We’ve now been in Italy for exactly two weeks, and it is starting to feel like we’ve settled in. Our favorite food market has been established, we made a new friend at a park nearby, we’ve done two day trips out of town, and, perhaps most exciting, Eliana started preschool here! The longer stay is definitely showing its benefits. We are relaxed but not at all bored, and we continue to learn more about ourselves, each other, and our lives back home by being so many miles away. Sky said today, “These are the most special days of my life”, and I couldn’t agree more. We are so grateful we are here, so grateful for each other, and so grateful to all of our friends and families for your support and encouragement.
Late last week we decided to experiment with the bus system and head to Parco Delle Cascine, a big, beautiful park on the north side of the city. Of course, first we headed out to coffee! Our apartment is in a great part of town, about a ten-minute walk from Piazza Santo Spirito. We happened upon this place on our way to the Santo Spirito market.
Market shopping followed our coffee drinking. Our neighborhood market is little, but we got some yummy cucumbers and other assorted things for dinner. It’s definitely a locals scene, making us feel especially cool.
This is the beautiful plaza with the Santo Spirito church.
The market stalls are around the piazza, allowing for mellow hanging out by the fountain.
After returning home and gathering our things, we set out for the bus. It took me about two hours to navigate the bus website and make a plan, only to find out once we were at the stop that I had done something incorrectly. So, we improvised and found our way. It takes some focused energy in these moments for me to stay calm, even though it’s silly to be upset! I was frustrated that I had spent so much time planning and it was seemingly for naught. I stubbornly insisted I was right, when, of course, I was wrong. But, in the end, we got where we wanted to go. Lesson: keep my sense of humor. The outcome was the same whether I was cheerful or not. More pleasant for everyone (including myself!) if I’m cheerful. I recovered quickly and we had fun finding our way.
Our destination was Le Pavoniere, a beautiful outdoor pool.
The pool was wonderfully refreshing and Eliana is getting more confident in the water, which is fun. We stayed a couple of hours and then noticed the rain clouds forming, so we made our way home. We did get caught in a downpour but it was all just part of the adventure!
We also had a fun day exploring the Central Market. On our way, Eliana was entranced by the artists on the Ponte Vecchio. One painter even let her do a few strokes on a piece she was working on.
Our walk took us past the Piazza Repubblica, where Eliana became concerned about getting a balloon. She asked and asked and asked, and then became distracted by some dancers on the street. Sky offered that instead of buying a balloon, she could watch the dancers, and give them a coin. This was a perfectly acceptable idea to her, so she stopped asking about the balloon, watched the street dancers for a solid 10 minutes, and happily dropped a coin in their bucket. She amazes me.
The walk also took us through the Piazza del Duomo, and I snapped these cool photos.
We passed through the San Lorenzo market, and then landed at the Central Market where we did some food shopping. The variety there was as incredible as everyone says!
On our way back, we stopped for coffee and another carousel ride in Piazza Repubblica, which made all of us happy. The place we got coffee, called Paszkowski, is quite famous and apparently lots of important writing has taken place there by well-known authors. Our tradition is that Sky and I get our coffee, and Eliana gets a small pastry. At this place, they had adorable little tea cookies so we got a few to share.
The next day, we took it slow in the morning, and then Eliana and I went for a walk around Santo Spirito neighborhood for some girl time. I was aching for hand-holding and exploring with her, and I knew she would be a great companion while I window shopped a little. She was very interested in posing for photos, which was fun, and we met a clothing designer in her shop named Maria. Eliana watched her work on making a dress for a while, and they became friends. It is really cool to see Eliana exposed to all of these different things as we travel, and to see what captures her interest.
We’ve been back twice to see Maria! Ellie was really interested in introducing her to Sky, so we made a special trip for that.
Another highlight from the week was a massive walk we took on Saturday. We set out for Piazza Michaelangelo, a very popular tourist spot high above the city to take photos. Of course, we had to do the same.
