Wine Tasting in Chianti

Our ride from Bologna to Siena was gorgeous, to say the least. We pulled over a few times, just to take in the view. The rolling hills were dotted with vineyards and olive groves, all in shades of green and gold with hints of red that teased fall. It was true countryside, with the two-lane road (Strada del Vino) reminiscent of northern Napa Valley, but woven through rolling hills instead of a valley floor. I’m pretty sure this is exactly what everyone in America thinks Italian countryside looks like. The best possible stereotype.


Tavarnelle Val di Pesa


Tavarnelle Val di Pesa


Tavarnelle Val di Pesa


Tavarnelle Val di Pesa


Castellina in Chianti

Upon our arrival in Siena (technically, we stayed in the little village of Pontignanello, which was a 10-minute car ride from Siena), the host of our agriturismo treated us to a wine tasting of their wines. Their hospitality was incredible and the wines even better. A family-run operation, the father of our host showed us around the property, the cellar and the bottling line (all areas of interest for my winemaker fiancé) and took great care of us while there. The wines were reasonably priced and quite worth the value. A wonderful showing of Chianti indeed! He also surprised us with a tasting of authentic Vin Santo, which is a spectacular Italian dessert wine and labor of love, judging from the grapes hanging to dry outside the winery.


Querciavalle (brand) from Agricola Losi


touring Agricola Losi


touring Agricola Losi


grapes for Vin Santo

The experience was the epitome of romantic Italian wine tasting and the perfect welcome to Siena!

Bologna: There for the Food

Emilia-Romagna is known for its foods and colorful markets and since Bologna is the capital, I was excited to visit. I’m going to be completely honest— my whole mission while visiting Bologna was to eat as much food as possible. And visit the markets. But mostly eating bolognese served in different forms. Tagliatelle, lasagne…if “insert-a-type-of-pasta-here alla bolognese” was on the menu, I was going to order it. Sadly, I didn’t even bother taking many photos of all the bolognese because I was that focused on tasting the deliciousness.

But the added bonus of this trip was discovering the city of Bologna itself. The beautiful arcades that lined the streets, the feel of the history with in the city and the buzz of activity (thanks in large part to the students attending Europe’s oldest university) made for much to see.


Fontana di Nettuno | Fountain of Neptune

We actually arrived in Bologna on a Friday night and got situated in our hotel before getting ready to head into the city. A note about our hotel: it was actually more of a really weird apartment they called a “suite,” across the street from the hotel. We booked it since it was the same price as a room, but boasted a kitchen. The identical prices should have been our first clue. As the bell boy led us across the street to the apartment building, we were joined by little old ladies bringing home their groceries and college students getting home from a day of school, i.e., actual residents of the apartment. Bizarre.

Anyway, we were about a 20-minute bus ride into the city center and after tracking down bus tickets (apparently not all the buses sell them) we got to the city and were immediately relieved that we’d chosen not to drive in there. It was a complete mad house. The streets were jammed and even the buses that passed each other in opposite directions felt as though they were going to take each others’ side mirrors off. It was a little white-knuckle, to say the least.

The activity actually made it difficult to navigate some of the markets that I’d wanted to see, which was a bummer because when we returned on Sunday, most of them were closed (duh, I should’ve known).

We ended up at a little tavern restaurant, where I enjoyed some lasagne alla bolognese (obviously). Post-dinner, we wandered the streets, ducking into the shops that looked interesting, including the Eataly Marketplace, which has stalls of any food or beverage item one might desire. Dave found some artisan beer (a rarity for us here) and we enjoyed hanging out, getting a feel for a city that seemed to always have something going on. My enjoyment was magnified, as I wandered through the streets with the best salted toffee gelato I’d ever had.

