A Travellerspoint blog

July 2011

Ciao Italia!

sunny 26 °C

Cruel or marvelous, I am not sure, as I look out the window and see miles and miles of beckoning beachfront. Perhaps it is both at once. Marvelous to enjoy the scenes of Italy on our last day, cruel that we have to leave it behind as it taunts and leaves us longing for more.  A perfect sunny day on the coast, a Sunday filled with people out enjoying their weekend at the beach, wide expanse of ocean blue, fishing boats and sunbathers.  All this beauty outside the windows passing by, and we cannot get off and explore

We are on the slow train from Lucca to Milan. Today is our last day in Italy and we are taking the scenic ride up the coastline toward Livorno. The scene out the windows is enough to make me want to jump out at each stop and go 'on the lam'. We cannot stay longer, our visa has run out, yet there are miles and miles of sea, and one can really never have enough of the Italian coastal towns. The rugged dark charcoal cliffs, small pockets of sandy beaches absolutely covered with colorful umbrellas and people, the glittering Mediterranean sea, a deep turquoise blue on a perfect sunny summer day in July.  My heart wells with sadness that we can't stay and spend the weekend enjoying the beach and exploring the Cinque Terre. I want to stay for so many reasons now. Lucca is less than an hour from these amazing beaches and stunning coastline.  We spent our last morning in the cafe next to our apartment... we have been many times, but I still want more. And as we are walking home, I am hit with disappointment that there are so many more places in Lucca and in the surroundings that I didn't get to see.  It is difficult to leave a place that feels so much like home, and a place that has so much to offer. Last night on our evening passeggiata, we went to the botanical gardens in Lucca. On our way, there was a spontaneous concert in the town square, an orchestra outside playing with hundreds of people gathered round. 

Perhaps we have found our love of this country after all, and are willing to overlook the sometimes infuriating parts and the challenges in order to have the good life.  It is difficult now to leave Italy, as rough as the start was, we are now truly adjusted to the lifestyle and feeling very much at ease here.  We are consistently getting by with our fumbling preschool Italian. Not glamourous, but it works. The other day we are in the train station, waiting at the coffee bar for our early morning cappuccinos, after our long trip back to Lucca from Paris.  It is busy and the baristas are rushing around. Our cappuccinos come and they are cold.  No sooner do I muse to my husband, 'gee I wish our Italian was good enough to complain and get new capps'... then I hear him call the barista and say, 'fa freddo'! (it's cold!) and explain to her that our cappuccinos are not warm and he is not having it! She whisks them away and brings us new steaming ones apologetically. I am thoroughly impressed and stunned that with his gesturing and enough language, he has pulled it off. It is essential to learn how to politely yet firmly argue your point in Italian - it is necessary to life here, and apparently, we are reaching that level of competence. To know what is appropriate to argue about, to know how to get your way without offending, to get a good price, this is quintessential Italian. This is where we are with OUR Italian, right on the verge, on the cusp of being conversational, and it is hard to leave it behind.  Our last week in Lucca, two Americans stopped me on the street and asked if I spoke English. Then asked me directions, and I actually was able to help them find the sight they were looking for. That same night, we were mistaken by a local for Italians, as she rattled away to us about Bodhi, her dog, the weather... and I said to Chris, apparently we are looking more the part these days.  It is always fun to look like you belong, and to pretend you are local for as long as the ruse lasts.  He can really play the part with his dark curly locks and tanned skin. Fairer skin and hair on me, likely never will I be mistaken for a native Italian, but perhaps as a misplaced Italian, which is our aspiration. 

The train to our airport hotel in Milan feels longer than it actually is, and we are already thinking about what our last meal in Italy will be.  Pasta? Veal? definitely antipasti and a limoncello.  Hopefully a nice half liter of delicious house wine and Bodhi will have his three favorite Italian dishes: pasta with olive oil, black olives, and sparkling mineral water. Ciao Italia, ti amo.

