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!