Saturday, March 24, 2012

Free Travel #3 Continued

We woke up to a gorgeous day. The sun was shining, skies clear, and Cinque Terre was on our agenda. Cinque Terre means "the five lands". We hopped on the train to the first city of Riomaggiore to hike to Manorola. The trail called the Via Dell'Amore ("Love Walk"). There were locks all along the path which will seal your eternal love. It was literally on the edge of a cliff protected by super sturdy rails and nets to catch falling rocks. The view was from a postcard.!
In Manorola, we caught the train to Monterosso. We skipped the two towns in between-one of those towns was Vernazza and it was hit hardest in the torrential rains, flooding and mudslides that happened on October 25, 2011. I have been told this town is beautiful and a favorite by many.
In Monterosso, we ate a quick bit of Focaccia bread sitting outside looking at the beach, The kids enjoyed rolling up their jeans and pretty much getting soaked from the knees down. When we returned to Santa Margherita, we did some window shopping, ate supper and actually got the kids to bed at 9.
We headed home on Friday after visiting the outside market in Santa Margherita. I love the Italian markets where you can buy anything from panties to fresh fruit! We again made a train error (my fault) which delayed us a couple of hours. It is confusing sometimes to figure out the train schedules and train bins! Irritating to make mistakes, but it does make you a well-seasoned traveler. The kids really had a good time this past week and it was nice to be on a slower schedule!

Free Travel #3-Santa Margherita

The last three days of our free travel was spent in the beautiful Italian Riveria. We based ourselves in Santa Margherita at the Hotel Continental. March is low season for this area, so we were able to stay at a nice hotel with a huge balcony overlooking the Ligure Sea.
As our train rolled through the countryside, we saw beautiful mountains with snowy peaks; then we passed the rugged portion of the coast going through the towns of Cinque Terre; and, finally to our town of Santa Margherita which we happened to miss by mistake and ended up in Genova.

We had decided to visit the Genova Aquarium, so since we were already there we changed our plans for the day and headed over there. I was really impressed with the aquarium. The tanks were huge and we got to see up close seals, penguins, jellyfish and more. The kids loved trying to "pet" the stingrays. Unfortunately the dolphin tank was under construction, so much the the kids dismay, we did not see them.
Despite missing our train stop, we had a good day full of adventure!

Free Travel #2-Florence

We spent two days at the villa chilling and relaxing. One day we climbed to the top of the duomo. It had 400 steps and we climbed through tight spaces to reach the top. It was pretty amazing to view the painting by Michelangelo literally right behind us. From the top of the duomo you could see all of Florence. I was a bit afraid of the height especially since Grant made the climb with us. It was a beautiful view of the city and well worth the sore legs I had the next day.

On our second day in Florence, Jim took Grant to the Museum Leonardi. I had fallen down a couple stairs the night before in the villa because I didn't turn the lights on. I missed some steps and fell on my ankle. Laura and I stayed back and each of us enjoyed some one on one time with the each kid.


This was our first trip on a train for me and the kids. Grant was pretty excited since he loves trains so much. When we arrived in Rome, we boarded a charter bus to see the Catacombs and the ruins of the Circus of Maxentius.
I laughed when we checked into our hotel room because there were four separate beds for all of us.
Here are the highlights of the trip since we saw so many sites:

Trevi Fountains: Legend says if you throw one coin over left shoulder, you will return to Rome; two coins thrown ensures true love; and three coins thrown ensures marriage. We all threw just one.
Pantheon: One interesting fact is that Brunelleschi studied this dome to figure out how to construct the Florence duomo.
Coliseum: I was so impressed with this building structure from so long ago-it was huge!
The Forum: This was the central area of Roman government.
Villa Borghese: There are museums, a theatre, park, a lake, and a zoo. We rented a fun bike to tour the beautiful area and the kids thoroughly enjoyed the day!
The Vatican:
I had no idea the Vatican was so enormous. This was a harder visit to really enjoy with two children. Laura enjoyed it for about an hour and Grant was totally off that day, so he was a challenge. I did enjoy the Sistine chapel although it was super duper crowded. We also visited St. Peter's Basilica. It has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world. It was beautiful!
Grant is definitely on his last legs at this point as he sits in the middle of the church!
Rome was so fascinating because you have this huge city bustling with taxis, people, cobbled roads, fountains with fresh drinking water and then ancient ruins.
I liked it a lot, but I will say that I enjoy the smaller city of Florence.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Masks for Carnavale

I took Laura one afternoon with the HU student to visit a Firenze artisian bottegga. We were there about three hours and learned the art of mask making. Since Carnavale was coming up, we all make our own masks. It was quite a process and a long one. Laura made her very own mask and I stayed out of her artistic style.
Carnavale is like "Fat Tuesday". It takes place the day before Ash Wednesday where you can eat all the yummies you desire before Lent. We celebrated at the Villa with a mexican dinner. We all dressed up in our masks and Grant was a cowboy. There was a fun band where Laura and Grant took over the dance floor for a few minutes!

Loving and Missing

What I miss:
1. My clothes smelling like Downy.
2. Lingering over a cup of coffee--Italians drink their caffe in 5 minutes.
3. My mom and dad and Friends-being able to just pick up the phone and call my mom every morning or a friend real quick. I miss that.
4. A schedule for my children.
5. Alone time
6. Annie sleeping in our bed at night.
7. Diet coke--- coke light just isn't the same!

What I love:
1. My clothes are washed and folded by Ms. Paola.
2. Cappuccino - tastes nothing like American Cappuccino
3. Italians being so helpful and sweet-especially to Laura and Grant.
4. Simplicity of Italian culture-there are really no conveniences here-like drive thru food. I love that. You have to plan ahead and not rely on McDonald's or Little Caesar's to feed you.
5. Technology is not a big deal here. You won't find Italians on their phones ALL the time. I enjoy that.
6. Beauty-I haven't been to an ugly place yet.
7. City life-it is nice to just hop on a tram or train to get to your destination.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

San Gimigiano & Sienna

A clear blue sky awaited us as we boarded the bus for San Gimigiano. This was definitely one of my favorite towns. It was quaint, adorable and a beautiful city surrounded by towers. The town originally had 72 towers, and now only 15 remain. The weekly market was that day and the little shops were open along the cobbled street.

We visited the Duomo which was decorated in Old and New testament frescoes. Our time went so quickly and after we had climbed to the top of the city, it was time to go.

On our way to Sienna, we ate lunch at Monteriggioni. This is a medieval Tuscany town surrounded by its virutally intact curtain walls and fourteen towers.
After lunch, we headed to Sienna where we toured their Cathedral. We let the kids play in the Piazza del Campo which houses the Torre del Mangia and is also famous for hosting the Palio horse races.

I really enjoyed Sienna and our day was complete with a meal together at a local favorite restaurant.