Caffé Desiderio

Italy take two is a blog I started writing just over a year ago, highlighting my families trials and triumphs of moving to Florence, Italy for a year. I am conflicted on many levels, as our year has come to an end. On one hand I am happy to go back to Australia and re-start my life of cooking, seeing friends, walking on sandy beaches and enjoying the Sydney lifestyle, while on the other hand I am sorry to see life as I have known it for the past year being wound up and put away as a memory of the past.

The boys and I flew back to Australia a week ago and I find myself sitting at my parents’ home in Tasmania by the heater on this cold winters day, looking out over the hills of Launceston and thinking to myself…I have so much more to say about our life in Florence, places to tell future travellers about and photos I want to share. So while I am now back in the land of Oz, I want to dedicate the next few posts to the favourite places and spaces I have grown to love about my year living in the Tuscan hills in a small village called Ponte a Mensola.

A beautiful summers evening

A beautiful summers evening

Food as many regular readers will know, is one of my favourite topics to photograph and talk about. It doesn’t have to be the latest gourmet meal I’ve eaten or a restaurant that’s in all the travel magazines, it just has to be good, honest food that tantalizes taste buds and makes you want to get in the kitchen and cook, or at the very least be cooked for.

Caffé Desiderio is situated in the small town of Settignano (take the number 10 bus all the way to the last stop) and was the place we chose to have our last family meal together. The owners, Michele and his lovely wife, are wonderful hosts, who are extremely welcoming and have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Tuscan food and wine. Not only can they cook delicious, traditional Tuscan food, but they also source the highest quality ingredients that make even the simplest of dishes taste divine. I have eaten at Caffé Desiderio a few times throughout the year and have always looked forward to a return visit. It is here that I must mention Michele’s unique understanding of Italian wines. His wine list is big and bold; and for anyone who thinks they know about Italian wine he is the man you need to meet. Michele speaks beautiful English and can stand by your table for hours talking about how each bottle was crafted. For our last night we lashed out on a beautiful 2010 Barolo that Michele paired with our meal and with each sip it kept opening to new levels as the night went on.

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We started our meal with a selection of antipasti to wet any carnivore’s palette: cured meats, pickled vegetables, delicious marinated prunes to accompany the fennel-studded salami (so, so good!), just to name a few. It’s about now that you wish your kids didn’t have a developing palette and empty bellies, alas we did share and they loved every last bite, especially the cured meats.

Antipasti

Antipasti

Now I could talk about every dish with glee, however, I think you should just go and experience it for yourself and enjoy the wonderful selection they have on offer. The menu changes regularly and there are often wine and food nights for a set price. You can checkout Caffé Desiderio’s Facebook page for up and coming events and you might even be lucky enough to try the donkey ragu pasta Max spotted on the menu the night we dined.

I  have to admit I was a little stunned that he was so intrigued to eat donkey; however, I was also wondering what the flavour was going to be like…

Donkey pasta

Donkey pasta

It was delicious, morish and reminded me of wild boar a little. Max devoured it before I could take a second bite and then tried to eat my delicious, robustly flavoured tomato pasta! It was here that I pulled out the promise of dessert!

I’d like to tell you I have photos of the créme caramel and cassata cake, however, I was too busy polishing off a plate of eggs served with chorizo and lardon that tasted as if there was a party in my mouth. It is here I leave you with a photo of the lovely Michele himself and (hopefully) an eager desire to pop Cafe Desiderio on your list of ‘places to eat’ when you arrive in Florence, I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed…oh and FYI they make the best coffee too!

Michele

Michele

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Day trip to Pisa

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Alex adjusting the bell tower

One of the best things about living in a European country is the fact you can do ‘day trips’ without the travelling taking up 90% of your time. If you have ever been to Australia and wanted to ‘get out of town’ for the day, the travel side of things always seems to be longer and more painful than the actual ‘trip’.

