Thursday, July 31, 2008

Monte Mazzocone (Italy Trip Day 4)

Day 4 (Monday 6/30/08)- On the fourth day we left Orta and drove to Quarna, a very small Italian town. From there we started on our hike the summit of Monte Mazzocone. This hike was the most challenging of all of the hikes. We started with a gentle mile through the birch and chestnut forests. Then we came to a clearing where we had a very steep 1/2 mile or so climb through some thick greenery. We held up well. I ditched the hiking poles so I could use my hands to help me balance. (All of you that know me well, know that I am no twinkle-toes:)

This picture above is a view of Lake Orta taken about 1/2 way up our climb to the top of Monte Mazzocone.
This was a first real day of hiking and I smiled quite a bit. I truly love being outdoors. Sometimes I wonder if I picked the right career. I must say that I envied our hike guide, Anna, as she gets to enjoy this beautiful, natural artwork many times are year. You can see her in the background of the picture above telling some of our group members about some of the local foliage. I was astounded by her wealth of knowledge about the area and its greenery. I would go on another Mountain Travel Sobek trip in a heartbeat if all of the guides are half as genius as Anna. Anna, if you are reading this, props to you! And don't ream me much if I have messed up on some of my commentary or Italian names!
Do you know what this is????? Well, if you recall from my commentary on Day 3, I explained that there was a huge storm that came through that night. The storm brought with it a plethora of HAIL! As we hiked though the forests, we would come upon deep piles of hail that had washed down the mountain. I was so thankful that God left us this little treat. It was an excellent way to cool off. I would hold some in my hand until it melted and Wes put it in his bandanna. Awesome natural refreshment!
After a few hours of hiking we reached the last steep climb to the summit.
There was a neat statue at the summit, and I could not help but wonder... who drug all of the materials up here?? What an accomplishment. I think (?) this was the statue dedicated to all of the local community members who died taking there animals to the mountains to graze. With a lightening storm threatening in the distance, I could appreciate the risks these farmers take to bring their animals to graze in the mountains. (Note: In Italy, the mountain pastures are for public grazing.)
The Summit! We did it! This is approx. 4,742'. We could look into Valstrona from here (Valley of Pinocchio) and yes, the do still make Pinocchios. Aunt Sue, I got a Pinocchio ornament for you ;)

The clang of cowbells provided a beautiful chorus as we made our descent. We stopped for lunch in this pasture and dined with the cattle. Wes and I enjoyed educating our fellow hikers on farm life. The field was full of heifers and cows, but they (non-farm folk) thought they were male cows. I think the confused their navels for something else ;). Our lunch was fantastic. It made me realize how impure much of our American food is these days. All of our meal was FRESH and LOCAL. We had three fresh meats, fresh bread, olives, fruits, and cheeses. I could not even begin to tell you how scrumptious this meal was for me. To top it off, there was a natural spring nearby. Kiara (I think her named is spelled Chiara, not sure), Anna, Wes and I filled up our water bottles and gorged ourselves with the most refreshing water ever.

We returned to Orta for the night. We showered and set about the town. We went into the local shops where I made one of my very few purchases on the trip. I bought a small piece of Italian pottery. All shopped out (threere were only a handful of stores anyway), Wes and I sat on a bench for a while and enjoyed the serenity and peace of just being a way from every day life. THe things that we tend to worry about day to day seemed miles away as we sat lakeside. We returned to the hotel to meet our group for a late pizza dinner. (I, of course, ordered fries with mine :) So much for that healthy lunch! The relaxed and happy bunch of us stopped a gelateria (is that even a word?) to appease Kerry's (a fellow hiker) craving for some cool refreshment. We were happy to oblige. Tummies full, legs tired, minds cleared, and hearts happy, we turned in for some much needed rest before another day of hiking!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Orta San Giulio (Italy Day 3)

Day 3 (Sunday 6/29/08)-

We woke up early in the morning and left Hotel Berna to catch the bus (again stifling hot) back to Malpensa airport. We met our guides, Anna and Kiara, outside the airport and we all hopped into a van for a one hour trip to Lake Orta. Once we arrived, we enjoyed a 2 mile walk around the edge of the lake. The water was amazingly clear as the lake underwent major ecological work about 20 years ago. It is now the cleanest of the Italian Lakes. This little lake is a little over a mile wide and is the smallest of all the lakes, and probably the most beautiful. It was pure bliss to watch the swans swim of the lake nestled so sweetly in between the large granite mountains. As we walked, we enjoyed eating some of the fruits and berries on the trees along the waters edge.


