Sunday, July 30, 2023

ITALY! Days 1-3: Florence and Tuscany

I typed this while we were on our 11 hour flight yesterday but couldn't add the pictures until I got home, so here it goes!

Italy was absolutely everything we hoped it would be. I barely touched my computer the entire time we were gone, and when I did it was only work related, so I have a lot to catch up on, but it was absolutely glorious to live in the Italian moment with my family and just soak up all Italy had to offer us. And it offered so much!
I think I'll take it by city: Florence, Amalfi Coast/Nocelle, and Rome!

Day 0

We headed to the airport on Tuesday, July 18th for our direct flight to Rome. We started a countdown on our white board at more than 200 days out and suddenly it was zero.
We had 5 carry-on suitcases, 5 excited family members, 11 days full of adventure ahead of us, and after working all weekend- a completely empty work inbox!

Day 1!

The flight went fine, it was 10.5 hours long, and given that we were supposed to sleep on the way there, I bumped James and I up to the economy "comfort" seats with the 5 extra inches of legroom and the kids a couple rows behind us in regular chairs. It did occur to me after I booked them that Landon's legs are now longer than mine, but I'm the one paying, so...
As it turns out, no one slept much! The uncomfortable seats + the allure of the in flight entertainment system meant everyone stayed awake most of the time, but we survived.

We were greeted in Rome by a 7 hour timechange and a VIP greeter at the end of the jetway with our name on a little sign and a super fast track through immigration. We've never done that before and I don't know that I can go back. Approximately 8 minutes after landing we were shaking hands with our driver and heading off towards Florence at about 2 am Texas time.

We stopped at a gas station for food (marvelously fresh and gourmet; this would change road trips in the US forever) and then on to a stop in Orvieto for a few hours.
Orvieto was beautiful with great views, beautiful narrow streets, and our first Italian cathedral.
We ate pizza, stopped by the the kids’ first gelatteria, and then hit the road to Firenze with our sweet driver telling stories and sharing his favorite Florentine things along the way. We were dropped at our first VRBO, a beautiful 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom historical apartment on the Arno river that overlooked the Ponte Vecchio. This was the view out of our temporary living room window.
Other than the fact that we were in Florence during a heatwave and our historic apartment's a/c was more like a "mild air massage that occasionally adjusts the temperature downward 1 degree," it was perfect.
When we arrived, the kids rested up a bit while James and I went out exploring. James has wanted to go to Italy his whole life and he wasn't wasting a minute, even if we hadn't slept in 35+ hours.
We waved to Landon in our apartment across the Arno river.
We collected the kids for a stroll to dinner (with what turned out to be the best gnocchi of maybe the whole trip, and we ate a lot of it! Cora ate so much of mine we had to order a second bowl) and more gelato, before moseying home across the Ponte Vecchio, past live musicians and boats on the river.
At one point James paused to put his hand on the wall of an old building and said to the kids, “don’t you just love to our your hand on the stones and think of the hundreds of years and things the stones have seen?

Landon, baffled, responded “dad, that’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard

This would be a repeated theme throughout our trip.

We went to bed, and thank goodness we were so tired after being up for two days because it was HOT and I sweated through my sleep shirt and took an ice cold shower when I got up the next morning, but that's okay, because Dallas was even hotter and if you're going to sweat you might as well do it somewhere drenched in beauty and history like Florence!

Day 2!

The upside to Florence being "SO HOT, like earth-on-fire level hot" (actual quote by me in a text to a friend) is that the mornings felt amazing while the weather was below 85. As a wise Tia (my sister) said in our family text thread, “you are the fire and the fire is you," so we embraced the heat, sweat, and unlimited opportunities for gelato as we walked 16,000+ steps ALL OVER our beautiful city.
The day began with meeting our guide out in front of our apartment for a walking tour. Lizzie, raised in Italy by British parents, was warm and knowledgeable, telling us stories and answering James's one thousand questions, teaching us to never pay Michelangelo in advance, and showing us the very best gelato place in the city.
We saw palaces and squares, markets and churches, tiny wine doors and the spectacular David. An absolute breathtaking work of art (or, in Florida, pornography that gets a teacher fired for sharing it with her class, something I'd love to rag on Florida for but know it would also totally happen in Texas arghl;asdifjasdf;lkj).
Once our tour was over we said goodbye to Lizzie and walked some more. Claire was delighted to pass by a Sephora, showing her true skills as a newly-minted 13-year-old to always be able to find a Sephora within 15 miles of wherever she is.
Lunch was the simplest and most delicious of sandwiches, and then after an accidental afternoon nap back at the apartment, we headed out for exploring and dinner.
Dinner was Buca Mario- a restaurant started in 1886 in an old nobleman’s wine cellar, you need a reservation months in advance to even stand in line by the door.
It was a *phenomenal* meal- the apps, the pasta, the Chianti...
and the famous Florentinian steak for two could have fed at least 12. Delicious!
Cora was particularly delighted by her beef.
We all loved walking home through the small streets and byways, stopping for more gelato, and turning the corner after the Ponte Vecchio to walk up to our temporary home.
We threw everything we’d worn over the last 2 days in the washer and went off to bed, wishing it was cooler inside than outside, but happy to have windows that open and feet too tired to care.
Day 3!