The view from the top!
It would have been easy to just go home after that, but I had done some sleuthing and learned about an additional stop at San Miniato monastery, which required just another five minutes or so of uphill walking. This place was breathtaking to me- I am not sure why- a few less tourists, a little quieter, even more stunning views. I took some deep breaths up there, felt my shoulders drop a little, and had a couple of minutes to ponder the amazing place I was in, literally and figuratively. This whole trip has been full of moments of incredible gratitude.
The beautiful monastery
The view from San Miniato
My secret source had told me about a roundabout walk home that I was excited about. It was a few miles and a few hours, but well worth it. Twisting, residential, tree-lined streets, the quiet and fresh air…it was just what I wanted.
The last leg of the walk home took us through Porto Romano, past a secret entrance to the Boboli Gardens, and down Via Romana, a main drag through a residential neighborhood that we hadn’t seen yet. I am learning that as much as I love things to be routine and familiar, I feel especially alive when exploring new spots. The feeling of never knowing what is coming next keeps me on my toes, and in a place like Florence, what is coming is almost always worth checking out.
Porto Romano. To the right is the secret Boboli Garden entrance. To the left is the place we got gelato that day.
On Monday, we ventured by bus to visit the preschool for Eliana. We spent about 90 minutes there, talking with the director and the teachers, and having a tour. We got really excited for Ellie to have time with kids, and to learn some Italian. It seems like the best of all possible situations. The kids are all Italian, but the place is run by Canadians and the teachers are native English speakers. Her teacher, Tanya, told us that she is excited to be able to have a real conversation in English with a student! We think it will be cool for Ellie to be able to talk with her teachers in English when needed, but to learn Italian by being with the kids.
The morning ride over Ponte alle Grazie from the bus window. Pay no attention to the massive crane. There is construction going on all over this city!
Ellie really loves all the public pay phones around town. Every time she sees one, she says “Can I do that?!” and goes to talk to her pretend Italian friends on the phone. This one was on the way to check out the school. I have about fifteen photos of her like this all around town.
I sort of snuck this photo of the school entry on the day we visited. Through the doorway under the sun, there is a staircase that leads to Eliana’s classroom. Behind the red curtain is a great train table and a bunch of puppets for puppet shows It’s a lovely space.
After our visit, we headed to the market at Sant Ambrogio to stock up.
The walk home took us past Santa Croce. I’m having a lot of fun experimenting with photography.
Dinner. Sky continues to be the master chef. I have made a tradition of photographing every dinner, and Eliana is now into it, too. She always wants to take the “first picture”. I won’t bore you with my daily photos of coffee and dinner but here’s a sample!
Tuesday was a combination of errands, house issues, and a museum trip. I barely slept on Monday night for some reason, so I was a little out of it. The highlight of the day was our trip to the Museo di Storia Naturale (the Natural History Museum). This is a very worthwhile stop, especially if you have kids traveling in Italy!
Here are Sky and Ellie in front of a statue of Evangelista Torricelli, who invented the barometer. Sky had a little science-nerd moment and Eliana and I were appropriately impressed. Then we moved on. :)
The museum’s collection was divided into two sections. The first part was an incredible zoological display of a huge variety of animals, from the smallest (literally), to the largest. There were examples of huge beetles, sea urchins, flies, all kinds of things… and then… there was room after room of taxidermy. We saw alligators, birds, amphibians, lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my), giraffes, gazelles. It went on and on. The other section was about fifty wax renderings of the human body, inside out. They were gory and gorgeous. Eliana had a million questions and we took our time. I took some photos of that section but won’t make you see them.
We are just monkeys, really.
That afternoon, we had the best gelato we’ve had yet at a little place called Gelateria della Passera. I had vanilla with specks of real mint. I know some of you are tracking our gelato adventures; I definitely recommend this place!
