Shopping European Bazaars

Our first few weeks in Italy coincided with the beginning of spring military-sponsored European bazaars. Honestly, I trekked over to my first one in Vicenza simply because Harper was fussy and needed a walk. I went in thinking “crocheted toilet paper cozies and toll painted saws”  like I saw back at home but walked out with genuinely cool products–cheeses, wines, cashmere wraps, pottery–from Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Poland. Two weeks later, Aviano Air Force Base held their annual Primavera Bazaar. We made it a family trip and found an airplane hangar’s-worth of goods that can only be found (affordably) if you happen to have access to military installations in Europe. Plus, we found this gorgeous field of poppies…

poppy field

Tips for Shopping European Bazaars

Before I launch into the good stuff (ie: what you can buy), it’s worth offering a few tips. At least in Italy, most of the military installations hold two major bazaars each year–late spring and mid-atutumn. Air Force bases typically trump all overs, having the largest events with the greatest variety of products (all those hangars are okay for planes but absolutely great for shopping!). Logistically-speaking, parking is free, often plentiful, and quite friendly to larger American-spec vehicles. And, as I mentioned earlier, you must have access to the base/post. Money talks in the bazaar but the gate guards aren’t going to let you near it unless you can produce the proper documentation.

Granted each bazaar may be populated with different vendors from season to season, I wanted to at least feature a few of my favorites. From cookie molds to paintings and from wine to furniture, keep an eye out for these types of artists and artisans:

Wine/Beer Barrel Furniture and Wooden Housewares

Wine barrel furniture, cookie molds, wine racks…Holland Handicrafts is one of my favorite vendors. Their old-world cookie molds are made by hand (some are antique) and ring in between about $15 and $75. They make great gifts and come with a cookie recipe. My Wine Collectibles, the furniture and decor portion of their company, offers really cool products upcycled items from wine barrels, beer barrels, and crates.
cookie molds -- European bazaars

shopping european bazaars

Located in Vicenza, Bizzotto Silvano–affectionately called Chicken Man–is one of the places Americans go for high-quality furniture in Italy. Ermanno and his family are really nice people, often offering Prosecco as you poke around in their Rossano Veneto workshop. They also regularly attend both the Vicenza and Aviano bazaars. Prices are not cheap (a table alone run about €2000), but the products are completely handmade of hardwoods. Honestly, I haven’t found anything comparable to Ermanno’s quality in the U.S. If you’re looking for glass, Chicken Man often sells demijohns in every color imaginable. The prices are generally over-inflated (in my opinion), but they often have some of the less common (read: coveted) colors, sizes, and shapes.

Chicken Man

The Bizzottos also create wine racks and showcases made from wine barrels, as well as reclaimed architectural salvage. Since they are made to order, you can fully customize the furniture. Prices vary but typically run €2000-€4000.

barrel rack

Artwork

From pen-and-ink drawings to watercolor paintings to acrylics, many local artists showcase their work at bazaars. You find a few stalls full of tacky velvet paintings (bulldogs playing poker and the like) but most of the art is truly beautiful and original.

What you see below is Cruciani. Honestly, his paintings were some of the most gorgeous I’ve seen at any bazaar ever. All depicted Tuscan scenes…poppies, sunflowers, ancient windows. It was truly stunning. Pricing was a bit staggering when you consider the level of impulse shopping that goes on at a bazaar. Pieces ranged between $300 and $1000 with framing. I have made it a mission to buy a piece (albeit small) of Cruciani before we leave Italy.

original art -- European Bazaars

Wine, Beer, and Cheeses

The most popular vendors at any bazaar would have to be the wine, beer, and cheese stalls, and trust me when I say that there a lot of them. Italian wineries from the Vicenza and Aviano areas truck cases upon cases to the venues, happily pouring samples for anyone old enough who asks for a taste. Beer vendors from Germany and Belgium are a bit more guarded, rarely offering tastings, but it generally works out since the wine loosens everyone up for a buying spree.

One of our favorites at the most recent Primavera Bazaar was the Projito…think Prosecco mojito. Most Italians would scoff at it but it’s really unconventional and tasty on a 99-degree Italian summer day.

wine

If you happen to be shopping any of the European bazaars, make sure you seek out a vendor selling cheeses and pastries from Belgium. If you are a cheese fan, you’ll do well to just pony up and buy all the Italian and Belgian cheeses you can get your hands on.