On Day 3 we were picked up early by a driver to head to the charming medieval town of San Gimignano on our way to lunch at a beautiful family-run winery in the Tuscan countryside.
San Gimignano, a small walled medieval hill town built largely in the 13th century, was a treasure and I’m so glad our amazing travel planner (Kaleigh of The Shameless Tourist) booked the day trip.
Our driver told us stories of Tuscany on the way over and then dropped us off at the big gate into the town, with a promise to pick us up at the big gate at the other end. It’s amazing to see so much of the original stone buildings and towers, some dating back to 900 AD, still standing and being used!
The views of the countryside were beautiful as we strolled along, shopping and stopping for the “world’s best gelato” in the square.
The family-run Podere la Marronaia winery where we had lunch was a short drive away.
Beautiful grounds with delicious food and wine (first time ever a white was my favorite!) and all the flavored olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars of my Italian dreams.
We loved absolutely everything and ordered some wine, olive oil, and the amazing balsamic to be delivered to us in Dallas after we return.
Cora found the winery dog (their red blend is named after him!) and of course, showered him with affection. No matter where we are, aparently Claire will find a Sephora and Cora will find a dog. (Landon will find a cat.)
We returned to our Ponte Vecchio apartment to rest up, hydrate with gelato and aperol spritzes, and hit the Duomo Museum, Baptistry, and Bell Tower! The Duomo is really incredible - so absolutely enormous it shows up in roughly half the pictures I took of streets in Florence. We couldn't get tickets to tour the dome (that's actually a double dome!), but we did get an appointment to climb up the bell tower!
It may have been 10 degrees outside (really more like 104, but 150 feels closer to accurate) but we climbed up those 423 narrow stone steps, tightly winding their way to the very top, so we could see the whole city from the top. It was amazing and it made the activity rings on my watch very happy even if my legs were not.
Dinner was delicious pizza. Landon was so excited that "marinara pizza" without any cheese is a real thing in Italy that he voluntarily opted for the heart-shaped version. The girls ate sandwiches on the curb outside and dessert was gelato round 3 for the day.
We walked home along the Arno to our apartment, delighted by our second day in Tuscany.
Day 4!

We woke up early to pack up and walk to the Uffizi gallery for our ticket time before we headed to the train station for our next stop!
The Uffizi was amazing. Some of us wandered the halls in awe of the magnificence and some of us wandered the halls wondering when we were ever going to leave. Everyone gets to feel their feelings and there were lots of benches on which to sit and feel them.
I continued to find all Italian ceilings absolutely incredible and I couldn't stop taking pictures of them. I generally don't take pictures of artwork or sculptures because the internet and books do it better and I keep my phone in my pocket while viewing beautiful things that don't involve my people or pets, but the ceilings just captured me. There's so much potential for our very plain ceilings in Dallas!
We grabbed lunch on the Arno in a lovely little cafe next to our apartment and then headed up to get our luggage to walk to the train station.
I’d been quoted €80 for a van transfer to the train station, but after googling the distance, I decided that dragging suitcases 1.5 km through crowded cobblestone streets was part of the magic of a European vacation. I wasn’t really thinking about the 100 degree heat, but still, I think everyone would agree magic was made. (Claire, later: “WAIT. We could have ridden IN A VAN?!!”).
Landon took more of a battering ram approach to his train station transfer.
We got to the station drenched in sweat and feeling very accomplished. The train ride was about 4 hours and good fun. The kids enjoyed walking to the cafeteria car, getting the drink service, and spreading out more than our coach seats on the plane could allow.
We got picked up at the station by yet another driver (ALL the thanks to Kaleigh for planning all of this so very seemlessly) and began the hour+ drive along the narrow, twisty, turny, CRAZY, 1-lane cliff-side roads from Naples to Nocelle. And that's where we'll pick up on the next post!

