Archive | Italy

our final days in Florence

See more of our Florence trip here and here and our day trips to Siena here and Pisa here.


Oh, this city! What a wonderful time we all had soaking in the beauty, history, and glory of Florence. I knew I’d love it — everyone told me it would be my favorite Italian city so far — but it was made so much more wonderful that I got to share it with my parents, sister, and sister-in-law. Thank you again for coming, family!


After we got back from Pisa, I put the kids down for their naps, and then my mom and I headed out to see a few more sights in Florence. We slipped into the magnificent Baptistry (above), admired the facade of the Duomo again (below), and saw the famous bronze Baptistry doors in the museum.

I studied all these things with my mom when our classical homeschooling curriculum included Architecture in 8th Grade, so it felt like we came full circle!



That evening Jess, Elliott, and I took the kids up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sun set over Florence. It was only a 10-minute walk from our apartment, so we had visited frequently during that week. This time I wish I hadn’t come, though, because my phone got stolen… probably right as Jess took the photo below. Sigh.


The next day I still felt pretty down in the dumps, so Jess and Elliott suggested we go on a walk and find some lunch. (My sister was working on her thesis… we missed you, Em!) We headed up into the hills behind our apartment, hiking quickly out of the noise and bustle of the city and into peaceful, spacious neighborhoods that felt more like quintessential Tuscany.




Eventually we stopped at a restaurant that Jess had found, and we discovered an outdoor terrace with views of the valley behind the Boboli Gardens. Birdsong filled the air, and daffodils bloomed nearby.

We ordered a hot seafood appetizer and a whole baked fish, sipped house wine, and dipped fresh bread in olive oil and vinegar. It was glorious.



After a little more wandering around the hills, we headed home to meet up with our family for our evening plans: to ride the carousel!




“Which horse do you want to ride, Lena?”



Practicing her queen’s wave.


After their ride, Lena was unwrapping a piece of candy that the man in the carousel ticket box had given her. Gil saw what she was doing and planted himself patiently next to her, hand on her sleeve, waiting for his half of the treat.


My boys!


Looking for artwork to take home.


We wandered slowly back to our apartment, savoring our last walk through Florence together. We stopped to listen to street musicians, shop for scarves and leather purses, and get one last glimpse of famous Florentine art and architecture.

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And that was Florence! That night Elliott, Em, and I walked Jess to the train station, and the next morning the rest of us began our own journeys home. Thank you for coming, family! So many memories to last a lifetime.

2 :: in family, Florence, Italy, travel

a day in Pisa, Italy


Pisa was such a fun day trip! Really the only thing to see in Pisa is… the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So that makes the day trip pretty short and sweet. We took a 1.5-hour train ride from Florence and spent about 3 hours walking around the town and enjoying the “Field of Miracles” where the Leaning Tower is located.


As soon as we walked out of the train station, we saw a gathering of tents where various Italian specialties were being sold. My mom went ga-ga over an entire booth dedicated to licorice. Meanwhile, check out that pig’s head with an apple in his mouth in the photo above! Everything was so tantalizing that we returned for lunch later that day.




And there’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa!


Obligatory touristy shot and Lena with her beloved balloon that we found in a bush.


Like I said, Lena really loved that balloon.

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Gil made friends with the Leaning Man of Pisa (maybe?), and Em and I bought new “Ray Ban” shades for 5 euro each on the street. (So if you see me wearing them, don’t be too impressed.)


On the train ride home, there was some excitement: our train went through a tunnel and our train car went pitch black for about 5 seconds. As soon as the train was out of the tunnel, my dad jumped up, flung open the train car’s door, and went running down the length of the train. What?!

But he’d seen immediately that my mom’s purse had disappeared while the train was in the tunnel! He stopped a man along the way and we later found my mom’s purse near where the man had been standing. We assume the man dropped it as soon as my dad jumped up. Quick thinking from everyone!

Sadly, this didn’t prevent me from making a stupid error later that evening… and my phone and camera bag were stolen from right under my nose when I set my bag down to take some pictures. Such a loss! We made it through 2.5 years in Italy (infamous for pick-pocketers) without anything being stolen, and then that happened.

Incidentally, my new phone (you can read why I got a new one here) arrived yesterday. I have been doing a lot of thinking during my three-week break from my phone, and I have some ideas about how I’d like to use my phone better in the future. I’m working on a blog post about it… coming soon!

What’s the worst thing you ever had stolen from you?

2 :: in family, Florence, Italy, travel

Florence with our family :: Uffizi Museum, Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, and Duomo Climb


(See Part I and Part II of our Florence trip.)

Days 4 and 5 in Florence were laid back; we had no schedule other than visiting the famous Uffizi Gallery of art on Tuesday morning. We hit a lot of highlights of Florence in these two days, but we mixed it up with plenty of napping, talking, and gelato. Definitely my favorite way to see a European city!

The young people (Elliott, Jess, Em, and I) also went out for dinner one night to a little enoteca around the corner from our apartment. We had an amazing time talking and trying various wines; photos from that evening are here and here.


the Palazzo Vecchio as seen from the Uffizi

For our Uffizi Gallery tour, Elliott and I took Lena (free admission) and left Gil at home to nap with my parents. (Apparently the nap lasted only 5 minutes after we left, so thank you, Mom and Dad!) We used the notes in our amazing guidebook to do our own self-guided walking tour, which was a great way to capitalize on the main attractions of the museum.

Seeing The Birth of Venus and La Primavera by Boticelli were the highlights for me, but the museum has the best collection of Italian Renaissance artwork in the world, so there’s a lot more to enjoy. Definitely a must-see if you visit Florence!


Looking out the window of the Uffizi at the Ponte Vecchio.

