Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Living in Lundo

Earlier this month we went away for our family vacation. It might seem like we go away a lot, but usually it is related to work. For example, this family vacation had two reasons for being: hubby's conference, my birthday present.

Before leaving, I wasn't really in the mood for a trip. August had been wonderful but busy, with visitors, a little traveling and not much time for myself. September had just begun and I was loving the return to some routine and a chance to get to several deadlines that had suddenly seemed to come out of nowhere. My inner self kept saying this is no time for a trip! Or maybe I was just grumpy because I knew that in a few days I would be one year older...and in another year that number will begin with a '4'.

But when we arrived to our destination.....

..... and I had this view to gaze at for a whole week--you could say I somehow forced myself to get into the trip. Okay, it wasn't so hard after all, just look at how beautiful the foothills of the Dolomites are! And I did have fun. We all did. Traveling with a toddler is never relaxing, but we filled our week in Trentino with a mixture of exploration, spending time in the village we were staying in and planning long afternoon drives to get toddler to nap (he outright refused to nap in his bed the entire stay!).

And in that week I fell in love with Trentino, which really couldn't be more opposite than Mediterranean Sicily. Mountain culture. Clean air. Grazing cows and the fresh dairy products to go with it. The apples, pears, and potatoes were in season and growing all around us, and the walnuts were dropping off the trees, giving us something to hunt for on our walks. Pristine and untouched. In our valley it was all rolling green, but further up it is dense with woods and made dramatic by the incredible jutting rock formations of the Dolomites. 

Our village on a sunny day....

 ...and our view on a cloudy evening

The communities are so well cared for--every single village and town, no matter how small, has the most beautiful playground.  

One of dozens of fabulous playgrounds

Much wood is used in the construction of the houses, and each and every one has flowers overflowing from the balconies and doorways. 

One of the sweetest houses in our village

Walking paths crisscross the entire region. Romanesque churches are stark and lovely. Medieval castles abound--some are museums and can be visited, others are private or have been converted into restaurants.  

View of the Dolomites from the castle in Drena

And the lakes! Emerald green water. If only it wasn't so chilly. I put my toes in Lago di Garda and was immediately numbed by the experience. The coastal villages along the lake have another feel entirely, each worthy of a visit (but all I could do was keep driving...let the little guy sleep!).

Lago di Garda

The bigger cities are elegant and alive. Our visit to Trento was all too brief, and the rain was pouring down. But we did get to the cathedral, dried off in the quaint Natural Science Museum which had the most impressive and fun kids corner, and rewarded ourselves with the best meal of the trip, and toddler's most elaborate one of his little life. He did surprisingly well, no angry looks from the patrons,...and boy did he love that white chocolate mousse.

Rovereto is home to MART, a modern art museum which has an excellent collection of paintings and sculptures by Italian artists from the mid 19th century to the present and is an important work of architecture in itself. To visit the museum's Casa Depero you will wind your way through the beautiful historic center wishing you had time for shopping, until you find yourself in the wonderful world of this designer's unique and flamboyant creative vision. I found his style to be very appealing. I wish we had spent a full day in Rovereto, but we had decided to stop here on our last day on the way to the airport in Verona and cut it so close as it was...don't even ask how fast we were driving as we sped off to catch our plane! 

And that is the story of our trip. And it hasn't even dawned on me that I am one year older. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


A trip, a sickness, a deadline,...and a rainbow! This is the month of unusual horizons. Hopefully next month will bring more time for blogging!

This rainbow caught us off guard. The colors were so bright and seemed so near, it was incredible. Now my son looks not only for tornados (okay, water spouts!) but also rainbows everyday. I doubt we will see either again anytime soon, and surely not back to back.  

Saturday, September 12, 2009

unusual sighting

Big storm clouds hovering over the sea. How hard is it raining out there? But wait, what is that thin vertical spiral I see slowly moving across the horizon, hanging down from the clouds? Could this be my first tornado sighting? (Just click on the image and tell me its not!)  

Friday, September 11, 2009

La Fiera

Was driven into Catania yesterday on two wheels headed straight for the city's largest daily market, la fiera (if you can find your way to Piazza Stesicoro you will find la fiera). We bypassed the usual mishmash of clothes, toys, things for the house, etc. and honed in on vendors selling CD's.

In a just a few minutes I had spotted what we were looking for but didn't even know existed before that moment--the complete collection of the winning songs from the Zecchino D'Oro children's music contest that has been taking place in Italy every year since 1959. I haven't had a chance to listen to all the songs yet, but these CD's should keep our son happy (probably driving the adults crazy!) on the longish drives we anticipate in our upcoming trip (more on that later). For anyone interested in a sampling, the official Zecchino D'Oro website has more information and links. I can't say I love these songs, but this is the quintessential Italian children's music and at least a few of the ones I have (involuntarily) gotten to know are catchy enough to have grown on me, too (44 gatti, for example).

With the CD purchase behind us, we made our way over to the market's lively food section. Here you can't beat the prices and freshness of the produce, and it is always exciting to be in the middle of the crowds moving from one noisy vendor to the next. We purchased our beans and cucumbers but then couldn't pass up the sott'olio stand--all things marinated, piles of glistening olives. These are among the best Sicilian olives I have ever tasted and a few varieties came home with us.

