Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lake Como: 30x30 Outfit 10

Skirt: TJ Maxx (Patagonia) / Top: Thrifted in Paris (Jus d'Orange) / Shoes: Privo / Necklace, Earrings: AE / Hat: J Crew

We spent the next several days exploring the beautiful Alpine lake in the background here. On this day, we drove from our apartment in Domaso to Menaggio, where we took a ferry to Bellagio, known as the Pearl of Lake Como. Bellagio is located on a peninsula that forms the intersection of the upside down Y shaped lake. The Bellagio hotel in Vegas is designed to aesthetically intimate the aura of this darling commune.

The shoreline is dotted with fancy restaurants and hotels, some with boat entrances, offering lovely Alpine views.

We took the cobbled pedestrian road that winds up a rather steep hill, lined with luxury and artisan shops.

Bellagio is famous for silk, and the Husband got himself a new tie. He surprised me, choosing a jolly turquoise after I unsuccessfully tried my darnedest to persuade him towards paisley. I need to sneak a photo of him in it.

At the top of the hill we stopped for gelato. I got coconut this time. Crushed coconut whipped with sugar and air to a creamy concoction with juicy bits. Divine. Oh, how I wish they made it this well in the U.S. We also checked out the old Bellagio cathedral, know for it's frescoes, and came across this charming stone home decorated with Italian flags. At one point, Italian homes were taxed based on the amount of land they occupied, so rather than build out, they built up. Thus you see lots of tall, skinny homes in Italy.

Next we took another ferry to Varenna, another charming little town, and our gateway to the old Castello di Vezio which lies atop the hillside above Varenna {not seen, here.}

We took quite the tour of the countryside, missing the signs to the castle and getting a few miles off track before finally meeting a nice man picking up recycling who gave us a ride to the castle. The trek was well worth it. Vezio is a teeny, tiny, quaint little hamlet of stone houses and a castle perched atop a hill. The shots up top were taken at an overlook with a watch tower in the background. 

Vezio's castle is from the 7th century and you walk through a delightful olive grove to get to it, with more spectacular views of Lake Como and the surrounding Alps and Lombardy region. 

They evidently have a haunted castle for Halloween and leave their decorations up all year. We came across quite a few of these types of creatures...

The castle itself is mostly in ruins, though you can explore the courtyard...

...and go up into one of the towers via a drawbridge, where you're greeted by this fine sir...

...and relish in even more amazing views from the top of the tower.

At the end of the day we took the ferry back to Menaggio, then went to look for a bridge to jump off. The Husband was dying to do some cliff diving around here {it's a bit of an addiction} and he'd found this video on YouTube and this one from the nearby Lake Lecco. Turned out that both were pretty far from where we were, so we decided to stroll around Mennagio instead and find a place to eat. Mennagio is a medieval village in the Alpine foothills with a a beautiful 19th century piazza along the lake. We passed grand villas and found lovely places to eat with excellent views...

...but they were pricy so we went back to our trusty pizzeria in Domaso and tried their pasta this time. Garden setting, perfumed flowers, caprese, fresh gnocchi, linguine with garlic and pepper oil, and lasagne. Delightful.

That night we played Keltis again and also Ticket to Ride. I made peaches & cream with fresh cream I got in Normandy. The dairy products here taste so amazing. Maybe it's because it's from free range cattle and local dairies. Maybe it's because they prepare it differently. Their cream and even some milk doesn't have to be refrigerated till opened. Whatever the reason, it's absolutely scrumptious. Especially poured over fresh, perfectly ripened peaches. I can't believe I didn't take a picture, though it's probably best I didn't. Then my current craving would reach unsustainable levels.

P.S. The Husband was quite amused by some of the translations we came across today. Particularly this sign at the castle {they have a Birds of Prey show that we missed} and Step A for laundry instructions.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Milan: 30x30 Outfit 9

Skirt: J Crew / Top: F21 / Shoes: Clarks / Necklace: AE / Belt: Ruche / Fountain: Milan

Our first morning in Domaso we walked to the market and stumbled upon a vendor selling clothes from the nearby Milan. I snagged a nude dress {nudes are all the rage in Europe } and an emerald green sequined top { jewel tones were popular in Italy}, which I've added as the last item to complete my 30x30 items. I also kind of haggled for the very first time. I was short by 1 euro 80 cents and he took me up on it. That totally counts.