Posted by globalmomma 08:29 Archived in Italy Tagged beach native airport train day lucca italian terre sunny milan cinque conversations cappuccinos Comments (1)

Creativity in Italy

art, literature, and serendipity

rain 20 °C

There have been many travel books written about Italy, some of the newest are Under the Tuscan Sun, Angels and Demons, and Eat, Pray, Love. But there are more: La Bella Figura, Bella Italia, La Cucina There is a rich history of classic writers finding passion in Italy: D.H. Lawrence, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway... I could go on and on. Other Italian cultural greats are too numerous to list but Michelangelo, Botticelli, Bernini, Giuseppe Verdi, Donatello, Leonardo DaVinci, Roberto Cavalli, Dante Aligheri, Versace, and Giorgio Armani are a pretty impressive starting point.

When Chris and I were discussing our own 'getaway', where to go for three months while we reassessed our lives, we tossed around ideas for several different places we could go. New Zealand, England, Germany, Hawaii, Croatia, Costa Rica - there was a growing list of possibilities, but at the top stood Italy. I went to the library to do a little research on the subject of travel in Italy, and I found a massive amount of literature. At first I was disappointed. How unoriginal. Maybe we should go someplace LESS known for its culture, cuisine, art, romance, history. Maybe we could write an amazing story about someplace people had not explored, someplace few people have visited. As I thought about it, I wondered why so many books have been written about traveling in Italy, when by comparison, there are not many at all about individuals going to France or Germany or Russia in search of themselves.

Of these books about discovery and love, passion and food, creativity and desire, Italy corners the market. Why is that?, I pondered. Why don't people write books about food and love from Spain or Scotland? Then I realized: it is the place that inspires. It is in the soul of the place itself that motivates artists, evokes love stories, and invites pieces of yourself to come home again. I know this is why I wanted to come to Italy, to be in this place that has for centuries inspired creativity in the minds of intelligent authors, the hands of great painters, and the hearts of lovers. I desire to be all of these things, and being in the land that woos artists causes one to dream, to expand, and to cultivate. There is something palpably aesthetic about Italy - perhaps it is the ancient charm of the picturesque piazzas and frescoes in the churches, and all of the culture that surrounds you. But it is also in the amorous nature of Italians, the fashion, the architecture, the civilization in its entirety. It awakens elements of yourself, and allows you to focus on appetites and aspirations outside of work, home, family, and friends around which most of our time and space revolve. We are currently living in the town where Puccini, the great opera composer, lived. Other greats have spent time walking these same streets, sipping espresso and leaning on the same marble counters.

I realize after being here for the majority of three months that I have found something that I do not want to lose. I was walking around the city of Lucca yesterday, somewhat aimlessly, on my way back from the market. I stumbled into an artist studio, and the paintings inside spoke to me in a way that I cannot adequately explain. If you have ever walked into a place and realized that if you were practicing that profession, that is what your work would look like, than you know what I mean. I saw myself in every work. I related in a way that is not coincidence. It is one of those moments, like when you bump into someone on the street and know instantly that you have known them closely before, that I could feel providence moving. I have not felt that level of serendipity for a while, and it is still with me. I wish I could have bought all of the paintings in the shop and walked out with my arms full, eyes beaming. I wanted to tell the man instantly, tell your wife (the painter) I will apprentice with her. If she wants to teach me, I am willing to learn. It is not unlike meeting a guru, I understand, or meeting a soul mate. When you know it's right, you know. So that was the universe's way of telling me that I will be back in Lucca, sometime, somehow. We cannot stay longer this trip, but we will be back. And next time we come, I hope to be a bigger artist than I am right now.

Posted by globalmomma 05:27 Archived in Italy Tagged art culture love opera lucca tuscany creativity romance painter literature passion writers serendipity puccini Comments (0)

Kid Bans?!?

A short rant

Ok, I just read an article on yahoo about restaurants, cinemas, even Whole Foods Market banning children from their establishments at certain hours. I am disgusted by this trend started by a Pittsburgh restaurant recently. I can be as irritated by a bratty or screaming child as anyone else, occasionally, but the reality is that most children are in fact very well-behaved. Furthermore, more adults are whiny and irritating than children, and I can be more annoyed by the presence of an obnoxious adult in a movie theater than a child. If we as a culture are not approving of children being children, and cannot appreciate and accept their development, then how do we expect to keep growing? Children should be appreciated by the culture and allowed to be children. I look at cultures that embrace and enjoy children and I see happier children, more relaxed parents, and a better atmosphere overall. We need to think about the direction our country is headed with no universal health coverage for children, no individual maternity plans, short maternity leaves, no paternity leave, little support for early family life. Children are the future of our country and until the ones making the laws are the ones raising families, support for families will be lacking.

