Gap Year in Gray

We all have personal histories of paths not taken, forks in the road that would have led to a very different life, leaving us with the ‘what-ifs’ for years to come. For me, it was the era-common, post-college trip to Europe with girlfriends. It was the summer of 1978. I had lost my return ticket (of course I had) during a time of no smart phones or home computers. I had medical school interviews starting 2 days after my planned return, but if not allowed on that plane without a ticket, I had a backup plan. I had been offered a job teaching English in San Sebastian, Spain. Either option seemed just fine to my 22-year old self. Fate could decide, and did. Throughout medical school, residency, and beyond I would wonder about the life that would have been so different. Now retired, a new adventure begins today on January 13, 2023.

The seeds for this trip started in 2022. The pandemic rages on, at least scientifically. Politically? That’s a different story and seems to run by different rules. Mark and I are getting older and want to travel, albeit safely. The “kids” are fully functioning adults advancing their lives in interesting and independent ways. There are no grandchildren, at least so far. So safe travel is in our dreams. Mark is an EU citizen (through his Irish grandfather) which allows us a bit more flexibility in our travels.

So, with all of this in mind, we researched our options at length, submitted lots of paperwork to various agencies, purchased one-way tickets to Trieste, Italy. We don’t know how long we’ll stay or even where we will go (beyond our plan to form a base in Trieste). My fantasy is a kind of controlled free-fall…we’ll see how it goes. We will write little pieces as we go for those interested in checking out our adventure.


STEP ONE: PAPERWORK (Backing up a bit)

Obtaining residency allows us to extend beyond 90 consecutive days. Our ability to obtain residency in Italy relies on many things (won’t bore you too much here) but includes registering Mark’s EU status within 8 days of arrival, then proceeding with my apostilled and translated marriage certificate to see if I, too, can thread that needle.

As many of you know, the Schengen agreement allows 90 day travel within a rolling 180 day period in the 26 Schengen countries, which include most, but not all, EU countries (here’s looking at you, Ireland!) plus several non-EU states. In order to go beyond 90 days/180 days, as a US or EU citizen, you must either have one of several types of Visas or claim residency in a particular country. Claiming residency requires paperwork, depends on one’s particular circumstances, and possibly the luck of encountering particularly friendly bureaucratic fairies. Fingers crossed…and enlisting the help of my very generous Italian tutor, Cristiana, to accompany us on this bureaucratic journey.



Beyond paperwork, we decided to prep our taste buds for Italy. Enter our dear friend and Italian Master Chef (as well as retired doc), Gary, who is publishing in the spring of 2023 what is sure to be the definitive book on Italian Gelato in English which includes both the chemistry of the ingredients and 75 delicious recipes.

Prior to publication he asked us to try a few of his recipes in our home kitchen (with no further instructions from him other than what was on the written page) to ascertain how these translate to the non-professional home cook. What a joyous experiment! We made Cherry, Raspberry, Peanut Butter, and Orange Cream Gelato (enjoyed by friends at Thanksgiving)– unable to truly agree on a favorite as they all were fabulous.



Convinced that we had just been swimming in a cesspool of virus in the airports and flights from Albuquerque to Trieste, and despite rigidly masking, we self-isolated and tested for several days before interacting with others. But we took walks in the woods, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, and around the sweet little town of Santa Croce where we are staying in the upper apartment of one of my Italian teachers’ home. She stocked our kitchen with coffee, vegetables, fruits, wine, beer, and…of course, pasta!

Yes, January in northern Italy!


INIZIA L’AVVENTURA BUROCRATICA (The Bureaucratic Adventure Begins)

On day five Cristiana took us to the Questura in downtown Trieste – the Italian police station – the first step for registering my stay with the intent of remaining longer than the Schengen Agreement would allow a US citizen. I’m sure there is no way we could have so easily navigated this first step without her! As an EU Citizen, Mark doesn’t need this step (he has a different process which begins next week). It wasn’t until after Mark had spontaneously snapped this shot of us that Cristiana whispered to him that it was illegal to take photos inside the Questura…fortunately no officer noticed and he remains free for now.


Wednesday, January 25

After a beautiful Santa Croce sunrise, we headed into Trieste with Cristiana, Sonia (her mother), and of course Penny (their puppy who is perfectly happy to sleep in the car while we deal with bureaucrats).