I wanted to take a leisurely trip to Pisa with the boys, reasons being;

a) It really is just an hour up the road (on the train)

b) I know we have been before when Alex was younger, but he really didn’t remember it and I wanted him to see it again

c) I love this beautiful little town with its relaxed atmosphere, vibrant student buzz and of course the food…I have never had a bad meal here

Last Saturday the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky so we decided to jump on the bus and head to the train station for a relaxing stroll around Pisa. I know the city gets lots of attention and I myself love to look at the leaning bell tower, walk on the ever-so-green grass surrounding the cathedral and bell tower. But what is most wonderful about this town is the fact that tourists (I’m really talking about the hoards you see in big groups like in Florence) make a bee line to the bell tower, a bee line to a couple of other churches, then hightail it on out of there leaving Pisa’s beautiful streets free for you to wander around without being crushed to death by a pack of Germans/English/Japanese or whoever tourists.

Now I am sure there are 101 things to do and see in Pisa, however, whenever I go all I want to do is wander the streets, look in shop windows, lay on the grass and eat, so here are a few snaps I took to inspire the more relaxed visitor/tourist and also to pass on a great place for lunch!

This is the first time I have seen this beautiful building without scaffolding- a treat!

This is the first time I have seen this beautiful building without scaffolding- a treat!

I couldn’t believe it when we were crossing the river, one of the boys piped up and said ‘Don’t you think this looks like Florence?’ Ummm NO!

The Arno in Pisa

The Arno in Pisa

I also love going to Palazzo della Carovana which was built-in 1562-1564 by Giorgio Vasari. It is a great feeling to stand in this large, open piazza and take yourself back to another period in time. They just don’t make buildings like this anymore.

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It was about this time when I needed a rest from strolling and to feel the grass (I found out later that I had strep throat on this weekend, so now I know why I wasn’t feeling in top form!)

Get mum!!!

Get mum!!!

Nic has been to Pisa several times and was telling me about this one trattoria he went to that had great, flavoursome food and was run by women. We walked past it on our way to the bell tower and I loved the small square it was on, so we decided to lunch at Al Signor Mimmo, situated on via Cavalca, 44. This is an address you will want to write down before you arrive in Pisa!

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We started lunch with the caponata (a sweet/sour eggplant, caper, vegetable dish). This is one of my all time favourite ways to eat eggplant and I have to say this was one of the BEST caponatas I have eaten…even the boys got stuck in, much to Nic and my disappointment.

Caponata

Caponata

We all decided on pasta for lunch and were not disappointed. Nic had spaghetti with breadcrumbs and anchovies (it was awesome) while I couldn’t go past the medley of seafood with cavatelli. The seafood was super fresh and the pasta cooked to perfection, not to mention the flavour of the sauce it was tossed through. I was in heaven and I have to say, it takes a lot for me to say that when it comes to seafood pasta as I have had some pretty ordinary ones in my time…this was DIVINE!

Perfect pasta

Perfect pasta

While Nic and I were busy with the seafood end of things, the boys both jumped on the cinghiale bandwagon. They know we are running out of days when they will be able to order wild boar pasta so they did not hesitate when they saw it on the menu. I tried to bribe Max for a taste but he refused, thank goodness Alex loves mussels otherwise I might not have got a taste, it was VERY good!

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Alex thinking, how am I going to keep mum and dad away from my bowl?

Desserts were all home-made and looked delicious; however, we finished  our meal with an espresso and decided to meander on back to the train station with our full bellies and fond memories of this beautiful town.

Tips for Pisa:

Arrive before lunch (no stress if you take the train)

Walk on the grass around by the cathedral, costs nothing but brings you great joy

Walk off the beaten track where the streets curve round and people say buongiorno to you

Go to Al Signor Mimmo for lunch and don’t fill up on the deliciously morish salted fried bread when you first sit down because it only gets better

Italian BBQ

The Spring weather has been an absolute delight these past few weeks and with this comes one of my favourite food activities – barbecuing!!

I was put onto a very good local charcoal maker from a friend of mine whose Persian husband highly recommends it; and I have to say it has a delicious smoky flavour we are enjoying. I am not an expert on Italian BBQing but what I do know is when I BBQ in Italy, there is always plenty of food with fantastic flavour and I really don’t have to do anything to the food except enhance the flavour that is already there.

