Sweden and Italy- we are here!

30 Aug

Dear Friends,

The problem with falling behind on blogging is that it is nearly impossible to catch up.  So, I won’t share too many details, as they are swimming in my gelato-coated brain anyway, but instead focus on a few highlights.  (Who really wants to hear about how I almost fainted somewhere over the Atlantic, anyway?)

For those of you who don’t know, we left our cozy existence in Santa Rosa in mid-August for an eight-week European adventure.  The stars aligned so that we were able to rent our house in Santa Rosa, Sky is working remotely, things worked out smoothly with Eliana’s preschool, and we took the plunge.  Thank you to the MANY of you who helped make this possible, with a special shout out to Renee. 🙂

Let me say upfront that this whole trip is waaaay out of my comfort zone.  For a long time, Sky and I have talked about wanting to live overseas for a while, but circumstances were never right and that was secretly ok with me.  I like my creature comforts, I like knowing what to expect, I don’t sleep as well as I used to, I don’t like to fly, and I am convinced that Eliana needs x,y,z very specifically.  I’m plagued with questions about how we would manage our house, afford it (!!!!!), deal with the logistics around our bills, what if we got a jury summons? But, life practically handed us this opportunity, and we jumped on it. It would have been easy to come up with reasons not to do it (see my above Very Good Reasons) but I would have felt like the world’s biggest idiot, and I was already not in my best shape from a confidence perspective, so rather than beat my soul to a pulp, I said “yes” and immediately felt lighter. So… I am learning that saying “yes” is sometimes really the way to go.  Other times, saying “no” is the key to that “light” feeling. I guess the lesson is in learning which is which. Not rocket science, but important nonetheless.

While our original thought was to be gone for a year, or perhaps six months, it became clear quickly that a shorter trip was much more realistic given that we wanted to leave relatively soon; we wanted to be away in the fall and back by wintertime.  We spent about three weeks focused on researching house swaps in Barcelona, thinking that we wanted to be in Spain and knowing that we would save all kinds of money by doing a swap, but the right thing didn’t appear. Simultaneously, it became clear that spending the bulk of the trip in Italy was much more of the “bucket list” variety.  We started looking into renting an apartment here, and searching for a renter for our house in Santa Rosa. As our plans unfolded, things just fell into place. Sky would call this “synchronicity”. (Shameless plug: check out Sky’s work at http://www.skynelson.com.  It is really interesting stuff, and worth learning about!). I call it “things just fell into place”, but you get my point.

We have been gone about 2.5 weeks now.  It feels like longer in some ways, and in other ways, it feels like we just got here.

Our itinerary began with an overnight in Helsingor, Denmark, followed by nine nights in Sweden.  We are now renting an apartment in Florence, Italy for five weeks (we have been here just a week), and then we will head to the south of France for four days to explore and see some dear family friends.  Our trip will end with one more night in Sweden and then three nights in Copenhagen before flying home in early October. Whew. We are beyond grateful for the chance to do this, and will blog more regularly until we come home! Or, at least as long as we are in Italy. I promise this will be the longest post- playing catch up equals lots of words.

Suitcase of our stuff

This is what two months away looks like, after we took out as much as we could imagine. Two big suitcases, one little one, one big backpack, one little one, and a stroller. Oh, and a computer bag with two computers, an i-pad, an i-pod, and two cellphones.  

Our trip from SFO to Copenhagen through Chicago was smooth as can be (minus the near-fainting episode I referenced earlier) and I was especially impressed with Eliana, who was much more than just a trooper.  She played, read, slept (!) and otherwise was the best traveler of the three of us. We landed mid-day in Copenhagen, got our car, and spent a fabulous 24 hours in Helsingor, Denmark. Our hotel was peaceful and the perfect spot to catch up on some rest. We had an incredible dinner of chilled salmon, bread, cucumber, and a light cream cheese that we made into sandwiches. I literally could not keep my eyes open after about 6pm local time, so by 6:45, all three of us were in bed.

D sleeping on table

Family at hotel

Enjoying coffee on the grounds of the hotel. The view across the water to Sweden was exquisite!

The following day, we set out to see Elsinore Castle. We felt like cheesy tourists, but as is often true on the first day of a big trip, we really loved doing the sightseeing thing!


Ballet at Elsinor

I mean, it’s not really a castle without some dancing princesses, right?

