Noelle recently turned eight months old. Anything I can think to say about my mothering experience so far has already been said before, so instead I'll share a few details about Noelle at this stage alongside a billion pictures. Prepare for a cuteness overload.
She is starting to sleep better, but it is still a bit of a roller coaster. Significant improvements include sleeping in her own crib in her own room and falling asleep without being rocked. It isn't uncommon for her to refuse an entire nap by hanging out in her crib babbling to herself for an hour, though. We just stopped swaddling her a few weeks ago and discovered, to our great surprise, that although she used to despise being on her tummy, she is decidedly a stomach sleeper.
She loves pizza sauce. She has strong pizza sense and always seems to know when we are having pizza and/or are withholding pizza sauce from her. Neapolitans think that it is extremely charming that a baby so small has such a deep love for their culinary staple.
Noelle is becoming increasingly chatty. She babbles and squeals and buzzes her lips. She recently started making a sound that is an awful lot like, “blah, blah, blah.” She's likely mocking me.
Noelle likes to hold onto things for physical security. When she is being carried, she likes to have a fistful of shirt or a strap in her hand to keep her safe. She loves holding onto the pole on the metro, just like Justin and I do.
Noelle is adept at rolling over and is on the verge of crawling. The alarming amount of tile in our apartment means most of her crawling experiments are conducted on the bed, but I know I won't be able to contain her there for much longer.
Noelle looks at everyone as a potential friend. She has developed a fan club at church (see recently tagged Facebook posts) and has been dubbed the mascot of the Napoli Branch.
Noelle is curious. I'm terrified of her achieving mobility because she is already into everything. She insists on touching everything in sight and likes chewing on cords, lunging at knives and leaning out over high ledges. She is a wily little girl.
We think we'll keep her.
In Aloha, Oregon, where I'm originally from, there is a fantastic doughnut shop called "Every Day is a Doughnut Day." I try to live my life by that mantra.
In Napoli, there is an extra special doughnut day on March 19th called San Giuseppe Day where, for some reason unknown to me, everyone eats doughnuts. I declared that I was going to eat 17 doughnuts that day. I modified and just ate two that were the size of my face.
Happy San Giuseppe Day!
Allow me to backlog a little bit. The holidays in Napoli were fantastic. The following were some of the highlights:
1. Celebrating Christmas day with our little family
This Christmas was the first Christmas I’ve ever spent away from either my parents or Justin’s parents. Because we were away from our families, in some ways it didn’t even feel like Christmas. But it was a great day, nonetheless. We bought ourselves a little artificial Christmas tree and colored lights at the store on the corner that sells a rotating supply of random junk. I made origami ornaments from grocery store ads as decorations. On Christmas morning, we exchanged a few small gifts. Later that morning four missionaries from our church came over for an American style breakfast of eggs, pancakes and home fries. In the afternoon we had the pleasure of eating Christmas lunch with some friends. At night, we capped it off with video calls to our family. It was a wonderfully festive and fun Christmas.
2. Neapolitan Family Meals
Neapolitans really know how to eat. On each of the many holidays during Christmastime, Neapolitans get together with their families to cook and eat large festive meals. A couple of families from our church generously allowed us to join their families on Christmas Day and New Years Day. Both meals were a complete delight. At the first meal, there must have been a hundred different dishes passed around. After the meal we sat and talked for about fifteen minutes until we were surprised to find that the meal was not over! There were big bowls of pasta for us to eat. After the pasta we chatted for another ten or fifteen minutes before feasting on traditional Christmas desserts. At the next meal, we were more prepared, but we were still surprised by the quantity of courses that were served. We had friarielli soup and then spinach calzone and then vegetable salad and then sandwiches and then potatoes (with meat, for the non-vegetarians) and then fresh fruit and then a huge plate of sweets. The Christmas dolci were the highlight. We got to try struffoli, pastiera, cassatine, cannoli, mostaccioli and roccocò. It was incredibly filling and absolutely delicious. Above all, it was so kind of these families to let us be a part of their celebrations. We felt so welcomed and loved.