Last night was a beautiful evening for a spot of grilling so I am going to show you my ideal Italian BBQ when the weather is deliciously warm and begging for us to sit outside again while stoking the Weber.

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We first started with peperini dolci, these wonderful small peppers have a sweetness to them that intensifies when lightly grilled. We then marinated them with thin slices of garlic, a pinch of chilli flakes, extra virgin olive oil and a good splash of vinegar. Left to marinate while the other food’s cooking, they are a treat worth waiting for.

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Once the peppers are marinating it’s time to put the sausage on which usually takes about 5 minutes longer than the beef steak and if you have never tasted grilled Italian salsiccia then you really need to book a flight to Italy and find someone with a BBQ!

The sausage is delicious, extremely flavoursome and very, very morish. As for the bifstecca, I pay a little more and by the ‘Naturara’ beef which is hormone free, bursting with flavour and on the more expensive end of beef (the one in the photo cost me 15 euro), BUT an absolute bargain for any Australian buying quality beef. For example, if  I bought the same cut and size in Sydney from my butcher (excellent quality also) I would be looking at paying about $30-$40 for the same piece.

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While the meats were resting it was time for Alex’s favourite: grilled cheese.

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It is called tomino and it is like a mini brie with an extra tough outer rind that allows the heat to warm and melt the middle while keeping the outside intact and offering a lovely BBQ-ed flavour to the cheese. And because this is Tuscany, you can also buy tomino with a layer of speck for added flavour (no vegetarians for dinner tonight). I have to admit this is one of my new favourite foods too and I really have to limit us to one per four people, because if it were up to Alex and me, we would have a whole one each… I mean just check out that center:

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That is pure heaven!

With all the foods resting and the cheese cooked to perfection it was time to eat. Nic had whipped up a delicious pesto potato salad and a rocket and parmesan green salad to accompany all our wonderful barbecuing. To say this was a feast is a bit of an understatement and the fact that my only job was to sit down, sip wine and wait for this all to appear on the table…well that was a true delight for me.

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What is your favourite food to grill? I can only answer this question if I’m allowed at least 5 different  things because I haven’t even talked about pork yet!

Ricotta doughnuts

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I have realised that Easter came and went faster than a speeding bullet this year and I haven’t posted anything about the food we ate. I won’t rehash the whole day but I must make special reference to the delectable ricotta doughnuts I made for dessert. I was looking for something that wasn’t chocolate seeing as the kids’ bedroom was overflowing with chocolate wrappers.

Of course, it helps if you have delicious, fresh ricotta at your fingertips, however, if you do not and regular store-bought is the only option then the lemon zest will help boost the flavour.  I wish I had a better photo of these delectable, morish balls, however, I have to confess these were made at the end of a very long and fabulous day of eating and drinking way too much so I was somewhat blasé when it came to the photo… I was also caught off-guard when I opened my icing sugar and found it had formed into one solid block, hence the lack of white powder elegance on the above balls. I was also supposed to make a lovely orange glaze to drizzle over these delectable doughnuts, alas I discovered that the oranges had never made it home (can’t say the same for the extra bottle of Prosecco). So I improvised and used pure maple syrup which worked a treat.

I love it when a recipe is very quick and easy, and I love it even more when I can improvise with the ingredients. I’m not sure we really needed these at the end of the day but I know I was pretty excited to eat them when they were fresh out of the oil. However, next time I will make the added effort to check my supply cupboard before I drink a bottle of prosecco and maybe even make a pot of lemon curd to serve with them…that would be really decadent!

Mini fried ricotta doughnuts

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup castor sugar

3 eggs

8 oz fresh ricotta

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon lemon or orange rind

In a large bowl add the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, ricotta, vanilla and zest.

With a wooden spoon, mix until just combined.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan (approx 1 inch in pot) then gradually drop in heaped dessert spoon sized balls of dough and fry until golden. Repeat until dough is finished.

