Reflecting on the “Final” Move

After living in Lucca, Italy for three years, my husband and I will be moving back to the United States. My husband was offered a job in Houston, Texas. We are both excited and nervous about this next stage in our lives.

For the first time in my life, this may not be a temporary settlement. This is a somewhat scary thought for me personally. Previously, I lived in multiple states (Iowa – when I was a baby but I still count it, Wisconsin, Washington DC – technically a district not a state, Missouri, Maryland & Massachusetts); attended academic courses in England, the Balkans – mainly Serbia, & Switzerland; and lived overseas in Italy.

Actually the address I had in Lucca for three years was the longest standing address I resided at since I was seventeen years old. I’ve gotten quite use to this mobile lifestyle. You learn quickly not to collect “things,” as you will have more to eventually pack if you do. I’ve also never had much chance to be bored with my surroundings either.

However, the idea of a long-term settlement means that my husband and I can purchase a house. I am about ten years behind all my friends from school who own homes or have been working toward that for years. Having a home to us isn’t just a next step though but an opportunity to finally have all our belongings in one place. I have boxes I haven’t looked inside of for at least ten years. It’ll be like Christmas morning when my husband and I actually open every box and piece of luggage. It will also be nice to travel some place (yes…traveling will most definitely continue) and have a home to come back to when the trip concludes.

Plus, living a nomadic life has at times been very lonely. I’ve met amazing people everywhere I’ve been, and when it comes time for me to move to my next destination, we always say that we will keep in touch (along with maybe a plan to visit), but most of the time that does not happen. With social media being what it is today, I always expect that it will be so easy to stay in touch and am disappointed when it still does not happen.

I am currently at that stage, right before the move, where I get a bit weepy, as I reminisce on all the memories and moments I’ve experienced in that particular location, but this time it is different. I find myself worried about how I will adjust to normal everyday living in the States. I’ve only been living outside of the USA for three years, but I feel as though I’ve missed so much. Things have changed. American politics has taken an interesting turn, Game of Thrones is the television show of choice for many, and everyone seems to be addicted to Pokemon GO – all this while I’ve been wandering ancient streets and sipping cappuccini. I have faith that I can catch up on all the things I’ve missed, but how do I handle the knowledge that most people will not care about what I have been doing and what they have missed.

I’ve enjoyed a certain motto over the last few years: “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.” Does that mean that when you stop wandering, that is when you are lost? That is how I am feeling.

I know how lucky I have been. I’ve lived an amazing, adventurous life, and I’m only in my thirties. I was recently in a small-ish town in the Ukraine, where I spoke with another American woman who has lived around the world. She told me, “like all places you move to, there is an adjustment period.” She went on to saying that it may take longer this time to adjust, but that I will do just fine. However, she warned me not to lose who I am, being a  “a citizen of the world” as we call it. She stressed to me that I must take what I have learned from my time abroad and use it to strengthen myself both emotionally and intellectually. I hope to do just that. There is no fear. Only hope…

Arrivederci Italia!

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Lots of Love As We Head into 2016!

Lucca, Italy

Lucca, Italy

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!

We unfortunately did not get to spend the holidays with our family and friends in the United States this year. We knew it would be a little difficult to be away from everyone at such a special time of year, so we took a little holiday R&R break and escaped to Portugal, which was wonderful! We are definitely feeling refreshed and ready for the new year – whatever it might bring.

Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

I can hardly believe that my husband and I have been living in Lucca, Italy for almost three years. Time really does fly by sometimes. One of the main reasons that we chose to make the big move to Italy was our love of travel. Living in Italy has given us such accessibility to other parts of the world. 2015 certainly provided us with many amazing adventures. We explored 12 different countries, which includes visiting Italian cities outside of Lucca as well. (Find more details on my Travel Page, which I am constantly updating.) Our three favorite travel adventures this year were taking our first big cruise (on the Mediterranean), participating in a photographic tour through Cuba (hooray! Americans can go to Cuba legally!) and experiencing our first World’s Fair Exposition in Milan, Italy. A personal favorite moment of 2015 for me was when my husband surprised me with tickets to see Puccini’s La Boheme at the La Scala Opera House in Milan. It was definitely a dream come true.

In the midst of all the travel, we welcomed my in-laws for a visit to Lucca. It is always nice to show family and friends our wonderful home and all the things that we love about Lucca and living in Italy. We were thrilled that they came. We also hosted Thanksgiving again for the third year and had a wonderful turnout of about 20 people. There were many new faces this year, and we enjoyed it very much.

