Friday, July 1, 2011

Ah Venice….

We spent the last two days in Venice. This was not my first trip down the Canal, as mom and I had spent a few days there in 2007. It’s an interesting thing….after I went the first time, I felt like, yes it was nice, but that I had been there done that. Now having gone back with Jeff (hubby) and Heidi (sister-in-law) and Linda (family friend), I feel that there are many more things to be seen in this watery city. For example, Mom and I did the whole Murano island thing and went to the Accademia when we were there. This time, we did lots of shopping (um, hello, three girls plus Jeff? Yes, there was lots of shopping) and spent some time at St. Mark’s Square. But as I look at some of the museums that are in town, I feel like I could go back and spend a few days there experiencing some of the modern art collections, which is perhaps my favorite period when it comes to art. It probably won’t happen anytime soon given all the other places in the world to be seen, but something to put on the “if I ever happen to be in Venice again, I’m going to see X, Y and Z……”

We arrived and everyone was pleasantly surprised. You see, they have been having some thunderstorms at night, so it was nice and cool, a bit overcast at times with like zero humidity. Happy campers here! Such a contrast from the last time when it was hot, sticky and sweaty (and not in a fun way, mind you). Our hotel was basic by Venice standards, but super close to the Rialto Bridge, which meant we were right in the middle of the city, a perfect place to do our exploring from. Here’s some pictures from the sights of the city.


Alas, after just a short day and a half, we were on our way back to Florence and ready for our next adventure! Auntie Heidi and Linda will head out for Rome tomorrow and Jeff, Keegan and I are planning a trip to the park for a picnic for Daddy's last day in Firenze!

Fun with Daddy

Jeff leaves on Sunday to return to the good ol’ US of A, just in time for 4th of July. Boo! His two and a half weeks here has gone by very quickly. Now, it will be just three weeks until my time here in Italy is over. Wow, time really does fly.

We’ve had lots of fun with Keegan and Daddy while he’s been here. Here’s some of my favorite pictures from his time here…..

I'll share my gelato with you Daddy!

Here we are at a cooking class. Keegan helped us make gnocchi from scratch, bruschetta and tiramisu. Yum!

Enjoying an evening out on the Ponte Vecchio.

A ride on the carousel to celebrate Father's Day and Keegan's birthday, which were on the same day this year!

Cinque Terre

Last weekend, Jeff and I headed off for a holiday weekend. I decided to take him up to Cinque Terre, which is a place that I hadn’t been to, but had on my list. Cinque Terre is a region of five small towns that are built into the coastline of Italy. I thought it might remind us of the time we spent in Santorini on our honeymoon. My, how times have flown by in just a few years, having gotten married in 2008, Keegan was born in 2009, and now here we are in 2011. It seems like it was just yesterday that we went to Santorini.

But I digress…

The region of Cinque Terre is lovely. We decided to stay up in Levanto, which is just north of the last town and easily accessible by train. I have to say, it was perhaps my favorite area of the region, which surprised me somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, the 5 lands are beautiful, but Levanto is the type of town that you can see that families from all over Europe come to year after year for their summer holiday. We stayed in a beautiful villa overlooking the ocean and wandered the streets the first day that we arrived in town…..We even managed to catch a pretty good sunset. I love this picture of my two boys!

Evidently, i am contemplating something as i check out the view from our room...

The next day, we set off for Riomaggiore, the first of the five towns.

We didn’t spend too much time in each of the towns – they have mostly touristy shops (seen one, seen them all), but we did find our way to the Via della amore (the Lover’s Walk) which is the first part of the trail that connects the five towns. As we walked along the path to Manarola (the next town) we got to experience some pretty amazing views from the coastline.

Someday.......i want this.

We even had the opportunity to participate in a tradition along the way where you bring a lock to seal your love along the way. Keegan helped us out by choosing a spot for our lock and helped to close it up.

Next we hit the train to go to the town of Monterosso, which is more of a beach town area. We found a little cafĂ© on the beach to enjoy our lunch. We then headed back to Levanto and went to the Casino. Those of you who know my husband are probably laughing here. So was I when we first saw it on the map. But the “casino” was actually a beach club, complete with a swimming pool. So we decided to spend our afternoon here. Now Keegan is not a fan on the ocean and true to form, was a bit unnerved when Daddy took him out again. But after spending some time playing in the sand, he seemed to be slightly better when all three of us went out for a swim. But both K and I are more “pool people”, so we headed up to the pool where we donned our swimming caps (a requirement and oh so fashionable) and water wings for Keegan and off we went to splash around.

