About Me

Saturday, May 4, 2019

First Road Trip: Slovenia

Just this past weekend I took off on my very first road trip now that my car has arrived here in Italy, I am not bound by limits of a rental car contract. This 4 day trip to Slovenia was planned out over a month ago at the recommendation of a few other local base contractors who had been there and shown be pictures of the sights and the cuisine of this neighboring country whose border is just an hour away from me in Aviano. Let me take you on a journey through my first of many, many more road trips near and far alike to come each month from here on out.

I left on Thursday evening April 25th and had plans to make 1 stop in Gorizia Italy to hit up a fantastic restaurant known for massive portions of family-style Italian and Slovenian classics. The venue is located just 2km from the IT/SLO border and made for an ideal stop before finishing the 3 hours and change long drive (157 miles from Aviano to Bled Slovenia(SLO). Sadly due to the Italian liberation holiday, I found the place very much closed! I was bummed to say the least. I walked around and looked for a plan B and after half an hour just randomly chose what was closest to me. This turned out to be a fantastic choice. I found the neatest little pizzeria/bar called Elliot Bar Gorizia

It looked a bit iffy as a small spot in a back road away from the main piazza but the crowd of vocal locals laughing out front with beer and appetizers lured me in. I came in and checked out the joint and met the owner. He spoke very little English but we managed fine. I told him what I like most and wanted to try and he went to work in the kitchen as he is also the cook besides manning the bar. I sat outside and conversed with the whole group of 7-8 Italians and one younger teen. I got to work on my Italian big time let me tell you. One of the men spoke decent English and between he and I were able to communicate fine with each other and the group. I loved every minute of it. My meal was fantastic as well. The owner whipped me up some Ljubianska, the pasta of the day, fresh baked bread, house wine, and grilled veggies. Tell me this doesn't look dang good!
red & white house vino

pasta della casa

sauteed celery & eggplant


cafe and biscotti

I would have stayed longer but with night approaching and 90 minutes of drive time ahead, I had to scoot out and be on my way. This will however e a return spot for a bite anytime crossing into SLO from IT(Italy).

I got into Bled about 10pm Thursday night to my hotel located just a block away from the infamous Lake Bled. I unpacked and chugged a shake with some fruit and almonds for dinner and got my butt to bed as the next day had big plans!

Day 1: Lake Bled perimeter walk (6km) and Vintgar Gorge (10-minute drive from my hotel in Bled. It took me ~90 minutes to complete the gorge by parking by the restaurant nearest the gorge entry to the end waterfall and back with stops for lots of pics. Cost 9 Euro per person. Dinner was at Gostlina Pri Planincu where I scored some great wine and amazing meat & veg grubs. Take a look.


mixed grill plate

house wine

mixed grilled veggies

Day 2: Day trip to Ljubljana 35 minutes away from Bled. Hit the gym near the town center at Alfa Gym.

Free use for visitors on their first visit. Talk about an old school badass, true lifter kind of gym! This was it! Crushed a good leg workout, showered up and then it was on to Ljubljana town center.

From noon till 9pm walking all over town getting pictures, sampling food, drinking wine and then making the requisite stop at the famed castle. During my castle tour, I grabbed lunch at the Na Gradu restaurant/bar to tide me over before dinner time.

I spent 3 hours in the Castle and did the audio guide tour which I suggest anyone else going also do to really appreciate what your seeing.

Then after the tour and some more walking around town, got some more sips in at Cacao Cafe Bar with a trifecta of wines on the waterway with the triple bridge crossing in my view. Postcard worthy I tell you!

I then caught dinner at Hisa Pod Gradom where I had 1 of the top 5 meals of my life and I suggest anyone in Ljubljana also go here but be sure to have an RSVP! I saw 10 groups get turned away after my 8pm arrival due to a packed house. So glad I made an RSVP myself, normally I do not dining as just one.

meat and cheese appetizer

venison goulash

mixed meats plate & house tartar sauce 

Day 3: On this day I started early and found a gym just a few miles outside of town called TOP Gym Fitness. It's small but has all the basics one needs and at just 6 Euro for a day pass, a bargain as well. The lead owner and trainer was on vacation but his staff on site were spectacular none the less. Super kind people! Turns out one of the guys in the gym was a former silver medalist for the SLO Olympic row team and he looked the part of one too I must say. Intent to take a pletna (small flat bottom boat) over to the 17th century Island church and visit that first hand. Sadly due to the rain, we had nearly all day the boats did not run so no trip to be had. However, perhaps a good thing as many say that the 12 Euro boat ride and 6 Euro admission for 30 minutes time before your boat leaves...is not worth the cost. I can't say for sure but that does sound expensive for such a short experience.