I spent a lot of time here in Europe talking to families about the policies in European countries. They are often shocked to hear our normal work environment entails 9-10 hour days with 2 weeks vacation in a year, and maternity leaves that do not last more than several months, and are often only partial salary, or none at all. In Germany, women are offered up to one year maternity leave that is at least partially paid - the first few months are full pay, and it decreases from there. They have up to 3 years off to 'raise their children' wherein the employer is required to hire them back for their same or equivalent position. i.e they do not have to decide to stay on their career path or to stay home for a few years and risk never being hired back in their career field again. In Holland, there are similar laws. It is common to have up to 8 weeks vacation time per year, and many businesses offer 4 day work weeks, or 3 day work weeks for mothers.

While staying with our friends in Germany, our friend who is 7 months pregnant told me she was required to take paid time off during her pregnancy. She is a dermatologist, and in Germany, for professions that are considered higher risk for a developing baby, pregnant women can take paid time off to 'encourage healthy babies', she told me. Wow. Doctors can take time off so they don't worry about communicable diseases while pregnant, what a progressive concept. I know their system is not perfect either - there are abuses of the system, the money has to come from somewhere, not everyone benefits. But having the concept of protecting children and supporting families at the forefront of legislation is inspiring.

Posted by globalmomma 12:45 Comments (2)

Are you a Traveler-at-Heart?

Take this simple quiz to find out!

Are you a traveler-at-heart?
take this simple quiz to find out!

Are you able to adapt to most situations with a clear head or are you easily flustered?  Are you a planner or do you just 'wing it'? 

Flexible people are more comfortable traveling because it is essential to be able to accomodate changes in plans.  It is OK if you are a planner, as long as you are able to leave those plans behind when necessary and follow a new path when the situation demands.  Long term travelers tend to be people who are able to go with the flow of a situation.  There are inevitably problems that arise in travel. Missed flights, dirty apartments, train workers on strike, inclement weather, cancelled tours. Being able to change plans and find a new solution to a problem is a big part of being a traveler. If you are traveling in pairs or a group, group problem solving and mediation is also an important skill to have! There are often conflicts and changes of direction, and you must be open in order to find a new way.

Do you generally see the glass as half-full or half-empty? Eternal optimists make for the best travelers.

Are you interested in new places, seeing new things, meeting new people?
If you aren't interested in the greater world around you, if you aren't always wondering what this place could be like, what it could teach you, what is beyond this frontier...you are not a true traveler-at-heart. Lifelong travelers have lists of places they would like to go, not just sights, but experiences. They want to run with the bulls in Pamplona, trek across Mongolia, visit Antarctica, bike through all of the countryside of France, meet the Dalai Lama, see the Great Barrier Reef... For each trip they go on, they discover five more they want to take.  Their journeys are never complete.  People who are not travelers at heart get tired of the experiencing...they tire of the pace, the discomforts, the desire to see more is not there, and the pull toward home is stronger than the urge to embark again.

Do you like to have your environment just so, with everything in its place? 
Are you OK with not having your usual comforts? Or do you need to have your Diet Coke at 9AM every morning? 

If you need to have certain things, they become a barrier to a life of travel.  Some places do not have diet cokes at all...other places it is warm, or costs 5 euros a can. You have to be willing to change your habits if you are going to travel for a long period of time. OK, there is no cola here, I will try Turkish coffee.  The more needs you have in your life, the harder it is to fulfill them on the road.  Over time people become disgruntled and annoyed with traveling if their needs are not met. If your needs entail specific items, like a certain kind of toothpaste or a particular food, you can encounter difficulties while traveling. True travelers may have favorite foods or lotions, but they can do without these comforts if it means being able to experience something different.  Travelers want to try a diet of yak butter and black tea while in Bhutan, wine and antipasti in Italy, beer and french fries with mayonnaise while in Belgium, fresh salmon in Seattle, spicy veggie curry in India. Being where you are requires adapting your life to fit the customs of a place, and that often means living out of your comfort zone in some respects. 