Drain balls on some paper towel then sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with either lemon curd, orange syrup, maple syrup or whipped cream.

Just be warned they are very morish!

A holiday in Vienna

This is a hard post to write. My blog is for me to remember the highs and lows of our year in Italy and Vienna was a holiday (slotted in with Nic’s history conference) that holds both highs and the lowest of lows for me.

Life has so many turns and bumps, when you have been clear sailing for a long time and thinking life just can’t get any better the bumps land hard and everything you know to be so turns into a series of free-falling, not knowing what to do or how to stop. I am going to talk about Vienna as the beautiful city it is, however, please excuse my lack of excitement and lack of cake photos…the wheels fell off my holiday before I could eat cake.

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We arrived in Vienna on Wednesday morning, bright and early as we had decided to take the overnight train from Florence to give the boys yet another travelling experience. The train is very easy and if you are short then probably a very comfortable ride, however, Nic and I were wishing we were a foot shorter when we laid on the sleeper beds.

We stayed in yet another Airbnb apartment and I have to say it was excellent. I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision when booking it as it was a bit out of the centre, however, when we arrived and met our host we all thought it was perfect. The place was big, bright and beautifully decorated in a vintage theme. Asta our host was very helpful and left us to our own devices. Perfect.

In the museumsquartier

In front of the monument to Maria Theresa near the Museumsquartier

To fill in the day we decided to take a leisurely walk around the city centre also ignoring the tiredness that was creeping in. Vienna is beautiful, let me state this clearly. The city is very easy to walk around, however, if you would rather use public transport then you have trams, subway or bikes to choose from. I have to say the subway is the cleanest I have ever seen ( I’ve seen a few) and extremely easy to operate, people are very happy to help if you need it.

I’m not sure if it was because we have been living in Florence where you can feel the grime and dirt of past centuries peeling off the buildings, but Vienna seems incredibly clean, bright and new. It was like they had just painted all the buildings ready for the tourist season.

We were hungry after our city tour and it was getting late so we decided to look up a traditional eating spot in our travel guide. Of course the two we thought sounded good were on the other side of the city. The first one was gone, replaced by a craft store (must have been really good!), however, the second restaurant (Figlmüller) which was just around the corner was an excellent first choice for experiencing Vienna, afterall it is all about the schnitzel!!

Max AFTER he'd eaten

Max AFTER he’d eaten

This place was fantastic and the schnitzel excellent. All their schnitzels are bashed out to 34cm of pure deliciousness. The crumbing light, crunchy and morish. Our server recommended a salad to share and this was actually one of the highlights of the trip. The four of us couldn’t get enough of it, the dressing was a perfect combination of sweet and sour. The potatoes were Nic and my favourite, while Alex couldn’t get enough of the carrots…as for Max, he was loving the 34cm schnitzel!

Wiener Schnitzel

Wiener Schnitzel

We rolled out of the restaurant feeling very happy, satisfied and up for a little more walking. Vienna has a wonderful cafe and food scene that I wasn’t expecting, I will have to do a photo journal post just so you can see what I am talking about. Now though I will take you on a photo journey of Vienna so you can see what I mean when I say it really is beautiful. As for museums I can highly recommend the Kunsthistorisches Museum which contains an amazing collection including one of the world’s largest collections of Old Masters.

A side view of Hundertwasserhaus

A side view of Hundertwasserhaus

If you are up for a hike just outside the city centre, then go and check out Hundertwasserhaus, a beautiful apartment building designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. This was a favourite of mine.

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While Nic was at his conference the boys and I checked out the Belvedere which is another dramatically large palace that was commissioned by Prince Eugen of Savoy.

Alex loved petting the fish

Alex loved petting the fish

A view of Vienna from the top of the  water animal zoo

A view of Vienna from the top of the Haus des Meeres

And if you are travelling with kids then I highly recommend a morning spent at the indoor water animal house, the Haus des Meeres. Lots of animals to look at and fish to pat and monkeys walking by…not to mention the view of Vienna from the top of this somewhat very ugly building.