One of my family’s Christmas traditions is to do jigsaw puzzles. We are a little bit fanatical about puzzles. I particularly love them. Justin’s family got me two puzzles for Christmas and my birthday this year. Justin isn’t much of a puzzler, so he kindly kept Noelle from eating the pieces while I worked.
4. Bridget and Matt's Visit
My dear friends Bridget and Matt came to Naples the day after Christmas to spend some time with us. We really enjoyed having them here. During the holidays there were many unpredictable closures, but we didn’t let that stop us from having a spectacular time. Together we visited Napoli Sotteranea, Castel Sant’ Elmo, the San Martino Certosa and the Pedimentina. We also saw Herculaneum and the National Archaeological Museum and…
Presepe literally translates as “crib,” referring to a manger scene or nativity. While Matt and Bridget were here, we saw many beautiful examples of these. The history of the Neapolitan presepe goes back hundreds of years and the tradition is still alive today. One of the things I like most about presepi is how they insert the birth story of Jesus Christ into the center of traditional Italian life. Scenes sometimes show pizza makers and fruit stands operating right next to where the baby Jesus lays. I also like the “Where’s Waldo” aspect of them. The scene most often includes the workings of a bustling city and then somewhere hidden in the chaos is the Christ child and his parents. I like the emphasis this puts on the humbleness of the circumstances. The greatest person to ever be born on the earth had come, but no one in the surrounding city realized it and so life continued on as usual. The perspective really helps me to appreciate the reality of what is now considered such a significant day.
6. My Birthday
I was lucky to have friends and family here to celebrate my birthday. We ran around the city sightseeing all day and then in the evening we all met up with our friend Jenny for dessert. At the café we went to, I got my dessert on the house. I know what you’re thinking, but no, they do not commonly give complimentary desserts to people on their birthday here. Rather, one of the workers was enamored with Noelle. She came up and asked to hold her and cooed at her for a while. It turned out she was the one who operated the cash register and she wouldn’t let Justin pay, apparently because our baby is so great. A special thanks to Noelle for a great birthday gift! She’s so thoughtful.
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season!
We took an extended weekend to visit Milan. After four short hours on a train, we were a world away in the big city. It is hard not to compare life in Milan to life in our Neapolitan home. Milan is great, but it is very different from Naples. The following are a couple of differences I noticed while I was away.
For one thing, although Italy is generally an expensive country, in Milan everything costs more than it does in Naples. It’s easy to see why. There is a lot of affluence in Milan. You can see it in their clothes. People in Naples tend to dress very comfortably. In Milan, large quantities of people on the street look like they just walked off the runway. It's beautiful. We were able to indulge our eyes in some fantastic window shopping. The abundance of designer brands that have shops in Milan is astounding. Designer clothing, shoes and handbags may generally cost more than I am willing to spend for such items, but they are fun to admire.
Milan is also colder than Naples – both the temperature and the people. That is not to say that people in Milan are rude, but rather that people in Naples are uncommonly warm and friendly. Many people in Milan assumed they wouldn’t be able to understand us, and therefore didn’t try. One day Justin and I said the exact same Italian phrase to two different servers. The first one kept insisting that she didn’t understand us. The second one understood us immediately. More people in Milan know English, so often people would pick up on the fact that we weren’t native Italian speakers and switch to English. Sometimes this is helpful, but we really like to practice our Italian. In Naples, everyone seems pleased that Justin and I try to speak Italian, even if it isn’t perfect. It is great for helping us learn. The people in Milan were far easier to understand than those in Naples, however. Many people in Naples speak in dialect or a mix of Italian and dialect and it is very tricky to comprehend.
Unfortunately, jaywalking is frowned upon in Milan. I love jaywalking, but Neapolitans love it even more than I. Occasionally while we were in Milan, Justin and I would launch into the street without a walk signal because there was no traffic. Usually no one followed us. On one occasion, I even drew some snide looks. We weren’t being unsafe; rather we were capitalizing on a traffic-free opportunity.