Do you see the world as filled with potential opportunities and adventures, or as filled with obstacles and dangers?

If you are more worried about traveling because of the dangers of flying or visiting a big city like Paris or London, or nervous about going to places like Greece or Nepal with potential unrest or political instability, more worried than you are excited about the prospects of seeing these places, than you are not likely a traveler at heart. Travelers see the world as filled with possible adventures and discoveries. They may 'play it safe' and choose to go to places that are stable, but they do not let fears stand in their way.

Do you feel like you have never found 'your place' or have no desire to be settled? Do you think that no place really defines who you are, but rather that there are aspects that suit your personality in cities and countries scattered all over the globe?

If so, you are a traveler, in search of places that resonate with pieces of yourself. You are continually searching for that place you truly belong, that complements you, or you are comfortable with the idea that no such place exists and rather you bounce from place to place enjoying aspects of a city that you love, then finding another passion fulfilled somewhere else. 

Is your lifetime dream to be able to work from anywhere, not being tied to a place, but being able to sustain yourself working on the go? 

If so, you are a traveler, because we all seek this kind of lifestyle - being able to work from home, or work from wherever suits our needs.  Having two weeks off a year just isn't an option. So in order to travel, you choose jobs that are either below your abilities, or that don't pay well or have some other sacrifices in order to have the lifestyle of travel that you desire. This is often the quandry of a traveler...how to sustain the lifestyle and make it work. This is also the aspect of a traveler's life that most people do not understand. Why do you work at that job as a barista in Spain when you are an accountant? Why do you take off for several months and deplete your savings?  Why don't you get a better paid job and settle down and buy a house like the rest of us?  Well, it often isn't that easy when travel is the goal. Travelers at heart have bumped up against this dilemma at least once in their lifetimes, if not again and again. How to make the lifestyle work is the question.  Sometimes the answers are not the easiest to explain.

Posted by globalmomma 01:48 Comments (2)

Constant love

Ahh, it is nice to be "home-ish".  Getting back to our comfortable apartment today was a long anticipated reward after that last painful 24 hours. Tonight as I am singing my son to sleep I am thankful for a safe journey and the ability to be in this place I enjoy for one more week. Our beautiful large apartment in the historical center of Lucca.  

When my son is  falling asleep, he heats up like a furnace. His head glistens with sweat, his body radiates.  When he was a baby, I was always wondering what this meant, these flushes of heat, like hot flashes, that I would feel on occasion. Then I realized it was right before he fell asleep that he would become super-warm and emit UV rays like a little super nova beaming toward Earth. It is one of the little things you store away in your treasure chest of a memory bank, the little daily things that you notice when you are paying attention... when you are in love and yearning to know someone better every day, you recognize small bits of information like this, that you know and few others know. It is the stuff of families and relationships that makes them so rich and connected.  Often I find myself applying pieces of myself to my son. He must be cold with the air conditioning blowing on him at night, because I know I hate cold air blowing directly on me. My husband, however, always thinks our son is hot. He is always removing his shirt or jacket or shoes. When I say, what happened to the hat I put on him? He says, oh, he was hot. He thinks this because he is generally warm.  We both have to continually remind ourselves that this little person is his own entity with his own likes and dislikes that are our puzzles to figure out, and he is neither him nor me, but his own little spirit. 

It is remarkable how much of me has changed in this last year and a half. My person has changed, my focus has changed, relationships are different, body is different, mind is definitely different. There are times I wonder who this new woman is, and what she did with the old me. I worry more. I am more careful. I am always considering what is best for this little person above what I want to do, often compromising and altering plans. I am no longer a separate independent unit, but I feel forever that a part of me is split and goes wherever my son goes. It is too simplistic to say that he carries a part of my heart with him. Instead I think it is part of my whole, part of my soul that goes with him. I am reminded of a time years ago, when I asked my Dad what it meant to love someone. 'How do you know when you are in love?' He thought for a moment before answering, then he said, "Loving someone is always wanting their happiness more than your own". At the time, I didn't get the profundity of that statement. I thought, 'Really? That's it? No magic, no one-and-only? All you have to do is want what is best for someone? That's a dull answer.' But now I understand it 100%, and think it was really the best description of true love that I have ever heard.