In place of the Bled Island Chruch visit, I went on the tip from the gym owner and went to the 1 of 5 local museums actually open on a Sunday during the spring season (they start longer hours May 1st for summer) which was the iron forging museum in Krop. The largest producer of nails in the country and one of the' most notable areas for iron ore mining, large foundries, iron smelting, and production of nails of every kind you can think of.

The second half of my day was to go see the 600' high cliffside, 11th-century Bled Castle. Despite the unending rain, I did go for it (it was a 0.5-mile walk from hotel up a hill) and spend the 11 Euro to get inside and see for myself what the scoop really was. The rain certainly killed my chance to get the good shots I wanted to and really spend more time on the outside open spaces. The castle museum was pretty neat IMO. I was not a fan of the 3 souvenir shops in the castle with overpriced items for tourist to feel compelled to buy. A restaurant with a great lake views sure but pricey as heck was also available which took away from the realism of the castle as I see it.

Dinner was then just across the road almost from my hotel as Gostlina Murka. Again, landed myself a good pick with great wine and spectacular local, authentic SLO cuisine with great service. Take a look and see.

Day 4. Out Early but not done yet! I had to be out of the hotel by 10am so I slept in (it is vacation) and got up at 8am, packed up and then walked around town for a bit since the sun was back and the rain is gone. I had a quick but amazing breakfast at Zima Cafe just down from the hotel for s taste of the famous desserts of SLO. For Under 9 Euro I scored these 3 must have sweets if ever in SLO. All less than 8 Euro at that.



apple strudel

Well fed and content as can be I was on the road head back to Italy but not before 2 more awesome stops to round out my vacation/road trip.

The city of Triest, the capital of the Triest province (same as a state in the US) was my next stop. Almost on my route home anyway, it begged a debut stop and I had 3 hours to burn before my 2pm tour group in Prepotto for an Osmiza visit to Skerk to sip, sample and savor some wine and wine facts. Lucky me, also got to not just explore the city of Triest but also found an EATALY store 2 blocks from where I parked! I spent a good hour in the store and another hour plus walking around the city and talking in views if the Gulf of Triest. I will absolutely be back here for a full day trip if not overnight. Being just 90 minutes or so from Aviano it's an easy journey to make.

downtown waterfront piazza in Triest

looksy what i found in Triest!

25 minutes NW of Triest is the small village of Prepotto where 3rd generation vineyard and Osmiza is located. I joined a group of 4 other Italian guys without guide Tina at 2pm for a 1 hour tour of their estate, vineyard, wine cellar and then of course wine sampling. We tried all 4 of the wines they make and bottle (25k a year). I enjoyed all 4 of them very much but really enjoyed learning about winemaking and grape growing just as much to be honest. Tina was a great guide giving it in both Italian and English for me the sole American on the tour. I lucked out big on this as the Osmiza closes for the spring season May 1st and will not open again until late August for its 2nd and final 3 weeks touring period to the public. I should note that food items produced from the Skerk Osmiza are also available for purchase during open hours and days.

Before drinking too much (it was a tasting after all) I was back on the road to finish my final 75 minutes of drive time to get home and settle in to wind down my trip. Let me now offer a spark notes listing of comments anyone going to SLO and these sites particularly should consider:

1. make Ljublana your home base and then a day trip from there be it Bled or elsewhere. You need to pass Ljubljana anyway to and from IT so this would shorten your drive time by 35 minutes to and from SLO.

2. Do not go to Bled Castle on a rainy day. You miss 90% of the perk of going for pictures of Bled from outside lookouts.

3. Do be sure to go to the viewpoint on the west end (campground end) of Bled Lake to get the same quality and vantage point pics of Bled Lake at no cost at all.

