such a charming and walkable center.
When we arrived in Ravenna, we were a bit hungry, so we decided to have a bite to eat before heading off to the churches. Joern found this little alley with a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant at the end. They only served pizza and pasta, so it wasn't as much a restaurant as fastish food. But oh, the pasta was all handmade, and oh so delicious! After some communicating "with hands and feet," we ordered Tortellini alla Pana for Joern, Tortelli with ricotta and herbs with butter and sage- yum, and a savory pie called Pizza Salata. Oh, it was so wonderful!

From there we wandered around the center to the Basilica of San Vitale. Building of the church began in 527 and completed in 548.

The church is best known for its mosaics, the largest collection of sacred mosaics outside of Istanbul.
Joern decided not to go inside, his excuse being that he wouldn't appreciate it, and rush me through. I felt bad, and still felt a bit rushed, but he may have been right. We agreed to meet an hour later.
Although I am not particularly moved by the religious aspect of the art contained in churches, I am constantly in awe of the actual artwork. Inside the Basilica San Vitale, my feelings were no different.

From the basilica, you can then go to the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia on the grounds.

The main significance of the building is that it contains possibly the oldest in tact Christian mosaics.
Of course, the brochure we picked up from the hotel provided a bit of comic relief in its description of the mausoleum. Evidently, it has been disputed that Galla Placidia, a very influential Roman empress, is in fact buried in the mausoleum. It is actually believed she ordered the mausoleum built, but not for herself.
Again, it is not the religious significance that intrigues me, but the historical and artistic significance. The mausoleum is quite small inside. But, the interior has an etheral and calm quality. The small windows let in only a bit of light, and it is dark and cool, combined with the star-filled sky mosaic on the ceiling, you feel you are in a world of permanent peace.

I would be really interested in returning to Ravenna one day to visit some of the other churches.

Samstag, 25. April 2009

San Marino-Cattolica-Cervia

While relaxing in Bologna, Joern spent a little time perusing the internet. He found that Cervia, along the Adriatic coastline is not only a resort, but also the production center for Sale di Cervia, Italian sea salt. Obviously, the Saltman's interest was piqued, so he booked a hotel in Cervia for Monday night.
After our ice cream that was oh so delizioso, we made our way south to San Marino.
The ride to San Marino was pretty much uneventful, since most of it was on the autostrade. I had spent a lot of time researching San Marino before our trip, and despite the mixed reviews, we decided to check it out. San Marino is the oldest soverign state in the world, originally founded in 301. It is teeny tiny, and surrounded completely by Italy. The economy is mostly based on tourism, which has given the city state it's bad rap. 3.3 million tourists visit the country annually, and with a population of 30,000 it is easy to see that the country can simply be overrun by tourists. The area of importance is the Mt. Titano area, the historical center. It lies high on a mountain, 2,500 ft. above sea level, overlooking the rest of San Marino, as well as Italy and the Apenine Mountains.
I'm sure despite tourism, the fortified historical center must be beautiful.

Unfortunately, we arrived at 2 pm on Easter Monday, a holiday in Italy. Apparently, all 3.3 million tourists descended upon the tiny country on the same day. The police had the streets to the center closed off due to too much traffic. Our choices would have been to park almost back in Bologna, or to decide to return at another time. I think next time we will stay overnight in San Marino. I've read that it is much more special there after the hordes of tourists leave at night.
So, we decided to drive east towards the coast. Instead of heading northeast, to our destination of Cervia, Joern suggested stopping in Cattolica, another seaside resort.
Sometimes, going to Italy means traveling down memory-lane for Joern. In the 70s and 80s, Italy was the #1 travel destination for Germans. It was like a forerunner for Mallorca today. Every summer, Joern and his parents, along with millions of Germans would pack up their cars and head down to the Italian coastline for summer break. Joern remembered that Cattolica was nice, so he wanted to check it out.
Turns out that Cattolica is still a lovely resort town. It seems much more well to do than some other seaside resorts, including Lido di Jesolo, the resort near Venice that Joern and I sometimes visit.
We enjoyed a lovely capuccino at a cafe right along a canal leading to the harbor.

After our relaxing coffee, we walked down by the harbor, and then on to a small beach. Although the beach isn't the main beach of Cattolica, it was pretty, and it felt wonderful to get our toes in the sand and hear the waves.