While we saw every travel moment as an adventure, some of the trips were actually work-related. My husband participated in 5 conferences this year in Berlin (Germany), Arizona (USA), Zaragoza (Spain), Helsinki (Finland) and Budapest (Hungary). He has had a very busy year. All of the conferences he’s been to recently have been very productive, and he’s working on multiple different projects.  One really successful one has been patent inventor and assignee disambiguation (basically, knowing that “MIT” and “Mass. Inst. of Tech.” refer to the same thing), which is really important to do accurately if you want to understand how universities and companies combine different skills to create technology or how scientists move around the world.  He’s solved that problem for 4 million patents worldwide, and there’s a lot of interest in using his results!

I too have been working. I completed my work on the Introduction to Network Science book that I was helping to edit. Then I signed a contract to do some work for IMT – School for Advanced Studies Lucca, where I also edit publications. I am very fortunate to have these opportunities. I never for one second saw myself as an editor, but I rather enjoy it most of the time. I will say, however, that working from home has its difficulties. It is easy to lose one’s motivation and concentration at home. It can also be difficult to spend so much time within the house. I started consistently running miles outside every week just to get a bit of fresh air. It not only provided the break I needed, but it turns out that I actually started to enjoy running. Who knew that would happen?!

We have no idea what is in store for us in 2016. My husband’s contract at IMT-Lucca is ending at the end of May. He is currently applying for jobs in the United States, as well as other places in the world. However, he has also been offered an extension of his current position if we choose to remain in Italy. We are going to let the Lord and fate guide us these next months. Please keep us in your prayers as we may have some big decisions to make. Whatever happens, we know that we are blessed with wonderful friends and family who continue to support us. We love you all very much!

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Florence at Christmas time – December 2015

Duomo at Night

TreeFlorence, Italy is just a short trip from Lucca, so some friends and I decided to spend a full day there, enjoying the holiday festivities. The Duomo or main Cathedral in Florence is spectacular on a normal day, but it sparkles at night now with the large Christmas tree in front of it. I don’t know if I have ever seen anything so beautiful. There is also a large nativity scene in front of the cathedral as well (pictured at the bottom of this post).

The streets were all decorated with lights, and we were pleased to discover a few light shows throughout town as well. The one pictured below we just stumbled upon, but the big one is displayed on Ponte Vecchio. Don’t be fooled though. Just because it is the holiday season doesn’t mean that the light show will have a holiday theme. However, it is remarkable nonetheless and shows a deep appreciation for art. Pictures or videos just don’t do it justice. You have to experience it.

Lights

We managed to catch one of the last nights of the Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce. It was a great place to try different holiday foods like Hungarian Chimney Cake and German Apple Strudel. You can wash it down with some mulled wine. When you have eaten all you can, then it is time to shop. There were so many unique gifts to be found there.

There is nothing like Christmas trees, lights and markets to put one in the holiday spirit. Buon Natale!

nativity

ADVENTURES IN ITALY 2014 (July)

ASSISI, UMBRIA DSC_3145a Home of Saint Francis, Assisi is one of the most beautiful towns we have visited during our time in Italy. It is not a short trip from Lucca, Italy, but it is a scenic one by train. We only had the day, so we once again, as done on previous travels, relied on the free walking audio guide by Rick Steves to show us the highlights. To minimize travel time, we purchased bus tickets at the train station T stand in Assisi that took us directly into town. We started by walking around the old amphitheater and then went inside the Cathedral of Saint Rufino. From there we headed to the Basilica of Saint Clara. Unfortunately the Basilica of Saint Clara, which houses her and her sister Agnes’ remains, was closed at the moment of our visit but we took the time there to learn about the life of Saint Clara, who gave up wealth to become a follower of Saint Francis and devote her life to God. Then we continued on to the Piazza del Comune where we visited the Temple of Minerva. Following a brief lunch break, we finally came to the main highlight of the visit which was the Basilica of Saint Francis, which now holds his remains. Inside the Basilica are works of art relating the story of Saint Francis as well as many other Biblical scenes. Since the scenery surrounding Assisi boasts of stunning landscapes, we chose to take the approximately 30-minute walk, instead of the bus ride, to the train station to enjoy as much of the scenery as possible. I highly recommend the walk.

