Category: Family & Friends

Italy Day 6: Fishies & one other unexpected friend

I honestly don’t have a lot of energy to throw towards writing today… but today was also a day where we stayed home and explored the nature around us.

We started with swings and feeding the fish, then went to explore the pool and were greeted by a green whip snake crawling out of a hole in the stone retaining wall a la Temple of Doom. I’m ashamed to say I screamed, ran and while I’d like to say my motherly instinct was to scoop my child up first and then run, well…

One of the many details I appreciate about this AirBnB is the wine cabinet. The owners have gone ahead and selected a few bottles of local wine in all the varieties, and written the price (no markup) on each label. When you want a bottle you just open it, drink it, and then set the empty on top of the wine cabinet. They bill you at the end for your choices. As someone who loves wine but isn’t an expert, I love having a cultivated selection right here.

This afternoon we took a quick trip north to San Casciano dei Bagni to grab a bite to eat and visit the geothermal pools. There was a huge archeological discovery here in 2022. The site dates to 40 AD when the Etruscans built the baths.

Visiting a geothermal bath at San Casciano dei Bagni

We didn’t bring our bathing suits on this trip, so we just dipped our toes in. Of course that was utterly devastating for some in our crew who have been dying to go swimming anywhere, any time, any temperature.

Visiting a geothermal bath at San Casciano dei Bagni

Tomorrow is our last day here at Podere Palazzo. We head on to Florence on Wednesday to meet up with our families who are all here in Italy to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of my youngest niece. I’ll have to set aside a few hours tomorrow to pack us back up ahead of the drive.

Buona notte


Italy Day 5: Castello di Torre Alfina & Lago di Bolsena

Sleep was scarce last night. We had to barricade #1BigBrother in his room as he kept escaping and roaming the halls all night. We’ve decided tonight not to even fight it. We’ll watch movies until they pass out.

We didn’t have much, any, of a plan for today. We had to get gas for the car, but beyond that, we were just driving and exploring. While Amir was pumping petrol, I took to Google Maps scoping out the nearest castles. Yes, there are many choices, one atop every hill in fact.

I found Castello di Torre Alfina, just 15 minutes away and with 127 five star reviews. Sold. It didn’t open for an hour though, so the kids were so disappointed we just had to get gelato… again. It’s been a daily occurrence. this time we added cannolis.

Dark chocolate, white chocolate and pistachio cannolis

The castle doors opened right on time. #1BigBrother was tied with Amir to be first inside. The gates opened up to a large garden and u-shaped courtyard where we found a small door to purchase tickets. #1BigSister immediately took to doing cartwheels in the grass. She’s a gymnast now. Monday nights.

Courtyard of Castello di Torre Alfina

At first we were afraid we’d be shut out of a tour. We weren’t sure if small children weren’t allowed, or if the tour guides just didn’t speak English. It didn’t take long for our English-speaking guide, Eva, to appear and introduce herself to the kids. Phew.

As soon as we entered, we knew we were in for an unexpected experience. For starters, we were the only family there. We had the place to ourselves. We had Eva to ourselves. Amir pelted her with question after question like a kid asking for candy answers.

The tour encompasses two floors. If you want the history lesson on the castle, I’m not your gal. Ask Amir. I was too busy taking photos every five feet as I encountered aesthetic moments one after the other that just required capturing. I was also baby-wearing squirmy #1LittleSister, which required me to up my photography game to avoid 2G of blurry photos.

After the castle, we loaded everyone back into the JEEP and again consulted our friendly tour guide Google Maps for a next stop. We’d been eyeing up a large volcanic lake on the map. I’d noticed it when researching our AirBnB. We set course.

The castle at Lake Bolsena

It turns out Lake Bolsena also has a castle. I’m not kidding you – the things are everywhere. This time we were hungry though, so we hiked up the hill towards the castle, but our destination was a small cafe called I Sapori del Castello. Somewhere along the upward climb it started raining… cold rain. Rain that just seemed extra wet. When we finally reached the restaurant, we worried they might not let us in looking so war-torn.