The little town of Orta San Giulio was our next stop. The cobble stone streets are too narrow for cars, making it a great escape from touristy Milan. We ate at a small cafe and then caught a boat to the tiny Island of Orta San Giulio. Supposedly, San Giulio scared away all the snakes on the Island and that is why it is named after him. On the island we were able to see the very neat Basilica, which had paintings and carvings from the medieval era, Renaissance, Baroque, and more modern periods. Very interesting.
When we returned from the Island, we had a private tour of the unique Sacro Monte dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. His statue is pictured below. There are 20 small chapels with life size carvings depicting the life of Saint Francis. Along the top of each chapel is a fresco in that depicts the part of Christ's life that mirrors that of Saint Francis (for eaxample, the were both born in a manger). This place was quite touching. There was a blind man with his seeing eye dog that had made a pilgrimage to the Sacro Monte to pay tribute to this patron saint of animals.

As we came down from the Sacro Monte, a storm rolled in ( you can see it in this photo). We enjoyed our dinner outside under a canopy as the rain began to fall. Storms on the lakes are touching and make one appreciate the power of nature!

Hydrangea! One of my favorite things about Orta. They were beautiful and blooming all over the town, the island, and the lake. Amazing!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MILANO (Italy Trip Days 1 and 2)

Day 1 (Friday 6/27/08)- After flying over the majestic alps, we arrived at Malpensa airport at 8 am and took the hot bus to Milano. We arrived at Milan's central station and attempted to find our hotel, the Hotel Berna, just a few streets away. I was pleased that Central Station was not nearly as dirty or as dangerous as some of the travel books suggested. Once we were showered and slightly revived we headed to the Brera Art Gallery where we enjoyed amazing pieces of art, such as The Kiss by Hayez and The Dead Christ by Mantegna, esp. known for its unique perspective. Just outside of the Brera there was a neat sculpture of Napoleon, of course commissioned by Napoleon. Much of the Brera collections are pieces that Napoleon took from prominent families when he controlled Northern Italy. After leaving Brera we stopped for some gelatto and visited the Castello Sforzesco built by the Sforza family around 1451 and now home to amazing works of art, such as Michelangelo's last and unfinished Pieta. Barely able to walk another step (we were so tired that we fell asleep gazing at several works of art), we hopped back on the metro and headed back to our hotel for a nap. Later that evening we ate a the pizzeria just down the street and the caffeine in the Coca Light went a long way at reviving our energy level.

The statue of Napoleon outside of the Brera Gallery.



The Sforza Castle.





Day 2 (Saturday 6/28/08)- We started the day with a scrumptious Italian breakfast with fresh meat, bread , and fruits. With good food in our tummies, we headed to see the LAst Supper By Da Vinci. Of course, I couldn't get any photos due the super high security, but I am sure you can all picture it in your heads. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Each fall I teach the Renaissance and one of the Standards of Learning is the Last Supper, known for its captivating portrayal of the Renaissance ideals of individualism, humanism, and perspective. To gaze into this fresco is an experience all its own. While I've always known the history of the Last Supper, this painting helped me feel the emotion of the moment. Each disciple had his own feeling. Da Vinci made Jesus and his followers HUMAN in this fresco. I was actually asked to leave several times because I was so engaged in the painting. The Last Supper is located in the refectory of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Compared to the Duomo and other Milanese churches, the Santa Maria Church is quite simple.

After leaving The Last Supper, we enjoyed a quick lunch at Bar Magenta. It is an Italian take on an Irish Pub/ Parisian Art Deco cafe. Quite unique. Luckily, there were some other American tourists there that helped us order because we were totally confused.