Although we loved Cattolica, and could have stayed longer, Joern decided that we should leave to get to our hotel. It turns out that trying to leave a seaside resort town in Italy on Easter Monday is like trying to take the Long Island Ferry from Bridgeport on a Friday afternoon in summer. Big mistake! It took us about 2 hours to leave the Cattolica area. No matter where we tried to drive, there was traffic everywhere. We later found out that Easter weekend is treated like our Memorial Day weekend. It is when Italians open up their beach homes, and when people make their first trek to the beach for the year.
We finally pulled in to our hotel in Cervia around 7 pm.

Our hotel was a higher end typical Italian beach resort hotel. It was very clean, but in need of an update. The most wonderful thing about the room though was the balcony, which included this lovely view the next morning:

Once we got ourselves going, we headed to the center of Cervia. Once you leave the bustle along the water for the tourists, the center is adorable. As soon as you get into the center, you see the Magazzini del Sale, the Salt Storehouses. Cervia was once one of the most important cities to the Roman Empire, based on the sweet sea salt that was farmed there. Although it no longer produces salt in the volumes of the big companies now do, the town still honors its tradition as a salt producer. The storehouses now are used as a museum related to the salt industry. Alas, the museum is only open on holidays and weekends. Had we been in Cervia on Monday, instead of trying to go to San Marino, we would have had many more opportunites to learn about the salt industry.
We did walk around for a while, enjoying the sun and trying to get our bearings.
It is a wonderful place, and I do hope we can put it on our list of places to return.

Our plan was then to spend the afternoon in Ravenna, the famed mosaic town. As we left Cervia, we stumbled upon the Saltpans of Cervia, which are part of the National Park system along the Po River.
As I stated earlier, Cervia was once highly important due to salt. Today, most of the sea salt is industrially harvested. You can walk around much of the saltpan, but it is really only open to the public on weekends and holidays. Joern and I were just able to walk around a bit, but it was so interesting to see the canals and basins for the different stages necessary for harvesting sea salt.

Since the saltpan is also a bird sanctuary, the Salt Visitor's Center is open daily. Although it focuses on the birds and plants of the area, the center does contain some displays on salt. Unfortunately, there are no tour guides in the center during the week, so we had to do the best we could only looking at the pictures, since the printed explanations were all in Italian.

Of course, there was a salt gift shop that was open. The girl working at the front desk, who was also in charge of the gift shop was incredibly nice. She tried so hard to explain things to us, even though she struggled with English. It made me feel a little guilty about my German. They had tons of products, including wine produced in the area, bath products containing salt, and of course, all types of salt for seasoning.

We also stopped at the salt plant across the street. We couldn't visit much, but Joern was able to snap these pictures:

From there, we headed to Ravenna for the afternoon. That post will come soon.
We returned to Cervia for a lovely dinner along the canal in the center of Cervia.
On Wednesday morning, we headed to the beach for a while before leaving to Parma.
Despite many people's opinions about the beaches along the Adriatic, I really enjoy them. There was some, but not much trash, along the beach. But, the town had just started cleaning the beach for the season. Of course, since the beach hadn't been cleaned for the season, there were tons of seashells! It is so rare to find seashells at the beaches on the Mediterranean since they are cleaned daily in season.

Sonntag, 19. April 2009


We got in to Bologna on Saturday around 6pm. It turned out that it was really difficult to drive up to the hotel, something I hadn't realized when I booked. Parts of Bologna's center completely block traffic. Since the hotel didn't provide directions, we relied on our GPS. As we followed one street, and had the "we're almost there," conversation, we came upon a huge metal post in the middle of the street. We had to call the hotel with an intercom, and wait about 5 minutes for them to get the post put down.
Of course, it turns out that our hotel was incredible, and well worth any troubles in getting there. The hotel, the Corona d'Oro, is right in the middle of the city. It is a converted mansion. Part of it was built in the 13th century, the rest, built in 1800. You can still see on the side the medieval architecture. The building is beautiful, including a covered coutryard that is used as a sitting area. We were also impressed that you could see one of the few remaining of Bologna's towers from our window.

We quickly found that the hotel provided a real taste of a time gone by in Bologna.
Once we got settled, we found a parking place for the car, then headed toward the center for dinner.
We discovered a beautiful church, San Martino, only a few steps from our hotel. It had a beautiful mosaic above the main entrance.

