Tag: Italy

Italy Days 11, 12 & 13: Celebrazione e famiglia

I’m writing Days 11-13 together because it was 1:30 in the morning before I went to bed Saturday night. Yesterday we were honored to attend my niece’s Bat Mitzvah. Like her parents, I’m so proud of all the work she put in towards this day, studying and preparing for the last three years.

The event started at 5pm with cocktails in the garden of Palazzo Corsini al Prato in Florence. The kids enjoyed running through the garden hedges and gathering the lemons that had fallen from the trees. We took family photos with our cousins and enjoyed the flowing Prosecco.

This was now my fourth bat mitzvah, so while I’m still not fluent in Hebrew, I am much better at following along. We sang and chanted in Hebrew, listened to readings from the Torah, and heard lovely words from family members. It was cold and windy by the end, with the wind blowing out the flame on the braided candle, but both my niece and the Rabi were unfazed.

After the ceremony there was another hour or so of cocktails and photos, but this time in both the garden and an interior room more like a night club. There was a great amount of space for the kids to run around and let off steam before sitting down for the three course meal.

I was psyched to see the photo booth… it was one of my favorite memories from my oldest niece’s bat mitzvah. The props were on point – complete with a statuette of David set to piss off a few Texans.

One smart thing we did, all credit going to my sister for the idea, was to hire a babysitter to attend the event with us and look after #1LittleSister. She was also there as a back up plan in case anyone needed to go home early – we wouldn’t all have to leave the event. It turned out we didn’t need that backup plan as the kids were in full-on party mode. Anytime I set #1LittleSister down in a room that wasn’t the dance floor, she made a B-line back towards the music and lights. That girl loves a party.

One of the most impressive event of the evening was the performance art show of building the dessert. Four men laid layers of wafer, piped gallons of creme and poured chocolate chips in distinct layers to create a giant cannoli. It not only looked impressive but was delicious.

The DJ played great music – a mix of American pop hits set to discoteca type club tracks. I was caught off guard when a pounding track with a euroclub beat turned out to be the hippest version of hava nagila ever heard. Up went my nieces in chairs into the air. Somehow my sister skipped out on flying high this time around.

Lounge at Palazzo San Niccolo

We lasted til just after 11 and left the dance floor full. By the time we got home, got everyone to bed and packed up for our morning departure it was nearly 2 am. The next morning we were to be at the garden of Palazzo San Niccolo for a send off Easter brunch.

The garden setting was perfect for Easter. Casual, airy, with wisteria in full bloom. The food was excellent and surprisingly kid-friendly. My kids are fruititarians, so they were in heaven.

The brunch started with an Easter egg hunt. The caterer laid out simple white baskets and hid chocolate eggs all around. The kids were elated. We’d done an egg hunt at our house before leaving for Italy as we weren’t sure what traditions to expect. I can only hope they don’t expect two egg hunts again next year. $50 says #1BigSister remembers and calls me out on it next April.

It was nice to have just that little bit of extra time to spend with family and talk in a more quiet setting. After losing my dad and his brother in the last 14 months, I’m reminded how little time we have with some people. Yes, you’d think as a part of my job I would know that because I see it play out everyday… unexpected car crashes, seemingly benign pain that turns out to be cancer… but somehow I think I’d lost part of that awareness you get when you touch death regularly. I hadn’t actually realized I’d fallen into it until just now as I type this out actually… which makes me feel a bit of shame… because that’s always been one of the greatest gifts of my job. Perspective. To keep that focus on what truly matters. It’s why I left my last career. And here I am taking it for granted again.

TeamLouka + G

For me, and I know Amir as well, travel is the reason we work as hard as we do, trudge through some of the monotony and the grind of those other days. Yes, those little mundane moments are beautiful in their own messy sort of way, but sometimes beautiful is just beautiful, too. I like to mix it up.

We’re on our way home and contemplating our next adventure. Last Christmas we discussed a change in tradition – instead of the pilgrimage home to Virginia Beach – perhaps a trip to London since half the family lives on that side of the Atlantic. But… that would mean giving up that tradition for at least this year… which wouldn’t have to be forever, but sometimes forever comes before you expect it.

So I’m not sure. But I do know this trip has been like a marathon… I’m not going to lie and say it’s been as rosy as my posts may seem. It’s been painful, long, difficult at times – but full of moments that recharged us. And as we approach the finish line on flight 2 of 3, I feel that sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and purpose. I’m still going to give it some time to decide about London though. I’m not sure this is the right time for big decisions.


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.