Ellie door at Elsinor Sky Elsinore

After the castle, we thought we’d head toward the ferry to get to Sweden, but I was really taken with the beautiful streets of the town of Helsingor as we drove toward the ferry terminal. We found a spot to park, and did some wandering. What a charming, lovely place! We were all in good spirits, enjoyed window shopping, and had the first of many ice cream cones. While walking in Helsingor, I had the distinct, unmistakable feeling of JOY, the deep kind, the kind that almost takes your breath away. Suddenly, it seemed clear that this trip was exactly what I needed and was coming at the exact right moment in my life. I even said aloud to Sky, “I am so happy right now”, and I really, really meant it. Being outside my comfort zone, challenging my assumptions, figuring things out together as a family, going on a big adventure, seeing a part of the world I’d never seen- it was all so “not me” and so who I wanted to become.  Ah.  I felt the deepest breath I had taken for a few months.
Helsingor street

E ice cream

Helsingor square

Helsingor house

Soon, it was time to board the ferry to Sweden. We drove our car onto the boat, which was a first for all of us, and Ellie thought it was the coolest thing ever. The ride was just under an hour, and then we drove north.  We spent eight days in the small town of Hov, where Sky’s father’s family is from. It is just a dot on the map on the west coast, near the beach. The house we stayed in has belonged to Sky’s family for generations and it was special being there with Axel (Sky’s dad), Mara (Sky’s step-mom), Sara (Sky’s sister), and Randall (Sara’s husband). It is a little house and the ceilings are less than 6 feet high in some places, but it was a wonderful adventure, to be sure! Sky, Eliana and I shared a bedroom that had bunkbeds and a couch. Ellie slept on the couch, I was on the bottom bunk, and Sky was on the top. I really enjoyed sharing a room as a family and we all slept well. I had been very worried about jet lag but we took things slow and adjusted over the course of several days.  We loved seeing Eliana engaged with her grandparents, aunt, and uncle for sustained time, playing games, doing art, feeding the chickens, and snuggling. Playing “Dictionary” with a group of people who are that smart and that funny made for some great nights, and I also tore through two novels and wrote in my journal every.single.day. Yay me.

3 generations

Here are Sky, Axel, and Eliana in front of the house.  

Our days in Sweden were divided between time in cafes (great coffee in Sweden!), exploring towns like Bastad, LaHolm, and Angelholm, checking out nearby places like Hov’s Hallar and the local cemetery, and spending really wonderful time with Sky’s Swedish family, including second cousins, cousins once- and -twice removed, great-aunts, and the like. Turns out that many people in the nearby towns are all related somehow!  We also celebrated my birthday, which was fun.

Dana hov's hallar

Hov’s Hallar is a beautiful coastal spot with amazing rock formations.  Once we were there while some wild sheep grazed nearby. Another day we brought a picnic lunch and stared at the water.

Calle and Ellie

Here’s Sky’s cousin Calle with Eliana.   

Cousin Johann

This is Sky’s cousin Johan.  We had a lovely dinner with his family (wife and two young kids) and Sky’s other cousins Calle and Boell.

Marianne and us

Marianne is cousin Calle’s mother, making her Sky’s great-great-aunt or aunt-second-removed or something like that.  We had a sweet visit with her.


Sonia is 94 years old and lived in the Hov house.  She is the mother of some other cousins, making her Sky’s great-great-great aunt twice removed or whatever.  You get the idea.  One night, we were invited to a wonderful BBQ and she was there, along with some other family we’d not seen yet on the trip.

Family Bastad beach

Here we are on the beach of Bastad.  It was chilly but really beautiful!

It was amazing to see Eliana connect with her family in this meaningful place.

Ladies golf

Cousin Josephine, Aunt Sara, Ellie, Cousin Boell, and Grandma Mara.  (We went mini-golfing- fun!)

E and Axel painting

Ellie and Grandpa Axel painting.

Randall and E at art gallery

Ellie and uncle Randall drawing together.

Josephine, Nicholas, Eliana

Ellie with cousin Josephine and her partner Nicholas.

Sara, Mara, Ellie

Eliana, Aunt Sara, Grandma Mara at a shoe store where they sell clogs, of course.

At the end of the week, we spent one night in the city of Malmo, which is the third largest city in Sweden. There was a huge street festival going on, so we enjoyed getting Eliana’s face painted and people watching, and then had dinner with Josephine and Nicholas. It was a nice stop on our way back to the airport as we headed to Italy.