After we finished in the museum, we met up with our family for a quick self-guided tour of the Sante Croce Cathedral. Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Dante are a few of the famous men who are entombed in the cathedral. The grounds outside were equally magnificent!

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Isn’t my sister gorgeous?! “So pret-ty, like mod-del…”


A break to enjoy some spring blooms outside the grocery store.



We also visited the Pitti Palace, which is huge and magnificent, but is surpassed by the stunning Boboli Gardens behind it. We could have spent hours in those beautifully manicured spaces with the dazzling views of Florence and the Tuscan countryside!

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Amazing view of the Duomo Cathedral and the Palazzo Vecchio behind us.


Touring is so much fun!


Lena is in her happy place. Well, this or a bowl of cookie dough.

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Our favorite part was the vista at the very back of the Boboli Gardens.


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On the left, Lena is demonstrating her dance moves to Auntie Jess.


Ready to climb Brunelleschi’s dome!

While the kids were napping that afternoon, everyone but my noble dad (thanks again, Pai!) climbed to the top of the dome of the Duomo, the main cathedral of Florence. I read a book about the construction of the dome before we came to Florence, so I was especially excited to see the interior and the view from the lantern.


Brunelleschi’s dome is actually two domes — one inside the other — and we climbed between the two to get to the top.


463 steps later…


… it was so worth the climb!




Peace out!

If all goes well, I’ll be back tomorrow with more photos… but tomorrow is also LENA’S THIRD BIRTHDAY, so no guarantees! She has requested a “raspberry cake,” and now this mama must turn that dream into reality. It’s more of a challenge than it sounds, because in my 2.5 years in Sicily I have not seen one fresh raspberry…!

0 :: in family, Florence, Italy, travel

a day in Siena, Italy


OK, I am overcoming my intimidation of the 900 photos I took in Florence (!!!), and so this week I’m planning to share the best photos from each day. I hope you enjoy this trip “back” to northern Italy with me!


We stayed in Florence for 7 days, and our home base was this gorgeous apartment right on the River Arno. On our first two days in Florence, we explored on foot and took a rather enervating 3-hour walking tour. (Photos of our apartment and first two days’ adventures can be found here.)


On Monday we took the bus to Siena, a town about 1.5 hours away from Florence. It was a chilly, blustery day, but we enjoyed walking around the town, especially the main Piazza del Campo.




Lots of walking and chasing in Piazza del Campo!


We even managed a semi-successful family photo! Pro tip: tickle your children while taking photos. Guaranteed to make all of you laugh!


After Piazza del Campo, we visited the stunning Siena Cathedral. I loved the bold black-and-white stripes and striking blue tiles used throughout!



Looking up into the dome


St. Peter by Michelangelo


This room might have been my favorite spot in all our travels that week: the library inside the Siena Cathedral. The colors were dazzling. The photo above is of the murals around the walls; the photo below is a picture of the tiled floor. My sister and I found a corner and sat still to admire it for a long time.

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Auntie Jess may or may not have attempted to French braid Gil’s hair… So glad we finally cut it!


After our chilly touring, I scoured our awesome guidebook in search of a cozy trattoria (family-style restaurant) for lunch. We found the perfect spot! Trattoria La Torre served up amazing homemade pasta, house wine, bread, olive oil, and cheese.


We were so hungry and so cold, and the food was so good, and the company was so wonderful, that it goes down in my books as one of the best meals I’ve ever had.


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Jess snapped this photo as we were leaving the restaurant: Lena throwing a temper tantrum and me doing what I do a lot of the day! So there’s a touch of everyday life and reality to finish off this tour of Siena. Don’t want all my tickle-fest photos to fool you!

What is the best meal you’ve ever had? And why?

12 :: in family, Florence, Italy, travel

portraits of my children {11/52}



The 52 Project: a portrait of my children once a week & every week in 2014.

Lena: Both of these photos are from last week in Florence with my family. On Thursday we visited Pisa, and while we were walking to the Leaning Tower we spotted this balloon abandoned in a bush. Lena and Gil played with it the whole time we were there! (Also I was editing this photo and was going to straighten it, but then I realized that everything in the photo is tilted. That’s Pisa and little kids for you!)

Gil: Our last night in Florence, the kids rode the carousel in the Piazza della Republica. The carousel itself was magnificent, and I found out later that it is the ancient carousel of the Picci family and was built in the early 20th century. But of course none of that mattered to little Gil, who was thrilled to be up there with his Auntie Ema, twirling around and around!


Unfortunately, one bad thing happened in Florence: my iPhone was stolen. Ugh! We were enjoying the view from the Piazzale Michelangelo, and I stupidly set my camera bag down to take some photos. My iPhone was in my camera bag. When I realized my mistake, the bag was gone.

The thing that devastated me the most about losing that perfectly-good, planned-to-have-it-for-years phone, though, was the photos and videos that I lost with it. I take several photos (or dozens) a day on my phone, and I don’t keep up with downloading them onto my computer. Honestly, I hadn’t downloaded them for months. I sobbed afterwards to Elliott that I felt like I’d lost a part of Lena and Gil’s childhoods. I’m thankful that I’ve saved the best through Instagram and my blog and emails to family, but there are so many I’ll never get back.

Anyway, the phone is gone. I started to think I might prefer to just live with a flip phone for awhile — so much less distracting for me and my kids! But because we have a contract and are paying for data, it makes financial sense to get another smartphone. I’m hoping, though, that until my new one arrives, this break from an iPhone will make me more aware of my phone-checking habits and help me be more present with my children. It’s already been eye-opening for me. Maybe I’ll blog about it!

Do you have a smartphone? Do you wish you didn’t?

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22 :: in 52 project, Italy, travel

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