Italy- week 4

20 Sep

Dear Friends,

Our time in Florence is winding down.  It is hard to believe it, but we have been here for an entire month. This blog post has been absolutely PAINFUL to write. I’m not sure why, but I think it is hard to describe this week since I basically feel like we live here now. Who wants to read about grocery shopping? I mean, the first week, it was all “OMG, the market!” but now it’s part of our routine. It is still wonderful, but it doesn’t have the same pizzazz, if you get my drift.

We decided to take a little side trip to Elba Island.  Elba is the third largest island in Italy, and when Napolean was exiled, he headed to Elba. Now it is a great vacation spot for Europeans.


Obviously, I didn’t take this picture. Not sure how to credit it, but it’s from Wikipedia.

Getting there required a bus, two trains, a ferry, and a taxi, but it was well worth it. I found Elba kind of randomly online, but once we started mentioning it to locals, we got a lot of affirmation!


The main train station is so crazy. We’ve been there a handful of times now, and every time it is just as busy as the last.

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It is pretty handy that Eliana is old enough now to take a photo of me and Sky!


After the bus and two trains, we headed for the ferry.

The ferry ride was smooth and comfortable. It was about an hour, and they had a play structure for kids inside!

Once we arrived on the island, I took a nice deep breath. We got a taxi easily, and headed for our hotel on the south side of the island.  We really lucked out with Hotel Capo Sud. I basically just found it online, and they had room, and we went for it. It was perfect for us and we couldn’t have been happier. The hotel was basically one building with regular hotel rooms, and then a handful of cottages. We were in a little cottage that had two bedrooms- one had a single bed, a desk, and armoire, and the other had a king sized bed and an armoire. There was a bathroom between the two rooms, and a sweet little patio out front. We had a view of the sea, but most wonderfully, the SOUND of the sea.  Ahhh, it was really heavenly. I love that sound! The hotel was perched on a hill, with the main building at the top, and the cottages heading toward the water.  Our cottage was second to last (as in, really close to the beach) and within about 3 minutes we were in the sand or at the pool. Did I mention the pool yet? 🙂

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This is the view from our little cottage. 

We didn’t mess around. We got to the cottage, dropped our stuff, changed into bathing suits, and off to the beach we went. The water was incredibly clear, a beautiful color, and warm!


That’s Sky out on the raft!


There is a brilliant service provided in many European hotels, where you reserve an umbrella and beach chairs on your first day with the lifeguard. It is yours for your whole stay, so no need to get up super early to reserve your spot.

The hotel offered a half-board option, which I’ve never done before, but is very popular in Europe. Basically, our room rate was per person, and breakfast and one other meal for the day was included (lunch or dinner).  We did dinner both nights, and it was fun to try out the food they prepared. None of it was fabulous, but all of it was fine. I enjoyed sitting outside on the dining room patio, and having a break from cooking was a treat.

On our one full day on Elba, the weather was pretty bad.  Stormy beaches are still beautiful, though, so we made the most of it.


We tried a few times to be outside, and did get in a swim at both the beach and the pool. Eliana took a huge leap forward in her swimming and was able to swim on her own while wearing floaties. She kicked and used her arms appropriately, and did a great job! We were excited for her.


We knew that the weather might be less than ideal, so Sky had downloaded a couple of family movies for us just in case we were stuck inside. Since the weather was as chilly as we thought, we settled in for the afternoon and enjoyed both Shrek and Mary Poppins. Eliana has been singing a lot of Mary Poppins songs the last few days.


Later in the afternoon, we headed out to the beach again, where we were treated to an amazing dance show by Eliana.



Surprisingly, those big clouds didn’t rain much on us. It was mostly just unappealing beach weather.




The following day, we woke up to bright skies, and we didn’t have to leave until midday, so we enjoyed more swimming at the pool and the beach.

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That’s me, taking a little swim. It was reeeeeeaaaaaalllllly nice.

One unexpected bonus of our trip was meeting a couple of families with young kids. One couple had a baby who was a year old, and Eliana enjoyed playing with her on the beach while we chatted with the parents. We exchanged email addresses and are hoping to keep in touch!