We made sandwiches for lunch, then caught the train to Milan. Fashion capital extraordinaire. Home of the Via Monte Napoleon, or Montenapo, an elegant street along the lines of Les Champs Élysées. Headquarters of Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Armani, and Valentino. I was very excited. Not that I intended to purchase any designer duds. But it was exciting just to be in their midst. And to see what people were wearing. I'll do a post on European style at the end of my Europe posts. 

The first thing we noticed about Milan is that they are not afraid of a little PDA. Or even a lot. When we arrived at the station, we sat so my friend could feed her baby and witnessed a couple making out for at least 3 minutes before the woman boarded the train. I'm talking PG-13, major tongue-age. So what do the boys do? Laugh and point, then the Husband grabs me and starts slobbering all over my face while I fight him off. He's so classy.

We then made our way to the Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery:

This is where Leonardo daVinci painted The Last Supper on a wall in the late 1400s. I had no idea it was a mural. Or that it's been restored multiple times. In fact, the monastery was bombed during WWII. You have to purchase tickets in advance and they let in small groups for 15 minutes at a time. Absolutely no photography. It was pretty amazing to see all the detail. It made me want to read The Da Vinci Code again.

Milan has a long, long history dating back to 400 BC when it was ruled by the Celts. Since then, it changed hands many times and at one point was ruled by France's Napoleon Bonaparte, who had the Arco della Pace { Peace Arch } constructed in a fashion similar to his Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

It's at the end of the beautiful Parco Sampione, where residents sunbathe and play games, festivals are held, and vendors sell delightful baked goods and treats like gelato and cracked coconuts.

On the opposite end of this park is the Castello Sforzesco, an old Visconti {ruling family of medieval times} fortress that was transformed into a luxurious castle by the Sforza dynasty that ruled during the Renaissance.

It was crowded so we walked the grounds, skipped the tour, then headed towards the Piazzia del Duomo, the main city square, via the Via Dante, a famous pedestrian street lined with shops, cafés, and gelaterias.

So of course we had to get gelato. I got strawberry and chocolate. Fresh whipped strawberries. YUM!

We finally made our way to the Piazza del Duomo and the famous Duomo di Milano, or Milan's Cathedral. It's breathtaking, with white marble Gothic architecture topped by the famed Maddonnina, a baroque gilded bronze statue of the Virgin Mary { it's in the very back. }

Originally a basilica built in the 5th century by Romans and later destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt as a huge cathedral for the people, first commissioned in the late 1300s by an archbishop. Six hundred years later it was finished under France's Napoleon, who was crowned King of Italy there.

Now that you've had your history lesson for the day, here's something you'll probably find more interesting. The rooftop. For 8 euro { beware, they don't give change! } you can walk the vast and beautiful rooftops of this duomo. They even have concerts up there it's so big. It's totally worth it. See?

I think I may have unintentionally nailed the Virgin Mary pose here...

We probably spent an hour up there, walking around, enjoying the city views, and examining the detail of the many statues that grace the spires.

At one point, I stayed with my friend while she fed her baby and the men took the kids exploring. Later, this photo was posted to the Husbands Facebook with the caption "Being in Europe has really broadened my horizons. Meet my new modern family." 

Oh my. I can only imagine the surprise of the poor soul they got to take the photo when Scott leaned in for the kiss. You never know what will happen when you get old college roommates together...

We ended our day in Milan at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which connects the Piazza del Duomo with the Piazza della Scala, where Milan's famed opera house sits. The streets here were covered with arching glass and cast iron to create a famous shopping arcade in the 1860s, thought to be the world's first mall, in honor of Emanuelle II, the first King of United Italy.

We strolled through, laughed at the fancy McDonald's directly across from the fancier Louis Vuitton, then settled on a restaurant for dinner before catching the train back to Lake Como. Our camera died as soon as we reached the Galleria, unfortunately, so I've no photos of the delicious white cheese and tomato pizza we ordered. I do, however, have a warning. Beware eating in the Galleria. They charge an extra 2 euro per person convenience fee and won't give you tap water. { The no-tap water thing is pretty standard in Germany, though in most of France and at the restaurants we've tried on Lake Como, they'll give you a no-charge carafe if you ask. }

I thoroughly enjoyed Milan, and I'd definitely go back, but it still can't hold a candle to Paris in my heart :)

P.S. Francophone Fridays are currently on hold till I finish my Europe posts. As soon as I'm done, they'll resume. I've got lots of new inspiration from my trip :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Interlude Part Deux: Thrifting

Dress: Consigned at Periwinkle (J Crew) / Heels: J Crew via Down East / Necklace: J Crew / Bracelet: Grandmother's / Clutch, Earrings: Gabes (? , 1928)

I pinky promise I'm still working on my 30x30 / Europe posts. I'm almost finished with Milan. Tomorrow it'll be up. But boy, Girls Camp wiped me out, and right afterwards we spent the weekend in Medford so we could see Harry Potter in the fancy schmancy Tinseltown, which has a Coldstone next door. Yes, we're HP nerds. And cake batter ice cream with raspberry mix-in addicts. Then I came home to find out that EBEW had decided to walk on the wild side and throw in an extra challenge this month, which happened to occur this very week, and be for thrifting, a favorite hobby of mine. How could I resist?