After a few hours of water play, we changed back into our clothes and headed off to Vernazza. This was perhaps the town that I was most looking forward to. We made it here for dinner and I was hoping to be able to head up the trail to get one of those postcard views, but alas I wasn’t able to find the right trail and the one that I did manage to hike up a bit had the sun right in my lens. Still, here's one that was worthy of posting from sea level of the town.

Apparently, Keegan is like his mama as he considers life in Italy....

We decided to come back a bit early to relax from our weekend away (I am here for work after all, so occasionally there is work to be done!). Alas, our plans were thwarted by the train strike. We ended up getting stuck in Pisa for a few hours, but made it home safe and sound.

Florence....from a different view

The other day, we decided to embark on a new experience. We left Keegan at home with Linda and headed off to climb to the top of the dome at the Cathedral. A few steps later (more like 463 steps later) and some sore muscles the next day, we came up to an incredible view of the city.

Needless to say, we were hot, sweaty and tired after our trip (and gave away a calorie or two during the experience). But it is just another thing we can check off our “things to do in Italy” list.

Wine….Chianti style

Last week, Jeff, Keegan and I headed out on a tour of the Chianti region for some wine tasting. Ok, so Jeff and I did the wine tasting and Keegan had juice J

Our tour took us to a winery in Chianti outside the town of Greve. Now neither Jeff nor I have ever been big on red wines, but after our experience I think we are beginning to develop a taste for it. We learned about the different types of Chianti wine and had the opportunity to taste two different Chianti wines, as well as Vin Santo, a traditional tuscan sweet dessert wine.

An awesome view from the castle…

Now that’s some REALLY old wine.

We even saw some beautiful peacocks up at the castle. This was probably Keegan’s favorite part of the day.

Friday, June 17, 2011


So this week has been filled with a couple of different daytrips, so i thought i would put them all together in one post...

On Wednesday, the students and I headed out to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. And it was a really HOT day! Pisa is just a short train ride from Florence, so it made for an easy day trip.

Contrary to this picture, the tower actually is really leaning.....

After Pisa, some of the students headed to the airport for their weekend adventures....Ibiza, Scotland, Dublin and Paris were the destinations of choice for about half of the students. The other half stayed with me and we headed off to the beach at Viareggio. While some of the students headed off to find the free beach, i was more than happy to pay my 5 euros to gain entry into a private beach club, where we had a changing room, bathroom, shower, kids play area, a place to get snacks and the best part - a beach chair with an umbrella. I was in heaven.....

Keegan was enjoying playing in the sand, but for some reason this kid is not a fan of the ocean. I think the waves scare him, as he is fine when we go in the pool at home. But he runs and screams if you try and dip his toes into the salty water.

Thursday, one of my students (Becky, aka "Wocky") headed out to explore the town of Verona, as in the fame of Romeo and Juliet (yes i have seen the cheesy movie "Letters to Juliet" and now after having been there i will probably watch it again.). We did go and see the "famous" balcony, but decided not to take the tour of her house.

The balcony is smaller than i imagined it to be....then again, the Italians are very tiny people.

Perhaps the highlight of our day (other than a REALLY good granita) was a tour of the Castelvecchio. We didn't really get to spend too much time with all the art (side note: they made us check the stroller, which then made Keegan want to touch everything, a big no no in a museum. And yet, they didn't seem too pleased that i was telling him, "NO" and "DON'T TOUCH" every 5 seconds. It's like, what do you expect people, for an almost two year old to behave like a perfect angel after a really long day of traveling and touring, especially if you unrestrain him from his stroller. Really?) Regardless, the views from here were pretty awsome of the Verona region.

All in all, a very productive few days.

Meet "Wocky"

"Wocky" is so cool that she deserves her own post.

Becky (aka Wocky) is one of my students in the program this summer. And she is Keegan's new best friend. Literally. Mommy is so second class when Wocky is around. And thank god for her, as i probably wouldn't have survived this past week without her.

I think Keegan first fell in love with Becky on our train ride to Rome. He was laughing the whole time as they were playing. Whenever he is in his stroller, he calls out for her to hold his hand. It's very cute - especially when she has to let go because the roads are very tiny. K expresses his dislike with these momentary separations :)

Here's a few picture of Keegan with his new best friend - hopefully her boyfriend back home doesn't get jealous of the new man in her life :)

Ah Roma!

I had to ask myself, will the third time still be charming? Will i still be forever in love with the Eternal City?

The answer is indeed yes. But not necessarily for the same reasons as before.

Yes i still love to see all the amazing monuments, like the Trevi Fountain (threw in another coin, just for good luck that i will return to Rome and i added an extra one for Keegan) and the Vatican, but i found that i just enjoyed wandering the city, particularly the less crowded less touristy areas. I think if i ever came back to Italy to live for a summer, i'd like to try Rome and see the sights less traveled. Rome is a much older city than Florence, but it just has a certain energy to it that i love.