SIENA, TOSCANA

Il Duomo di SienaWhile Siena is accessible by train from Florence, my girlfriend and I decided that we would rather spend a little extra money and take a tour bus with a guided tour. We went with a company I had used before called Come and See Italy. This tour would take us from Lucca to Siena where we would have a guided walking tour and then some free time. The guided tour was decent as she talked a lot about the Siena neighborhoods that compete in the annual Il Palio di Siena. Il Palio is a horse race that occurs in Piazza del Campo every July 2 and August 16. The walking tour finished at the Duomo just as the magnificent church bells were starting. Since we had some free time, we decided to check out the inside of the Duomo. This is a must see as the inside of the Duomo boasts works of art by Michelangelo, Pisano, Donatello, and Bernini to name just a few. As we headed back to Piazza del Campo, we found a nice little spot for lunch called 4 Cantoni. Our Come and See Italy tour would conclude with a short stop in San Gimignano on the way back to Lucca.

SAN GIMIGNANO, TOSCANA

DSC_3386aThere are two things I love about San Gimignano: the views and the gelato. After spending the morning in Siena, we headed to San Gimignano, the final stop. Here there was no walking tour or guide. We were shown how to make our way into the town from the parking area and then left to our own devices. We wandered and found some amazing scenic overlooks, took lots of pictures, and then headed to our main San Gimignano target, which was the “World’s Best Gelato.” We knew that we had found the right spot, because there was a long line outside Gelateria Dondoli. This did not discourage us, and we were rewarded. The line moved fast. The clerks inside were almost too efficient. ThereDSC_3380a were dozens of flavors, and it was hard to pick what we wanted in a timely fashion, but I don’t think that either of us were disappointed by our choices. We sat in the shade with a beautiful view of the many towers that make up San Gimignano and savored every delicious moment. Afterwards we still had some time left before we had to head back down to our bus, so we wandered the streets some more and took in all the magnificent towers that have stood for hundreds of years. It is a stunning town.

Arrivederci 2014-Benvenuto 2015

Buon Anno!

This holiday season I decided to follow in my mother-in-law’s footsteps by not coming out with a Christmas message until after Christmas. She said that people don’t have a lot of time before Christmas to sit and read letters anyway, and I agree if for no other reason than the fact that I have been too busy to write my letter.

My husband and I have been very fortunate to spend the holidays in the United States with friends and family. It has been our first trip back since we moved to Italy a year and a half ago, and we have been having a wonderful time. Being back makes us realize some of the things that we have missed since moving to Italy. We have been eating lots of Mexican food, and I have definitely been taking advantage of the fact that I can wash and dry a whole load of laundry in less than two hours. We both also drove cars for the first time in a year and a half. Overall, we are just enjoying spending time with our parents, siblings, niece and nephew. We have had so much fun talking and laughing with family that I have lost my voice.

Soon we will be returning back to our home in Italy. It has been an interesting year living in Italy. It is a simpler lifestyle. The main focuses are family and food not work like in the United States. It is a slower lifestyle where you do actually take time to smell the flowers (and the pastries). Lucca is a walled city that has converted their ancient walls into a park that you can walk on. Sometimes I would walk on the walls and think to myself that no place is more amazing than Lucca. We feel so blessed to have this amazing opportunity living in Italy no matter what struggles we have been faced with.

My husband continues to amaze me. He has embraced living in Italy so much that it almost seems like he was always meant to live there. He speaks and understands Italian far better than I do and has also started dressing more like an Italian. He continues to create new masterpieces in the kitchen which recently included making pasta from scratch. We hosted Thanksgiving for the second year in Lucca, and the turkey came out even better than last year. My husband spent the whole day cooking the turkey and his toil was to our benefit as it was the best turkey I had ever had.

My husband continues to work full time at IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca. He has spent the last year continuing work on using complex network methods to understand innovation networks, with about ten people at his institute working with him on linking the patent data he’s worked with to other databases they have access to.  He has about five papers that are partially completed on a wide range of topics right now including geolocation (putting millions of pins on a map based on patent addresses), disambiguation (determining that “MIT” and “Mass. Inst. of Tech.” refer to the same institution), predicting collaboration between scientific authors, detecting structure in correlation networks, and understanding citations within or between firms.  This year has been very productive, and the fruit of all that labor will be seen in multiple publications next year!

While my husband is at work, I have been working from home on a project with a professor from Northeastern University. He is writing an Introduction to Network Science textbook. The online version is available here. The hard copy may or may not be coming out in 2015. It has been an enjoyable project.

At the beginning of 2014, I found a English book club in Lucca. Everyone that knows me knows that I love reading. When I lived in Washington, DC and then in Boston, I enjoyed participating in book clubs. I love having people to discuss books with. I find that I appreciate books more when I can discuss them and be faced with different viewpoints. The book club in Lucca has also helped me meet a few ex-pats that I can spend time with and share experiences beyond books .