The ferry ride home made me a little seasick, but we did manage to snap some photos. Elba was simply beautiful. I would definitely go back, but next time, I’d rent a car and go explore some of the 100+ beaches on the island. We were kind of trapped at our little hotel, which was fine for our purposes, but next time I’ll stay longer and see more of the island.

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By the time we got home, we were all totally wiped out and we went to bed early.

Sky and I took Eliana to school the next day, and then headed to the Bargello museum. The exhibits there were mostly not my style, but the building itself was quite spectacular. I also loved a video they showed about how they restored a particular sculpture. Fascinating!

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We stopped for lunch at a fabulous hidden panini place in the most charming little piazza we have found yet, the Piazza Maggiore.


It’s hard to feel the charm in this photo, but it really was special.

The panini place had apparently been in some guidebook because there were NO locals there and TONS of American students. Usually I would steer clear of that sort of thing, but we went for it and it was delicious!

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That afternoon, we went home after school for some laundry and rest time, and then out for gelato a little later.


Our favorite gelato place near our apartment is about a five minute walk. You can see it on the right of this photo with the yellow sign in the window. Across the street is a little park, and across from that is the Arno, with a view to the central part of the city. It’s a great spot.


Happy girl, Eliana, with the city behind her.

While on Elba Island, I made a list of the things I really want to do before we leave Florence. One of the things on my list was to go inside Santa Croce, a big church in a beautiful piazza. When I was last here, I think I went inside, but I couldn’t remember it at all, so Sky and I walked from Eliana’s school, stopped for coffee, of course, and then went to the church.  The coolest thing about it was that it holds Galileo’s tomb, as well as Michelangelo’s tomb, and another couple of interesting people’s tombs…really neat.


I will really miss my daily cappuccino.

The piazza in front of Santa Croce is always bustling with tourists, though last night we walked through at dusk and it was much calmer. I notice that I have different reactions to each of the piazza’s we see. The differences are subtle, because basically I just love piazzas. They are brilliant gathering places for communities. Why don’t we have more of them in the States? Eliana likes to say the word “piazza” and then gestures widely with her left arm, and say “that’s a wide open space”.


Those porticos on the left add so much charm, and the streets on the far side are sweetly diagonal.

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The facade of the church is truly beautiful, and makes for some great photos, too!


Here is the main cathedral. I thought the roof was really beautiful. There are some smaller rooms off to the sides.


Sky in front of Galileo’s tomb.


Michelangelo’s tomb. The bust is of him, and the three statues below represent his different mediums: sculpture, painting, and architecture. On this trip, we have seen his sculpture and his painting…not lucky enough to see his architecture!

There is a museum attached to the church, which we went through briefly. We were both a little museum-ed out. Afterward, Sky sat on the steps to do a little reading, and I went to the leather school that is next to the church. It was really neat to see students working on pieces that they would be selling later on. Several times on this trip I have had the chance to watch artists work in real-time and I love it.

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When I got back outside to find Sky, here’s what I saw:


Yep, that’s him, with a book and his computer out! Nothing like a little contrast between history and modernity!

After lunch back in Piazza Maggiore at a pizza place, we grabbed Eliana and headed to the Bubbly Gardens, as Eliana likes to say. Of course, I mean the Boboli Gardens!

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These two photos were taken outside the Pitti Palace before going into the Boboli Gardens.

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The gardens were beautiful, and a nice break from the noise of the city. Green, manicured, and definitely with a bit of a “secret fairyland” vibe, we enjoyed just getting lost for a while.

I know I haven’t been posting dinner pictures, but I still take them every night. Boboli Garden day was punctuated with a beautiful pasta. Fresh noodles (we will never go back to the dry, packaged kind!), tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, broccoli, zucchini, kale, white beans, fresh pecorino cheese, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


Sky continues to cook almost every night, and I am so grateful!

Yesterday I took Eliana to school alone, and took myself out to coffee, where I got my very first Italian heart in my cappuccino.


I took my time heading home and stopped for a few gifts, and met Sky at home. We just had about an hour before we needed to get Eliana, so we stopped for some yummy pizza, and grabbed our girl for an afternoon adventure in Fiesole. Fiesole is a little hill town about fifteen minutes from Florence. We needed to take two buses to get there, and had to be back at a particular time (that part of the story is to come later), so we were on a mission!