It is that simple, and that incredibly difficult all at once, to love someone so much that you wish their contendedness and joy above your own. I can feel that love within me now... That carefree independent me is gone, and this deeper, more connected yet more serious me has emerged. She has to choose new clothes, new ideas, new reflections of herself, just as she needs to be patient as old relationships adapt and form around this new person. I cannot expect my relationships and feelings to stay the same, just as I cannot expect old clothes to fit the same and feel the same. They
have to be adapted to this new self as she is growing and evolving. Love requires continual evolution and growth to survive, and the best way to do
this is to tell the truth about who you are, and to see the other for who they have become.

Posted by globalmomma 08:34 Archived in Italy Tagged new love child lucca relationships personality Comments (0)

Our karmic bank account just ran out

An Evening at the Orly Airport

semi-overcast 17 °C

We had been traveling for nearly three months with not really any major glitches. Minor ones, of course, but no real major calamities. Then...it all hit us at once...

Why do I say that? Well, it all started with a routine trip to the airport to catch our flight back from Paris Orly to Pisa. We had just sent a nice morning at the Louvre art museum, seeing a few more sights in Paris before we had to head back to Lucca for my husband's Italian class. We get in the first metro and then have a fairly long walk to the connecting metro at Notre Dame that takes you to the airport. It is raining lightly, and fairly cool. We have all of our baggage rolling along with us. We are walking this route, and I am feeling incredibly uneasy. We NEED to get there! I am not usually anxious like this about arriving to the airport in ample time, or getting seats...usually I am just fine with waltzing in without too many minutes to spare. But for some reason, this time is different. I rush through lunch, spilling half on the floor in my haste. I want to go. Now we are walking on our way, and I still feel this urgency.

We arrive at the metro to take us directly to the Orly airport, and the trains are running behind. First it says 5 minutes, then it switches to 10 and then to 12. We have to do something, I tell my husband Chris. Find another way. So we trek all of our bags and the stroller back up the escalator and out of the metro. We try hailing a cab, but we need to walk a few blocks to the taxi station. We arrive and hop into a taxi and head to Orly. When we arrive, we have about 25 minutes until our Easy Jet will take off, and Chris runs ahead to the checkin desk, while I follow briskly behind, pushing Bodhi. As I get there, Chris is at the desk, and I rush up there hoping to plead our case. But when I arrive I realize that Chris is already being told that in fact, we do not have 25 minutes until our flight leaves...it left 25 minutes AGO.

OOPS. So turns out, we were not kinda late, we were extremely late. In fact, we never had a chance of making the flight. We had written the time wrong; the flight was at 2:30pm, not 3:20pm. Discouraged, we asked about our options. There were, essentially, none. No more flights out today. One at 6am tomorrow, but we would have to pay the full fare again. Any other flight to any other city would be a ridiculous price based on highest fares. Hmm, no stand-by, no 'change fees', no just switching us to a new flight from our old one without any cost? nope. We were stuck. We had to pay and stay overnight, so we did, after a little whining and kicking and screaming.

So now, on to find a hotel. We resigned ourselves to stay at the airport due to our earlier issues with trying to leave the city of Paris, so we would spend the evening in Orly at a random airport hotel, instead of in our lovely apartment (that we were already paying for!) in Lucca. It was an expensive mistake. One that wasn't funny to us then, and now, it can actually get a smile and a shake of the head, but still isn't very funny. Paris had kicked our butts, and we were paying much more for our weekend excursion than we had bargained for, and I was resentful. Why hadn't we been more careful? Why had things gone this way? After questioning and questioning, the only satisfactory answer I came up with was that our karmic bank account had finally ran out. It was time to refill and rebuild it, and that was really the only explanation there was.

Posted by globalmomma 15:58 Archived in France Tagged paris travel transportation weekend trip bad airplane luck jet easy orly karma Comments (0)

Final day of the Tour de France

a belated recount

It is early Sunday morning and we are excitedly getting ready to spend the day watching the bike race. It feels like football Sunday and all those mornings spent driving to Candlestick Park to tailgate and go to the 49ers games. It has the same buzz of energy and the same early morning motivation, as we set off after cappuccinos on a brisk walk to the Champs Elysees to find our spot. It also has that same Autumn chill, as Paris seems to have, even in the full form of summertime. I don't think I have ever visited Paris and not been chilled... Anyway, off we go, to find the perfect spot, camp out, and prepare for the entourage of equipment, parades, vans, team cars, and finally, bikers to arrive.