Small starters: artichokes, fish salad and anchovies on toast. Delicioso!

The kids surprisingly didn’t eat much (there was pizza, too)… but we needed to move along to our next stop before it got too dark. We are brave explorers, but only in the daylight.

We walked back down that huge hill and stopped at the overlook to appreciate the volcanic lake and surrounding village. The rain had passed and the shivering stopped.

At the overlook, Amir spotted a ferris wheel down below, at the edge of the lake. I’d have thought for sure the kids would have seen it first – but we had to point it out to them. There was no question where we were headed next.

After three turns on the ferris wheel, it was our turn to exit. We took one last lap near the water to get a close up look at the fishing boats before heading back to the car. As a lover of all vehicles and vessels, #1BigBrother was quite satisfied.

Tomorrow we might check out the geothermal pools – but that all depends on everyone’s willingness to sleep tonight. Here’s hoping for more rest than the last 5 nights.


Italy Day 4: Point and Go

Amir described it best about ten minutes into driving our rental car. “The name of the game here is just point and go.” The cars are tiny and swift, darting in and out. Lanes seem to be a suggestion not the law.

Shortly after escaping the city we found ourselves in the rolling Tuscan countryside featured in all those college dorm room posters. Diane Lane would be proud of me for tackling this trip.

We ascended a bridge stretching across a winding river far, far below. The GPS informed us this was the River Tiber, which sent a wave of emotion across me. Last time we touched the Tiber as a family was 2018, on our last trip to Rome. We’d lost an unexpected but very much wanted pregnancy 10 days prior. At the time we were a family of three. We threw light pink roses into the River Tiber as a way to acknowledge the loss. Today, as we crossed that same river in a car as a family of five, in a compact SUV stuffed to the top like manicotti, I felt relief, peace, amusement and surprise at just how much your life can change in 5 years.

Every trip we take we like to book an “Extreme Rental.” In Arizona, it was a JEEP for off-roading, in Denmark a Christiana bicycle, yesterday a family bike. Today we added a JEEP Renegade to the mix – Amir at the wheel as usual, me looking up the significance of historic ruins (pro tip: Spot something of interest, find its name on Google Maps then look it up on good old Wikipedia). Amir’s a big history buff, so this is the least I can do since he always takes the hard job of driving.

Our JEEP Renegade

Our AirBnB is about two hours outside of Rome, in the Lazio region. A different listing initially caught my eye, but then I noticed the other had no bathtub (dealbreaker when traveling with small ones). Podere Palazzo offered a huge bathtub and was slightly cheaper – an easy decision.

The villa has a small English-style garden, a pond with koi fish surrounded by rosemary blooming with purple flowers. There’s a swing that #1BigSister is sure to monopolize, and two hammocks for Mama and Dada, There’s an outdoor dining table with a fireplace and seating area, plus an infinity pool (which we were told would be closed but looks pretty ready to enjoy).

I’m not sure words can do any service to the beauty of this villa, so I’ll just say that we finished the evening with a meal cooked here in our kitchen by Valeria, the sister of the owner. Our first course was fresh tomato bruschetta with a potato and egg torte. Next we had handmade spaghetti (a kid favorite), followed by Chicken Cacciatore, but not like the version I know… this one required cooking the chicken in white wine until nearly all the wine reduced, then adding balsamic, fresh rosemary and a touch of olive oil. That’s all then reduced down to a sticky, delicious broth. Man how I wish I could capture the aromas for you to experience.

There’s a lot more I could write about today, but unfortunately getting the kids to bed is still a nightly battle. And it’s exceptional torture as all three won’t sleep. Good thing I’m pretty sure we landed in paradise today. I think I’ll survive.