We obtained more stamps on documents. This seems to be an obsession– all documents are stamped, often several times. Now we’ve made our 1st attempt at getting Mark’s EU documents to the Italian Anagrafe/Commune to obtain extended Italian residency. I say our 1st attempt, as it is likely to lead to more. So, while we wait (they say 3-4 days, but Cristiana laughs), we’ll visit museums, castles, and pizzerias.

Above Trieste sits the San Giusto Castle (Castello di San Giusto), a 15th century castle and fort that has now been converted into a museum. This photo is just outside, overlooking the bay of Trieste and Adriatic Sea. One enters by crossing over the wooden drawbridge that still functions.

Inside, along with furnishings of that time period, the beautiful painted ceilings, and ornately carved fireplace mantels and frames, there is also the fascinating Armory Museum.

My knight next to an historic knight


Friday, January 27— Museo Rivoltella, Trieste

We spent the day at the Museo Rivoltella, founded in 1872 by Baron Pasquale Revoltella who donated his palace and art to the city of Trieste. They had a fantastic exhibition of “I Macchiaioli,” a group of revolutionary artists of the last half of the 19th century who abandoned the historical and mythological scenes of Neoclassicism and Romanticism for more immediate and realistic subjects, exquisitely painting the daily life of the common folk of their time. We will return to see the main part of this exhibit as we had exhausted ourselves (requiring gelato) on this fabulous exhibit.


Saturday, January 29

Aquileia (Province of Udine, Region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia)

Cristiana and Sonia took us to the small town and large excavation site of Aquileia (founded by the Romans in 180 BC), now with a population of 3,500 but having had a population of 100,000 inhabitants and a major Roman center more than 2k years ago (prior to having been sacked by Attila the Hun in 452 AD). This area is a truly magnificent area with ongoing archeologic digs showing the evidence of one civilization building on top of another. The Basilica, Baptistry, and Archeologic Museum display amazing sculptures, exquisite mosaic floors, and architecture, as well as evidence of their other remarkable advancements like their surgical tools and the pipes used for running water.

I’d really love to know more about what kinds of surgeries were done with these tools and what were the outcomes. How were physicians seen by the Romans?

The museum states these are from the 1-4th centuries A.D. There were lancets, forceps, spatulas, needles, and catheters. They are labeled as general surgical tools as well as for ophthalmology. They are made of bronze, iron, and enamel found on the sites here in Aquileia.


Treviso, Veneto Region, Italy

We spent 4 wonderful days wandering through this lovely walled city with its cobblestone streets, canals reminiscent of Venice, exquisitely designed store fronts, coffee bars, restaurants, and of course grand churches with Renaissance art and fabulous museums (our favorite was Il Museo Luigi Bailo, but in all fairness the Casa da Noal was not open during our stay). This city had been recommended by Martina, my Italian tutor who grew up in this region, and it far exceeded expectations.

Porto San Tomaso is the northern gate of the Roman wall that has surrounded this city for nearly 2k years, and it is possible to take a lovely walk on top of this wall that oversees the city. Unfortunately large sections were bombed by the Allies in WWII, leaving us with complicated feelings.

When I leave a city with a to-do list of what I want to visit upon my return, it is telling. This city left a strong impression and we must return to see the Casa da Noal, wander more neighborhoods, and taste more tiramisù.

Speaking of that incredible dessert, Treviso is known as the city where Tiramisù was first created. Yes, I know, there is a bit of a debate with the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region who also claim the first recipe, but the Accademia del Tiramisù has come down on the side of Treviso, so I’ll go with that… although I expect to hear a strong objection from my friends from the neighboring region. When I lived in Chicago in the ’80s and early 90’s, my judgement of restaurants in Little Italy was always about their tiramisù, so this was a special treat for me. As I said, I’ll need to return to taste more!


More exploring of Friuli-Venezia Giulia with our wonderful hosts: The National WWI memorial, the 9-point star shaped city of Palmanova, and the beautiful town of Cividale del Friuli.

And Mark loves his pizza!


Verona: 2 weeks in the City of Love and Venerdì Gnocolar

Arriving on Valentine’s Day, we stayed in a beautiful part of the old town, near the Verona Arena, built by the Romans in 30 A.D., it holds 22,000 people and is still used for concerts and operas during the summer.