As we walked, dusk started to set in. The city is really charming at night. The streets are narrow, and perfect for strolling along.

Our dinner was wonderful. Despite a very strange waitress, we were able to eat outside, which was wonderful. Joern, being the non-adventurous food person, had his famous Tortellini alla Panna. I was dying to try Tagliatelli al Ragu, or pasta with Bolognese (meat) sauce. Which turned out to be very light on the sauce, but so flavorful!

On Sunday, Easter, we were up bright and early. We headed down to the breakfast room to find an incredible spread, including some traditional Italian Easter cakes.

At breakfast, we met the nicest mother/daughter pair from Dayton, OH. It is amazing the people you meet when you travel. The daughter is in her senior year of college, spending 10 weeks in Bologna in a program at the university. While mom was visiting, they were all over. It was so pleasant to chat with them over breakfast.
Once we were ready, we headed out. The city is really spectacular. What I especially love about Italy is simply strolling through the streets, and of course, their extra-special cafe culture. It really makes you slow down and appreciate life.

The piazzas are large and beautiful, especially the Piazza Maggiore, including the statue of Neptune and the Duomo.

Something unique to Bologna is the porticoed walkways. Some were very elaborately decorated, while others were simple. I can imagine in the rain or hot sun, the porticoed walkways are a welcome haven.

Another thing I love about Italy are the details you can find wherever you look. Yes, you can find a face in a relief in a building in Germany or an occasional attempt at a relief on the side of a buidling, but nothing compares to Italy. Here is one of the many frescoes on a regular apartment building near the center.

We found ourselves at the Due Torri, the famous towers that are part of the Bologna skyline.

Bologna used to be a city of towers, with about 200 all over the place. The Due Torri, the very tall Asinelli, and the very leaning Garisenda built in the 1100s. The Garisenda was originally taller than the Asinelli, but was reduced in height due to the fact that it leans over 3 meters.
The Torre degli Asinelli is still open to the public. I went up by myself, but had the opportunity to take a picture of Joern before he decided against the ascent himself. Climbing the tower involves climbing about 500 steps, and is 97 meters high. It was well worth the climb though to see the city from high above. Plus, you could easily see the mountains behind the city.

After returning to the hotel for a rest, we headed down the street to a pizzeria.
On Sunday morning, we had another fabulous breakfast, and got to talk with our new friends for only a minute. They were on their way to spend a day in Venice, which is relatively close to Bologna.
After we checked out of our room, we drove by the university, which is the oldest continually operating university in the world. Puts Loyola College to shame!

From the university, we drove to La Sorbetteria Castiglione, which has won awards and was mentioned in the New York Times. Honestly, it was worth it. Not only did they have amazing ice cream, but unusual flavors like, cremino ludovico, with hazelnut and cocoa butter; dolce contagio, with pine nuts and carmelized walnuts. Joern had panna cotta and dolce Michaelangelo, a chocolate with nuts. I opted for pistachio and dolce Emma, a ricotta base and honey caramalized figs. It was so delicious! What a great way to bid adieu to such a charming city.

Acetaia and Imola

I use TripAdvisor frequently when we travel. It has become an invaluable resource to our trip planning because you can connect with so many people who are very knowlegable about the area you plan to travel.
On TripAdvisor, I had heard of many tours that take you to producers of the main three foods from Parma, including balsamic vinegar. But, once I contacted a tour company, I was quoted a gargantuan price and you had to provide your own transportation. So, I decided to dig into the travel forums a bit deeper. I found out that you can contact the Traditonal Balsamic Vinegar Consortium about setting up a tour with a producer. I did exactly this, and within one day, the consortium emailed me with a message that a producer would soon be in touch to set up a visit.
I received an email the following day to set up a tour with Davide and Cristina from Villa San Donnino. Davide was so kind and helpful, we set up a tour for Saturday the 11 of April. He offered us a free tour, or a paid tour which would take us not only to the acetaia, but also a tour of the Villa itself and a tasting of the vinegar with regional products.
It took us a little while to find the Villa, fortunately we had GPS. But once we found it, we found a beautiful Italian villa. Davide met us at the entrance. First, we toured the Villa.

The villa is beautiful, and gigantic! It was built in 1910 and purchased by Davide's grandfather some years later. Iin 1976, the villa was used in the filming of the Robert deNiro movie, 1900. The interior of the villa is incredible! There is an amazing art collection, and Davide showed us his collection of bronze animal figurines.

