December 2009: family status-check [of trivialities, faves and hobbies]

Things simmer in my mind, tiny little things I want to remember never to forget. It occurred to me to take a snapshot of our lives, not of the photo variety but more of a mental, emotional, geographical freeze frame. So I set out to check-in with our family of four: of where we are with regard to current reads, favorite foods, recent memories and more. This is a quick-list, far from exhausting, but a good start:

Nicknames. What was your nickname in school? We didn't have a lot of nicknames, but this trip and circumstance seems to be fertile ground for upgrading names and attaching new ones. During our summer of cycling from Amsterdam to Paris, we called Anthony 'the cat,' and Caleb 'grease monkey.' Anthony's bike would catch a rut and throw him---on occasion---and we have multiple stories of him somehow flying off his bike and landing, uncannily, on his feet. After a day of cycling, Caleb would often have greasy proof of our day's ride. Somehow the back of his calves and his greased up bike chains had an affinity for one another.

Italy provided an entirely different proposition: new first names. Because Caleb and Janelle are a difficult to say in Italian, we have since adopted new names. We knew 'Caleb' was a mouthful in the Italian language, so we told him he could use his middle name instead. He became Francesco at school and on the soccer field. He has since gained two more nicknames: 'Franchi' (pronounced Frankie) from his soccer buddies, and 'Maio' (pronounced /My-oh/) from his coach---obviously a shortened version of our last name. Janelle is tough to say, so James started calling me Gina... and seems to get a royal kick out of it. James is Giacomo---an easy translation from English to Italian; Anthony is Antonio, with the added bonus of his mom regularly calling him 'Anto'---a common nickname for Antonio.

That was long-winded, these are not:

current favorite cereal: Anthony Miele Pops (think honey Kix) and Caleb cocoa pops. There are a LOT fewer options here!).

current hobbies:
Caleb is enjoying painting, guitar, collecting gems/minerals and sketching/researching cars.
Anthony is busy making ornaments, house design, reading, and researching Fantasy Premier League (our family of four compete online in fantasy soccer); he is also looking into fantasy stock exchange(s).
James and Janelle are into touring Florence, tasting wine and food, researching business opportunities and blogging/journaling/collecting souvenirs. Oh, and Janelle loves loves loves cooking Italian food!

fave souvenirs:
Caleb: gems
Anthony: tiles from Orvieto, San Gimignano, Florence and Pisa
James: Poggio Amorelli wine box (plus contents)
Janelle: metal chef (handcrafted metal wine-bottle holder, made to look like a chef); Christmas sangria pitcher (James just bought for me!)

current read:
Caleb: Hamish X and the Cheese Pirates by Sean Cullen
Anthony: The Firm by John Grisham
James: The Firm by John Grisham
Janelle: Mario Batali's Molto Italiano cookbook

favorite store:
Caleb: Mineral Shop (Florence)
Anthony: unknown
James: Oibo (actually a cafe, but we buy our morning espresso and pastries there...)
Janelle: euro store for inexpensive decor and dried goods, and Pep Bizzarrie in Castellini in Chianti---easily my favorite ceramic shop.

current favorite meal:
Caleb: "I have had too many great meals in my life, I could never ever decide which one was the best."
Anthony: Thanksgiving (esp. raspberry balsamic sauce, turkey, squash risotto and wheat rolls)
James: wild boar sauce on soft polenta
Janelle: wild boar sauce on soft polenta (aka polenta and cinghiali ragu)

favorite Italian cities:
Caleb: Volterra, Sienna
Anthony: Bologna, Sienna
James: Lucca, Orvieto
Janelle: Bologna (due to best meal ever), San Gimignano, Orvieto


frolicking fridays, round 8

This Friday was unique, since we had James' parents in town. The fun of having guests is that you look at your 'own' city with new eyes. Which means you retrace steps of your favorite streets, share your favorite sites, and have reason to revisit special cafes, museums and galleries.

We rolled out of our home late morning and en route to Palazzo Pitti walked along the Arno. We had the timely fortune of seeing a production of skydivers dropping from the sky... only to land on platforms---or should I say float docks---located sporadically in the Arno River. We watched, photographed and were impressed when 4 out of 5 jumpers landed on their small-time targets. After feeling fortunate for our timing, we scooted toward the Ponte Vecchio and shopped, stopped and photographed our way across this singularly famous bridge.

We popped into a little cafe James and I had been to before, and grabbed a carafe of house wine, slices of meats, cheeses and a pile of olives. After topping off our bellies, we walked to Pitti Palace (aka Palazzo Pitti) and enjoyed 3 hours of strolling and gawking before famous upon famous works of art. We witnessed Raphael, Titziano, Lippi, Van Dyck, Boticelli, Granacci and my favorite was from Allori...

With all the amazing art I find it helps to stroll through, find the famous pieces, then find what else you are drawn to and ask why. I loved the Allori, for example, because it was a nearly disturbing and profound painting of Judith, holding the head of Halofernes (captain of an enemy army)... the emotion and her eyes were grounding. She was strong, sad, deliberate, wise in her youth, determined, successful, profound.

The amazing thing is you could say so many such things about so many paintings. The Medici family (this was their collection) had so many famous works from so many well-regarded artists...

My other favorite was the large room dedicated to Hercules. It had huge frescoes highlighting points in his life, and it was poignant. We left the Pitti mentally tired but soulfully brimming.

We went home to greet Caleb just as he was finishing school (Anthony would be home 2 hours later, due to soccer practice). Our evening was full of good wine, lively chatter and competitive card-playing.


frolicking fridays, round 7

Thank God for Fridays.

From Monday through Thursday James and I are working on business ideas, blog posts, photo updates, resume building. But on Friday, we take the day off for a self imposed day of touring.

This Friday in Florence, we hit the big one: Michelangelo's David. James and I (and Anthony) read The Agony and the Ecstasy---a biography of Michelangelo's life. It was brilliant, and we highly recommend it (p.s. I just read that Seattle's Art Museum has 10 original sketches from Michelangelo). If you have read the book, you have read the description of Michelangelo's David: the process of making it, the intent in the sculpting, his study of the human body and his portrayal of youth-becomes-man through David. It was remarkable. We circled The David, trying to memorize every vein, and envisioned the artist covered with marble dust while he aggressively and deliberately placed each muscle and bone and tendon.

It is humbling and surreal to be in a city whose artists created so many works, defined history and reinvented art, dedicated their lives, sweat and sanity to their passion...

... it makes you visit and revisit your own passions and talents. What are we contributing? Sigh.

Besides a visit to The Academia, which houses Michelangelo's original David (a copy of The David stands in the Piazza Signoria---where the original used to stand), James and I had a splendid lunch at a nearby cafe. A bottle of wine, some rigatoni with rabbit, white fish baked in tomato sauce... long Friday lunches are key to our touring success.

You will note a photo of me in Piazza Signoria, mimicking a statue by Giambologna (ironically, this Piazza has the copy of Michelangelo's David, and this original Giambologna; and in The Academia is the reverse: the original David and a copy of Giambologna's statue). It is a little nuts, but once you have been here long enough, gone to the Bargello and Gardens, toured the Uffizi and visited the many churches... you see originals and copies and copies of copies... it take great concentration to keep it all straight!

We cut it a little short this past Friday: by 2 we had to jet home, as I had an Italian class (taking a few hours to push some of the lingo into my brain... just to keep up with the boys). All in all, a day well spent.

Top 5 Memories for November 2009

Now that we are safely in the New Year (2010), I need to catch up on my chronicles of top memories from the preceding 2 months. I’ll start with November.

After spending much of October in the United States, we returned to Florence in the midst of the Fall season (which was well under way). Warm summer days were gone, replaced by brisk temperatures, constant showers a blustery winds; winter was just around the corner. Notwithstanding the weather, we had some fantastic experiences. Here’s what I recall as my Top 5 Memories for November:

5. A day trip to Montefiascone and Pienza. We had an out of town soccer game in Acquaviva and decided to take advantage the remainder of the day to explore two neighboring cities: Montefiascone and Pienza. We were particularly lucky to arrive at Montefiascone in the mid-afternoon when San Biagio was still open. A high-renaissance pilgrimage church, situated below the city at the end of a Cyprus tree-lined drive, San Biagio is one of my favorite churches in all of Italy. The church boasts a Greek-cross plan and a simple, stark interior (highlighting the altar and a few pieces of art). It was lovely. We trekked into Montefiascone’s city center, walking along the “spine” of the hilltop, arriving at the main piazza and an old castle (converted into a park). We sampled wines at a local vinoteca (and bought some to go) – it was delightful. Thereafter, we made our way to Pienza, arriving just in time for the “passegiata”. The city was filled with locals, walking down the main corso, babies dressed and on display, and all the shops were flooded. The artisanal pecorino cheeses were out and available for sampling – splendid! Pienza is famous for its Pecorino (and rightly so) – many of the cheese-wheels were aged in hay, chestnuts, sunflower seeds, rosemary or other local scents and flavors (imbuing a unique flavor to the cheese). Hard to describe; I suggest doing it yourself! Read more.

4. A day trip to Castellina in Chianti, Panzano and Several Wineries. Probably one of the loveliest days in Italy thus far was a day trip that Janelle and I took to Castellina in Chianti (while the kids were at school). Whenever going out for wine tastings, we’ve learned to initially drive to the furthest destination, and then meander your way back home. Janelle conveniently had a meeting in Chianti (for some freelance travel writing; an impetus for the trip). After her meeting, we briefly explored the town, including a beautiful ceramic shop and a couple of tasting rooms. We also made our way up the hillside to some Etruscan tombs (yippee!). Thereafter, we drove through the Chianti region stopping at several wineries along the way (Castellina, Poggio Amorelli, Fantodi and Panzano). The most impressive, by far, were Fantodi (a major winery in Chianti with loads of accolades) and Poggio Amorelli (a small family-owned winery, producing sub-25k cases annually). In addition to tasting several great wines, Janelle and I had a fantastic day just tootling about Chianti in a yellow Fiat Panda wherever our noses took us. And, we got lucky too – finding a family-owned olive orchard and frantoio at the end of our day (above Florence, outside Impruneta). We received a personal tour by the owner’s daughter, including a walk into the olive orchards, tastings and witnessing the harvest. Janelle detailed the entire adventure, but you must do it yourself – in November only.

3. Thanksgiving Dinner Prepared by Janelle. While being overseas is a fantastic experience for our entire family, traditional holidays and events are difficult to miss. Unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving day is not recognized in Italy (no surprise, then again in America we don’t celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany with a day off from work). Janelle made up for it with her own efforts to recreate Thanksgiving in Florence. She could not find a “whole” turkey to purchase, but did manage to find 2 huge turkey legs and breasts. She assembled them together with stuffing in a manner that resembled an entire turkey. It was great! More importantly, Janelle also prepared many of the traditional accoutrements (cranberry sauce, potatoes, apple pie, etc.), which satisfied all our nostalgia for Thanksgiving. The entire meal was delicious, and in many ways, I think each one of us were more thankful for the United States this year, than in years past.

2. A Bologna weekend trip. We took advantage of a weekend “off” from soccer and visited Florence’s major rival and neighbor to the north: Bologna. Whereas Florence is known for its wealth of great art, scientists, philosophers and politicians, Bologna is known primarily for its food. Referred to as “la citta di grasso” (the City of the Fat), Bologna did not disappoint our gastronomic quests. Read more. However, the joy of this trip was not limited to restaurants, but also encompassed the journey and our explorations as well. En route to Bologna from Florence, we simply set the GPS on “avoid highways” and stuck entirely to back roads (including gravel roads too!). We tried to follow along on the map, but we were soon off track and simply trusting the latest in satellite technology to navigate us to our destination. Along the way we went through the source for “Panna” water, discovered embattlements from World War II (foxholes and gun mounts still stand just a 100 meters off the road), and we were dazzled by spectacular views. After arriving in Bologna and settling into our hotel (a disappointment), we were soon wandering about the city and its myriad of arcades. Bologna was decked out in preparation for advent, a holiday festival has been set up in city center (including an ice rink), and the streets were filled. After dinner we strolled back to our hotel (almost rolling after 4 courses), and then slept off gastronomic delight before embarking in the morning to further explore the city. Like Pisa, Bologna offers its own version of a leaning tower (2 in fact); one of which we climbed (485 steps). Altogether, a weekend in Bologna was not enough time – I wish we had a week to eat, shop and further explore the city. I strongly recommend it if you are eager to uncover culinary delights or want to see a real Italian city without the tourists. Read more.

1. A day trip to Orvieto. The most memorable family experience in November was surely our day trip to Orvieto. I had previously stayed in Orvieto as a college student almost 20 years prior and loved it. My family similarly fell in love with the city. Arriving in Orvieto by train from Florence, we trekked on foot up the original path to the city (from the valley below). Thankfully my entire family is gung ho, because soon we were traipsing through the bush on an old cart path, below the imposing 200-300ft cliffs/walls of Orvieto. It was a dramatic experience and well-intended for my kids to understand just how difficult and impenetrable this city was during the middle ages. The weather held off and we made our way up and through a succession of the city gates, stopping at each one to study where the archers, gates (hinges still present) stood, and buckets of tar and boiling water were dumped on attackers. Cool! Finally arriving at the top of hilltop, my family was stunned by the magnificent views afforded from the old castle (now park). We walked the walls, explored the S. Pietro Pozzi well (dug into solid rock!) and then made our way up and into the city. Notwithstanding its small size, Orvieto has a great variety of shops and artisans (including ceramics). The crown jewel of Orvieto is its cathedral; a magnificent gothic church evidencing an Arab-Norman influence (striped black and white courses) and boasting the most stunning fa├žade in Europe (a jeweled mosaic of gold, lapis lazuli and other precious gem stones). The church was built to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, including a shrine holding the famed altar cloth where the Eucharist was said to have bled in front of the congregants (at Bolsena). Regardless of your faith, if you appreciate church architecture, the Duomo of Orvieto is a must-see. Afterwards we walked around the far side of Orvieto, further exploring city walls and its embattlements. At the end of our day, we made our way down the corso and stopped by a family-owned pizzeria for dinner (prior to embarking on our return journey to Florence). Altogether the day was fantastic, but too short. We intend to revisit when family comes to Italy. Read more.

Other honorable mentions from the month of November include the following: going to olive oil tastings almost every weekend in November in the piazzas of Florence; touring Museo del Duomo and seeing a Michelangelo pieta; visiting private Florentine gardens; touring the Laurentian Library and Medici Chapel; discovering Esselunga online (home grocer delivery in Florence); enjoying a private tour and visit at Castell Verazzano; going on a "secret passages" tour of Palazzo Vecchio; watching soccer games all over Tuscany; and the arrival of “lights” in preparation for Advent.

By the end of November, Florence had transformed from Fall to Winter. The cold and darkness set in, and the rains increased, but Florence came alive in anticipation of Christmas. On the last weekend of November, the first Sunday of Advent was celebrated and city was awash in lights down every corso – the nights became magical. The passegiata took on new meaning and we experienced the warmth of Florence in an unexpected way.

And lastly, the Santa Croce Christmas festival had arrived. More to come…


Coca-cola Christmas ornaments

It tickles me this time of year, whether we are home in the states or [like now] living abroad. Christmas fills the air. We have a little tree with blinking lights, I bought a few little votives from the euro store, and we started an 'ornament making initiative.' Because we are far from home---without our boxes of Christmas decor, and with no intention of spending lots of cash on decorations---we decided to make our own ornaments this year.

A few years ago, Caleb did just that. I still have his slinky-green crepe paper-inspired wreath ornament. And we prize the ornaments from James' mom---the hand-painted wooden ornaments she made for us over 10 years ago. And I have a few token ornaments from wise preschool teachers, who knew my sons' tiny photos encased with glitter and ribbons would bring tears to my eyes every year thereafter. And although we made the decision to make ornaments based on our offshore predicament---we are quickly realizing it was a better idea than we ever imagined.

The boys are using wires and soda cans to make ornaments (and consequently drinking more soda than usual... hmmm). Anthony made a gorgeous Santa Claus and employed coke cans and green paperclips to fasten his red boots and green
gloves. We have soda can globe ornaments, ribbons, copper wire art ornaments and a coke squiggly as our stand-in tree topper. Inspiration comes in waves, and even James has gotten in on the act.

I love that being in this different situation---pulling ourselves out of our stateside routines---makes for funny little opportunities such as this. Christmas? Where do we find a tree? What about ornaments? How to do it on a budget? And we come up with a new plan, for how to address this novel set of circumstances.

Don't get me wrong. We have had novel circumstances rubbing up against us our whole lives... it is just that we selected to be in this one (for better of for worse!). And we don't always get to choose what life hands us (hmmmm, rarely?). So we soak up the times when we can choose... though I think there are always serendipitous moments waiting to be found.

All of that to say this: regardless of circumstances, we hope your holidays are shaping up to be full of twinkling lights and peaceful moments, well-wishing cards, merry music, loud laughter and loving friends and family.


All in one weekend: the leaning tower of Pisa, touring San Gimignano, dining in Volterra

Loved our touring blitz. I call it that because we have been renting a car and taking a day out of our weekends to explore cities other than our own. Three weekends ago we skimmed Montepulciano and Pienza, two weekends ago we soaked up the festivities in Bologna (see Anthony's post), and this past weekend we fit in Pisa, San Gimignano and Volterra. No worries: the boys actually had Monday and Tuesday off this week, so blitzing some cities over the weekend wasn't a complete loss of sanity---we had two days for putting up our throbbing feet.

And these are all cities that we have been meaning to visit.

Pisa's leaning tower was insanely expensive to climb... but we are here, so we bit the bullet and bought tickets. And how weird: climbing the stairs of the leaning tower felt awkward. While climbing, we were adjusting our bodily angles, putting our hands on the walls for extra support and 'vertigo' crossed my mind more than once... but the views were beautiful. Although it is early December, we enjoyed sunny, clear vistas for our Pisa experience (FYI travel in non-tourist months. Little lines, fewer tourists, no boiling hot sun. Add a coat and you are free to roam and enjoy at a pace all your own).

One other must-mention for Pisa: the cathedral was stunning. Just stunning. We all remarked that it was one of our favorite so far in Italy---an unexpected surprise.

In Pisa we also toured the Chagall museum (temporary exhibit). WOW. I want to go back and stare some more. I wish I could own one of the paintings, so it was permanently affixed in my abode and I could stare at length.

San Gimignano is famous for its towers. If I remember correctly there were near 100 and 17 remain intact (unusual for towers to retain their height; with all the fights and family feuds, towers were regularly lopped off). Because it is touristy, we dared not expect authenticity. But in fact, it was quaint and we were wowed by its streets (esp. San Matteo), markets and stores. The boys scored: Caleb found a store with gems where he purchased an amethyst gemstone, and Anthony bought a city tile (he is collecting hand-crafted small tiles from different cities). I bought a small ceramic pitcher and a 10 euro brown knitted hat from a market vendor, James bought wild boar and wine-cured salami---plus 2 bottles of Vernaccia white wine.

The Vernaccia wine is quintessential to San Gimignano; it was the very first wine in Italy to receive the DOCG quality stamp of approval. Stamps of approval, geography, grapes and processes are all very important in Italy. We went out of our way to taste Vernaccia, and bought 2 bottles of reserve... not to be opened until grandpa's birthday (Janelle's dad) in late January. (I wrote about Chiantis, DOC and DOCG labels on my other blog, talkoftomatoes).

We were running out of time (admittedly, it was hard to leave San Gimignano, as we were enjoying it immensely), but jetted to Volterra for a quick peek at the city and for dinner. It was dark upon our arrival. What you should know: Volterra is a hilltop city with amazing walls and stairs leading to the top. The stairs weave back and forth and incorporate a park---which was closed this time of night. We mean to return to better see the city, enjoy the park and visit their Etruscan museum---we had a great first impression of Volterra.

Volterra is seemingly synonymous with Alabaster (every other store sold carved and molded stone and gems). Who knew? We walked the streets long enough to find a place to eat, and were fortunate enough to find: Da Pina. We found this adorable restaurant by walking through a store and down into a wine cellar---full of cozy tables and barrel-made bookcases. I couldn't resist having my family experience tartufo: central and northern Italy's infamous white truffle, available just during the fall and championed at many a festival... We enjoyed tartufo salami, tartufo pork, tartufo honey and bacon fat smeared on bruschetta... tartufo pecorino... it was unforgettable. Our main entrees included pasta (James), wild boar (Janelle), meat in wine sauce (Caleb) and gnocchi (Anthony).

I have a hunch we will eat there again someday.


frolicking fridays, round 6

This past Friday was the beginning of a long, full weekend. The boys had Monday and Tuesday off (Dec 7 & 8), so we made plans to travel and rest. Friday James and I tackled a bit more of Florence, Saturday we buzzed to Pisa, Sunday we landed in San Gimingano and Volterra, so Monday and Tuesday we aimed for days lazing about our home (with regular visits to our nearby piazza, now filled with Christmas vendors).

Though we are all big fans of seeing as much of Italy as possible, we are also strangely possessive of our 'free time' at home. Down time is in high demand. No doubt much of it has to do with all that we absorb on a daily basis---Anthony and Caleb especially (e.g. Italian immersion at school).

Friday James and I had grandiose plans to visit Santa Maria Novella, a church full of famous paintings and artifacts---a must see when you visit Florence. Upon arrival, we found the church closed (closed every Friday, actually). Luckily, there is much to do, see, discover and explore in Florence. We pushed off to yet another church on our short list: Ognissanti (home church to Amerigo Vespucci, burial to Boticelli and canvas to frescoes by Ghirlandaio). Again our plans were foiled... it is also closed on Fridays. Naively hopeful, we swung by to peak at some of Ghirlandaio's frescoes in Santa Trinita---also closed.

Three strikes, but far from out. While skipping from church to church like frogs on a series of lily pads, we found a few 'flowers.' First was an outlet clothing store on Santa Maria Novella's piazza. No, we didn't buy anything, but it was fun to browse and mentally bookmark a store for future indulgences. We walked through Palazzo Strozzi, learning more about this formidable family. Inside the Palazza ticket office, there was a little room with a model of the original palazza and background information and inspiration re: the Strozzi family (free!).

Other Friday highlights included a visit to Dante's house---a museum that we had walked by what feels like a hundred times. This time, we finally went in (James is actually reading Dante's Divine Comedy). Truth be told, we wouldn't recommend it. If you are a Dante aficionado and/or family-line history buff, perhaps. But otherwise I would skip it, mostly because there are so many impressive museums and artifacts and sites in Florence that would be a better use of your time.

We peeked into a few stores, hid under our umbrellas and found a quaint little spot for lunch: Enoteca Coquinarius (Via delle OChe, 15r). We took our time. The kind of time chatting and vino-drinking and food-sampling that leads to losing track of time. It was packed, and cozy and we tried braseola and ravioli and dense chocolate cake. Perfectly memorable.

On our way home, James popped into the Paperback Exchange (to buy some books), and I swung by the grocer. The latter wouldn't be so interesting, except I came home with some red wine glasses and a Christmas table cloth. Add a few well appointed candles... and our home is now humming of the holidays.


Bologna: Lights, Porticoes, Food, and Towers.

This last weekend (November 28-29) our family visited Bologna. The main reason we made this trip is because Monday was a national Tuscan holiday, and we did not have school. So our family scheduled a trip to Bologna. We ended up leaving just after my soccer game, where we hopped into a rental car and took the "shortest route" to Bologna. First of all, we did not take the train due to my game timing and train timing to Bologna---we would of had to wait 4 or so hours after my game, so instead we went by car. Second of all, I put shortest route in parenthesis, as this on our GPS meant avoiding toll roads, as in no freeway. So we took a ride in the country, found a WWII memorial, with foxholes---along with a bomb hole or two---and a small hill Santa Lucia, with Mary and Jesus on the crest (which we decided to walk up to). Along with some amazing views, we all enjoyed our trip to Bologna. When we got to Bologna we checked in to our hotel, dropped off our bags and walked downtown.

Now for the first thing on my list: Lights. We left Florence at midday, took the long way around, arrived in Bologna at night---and enjoyed the Christmas lights throughout the city (similar to Florence it has a new style of lights in every street). Almost immediately we were stunned by the curtains, arches, and globes of lights, which spanned across each road. We walked around and shopped at the expansive shops. Bologna is not a really touristy city like Florence, but seems more business oriented, between good food, and actually a lot of clothes.

Second item: Porticoes. The city is known for these, and even though it was rainy while we were in Bologna... we didn't really care. We were always under cover, because every sidewalk had a portico (see picture). Other than the little back roads, every single sidewalk in the city central seemed to have porticoes. It may sound overly costly, and takes forever to put up, but the funny thing is that, this city has been a large city for hundreds and hundreds of years. So the people running it today have not paid for porticoes to be built, they only pay for maintenance. They were amazing, and for me added an entire new level to the city.

Now for the third thing: Food. For the night that we were in Bologna, "The City of the Fat", we went out to a restaurant called "Antica Osteria Romagnola" (ranked number 3 of 147 in Bologna on Trip Adviser) it was amazing. I ordered a delicious Parmesan tortellini for my first course, then a reduced wine sauce pork chop for my second, and a finish of a delicious chocolate mousse, which was great. For me, you can't for wrong with mousse. Overall for me a 5 of 5, absolutely delicious... I might as well have rolled home. The restaurant had a really great atmosphere, and the staff were really nice. Other than that meal, the other food in Bologna looked appetizing, and as it is not a touristy city, the food was not gross, overpriced, and greasy. The sandwiches were a competition, and you could go to many delis and find a good sandwich for lunch.

And then number four: Towers. When you say leaning towers, what do you think? Well Pisa of course, but then you realize towers, Pisa is only famous for the leaning tower of Pisa. Well, Bologna has two large towers that also lean. The taller tower is 8 feet off center and the shorter tower is 12 feet off center. The shorter one actually had its top lopped off so that it would remain standing (48, and 97.2 meters). Anyway, we climbed the taller tower (498 steps) and were constantly foiled by landings that looked like the top, but in reality you still had to keep climbing. Caleb and I made good use of our soccer fitness. After the climb we reached the top, where we enjoyed a stunning view of Bologna. We saw the roads reach out from the towers, to where the ring wall used to stand.

We also saw the church of Bologna; it was huge, and was going to be larger than Saint Peters in Rome but the pope vetoed this notion. Although we have not seen Saint Peters yet, we were awstruck by the ornate church, in all its godly grandeur. Overall for me Bologna: 10 of 10. We hope to return later this year with grandparents, and it is definitely a great place for families to visit. One possible bummer is that we did not see a single ceramic shop, and we often like to browse in these shops---my parents for table ware, me for a tile of the city.


frolicking fridays, round 5

Thank god I write this down. We adore Fridays, but 2 days later are asking ourselves: what did we do again? Don't you hate that? When someone asks what you did over the weekend, and it takes serious concentration for you to revisit the pleasures of down time achieved in the past few days... though you know it was good.

So here we log our frolics. (And already I am beyond the 2 day limit of remembering: wish me luck!).

Friday is the day James and I shove off, venture out and experience Florence (with license to branch out beyond Florence... just not yet). This Friday was a tiny unique, as we have a penchant for standing in lines and thought we might add that onto our Friday 'fun' list.... right. Thursday was Thanksgiving, and we spent the entire day in line at the police station/immigration office. All four of us, waiting. And waiting.

And waiting.

And around 4pm we received signature on our permits to reside in Italy. Which really was much to be grateful for (and the reason we took a 3 week segue to the states). And the footnote is: we have receipts, but need to go back again in one month to pick up actual cards. We have stood in so many lines, it was a case of taking it in stride.

Then Friday morning James and I---receipt in hand---went to pick up another official card (you need two, they are distinct yet related... one is permission, one is residence). We took a number, sat in line and waited a mere hour... at which point we set up our appointment to return the following week. So it goes with red tape.

It didn't take much from our day, and we wouldn't have spent the extra time out of our 'day of touring' to stand in another line BUT we are excited about obtaining requisite cards because it gives us license to explore more of Italy. And by license, I mean, literally license. If we are official residents, we qualify for car-sharing, which means for a small fee we can participate in renting a car to go explore cities for a few hours or all day (less expense and hassle than renting a car).

Lines aside, Friday we managed to visit: the Buonarotti house (Michelangelo plus family line), the Medici Chapel (see dome photo) and Laurentian Library (top photo), and a lovely little cafe---Mangiafoco Caffe---to enjoy wine and a pile of cheeses, salami and prosciutto (plus truffle honey and reduce chianti glaze...). Although I love absorbing the rich tiles on the floor of the library, there is something about closing your eyes to truffle honey and the lingering notes of Chianti that cements memories in my brain...

Anyway, the Medici Chapel (including a room with works by Michelangelo) is on the backside of the famous San Lorenzo Church (the church has an unfinished facade---a sort of tribute to Michelangelo, who had grandiose plans for the front of Lorenzo the Magnificent's church). There are basically 3 different entrances around this large church complex (with separate entrance fees): 1. the church and old sacristy, 2. the Library (which includes a famous staircase designed by Michelangelo), and 3. the domed Medici Chapel (includes sacristy and Chapel of Princes with 'mini-me' dome similar to that of the Duomo).


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