Waiting for the bus.


Fiesole has a charming central piazza. Off to the right are lovely views of Florence.

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Definitely a hill town! We got great views but had to work for them a little!


Eliana strikes a pose. This was a very steep staircase!

After a gelato stop, we headed up to a vista point to see a big view of Florence.


We took the bus back to town, and went to an event put on by Eliana’s preschool here, Canadian Island. It was a marketing event for them to try to get families interested in their English courses, but lots of their current families were there, and we were really happy to meet the parents of some of the kids Ellie has been talking about.  The event was really well done and we had a great time.


This could be an ad for the school, right?!


This is one of the teachers reading a book in English.  The artist in the back is drawing the story as it happens, and the pianist provided some background sounds for the story.


Here’s how Eliana felt about it!


They had face painting, a huge twister game, trivia, and art supplies for the kids. There’s Ellie on the right in red.


There’s Sky talking to the father of one of Eliana’s friends.

After the formal program, a number of the teachers got on stage and did some songs.  Some of the kids were on stage, too, and Eliana wanted to join in, so she and Sky went up on stage to participate.  As that fizzled, word got out that Sky could probably lead some kids songs in English on the piano.


Eliana joined him immediately, and I put down my camera to get video.  My girl sang, with a microphone, to about 50 random people at a cafe in Italy. She sang Puff the Magic Dragon, If I Had a Hammer, and Old McDonald. She belted it out, had some attitude, and even got the audience to participate with clapping (and animal sounds). She has perfect pitch and the personality to carry a crowd. I was in total shock. I mean, she’s not shy, but I had no idea she would take the stage the way she did. Between my half-laughing/half-crying state, I took some great video but, I have no photos to share.

Sky having the microphone was also a nice opportunity to publicly thank the people of Canadian Island who have helped us feel welcome and have provided such a great space for Eliana for these weeks. We are very grateful, and Sky made a sweet announcement acknowledging their efforts.

Today we got an email from the director of the school that said, “Thank you grazie!!!!!!  For giving us a breath of fresh air, and for entertaining us for a while….Eliana is going to be the next Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday….. she was simply amazing!!!!!!!!!!! My compliments.” Proud mama moment.

On our way home, we stopped for a pizza that we brought back to the apartment. It was our first “take out” and it was delicious!


Even though I was a little anxious to get Eliana home, fed, and in bed (it was late!), I did love walking home at sunset. We have barely been out late enough to see this, and it was gorgeous.

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I thought you’d appreciate the THREE cranes that impeded the view.

Today was mellow… off to school for Eliana, to coffee, and then to the Piazza della Repubblica for some errands and some shopping. I had heard about this cafe that has a wide range of coffees, and that is popular with locals as well as expats, so we decided to try it out.


Here are Sky and Ellie at our bus stop. We take the C3 to school. Ellie flags down the bus.

Of course, I forgot to take a photo of the front of the cafe. It was called ChiaroScuro and is located at Via del Corso 36R. It was kind of posh. I liked it.



The cappuccino’s were slightly larger than many of the ones we’ve had here, but they were basically lukewarm. We’ve found that to be true most everywhere. This makes for easy drinking (or gulping) but I think I prefer my coffee a little warmer.

We needed to go to the post office to inquire about shipping some things home, so we handled that as fast as we could, which was not fast. Italian time is ssssslllllooooowwww. I did some window shopping in the area, and passed through the Mercado Nuovo, where the golden boar is located.


Like the tradition in Rome, the story goes that if you touch the nose of the boar, you’ll return to Italy. Done and done.

Sky and I headed to La Rinascente, the fancy department store, to have lunch on the rooftop. We had heard that there was a great view from up there and wanted to check it out.

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This photo was taken from our table. It was the best table in the whole place, and we had a lovely lunch overlooking the Duomo.


We had a lazy afternoon at home today, with lots of blog writing, working, cleaning, and hanging out with Eliana. We re-enacted our trip up the Duomo (see photo above of those CRAZY people who did the same walk we did) as a little performance for ourselves, and took bows at the end. We went for a walk near our apartment and I took Eliana into a couple of artisan jewelry shops where she could watch the pieces being made. It was a sweet evening.