So there you have my pithy excuses for a second interlude between my Europe posts and a second outfit that doesn't belong in my 30x30 before I've finished that challenge.  Because fashion challenges are important enough in my life to require pithy excuses. Though not important enough to merit breaking out the iron, apparently. It's a lawless world I live in.

I hope this outfit even counts as thrifted. These fab yellow heels are from Down East Outfitters, which carries pieces from other labels that were slightly damaged or overstocked. These must've been the display because they have a few scuffs. They were still rather pricey, but the color swayed me into ignoring that fact. Easily distracted, I am. It's a dangerous quality in a bargain seeker. The dress is from a consignment shop. I paid a shameful $30 for it, though it is shantung and was new with tags.

Nonetheless, I'm afraid Jentine, who sweet talked EBEW into this wayward challenge, wouldn't be proud. She's Queen Thrifter in the fashion blogosphere { proof here }, finding vintage dresses from designers such as Diane von Furstenburg for pocket change. She even has an entire post about all the silk shirts she's thrifted. Do you know how hard I've tried to thrift a silk shirt since then? Way too hard to admit. I've not been successful. The only ones I seem to find are so big the shoulders hang to my elbows. I'm convinced I need to start thrifting in Canada.

Anyhow, considering my thrifting experiences, I was quite proud to pay only $30 for a silk J Crew dress that still had the tags. The little flower was even still in the plastic baggie.

P.S. I've just had an epiphany. Picking cherries is like thrifting. Once they ripen, you've got to get there before the birds or they're completely picked over. It's time to get my game face on. There must be cherries on Cherry Tree Lane the year. The Husband has requested pie in return for his photo services. And nothing messes with my camera man's requests.

Thrift | Everybody, Everywear

Meet Virginia Design

Monday, July 11, 2011

Yellow Interlude

 Skirt, Top, Silk Scarf: Consigned at Periwinkle (Victoria Holley, Liz Claiborne, Ralph Lauren) / Shoes, Bracelet: Gabes (Relativity, ?) / Earrings: UO Vintage / Belt: J Crew final sale / Headband: Walmart

I'm taking a little break from my 30x30 Europe posts so I can participate in this month's EBEW feature: yellow. I didn't have a single yellow item in my 30x30, nor do I have any yellow accessories. I have very little yellow in general in my closet. Sad. Yellow is such a happy, sunny color. So what's a girl to do? Go thrifting, of course!

I hit up my most favoritest consignment shop and found the above skirt, yellow top, and silk scarf. Perfect! Then I looked super duper hard for a 40s-50s-ish backdrop for photos, because this ensemble was screaming vintage housewife to me. I seriously considered breaking into the house down the street- an old estate for sale that's from the 40s and is still decorated as such. Light teal carpet, a white grand piano in a room full of old fashioned chaises and furniture, and a cherry red tiled kitchen with red and yellow splashy floral wall paper. { Can I tell you how badly I'd like to live there? That's far closer to my style than our current residence, which is dominated by desert tones, and there are 2 pools and a super sweet upper-level wrap deck on that house! }

But I checked myself out of crazy town and settled for serving the Husband an aperitif of fresh-squeezed lemonade and garden strawberries on our deck instead, feigning the part of the domestic goddess. The perfect wife that makes fabulous lemonade and smiles pleasantly while she pours it.

All the while expecting her husband to document her every move. She might've also forgotten to make ice. And made slightly watery lemonade. But at least she looks the part :)

Well, almost. I wanted to whip my hair into a swirly fancy 50s do, but I'm not very good at hair. I couldn't find one measly bottle of gel, mouse, or even hairspray. Blogger bun and red lips to the rescue!