We have enjoyed the company of many friends throughout 2014. We have shared Lucca, wine, and our home and loved every minute of it. We find that we explore more of our beautiful town and country when we have visitors. In 2014, we watched fireworks in Pisa for New Years, stood among a million people from all over the world in Rome for the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, wore masks through the streets of Venice for Carnivale, threw confetti for Carnivale in Viareggio, ate our way through Bologna, watched fishies at the aquarium in Genova, listened to the bells of the Duomo di Siena, relaxed along the waters of Cinque Terre, ate the worlds best gelato in San Gimignano, visited Saint Francis in Assisi, listened to multiple Puccini concerts in Lucca, and explored the surrounding areas of Lucca. Even with all of these adventures there is still much more of Italy to see. We look forward to seeing a bit more in 2015.

Other than exploring Italy, my husband and I had a few wonderful adventures outside of Italy as well. In January, we visited friends in Berlin, where we wore our heavy winter coats for the only time that season. In the summer, we joined my husband’s family for our annual trip that included a weekend in Istanbul, Turkey followed by a safari in the Serengeti in Tanzania to view the wildebeest migration. At the end of the summer, we visited friends in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Russia. In October, we traveled to the beaches of Normandy in France. I will continue to write more about all of these individual travel adventures on our Travel Page. As we continue to check off items on our travel bucket list, we also continue to add items. We have definitely learned this year that there is more to see and do in the world than we had ever imagined previously. We hope that 2015 will bring just as many travel adventures as 2014 did.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful 2014! May you all be blessed with love and joy throughout 2015!

SHOPPING – IKEA (PISA)

I’ve been pretty happy with shopping in Lucca, Italy. If I want certain vegetables, I go to the many vegetable stands. If I want a cut of meat, I go to the many butchers. If I need medicine, I go to the many pharmacies. If I need shampoo, I can get that at the local grocery store or store called Ipersoap. However, I have had the hardest time finding affordable housewares like bedding, furniture, cookware, etc. There isn’t a local equivalent to Target or Walmart.

When I first moved here I knew there was an IKEA in Florence, but that always seemed like a long distance (an hour and twenty minutes each way) to go for a few items. However, in the last few months, IKEA has opened a store in Pisa, which is only 30 minutes from Lucca. Last weekend was really nice, so my husband and I decided to finally go to IKEA.

The train is less than 30 minutes from Lucca to Pisa. Across the street from the train station is a free ten-minute shuttle to IKEA that runs every 30 minutes. They have a visible schedule online. The IKEA in Pisa is extremely large, so it is easy to spend a full day there. If you don’t have a full day to spend there, carry a specific list and maybe skip getting Swedish meatballs at the very crowded cafeteria unless you want to experience the designated smoking room. I’ve been to IKEA stores in the US and none of them have been so clean and nice. The bathrooms are amazing. I don’t have a child, but if I did I would love the fact that the changing table had a mobile above it in the bathroom. IKEA also has storage lockers so you can lock up some of your belongings you don’t want to carry around with you. I was just really impressed with all of the conveniences they provided to make you enjoy your shopping trip.

My only complaint about this store is a complaint I have had with other IKEA stores. Once you pass a section of the store, it is hard to go back to it. There is a certain flow to the store. We made the mistake of thinking we could go back to the cafeteria after shopping and before paying for our purchases. We wanted to make last minute decisions on what we had collected over some meatballs. We had to walk all the way back through the store to go to the cafeteria.

The check-out process was smooth. We were able to skip long lines by going to one of the do-it-yourself lines as long as we paid with credit card. Then we hopped on the free shuttle back to the train station. All the bus driver asked for was to see our receipt so make sure you have that handy.

Everything about this trip was smooth and painless, except that we bought too much stuff and then had to carry it home from the train station.

ADVENTURES IN ITALY 2014 (April-May)

CINQUE TERRE, LINGUIA

RIOMAGGIORE

Cinque Terre is one of my favorite places in Italy. It is made up of 5 coastal towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterrosso). You can get to these towns by a boat (from La Spezia via Portovenere) and train. You can also hike on a trail that connects the towns. It is perhaps less crowded than some parts of the Amalfi coast which are comparable in beauty.

Unfortunately, we chose to visit Cinque Terre on a busy holiday weekend, so the closest accommodations we could get to Cinque Terre is Portovenere. We stayed at the Royal Sporting Hotel. This hotel offers spa treatments including Turkish baths. This is where I had my first (and most likely my last) Turkish bath. I love heat and sitting in a sauna, but Turkish baths are the extreme. It was not as relaxing as I thought it would be. However, I relaxed plenty on the beautiful ocean view balcony. Most of the rooms at this hotel have ocean view balconies.