We get to the Champs Elysees and I am surprised honestly that there isn't more of an event planned around today. It is evident from the hotels that everyone has come in droves to see the bike race, and the streets are filling up with people, but there are only a few vendors capitalizing on the event. And after several blocks of walking, I discover that the authorities have made no effort to manage the crowds. There are no extra trash cans, and believe it or not, NO extra bathrooms. Not a porta-toilet in sight. I was horrified by this observation, surely this cannot be, but after asking at least 4 vendors and different groups that seemed to know what they were doing, they assured me that, yes, I was correct, there was only 1 bathroom. In the park. Already at 9AM there was a line that took me 40 minutes. One toilet, for thousands.

So, back to the race. We secured a front row spot, as close as us free spectators could get to the finish line and the megascreen and decided to set up shop. I pulled out all of the toys and games for Bodhi and we sat on the concrete pavement. The people next to us had driven down from England and they were cozily setting up beach chairs, tables, coolers, the whole works. We didn't even think to bring our apartment towels. Luckily I did remember to bring sunscreen because despite the prediction of rain, it was a warm, absolutely magnificent day. Within the hour, we had several rows of people deep behind us, and Bodhi was getting sleepy. I decided to try to walk him around in our Ergo carrier, where he sleeps best when we are out in a crowd, so I walked through the adjacent park while he rested. When he woke up, I walked back to our spot, and we sat down for a picnic lunch. All was a relatively normal day, except that we were having to live it within a confined 5x5 foot space while we waited for the Tour de France to arrive in Paris. I won't lie, it was definitely a challenge keeping a toddler cooped up in such a small space for an entire day, but somehow, we were determined to make it happen. We hadn't come all of this way to not have the full front-row experience of the Tour. It was our first time at a Tour de France race after years of talking about going to see it, years that probably would have been much easier, we decide to come when we have a toddler to occupy. Sometimes even I don't understand our decisions like this, but we have to seize the moment, even though some times it bites.

Around 2PM the floats and promotional trucks and hoopla comes whizzing down the Avenue, and the crowd begins to stir. More people gather, and they gather in closer. There is some pushing and angling, like we are at a headlining concert. Luckily for us, behind us are the nicest Dutch family, and they are very comfortable being where they are and giving us space for Bodhi and his stroller and his desire for jumping. Then the announcer begins talking about where the bike race is, and when they will arrive in Paris, but unfortunately for us, the only words I can make out are "Pari'" and "Maillot Jaune" (Yellow jersey = race winner/leader). Around 3:30PM, the team cars start entering the circuit, and we know the riders are near. Another push or two and now, I have Bodhi in the carrier, because there is no room for him to get down. Luckily, he is a good sport about it and there is lots to see: megaphones, motorcycles carrying cameramen, cars in all colors and designs. Then, after hours of waiting, the moment arrives. You can feel the rush of excitement building as the bike riders race down the cobblestones of the Champs toward where you are standing. Suddenly, there they go, one, two, three, four, five, like flashes of colored lights. Then a whole pile more, zoom zoom zoom. The sound of the bike wheels hitting the stones and the spokes turning on the wheels sounds like a low-pitched whirrrrrrrrrrzzzzzzhhhzzzhhh... the type of sound that could put a baby to sleep. A soothing yet loud shushing noise that really amplifies the experience of being right there. In years of watching the race on TV, I definitely was not aware of that sound.