Ah, Italy… we have been here 6 days and it is glorious.  We have rented an apartment just over the Ponte Vecchio (“Oltrarno”) in the San Niccolo neighborhood.  It is a perfect location- close to the historical sites, but in a residential area.  I had very few expectations for this leg of our adventure, and I have found myself settling in slowly to this new place.  My biggest concern about being in Italy was always what we would possibly do for five weeks in one place.  It is one thing to “not rush”, but I feel a little caught between “not rushing” and “not living here”.  I don’t want to be a tourist, yet we don’t have any friends here, Eliana isn’t in school, we aren’t working. It’s a strange in-between, but I think we are on track. We have taken our time learning our way around the city, stopping when the mood strikes, not worrying if there is a long line or if we have a few less-than-incredible moments. The beauty of the time is the ability to slow down in a way that we can’t do at home and we couldn’t do if we were trying to live here. In many ways, it’s the best of both worlds.

Now that we have been here a week, “plans” are shaping up.  I have found at least five day trips by bus or train that I’d like to do, we haven’t hit the major museums yet, we are planning to rent a car for a day or two and explore the countryside, and we are considering a couple of nights out-of-town somewhere. Plug in trying to keep up with market shopping, laundry, house keeping, cooking, and gelato stops, and things are feeling busy all of a sudden!

We have adjusted to the time zone, the smoking, the throngs of people, and the weather.  The thing that has required the least amount of adjustment? FOOD. Oh, my. The food. The fresh pasta. The tomatoes. The basil. The gelato. The coffee.  It is divine.

Gelato day 1 Coffee Gilli Dinner day 3 pasta

Sky has been very inspired here and has cooked us dinner every night so far. This was an incredible ricotta and spinach ravioli with fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, onions, and a little vinegar.  

Hot peppers Pizza day 4 Cucumbers day 5

Aside from EATING, what else is there to do in Florence but WALK, of course! We’ve been walking everywhere with our trusty backpacks and stroller. Eliana has enjoyed a carousel ride in Piazza Republica nearly every day, and we have loved meandering the streets together. There are interesting things to see and do around every corner.


View up Dei Bardi

This is a look up our street.  Our apartment is on the left just out of view.

Family in cafe Ellie and Sky Ponte Vecchio

Eliana and Sky peering over the Ponte Vecchio.  She really liked staring at the water.

Ellie watching painter

Eliana was totally enthralled by this street artist.  We must have spent about 20 minutes watching him work his magic.  Seeing what catches her attention is fascinating and I am loving learning about the little details of her brain.

Rower San Niccolo piazza

A big unexpected highlight so far was walking to the top of the Duomo cupola, all 463 steps, and seeing the amazing views of Florence from the top.  I say it was unexpected for two reasons- one, when we got in line, we had no idea what we were in line for!  I thought we were simply walking into the cathedral, but the entry lead us directly onto the staircase and there was no turning back.  I’m glad we didn’t know what we were in for, as I’m sure I would have said it was too much for Eliana (which is code for “too much for me”).  I also say it was an unexpected highlight because even though I have not experienced such intense fear of heights in recent memory, I can’t seem to stop reminiscing about our adventure, remembering the amazing views, and thinking about how crazy the people are at the top every time we look up (which is often!).   My fear-of-heights reaction was so intense physiologically- lightheaded, dizzy, heart palpitations, sweating, the whole deal.  I also had one of the most pronounced experiences of “mama-bear-ness” I have ever had.  At one point, Eliana slipped a little, it was no big deal, but my heart absolutely jumped out of my chest and it took me several minutes to calm down.  I felt such a deep fear that it took all my focus to slow my breathing. When we got to the bottom, we celebrated with gelato, of course.

Dana terrified

I am totally terrified and hugging that column bigtime.

Ellie duomo stairs

Eliana loved every minute of this adventure, except for when she briefly wandered away from Sky’s watchful eye and he grabbed her back more harshly than she is accustomed to.

Florence from Duomo

Santa Croce cathedral from above.

Florence view Sky and Ellie looking over Florence

I snapped this photo and then literally had to walk away and hide my face from the crowd because I had started to cry, I was so scared.

Another highlight from the other day was a nice walk near our apartment.  The San Niccolo neighborhood is not smothered in tourists, so we feel like there is a little more space to explore.  The walk took us up a hill and then through a lovely street of trees before ending at a sweet playground.

wide archEllie and DanaSky and Dana

Photo of Sky and I snapped by Eliana!

Sky and Elliepretty patioplayground

While Ellie played, Sky and I sat at a picnic table and did some reading and listened to her talk to her imaginary sisters in Italian. On our walk home, we had a yummy pizza lunch at a nearby trattoria.

Ellie in pizzeria pizza focused

Along with our exploring and eating, we are trying to learn some Italian.  Sky has started choosing words of the day that we all work on together.  Eliana plays with the language a LOT, often speaking in gibberish that sounds very much like Italian!