On our first day in Rome, we headed over to the Vatican. For the first time, i got to experience a guided tour (courtesy of our program here - in the past i've just done it on my own). While i appreciated all the background to some of the art, we had precious little time to work our way through this expansive collections, so i felt pretty rushed (and this was my 3rd time - i can only imagine how some of the students must have felt)

Ok, so i'm probably going to hell for this one. But i broke the rules and took some pictures of the works of Michelangelo that make up the ceiling. It's perhaps one of my favorite images of Rome.....perhaps anywhere. Not sure why some places allow you to take photos while others forbid it. Sure, i can see the no flash rule to protect the colors of the art. In the Sistine Chapel, i've been told that it is protected because it is a sacred spot for the Pope. Or maybe they just want to sell you really expensive reproductions in the gift shop?

Speaking of gift shops....I saw this sign at the Vatican that i found particularly amusing...just in case you weren't sure where to go to part with your Euros..... I purchased a lovely cross to give to Keegan someday when he is older.

Of course, Keegan's favorite thing to do in Saint Mark's Square was to chase the birds....

But we still did our fair share of tourist monuments! And lots and lots of walking. The subtitle for this blog really should read...I could walk 500 miles, because i think we did just that. The first day we walked from like 12-9 and the next day from 830-4 and then again from 7-12. Sunday we slowed things down a bit and only wandered from 10-3....only! Ha! Keegan was such a trooper the whole weekend!

Here's a few pictures of us as some of the magical sights of Roma!

The Colosseum at Night

Keegan and I at the Trevi Fountain - make a wish!

Rome is full of fountains - here we are at one in the Piazza Navona.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tuscany travels

Over the past two days, we've done our fair share of traveling outside the city of Florence.

On Friday, we had a trip with the students to the towns of Siena and San Gimignano. We boarded the bus at the train station (which we got totally lost in trying to find our way there). It's about a 90 minute ride to the town of Siena.

Siena is famous for two things: the birthplace of St. Catherine and the Palio races.

Here is the church where the relics of St. Catherine are held (her head and a finger - no she wasn't beheaded or anything, just that's all that Rome was willing to part with, as she was considered an important figure in religious history)

The palio races are held twice each year. It is a horse race, though not the type of horse racing that we might have in mind - Kentucky Derby it is not. The town of Siena is divided into 17 different sections, and each race, 10 of the regions are selected to participate. Why only 10? Well the ring for the race is not big enough to hold 17 horses plus the 35,000 people who come to watch. While there are professional jockeys, they ride bareback on horses. Anything goes to win the race - you can push off another jockey, whip at another horse. Many of the jockeys fall off their horses and that's ok. All that matters is that the horse crosses the finish line. The winner receives a painting of Mary (the race is dedicated to her) and of course, bragging rights for the region of the city that wins!

Here's a look at the area where the race takes place. Crazy to imagine all those people and 10 horses racing in such a small space!

Every town has a cathedral, and this one is no exception.
The amount of detail that was put into these buildings is simply amazing!

Then we were off to San Gimignano. A traditional hill town, the region is known from its wine (and according to my last post, its world famous gelato). After walking all those hills (and pushing a stroller with a 25 lb toddler uphill) we earned our ration of gelato that day!

The next day, it was off on the train to Lucca, which is another town in the Tuscan region. Lucca is a much quieter town, less touristy than Siena or San Gimignano, which was nice. We wandered around the city and took in the sights. One of the most distinguishing features of Lucca is that there is a wall that surrounds the city, which was built to ward off attack. And apparently it worked, as i don't believe the city ever came under a serious siege. Today, you can rent bikes and ride around the 2.5km perimeter.

Here's some of the sights.

And at the end of the past two days, we all were very tired!

Eating in Italy

Food in Italy deserves it's own blog, so here it is....

Food here is an experience. Whether it be grabbing a panini from a storefront shop, or enjoying a four course meal, eating in Italy is something to be enjoyed. I think of how at home, i am often rushing from one place to the next and find myself at a drive-thru, or i grab something for lunch and eat at my desk while i'm multitasking. Rarely do i have the opportunity to sit down and enjoy the experience and culture of eating.

Needless to say, here in Italy, it's a different story.

And what we know as Italian food, is not what they serve here. Let me explain.

For example, pizza as we know it does not exist here. Pizza here is typically a thin crust, with light sauce and just a small amount of cheese. Everything is in moderation. According to the walking tour we did the first day we were in town, to find the best pizza means to find someone from Naples, where pizza was born. Evidently, there is one such pizza maker a few blocks from my house. And i have to say, it is pretty good.