I cannot even begin to do justice to the villa. The ceilings were high, and the walls were decorated in frescoes. We were brought into the dining room, which was also used in the filming of the movie. The fireplace is decorated in an azure blue and gold mosaic tile, and is breathtaking. In the dining room, the fresco around the ceiling contains the crest of the original owner, Lieutenant San Donnino.

After touring the main floor of the villa, we were brought to the cellar, to the kitchen and smaller dining room. Davide and his wife, Cristina, brought us various local products to enjoy with the traditional balsamic vinegar. First of course, we were brought a Lambrusco produced by the family. We tried Parmigiano Reggiano cheese with Extravecchio Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (TBV), which is aged over 25 years, and homemade breadsticks. We then tried homemade ricotta cheese with balsamic vinegar jelly. As a finish, we had homemade vanilla ice cream with Nerone, which is a sweeter condiment. Everything was incredible , and I never knew balsamic vinegar could be so versatile.

After our bellies were full, Davide brought us to the acetaia, the building on the property where he produces TBV.
The process of making TBV is fascinating. It is a bit like wine-making. Davide uses a mixture of Trebbiano, a white grape, and Lambrusco, a red grape. The grape juice, or must, is boiled down and fermented by the addition of already fermented TBV. The must is fermented in barrels of varying size, beginning with the largest first. Every year the must is then moved into smaller barrels. The barrels are not completely closed, there is a hole in each, covered by a cloth, that allows for the air to enter and for the liquid to evaporate. Unlike wine, the barrels can only be used once, as the vinegar gives its flavor to the barrel, whereas wine takes its flavor from the barrel.
Davide explained that the best location for an acetaia is in the attic of a building. The cold in winter slows the process, and is the time when the vinegar is moved within the barrels. The heat from the summer fuels the fermentation process.
After 12 years, the vinegar is bottled and sold as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, Aceteio Balsamico Tradizionale. Some vinegar is allowed to ferment for 25 years, and then sold as Aceteio Balsamico Tradizionale Extravecchio.
The vinegar is heaven on earth, and is nothing at all like the Balsamic Vinegar from Modena that is sold in grocery stores. But then again, you probably wouldn's use TBV to douse a salad.

We spent the majority of the afternoon at the villa. It was such an incredible experience, an opportunity most people never have. Not only to enjoy the food, but to learn about such a delicate and traditional process. The afternoon will surely be something to remember for a long time.
We left Modena, and headed out to Bologna. Before we made it to Bologna, we made a brief detour in boy's heaven, Maranello to look at the Ferarri factory.

Joern was a bit disappointed to discover that the factory is only open to Ferarri owners, but it was still fun to drive around Ferarri town. We even found the test track, where they test not only street Ferarris, but also the Formula 1 cars. It was amazing to think of all the influential people in the racing world to drive on the track.

We then went to the Ferarri Galleria. They have a few Ferarris on display, including ones that were racing champions once.

From the Gallery, we headed out to Bologna, our stop for the next two nights.

Modena center

On Saturday morning, I was pretty sad to leave Parma, even though we had a full day ahead of us before we reached Bologna. I feel like Parma is really a place you could live. It is a manageable sized city, and I think it would be easy there to get to know people. I also found out later that there is an international school in Modena, which is right outside Parma. I'd be all set!
It turns out that outside of Parma, it is rather rural. In Germany, on the outskirts of a city, the suburbs tend to still be rather full. Yes, we have farmers who live in our town, but there is little room for anyone to have much land here. You have to go much farther outside the city to see the kind of land that people have outside Parma.

I had made reservations at a traditional acetaia, or vinegar producer, in Modena where balsamic vinegar originates. Since we were a bit early to go to acetaia, we decided to check out the center of Modena.
Modena is a very old city, and at one time, because of its location on the Via Aemilia, it was an extremely important city.
The city center is positively charming. We parked as close as possible to the center, and were immediately overshadowed by the Palazzo Ducale. The once palace now is home to the Modena Military Academy. Unfortunately, I couldn't caputre the size of the building in the picture, but it is really HUGE!