A rear view of the palace from the gardens

A rear view of the palace at Schloss Schönbrunn from the gardens

On our last day we headed out to the Scholss Schönbrunn, which is the former summer residence of the imperial Hasburg family. This place is incredible, from the ballrooms to the gardens. The day was easily spent wandering around the grounds and palace rooms.

I will leave you here and write about the food scene next, something that deserves its own attention.

 

New York Eats

As promised a post all about the food we devoured in New York. If I was to be fair, I’d start the food post in Amsterdam, our first pit stop before the NY-leg of our flight. As you all know we have been living in bella Italia for the past 9 months and we have had some incredible food, this I do not deny. However, being an Australian family we have a strain in our DNA that enjoys engaging in foods of the Asian variety. I would almost consider saying that some types of Asian cuisine could be called ‘typical’ Aussie dishes because we all eat them so often.

Once we had passed through passport control in Amsterdam, we had a couple of hours to kill in the airport before our NY flight. We turned a corner in the airport and all saw the ramen noodle sign and instinctively all yelled out ‘NOODLES!!!’ It is true, we have missed eating noodles, noodle soup and any other form of the noodle variety so we decided it was the lunch hour and proceeded to order 4 bowls of ramen noodles, two beers and two bottles of water. What seemed like a pretty normal lunch soon jumped into the category of the most expensive bowls of ramen noodles we have ever eaten. Our lunch came to be AU$100.00!!! Welcome to your vacation Baker family

Roisin and I out front of the Fatty Crab

R and I out front of the Fatty Crab

Day one in New York began with a fabulous lunch for me with a very wonderful friend of mine from Chicago. It just so happened R had a couple of business meetings in NY the week we were there and so we got to hook up and eat…another one of our favourite things to do together. I was treated to a lunch at the Fatty Crab down in the Meatpacking District while the boys, Daunia and Nic headed on over to a burger joint on the Upper West Side.

The Fatty Crab is Asian influenced and the flavours were punchy and fresh which made for great sharing dishes. I would have to say my favourite dish was the pork belly on pickled watermelon, a brilliant flavour combo that melted in your mouth. Other dishes we ate were green mango salad, an Indonesian chicken dish, pork belly and cucumber pickled finger sandwiches and delicious stir-fried chinese broccoli. I am sorry I didn’t snap any pictures of the food here, it was more of a feast than a photo op. Oh and the fact I was a little jet-lagged didn’t help. A fantastic lunch that I highly recommend for anyone visiting New York.

Ruben Sandwich

Reuben Sandwich

Something I have always wanted to do in New York is eat a Reuben sandwich from a deli. I have seen it on countless TV shows, made hundreds (working in Chicago) but never eaten one. I fulfilled my request after the boys climbed up the Empire State Building and I wasn’t disappointed! It was especially delicious on that very cold, blustery day, the cheese just oozed down my fingers – heaven.

Eating in New York wasn’t all about trying the best new restaurants this trip. Of course I would have liked to, however, I was travelling with my family and the food I wanted to eat wasn’t necessarily the food my kids wanted to eat so there had to be a compromise and that was fine. It means Nic and I get to go back, just the two of us and make it a food-eating destination. To engage the boys on our museum filled-day (yes we got 4 hours of museum time if we planned the snacks right) we promised them a giant pretzel. It was a no brainer really, seeing as museum walking always makes me hungry and so Nic and I shared a pretzel while the boys polished off their own on the walk up to the Guggenheim (it was a perfect ploy, they cruised up the beehive staircase with a full tummy and no whingeing).

Giant Pretzels

Giant Pretzels

Of course, the typical hot dog was also consumed by the kids, however, I think I got stung when the guy told me they were $4 each! I then got into a heated argument with him saying that was outrageous, hence  no photo…and check out the price on the vendor where we got the pretzels from outside the Met $2 for a hot dog!!