4. Do try the famed cream cake from Kavarna Cafe or Park Hotel as these both started the dessert to begin within 1953 and have never changed it since.

5. Do go check out the iron forging museum in Krop, a short 20-minute drive from Bled and for 3 Euro it's worth it. Plan for an hour to really take in everything.

6. If outdoors and hiking is your thing, I am told the sister lake 30 minutes drive or 45 minutes bus ride, in Bohinj is as good or better than Bled Lake since 0 hotels line the perimeter, it is true nature all by itself. Another but longer Gorge also sits nearby this lake as well with equally good shots to be taken. I did not have time to make it to this location and even so it rained the day I would have gone anyway.

7. SLO does a fantastic job of putting almost anything you would read, hear, see for information needs in SLO, IT, ENG and GER if not more. Locals often speak more than one language as well with ENG being a primary second language.

8. Be sure to check the Ljubljana open kitchen market calendar! I missed this as they did their normal Saturday market on Friday due to the local holiday! I was ticked about this but it was my failure to check and be sure. Every Saturday a massive open kitchen market takes place with dozens of local food vendors opening their kitchens into a street food paradise with cheaper samples of their menus in a grab n go fashion. A foodies dream spot. Let me lack of foresight save you the same disappointment.

Please go check out my new IGTV channel on Instagram as well for some video recaps and insights to the trip. Also check out my facebook page for tons more photos of the sites, places and eats/sips I got on this trip. Always feel free to comment or contact me to ask questions or offer insights to travel and food hotspots.

Arrivaderci a presto mio amici.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

10 weeks Update: Car Troubles

Buon Giorno familia e' amici!

It has been 10 weeks already since I got here to Italy my my my has time flown by. I am constantly surprised how quickly things move along even when adapting to a brand new job, culture, place, and people. Creating a whole new normal essentially. I'm loving every minute of it, well almost every minute. Before I explain the minutes I do not like let me hit on a few items on a more positive note.

Later this month I am going to be taking my first major road trip across Italian boarders into Slovenia. I am staying next to the picturesque Lake Bled for hiking and outdoors and also driving to the country capital Ljubljana 35 minutes away for site seeing, a massive open-air market, dining, and museums. I am so damn stoked for this!

The past 2 weekends I have hit up 2 local food festivals over in a town called Udine, it's about the size of my hometown Madison, WI. It's even called the unofficial capital of the Pordenone province by many loIt'ss. Its a 50 minute drive from Aviano to Udine but well worth it if you have a day to spend over there. Massive (and I mean massive) malls, tons of parks, museums, the U of Udine is there (which I got to see the exercise physiology lab and meet the staff) and the major sports stadium is also there for soccer mostly and some basketball events.

The festival I went to last Saturday was Udine Meets the World, and international festival of food, music, dance, culture, history and folklore all divided up into sections on a large fair grounds. This Saturday I just hit up a festival called The Finger Food Festival. Much smaller in scale but more food focused. 12 specialty food vendors and 3 beer/wine vendors filled a corner of Parco del Cormor only about 2 miles from where the other festival had been the week before....with food and drink local to the Udine region. I even got to meet the event director and talk to him about bringing a festival just like this to Aviano this summer. I was all in for that! At both events, I ate tons of great food, beer and wine and had a blast just hanging out and people watching. Weather was good for both events so that always helps.

So overall things are going very well obviously. The one and only thing thats been a HUGE pain in my ass these past weeks and now pretty well pushed my last button of patients is getting my car here once and for all. My car left my house Jan 26th to be shipped over here to Italy. It left the US east coast March 10th. It was to arrive April 3 in port of Genova. That got pushed back to April 10 and then April 12. I was told 5-7 business days after that at most, it would be arriving to me in Aviano as planned. April 10th I am told not only its coming in 2 days later but that it wont be ready to even offload for ground trasnport until April 17th! And....that another 7-10 days is needed for it to be loaded on a large transport semi with other cars to get to me! Are you kidding? My plans for Slovenia were now looking pretty well tanked as I had planned that around my cars arrival to then use for the drive. I even factored in 4 days buffer time to be safe. Now it looked like my car was not coming until the very end of the month which also meant another 10 days of car rental fees. Not to mention waiting geven longer to get all the items packed in the car I very much want to have!