 Bon jour de jaune à tout le monde!*

Meet Virginia Design

P.S. I must beg for mercy again in getting my Europe posts / 30x30 outfits up. They take so long because I have loads of photos to sort through and I just found out yesterday that I need to fill in as a cabin mom for my church's Girl's Camp starting today and going through Saturday! I still have all of our week in Italy {including more cliff jumping- this time off of a waterfall!}, and 3 more days of the French Riviera at the end of our trip {Monaco, Antïbes, and Marseille!}, all to come in due time!

* Bon jour de jaune à tout le monde! = Happy yellow day to everyone!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cannes: 30x30 Outfits 7 & 8

 Outfit 7: Top, Shorts: Gabes (Express, J Brand) / Shoes: Clarks / Necklace: AE / Purse: Nordstrom (nicole byrne)

So this is the only picture I have of Outfit 7, and it's not even very good or anywhere exciting like on the beach.  After my cliff jumping escapade in Outfit 6, I had to change before driving to Cannes that night. Change in the parking lot, nonetheless, while fancily dressed Frenchies pulled in for the show. I'd already planned Outfit 8 to wear in Cannes the next day, so I pulled out the same top and threw it on with my cut-offs. And voilà: Outfit 7. Then we headed to Cannes.

After showering at our hotel we headed downtown for my very first glimpse of the Mediterranean:

We grabbed fresh mozzarella and tomato paninis from a vendor along the Promenade de la Croisette, the boulevard that runs along the Cannes coast. It's famous for the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, where the Cannes Film Festival is held and celebrities bedazzle the promenade. Then we got the most amazing salted caramel gelato you've ever tasted and sat with our legs dangling over the wall to the beach, watching cruise ships rock back and forth under a yellow moon and listening guitar music from along the boulevard. Ah, bliss.

The next morning we checked out of our hotel, the Kimi Résidence. We got lucky on and got it super cheap at the last minute. It's a spanking new, sparkling little Norwegian place where each room has a kitchenette, just a few minutes from the beach. Much more modern than Nìmes or Carcassonne.

Then we headed back to La Croisette to check out the beaches in the daytime. You've already seen the best pictures of Outfit 8 on La Croisette here, but we were at the Med for the first time, people. That means tons of photos and fun by this lovely sea, of course. We explored the rocks and pebbly beach...

Outfit 8: Skirt: Thrifted in Paris / Shoes: Clarks / Top, Earrings: Gabes (Express, Monet) / Necklace: Ruche / Belt: J Crew final sale

We split a cheese galette {savory crêpe made with buckwheat} and a Nutella crêpe for brunch...

Scott jumped into the sea while I soaked my feet from some rocks, marveling at the clear waters...

Then he dove in from this old platform...

I saw the sign afterwards. Tsk tsk on the Husband. It says "Heavy swells. Access forbidden." Then at the bottom someone wrote "I dove." That sounds like him, all right :) I swear the man is half fish.

That afternoon, we made our way to Italy where we were to split an apartment on Lake Como for the next week with our friends, the Russells. They've had the luck to living in Germany on an Army base. I'm so very jealous. We haven't seen them for two years, since our last Europe trip when we stayed a week with them in Germany, so we were really excited. As we entered Italy, the change in housing was almost immediate with more earthy tones and salmon dotting the coast. We passed beautiful country and hillside vineyards as we drove up the coast and into the Alps.

 That's a random cactus sticking out to the left of the vineyard. There are surprisingly a lot of cacti along the Riviera.

Driving through the Alps is always interesting. I'm pretty sure you're in tunnels more often than not. Tunnels that wind and twist and go on for miles, some of them quite narrow. We finally made our way to Lago Como, or Lake Como, where we were greeted with the first clear blue skies since we'd been in Europe:

We found our apartment in Domaso, on the very northern tip of the lake, and had a happy reunion with our friends and their adorable children. That night, we went for a dinner of mysteries at the pizzeria across the road. Mysterieis because none of us speak Italian and in Italy you find far fewer people who speak good English. It was strange to feel so mute. I chose a pizza with mela thinking it would have melon with it, and instead it had apples baked onto it. Quelle surprise!* It was delicious, though.

We topped off our dinner at a local gelaterie { there were 3 within view from the street! } where I got crème brûlée, then had fun with games. Our friends have lived on a military base in Germany for the past 3 years { I'm sooo envious }, and have collected some fun German games, like Keltis, which I think we'll be adding to our own collection at home now. Because yes, we're board game nerds like that.

P.S. Do you see that crazy smile in every single picture? I just can't stop smiling here. Oh, la France, comme je t'aime!*
*Quelle surprise = What a surprise! ; Oh, la France, comme je t'aime! = Oh, France, how I love you!
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