Castlevecchio— the gothic castle and bridge over the Adige River built during the Scaligeri Dynasty that ruled Verona and much of surrounding area during the middle ages.

The Piazza just in front of the Arena- lovely outdoor cafes.

Venerdì Gnocolar: Verona’s Pre-Lent Carnevale to celebrate Gnochi! This was quite a parade, but prior to the start we walked around the parked floats just outside the Arena.

Yes, that’s France’s Macron boxing it out with Italy’s Meloni.

And, the requisite Elvis float.

I love the architecture and am impressed when old and beautiful palaces have been turned into museums, or in one case in Verona, into a high school. How fun would that make going to school?
Not sure how Mark caught me smiling here…I’m absolutely freaked out being at the top of this palace and overlooking Piazza Erbe in Verona.

…and then there’s the occasional humorous statue. Here we have a beleaguered hunchback holding up another statue for hundreds of years.


Day Trips from Verona:

Verona is centrally located in the north of Italy and allows for lots of day excursions. We visited Mantova, Peschiera del Garda, Sirmione, and Trento, as well as extended ourselves in Verona itself further out from the old town area where we are staying. So…lots more palaces, castles, and churches full of wonderful art and architecture. Since it was late February, the crowds and tourists were minimal, but it may not have been the best weather for the lake district and we definitely would like to return when boat rides around the lakes are available. We are also hitting some air quality issues. I’m not sure the source of this beyond the obvious (industry, traffic congestion, climate change) and hope it is time limited. Seeing these wonderful historic sites emphasizes the need to care for our surroundings and our planet. One impression that I am also left with, is how much work the Italians do to care for their historic sites.

Mozart played at 14 years old in this beautiful theater in Mantova that is still used today for performances. Nothing going on today, but it would be fabulous to return one day to hear a classical performance in this majestic theater.

Below is the 13th century Scaligero Castle in Sirmione. Climbing on the terraces of this one was even more harrowing than in Verona. I never had a fear of heights before, but travel brings out new sensations.

We loved the draw bridges (and we’re thinking of having one installed in front of our Santa Fe home, if we can get it past the HOA architectural review committee…how hard could that be?).

And here we see the impressive workers keeping this precious old castle clean and repaired. I asked the one who was spotting them from below if they were paid highly for this dangerous work. He told me “No, but at least it’s fun!” Clearly he doesn’t have my issues.

The Buonconsiglio Castle Museum (below) in Trento was developed over centuries, with each new owner making their own additions and remodeling. It is not laid out in the orderly fashion of the typical French castle and fortunately there were plenty of docents directing us to passageways and hidden areas, including the prison area, that would’ve been impossible to find without their help. The frescoes and paintings inside were spectacular.


L’AVVENTURA BUROCRATICOSUCCESS! (but not without struggle)

Many of you may want to skip this one, and I can’t blame you. Just scroll down to the next section (once it appears).

Upon return from Verona, I had to return to the Questura to show my new status given Mark’s residency, and begin the process for mine. Cristiana was not available, so we did this on our own, but all went well and my Italian was sufficient to accomplish what we needed (after what felt like an entire day at the DMV). I will return next week to give my fingerprints and then link my residency number with Mark’s at the Commune for the final step.

Then…the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale. This is the part that gives us Italian national health insurance. We obtained this yesterday and were assigned a physician. We celebrated today with a huge all-you-can-eat Sushi lunch with Cristiana and Sonia (with Penny, their dog, under the table…she loves salmon! and Cristiana is a pro at sneaking it to her). This photo is our overlooking Trieste Bay in our attempt to walk off some of our celebration lunch.

I will spare you the bloody details of visiting various offices and encountering different levels of competencies, misdirections, and a system that at one point could not accept my country of birth (the USA) despite using all of the various ways of writing and abbreviating the name. Pity I come from such an obscure country. We left that office empty handed, went to another similar office in a nearby town, and they had the same problem. But fortunately, a very persistent worker tried every combination slowly and discovered that the system has the US listed as “United States of Americ.” (Not my typo, theirs). The work around was successful.