Italy Day 3: Bici Pincio Bike Rental through Villa Borghese

We’d intended to rent a golf cart today, but thankfully that didn’t go as planned. Our AirBnB is deliberately near a large garden/park area called Villa Borghese. We learned early on that booking a stay with a playground or open nature space nearby is key for letting the little ones burn off energy (even more so when cooped up in a hotel room or airplane).

For our visit to Rome, we booked this apartment on AirBnB. If we are staying in a city with lots to do and explore, we don’t bother booking a place with many amenities as we won’t be home much to use them. If we are somewhere more rural, we try to book a stay with a hot tub, pool, swing set… something special to pass the extra time at home.

Not our house… maybe one day

Amir and I make a pretty great traveling team. When it comes time to planning for a vacation, our jobs require us to do things in a certain order, or else nothing would ever happen.

Step 1: Request vacation time at work.

Step 2: Book flights (that’s all Amir, thank goodness). He’s become an expert in credit card rewards and upgrades.

Step 3: Book lodging – AirBnB is our go to. As an alternative searching “boutique hotels” can also land you somewhere unexpected.

Step 4: Book transportation. This never used to be a focused step for us, but now carting around 5 people with baggage limits our ability to be spontaneous.

Step 5: Plan activities. We probably only decide 25% of what we are going to do somewhere before we go. We watch travel shows and YouTube videos for unique spots. The rest we decide on the fly once we arrive. This allows room to not overbook ourselves and to squeeze in experiences only discovered once we’ve arrived.

The Navigator

It helps that Amir has an innate navigation ability built-in to his brain. He can look at a map for 5 seconds and then remember the turn by turn directions to get us to our next adventure. It’s probably a skill everyone had by necessity prior to GPS, but for me that brain space has long been crowded out by many, many other things.

We had one destination today – Villa Borghese. The third largest public park in Rome, the gardens date back to 1605 when Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, began development. Fun fact: the gardens are the setting in Chapters 8-11 of Nathanial Hawthornes novel The Marble Faun.

The gardens are dotted with small food stands and cafes. We stumbled upon the Bici Pincio bicycle rental, offering all shapes and sizes of bikes. We were worried about our ability to find something safe and fun for our littlest and biggest riders, but they had every option imaginable. To our surprise, the lady said we could fit a “Small Family” bicycle… I glanced at Amir and #1LittleSister, skeptical, but she nodded with confidence, “You fit.”

#1LittleSister and #1BigBrother

I’m not going to lie – the bike was my favorite part of the trip yet, and the most fun thing I’ve done in a LONG time. I’m pretty sure my face just screamed childish joy. I want to buy one for back home. Except then I might have to park my car outside to garage my “small” family bike… on second thought – I should probably think this through.

We drove up upon a fanciful merry-go-round. Instead of the traditional horse merry-go-round, It was like someone knew our kids and designed the exact things our kids would want to ride… Lightening McQueen, rainbow unicorn, fire truck, princess pony… it was a little spooky to be honest.

After the merry-go-round and more peddling, we stopped to get a light snack and a glass of wine at an outdoor garden restaurant. They were ready with the high chairs, and as #1LittleSister flirted with the world, they gave her all the attention she ever wanted. #1BigBrother drank 3 glasses of apple juice, and I enjoyed brucette with my dry white wine. It was nice to slow down. The rest of the outing allowed time for photos and more sips from the public fountains.

We leave tomorrow morning for Tuscany – we’ve rented a car (could be a disaster if we don’t fit), and plan to stay at another AirBnB, this time in the rolling countryside with not much around us. It’s time to slow down.


Italy Day 2: When in Rome, eat like the Romans

In truth it was a 1/2 day in Rome (because we woke up at 1pm)! And that was only because Amir woke us all up. This jet lag is no joke. Especially with kids. Fortunately there’s great coffee. And wine.

Lots of sunlight and sounds from the street

We reserved a 3 hour walking food tour from 5-8pm but had a few hours to kill beforehand. Fortunately with three kids under 6, getting out the door clean, dressed and fed is guaranteed to eat up at least an hour on the best day when everyone cooperates. At least they weren’t ready for breakfast yet – likely because they ate every strawberry and drank a liter of milk somewhere around 3am this morning.