After several attempts to call the company to get hold of my agent I was getting no where. They would not call me back. Just short little emails stating it was out of their hands and nothing could be done but to wait and all their dates given were only estimates, not garuantees of anything. OK sure I get that. But then why are you saying April 3rd when in fact the day I see the car is not actually April 27th or later? That is not an estimate! Thats a stab in the dark and wishful thinking! Now here is the real kicker of it all and this is what really does chap my ass about it all. I am a frugal spender and only spend my money on things worth spending it on. Let me show you the costs this ordeal has racked up so far...

  • Initial shipping cost from Madison, WI to the port of Genova Italy. $2250 (not bad at all)
  • Added cost to truck it from Genova to Aviano (saves me 5 hours train and risk of ticket driving it back (4.5 hours) without valid registration and needing to take a day off work to go get it) $800
  • The additional cost to have my car shipped separately the very first day it's off the container to get to me the same day (April 17th as it stands) $114. 
  • Now add on the import fee they charge (and did not mention until 8 weeks into the shipping) of $511 as well.

So simple math shows the direct cost to ship my car is $3675. BUT....thats not all.

Now factor in the rental car cost for the past 10 weeks since getting here. That has totaled $1200 of indirect cost by not having my car here. Talley that up and I have spent $4875 on my car shipping! It will have been 11 weeks to get that damn thing here as well and the wait is killing me at this point!

It is in my opinion alone that Schumacher Cargo is NOT a wise pick to ship you car overseas. Maybe domestic they do better but as far as overseas, this is an experience I do not want to experience ever again or let anyone else endure either.

Had I known the cost would be this high and take this long I would have sold my car (still financing it for 2 years or so) for the remaining balance owed on the car and bought a new car here in Italy almost as soon as I got here. For the same price of the shipping, I could have picked from either one of these used cars (BMW 320i) or (BMW 525d) at the same place I rent from now... and 100% tax free as well! Everythings 20/20 hindsight as they say and that proves true here. Lesson learned, the hard and pricy way.

So this fiasco almost to an end I am happy as ever to put behind me. I am then pretty well set up with all my major relocation related tasks completed. I can move forward with as many road trips as I please and finally get to all my goodies packed in the car to complete the house and my office. You can be pretty sure some pictures and content about the car arrival will make it into the next blog post for sure. And if not doing so yet, PLEASE go take a look at my other food blog I now run at AvianoFoodie.com for tons of food-centric content, pictures, and local reviews.

That's all for now folks. See you next time.

Ciao, Arrivaderci a presto!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

7 Week Update

Ciao, Buon Giorno amici miei.

Alrighty friend and family, let's give you an update on things here in the land of Italy. 7 weeks down this past Thursday, March 21st. Time is really flying along it seems. Almost 2 months of living and working here already passed. I have to really take stake of all I have gotten done in this short period of time. Just the other day I was looking at what I need to get done yet for my house, my car etc....when it dawned on me I have checked off quite a few boxes already. Boxes such as:

  • Landed a house all my own, completed contracts, have power and gas, water and wifi turned on and working.
  • Have my Italian driver's license test taken and passed, ID in hand.
  • Have my siggiorno passport stamp so I can travel all over EU without issues
  • Have my codice fiscale card (Italian social security card type thing) so I can make major purchases and hold accounts like cable, wifi, buy a car, open bank accounts etc.
  • Searched for and found 2 like new love seats and 2 regular sized like new refrigerators
  • Landed all my major kitchenware and appliances for free or nearly free from squadron spouses group and fellow operators.
  • Kitchen stools and table were given to me from a very kind couple in the squadron.
  • Patio coffee table landed from an online facebook group
  • Bought a simple CharBroil, 3 burner gas grill from the BX and assembled the beast myself for some serious summer grilling action! 
  • As of this post I now have a new bed to sleep in! After 7 weeks of hotel and sofa sleeping I have my own darn bed! Yes!
It took my own mother to point out that even with some major tasks ahead to knock out and accomplish, I have in fact gotten a lot done so far in just 7 weeks. I have 3 years minimum to be here so why I often rush to get it all done right away...I do not really know? Stress I do not need to impose on myself honestly.