VERNAZZA

VERNAZZA

From there, it was easy to take the ferry to Cinque Terre. We had amazing weather. We had a lunch picnic on the rocks in Riomaggiore, met other some fascinating people from South Africa in Vernazza and on the last day we took a final stroll through Portovenere. On our stroll, we had the most delicious dish for lunch. We stopped in La Bottega del Pesto. They served us a dish called Trofie al Pesto into a large cup that we could eat on the go. I would not go to this area without trying Trofie.

ROME, LAZIO

VATICAN

VATICAN

A big event happened in the Catholic church in 2014. Pope Francis canonized two former popes, John Paul II and John XXIII, in a ceremony at St. Peter’s in Vatican City on April 27. Close to a million people made the journey to Rome for the ceremony. My husband and I did the same.

SPANISH STEPS

SPANISH STEPS

We spent the day before the ceremony touring Rome. We were prepared for a rainy weekend but got mostly sunny skies instead. We found Rome a very walkable city. From our hotel near the train station, we walked to the Colosseum and continued in the steps of Julius Caesar in the Roman Forum. We used Rick Steves’ free audio guide on our phones as we walked through the Forum. We then used another of Rick Steves’ free audio guides at the Pantheon, which was extremely crowded. We then climbed the Spanish Steps and had over-priced drinks at Hotel Hassler. It was worth it though to imagine that I was sitting in the same spot as Audrey Hepburn did during the filming of Roman Holiday. We then continued the adventure with one last stop to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain. It was a full day for sure.

TREVI FOUNTAIN

TREVI FOUNTAIN

The next morning we got up very early to start our walk to Vatican City. We got as far as Castel Sant’Angelo (still a good distance from St. Peter’s Square) before the we hit the massive crowds. So many people from so many different countries gathered together to hear Pope Francis honor previous beloved popes. I had never seen anything like it. The ceremony was beautiful though the rain that was predicted finally came. Once the ceremony concluded the crowds left Vatican City, so we ventured to St. Peter’s Square. There was still a large line of people waiting to get into St. Peter’s Basilica, so we did not go inside, but it was nice to just walk around the empty square and look at the amazing architecture.

GENOA, LINGUIA

PALAZZO REALE

PALAZZO REALE

During the month of May, Trenitalia was running a 2 for 1 deal on non-regional train tickets on Saturdays. We utilized this deal by taking a day trip to Genoa (Genova). In the morning we took a tour of Palazzo Reale. We took our time and had the place to ourselves for most of the morning. The gardens are beautiful but the beauty is diminished by modern development right up to the property line. I imagine that at one point there was nothing between the palace gardens and the ocean waters but now there is.

After visiting Palazzo Reale, we took a walk along the waterfront. We came upon the aquarium (Acquario di Genova), which is the largest in Italy. I can’t even remember the last time I went to an aquarium. I enjoyed it immensely. I stared at the sharks for a long time.

AQUARIUM

AQUARIUM

After the aquarium, we walked to the San Lorenzo Cathedral, Santo Stefano Church and Christopher Columbus’ Home. Our last stop was to sit and people watch in Piazza de Ferrari before taking the train back home.

BOLOGNA, EMILIA-ROMAGNO

NEPTUNE'S FOUNTAIN

NEPTUNE’S FOUNTAIN

We continued taking advantage of the 2 for 1 train deal by traveling to the region of Emilia-Romagno. I had two reasons for wanting to see Bologna. The first being that I had read a lot about the delicious foods found in there. There are very few times in my life when I can honestly say that I explored a new city for the food. This was definitely one of those times. It was worth the trip. The food was in fact amazing. We had lunch at Tamburini near Piazza Maggiore and the Neptune’s Fountain (Fonatana di Nettuno). The dining experience was amazing. It was a cafeteria style restaurant where you put what you want on a tray, pay, and then sit down and eat. I, of course, had to try their tortellini (specialty in Bologna) and we shared a carafe of delicious San Giovese wine that was poured from a tap. One day, my house will have wine flowing from a tap.

The Towers

The Towers

My second reason for going to Bologna was to take some pictures of the arcades. The arcades are an architectural covering that continues for miles. (See picture below). We walked for miles and miles in the arcades. They extend outside of the central more active part of Bologna, so it can be a very peaceful walk.

Don’t miss walking through Montagnola Park, climbing Asinelli’s Tower (two towers), and visiting cathedrals like Cathedral of San Pietro, Basilica of San Petronio, and Basilica of Santo Stefano.

ARCADES

ARCADES