24 January 2007

italian food blog

Through another blog I read regularly, I found the Mestolando site which is a wonderful resource for simple, Italian recipes. The site is very visually inviting and includes a main page, blog section, and (my favorite) video recipe guides. You can search by ingredient, get tips on where to shop, and find great links to measurement conversion sites. We've enjoyed watching several of the short videos that feature one of the blog-makers, Claudia in her kitchen preparing tasty dishes with simple, fresh ingredients. Many of the recipes, such as Ravioli Nudi and the Pizzoccheri pasta dish have a similar list of "ingredienti", including sage-infused butter and Italian cheeses. Take time to check out this site and try out a recipe, or as Claudia says "Let's get started"!
-I know we will soon. Buon Appetito!

22 January 2007

cellulare comunicazione

Today I stopped by Cingular to speak with someone in person (since even though they're a phone company, communicating ON the phone with them seems to be a bigger hassle) about our cell phone situation transferring internationally, etc. Also, our 2yr agreement ends this month and I wanted to know what happens when it runs out - luckily, I found that it just goes to a month-to-month agreement as long as we don't upgrade our equipment with the renewal discount. Since Cingular was just acquired by AT&T (as was Bellsouth, our local phone/internet company - and Cingular ate up another cell company just 2yrs ago...it seems that AT&T may be out to conquer the world)- I noticed many changes from walking in the door. The entire layout was different, marketing signs displayed both logos, and after talking with a very knowledgeable clerk I found that the policies had changed for the better. I was very impressed with the helpful info I received and now have a better idea of exactly what we will do with our US cell phones (and numbers, which we will need to keep active b/c of our work, since it's printed on thousands of cards, marketing materials, etc).

So, this seems to be the game plan (foregoing further research into T-Mobile and Verizon which both have connections to Italian cell companies. Verizon is the US partner for Vodafone, which in my research seems to be one of the bigger/popular Italian companies): 1) We will upgrade our phones to a "world phone" with quad-band capability so it can be used internationally, 2) We will keep our US service and number so people from here can call us just as they would before with no international fees, 3) When we get to Italy, we'll sign up with an Italian cell company to get a new Italian number and a new SIM card, which we'll put in our phone, 4) With our US SIM card out, calls to our US number will go straight to voicemail which we'll check periodically through the day on and return calls with our land line (Vonage-type plan with cheaper international access), 5) This way, US callers don't pay an international rate, we don't answer our US number and pay $1.29/min, we pay only the Vonage rate to call our US number and check messages, and we have an Italian phone/number for all domestic calls at normal domestic rates! (and for emergency calls from the US, people can call our Italian cell or Vonage phone - they'll just have to pay international rates)WHEW! ...did everyone get all that?!

So, needless to say, I was able to go one more step to figuring out the small details of the move...it was a productive day at the phone shop! (p.s. - another reason we may want to stick with Cingular, is that they're the only carrier as of yet to offer service on the up-and-coming iPhone from Apple! AMAZING (although unable to be used internationally...so sad :))

17 January 2007

scuola leonardo da vinci

View from back garden of the Florence campus
Back in the fall I corresponded with the main office of the Italian language/cultural school we seemed to be leaning torward. After many hours of research on different schools to choose from, we've 95% decided on the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci which is based in Florence (which is where we will begin), but has three other campuses (Rome, Siena, Milan). This is one of the main highlights, since students can transfer to any campus with a 2-week notice and continue in the same course - and we're thinking of leaving Rome as a possible transfer location towards the end of our studies. (Although I have read that many recommend to learn the language in Florence for the "real" Italian "non-dialect" version - similar to US news anchors studying in Illinois. And the South of Italy supposedly has a very different accent so it may be hard to transfer unless we're more comfortable with the language). I also looked in many forums, online language school reviews, etc and found a very good record for this school, which is "Officially authorized by the Italian Ministry of Education" and member of several international language associations such as the AIL and ASILS. Their website is not eye-candy, but has a lot of information and I've enjoyed corresponding with Elisa Gianfaldoni from the main office with all of our questions. Getting quick and thourough replies from her every time I write has helped me feel a lot more comfortable with this new experience (especially setting everything up from another country). The school is located just one small block (less than 0.1m) from the famous Duomo of Santa Maria Del Fiore in the heart of downtown Florence.

We will be taking the "Long Semester Course" which is a standard 24wk long study with 8 additional, optioinal weeks. This class is 4hrs/day for 5day/wk and an additional 5hr/wk of cultural studies (museum visits, culinary/wine classes, city tours, etc). The price is good in comparison to many other courses/schools I've looked into. Also, one of the online review sites LanguageCourse.net offers a 5% discount when registered through them (and 5% on thousands of euros with a losing exchange rate for USD - makes a big difference!). ...More posts to follow about our budget progress and updates on school registration and apartment leases.