By Wednesday, we were ready to do some exploring farther afield, and off to Siena we went. I had been to Siena many years ago, but Sky had not been before. It was really fun to find our way around. This time, my bus planning was seamless and Sky’s help was key!
Eliana loved the bus ride, and kept herself busy looking out the window, coloring, and listening to stories on her ipod. (Shout out to Renee, again. The books you lent us are amazing and we are so grateful!)
The ride took a little over an hour, and afforded some lovely views of the country hills, which I soaked up, when I wasn’t feeling carsick.
I love this photo. First of all, it’s decent of all three of us. Secondly, HI TOURISTS! Note my hat, my funny outfit, my cross-body purse, the guidebook in my hand, and the random dude behind us. This a church in Siena. Don’t ask me anything about it. I can’t remember what it was called, and we didn’t go inside. But we got a photo, because we are good tourists like that!
Sky wanted a photo of him and Eliana pointing toward “San Francesco”. There you go, honey!
The big piazza in Siena is quite famous, of course. There is that magical moment when you ease through the narrow alley into the broad open space. It was fun to imagine the horse races there that took place just a few weeks ago. Since it was really, really hot, we did what all the other tourists were doing, and found a shady slice of space to rest for a little while.
The heat meant lots of things to different people but to us, it meant gelato.
Ellie’s sugar high inspired quite a dance performance in the alleyway. I could make a pretty incredible youtube channel with her dancing all over Italy.
Our time in Siena was relaxed and a nice change from Florence. We were tired by the end of the day, and I felt like it would have been fun to spend the night there so that we could explore the nooks and crannies more. I think I’m getting into the Italian slower pace, and it feels so good. Life is fast. I literally feel like I am running most days when I’m home, and I don’t like it. This has been an issue for me for a long time, but especially since Eliana was born. I think it’s just the nature of life with a young child- there are places to be and things to do, and the added complication of another human who also has needs, and who needs me to take care of those needs. I find that the extra ten minutes I build in are inevitably eaten up by Eliana needing different shoes, or an extra potty stop before leaving, or whatever. And, if I don’t build in the extra time, frustration sets in because we are rushing. Rush rush rush. I am rushing a lot.
I love arriving five minutes early, I love heading toward bed with an hour to spare so I can leisurely go through my bedtime routine, read, and ease into sleep. I love getting up with enough time to get where I’m going. I love days that feel long even though I’m getting more sleep. I love not worrying so much about the routine, because I know the next day has built in flexibility. Granted, I am currently on vacation, and that not-so-small fact makes it pretty easy to slow down. But, I really want to remember this pace once I’m back home. It feels more sane and way more natural to me.
When you’re on a roll, you may as well keep rolling… so the next day we headed to Arezzo. Arezzo was a train trip instead of the bus, and Eliana listened to her ipod stories and colored the whole way while Sky and I napped. I was surprised that I could doze off, but I did!
We really didn’t know much about Arezzo before we went. I wanted to do a day trip to somewhere I hadn’t been, somewhere reasonably close (it was about an hour by train), somewhere we could walk everywhere, and somewhere with a little charm. I spent a long time doing internet research and came across an article written about Arezzo that led me to believe it would fit the bill, and it did! After exiting the train station, a short walk took us to a pedestrian shopping street called Corso Italia, which led right to the Piazza Grande, the cathedral, and a pretty park with a small playground.
A word about playgrounds: we’ve learned that playgrounds are not a big part of Italian culture. There are only a few in Florence, and some are downright bad. Ironically, the two nice ones are super popular. So, we can’t quite figure it out. Locals tell us that the kids run through piazzas, and that play structure are not part of the culture, but the good ones are being used like crazy.
On our walk into town, we stopped at a bookstore and a few little jewelry stores. I had read about “Coffee O’Clock” and was excited to check it out. Sky and I have been having cappucinos every day, and we both wanted to experiment with other things. I had an iced coffee- it was delicious, with a little sweetness, and Sky had a really neat concoction of espresso in a glass made of ice. Eliana wants me to tell you that she had a croissant.