First stop: Piazza Navona which is built on top of the Stadio di Domiziano, the only known brick Roman sporting venue (circa 80 AD). In its prime, it seated 30,000 spectators. It’s been described as a scaled down version of Circus Maximus. Today there are three fountains sitting in the “field” while the footprint of the stands is now occupied by apartments and shops.

We walked to a small restaurant guaranteed to have pizza and a decent house red… to our delight they had high chairs and a closet to store our stroller. I’ve been amazed lately back home at all the facilities advertising to families then not having high chairs or changing tables. While we haven’t seen many families with multiple kids, Rome does a good job welcoming our circus.

After breakfast/lunch, we completed our traditional stop at a local toy store. We’ve had luck in the past with buying a few toys while on vacation rather than trying to bring them. European toys are higher quality, made of wood not plastic, and built to last for generations. Across Italy there’s a culture of reuse and minimization of waste. I’ll have to save my explanation of the trash collection system for another post… perhaps if I can snag a photo of the tiny trash trucks.

We booked the food tour through AirBnB. As I’ve mentioned before, we typically book our lodging there and have come to love the “Excursions” offered through the site as well. You have to sort through them to avoid the super tourist-trap type stuff, but that’s not hard to do when your husband is essentially a travel agent.

Toys are arranged by ages

Alessandro (Alex) was our esteemed guide for the day. Single and living alone in Rome, he made a point to tell me most Italians don’t think he’s Italian thanks to his bright blue eyes gifted to him by his grandmother. He’s a charmer – a good fit for the role.

Taste 1: Porchetta & Wine We entered a small shop with a roast pig in the window and 1000 red wine bottles lining the walls. Alex knew the guys working there, and with the wave of a hand, 10 half sandwiches appeared. The pork is stuffed with rosemary, cooked all night then gently shaved and sandwiched between the fresh bread. A solid first stop.

My hand is hiding the pig head

Taste 2: Suppli Typical of Roman cuisine, they are balls of rice with tomato sauce, stuffed with a chunk of mozzarella in the middle, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Everyone loved these. We wanted seconds.

Taste 3: Potato Pizza He ordered margarita pizza for us as well, but the potato pizza was the real winner. Consisting of crust, thinly sliced potatos, olive oil and just enough cheese, this hit a perfect savory balance.

Unveiling of the pizzas

Taste 4: Friend Artichokes (Carciofi Alla Giudia) Unique to the old Jewish Quarter, you’ll find them on the menu of every restaurant in this little area. Crispy on the outside – there’s a taste reminiscent of potato chips. Bite deeper in, and everything is soft and juicy. It’s a tactile experience as much as a taste adventure.

Fried artichokes

Taste 5: Gunther Gelato I was delighted to reach this last stop, not just for the amazing flavor selection, but to finally stop hearing, “When are we getting ice cream?” Pro tip: Don’t tell the kids there’s gelato on the tour, especially if it’s not happening for three hours. I picked coconut in a cone but ended up eating #1BigBrother’s chocolate after he experienced a meltdown due to his melting gelato.

Rome is almost better by night than by day thanks to the smart lighting that brings these ancient ruins to life. To close out the day, we headed to the Pantheon which closed hours earlier, but had a full piazza of on-lookers, hawkers peddling glowing toys and teenagers singing. It was a great way to close the tour. We said goodbye to the other family in our group (Americans stationed in Roda, Spain), and thanked Alex for his hospitality and expertise.

The Pantheon at night

I have to admit that wearing #1LittleSister most of the day did a number on my back (getting old sucks), so tomorrow we’re considering a golf cart tour of some outer areas of the city. If you remember from Jamaica, #1BigBrother just loves a good golf cart. I can’t wait to see his excitement tomorrow.

Buona notte,