Sunday was really the day to take in the sights of Bologna during daylight hours. It gave us a chance to get a feel for the architecture and the history of the city. My only regret is not getting to explore the markets more. The colors of the ones that were open on Sunday were so vibrant. (I’m such a sucker for colorful, fresh foods. To me, there is just something really natural and pleasing.) We explored and took photos most of the morning, enjoying one last bowl of bolognese at a small restaurant that we’d heard about online. Osteria dell’Orsa was a first-come, first served, no reservations kinda place that the locals clearly knew about. Not wanting to miss out, we arrived at 11:55 for their noon opening and waited. We weren’t even the first to be seated!

It was a perfect lunch spot, with small tables, frequently pushed together for communal eating if necessary. The food had the feel of home-cooked and the prices were great (6€ for a giant bowl of tagliatelle all bolognese? Don’t mind if I do!)

It was a perfect sendoff and our post-lunch departure also made it possible to drive through the Tuscan countryside on our way to Siena, for the last two days of our adventure.


Palazzo d’Accursio


Purple artichokes. Betcha didn’t know Italy is a top world producer of artichokes.


Via Santo Stefano


San Petronio, fifth century bishop of Bologna


the arcades of Bologna


Clock tower in Piazza Maggiore


Osteria dell’Orsa


Can’t get enough bolognese

Running Victory Formation

In (American) football, victory formation is used when the quarterback takes the snap and immediately kneels to the ground, ending the play on contact. Typically, it’s run when a team is winning and just needs the clock to run down, in order to preserve the win.

After almost 26 months (!!) we are running victory formation in our household.

Today is the day Dave presented and defended his thesis (and received an “A – Excellent” mark, I might add). He is now a Master of Viticulture and Enology.

Today, we celebrate. I’ll write more about my thoughts on this whole adventure later, once I wrap my mind around the fact that it’s coming to an end and that we (he) did it.

For now, I’m just going to let the clock run out on our European adventure and enjoy victory.

Saturdays in Parma

I mentioned that we kicked off our Italian road trip with a pasta-making class, which was awesome, but after our tasty learning experience, we headed to Bologna, which would also serve as our home base for exploring Parma.

I should back up and mention that I had high hopes for this voyage. A few weeks prior to leaving, I had reached out to Parmesan cheese producers about a visit and sadly, didn’t hear back. Dashed were my hopes of running through the aisles of a Parmesan factory, flanked by huge rounds of delicious cheese (see here). I had also reached out to balsamic producers in Modena, but as it ended up, visiting wasn’t feasible after all.


At any rate, we woke up early on a Saturday and drove into Parma, hoping to get a feel for the city that produces the famous cheese and prosciutto. I had heard about a great market, Casa del Formaggio, and that was our first stop. The place was busy, compact and well stocked with so many delicious things that I didn’t know where to begin. Had the weather been a bit nicer, I would have loved to pick up some items for a picnic lunch, but gray and wet isn’t exactly picnic weather. Instead, I salivated longingly and opted for a few photos.


Handmade anolini (senza carne | without meat)

After exploring some more and admiring the tasty-looking displays in all of the market windows, we made our way to a place I’d heard about on some of the travel blogs I’d researched, Trattoria Corrieri. As I figured, it was a touch touristy (we’re always a bit leery about places that offer menus in English), but not enough that we didn’t hear any Italian being spoken and it offered some solid homemade-style dishes. I, of course, got the ragu alla bolognese because…duh. It’s delicious.

(Sidenote: bolognese is a type of ragu, but can only be called ‘bolognese’ if made in the traditional style of Bologna— with white wine, more meat than tomatoes, and some pork/pancetta added for good measure. So technically, my turkey bolognese recipe is actually more of a “ragu alla Colleen,” but both are equally tasty, if I do say so myself.)