We lingered at the cafe for a while, and Eliana did another dance performance, right there in the cafe. (Oh, they had free wi-fi, comfy chairs, and a nice bathroom, too. Thanks, Coffee O’Clock!)
The meandering led us up a hill, and we stopped for lunch around 2pm. It was the first time we have eaten at a sit-down restaurant since our first day in Italy! It was nice to sit outside, on the piazza, people-watch, and have a yummy salad. It was so good, actually, that we had a big salad as our main dish for the next two nights at dinner. We have been eating fresh vegetables and fruits a lot, but didn’t realize how much we missed just a good green salad.
I know all these little streets look the same, but in person, they each have their own character. I love the experience of turning a corner and looking up. “Up” reveals all kinds of details that looking straight ahead doesn’t do. A big metaphor lies in there somewhere, but I digress.
Up the hill farther, we found the cathedral, park, and Piazza Grande.
The Piazza Grande. This was another classic tourist moment. We were a little late to get back to the station for our return train, but really wanted to see the Piazza. I mean, who doesn’t want to see a piazza called Piazza Grande? We rushed there, snapped a photo, and left. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about this Piazza, except that it was pretty, and it was up yet another hill.
Eliana waved goodbye to the train and said “Bye, train, I love you! Bye, Arezzo, I love you!”
There was a secret path that led to a nice spot with a pretty view. It’s a little hard to see in this photo, but we snapped a selfie anyway!
Friday definitely ranks up there with the most exciting days we have had so far on our trip, as it was Eliana’s first day of preschool in Italy! We were a little nervous that she wouldn’t want to go, because we’ve been together all day every day for nearly a month now, but she surprised us by saying “I’m excited for myself to go to school”. We talked about the language barrier, and how when she says “do you want to play with me?” to her new friends, they will likely not answer! She seemed to understand, and wanted to learn how to say “play” in Italian. We’re confident that she’ll be speaking a lot of Italian within a few days.
We got up early for our bus trip.
We got to school on time, and Ellie happily posed for a first day of school photo.
Ellie put her things in her cubby (“it’s on the bottom with a caterpillar picture and my name”) and we headed upstairs to the classroom.
This is Ellie and her teacher, Tanya. Eliana is simply obsessed with art. Anytime she has the option to draw or paint, that’s what she wants to do.
When we arrived, there were a lot of crying kids. Tanya explained that the first few days are typically pretty rough, but we knew Eliana would be just fine, and she was. After about 5 minutes and a kiss and a hug, Sky and I were off for our first couple of hours sans child in Florence. I’m not gonna lie: we were excited.
We had found a really cool cafe earlier in the week, and we were anxious to go back. Cappucinos in hand, we settled in for a while.
We sunk into those big brown chairs for two hours of uninterrupted reading and writing.
I forgot to snap a photo before I drank my cappucino. It was delish.
About an hour after drop-off, Sky called the school to be sure Eliana was doing ok. Apparently the director offered to her that she could go to a different class for a while where there weren’t so many kids crying, but Ellie told her, “no, I’m ok”, and went back to her playing. That’s my girl.
The time went quickly, and soon it was time for pick-up. We celebrated the first day with a panini and a gelato stop, where Eliana made fast friends with Marina and Silvia, the ladies who work at the shop. We had so much fun chatting with them that we promised to return on Monday. They fell in love with Eliana and gave her a free gelato!
And, now today is Saturday, and we were blessed with no construction noise this morning so everyone slept in a little. Eliana seems to have caught a little tummy bug so we are laying low for now. I may venture out alone in a bit; we’ll see.
This coming week, Eliana will go to school every morning. Sky and I plan to use some days for quiet writing and reflection time, and other mornings for adult sightseeing (museums, mostly). We are also excited to do a lingering lunch somewhere.