Even though la fiera could warrant several hours of wandering in search of the best bargains, our time was limited and we were soon back on the bike heading home. Driving down the long avenues I love...

From the back seat I never pay attention to where we are but choose to relax and soak in the sites and smells of the city, and sometimes even attempt to take pictures.

And when we eventually make it out of the city center, catching that first glimpse of the black rocky coast, I know we will soon be home!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

when in Rome...

Fontana delle Tartarughe

It already feels like our trip to Rome was a lifetime ago. But I still remember all the details and continue to glow in the aftermath (pushing away the melancholic nostalgia) of a meaningful and fun-filled visit with my sister and her family.
First: Our four days in Rome were H*O*T. Yes we arrived smack in the middle of the heat wave, land locked with no chance of jumping in the water to stay cool. But we got up early, smeared on our sun block, put on our hats, pocketed our water bottles, and managed to spend our mornings and evenings engaged in adventurous activities meeting up with my sister and company as much as possible. We ran for shelter from the sun during the mid afternoon stretch, following the eating/napping rhythm of our toddler and also benefiting ourselves from the excuse to sit in a cool environment --air conditioning never felt so good! Heat + Toddler = good time management.
Second: August in Rome means that half the city is shut down. On the down side that meant most of our favorite restaurants were closed. On the plus, no traffic, wide open avenues, a feeling of calm serenity in a normally vehicle-chaotic city. And the tourist-heavy centro storico was for the most part open.
Third: Activity-filled mornings and evenings. We picked a few kid-friendly activities that couldn’t be missed: the zoo and the children’s museum. We attempted to take the toddler on a couple of visits to archaeological sites: the Colosseum (note: the ticket is also good for the Palatine and Roman Forum, we waited on line for circa 30 minutes!) and Trajan's market; no surprise, he was mostly interested in trying to keep up with his older cousins, and fortunately they enjoyed giving him the satisfaction for the most part! We wandered through favorite neighborhoods, stopping for refreshments, lingering in vehicle-free piazzas so the kids could run wild. We ate dinners out as a family every night, breaking records for late nights out (with a toddler, that is!).
Four: and the winner is…! From my slanted point of view I would have to say that our son wins the prize for most fun had. He has become such the little traveler and enjoys the concept of ‘going on an adventure’, from the plane ride, to the chance of being in a big city, out and about, on the move. And all of this toddler joyfulness was amplified by the presence of his big cousins.
Five: Top toddler highlights. Other than playing with the cousins and visiting the zoo and children’s museum, I would have to say the unexpected toddler highlights of the trip were riding on buses and discovering sources of water—in Roma that would be its many flowing fountains--often to the chagrin of Mamma. I had to pull the little guy off the sculpted rocks of the Trevi Fountain for fear he would topple in the water head first! I had to disinfect his hands after he flashed that ‘I know I shouldn’t be doing this smile’ and fished around in Bernini’s four river fountain in Piazza Navona anyway. The Turtle fountain in the Ghetto neighborhood of Rome was more manageable than most, possibly due to a low railing the surrounds it. But the newly constructed fountain in front of the Richard Meier designed Ara Pacis museum gave me the most fright—as his attempt to jump in from a low wall was stopped mid-air!
The most entertaining and least potentially dangerous were the drinking fountains. For anyone who has never been to Rome, Roman drinking fountains consist of a continuous flow of water running freely from a faucet directly connected to a freestanding water pipe. To properly drink from the fountains you have to block the flow completely with your hand, causing a fine stream of water to shoot out of a little hole on the top of the faucet (click here for a photo). Hubby was thrilled to have the opportunity to teach this technique to toddler. You can imagine that meant a lot of stopping, sort of drinking, but mostly getting wet. With the heat, it wasn’t such a bad thing. On one late afternoon stroll the little guy spotted a drinking fountain, got the big cousins involved in the water play, and before we knew it they (and especially he) were sopping wet! I considered taking off all his clothes to dry but reconsidered and let the heat slowly do its job.
Six: what I would have done if there were more time.
-Castel Sant’Angleo seemed like a great monument for a toddler to visit. Love crossing that bridge!
-A boat tour of the Tevere river. Could have been fun, but given the fearlessness of our two year old, he might of wound up overboard! We didn’t want to take the risk. Maybe next time!
-Trastevere neighborhood stroll. The vehicle free zones of Trastevere would have been pleasant, and I love the large fountain/piazza in front of the Santa Maria in Trastevere basilica, not to mention the church itself.
-A visit to the small mosaic decorated chapel of Santa Prassede in Esquilino. This is among my favorite jewels of Rome, and I think the small scale of the room and bright colors of the mosaic would be accessible even to a little guy.
-Basilica San Clemente: Another favorite jewel. This church also has wonderful mosaics decorating the apse, but more interesting is a whole network of underground levels to explore including underground water sources. I know the little guy would have loved it.
-The biblioteca centrale ragazzi: This children public library branch seems like an amazing place, with books in many languages and a section dedicated to little kids. Unfortunately it is closed the whole month of August.

The wrong way to drink from Roman drinking fountains!