With one week to go, our emotions are kind of all over the place. This final week is going to be a little weird, too, because there is a massive bike race going on in the city. Many streets will be closed, creating traffic problems, bus issues, and schedule changes for everyone. We don’t know what to expect but the locals have told us to be prepared for anything. We assume this will mean walking to school, which is kind of long prospect, and much less flexibility in terms of transportation. Our plan is to enjoy it, make the most of it, and to keep expectations low.

This time next week, we will be in Orvieto overnight on our way to Rome, and then off to France. I can’t quite believe we are in the wrap-up phase and I want to be mindful not to check out early, as they say.

Things I will miss about Italy: the incredibly special family time. The coffee. Gelato. Walking everywhere. Cobblestone streets. Piazzas.

Things I will not miss about Italy: Construction everywhere, all day. Dog poop on the sidewalk. Mosquitoes.

These are incomplete lists, especially the first one.

I am not sure when the next blog post will come… perhaps on Thursday before we leave, but perhaps not until we are in France. We’ll see!

And now, for some links!

This piece is about having patience with other people’s kids, basically. (From themattwalshblog)

“A kid going berserk at a grocery store doesn’t indicate the quality of his parents, anymore than a guy getting pneumonia after he spends six hours naked in the snow indicates the quality of his doctor.”

Pet peeve: people who don’t have kids in tow glaring at me when I am in public with Eliana. It doesn’t happen often, because most of the time, Ellie and I are having a great time together! But when it does…grrrrrrrr. Have a little compassion, folks.

This is a photo collection of post-pregnancy bodies.  It’s beautiful! (From Huffington Post)

“By showcasing moms, Jackson hopes to shine a light on cultural interpretations of female beauty and change women’s expectations for themselves and those around them.”

I have heard so many mothers bemoaning the loss of their pre-pregnancy body. Even if they have lost every pound they gained while growing their little people, hips might be wider, feet haven’t gone back to their smaller size, breasts are different… I love this project for the celebration it inspires.

This is a short article written by a previous colleague of mine about things teachers want parents to know. (From Huffington Post)

“You entrust us with your children for the school year and we are honored. But the relationship is not one-way.”

While I have not seen Kyle Redford (the author) for several years, I think of her frequently as a wonderful role model. Her professionalism, compassion, and thoughtfulness have often been guideposts for me. This short piece is a great set of reminders for parents as the year is still in it’s infancy.

This is a series of photos of ballet dancers in every day situations. (From

As always, I am so grateful for your emails and comments on the blog. Knowing that you are out there reading, and hearing your thoughts, is so meaningful to me.

Many blessings,



10 Responses to “Italy- week 4”

  1. Anne Evans September 20, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    Very lovely, Dana. You rock again! Loved the image of Sky and Eliana singing on stage at the preschool marketing event.

    • Dana September 21, 2013 at 1:44 am #

      Thanks, Anne!

  2. Steve Isaacs September 20, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    Hi love,

    Another wonderful blog. Ellie on stage, the photos at sunset, Elba, the daily adventures. My what experiences. And you still have weeks to go.

    Love every minute.


    • Dana September 21, 2013 at 1:44 am #

      Thanks, dad, miss you!

  3. Steve Isaacs September 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    One other thing.

    Julie told me she LOVES your blogs and thinks your writing is exceptional.


    Sent from my iPad

    • Dana September 21, 2013 at 1:44 am #

      Sweet. Thanks.

  4. Brooke September 20, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    Love following your travels. Jamie and I also lived Elba!! Did you know that jenn tramultolas ex family has owned and run the leather factory since it opened. Enjoy your remaining time!!! Love to Laurent and family.

    • Dana September 21, 2013 at 1:43 am #

      Thank you Brooke!!

  5. Leslie Isaacs September 21, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    Darling, loved it all, words and pix. Ellie on the beach in Elba, fab; jealous that Sky got to cuddle with Ellie watching a movie; wanted that pasta…and the dish it was in! Unforgettable memories of a very unique time. You’re lucky to have gone and we’re lucky to be the recipient of these wonderful blogs. Enjoy all the moments…even the sad ones.

    • Dana September 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      Thank you, Mom!

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