Eight times the racers blew past us at boggling speeds, giving us enough time to savor, snap pictures, catch names and jerseys, and simply take in the whole experience all at once. It is absolutely worth the wait, is all I can really elaborate my thoughts in the moment. wow, what a display. Of skill, hard work, talent, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, motivation, excellence, pain, effort, agony, pride, exhaustion, elation. You can almost feel the palpability of the emotions that the riders have on this, their last day of the longest, most grueling and painful bike race many of them have experienced. All of their efforts have led them to this day. And for many, it is a day of disappointment, as for Andy Schleck, coming in close second after weeks of amazing effort. For most, it is a day of relief and satisfaction, to have made it all the way through to the end, and to be finishing this long race. For one, a victory lap. This year the victory went to the Australian Cadel Evans. For me, it really didn't matter who won, I was just there as a fan of the event. To see in person the culmination of what these athletes have worked for, in making it across the final finish line on the Concourse. And to feel the energy generated by all of that effort and experience. It is a truly inspiring race, and being there at the finish is a day I will not soon forget.

Posted by globalmomma 14:43 Comments (0)

Paris and the Tour

rain 21 °C

Ahh, Pari'! Here we are in the bustling beauty of Paris, one day before the final stage of the Tour de France. We are making a short weekend excursion from Lucca up here to France to experience the excitement of the bike race finale, and to take one final trip on our journey. We metro into the city from Orly airport, and walk up into the cloudy mist and the stunning picturesque view of the Church of Notre Dame. It is a nice entrance to the city. We are able to walk around and see a few of the sights, but our mission here is clear: to scope out our spot and ultimately see the race tomorrow. We go settle into our apartment after a ottos difficulty procuring the keys, and then head back to the Champs Elysees. We walk from the Concorde toward the Arc de Triumph getting our bearings and trying to comprehend what the day will be like tomorrow when the bikes come through and the crowds are swarming. Paris is so much larger in scale than anywhere in Italy; and at first it is a little overwhelming, after being in such small, manageable, safe towns for most of our trip. We are now in a metropolis and there are people, cars, buses everywhere. Unfortunately this means Bodhi spends a lot of the day in his stroller so we can keep a steady eye on him, now that he is quickly running from place to place with his own agendas.

It is raining, but this time, we are prepared with a raincoat for Bodhi and sweatshirts for my husband and I. We duck into a cute French bistro for lunch and the food is absolutely delicious and rich. I have baked vegetables stuffed with rice and lamb. Chris has a Nicoise salad, and both are truly spectacular. Bodhi is snoring by the fireplace in his stroller, and with the rain coming down outside, it is the perfect cozy escape and a nice mini-date.

We walk until our feet are aching and then head in for the night...tomorrow will be a big day, we want to be prepped and ready for the spectacle.

Posted by globalmomma 08:56 Archived in France Tagged food paris france french tour de triumph arc notre dame champs bistro elysees Comments (0)

Going to Paris

semi-overcast

Yes, yes, yes, my Bodhi has successfully put himself down for a nap! I am brewing coffee in the Moka (Italian coffeemaker), and trying to absorb some Italian words through the television. I tried for ten minutes yesterday to turn on the TV, and this morning, Bodhi went over, pressed a few buttons, and presto, the TV went on. Aha, the little guy has already surpassed my technical savvy. It is a beautiful day in Lucca. Tomorrow we head off for our final excursion of our trip: a weekend in Paris to watch the finale of the Tour de France. We have talked about seeing the ultimate bike race for years now. In fact, we were in Italy years ago, in 2003, while the Tour was taking place in France, a year Lance Armstrong won the tour, and we didn't go see it. We both regret not going, so this time, even though there is no Lance, we are going. Hopefully one of the riders I cheer on will win, but it is mostly the whole production, the crowds, the environment that we desire to see. Maybe there will also be time to go to the Louvre, go up the Eiffel Tower and so on. My husband has never been to Paris, so mostly it is a belated Father's Day gift for him.

Since Germany, every day we have endured the rain. It rained in Brussels, in Ghent, and even on our few days here in Lucca. Our son has his old car seat and stroller, with no rain guard, and no raincoat or rain boots. We have no raincoats or umbrellas. Like true Seattleites, we are holding out. We walk around in the wet weather like it doesn't phase us. Italians all seem to think they will melt like the wicked witch of the West in the rain, avoiding it, ducking under awnings or into the nearest coffee shop. Carrying umbrellas, wearing parkas and looking generally perturbed, they walk and bike through the streets. We are not too concerned with a little rain. But since it is supposed to rain the whole weekend while we will be outside watching the bike race and waiting in the rain, perhaps it is time I broke down and bought some rain gear and went to Paris prepared. As fate would have it, I actually have a raincoat for the baby, but we mailed it home. We have begun counting our days here - it is hard to fathom that we will be back home in ten days, no longer traveling, no more, 'ciao bello! ciao piccolo!' greetings for Bodhi, no more amazing pasta dishes, perfect macchiatos, no more stretching the mind to expand comprehension of this place and this language.