Tiny fried pork buns

Tiny fried pork buns

Ok I think I need to move this along a bit otherwise I’ll be turning this into a book. Chinatown is a wonderful neighbourhood to visit in New York, the streets are filled with characters who whisper things to you like “Hey lady, bag,bag, Louis Vuitton,” or “You want nice glasses, good price.” But I wasn’t there to buy cheap, real/fake designer bags, I was after the food. The Lonely Planet pocket guide recommended a place called  Nice Green Bo Restaurant (66 Bayard Street, New York). It stated the restaurant is run down and basic but the food is awesome. How true it was. The above dumpling was my favourite, jam-packed with flavour and a good amount of pork and ginger filling too. Another favourite of mine was pork fried rice with fermented cabbage. It doesn’t photograph well but the flavour was fantastic, along with the spring onion pancake and plenty more dumplings definitely a must on your NY trip.

Our Chinese feast

Our Chinese feast

A trip to America wouldn’t be complete without a classic diner meal. Daunia took us to her local hang-out on Long Island called Mundays and we were not disappointed. I would have to say the boys’ chocolate and vanilla shakes were the best I have ever had. A big call I know, but they were delicious, super thick, flavoursome and, well perfect! Max ate a massive serve of a tuna club sandwich which in fact stumped him, while Daunia and Alex stuck with the classic grilled cheese and I had a burger that was fresh, juicy and perfectly cooked. We all loved this place and will make a bee line for it when we are next on Long Island.

America's finest shakes

America’s finest shakes

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I really do need to end it here, however I do need to mention our wonderful dinner at Momofuku which was every bit as good as I was told. I also have a special mention to a friend who graciously went out to his favourite Greek supermarket and then proceeded to cook us an amazing Greek feast complete with pork and chicken kebabs, pita bread, hot cheese, rosemary bread, delicious pork and mint parcels wrapped in pigs caul (absolutely delicious but can’t remember the name) and a few other items that made up our massive lunch feast.

llias our Greek chef

llias our Greek chef

Chicken kebabs with a delicious lemon, oregano and garlic dressing

Chicken kebabs with a delicious lemon, oregano and garlic dressing

Feasting table

Feasting table

Crumbs cupcake store also gets a big mention as it was Sara’s number one stop on her visit to New York and I am glad she pursued it as the cupcakes were very morish, fresh and flavoursome.

Right that’s it! I will stop teasing you with delicious photos and tantalizing dishes. We really had a wonderful time eating in and eating out in New York. What are your favourite New York hot spots?

 

 

 

New York, New York

A view from the Empire State building

A view from the Empire State building

I was so excited to finally be visiting New York. I lived in Chicago for 6 years and then a year in Virginia and never managed to make it to New York. So, when my hubby announced there was a History conference (RSA) in NY this year I was hell-bent on going over with him and bringing the kids with us.

I feel very lucky to have a wonderful friend living on Long Island, and even luckier that she was willing to have us stay for the week! We went into the city everyday for four days and walked our legs off. I remember the first time I came out of Penn Station and my eyes boggled at all the bright lights of the massive t/v screens that are pretty much in your face attacking every sense. Seeing a couple large screens on the sides of buildings near Penn Station was just preparation, however, for Time Square…OMG! I thought it was going to be a small corner of Manhattan when in fact Time Square takes up about 4 corner blocks. I want to give you an idea of the great time we had visiting NYC and pictures tell the best story. However, I have reserved all the food pictures for another blog seeing as there is too much to say about the food we ate, drank and drooled over.

For now please take a look at New York City from our perspective and if you have never been or are planning on going then take note: Manhattan is very big so work out the subway (not scary at all), buy a good pair of good walking shoes and soak up all the atmosphere around you. On every street there is something new to discover, I swear the city never sleeps.

Time Square

Time Square

Proberly the BEST toy store I have ever been in (of course it was in Time Square), this Transformer was just one of the many giants around the store, excitement all round.

Alex and Transformer

Alex and Optimus Prime

It was freezing while we were there but nothing was going to stop us, especially when the sun came out. I am jumping for joy AND trying to keep the circulation pumping around my body seeing as it was like walking into an ice storm on the way back over the bridge. Totally worth a visit though, not everyday is going to be -10 in the wind!