Anybody remember the 1985 sci-fi, absurdist, comedy “Brazil” with Robert DeNiro in which, among other things, a typo creates an unstoppable chain of events? It was written and directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam. I’m guessing Mr. Gilliam has dealt with Italian bureaucracy.


VENEZIA (or Venice, as we call it): Unsurpassed splendor and charm in the city without cars

I first visited Venice in 1978 and celebrated my 22nd birthday and college graduation in San Marco with friends. It was magical then and remains so now. This city without cars (oh, do I love the lack of cars!) is full of both awe-inspiring history and current vibrancy. It separates itself from cities worldwide for its beauty intermixed with the grittiness of everyday life, and is always a work-in-progress to stave off the impact of time, weather, and the water that gives this city splendor, transportation, and occasional floods.

Historic hunger is truly satisfied by visits to Doge’s Palace with its notorious Bridge of Sighs and prison below, St. Mark’s Basilica, Rialto Bridge, Campanile di San Marco, and Correr Civic Museum. But additionally we enjoyed the more modern Guggenheim Museum, a current international modern art exhibit in the old shipyard district, and the fabulous glass blowing on Island of Murano.

And, of course, we had to visit the Museo di Manicomio, a museum on the grounds of what used to be a psychiatric asylum on the island of San Servolo. This hospital ran for over 200 years– first briefly serving physically injured soldiers, then soon was transformed in 1725 into an asylum for the mentally ill until closed in 1978 following the “Basaglia Law.” Franco Basaglia was an Italian psychiatrist, neurologist, and professor, known as the most influential Italian psychiatrist of the 20th century for dismantling psychiatric asylums in favor of “Democratic Psychiatry” which promoted the humane re-introduction of the mentally ill into society.

These leaves are part of an exhibit to honor the patients, their age of entry to the asylum at the top, first name in the center, and the number of days hospitalized below. Quite interesting to me was also the history of the over 200,000 patients whose mental illness was a result of Pellagra, caused by a nutritional insufficiency of Niacin due to a diet primarily of maize, common in the 19th century countryside and impoverished areas worldwide, including Italy. Patients would recover over months with the hospital food, but sadly after returning to their homes and previous diets, Pellagra would again strike before the etiology was clear. But now these buildings and adjacent gardens are home to Venice International University and we saw many students wandering the grounds and gorgeous views of Venice where the mentally ill once lived.

ADDENDUM: Waking this morning I realized that I had omitted a very important Venetian detail– The Spritz Select created in 1920 in Venice. Its slightly older cousin, the Aperol Spritz, originally from Padua and created in 1919, is sure to have the superior publicist, for it is much better known and therefore ordered, but that does not make it always preferable. And the Compari Spritz, another Venuta Region creation and older still, dating back to just after the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, is often slightly higher in alcoholic content. But if ever in Venice, or in a well stocked bar anywhere, try this special of Venice. It is less sweet than the Aperol Spritz, less alcoholic than the Compari, but shares that beautiful ruby red color of its oldest cousin. And if ever offered without the obligatory plump green olive, turn it away, as the eating of this olive prior to sipping this spritz is a must for the correct gustatory experience. In fact, some say that the Spritz Select is not just the drink of Venice, it represents the Venetian lifestyle itself.


PASQUA (Easter) 2023

Italians have a saying: Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi!

It means that Christmas is spent with your parents (or family), but Easter is spent with whomever you want. And we did! Cristiana and Sonia made us a wonderful Easter meal with squid and octopus in a tomato sauce on polenta (likely has an official Italian name, but I’m writing this without Cristiana’s help) and more contorni (side dishes) than I can list…and finished off with a fabulous gelato torta made of specific gelato to accomodate Sonia’s diabetes. Now, you may think this was a compromise, but you’d be wrong. It was delicious!! Many thanks to our hostesses.


The next chapters: We have now embarked on the next phase. We will travel around for 3 1/2 months before returning to our Italian residence in Santa Croce, Trieste and our hostesses will be vacationing in the US! Fortunately, winter is ending and we can leave behind our winter clothes, allowing us to travel by train with just our smaller carry-on luggage. It is quite a relief to travel light.


PADOVA (Padua to the English speaking world)

We fell in love with this city. We were prepared to just go in, see the main sites, and move on as we had erroneously convinced ourselves that large cities were just not our favorite. Then came Padova. Why our love for this city?