So what are these things I have yet to get done with or work to get done with you ask? I'll tell you.

My car! I want my car so f%cking bad right now! It left my house Jan 26th from Oregon, WI and I have not seen it since. It was set to arrive in port of Genoa Italy April 3. Just 2 days ago I am told it will now by April 10th! The 5th it was supposed to be arriving on base last I was told. So now it may be the 15th of April before it makes its way to me on base here in Aviano. What sucks about not just the delay and me not getting my car and ALL the goods I crammed inside the car as well, but now I have to extend my rental another 10 days which means $200 extra cash out the door I would rather have spent elsewhere. That totals my rental car cost to $1300 over my first 9 weeks living here. Much greater tragedies in the world yes I know but as a frugal spender and budget master, I hate having surprise expenses land in my lap that I cannot control for. Tis is life sometimes right?

As of yesterday I now have my brand new bed mattress here! An aloe vera, Tempurpedic double thick queen mattress for the master bedroom. Later today I go collect my bed frame, night stands, dresser and washing machine from a local Italian guy selling me all of it for just 350 Euro, a steal for what I'll be getting. This will pretty well complete my master bedroom as well so I am pretty stoked for that. I just need the rest of the clothes in my car to get here to truly be done with it!

I still need to get 2 patio chairs to go with the table I have. I also need a coffee table for my living room. And lastly, a want more than a need, I want a TV stand and TV for the living room so I can advance from watching streaming TV on my laptop and cell to a regular TV for once. My Bose speaker, Google ChromeCast (also in the car) have never been so yearned for. My all in one desktop computer and my printer are also in the car so it would be just dandy to get those here sooner than later.

I will close with a few upcoming notes and FYI's for you all to stick around for. 

April 25-29 I will be going to Lake Bled in Bled Slovenia. An almost mythical place for photos of the Lake Bled island church and high cliffside castle. The hikes, bike rides, boat rides, paddle boarding etc....all popular things to do here. I have my hotel booked and my restaurants picked out to hit each day. 

Lake Bled Island Church

I have officially taken over another blog as of last week as well. AvianoFoodie.com has been run for a couple years now by Randall Broome, an active duty AF servicemember who will be PCSing out of Italy in June. He will stay onboard until that time but I can begin contributing myself right now as well. This works very well for him as he need not let the blog dissolve and I can now have two separate blogs with a more fixed focus. This one here for my lifestyle activity and travel posts. Aviano Foodie will be strictly for my visits and experiences to restaurants and markets all over Italy with a focus on those nearest the Pordenone province where I reside. 

 That is all for now folks. Stay tuned for more coming up in the next couple weeks. Hopefully, my car is here by the time you hear from me again! In fact, please pray for me that it is! Until then....

Arrivaderci a presto. Buona Giornata! Mi amo tutti!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Una Mese (One Month)

Morning sunrise view of Aviano from my 2nd floor patio

As of this writing I have now been residing in Aviano Italy for 31 days. Just over a month and I can't believe it has been that long already. I have gotten a lot of things knocked out and done within this time and the biggest hurdle of all.... moving out of the hotel living situation and into my own home! Matter of fact I have been in my house for just 72 hours as of this post! I am loving it too. Having my own place to sleep, eat, store and cook/make food, shower, etc... Of course, resuming my routine of weekly meal prep has been amazing! As one who takes his nutrition and food plan pretty seriosuly, not having full control or access to meal prep was not an easy feat for 4 weeks folks. My very first meal in the house tasted extra good knowing it was 100% homemade let me tell you that.