Bring on the ragu

The trattoria was decorated with plaid tablecloths in shades of red, gold and green, with pork legs hanging from the ceiling (which is actually way more authentic and appealing that that sentence reads) and they also had a lower level with little closets– one for the cured meats and one for wine.


some of Parma’s best attributes

Parma was a city in which I could certainly see myself living. It was vibrant, with lots of activity; families out for lunch and little pre-k aged kids riding those tiny two-wheeled bicycles without peddles (adorable). Plus, cheese and meats in every market? Yes, please. It was full of different shops, what looked like a handy tram system, and still maintained a historic “Italian” feel (Udine, on the contrary, looks like most of the buildings were erected in the 60s— as in 1960s).


discovering Parma


I could live here


The Parma Baptistery


What a happy little man


discovering Parma

It was a perfect way to spend a chilly fall Saturday.

Brand Reveal | Dara Dyer Photography

Dara Dyer needed a revamped brand identity for her commercial and fashion photography company, Dara Dyer Photography. As soon as we talked, I could tell we were on the same page with our visions for the brand. After discussing her style and the direction in which she wanted her brand to go, we landed on a text-based logo with clean design. Dara requested a neutral, monochrome palette, with just a single signature color in a bold blue.

We worked together to design a logo with a modern feel, clean lines, and a pop of cobalt as a signature color. The logo also offers an option for a small, secondary branding mark designed as an offshoot of the primary logo.

Dara Dyer Photography logo

Pasta Making 101

Who better to teach us how to make pasta than the Italians? pasta-Emilia-Romagna_003
This was something I’d been dying to do since we had arrived. I even looked into enrolling in cooking school for visa purposes when we were getting ready to move here. But all of the schools were not cheap. As I was reading up on places we intended to go on our end-of-school Italian road trip, I found out about Casa Artusi in Forlimpopoli (in the province of Emilia-Romagna) and they offered classes that didn’t break the bank. Also included was tour of the area and history of the cooking school, which was offered in English. What I didn’t realize, however, was that the actual cooking class was in Italian. Talk about true test of what I’ve learned here!

Luckily, if there is one area of the Italian language I’ve picked up, it’s the food-related words and with Dave as my backup translator, it was completely manageable and our chef Carla was incredibly patient. First, she showed us how to make dough for egg noodles, then flour noodles and went over specifically what type of flour is best with each.


roughly from left to right: cappelletti, leftover crumbs (literally), farfalle, lasagnette, garganelli (tubes), mafaldine, ravioli, tagliatelle, confetti, pappardelle

We also learned a few handy pasta shapes and which is best for each type of sauce and then she turned us loose! Now I want a giant wooden board and extra long rolling pin so I can make my own pasta noodles.


rolling out some garganelli


We got to take all those trays home

The class was so much fun and definitely a highlight of our trip. My only regret was that I stupidly scheduled the class on Day 1 of the adventure. I should have assumed we would have some pasta to take home. At least going forward, we had booked places with a kitchen, but jar sauce does not do homemade noodles any sort of justice.

We finished the class around 1:30 and knew we needed to grab some lunch, but it was also starting to rain, so we figured we would get on the road and find something along the way. Yet each small town we drove through seemed sleepy (even for a Friday). At one point, we arrived in a tiny village (by this time 2:30) and the only restaurant open was finishing service (to their credit, they did offer to heat up some soup for us) but we didn’t want to be the obnoxious Americans, so we opted to find a grocery store.


Note to self: don’t miss the Italian lunch window

Yep. With a car full of homemade pasta in the food capital of Italy, we dined on the finest packaged delights from a supermarket. Not even a local, artisan market– A COOP. The Safeway of Italy. To really class up the occasion, we ate in the car, not far from a couple of skater-looking kids who were hanging out in the parking garage of the grocery store.

We did, however, arrive in Bologna in time to visit the city on a Friday night and grab a real meal, but aside from the Bolognese that was to come, the pasta class was definitely my favorite part of the trip!

I’ll be posting more about our Italian road trip later this week, but it will be in between packing and cleaning in preparation for our move back to the States! Whoo-hoo! This time next week, we’ll be on approach to New York. We really can’t wait.

Venetian Island Hopping

This perfect fall weather we’ve been enjoying called for an adventure and (more importantly) because Dave finished writing his thesis, we decided to explore some of the Venetian Islands on Saturday!