Sunday, July 16, 2023

2/5 of this house is teenager

So it's the middle of summer and Landon turned 16 yesterday and we leave for Italy in 1.5 days and it's 115,000 degrees outside and work is busy and I've been trying to go to yoga any day I can and I have missed writing so much. I spent part of this week in DC and much of yesterday getting my work inbox down to 5 emails from 645, which I'm sure will be blown up tomorrow but at least I'm starting from a lower number than I've had for a long time, so tonight, I am writing a blog post!
I also completely packed for an 11 day trip to Italy in my beloved carry-on suitcase and I am feeling VERY accomplished. James and the kids can pack their carry-ons tomorrow, but I have a day full of calls and meetings and I don't want to yell at anyone in my house, so I am done. I love everything I brought and am so excited about our upcoming adventure.
Bonnie is the very best and the only reason I'm fully and happily packed early, though Milo certainly also assisted.
I don't know what we would have done without him.
But let's go backwards- to last weekend when the tiny baby who prompted this blog to begin back in 2006, back when it occurred to me at the same time that getting pregnant in law school AND starting a blog were both great ideas, celebrated his 16th birthday with his two best friends.
I wanted to throw Landon a big sweet 16 birthday pool party and he fully quashed that idea and asked for a sleepover with his two best friends from Weatherford with pizza, muffins, video games, swimming, chocolate covered pretzels (both white and dark), and a trip to Main Event for bowling and arcade games.
No cake, no theme, and NO singing of Happy Birthday.
And so, that is exactly what we did. And he had the very best time, which is exactly what he deserved.
It's hard sometimes to realize we're on the back half of parenting and I truly miss a house full of chubby toddlers with joy and chaos in their hearts, but it's a daily comfort to know what awesome little humans these kids are becoming. Also, just a note to reflect on how on earth we can be the parents of two teenage children?
On Friday morning, I was sending some emails from my office before heading out to work and Landon, who found out the day before he got a 5 on his first AP test, was holding Milo up to the mirror and reassuring him of how very handsome he was.
It's those little moments, that are small and unremarkable but also them acting as their truest selves, that I love catching the most. I love the snapshots into who they are: a text, a short conversation on a car ride, a random drop by their room at a quiet moment... teenagers are a trip and the goddamn best.
(For context on the chat below, Claire kept sending me links for things to buy with her money on Amazon Prime day because I won't give her the password to our Prime account and I often had feedback on her choices.)
I should note that 9 year olds are pretty freaking great too.
She may not have a phone yet, but she still finds ways to show pieces of herself through writing.
In between all the work and emails and yoga classes, we've been soaking up some family time. Sequence, which we've owned forever and I remember playing with my family as a kid, is our new favorite game of choice.
On the 4th of July the kids decided it to was too hot for a parade that can't pass out candy, so we cleaned out closets instead. Pretty sure if they'd known my idea of a good time, they would have opted for the parade even with the heat.
But look! It's so beautiful. (That's my office closet, otherwise known as the travel, ski, memory, and holiday closet.)
Landon's actual birthday was yesterday, and in between I went to DC for work for 3 days, Claire got her cast off (yay!!), and James went to Austin for Sections where he went yet another best time in the 100 breaststroke. I also wore clothes, even though no one else in this house is ever out of athleisure or pajamas, and I take pictures of me in them because no one else is awake when I leave.
Anyway, we celebrated our firstborn's day with a dinosaur themed table, presents, donuts (the girls' pushed him into it), no cake, and dinner at Chuy's with about a dozen flour tortillas of his very own.
We took a picture and I realized I really am definitely no longer the second tallest person in our family. I probably haven't been for a while, but this really brought it home.
[Sob.] But dinner was delicious and Landon was absolutely delighted with his perfect birthday meal.
He and James spent the whole day today at the Dallas Card Show (basketball and football cards are his new obsession) and they were gone for 8 hours and had the very best time. The girls I had got pedicures and also enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. It's been a good weekend, ahead of what will be a great week (Italy!!), followed by a return just in time for Landon to take his driving test and then all 3 kids to fly to Colorado all by themselves for a week with Papa & Gigi in the mountains. Life is pretty good.
One final random story before I go to bed because it's 10:30 and I have to get to work early and also we leave the country on Tuesday: In cleaning out the office closet we found the old kitten tunnel I bought for the cats a while ago. They loved it, then ignored it, so I rolled it up and put it in a bin, and upon discovering it again, I decided we'd donate it to my friend who just adopted two kittens. Milo, like any child, re-discovered the tunnel as soon as I set it out and now it is his very favorite thing and is in it all the time and the new kittens will simply have to get their own.
Happy July!