If you are looking for some good weekend reading…
This article about how to nap confirms a lot of what I know anecdotally. (From the Wall Street Journal)
“Experts say the ideal time to nap is generally between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Napping later in the day could interfere with nighttime sleep.”
I was a great napper after Eliana was born, and now find it hard to do. But when I do, it’s wonderful. Unfortunately, my nighttime sleep seems to be pretty badly effected, so I try not to do it too often.
This essay by a dad who has a dress-wearing young son is moving and important. (From The Atlantic)
“…at this point, I wouldn’t want him to change. Because, if my son liked boy stuff and dressed like a boy, he wouldn’t be my boy, he’d be like a stranger.”
I am fascinated by gender typing, gender identity, and gender assumptions. This author’s wife writes a great blog called Raising my Rainbow but we don’t often hear about the dad. This essay is a wonderful peek into his experience with a young son who identifies strongly as a girl.
Back on the sleep theme, here is the song deemed most relaxing ever. (From Apartment Therapy)
The harmonic intervals – or gaps between notes – have been chosen to create a feeling of euphoria and comfort. And there is no repeating melody, which allows your brain to completely switch off because you are no longer trying to predict what is coming next.
It is no secret that I am a little bit obsessed with sleep, especially my own. A bad night really messes me up, and I find that I am more frequently having a harder time falling asleep. This song might help!
This is a really beautiful post about the ride of marriage. (From flysoftly.wordpress.com)
“Most of all, we started listening and each moment of listening piled up until we could start climbing right up and out of our hole. We added laughter when we could muster it and that made the climbing feel lighter.”
I feel so blessed to have celebrated ten years of marriage with Sky this summer. We have been friends for 25 years. Our connection is stronger than ever, and we work hard at it every day. The most important lesson I have learned about having a strong marriage is to trust that the other person has your best interests at heart. If both people believe this and act accordingly, both people end up getting what they need. If either person (or both) doubt this, the relationship easily becomes a toxic power struggle to be sure that one’s own needs are being met.
I don’t mean to make this sound easy.
There are plenty of days when I’m convinced Sky only cares about himself and making sure he gets what he needs. This, in turn, makes me uber-self-concerned and I get all grouchy. This sometimes looks like this:
Setting: Our kitchen, 5pm
Sky: Hey, hon, I think I’ll go for a quick bike ride.
Dana (to herself): Once again, the dude just assumes I’m on top of the dinner plans. I actually have some reading I want to do but now I have to figure out dinner while Sky goes on his awesome ride. He didn’t even ask if I needed help.
Dana (aloud, not nicely): Fine.
Sky (to himself): I’m thinking there was something funky in her tone, but I’m not going to make assumptions here.
Sky (aloud): You ok?
Dana (more kindly but still not kind): I’m fine. Go take a bike ride. I’ll start dinner.
Sky: Oh, ok. But I was thinking we could just have leftovers or go out. I want you to have time to chill for a while.
Dana (to herself): Geez, I guess I was wrong to assume that he wasn’t thinking about dinner.
Dana (aloud): That sounds great, sweetie. Have a good ride! I hope it’s fun! I’m going to read for a few minutes.
Sky: Oh, good! I was hoping you’d do something for yourself. See you soon.
Honestly, something like this happens ALL.THE.TIME in our house. If I had just given Sky the benefit of the doubt, we could have avoided the tense moment. Now, it was just a moment, and it wasn’t a big deal, but I think those little things add up over the course of a day, a week, a marriage. If I had just trusted Sky, I wouldn’t have gone to that yucky place in my head and wouldn’t have used a nasty voice that makes him feel bad. Furthermore, later that evening, Sky would likely call me out on my tone, which would require time out of our evening, plus I’d need to apologize, and apologizing is not always easy for me to do. It’s actually really easy with other people, but for some reason, I get stubborn with Sky. (Note to self: explore this in a future blog post).
So, that’s it for now. I am excited for a quiet evening at “home” in Italy.
Thanks for your comments and emails after my last post; I love hearing from you!