It was in this parking lot that we had our first real view that things have changed in Italy. Joern and I have been talking about the change in northern Italy we fist noticed last year when we visited Venice. We noticed the extreme number of new large German cars. On our many trips to Italy years ago, I always felt that we stuck out a bit. Joern always had his BMW 5 series, and somehow, it was larger than most cars, and well, German. Last year, we were like the lower end of the crowd. In the Parma area, which is very rich, we were like the little guy on the block. In Modena, we parked in front of a brand new Aston Martin, the third I had seen in 2 days. We saw more BMW X6s than I have ever seen in Germany. Not to base everything on cars, but it seems like the Euro has really brought a change to northern Italy, which they deserve because they are hard workers, and saw lots of their money go away in the past. It can be difficult in Germany to see the effect of the Euro, namely because the most it has done here is to raise prices.
We walked into the center of Modena to discover another charming, wonderful town. We wound our way through the cobbled streets to the Piazza Grande, which is bordered by the town hall and the cathedral.

I wish I could have accurately caputured the lean of the church. I have read in guidebooks about the leaning bell tower, which was covered for restoration, but the church has a crazy slant too! But, it is quite old, from the year 1000 and really quite beautiful from the outside.
Due to time constraints, and our pending appointment with the vinegar producer, we could not really go into the museums or cathedral, but have put it on our "to do when we return" list.
As we explored, there was an open doorway, these usually lead to courtyards. I took a peak inside:

I'm pretty sure it depicts a scene from a literary work, but not sure which one, this was a private courtyard and not public. Of course, it could also serve as a warning to those who enter the courtyard.
The synagogue was extremely beautiful on the outside. It was so large, and the marble columns were incredible.

We were happy with our "taste" of Modena. Of course there is much more there to see, but we had an appointment to keep, so it was time to go.

Samstag, 18. April 2009


We spent one full day and two nights in Parma. Obviously, the first night didn't really count, as we arrived at 12:30 am, and pretty much fell into bed.
As I said in my last post, our hotel was really lovely. It was not in the center of Parma though, and I was so thankful that we had our car, as the trek into the city sans auto would have been tough.
All I knew about Parma before our trip was prusciutto. Turns out that Parma is incredibly well-off, mostly based on the food industry, which spans much farther than just ham. Before we went into the city center, we drove around the outskirts, which Joern loves to do when we travel. Here's what we found:

It was my first view of the hugeness of the food industry in Parma.
We also found dairy automats all over the outskirts. Dairy is hugely important in northern Italy, and the automats contained cheeses, yogurts, and of course fresh milk. I was a bit skeptical at first, but Joern was more than excited to try it.

We later found out that the automats are really popular for people in the city, they can drive out to the automats on Sunday or Monday morning when the stores are closed. They also have high standards for the cleaning of the machines, which was what was important to me.
Once we had our fill of driving and sightseeing, it was time to park and explore the center. As we walked into the center, we were greeted with some of the many delights for which Italy is famous.

The center is wonderful, and large. We first stumbled upon the Palazzo della Pilotta, which was huge! It was built in the 1500s as a public buidling serving the Ducal Palace. Unfortunately, in 1611, work was directed to cease, and the building was left unfinished. The Palazzo was also bombed during World War II, and part was rebuilt. It houses museums and the Teatro Farnese today.

From the Palazzo della Pilotta, we headed into the center.

Another beautiful area is the quiet, large, Piazza Duomo, containing the Duomo, or cathedral. The cathedral and bell tower were beautiful, but also the pink marble baptistry that lies in the same area.

The baptistry and Duomo are known for containing some incredible art, including a fresco completed by Corregio. Normally, I do not visit churches, but really wanted to see the interior of the Duomo and baptistry. Since it was Good Friday though, the church was not open to visitors.
Joern and I were really tired, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a nap and to decide where to head for dinner.
Once we got ready, we headed out to Fontanellato, a small town north of Parma. The highlight of the town is the medieval castle surrounded by a moat. Even at night, it was quite an imposing sight!

Unfortunately, it was cold and rainy, so our hopes of a lovely dinner al fresco with the castle in the background were out of the question. We decided to head back, and found a lovely pizzaria along the way home. No, it wasn't Michelin starred, but it was simple, good food. The wine was delicious too!
We wearily made our way back to the hotel. Over dinner, we discussed the fact that even though we were leaving in the morning, I really wanted to see the interior of the Duomo. We decided that we would head back to Parma for our last night of our trip. This made parting with the charming city much easier.