Murano, Italy

Murano, Italy

We’d heard good things about Burano, a small island known for brightly-colored houses and lacework, so we set off to see for ourselves. After arriving in Venice, we got day passes for the vaporetti (small ferry boats) and hopped the nearest one headed in the direction of Burano Island. The vaporetto made two stops at Murano Island (home of the colorful glass), where we needed to transfer to get to Burano. For a second, we considered exploring Murano, but throngs of tourists had the same idea and that quickly made the decision for us. We opted to get off at the first stop, walk to the transfer point and see some of the glass sculptures along the way. We figured that, if we had time (and energy) on the way back, maybe then we’d see more of Murano.

From what little we did see, I’d certainly be interested in exploring more, but perhaps a Saturday that coincides with a holiday (All Saints Day) isn’t the best time.

Onward to Burano…

Burano, Italy

the colors of Burano

Burano is a cute little village and I would think it’s impossible to feel unhappy there, as guests of the island are immediately greeted with rows of brightly-color houses. Benjamin Moore has nothing on Burano. The vibrant colors are a part of the village’s history and they are still dictated by the local government today. Should a homeowner wish to paint their house, they have to receive permission from the authorities and only then may they select from a list of pre-approved colors, which is based on the neighborhood in which they live. With the government ensuring cohesive color schemes, I guess homeowners don’t live in fear of their neighbors choosing hideously-clashing house colors!

The island was also once known for its lacework, which put it on the map in the 16th century. Women were creating lace via needles (a craft they picked up from Cyprus, which was ruled by Venice at the time) and soon the gorgeous, hand-crafted creations were being exported across Europe. They even opened a lace-making school in Burano. The small shops on the island still showcase lace tablecloths, napkins and clothing, but sadly, the industry is pretty much in the tank now. The time-consuming handmade pieces are expensive and can be replicated via machinery these days.

In addition to lace, Burano was also a big fishing village and I’ve heard stories that the colorful houses helped fisherman find their way home in the thick Venetian fog. The island is fast becoming a popular tourist destination and that, coupled with what fisherman remain, seems to serve as the basis for the economy now.

We wandered around the island a bit, and it being lunchtime, we had hoped to check out Trattoria al Gatto Nero, which came highly recommended by Trip Advisor and Jamie Oliver. Sadly, they were booked, so we opted for another trattoria, where the servers donned white jackets and black bow ties and hustled like no other. The food, which was made in house by a flock of older Italian women (they looked like they were straight out of a movie- it was awesome) was pretty tasty. It seemed to be a relatively local spot, which is always something we try to seek out whenever possible.

Burano also gave me a good chance to practice more of my photography…with such beautiful scenery, I basically just had to make sure the shot was in focus and the rest took care of itself!

After wandering around the island more, we ventured towards the bridge that connects Burano to a neighboring island. A little stroll and we were on the island of Mazzorbo…

Mazzorbo, Italy

Mazzorbo, known for vineyards and orchards

Mazzorbo is another small island in the Venetian lagoon and I think it’s actually governed by Burano, despite it being its own island. Considered Burano’s sixth sestiere (neighborhood), it is home to beautiful orchards and vineyards. Apparently, the wine from the Mazzorbo vineyards used to be the preferred drink of the Doges. Now, the island is receiving some revitalization, with the opening of Venissa, a ristorante-enoteca-hotel. (For a cool look at the islands of Mazzorbo and Burano, check out the Venissa website here. Burano is towards the top and Mazzorbo is the lower area.)

With return train schedules in mind, we made our way back to Venice via vaporetto late in the afternoon and began the journey back to Udine. Though only a day trip, the islands of Venice were a fun getaway and a good way to kick off what I’m calling “end-of-thesis” season. We leave for Emilia-Romagna on Thursday and I couldn’t be more excited to explore what is arguably known as Italy’s best food area. After living in northern Italy all this time (home of some of the best seafood dishes), I’m ready for our trip to ER. Bring on the pasta!