Glass and Wrought Iron

Marble and wrought iron in Italy are as common as Pergo flooring and aluminum back in the States. If you live here, you probably have a whole home full of Italian marble floors and countertops, and your modest abode still most likely has a huge iron gate out front. It is not wonder, then, that many of us dread going back to cheaper materials. Visiting some of the many wrought iron vendors is a great way to stock up on some pretty, classically-Italian decor. One of my favorites–Wrought Iron Luigi–always visits local bazaars with a wide array of baker’s racks, kitchen islands, small racks of all types (mugs, hats, etc), bookcases, as well as demijohns with traditional stands and toppers. Since many of the vendors regularly visit military installations, you can place a custom order at the bazaar, put down a deposit, and have your item delivered when they’re at your PX/BX next.

demijohns olive jars

wrought iron

Kitschy Decor and Gifts

Admittedly, my tolerance for kitschy knickknacks is low; however, you do run across some items that are purely frivolous and fun from time to time. The metal wine bottle figures below are by an artist named Giuseppe Scala. For someone with a specific hobby or interest, these would make a great gift.
giuseppe scala

Planning for Future Bazaar Visits

To my knowledge, the Fall 2016 bazaar dates for Vicenza have not gone public. According to the Bella Befana Bazaar site, Aviano’s autumn event will be September 30-October 2. If you happen to be traveling in Germany, it’s worth checking their bazaar schedule right now. Many of the larger bases/posts begin autumn bazaar season in early September.

Five Days in Rome with Kids

Piazza Navona

The great thing about living in Italy is the fact that you get to see Italy every single day. That also probably explains why we always choose to visit other countries when we have time to travel. After we returned from Scotland back in February and realized we only have a year or so left here, we made up our minds to see more of Italy in the near future. The Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, Sicily…they’re all on our list but Rome topped it all.  Continue reading

Must-have shoes for Italy in the fall

Whether you’re the form over function type or vice versa, I’ve noticed a really awesome trend among Italians (and Europeans, really) lately. You’re going to see a few stilettos on cobblestones (eek!) but most people–especially the most chic–are opting for lower-heeled or flat shoes and boots. I’m not sure if it’s an extension of NORMCORE or if people are just tired of twisting their ankles but I’ll just say it’s a win for both comfort and style. I’m calling four major styles as your best bets when packing shoes for Italy, especially in fall and winter.  Continue reading

Our visit to Fragonard Parfumeur in Grasse France

One of my favorite things about visiting new places is the scent. Elba Island smells like basil and jasmine. Downtown Vicenza is espresso and brioche. Salzburg is wood smoke and coffee. Istanbul is pipe smoke and spices. Yes, there’s some stench, too, but I prefer to focus upon the good. Based on this fact, it’s probably not surprising that one of the destinations topping my to-do list in France was Fragonard Parfumeur. I’ll be totally up front and tell you that the kids hated it. Eddie wound up taking them out to play near the giant tree out front before we made it halfway. I, on the other hand, had a great time and actually learned so much about fragrance.

fragonard

Continue reading

Our Day in Ljubljana Slovenia

Ljubljana Slovenia May 2014 002I have a love/hate relationship with the map you can access on the seatback TV screen during international flights. It is nice to track your progress, but on eight, ten, twelve (or more)-hour flights, it becomes maddening. Really? We haven’t crossed the entire Atlantic Ocean yet?? As I watched us close in on Italy last May, I began seeing Ljubljana just east. I’ll admit that I had no idea how to pronounce it (Loob-lee-yahn-yuh is pretty close) and I really didn’t know where it was. Fast forward a few days. I looked over the Army MWR calendar and saw a scheduled trip to (you guessed it) Ljubljana, Slovenia. I booked all four of us because…why not?  Continue reading

Ropes Ranch Vicenza: A Little Piece of Texas in Italy

ropes ranch vicenza

One thing Eddie and I have embraced since moving the family to Italy is the importance of giving our family experiences instead of things. Maybe we’re spoilers at heart or maybe it’s a side effect of being old parents, but we’ve always given our kids more than they ever needed. Without closets, you really see how much crap you’ve amassed. The beauty of an experience is its lasting effects. Neither of the kids remember what they got just a few months ago at Christmas. The 6-year-old does, however, look back at her pictures and talk about visiting Ephesus in Turkey and seeing the giant Christmas tower in Heidelberg. This will be a part of her much longer than the 10th Monster High doll.