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

A stroll through Central Park is wonderful, especially with such a beautiful city backdrop, I’d love to see it when all the leaves are on the trees (another reason to go back).

Central Park

Central Park

Walking across the park brought us to the Met where we spent a couple of hours, we could have spent a couple more. However, I really, really wanted to go to the Guggenheim which was just up the road and there are only a certain amount of hours you can coax kids to look, learn and appreciate art. The Guggenheim was as good as I imagined it to be, I love the building as much as the art inside, although, I think the collection in Venice was  much more breathtaking.

Guggenhiem #3 and check out my very cool new flares!

Guggenheim #3 and check out my very cool new flares!

Daunia walked around with us for the first couple of days and didn’t seem to mind us oohhing and ahhing at the sights. She was even patient enough to take us for a stroll around the waterfront where we got to take a look at Lady Liberty. I had to laugh at my naivety, when she pointed out the dot in the distance as being the Statue of Liberty. After a good giggle and the wind ripping into us, I took a snap of the family and Daunia with the statue way off in the background. Note to self, next time we will ride on the Staten Island ferry for a better look!

Baker boys and Daunia with State of Liberty off in the distance

Baker boys and Daunia with Statue of Liberty off in the distance

I also highly recommend a stroll on the High-Line; the boys loved the Natural History Museum and a must is the 9/11 Memorial site. It makes you stop, think and reassess the things you think are important in life.

New York is full of life, bustling streets with 101 things to do and see. Daunia very kindly sorted us out with a night at the theatre, we went and saw STOMP which was better than I was expecting and a lot funnier too. The days were long and jam-packed with sights so it should not surprise you that on the train ride home to Long Island  the boys chilled out.

Long Island train ride

Long Island train ride

Next time it’s going to be all about the food, so stay tuned.

 

Gladiator School, Rome

We are back from a fantastic weekend in the beautiful city of Roma! We left on Friday morning which just happened to be Max’s 12th birthday and figured the boys wouldn’t mind an extra day off school. After singing “Happy Birthday” to Max we caught an early, high-speed train down to Rome with our dear friends, E, Ross and the girls. Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday if you ask me: good friends, Roman food and lots of fun. I’m not sure we will be able to top this year!

Happy 12th Birthday Maxi

Happy 12th Birthday Maxi

It was glorious, the sun stayed high in the sky all weekend and we were strolling the streets in t-shirts and jeans, we couldn’t have planned for better weather. It goes without saying we walked a lot, ate a lot and laughed a lot; however, what I really want to tell you about is the  Gladiator school.

I watched a video of it on the internet a few months back and it looked pretty cool, however, it seemed expensive. In hindsight I was completely wrong and it was really worth every euro! The boys and their friends were very hyped-up about their Saturday morning class (you really need to book in advance as it sells out) and feeling a little nervous as we headed out to the school to see what they were in for. I was blown away by the two-hour class. OMG! The gladiator teaching the kids was a scary looking guy with muscles as big as my head and thighs that could crush you in one sitting, not to mention the chest on this guy! We were all a bit stunned when we first saw him and the kids a little more nervous.

Alex feeling what it is like to be a Roman soilder

Alex feeling what it is like to be a Roman solider

It wasn’t until he opened his mouth and started talking that we all began to relax and enjoy the show. From start to finish he was an entertainer, inviting the kids to join in, listen, learn and experience all things Roman and gladiatorial. It started with a tour around the museum room where he explained all the military equipment used back in Roman times (the kids loved this). He then moved on to explain the history of the equipment used by gladiators, who became gladiators and the levels of different gladiators…I didn’t realise women were gladiators, however, we were told only the ugly ones! We were mesmerised by his knowledge, appearance and general enthusiastic approach to the class.

When it was time to go outside for the ‘practical’ lesson things only got better. In fact the boys had so much fun Alex came home saying “That was probably the best day of my life”. They were glowing from this experience and Max actually made a trailer of their time at Gladiator School which is better than me rambling on, check it out…

If you are heading to Rome anytime in the near future I urge you to check this place out. Gladiator School is for all age groups: I wished that I had booked a spot for myself when I saw how much fun the kids were having!