13 January 2007

libri, appartamenti, pane & tulipani

A New Year's resolution: finish at least 1 book a month. January: "What's So Amazing About Grace" (Philip Yancey) and also I'm catching up on reading the entire blog "Living in Florence" by Californian-turned-Florentine, Melinda. I've been emailing periodically with her, and it's been really nice to have a link of sorts to our future home. There are also a couple other people I've "met" through the web - and it will be exciting to finally meet in person when we get to Florence in the fall (and possibly some great recommendations for local activities/restaurants, etc). February: "The City of Falling Angels" (John Berendt - author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil") which takes place in Venice. We borrowed this book from Betsy, who is in our weekly Italian group.

This past Wednesday was our first informal post-Italian-class meeting. We've all decided to continue to get together regularly, so we meet at homes each Wednesday night and have a dinner once a month. Whoever hosts decides what activity the group will do for the week (Italian Scrabble, readings, travel shows, etc); and this week we watched "Pane e Tulipani" (Bread and Tulips), an Italian movie with the tagline "Imagine your life. Now go live it!". It was fun picking out lines that we understood while passing around dictionaries thoughout the show to learn more!

This past week has also been filled with the beginnings of an apartment search. At first I thought it may be too early to start looking, but I found out that many places fill up many months in advance - and it's been fun researching through all the possibilities. The apartments range from very modern lofts to Renaissance-style flats that give the feeling of old-world Italy. We've narrowed the list quite a bit to stay in our budget, and would prefer a place that includes the utilities in the price (even if it's higher, so that we don't have to deal with paying extra bills, etc). On our "must-have" list: walking distance to school, washing machine, at least 1 bedroom (as opposed to a studio, so we can have at least a sofabed for visitors), full kitchen, DSL, and A/C...on our "wish" list: terrace, bathtub (not just shower), dryer, Satelite TV. Of course, we're only looking at furnished apartments and there are specific details we have to look for that are required by the consulate in order to get our visa. There are 2 options we've put at the top of the list for now....updates to come!

06 January 2007

hungry for gelati

Recently I've had a slight craving for gelati
(Wikipedia: "Gelato is an Italian frozen dessert made from water, milk and/or soy milk, combined with flavourings, sweeteners, and a stabilizing agent. The gelato ingredients are first pasteurized then super-cooled while stirring to break up ice crystals as they form. Unlike ice cream, gelato machinery whips almost no air into the gelato, resulting in a dense and extremely flavorful product. This allows even non-dairy gelato to match and sometimes exceed dairy-based gelato or ice cream for taste. ")
- and I've had 2 reminders of this today - once at work, a coworker mentioned a cafe downtown that serves it and it was the best icecream he's ever had, and again on a blog that I'm currently reading Living in Florence by Melinda Gallo which mentioned a place in Florence called GROM. I went to the website and read about their ingredients, flavours, and Slow Food Foundation membership - I can't wait to try the Huehuetenango Coffee flavour or Pistachio - which was one of Chris' favorites!

03 January 2007

bella firenze

Yes, yes...I know this first picture ISN'T Florence...But when we visited Italy in '05, I had a "motivation" picture on my desktop of Positano, Italy that I found online somewhere. I looked at it everyday and it was our goal to find that spot and take our OWN picture. I think we did a pretty good job! (Pic#1=motivation, Pic#2=our own shot) - The funny (or not-so-funny at the time) story is that we were about a block away from this spot, and I dropped our camera on a cobblestone street. An older Italian lady was startled and exclaimed "Mamma Mia!" (that was the highlight of this experience since I didn't think Italians really said that :)) -but the camera was broken, so we walked across the entire town (not an easy hike) to the camera store and had to buy a NEW digital camera....in euros....with one of the worst exchange rates of the EU/USD so far! -but we walked back and got the shot we'd waited so long for!

Now, I found 2 beautiful shots of Florence online and I rotate between the two for my computer wallpaper!...We don't need much "motivation", but it'll be nice to take this in several months AND be able to point our our apartment somewhere within the mass of rooftops!

this year we move to italy

We can finally say that "we're moving THIS year to Italy!" Happy 2007. The past several weeks have gone by like a whirlwind...first in NC/VA with Chris' family from Dec 19-26 then in central FL with my family from 26-30, then back home in St. Augustine for a wedding on the 30th, and several New Year's Eve get-togethers on the 31-1! We had a wonderful time seeing lots of family and friends, but alas - our bums are glad to be out of the car. We both ended up working a lot during the "break" - it's a love/hate relationship with our work-from-laptop jobs (but we'd take that freedom over an office anyday). Some visits were cut a little short so we could meet deadlines (especially Chris). Now it's time to try and get back into the swing of things.

The wedding we attended on Dec 30 was of one of Chris' first roommates in St. Augustine, Mike Scine and his longtime girlfriend Cathie. They moved to St. Louis several years ago for Cathie's PhD studies, but we're all hoping they'll come back after she's done! The wedding was very fun and a nice taste of our unique city. All the guests parked at the San Sebastian Winery (where the reception was to be held) and were taken by the Old Town Trolley (along with a mini tour) to the Florida's Oldest House (González-Alvarez House, National Historic Landmark). The wedding was a beautiful ceremony in the garden.

We were all taken, once again by trolley, back to the Winery for a view of the sunset over the San Sebastian Harbor, private wine tours, dinner, and dancing! It was great to see a lot of people we hadn't seen in a while, as well as some in town for New Year's.