Last Sunday, we decided to visit a spot close to home for one of our “experiences.” To fully appreciate this story, I need to set the scene for you. As we parked along a treelined side road and opened our doors, Garth Brooks–loud and proud–boomed into our ears. Nearly simultaneously, the strong scent of summer hay wafted into our faces. A few paces further, we heard the soft thumping of horse hooves and a whinny. Finally–the piece de resistance–a huge Wrangler banner came into view. Back where I come from, this is just another day. In the middle of the Veneto Region of Italy? It was pretty surreal but this is Ropes Ranch.

ropes ranch vicenza

Tucked between the Autostrada and farmland in Grisignano di Zocco (VI), Ropes Ranch is a small but well-equipped place for casual riding and riding lessons. Honestly, it had been on our to-visit list for quite sometime but we had never taken the time to just go. They were opening the ranch that day for rides, food, and early camp sign up. The minute we signed Zoey up for summer horse camp, Denis (the owner, who speaks fluent English…bonus!), handed cute cowboy hats over to each of my girls. He couldn’t have delighted them more if he’d handed over gold ingots. The staff graciously let the kids have the run of the ranch, peeking at the new foal, watching the calves, and taking guided rides on Nacho, the most patient American Quarter Horse that I have ever seen.

I am absolutely clueless about such things as horseback riding lessons, though I have been told they’re expensive back in the states. They’re more than reasonable and budget-friendly here. The one-on-one lessons at Ropes Ranch are $15 per hour-long session while lessons for younger kids run 30 minutes and ring it at around $10. The staff offer lessons on weekday mornings and afternoons, then all day on weekends.

Zoey has her first lesson tomorrow morning, then camp begins when school is out for the summer. I’m even considering some lessons. There are some great-sounding horseback riding tours around local wineries here from time to time. I suppose I should be solid on horseback before trying to sample vino while riding.

If you’re new to the Vicenza community, the easiest way to get in touch with Denis and the ranch is through their ASD Ropes Ranch Facebook page.

Project 365 Photo Challenge

I came over to Italy with every intention of documenting our time living in Europe. So far we’ve extensively traveled and have settled into life here, but I haven’t taken any time to document anything. Well, I have obnoxiously photo spammed my Facebook friends with travel shots. The funny thing is that in picking and choosing the “good” photos, I inadvertently led everyone to believe that life as an expat is easy, sophisticated, and perfect. I’m laughing out loud as I type that. You should see my house right now…perfect. Yeah. That’s it. (No, I won’t post a picture of that right now.)

Earlier in the week, I read an article on mpix.com’s blog about Jill Marzion and her Project 365 photo challenge. (Read more about it via the links.) Anyway, I thought it might be fun to participate in the challenge, making my focus something related to the life of an expat in Italy. Some days may feature a jealousy-inducing shot of a day trip to Venice, but I expect most days will offer a glimpse into something that’s mundane here but new and different for the average American. I’ll predominantly post over on my Instagram page. I thought I would kick off my Project 365 with a dedicated blog entry.

So for today, I introduce you to the abomination that is plugging in a dual current electrical device. For the uninitiated, what you’re seeing is a 220v wall plug/light switch combo, a dual-current Chi flat iron in Bubbly Blue (it’s very snazzy), and two converters to make it all work. The whole of Europe operates on 220v, yet nearly every country has a different plug configuration. It’s So. Much. Fun. (Sarcasm)

project 365

Checking back in

What’s the point of having a blog if you never add content? There really isn’t one, so I have vowed to get a little more content up. I’m honestly not sure how those other bloggers with kids and jobs and lives get copy up regularly. Anyway…I wanted to just add a quick post to get back in the swing.