I hope while in Paris to see: the bikes flying at amazing speeds along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. To again visit some of my favorite works of art at the Louvre museum, including Venus de Milo and Winged Victory sculptures, although the Musée d'Orsay is more my preference, there is no time for both!! To walk along the Seine and see all of the old book stands (or take a boat!). To view the Eiffel tower at night. To have one decadent Parisian meal. Paris here we come!

Posted by globalmomma 01:22 Archived in France Comments (2)

Lucca is the best

July 20

We have now traveled Italy from heel to toe, coast to coast, and I have to say, Lucca is one of, if not THE best cities in Italy. We are now staying here for the remainder of our last two weeks in Europe, in a quaint little apartment inside the old city walls. Lucca has a well-preserved city wall made of brick that encircles the historical center of town, and has a series of doors or 'porta' that lead outside the city center. From these porta, you can give or receive directions, and they go around the city like a wheel. There is a wide jogging path along the wall that makes for a marvelous passeggiata, or evening stroll. There are joggers, baby carriages, old men reading the paper on benches, small cafes, and mostly people walking along the wall to get from one side of the city to the other. It is supremely quiet, and there is a marvelous amount of greenery. There are wide fields surrounding the walls, where kids can play soccer, dogs can run, and people can bike. The way around the historical part of town is by bike, as cars are limited inside the walls. It makes for an incredible ambiance... There is no hum of scooters, no hugging the old stone walls while a truck zips by on a narrow street. It is a city for pedestrians, and because of that, it has a wonderfully relaxed, family-friendly feeling to it. I feel at ease allowing my little boy to toddle down the street several steps ahead, and letting him roam in a piazza, while I sip a glass of prosecco. Lucchese locals are also incredibly helpful and warm people, and finding everything you need here is remarkably easy, for a small Italian town. We found a natural food supermarket (!), there are pharmacies and hospitals, great shops, and some of the finest restaurants we have visited in Italy are here. I recommend Buca di San Antonio, if you are ever in Lucca. But really, virtually all of the restaurants here are good, even those in the more touristy areas of town. There are tourists who visit this town, but not so much that it is annoying to walk down the street or that you feel the locals are jaded, rip you off, or desire that you not be there. We happen to be in Lucca this time at the height of their tourist season, since there is a giant music festival they host each July called Lucca Summer Festival. Even in this atmosphere, it does not feel swamped with tourists or overcrowded. It is as laid-back and welcoming as always. It is one of those places that invites you inside, by continually surprising you with new vistas, piazzas, and quaint cafes. The first time we came to Lucca, we were wandering without a map, and as we walked down a narrow street, it would open up into a beaiutiful piazza. Aha! this is the place, but then a little more walking, and another piazza would appear, more beautiful then than to last. It has that kind of old world charm and architecture. Maybe there are no 'big' sights here, but the historical center in its entirety is a special place worth seeing, or in our case, coming back for again and again.

Other reasons to come to Lucca: It is an hour by bus (or two hours by slow train) to Florence, another wonderful city! and just twenty minutes to Pisa, which is nice to visit just to say you did. It is also 20 minutes to the sea, and there are some great free beaches to explore with big sand dunes that might make you imagine you are in the Southern Atlantic coast, around South Carolina. The coast also has incredible fish and chips that makes it worth a visit. It is near to the Cinque Terre, Viareggio, and also a longer day trip to Milan, Parma and other Northern towns...

Why my husband and I decided to come back to Lucca was for the peace and tranquility that the no traffic zone provides, the green areas and playgrounds for our son to run around, the Lucchese food like tortelli con ragu (tortelli/ravioli with meat sauce), risotto, farro (spelt), lamb... oh, and for an Italian language class.

Posted by globalmomma 00:57 Archived in Italy Tagged food parks pisa city florence cuisine lucca terre quiet walls cinque tuscan Comments (3)

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