On one of our walks, we went to the Leonardo DaVinci Museum, which houses huge models of his amazing drawings.  Eliana had fun trying things out.  It sort of reminded us of a very, very small Exploratorium.

Divinci museum 2 Divinci museum Ellie and Sky Divinci museum

I think Sky liked the museum, too!

Next week, we are going to visit a preschool that, over email, suggested that Eliana may be able to attend a bit while we are here.  We are excited to check it out and see what she thinks.  Having her interact with some other kids seems like a great way for her to learn some Italian, get a break from us boring grown-ups, and assimilate more fully into the culture here. We are also planning a day trip out-of-town somewhere, perhaps Siena or Aruzzo.

If, by chance, you are looking for links to check out this weekend, I have a couple for you.  I will try to be better about collecting them but I am currently very busy with cappuccino’s and the like.  I’m sure you understand.

This video of Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth singing a duet with an audience member was really great. (From lilist.com)

This letter to the author’s son on the first day of school should be required reading. (From Momastery)

“We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.

We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.”

I think many people feel that school is for way, way more than academics.  This post is so good I might steal it for Eliana.

Friends, we miss you and thank you for your love and support.




21 Responses to “Sweden and Italy- we are here!”

  1. Julianne Lorenzen August 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Reading this was an absolute joy from top to bottom. Enjoy an exquisite Italian cappuccino for me…I’ll dream about it tonight.

    • Dana August 30, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      Ah, I miss you Jules! I’ll definitely have a cappuccino for you tomorrow. 🙂

  2. Margaret Haynes Meritt August 30, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Such beautiful family pictures! What a wonderful experience.

    • Dana August 30, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      Thank you!

  3. Jaime August 30, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    Your writing makes me want to drop everything and go on our own adventure, too! I am so beyond thrilled that you are able to have such an trip. These memories will stay with all of you for years…and possibly inspire another trip. You guys rock!

    • Dana August 30, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

      Haha, thanks, Jaime! It is a great adventure, for sure. Hope you are well!

  4. Steve Isaacs August 30, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    Great blog, and pictures. Your candid expressions of how your feelings evolved before and during the trip was quite special.


  5. Renee August 30, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    Wow. This is so wonderful. It’s so nice to see Ellie so joyful!! Thank you for sharing you all look inspired and refreshed. I can’t wait to hear more. Travel well…

    • Dana August 30, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

      Thanks, Renee! Did you catch the special shout out for you?! 🙂 Miss you all!

  6. Lawrence August 30, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    Well done Dana 😃 I follow you on your blog , good idea ! 👍 Such interesting experience for Eliana , she looks so happy on your pictures
    Enjoy your spécial trip and see you soon at home In Provence In few weeks…..
    And eat à big big chololate And strawberry icecream for me Please ! 🍧

    • Dana August 30, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

      We can’t wait to see you! I will definitely eat some special gelato for you. 🙂

  7. Dani August 30, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    Dana, Dana–I feel like I am there with you guys! Love the rhythm of the sharing–description, your state of mind and heart, pictures, smiles, what scares you, what soothes you–you may be getting insight into that child’s mind, but you are sharing so much about yourself–love it. Clearly you all are doing the perfect things at the perfect times in the perfect timing. Sweet!!!

    • Dana August 30, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

      Thank you, Dani! It is fun to share our stories.

  8. Anne evans August 31, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    Fascinating blog, Dana. So good for all of you. Travel opens the soul and leaves even the youngest amongst us profoundly changed. Enjoy preschool and I look forward to hearing about that especially!

    • Dana September 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      Thanks, Anne!

  9. kirsten August 31, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    thanks for letting me be a fly on the wall and get a taste of your adventure! so glad the trip has become such a growing opportunity for you. that is exactly how I felt last summer. it was so good to learn I am not dead yet and we can still learn and grow big if we create the right opportunities and push ourselves outside our comfort zone. much love!

    • Dana September 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

      xo miss you!

  10. Byron Whitlock September 4, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Wow I was a few paragraphs in thinking “WOW! Sky sure can write!” of course it is his better half. What a great adventure!

  11. Cheryl Jagoda September 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    What an amazing adventure – sure to be a highlight for many many years. Love the pictures – favorites – Ellie painting (with the TV off above her) and drawing in the circles. Enjoy – an inspiration for all of us to take those opportunities. Safe Travels!

    • Dana September 5, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

      Thanks, Cheryl! We are having an amazing time!

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