We spent Christmas up around Ramstein Germany. We stopped off in Garmisch the first night, then stayed in Grainau on our way back. Our hotel in Grainau was a quaint little mom-and-pop place. The minute we checked in, I realized it was not the best choice for a family with boisterous kids but there was a snowstorm. We weren’t going to be driving around looking for a new place. I had to eat dinner in the room since little Harper was too excited for the formal dining room. It was dark outside and I was a little ticked that I was eating a fine dinner while chasing a toddler. Well, the next morning I woke up and opened the curtains. What you see below was my view. Clearly I had the better view during dinner. It’s too bad I couldn’t see it.

Hope you had an amazing holiday season! Catch you in 2015.

GermanyGrainau Germany Dec 2014 013

Our day in Venice

If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, you probably well know the scene where Dorothy walks out of her sepia-tone Kansas farmhouse and witnesses the technicolor vibrancy of Oz. It’s completely unlike anything she’s ever seen and she’s overwhelmed with awe. This was Venice for me last weekend. Truth be told, I’ve never had much interest in Italy, let alone Venice. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m missing the romance gene, so gondola rides with my sweetheart…I gag even writing it. Stepping out of the Venezia San Lucia train station, though, was akin to Dorothy stepping into Oz. The color, the architecture, the buzz of watercraft and people, the surreal blue sky…words just can’t describe it.

This is in front of the train station with Venice's Grand Canal as a backdrop.

This is in front of the train station with Venice’s Grand Canal as a backdrop.

Focused so much on getting a map, Eddie was literally head-down, walking with determination and purpose to the ticket and information kiosk. The saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees” was applicable here. “Eddie. EDDIE. You’re missing it. Look.” He nor the girls felt the same way I did, but once we got that damn map, he was ready to see what was in front of him.

Because Venice is an easy day trip from Vicenza–our home base for the next three years–we didn’t bother planning the day. Our goal was to make it to the Piazza San Marco simply because that was as good a goal as any. For future trips, we’ll read up on the history and plan a bit just to know what we’re seeing. In hindsight, it was very relaxing to just see the city organically, to navigate the tiny alleyways and just genuinely feel surprised by what we encountered around each corner. Sometimes, it was a major tourist destination (the Rialto bridge in the second photo below), other times it was just a really cool square or bridge. Still other times, it was a great little pastry place or cafe.

venice 189 venice 211In terms of the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), it was grander than anything I had imagined. It was hard to choose one focal point. It’s busy and full of kamikaze pigeons (seriously, they’ll flap you in the face totally without provocation), but it’s simply amazing. To think that these buildings have been standing since the late 1400s and 1500s (the youngest being 400 years old), is simply…at the risk of overusing the phrase…awe-inspiring.

With just an hour until our return train trip, we chose to take a ferry back to the station. This was a great way to see Venice from the water. Truly the highlight of my time on the water was watching the gondoliers blow air kisses at Harper. They were completely and utterly stoic–focused, even–until they passed our ferry. At that point, the whole gondola could’ve sunk. Screw the paid passengers, there’s an adorable baby on that ferry. Italians love kids and they seem to really, really adore Harper.

St. Mark's Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica

venice 226I won’t lie: getting there was much harder than I’d imagined. There are three Venezia (Venice) train stops (if you ever plan to go, it’s Venezia S. Lucia that you want). Also, on the way back to Vicenza, your train will be the Venezia to Verona line (nowhere will it say Vicenza). Venice can also be expensive. Take plenty of Euros or be prepared to find an ATM. We didn’t find many and none of the Italians we encountered could understand “ATM.” Luckily there were some no-fee types just over the Rialto bridge. There’s too much to adequately see in a day, but luckily, we have all the time we need.

 

Nursing mom style: the DKNY Cozy Sweater

nursing mom styleIf you follow my writing on StyleBakeryMom.com, you’ve probably recognized that nursing tops annoy me. Although they may be very convenient for extricating a boob, they also rarely come with a cut and style that fits a normal, non-pregnant body. Losing baby weight is hard but no one carries a full-term bump around for months and months after baby is born. Long story short: I’ve been continually on the hunt for nursing-friendly non-nursing clothing to complete my fabulous (or so I say) nursing mom style. One of my absolute favorites is the DKNY Cozy SweaterContinue reading