On the other hand, Milan operates like a well-oiled machine. The metro system is fantastic. I think the longest we ever had to wait for a subway was 5 minutes and on that occasion there were multiple announcements notifying us that the train was running late. In Naples, I’ve waited for 20 or even 30 minutes for trains to arrive only to find them stuffed beyond capacity. There is never any forewarning or apology. Everyone always gets on, but it can be uncomfortable, especially with a baby. Thankfully, people in both places offer me a seat when they see I have a baby strapped to my front.
The streets are very clean in Milan and I saw far less dog poop left on the sidewalks. Sometimes it feels like the Naples sidewalks are an extension of the garbage cans. It was nice to not have to constantly be dodging piles of dog poop in Milan (though because I have been practicing in Naples, I was not caught off guard by the couple of piles I did encounter).
The food was fantastic. In Naples, they are very regionalistic—they don’t welcome foreign cuisine. It’s pizza or traditional Italian food or nothing. Fortunately, the food in Naples is fantastic, but Justin and I have had a hankering for some Indian food. Milan was the place to sate that desire. We first visited a sit down Indian restaurant. The plates were small and the food was surprisingly mild, but the food was delicious. We finished every last drop. At the second place we went to, the owner was shocked that we like Indian food even though we are both white. We also had some fantastic Italian food in Milan including traditional yellow (saffron) risotto. Yum.
The Milanesi also really liked Noelle, although they weren’t nearly as effusive about their feelings for her as Neapolitans are. One night we went to a restaurant that was highly ranked on TripAdvisor. Upon being seated, it immediately became apparent that it might not be a family friendly restaurant. It was a little bit swanky. As we sat down and took Noelle out of her pack, we were horrified to discover that she had blown out of her diaper and there was fecal matter saturating the entire backside of her onesie. This was the fourth—and worst—blow out of the weekend. I swept her off to the bathroom to change her entire outfit and hide my embarrassment. When I got back to the table, I found the cutest little high chair waiting for Noelle. As it turned out, the restaurant was kid friendly. And no one seemed to notice the poop problem that unfolded before our meal. The waiters cooed at and smiled at Noelle throughout the meal, but unlike in Naples, no one demanded to hold her. We were glad we were able to stay because the food was fantastic (Nerino Dieci – I highly recommend it!).
We had a great time in Milan, but we are glad that we are living in Naples. Life is assuredly a bit more unpredictable here, but that’s what makes it interesting. A common phrase that people use whenever something nutty happens here is, “È Napoli!” meaning, in essence, “That’s Naples for ya!” Naples is all about expecting the unexpected, and that is unexpectedly fun.
People here love cats. I know I said they love babies—and they do—but they also really like cats. Let me introduce you to the 15 (plus or minus three) cats that live on our street. I would call them strays, except that they are really more like neighborhood-owned cats. A handful of people that live in the nearby buildings take turns feeding them each day. Sometimes there will be traditional cat food scattered all over the sidewalk and other times there will be a large bowl of black beans or pasta left for their enjoyment. Our street’s residents have also built little shelters for them as you can see in the pictures. When the rain started up this winter, they weatherproofed the shelters with vinyl tablecloths. Some of the cats still prefer a simple basket to the enclosed shelters. As you can see, these four cats were so interested in this specific basket that they all huddled in together. At least they aren’t cold!
I have a love hate relatioship with these cats. On the one hand, they are kind of cute (well, some of them are definitely mangy, but a few are cute). On the other hand, I don’t like dodging their poop or being restricted from walking down the section of sidewalk immediately in front of our building. I’m also convinced that the solid gray cat is going to bite me every time I walk by. That gray cat definitely gets the most likely to attack award. Mostly I think I would feel better if someone came and fixed all the cats so we don’t end up with 37 or 82 resident cats in the coming weeks.
Anyway, the cats aren’t going anywhere. People around here like them too much. I mean, when you live in a city where it’s apparently perfectly acceptable for this lady to take her cat for a little trip across town on the metro, you know the cats are going to win.
