Wednesday, February 21, 2018

We're Not In Caldogno Anymore, Toto...

It's been one full year now since we arrived back in bella l'Italia. So much has happened in the past year, it's hard to believe it hasn't been longer. We're now on our third tour here in this fairytale country (2000-2006, 2008-2014, and now 2017-?) and everything seems different this time around - so far the biggest differences are that I'm working for a different unit this time and also that we are living in a different city.

I'm fond of saying that before we went back to the US in 2014, "we lived in Italy for 14 years with a 2 year vacation to Germany in the middle". The town we lived in the entire time was called Caldogno and it was the perfect little town. We had everything we needed within a 10 minute walk; restaurants, bars, grocery stores, parks, pastry shops, wine shops, cheese name it, we had it. We were there so many years that we made close friends all over town, all of whom remain close to this day. With this in mind, we decided to try and find a place in our old town when we got back but alas, our old house was already occupied and we had trouble finding a place big enough for our needs. Eventually Virginia announced that she wanted to live in 'centro' - the historic center of Vicenza. Last time we were here, she was constantly going downtown to visit the markets, do some shopping, etc., and she always took the bus so it made sense for her to just live there this time around. It didn't take much to convince me. I absolutely adore centro, Vicenza's center is amazing with the city's celebrated history on display everywhere. However, large apartments in the centro district are few and far between so it took a long time to find a place to our liking which meant almost FOUR full months in a hotel. With three young kids who do nothing but whine and fight. It was not a pleasant time, I can assure you. Ironically we almost ended up in a massive villa in the city of Torri, close to the base, but once again fate intervened and it fell through which resulted in us finding a great apartment right smack dab in the Piazza di San Lorenzo in centro. The San Lorenzo church is magnificent; historic and beautifully rustic, it is the oldest Franciscan church in the world, built between 1280 to 1300.  

The magnificent San Lorenzo church. Our apartment is to the right of the church.

Perhaps the best thing about our place is that right at the bottom of our building can be found Café Terzi 1863. Café Terzi is basically a typical Italian café that serves coffee (espresso, cappuccino), pastries, brioche and such in the morning and throughout the day. But, they also serve lunch and on Fridays/Saturdays they do dinner as well. And let me tell you, their food is FANTASTIC. The menu changes daily but just about everything we've tried there has been phenomenal. My favorite has probably been their tagliatelle al tartuffo (long pasta with truffles), it's like a flavor orgasm in your mouth. They also do pizza and it's possibly the best pizza I've had anywhere in centro. Most nights after work I can be found there unwinding with a glass of vino and reading my Gazzetta dello Sport. Usually the kids will join me for a snack while they play on their tablets. There are three people who work there - Davide, Elena and Maria - and all three of them are the nicest people you'd ever want to meet and we are in there so often that they almost feel like family by now. Café Terzi serves another purpose for me personally - a chance to get out. See, our apartment is almost perfect. Almost. But there's one major problem with it in that there is no balcony or terrace. Now this may seem trivial to some of you but not for me. I'm an outdoors person. I NEED to be able to sit and enjoy the fresh air. Our house in Caldogno had several balconies and a huge terrace where we would often eat our meals al fresco. Our house in South Carolina had a big yard and a huge front porch, as well as a nice sun room. So not having a balcony or terrace is a major thing for me. As well, we are on the top floor of the building and as such, our windows are smaller than average and have huge bars on them so we do not get a lot of sunlight. To solve these problems, I simply go downstairs to Café Terzi. In the warmer months from April to late October they have tables and chairs set up outside on the piazza and that's where I spend most of my time.  The colder months suck as there are no tables and chairs but Vicenza has a very aesthetically pleasing old town so sometimes I just go walk around. When we moved in last summer, there were actually three bars/cafes on our piazza; Terzi, Café San Lorenzo and Mod Café. After Terzi, Mod Café was our favorite spot. They had tables and chairs on the piazza as well but they were right in front of the church so I loved sitting there with a glass of vino just admiring the beautiful San Lorenzo church. The owners were a hardworking couple named Pierangelo and Katia and I quickly became friends with them. Funnily enough, I started going to the place back in the early 2000's when it was known as the Art Café and was a popular hangout of American soldiers. It actually took me several weeks before I realized that it was the same bar. Sadly, the Mod Café had problems with the city and I guess running it got to be too difficult and they closed up for good last month. Losing them completely sucked as I really enjoyed hanging out there and every time I walk by and see the sign I feel a twinge of sadness. It's just not the same without them...

A few of our favorite dishes from Cafe Terzi; Tagliatelle al Tartufo, Gnocchi alla Sorrentina and their delicious pizza!

Overall, we love living in centro. We have everything we need (and tons of stuff that we don't), it's a convenient, quick commute for me. It's perfect for Virginia as the big outdoor markets are literally right outside our door and she can go to her favorite stores (H&M, Kasanova and Coin) anytime she wants and if she needs to come to the base it's a quick, straight shot by bus whereas from Caldogno she had to transfer buses and the whole journey took about an hour. Though I've been here almost continuously since 2000, I'm quickly realizing that I barely know the city of Vicenza. Living in centro makes it easy to explore and I often walk around in areas I've never been and usually end up discovering buildings and churches and other sights that I never knew were there. For those who are unaware, Vicenza is the home of one of the most famous and influential architects in history, Andrea Palladio. Regardless of whether you have heard of him, you are doubtless familiar with his style as it has been copied ad nauseum by the founding fathers in many of the public and private buildings in and around Washington DC. Thomas Jefferson even used Palladio's most famous villa as his inspiration for Monticello (it is often said that "in Vicenza, entire streets look like the back of a nickel"). Everywhere you go in centro you see Palladio's influence and it's nothing short of magnificent.  

Some examples of Palladian architecture that Vicenza is known for along with the man himself, Andrea Palladio.

I also bought bikes for me and the kids last year and they love going on bike rides although it scares me to death honestly, the way the crazy Italians drive. Normally centro would be the perfect place for bikes as it's a limited traffic zone so there are very few cars but most of the streets in the center are cobblestone which are painful to ride on. The kids love to ride their bikes around our little piazza while I sit outside Cafe Terzi:

Still, I do miss Caldogno tremendously. I lived there a total of 12 years and it feels more like home to me than probably any place on Earth. Occasionally we go up there for various reasons and whenever I get close to the town line, it just feels like I'm coming home. It's strange to be back here but not be able to see our old friends and neighbors all the time like we used to. Between work schedules and family commitments, there's just never enough time these days it seems. Part of me wishes we still lived up there but living in centro certainly makes things easier. One great thing about Italy is that when you frequent the same places a couple times, everybody there becomes your friend. And although we've only lived in our place for about 8 months, I've already become a local at several places around centro which makes living here more enjoyable. 

We do miss having a yard though - this past weekend I was out in our piazza throwing a football around with the boys when a police car pulled up and we were told we are not allowed to do that on the piazza, only in the nearby parks. Little things like that really annoy me here but whenever I find myself getting annoyed these days I simply tell myself "You're not in Scumter anymore, you're back in Italy now" and like magic, all is right with the world again...

No comments: