frolicking friday fotos (round 3)

This frolicking foto is for you Giacomo. I snapped this on the famous 'love trail' between Riomaggiore and Cognilia in Cinque Terre... the writing even looks like yours!

Readers: please snap your own 'frolicking friday foto' and drop your link in the comments below!


Cinque Terre

If you have been there, just saying 'Cinque Terre' likely brings a smile to your face, flashes of pictures across your brain and fond memories welling in your heart. Not to sound like a Hallmark card... but this is the stuff dreams are made of.

The water is ogle-worthy, the hiking is one of a kind, the terrain ocean-side, vineyard/orchard lined, picturesque. Every day we sat on rocks in the sun for lunch: eating just-made paninis and drinking Prosecco or Italian beer while 'the cousins' climbed rocks, beach-combed and chased geckos.

We went to Cinque Terre for 5 days in April: Janelle, Anthony, Caleb plus cousins Sam, Jack, Aunt Cindy and Uncle Keith. We hiked between every city---sometimes twice. We explored trails and climbed down to beaches, drank the local wine and ate seafood. We sampled grappa and limoncella, snapped photos, ate daily gelato, climbed a castle tower, visited churches, marveled at the different beaches (rocks, sand, pebbles), found favorite jewelry/souvenir/wine shops and established lunch spots. 

I loaded an album of our visit to Cinque Terre, since these few token pics don't do it justice.

Souvenirs: the boys and I bought t-shirts, Caleb bought a leather bracelet with a shark tooth and picked up still more rocks (at this point his suitcase-going-home will be all rocks/gems). 

Cities in order from North (1) to South (5)

1. Monterosso: the northern most and largest of the five cities, Monterosso boasts two beaches (one with rocks, one with sand---see Anthony's smile?), ample souvenir shops and many cafes. I got 'lost-on-purpose' while following my nose on a trail above the city and found a gorgeous lemon orchard and some paths lacing the edge of an ocean-facing hill. (A nice hike to this city, but I probably wouldn't choose accommodations here).

2. Vernazza: arguably my favorite city. If I only had time for one city, this would be the one. It has boats lining the water, picturesque umbrellas and a little beach-space in the heart of the city. It is full of cafes, is bonafide 'quaint,' had our favorite pizza-for-lunch-spot, fantastic souvenir/jewelry/food/ceramic shops, and two churches.

3. Corniglia: you climb almost 400 steps to get up to this hill-top city. It is quite small, and had the best gelato we found (don't go to the first gelato you see, walk toward the water from the little center piazza (one street---it is easy to find); take a right (only option) and you will be on a short stretch that includes some fantastic looking restaurants and the best artisan gelato---sorry I don't know the name!). My new favorite gelato flavor? Honey. (very small city, I wouldn't stay here either. Nice for a quick visit and some nice views).

4. Manarola: boys loved the big rocks-on-the-ocean for climbing (see picture, below). Cute little souvenir shops, great 'extra' trail that you can take through the vineyards and look down on the city, below. Famous nativity scenes reside on the hillside and are lit for a month or so during Dec/Jan time-frame.

5. Riomaggiore: we stayed here and would stay here again. The best-kept/most famous and shortest trail is between Riomaggiore and Manarola. Favorite wine shop (best butter cookies---we bought them everyday for or 'walking packs.'), a few good restaurants and a fantastic rocky beach where we spent hours one afternoon building rock piles and bathing in the uncharacteristic April sun.

Worth noting:
  • You really don't need hiking shoes. Tennis shoes are just fine---high heels are not. 
  • We bought the walking day passes then just paid for the train-as-needed (instead of the walking plus train pass, which cost so much more). 
  • Note the cemeteries: every city has them located with the highest, best views possible. They are ocean front, cliff high, top-and-center---venerated.
  • It was quite cool to stay right in one of the five cities. Many other places would feel too far away; though a friend of mine stayed at a hotel in Levanto (city north of Cinque Terre---take a train in every day) and said it was great.


lol: crazy frog.


We love to laugh and that is all there is to it. We are dedicated fans of Jim Gaffigan, Friends and finding entertainment/reasons/verbiage that causes our bellies to jiggle and the corners of our mouths to turn up with odd, hooting noises that quickly follow... yeah, you get the idea. You don't have to be curious. BUT if you like to laugh too, especially laugh out loud (LOL) then you are in luck. Because we are going to start posting some of the funny content/clips/short videos we run across. Because we like to laugh. And we think it is healthy.

Besides frolicking and laughter go hand-in-hand.


Murano Glass

All four of us want to take glass-blowing classes. Why not? We are curious, love to create and think its cool. And walking around Venice---then Murano---inspired us even more.

Did I mention Anthony blew glass? We were touring Murano Island---off the coast of Venice---and saw a glass-blowing demonstration. It is part of the lure on Murano, to show people glass-blowing, in hopes that they will buy from your vast array of glass accouterments. And by accouterments I mean anything from necklaces to vases, earrings, bowls, collectible figurines of fish, bugs, penguins, roosters... wine stoppers, bracelets, wall-hangings and the like.

So the guy showing his talent with a bit of fire and calculated exhale---allowed Anthony to do the same. Anthony made this cool little glass candy that he will undoubtedly keep forever. We were interested in the art of blowing glass before, but now it is a must on our life list... (I have my cousin to thank for the concept of 'life lists' I am so working on mine and hope to post soon).

OH and my sister-in-law Cindy and I bought bracelets from this same said shop. So, I guess the lure-al 'a-demonstration works? We bought matching bracelets and snagged a bit of deal for buying two instead of one. Success all around. It made all-of-our-day!

If you visit Venice, you might think of grabbing a ferry to visit Murano. You can buy a one-day (12 hour) 'boat pass' for around 15euros ($20). We all bought one and used it to grab a boat and tour Venice's entire canal, then caught another boat out (and back) to Murano. Why not use water for transportation?


frolicking friday fotos (round 2)

Oops---sorry I missed last Friday. Was frolicking away from home with no internet access. Here is this friday's pic:

Sits outside an all-lavender shop on one of my favorite little side-streets in Florence, Italy. My nephew actually snapped this photo!

Okay... um, just how much money would it take for you to actually ride this thing? Or should I ask: if forced to ride this purple tulle cycle, exactly WHERE do you picture yourself riding it?

(Join the frolicking friday foto fun---post your own pic and give us a link in the comments below!)


Volcanic Eruption: cousins waiting in Milan...

When you are a serious frolicking, breaking routine, seeking adventure, aiming for discovery person/family... not everything always goes as planned. Stories emerge, character is tested, and sometimes you get a chance to make the most of a beyond-your-control-imposed-opportunity. Like say, a volcano eruption in Iceland?

As you know our 'cousins' visited us for 3 weeks---a longer trip than they had ever taken. It was fantastic; we toured Florence and Tuscany, soaked in hot springs, ate too much and tasted regional wines, hiked through Cinque Terre and crossed canals in and around Venice. A few days before their intended departure back to the states, the infamous volcano erupted. Here is the gist of an email I wrote home to friends and family on their departure date (which was supposed to be MON April 19 at 8am from Milan to London to Seattle).


Okay here is the status: my internet has been down since our return from Venice TH (April 15). So we kept going to a nearby Italian Diner to gain access and try to read through the airline stuff... to see if their flights were still 'confirmed'. Even SUN (April 18) by 11 am, their MON 8am flight was still a 'go.' Which meant, we were still on track to rent a van and make the trek to Milan (the AVIS car rental shop closed SUN at 1pm, so we needed to make a decision).

Fortunately, James and I had already reserved a huge van---with the intent of hand-delivering the 'cousins' from Florence to the Milan airport (they had agreed to bring our bikes back to the states---on British Air it is free to check in one bike box per passenger---so we thought we were golden in getting those darn things home. In an effort to say 'thanks for taking the trouble' and to make the 'bike box transition' super easy, we decided to rent a van and deliver them to the door of the airport). Bottom line: we had a van reserved, which turned out to be a big deal, since the line at AVIS was out the door with people who were trying to rent vehicles in lieu of grounded airlines... many of whom were turned away).

Sunday is the only day you are allowed to drive into the city center (of Florence), so that day we were able to rent the van, drive to our flat and fill it with four bike boxes. I then parked it about a mile away as we waited to depart later that night (we planned to drive between 2am-6am and deliver then to the airport 6am MON). 

Around 5pm James called to let us know the flights had been canceled (ugh!). We started to rally: [my brother] Keith and I hit the phone shop for an extra phone (closed), then the cash machine (always open ready to drain accounts) and finally, tucked into 2 glasses of fantastic rosso vino while sitting at a Diner for our token internet access---to update folks, ask favors, and put [my husband back in the states] James on the task (in background to all this Janelle is calling James, the landlord and everybody's brother trying to get at-home internet access---which didn't happen. Though by late Monday we had 1 connected computer. So when I wrote this email I was again, sitting at the Diner with a hard-earned glass of wine).

So no flight: do we drop them at a hotel in Milan or keep them in Florence? 

We knew we were lucky to have a means of transportation to an airport (my Aunt was stuck in Paris, then got a flight out of Barcelona and was still trying to figure out how to get to Barcelona). So we voted to take this window of opportunity to get them near the Milan airport. We had no idea if it would be 1 night or 4 or when they could fly again... so we decided if they could get a hotel they would go. James came through: he rallied for hours and landed the KC clan at a fantastic hotel within a mile of the airport---shuttle, pool, breakfast (every little thing helps when you are frustrated!!!)... and they had precedence to extend their stay if need be.

Meanwhile, Janelle's phone had minutes (barely); we used it while driving from Florence to Milan. We ate some pizza then popped into the bike-laden van and left Florence 830pm. It is about a 4 hour drive to Malpensa airport. James called while we were en route---we learned that it really might involve acrobatics to actually get them home (plus their tickets were frequent flyer combined with full-fare etc. which makes it even more difficult to organize/reschedule). James had an agent helping them, and called the airlines frequently. My brother used the hotel computer and created a gmail account (their normal email account was not accessible at the time).

With airports still closed, airlines don't have a lot of answers. You can fly out sooner if you want to spend more money, or perhaps wait a little longer and ride the wave of resolutions from your carrier. That said, the 'cousins' will likely be in Milan for 4-5 days (update: until SUN April 26). Keith can speak to their plans, but it could range anywhere from trying to stay put and relax to trekking into Milan or trying to catch parts of Italy they haven't yet seen (though tricky with limited transportation). There is a chance they could get home sooner if they split up the foursome... but that isn't always fun to maneuver either.

I will say: we had a FANTASTIC time with them and are all so bummed the tail end has erupted with this anti-climactic mess. We made sure Sam and Jack had a few good books to read; no doubt they will try to make the best of a bad situation. We will keep you posted...

The [smallish, inconsequential yet mildly humorous] tail/tale end of this ever-evolving and far from finished saga:

We realized them having bike boxes to deal with would not be a good idea. Who knows where they would fly out of, if together, if staying an extra night somewhere else... so it became obvious I needed to drive the big-aXX van home and bring the four bike boxes home. At this point Italian logistics kick in: you can only drive in city proper on Sundays and before 730am (or after 730pm). I had the van rented until just noon on Monday. It was about 130am and I knew if I didn't turn around and drive straight back to Florence it would mean Anthony and Caleb and I would be hand-carrying, trip after trip, awkward bike boxes 3/4 of a mile to our apt... then still get the van back on time (fortunately they didn't go to school that morning since both bikes had flats... angry condo Italian owner stuff... but no matter). 

SO I got back in the van with Cindy's stash of 1 coke, 1 snickers and a fruit bar and headed for Florence (tell her I ate/drank them all!). I made it until about 300am when I was getting super tired. I pulled over and slept for an hour (guardian angel tickled my face for waking...). At 4am I drove another 2 hours and landed in Florence around 600am.

Because it was before 730am I could pull right to my door, open and dump the four large bike boxes. Of course just after I dumped the fourth box: a big garbage truck pulled up behind me. So I walked over, apologized for blocking the tiny pedestrian-only street and they said no prob, how many minutes [should we expect to wait---because Italians don't mind waiting. It is quite cool]? And I looked at them with tired sheepish mommy-bear eyes and said "only 4 minutes if you help me carry up my boxes."

And so, they did.

And it only took 4 minutes. Then I jumped in my larger than life caravan and navigated the widest streets I could find (Keith, you should be rolling your eyes here;))) and made my way back to the garage (parked it in the last spot available!). And even managed to make sure (Dutch in me be proud) the tank was completely empty so it would be worth my money for them to fill it up at the rental place... sigh. And since my bikes are boxed and now safely back where they started---and not by the garage---I walked the mile back across Florence to our home in the wee hours of the morning, taking int the quiet, familiar feel of this lovely city;)... opened the door, climbed over a rather-large pile of bike boxes and slept.

Kisses to all... with a bit of a wine-smudge.


Our cousins arrived... 3 weeks ago!

Wow. Well it has been about 3 weeks since I put up a post... my two-fold excuse is that I was too busy soaking up Venice, Cinque Terre and Tuscany with extended family AND I had no internet access. Well, okay for one day in Venice (our internet was down in Florence as well; just managed to get it up yesterday!).

So YES we have been busy and traveling and taking hundreds of photos. Instead of trying to recapture day by day stuff, I am going to post photo albums with captions to give you an overview aka 'picture book' of our fun over the last 3 weeks.

Here are the first round of photos: our weekend in Tuscany. Keith (Janelle's brother), Cindy (sister-in-law), Sam & Jack (cousins) landed at our place in Florence late on March 31. We made them dinner and played and drank wine until midnight then tucked them into bed. The first day we marched around Florence, seeing sites and depositing them at the Academia to see Michelangelo's The David (among other things).

The next day we went on a 2-day-1-night road trip to snatch some highlights around Tuscany. You know I love road trips, so it is no surprise I packed it full for them, we visited:
  • San Galgano (famous outdoor church remnants, sword in the stone legacy)
  • Petriolo hot springs (highlights: dressing by the car)
  • stayed at an Agriturismo near Panzano
  • ate at Dario's in Panzano (Chianti---this guy is a famous butcher and even trained Mario Batali in his early days!)
  • visited Saturday market in Greve in Chianti
  • enjoyed a cellar tour, long Tuscan lunch and wine tasting at Verrazzano winery
Here is the photo album.

Their 3rd day with us was Easter; we had Easter (Pasqua) bread and fresh squeezed blood orange spritzers, stove-top espresso, bacon/eggs/fruit for breakfast. We took them (at some times we were like ducks in a row---or a train hanging onto each other while weaving through crowds) to see the Easter Cart blow off fireworks by the Duomo. After the smoke and flying dove, we strolled across the Ponte Vecchio and in front of Pitti Palace, the cousins bought souvenir t-shirts, and since the 'La Specola' was open (zoology museum) the rest of the family attended and I went home to start cooking and hide eggs. (Important side-note: we treated cousins to one of our favorite going-on-a-walk-in-Florence treats: nutella on Belgium waffles studded with sugar crystals... ;).

When they returned, they enjoyed a chocolate-egg hunt of 98 eggs around our flat; after we relaxed and slowly ate a full-blown Italian meal.


I do not wear a helmet when jogging!

The standards of living in Italy are much different than those in the US – including general safety precautions. I have commented in the past about the raucous behavior on New Year’s Eve in Florence – my teenage boys were all smiles. The same could be said of professional soccer matches – acceptable activities at an Italian Serie A match (standing, singing, smoke bombs, flares, and an occasional M-80) v. an MLS game (sitting, clapping and horns!) are distinctly different too. Let’s face it: Americans have a more “Puritan” standard when it comes to acceptable social moors and safety precautions. In my humble opinion, the US tends to be a little bit too restrictive (aka party-poopers)!

Nothing could exemplify this “over the top” safety consciousness than my rude awakening in Seattle, when I attempted to casually ride a bike without a helmet on a bicycle-only path in Seattle (the Burke Gilman trail). Please bear in mind, that when actually riding a bike, we always wear a helmet (as in our European ride from Amsterdam to Paris). I would never entertain going for a serious ride and sharing the road with cars for 30-50 miles without a helmet. Pictures on this blog from May, June, July and August 2009 evidence that we always wore helmets when riding across Europe.

However, our family has adopted a truly European attitude toward helmet-use. Specifically, when using the bike as a simple extension of your feet in City Center to run short errands – no helmet is necessary. Using a bike in the City Center is not riding by European standards, but rather fast-walking. In fact, throughout Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and France, it is the norm to use a bike, sans helmet, and fully dressed for work (men in suits, women in skirts, jackets, scarves, leather shoes and holding an umbrella while commuting on a bike). The Dutch mothers are particularly adept, also managing to hold a cup of coffee, talk on a mobile phone, and cart 2 kids to school too! We were awe-struck.

On weekends, however, when European cyclists dart out into the countryside to ride in preparation for the next Tour de France, they do wear a helmet. But, if jumping a bike to go 5 blocks to the office, school or to the farmer’s market – what’s the point? As European women will also point out, helmets are not very fashionable either. ;)

When I returned to Seattle, I bought a vintage ‘72 Schwinn Suburban cruiser to run local errands in our neighborhood - thinking I could bring a little of "Europe" to Seattle. I was mistaken. Despite living just 3 blocks from the Burke Gilman bicycle trail, where I access Zoka Coffee, Gas Works Park, and Fremont (all via a bicycle trail), I have been regularly accosted by Seattle’s helmet-Nazis. Ironically, I cruise on my vintage bike so slow that I can hold & drink a cup of coffee in European-fashion (while reminiscing of my family in Italy). Joggers regularly pass by me and smile! However, the constant barrage of Seattle’s helmet-Nazis is trying. A sample passive-aggressive comment, “Joey, yes, that man is not being smart leaving his helmet at home.” Or, my favorite, “Emmy, I think he might be too poor to afford a helmet.”

Unfortunately, Americans tend to paint things as “black-or-white” or “good v. evil” – our American society doesn’t operate well in the gray. Are we saying that an adult is unable to exercise sound and reasonable judgment? For heaven’s sake, I don’t wear a helmet when jogging! So, why should I wear one on a bike if I am traveling even slower on a bicycle-only path? There are no cars to run me over!

For what it is worth, I did relent and finally buy a helmet to alleviate my own frustration with Seattle’s helmet-Nazis. However, when I relayed this story to my wife and kids (still in Italy), they all laughed and said “not me!”

At least I'm safe now with a helmet if a jogger runs me over!


frolicking friday FOTOS

Here is an experiment: posting a frolicking foto on fridays. Not just us. But you too! I wrote a PAGE about it (tab above).

On Fridays: post a photo of your frolics. Then share a link to your photo---put your link right in the comments, below. So if your photo is on a blog, Flickr or Picasa or another photo account by all means give us a URL so we can check out everyone's frolics. And tack on a sentence or two about the photo. Skip writing a whole post. This is like a hall pass for Fridays (as it should be!). Put up a photo that inspires frolics, is of you frolicking, that somehow captures 'frolicking' and/or otherwise resonates with 'frolicking fridays.'

FYI 'Piscina' is pool in Italian. This was snapped just outside of Panzano in Chianti at an Agriturismo.


Top Five for March

Rather overdue, yes, but I need to write it. I officially present you the Top Five for March!
Introduction: March was one of the only months where we didn't go on vacation, or any large events happened, so I plan to focus solely on the best part of our routine.

