For our seventh anniversary we woke up to the first morning sun since we arrived. Another nice touch is that we had flowers in the room since the conference host, Roberto Eleopra, gave Melissa a bouquet of yellow mimosas for Women’s Day on Friday. We ate breakfast, rented a car and drove south toward Grado. This was one of the few times that Chris has driven in a foreign country – usually we walk, fly or take the train. Renting a car in Italy could be cause for additional concern – anyone who has read Bill Bryson’s books knows that he repeatedly curses whoever let Italians drive. However, he might have been referring more to the south than the north as we observed drivers who are about the same as we see at home.

The waiter at the restaurant last night had recommended that we stop in three towns which are all more or less in a row: Palmanova, Aquileia and Grado. We stopped first at Palmanova, an impressive star-shaped city with massive walls and open areas just beyond them. First task: figure out the parking situation. We learned that blue lines mean pay to park, white lines mean parking is free. We walked around the huge open-air market at the center of town for a while, then drove straight to Grado for a walk on the promenade overlooking the Adriatic. Then took a different way back and stopped at Aquilela, which is rich with Roman ruins. We hiked along the ruins to the basilica, took some pictures and then Chris ran back to get the car while Melissa rested. We got back to Udine about 4pm. Chris figured out how to buy gas and return the car while Melissa looked for gelato for the twinkies. We rested for a bit, and then went to dinner at Al Vecchio Stallo. This is a restaurant that Carrie and Armin told us about, and to be honest we can’t imagine how anyone would find it without a recommendation. It’s outside the pedestrian city center on a small quiet street, and from the sidewalk it’s not even clear that it’s a restaurant. The menu is handwritten in Italian with dozens of different options, and there seem to be many more that aren’t on the menu. Melissa had gnocchi followed by fried salami and onions with polenta. Chris had tortellini followed by frico and polenta. We don’t think frico is a cheese, rather it might be a way of cooking whatever cheese happens to be available. Perhaps the Italian equivalent of abatement.

The next morning we had our last hotel breakfast. Note: Italian bacon sometimes has bones in it, so make sure to pick them out before you eat. Otherwise you are faced with one of two awkward situations: you are either pulling bone fragments out of your mouth, or you are crunching bones in the presence of your breakfast companions. Neither of these are going to appear graceful.

Pictures from Udine and surrounding areas are here.

It was raining again during our trip back to the Venice airport. We checked in for our flight and sent our baggage ahead of us to Minneapolis, which meant we wouldn’t have it during our night in Amsterdam (19 hour layover). We flew into Amsterdam and went straight to the hotel on the airport grounds. Citizen M is a kind of retro yet space-aged cube that is a couple minute walk from the terminal. The room is the width of a king sized bed. The toilet and shower are both within glass cylinders in the room. There is all kinds multicolored, remote control mood lighting and funky music. Everett would love it!

After checking into the hotel we took the train to Amsterdam Centraal and then took the tram to Waterlooplein to visit a bike shop that was listed as a Bakfiets dealer. They didn’t really carry anything, but we had a nice talk with the mechanic and Melissa found a Bakfiets catalog that contained lots of things that, strangely, are not on the website. We then walked along Asmtel to another bike shop closeby, then then to de Sluyswacht. This is one of our favorite bars in the world. Chris had a Leffe Brun and Melissa had hot chocolate with whipped cream. We forgot that smoking seems to still be permitted in some bars and restaurants in the Netherlands, and after a while it got too smokey so we walked slowly to Brasserie Flo for our dinner reservations at 7pm (strangely, they even smoke in the bike shops, which Chris has never seen in his life). As we walked into the restaurant we were greeted by Aaron and his good friend Jeff! The restaurant had some trouble accommodating us for a table of four instead of two, but we sat at the bar for about 40 minutes and then had a delicious dinner and great conversation followed by profiteroles. Aaron and Jeff wanted to explore some more, so we said goodbye and took the tram and train back to the hotel.

For our flight the next morning, the information from the airline indicated that boarding would begin almost two hours before the flight. We have never heard of such a thing, and it’s unclear why anyone would want to spend any additional time on a overseas flight. We want to spend as little time at the airport as possible, but the curious thing about travel is that it’s very difficult to refine to a consistent, smooth system. The rules of travel seem dynamic, especially post 9/11. Life is also changing – we now have a child and two more on the way; Melissa’s pregnancy means that we need to dial things back a bit. Lastly, almost every country has different practices with regard to travel. In Schiphol you go through passport control to get into the airport, which is like a giant upscale mall. Passengers must go through security at each individual gate. I have never seen this before, or perhaps if I have then I forgot. This is the last flight we have planned for Melissa before she goes into third trimester travel lockdown, and we want to make the most of it, so we have been getting in every possible priority lane to get through security, checkin, boarding, etc. Female employees seem especially sensitive to pregnant women: we got several winks and nods and waves through the lines. We also note that the European countries we have visited are much more accommodating toward pregnant women and babies than we are accustomed to at home. For example, the trains in Austria have a special button set aside for parents with strollers.
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Pictures from Amsterdam are here.

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