After lunch, we jumped back on the metro and went to the Duomo Milano. What a magnificent sight! This structure took over 430 years to build. WOW. We climbed on the roof for hours enjoying the most beautiful view of the city.



After we finished climbing on the roof, I covered my shoulders and entered the heavy doors of the Duomo. The interior of the Duomo was equally as breathtaking as the exterior with its colorful stain glass, high ceilings, and intricate stone carvings. One of the most interesting pieces inside is the statue of the Flayed Saint Bartholomew. Gruesome, but intriguing.


Our last stop of the day was the Vittoria Emmanuel shopping plaza, complete with Prada and all the name brand stores. While we window shopped in this amazing plaza, we were stunned by all the fashionable Milanese around us and how much they were willing to spend to look good. Needless to say, I felt a little out of place :). We turned in early to get a lot a sleep before meeting our hike guide early in the morning.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Beachin' "Goode" Time

The Goode Family vacation began with a 9 mile trek down the beach road to Bubba's Beach House in Corolla, NC where 27 members of the Goode family would attempt to live in peace with one another for a full week!
Within the first full 24 hours of being there, my Aunt Linda's car was hit, my cousin Joey had to go to the emergency clinic due to a eye infection, my 6 year old cousin Nick fell off a fishing pier and was "rescued" by a fisherman, Tucker was charged by wild horses, and my aunt was taken to the emergency room via helicopter. In spite of all the excitement, we still had a beachin' goode time.
Wes, Mom, Uncle Mark, and Uncle Dave went deep sea fishing and caught over 300 pounds of tuna. Check out the carnage in the freezer!
Joey enjoyed flying kites.
The girls had a blast tuning up their LaX skills under Coach Becky's watchful eyes.
Tucker, Wes, and Johnny braved the rough waves.
My cousin Cristen's little girl Kathryn has grown up so quickly. She spent the week digging in the sand and showing us her treasures.


One of the highlights of Corolla is that there are wild horses. Each day we saw several horses, including this group. They are in remarkably good health considering what they eat.
Each year all three of us go to the beach cousins Katie, Cristen and I strike this pose. We've snapped this pic since we were 5 years old!
Here is shot of 6 of the 8 Goode brothers and sisters from oldest to youngest. (L-R) My mom Darlene, Uncle Mark, Aunt Judy, Aunt Linda, Uncle Bobby, (Aunt Carol- not pictured), Uncle Dave, and (Aunt Sandy-not pictured).
Wes arranged for a fun game of football. With the season just around the corner, I guess he was needing a football fix.
Many evenings we enjoyed fun family activities including making African wrap dolls. We also had bingo night, a birthday celebration for Ali and Linda, bracelet making, game night, and movie night.




Our trip ended with a traditional crab feast. This family has deep Maryland roots, so NC crabs can't even come close to tasting as yummy as Maryland crabs, but I did not hear anyone complain too much.

I am pleased to say that we did manage to share a house for a week without any major conflicts and we had a GREAT time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pax



This is Pax, foster puppy number two. He is seven weeks old and will be with us until he goes to his forever home (or he'll stay with us forever because he is so darn cute and I can't let him go ;)! This is the first time we have had a puppy in five years and I had forgotten how much time, patience, and love they need. Cleaning up poo in the kennel has become my new hobby. I am looking at it as God's little reminder of what Wes and I have in store as waiting parents. Each time I pick up little Pax and smell his cute little puppy breath and kiss his cute little puppy nose, I forget about the poo and just love him. As I am writing he is sleeping on the couch getting his much needed puppy rest. His name means Peace, something I have been praying for lately as I feel so impatient and anxious about the adoption, and sure enough, God delivered my Pax.


If you are interested in Pax, his brothers or sisters, or any other boxers, check out the Blue Ridge Boxer Rescue link on the side of this web page.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Taste of Italy...





Wes and I returned from our trek above the Italian Lakes and are on our way to the beach for a family reunion with the "Goode" side of the family (haha). We had a blast in Italy (other than the trip home...) and are ready for some r and r at the beach. No adoption news to report at the moment. Here are a few pics of Italy. Many, many more to come with some descriptions of our travels.