This weekend we went on an excursion. I met Justin downtown at 1:30 after his office closed (yes, his office closes at 1:30, but I must note that he rarely stops working so early!) so we could catch the Circumvesuviana to Sorrento for the weekend. We were in Sorrento within just over two hours of leaving home. We asked a couple nice women on the train for restaurant recommendations in Sorrento, but they just argued with each other about it and never actually supplied us with any ideas.
We were starving by the time we arrived, so we dropped our bags off at the hotel and stopped at Da Franco, a local pizzeria. Afterward, we went in search of the elusive delizie al limone.
A little background: a delizie al limone is a delightful lemon cake pastry that we had heard very good things about. After our failed attempts to find one in Naples, Justin asked a lady at his office about it. He was told that they aren’t made in Naples and that you have to get them in Sorrento. I was heartbroken over the news. I love lemon things, and I wanted to try one…soon! A couple of days later, I spotted a lone delizie at a supermarket. We excitedly ate it, and we really enjoyed it. But when Justin told his friend at work what we had done, she sneered and made a disdainful “blech” sound. Apparently she was unimpressed at our finding one in Naples and was certain it was no good. We found a “real” delizie in Sorrento straightaway. It was delicious. Basically it’s layers of white cake and lemon cream all covered with a different kind of creamy frosting. YUM.
With our hunger momentarily abated, we wandered around Sorrento and poked our head into a few churches. The city is beautiful and fun to explore at night. Some of the city was shut down for the winter because high tourist season is over, but many little shops were still open. After a failed attempt to go to a restaurant that was closed for the season, we ended up in Justin’s version of heaven, Inn Bufalito. If Justin had his way, we would purchase and consume a ball of mozzarella di bufala every single day. At this restaurant, they make their own cheese with buffalo milk. We ordered an unexpectedly large platter of cheese containing buffalo ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, and buffalo pearls. It was fantastic.
We turned in early so we could wake up early the next morning to hike the Sentiero degli Dei, or Path of the Gods. This hike is famous for great views of the Amalfi Coast. It is recommended that you start in Bomerano, close to Amalfi City and hike westward to Nocelle, situated above Positano. After eating our small hostel breakfast we grabbed some fruit and bread to eat for lunch and headed to the station to catch a bus to Amalfi where we would transfer to Bomerano. When we went to buy our ticket, we were informed that we would not be able to reach Amalfi by bus because the road was closed for the day. After a moment of deliberation, we decided to get as close as we could, which meant riding the bus to Positano. We surmised that we could start at the other end of the hike and do as much as we could before we had to catch the bus back.
He suggested that we could walk the stairs to Nocelle and it would take us about an hour.On the bus, it started raining. And then Noelle started screaming inconsolably. When we got to Positano, we found out from a helpful man that the next bus to Nocelle would come in two hours. We were a little crestfallen and seriously doubting our sanity and determination to hike considering the transportation issues, the rain and a potentially volatile baby. He suggested that we could walk the stairs to Nocelle and it would take us about an hour. For a moment, I thought he was being ridiculous. But then again, we had come all the way to Positano to do this hike, why not just climb the stairs and see how it goes?
It was still a little bit rainy when we reached the base of the stairs. There are 1,700 stairs that ascend from the road that runs through Positano to the small town of Nocelle where the hike begins. The stairs are mostly cement and stones and are in pretty good condition. Early in our climbing, our banana peels attracted a little cat. I don’t believe in feeding random animals non-native foods, so we rejected her advances. Then the cat started following us up the stairs. We were very amused (well, Justin was annoyed at first [he’s not a cat lover], but he ended up finding it entertaining). The cat gave up after making it about three-quarters of the way, which was unfortunate, because even I would’ve broken my “don’t feed stray animals rule” if she made it up all the stairs!
When we reached Nocelle, we were feeling triumphant. The rain had cleared and we had a spectacular view of the steep rocky coastline and the Mediterranean Sea. Nocelle was mostly closed up for the season, but you could tell it would be a happy, lively place in the summer and fall. We followed helpful home-crafted signs from the top of the stairs to the start of the Sentiero degli Dei. The path sits roughly 2000 feet above the water and offers spectacular panoramic views of the rugged coastline. The towering green hillsides are almost as breathtaking. We had been warned that the trail was not for those scared of heights, but I think you would have to have fairly acute acrophobia to be afraid of this trail.