I can narrow it down to two main things. First, the layout of the central part of the city is primarily pedestrian only— so no cars, no horns, no traffic noise, which lends itself to a calmer and more relaxed experience. The piazzas are large, beautiful, full of life and close together such that strolling from one piazza to the next is easy and enjoyable.

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia-first woman in the world to graduate from a university- 1678

The second striking part of the old central area is the dominance of the University of Padova, established in 1222, celebrating its 800th birthday last year. Of course, unlike US college campuses which are sprawling grounds, the University of Padova is intermixed within the central historic area. You have the sense of a city full of students, professors, researchers and all the accoutrements of bookstores, cafes, funky stores, and inexpensive restaurants mixed into the modern and luxurious shops of any beautiful, modern city.

The Grand Tour of the Sciences was a special treat and a wonderful find. We visited the main campus housed in Palace Bo, saw the original large law auditorium, the world’s first permanent anatomy theater, and heard the story of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (picture of her statue above). Copernicus obtained his medical degree at the University of Padua in 1503 and Galileo taught here for 18 years (1592-1610). Galileo was so popular that he had to use the largest auditorium (at the time usually reserved for law courses) but, as the story goes, he was a bit short and therefore the students built a large wooden podium with stairs to see and hear him better as can be seen in this picture.

We then moved on to the first university linked botanical garden and museum with a palm planted in 1535. We were particularly delighted with the museum of the history of physics (Giovanni Poleni Museum), then moved on to the museum of machines (Enrico Bernardi Museum of Machines– part of the engineering department).

Here’s Mark enjoying a Spritz after a long day of university and museum touring. Needless to say, we did not plan enough time in this impressive city and hope to return in the not-too-distant future.


UMBRIA AND TUSCANY (bottomline: 16 days is too short)

This was not exactly a whirlwind piece, but we could’ve stayed longer and hope to return. We started in Orvieto (Umbria) as a base to also visit Castiglione del Lago and Montepulciano (Tuscany)– all fabulous on their own for medieval architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and current vibrancy of shops and restaurants. We then spent five days in Città della Pieve, a small town in Umbria that was one of our favorites and where friends have a lovely home and we could enjoy home cooking. We also enjoyed a local soccer game, and spent a brief day walking the streets of Perugia before moving on to six days in Lucca (Tuscany). Lucca has the most enjoyable city wall that was transformed into a walking park by Napolean’s sister (Elisa Bonaparte, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany) that encircles the historical center and became our daily morning walk.

Most folks have a picture in their head of the beautiful rolling hills of Umbria and Tuscany with scattered hilltop villages and their medieval walls and narrow cobblestone streets, and our trip did not disappoint, so I’ll post more pictures than words. Wandering the streets, gorging on fabulous meals, and enjoying daily gelato or pastries is delightful.


THE LIGURIAN COAST, THE ITALIAN RIVIERA, CINQUE TERRE AND BEYOND–So many names for this beautiful coastline.

Typically I wait until we’ve left an area to write and post pictures, but this gorgeous part of Italy requires me to post as I go and two months here is just too long to wait.

We are spending the first month in Rapallo (as recommended by Eric and Reem) and we couldn’t be more pleased with this decision. It is, of course, an easy boat or train ride to the many small cities on the coast and so far we have visited three out five of the Cinque Terre (having seen all by sea) as well as sailing down to the end of the peninsula at Porto Venere and today walked from Rapallo to the lovely coastal town of Santa Margarita Ligure.

Terraced vineyards were visible by sea along the Cinque Terre coastline.

I really can’t say enough though about how much we enjoy being in Rapallo itself. We truly could stay here a year it is so lovely. We even have our favorite bar where they have wine “on tap” and fill your bottles with local wine to take home at a fabulous price. We will definitely be back.

Good to know that Porto Venere has its principals! We, of course abided by the rules and loved strolling through this sweet coastal city.

Brett encouraged us to go to an Italian professional soccer (“calcio”) game and that, too was a fabulous recommendation. Genova beat Ascoli (from the Marche region of Italy) 2 to 1. We were enthralled by the non-stop singing of the fans (which was similar to the pro games we saw in Argentina…can’t imagine American fans singing throughout a football game!)