I can actually shop for more than 2 days of needs now! Yes!

toasting to being a homeowner in Italy!

the first of many homemade dinners

Its been a busy week and a half since my last post with a trip to Venice with the ITT group on base to go see the annual Carnevale festival events taking place there all month through this weekend. In the short full day spent in Venice, I saw and did allot but could easily have made that a weekend trip full of sightseeing, food sampling, festival interactions and more. The costumes and masks the people adorned were top notch. This rivals anything I have seen for Halloween in any city I have ever lived and all you should know how serious I take my Halloween (favorite holiday)!

st marco basillica 

standing above the venice grand canal

looking cool next to venice grand canal

1 of many waterways throughout venice

I would have posted many of the pictures I got but to do so would make this a half hour blog read alone with the 40+ pictures I took and shared on my IG/FB storylines (which hope you all got to see). Just Google the term "Carnevale 2019" or Youtube search it and you will now see endless videos and images of this year's happenings. It is THE place to be last month and the rest of this weekend for sure. Tomorrow I am heading back to Maniago (cutlery capital of the world) to attend their annual celebration of the festival and parade.

Now being moved into my house is nice but does provide some challenges. Such as getting furniture from scratch. Like everything that is. Couches, bed, rugs, chairs, tables, appliances etc. Lucky for me the 57th Squadron spouses network kicked in big time for me and stocked be full of all my basic kitchen needs like pots, pans, plates, cups, mugs, utensils, crock pots, coffee maker, towels, etc. All for free too! Major kudos to those wives who helped me out there! I have purchased a bed from the BX and await its arrival to have it delivered to my house and installed in the next week or so tops I hope. For now, it's me sleeping on the (nice) new sofa I bought from a local friend a contractor like me whos moving to Turkey in a week. She hooked me up solid with a nearly new IKEA sofa and stool and best yet, she lived like 3km away. I have a simple rack I assembled for the few bits of clothes I brought with me on the plane for now until my car arrives with all my other clothes and essentials inside.

So why not send all my household goods over from St. Louis? Active duty sends their car and HHG overseas 99% of the time. Why didn't I? I would have and wanted to but.....at $8450 out of pocket cost to ship a modest 2 bed and 2 bathroom apartment of 1 guy overseas? Hell no! Way too much for so little to be shipped. Yes, I had some nice new furniture not even 18 months old but still. That alone would have eaten up 90% of my relocation package from my contract. No can do. So if you're in Madison, WI or close by and need new furniture items, please, hit me up, I likely have it in storage and would like to sell much of it!

On that note about my car. My car left Oregon, WI on Jan 26th and as of today, I found out via the website tracking system of my shipper, that it will not yet leave NJ port until March 12! Not the thing I wanted to see. Arrival date is listed as April 3rd! Another month to wait for my car and all the stuff I packed in it! I was told it would be 5-6 weeks at most upon pick up. Tis not the case it seems. This also means another 450 Euro for a months worth of rental car. Ugh! I am not even sure if this means April 3is the delivery date to me here in Aviano or if this is just the arrival in port over in Genoa Italy? I await that reply from the shipper.

The kicker for me is that the cost to ship my car is $3050 and with the 2-month car rental costs of $1022, I could have for that same expense, bought a 2016 Mini Cooper 3 with 40k miles for $4100 and pay 0 tax!(first car purchase only). And it would only have taken 2 weeks processing from time of signing for the car and the day I could drive it off the lot! In hindsight now this is super clear and obvious but prior to this, I had no clue it would take this long (told it wouldn't) to ship my car or how likely it is to find nice local cars for so cheap at such good quality.

Another lesson learned as I move through early life in Italy....hidden expenses and bad assumptions. It's true what they say....ASSumptions make an ASS of us all.

I ASSumed I was getting my first payday and reimbursement lump-sum Feb 20 since I started Jan 31st. The 20th is my monthly payday for my contract. This was not written out in my contract but simply stated that each month of the year I get an equal pay amount to total the agreed upon salary of my contract terms. Bad assumption! March 20 is actually the first payday and lump-sum reimbursement day! Suprise! This meant I did not see the bank account get fed as planned when planned. Have to wait 28 more days to see that happen. Fine and dandy sure, not the end of the world but....when you have not had a payday in 6 weeks and you have 3x as much cash outflow as normal, it hurts a bit....more so when you're a frugal bastard like I am. Here are just some of my major expenses since arrival in USD.

  • Meals: 20-30 a day for 28 days (mostly grab n go and take out)
  • Hotel: 1512
  • Rent + half home painting fee: 1033
  • Rent deposit: 1372
  • Car rental: 511
  • This besides the normal cost of my health insurance, car insurance, car payment, storage unit fee in WI, and new cell phone cost.