Since we started off going opposite of the recommended direction, we ran into a variety of kind people. One large group of Italians was picnicking along the trail. Upon seeing Noelle, they became very excited and started taking pictures. One lady in particular wanted to get pictures of her “beautiful American friends.” She arranged the three of us and had us smile for her camera. She thought it was amazing that we had brought our little infant on the trail with us. We exchanged Facebook information with her and another lady and now we have access to the pictures they took. Thank you, Dina and Karamella!
We thoroughly enjoyed our hike. I would suggest doing the trail one way if the access roads to both ends are open, however it was wonderful to extend our time on the trail by hiking both directions. Since we arrived in Naples, we have not been able to do much dedicated exercise. We walk everywhere, but I was skeptical that the walking I have been doing would sustain me on this adventure. By the time we got to the bottom of the stairs, we were pretty tired, but happy to have been able to enjoy the entire hike.
We stopped back in at Sorrento to pick up our bags and get some food. After a delightful dinner and celebratory gelato, we caught the train and returned home. It was a fantastic weekend getaway!
Noelle's four month birthday is today! Happy birthday! In honor of her four months of life, I would like to share some things that Noelle likes and some things she doesn't like.
Noelle doesn't like:
We ventured outside the city center to go to the Napoli Zoo. We took a different metro line than we usually use out to the neighborhood and then fumbled around the area until we finally made it to the zoo (thanks, Google walking directions).
I am by no means a zoo junkie, but this was perhaps the saddest zoo I’ve ever visited. The pens were small and many of the larger animals were in poor shape. The big cats seemed to be suffering the greatest. The tigers were located in a concrete cage about the size of a boxcar. Thankfully, they have plans to expand and improve the tiger confinement soon.
On the other hand, I got to see some beautiful animals that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen before. They had many beautiful birds including flamingoes and cranes with these crazy puffs on their head. The lemurs were amazing. I love their striking, high contrast markings. We also got to see wallabies, which basically look like miniature kangaroos (in fact, the signs listed them as kangaroos).
My favorite part of the zoo was the new addition, the Nuova Fattoria, or farm animal section. This weekend was the grand opening of the area. Smaller, domesticated animals were featured here including alpacas, miniature goats and horses, bunnies (none quite as cute as Noelle) and donkeys. The pens here are more approachable and it is permissible to pet some of the animals. Noelle got pretty freaked out when we let one of the donkeys get too close, though.
In the end, I can’t say I recommend visitors to Naples spend their time at the zoo, but we enjoyed ourselves and it was great to be outside on such a beautiful day!
Last week we went on an excursion to the Vomero neighborhood. Vomero is a very nice part of town, situated up on a hill overlooking the city. Crowning the top of the hill is the imposing Castel Sant’Elmo.
Between the metro station and the castle is the Friggitoria Vomero. A friggitoria is a temple to fried food. We stopped and grabbed some fried delights before going to the castle. We had fried zucchini flowers, a fried pizza (amazing, right?) and fried cheesy spaghetti. Everything was delicious. I'm pretty sure that you can’t pick a bad item at the friggitoria. Stay tuned for a post about the fried zucchini flowers Justin made at home.
With our bellies full, we proceeded to the castle gate. Because he is a Fulbrighter, Justin has a nifty pass that gets him into all of the state-owned museums and sites for free. The man at the ticket booth was very impressed with Justin and his work and decided to let me into the site for free, too. It was exceptionally nice of him, but I must note that I think this site is well worth the €5 entry fee.
After ascending the ramps to the top of the castle, you are treated with a spectacular view of the city of Naples. From up there it feels like you are looking at a 3D model of the city. Traveling on the metro all the time is convenient, but it means that I don’t have a very good grasp of the layout of the city. Being up on the castle allowed me to visually orient the disparate areas with which I am familiar. The pictures speak for themselves. This castle is great.