The typical Italian meal is served in several courses. First, you have a starter, or what we would call an appetizer. My favorites here are bruschetta, prosciutto and melon and caprese salad. Then it's on to the first course, pasta. Here, i love gnocchi and lasagna. But there lasagna is very different from ours - lots of layers of very thin pasta with light amounts of sauce, just enough to provide some moisture between the pasta and cheese. Heavenly. Then it's on to the second course. Most of the time, i never order a second course, as it is simply too much food. But the other night, we had a welcome dinner with the students where they did a proper 4 course meal. I was absolutely stuffed full by the end of that meal - there was soooo much food!

Sometimes there is even a side dish of veggies. I had to take a picture of this event. By that i mean, my kid, who never eats veggies at home, has willingly and eagerly eaten both green beans and carrots since we've been here. Who is this person and what did you do with my kid. I hope this is a trend that continues!

Then of course, there is the wine. Wine is a religion here. We had a fabulous red wine at our welcome dinner. Those of you who know me, know that i am not a big red wine drinker. It just is always too, i don't know what the word is here, too bitter for me. It's like the aftertaste zaps back at you. Not on this night. This stuff was so smooth, i drank like half the bottle (and being the good recyclers that they are, and not wanting to waste anything, my students gladly finished of the bottle at our table). In looking at the bottle, turns out it's nothing special in terms of type of wine, just basic red table wine.

Even Keegan got caught up in the party of it all. Cheers! Hey, it's a lesson in culture!

Then of course, there is gelato. Oh and cannoli's too, which are awsome here. Ah, but gelato as you know by now, holds a special place in my heart. And belly...and ass and thighs - HA! With so many places and flavors to choose from, how does one choose. In San Gimignano, there is a store there that claims to be the best gelato in the world. It's a hard call, but i think i like my little neighhood place better. Although they did have some rockin' flavors, like white chocolate. No, in my neighborhood, we have a place called Grom, which is well known for being one of the best because they use all natural and fresh ingredients. As you can see, it has quite the following. This is actually a short line....

Luckily, we do lots of walking here to balance out the food extravaganza!

The Price of Italy

Out of my many travel experiences, it seems that Europe, and in this case, Italy, is one of the more expensive places to live.

Take for example, the price of gasoline. Mind you, I am very thankful that I am not driving here (never mind the price of gas, but the drivers here are flipping psycho!). Plus they have the most amazing train system that takes you just about anywhere you want to go with ease. But I digress.

1 liter - .26 gallons. So for math’s sake, let’s call it 4 liters to a gallon. At 1.49Euros per liter, that’s 5.96Euros a gallon. Convert that into dollars based on today’s exchange rate of $1.46 dollars to a Euro, that’s a grand total of…..$8.88 for a GALLON OF GAS.

I shall never complain about the price of gas again. Oh who am I kidding, I’m sure I will. But now I will have a bit more perspective when doing so, and argue that the price of gas sucks everywhere!

Another example, shoes. I am not nearly the shoe fanatic that many of my friends are (and you know who you are). As I glance by the store window, I do see the occasional pair that would look really cute on my feet. And then I pseudo-faint when I see the price tag. So far, I haven’t seen a single pair of shoes under 50Euros. And that’s for the cheap looking ones. Most average shoes seem to be priced anywhere from $100-175Euros (translation: $146-255). Now I can’t say that I remember the last time I paid $146 dollars for a pair of basic pair of ordinary sandals (and I have never paid $255 for shoes!)

I mean come on, are these really worth $255? I don't think so......

These ones are slightly more affordable at 95 Euro (approx $140) but still...

Clothing too is very expensive (and very tiny as there are no fat people here. There aren’t even moderately rounded individuals? How is that possible?????) For example….

And this was at an ordinary average store. Compare it to, say, Forever 21. Or Express. 60 Euros for a basic top????? That's almost $100 for something that i thought was worth more like $19.99.

I figure the Italians must have a significantly smaller wardrobe selection than Americans, lest they would be broke. Plus they have tiny apartments so less places to store things. There is something to be said about that in a positive light.

Here’s one for my mommy friends. Baby stuff is also very very expensive. For example, here, you see a small package of diapers, quantity 28. At 10.59Euros, that’s $15.46 a package, or $.55 a diaper. At that rate, i'd be back to cloth diapers! Lucky for me, I brought a few packages over with me and will hopefully coerce my friends and family to squeeze a package or two in with their luggage when they come to visit.

Luckily, by living here, we aren’t subjected to eating every meal out on the go, so being about to cook at home helps out a lot both on the pocketbook as well as the waistline. More free cash for gelato then! My goal is to eat to my heart's delight, walk it all off and hopefully come home without gaining too much weight (wishful thinking has me losing 5lbs......).