Yeah....all expected charges but again, when no $$ is coming in and these expenses going out.....it hits that pocketbook, hard!

So what to do huh? I share this so that other American expats and contractors like me who do not get some of the nice perks active duty members and spouses do, can learn from my rough patches and plan ahead.

You can find many many things for cheap or even free on local community facebook group pages. I have found tons of stuff from 3 major local pages and the spouse's network page as well as the squadron itself. I have also found the app VarageSale as a huge help to search and find nearly anything for pretty cheap and many cases free. Many airmen around here or any base about to PCS out are ready to sell tons of stuff still in great shape. Major bargain and huge savings to be found. The base itself has a thrift store here with free or low-cost items contractors can shop for the last Wednesday of each month. I made a killing here already last month.

One area I never skimp on in cost is my bed! A nice, clean, new bed, fit for my liking is one item I will spend more on to get what I want. I love my sleep and want my sleep each and every night to be grade A Z's! So I did go out and get myself a quality queen bed now on the way from the BX and at a great price, plus no tax!

Now being in my house with a nice nearly new fridge (free from Varagesale member!) I can meal prep and buy bulk foods from the commissary (no tax!) and make my own meals far cheaper than eating out every meal. I still buy many American brand items and shop the same way I did in the states matter of fact. Homemade meals will be 80% normal as always. Some local items and brands will, of course, make their way into my kitchen often sure. Its when I go eat or dine out that really tend to dive into the Italian cuisine and want not only the food experience alone but also the vibe of the venue, the sights, smells, sounds, the families, the Italian locals; speaking and learning to use my Italian to order etc....that is when I intend to experience the full Italian food/culture interplay. But for now with myself placed on a pretty tight budget until payday this month. Frankly, I don't plan on spending a whole lot of dining out for a few weeks here to stretch that dollar as long as I can.

Keep in mind that the Euro is worth about $1.14 USD right now and hovers right about this amount since I got here. So it's technically 14% more expensive here and that adds up quickly as well. All the more reason to shop carefully and use the BX and Commissary as much as possible for the needed essentials I have found.

I still need to score chairs for my kitchen, a wine rack, a coffee table for the patio as well as an outdoor patio chair. I need a recliner seat for my living room and 2 more rugs for the bedrooms. I am dying for my ninja blender big time....me without my daily massive 40oz 'Monster' shake just ain't been the same! I also plan to use the base laundry since I live so close and they have larger units as well. For $4 I can wash and dry a good-sized load of laundry every 2 weeks. This saves me paying $650+ on a washer and dryer in my house, not counting installment, shipping, and water bill increases.

I am also really trying hard to adjust to the trash system here as well lately. Its complicated IMO to say the least. Had no idea so many cans were needed to separate trash! And this from a guy who routinely did the careful separation of glass/metal, waste, paper/cardboard in the states too!

The 4 trash bins I have outside my house.

My language is picking up by the day yet. I try and use it any chance I can and it gets easier each time I find. I try and pick up 1 or 2 new words or phrases a day and then review them on my apps I have been using as well as Google Translate which has been super helpful so far on reading, speaking and listening to Italian. This coming week I begin taking Italian 1-2 classes at the community center on M-W nights. 5 weeks for each course. A major goal of mine here is to become fluent in all forms of Italian language communication.

I leave you all with this. Where is my first big trip going to be in or outside of Italy? Well first, I can travel anywhere I wish in or outside the country as of March 7th when I get my soggiorno documents in hand. I am currently thinking Lake Bled in Slovenia (2 hours drive) or heading down to Sicily to see my relatives in Palermo whom I saw back in Nov 2007 for my first visit to Italy. Perhaps both of them will happen later this month when the financial situation shifts back in my favor as I am itching to get out and about and see all that is around me both local and countrywide.

That's all for now, my friends and family of the states. I miss you all but fret not, I am far too busy getting immersed in my job, my people, my town and the food to be too homesick honestly. I eagerly await when all of you can come on over and see the awesomeness that is Aviano and Italy that I am taking in each and every day.

Ciao miei amici. Vi amo tutti!