1. Feeling satisfied every morning after climbing the 138 steps of agony.

2. Walking. No cars needed.

3. People watching. I would say more than 3 million tourists go through Florence every year.

4. Biking. The easiest way to get in shape!

5. Earning a new experience every day. I'm a different person.

Florence Easter Cart

We joined a 'gazillion' people watching Florence's Easter cart on Easter Sunday. All 7 of us (Keith, Cindy, Janelle, Caleb, Jack, Anthony, Sam) sprinted to join the mob of people packed into every nook and cranny (hanging out windows, over terraces and flooding the street) that offered an able view of the cart-between-the-Baptistery-and-Duomo. It took some research, but we found out the cart did its 'firework thing' around 11am. Here is the scoop:

Around 9am Easter morning, this infamous, tall cart is escorted (with Chianina white cows pinned-with-flowers) to the Duomo's Piazza by musicians, flag-throwers and dignitaries in Renaissance costumes, where it resumes its annual let-the-dove-fly and 'explosion' of fireworks-with-colored-smoke (also called 'explosion of the cart' or Scoppio del Carro).

Meanwhile, another parade moves from the ancient church of Santi Apostoli by the Arno, solemnly carrying a fire kindled with the flints from the Holy Sepulcher.

At 11 am---during the celebration of Easter mass---the bells burst with noise and the bishop uses the holy fire to ignite the cart (via a rocket that starts in the nave and follows a steel wire, outside to light the cart). Bells, whistles and smoke follow; popular belief has it that if the explosion goes smoothly and is impressive---the year’s harvest will be good and plentiful.

Why the cart?

The festival of the cart dates to 1099: when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem a Florentine---Pazzino de' Pazzi---was the first soldier to climb the walls. His reward was 3 flints of stone from the Holy Sepulchre, which today are stored at Santo Spirito Apostoli (a church near the Arno/Ponte Vecchio). The tradition was halted for a few years because the Pazzi family was plotting against the Medicis, but the cart festival was promptly restored by the wool guild.

Other Easter festivities: breakfast was appropriately a dove-shaped 'Pasqua Bread' plus champagne mixed with fresh squeezed orange juice. We hosted an Easter egg hunt in our flat (Sam/Jack/Anthony/Caleb finally found all 98 little chocolate eggs), enjoyed a walk across the Ponte Vecchio, happened upon La Specola (Science Museum), the boys played cards and we shared Easter dinner.


Cousin itinerary

March 31: arrival

April 1: recuperate re: time zones, walk about town (aka Florence) and visit museums according to the day they are and are not open:
  • morning pastries in San Nicollo
  • walk on Oltrarno
  • see Piazza Michelangelo?
  • Le Academia (Michelangelo's David etc.)
  • dinner in (homemade pepperoni pizza!)
April 2: road trip (Avis)
  • San Galgano
  • Petriolo hot springs for lunch and dip
  • overnight in agriturismo 
  • dinner at Cecchina---famous butcher who trained Mario Batali (in Panzano)
April 3: road trip (cont.)
  • Castellina in Chianti (see etruscan tombs & underground tunnel)
  • Greve in Chianti (Saturday market, fantastic souvenir shops)
  • Verazzano (winery---cellar tour, wine tasting)
April 4:  Easter Sunday
  • Florence chariot-on-fire event
  • Easter egg hunt
  • Easter dinner IN (traditional Italian multi-course meal from appetizers to easter bread, contorni and Vin Santo...)
April 5:
  • walk by Santa Croce, Piazza Signoria, Ponte Vecchio
  • lunch at famous stand-up window
  • Bargello museum (2 hours)
  • passegiata (evening stroll from 5pm-7pm)
  • dinner IN
April 6 - April 11 Cinque Terre
April 11 - April 15 Venice
April 15 - April 18 Florence:
  • Uffizzi Gallery (piles of famous art---Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Boticelli, Titian---one of the most renowned galleries in the world)
  • Duomo
  • Gemstone/Mineral museum


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