Boys, school and Italian life

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March sky, 2014

The rain has stopped, the sun is out and life is pretty sweet in Italy this March. I read in the papers and in friends’ emails that the snow is still dumping down in America and the sun is beating hot in Australia, while I look out my window and see a cool breeze blowing and the sun in the sky. We have a good life here, there is no doubt about it.

Our time is slowly dwindling down, we have a mere 4 months to go before returning to the real world of work (well for me anyway), houses, high schools, primary schools and day-to-day life back in Sydney with the friends and family we said goodbye to some 8 months ago. A lot of great things have been happening this month, however, I haven’t had time to sit down and jot it all down as I thought I would. Max turns 12 this Friday, WOW I find it hard to believe I have a 12-year-old under my wings.

We promised Alex for his birthday last year (it was the day after we arrived in Rome) that we would take him to gladiator school, alas, the night before I got struck down with food poisoning and was up all night trying to keep myself alive, therefore, gladiator school was delayed. Seeing how Max will be 12 on Friday and we have nothing else better to do, we decided we would go down to Rome for the weekend with friends and finally keep our promise to the boys re gladiator school! The tickets are booked and I’m staying away from seafood so we are set. It was an easy decision really, with 4 months left we are trying to do and see as much as we can. It’s not everyday you can say ‘Oh let’s pop down to Rome for the weekend’. I know it doesn’t mean as much to the boys as it does us, however, in years to come I think they will appreciate the flitting around more than they do at present.

The boys got their Italian school reports back at the end of last month which is quite a process compared to Australia. Back in Sydney the kids get a sealed envelope at the end of the day to give to parents. In our school here, there is a note sent out a week before with information telling you when you can come and pick the reports up and as usual I totally forgot. I was walking Max to basketball practice on a Thursday evening when a mum who is never at the school unless it is pick-up time, walks past me, says ciao and then asks me if I have the reports already? At this point I was trying to figure out why this mum was at school at 5pm, then trying to understand what she was saying to me (she always speaks super fast) and then when the penny dropped I looked like a complete idoit but had to keep walking in the other direction to get Max to basket…I left her standing there very confused, especially when I told her, NO not yet…see you soon!

I finally dropped Max at basketball (which is a 20 minute walk one-way), then Alex and I high-tailed it back to school to make the 6.30pm deadline to pick up these bloody reports…It was about this time I was preferring the Aussie system. We made it in time to be then told we must wait in line to speak to the teacher. ‘WHAT!??’ I was not expecting teachers to be there at 6.30pm! Anyway, after about 40 minutes standing in line it was my turn to go in (and it was at this point I told Alex to help me out with the Italian, to which he says ‘I doubt I’ll be any good mum’ and then proceeds to abandon me to look at pictures!). Thank god Max’s teacher is a lovely lady, she handed me his report, and said she was sorry she could only give him a 7 for Italian; however, it was working towards an 8.

SEVEN? He got a seven?? OMG!! I looked at her and said BELISSIMA!!! FANTASTICO, REALLY…7? Of course, she was super confused and then started talking at me in lightening speed which I only caught about 5 words in total before leaving the classroom with our first Italian report cards. Nic and I were so gobsmacked that the boys didn’t get any 3s or 4s on their reports (it’s out of 10) and to see the lowest mark was a 6 for science, well we were so overjoyed. It was actually quite funny when Max was reading his report, he laughed and said he wasn’t sure how he got that mark because he never does anything in science.

And truth be told, the boys constantly come home and tell us they understand nothing, they do nothing all day at school and really, why bother. Well, after seeing the reports I now believe they have been playing down their Italian with us (especially me) and in fact they are rocking along very nicely in school. The funniest report however, was the English mark…both boys scored an 8! Seriously, an 8 in their native language?? When I asked about this they both shrugged their shoulders and said “She (teacher) really doesn’t know very much English and we have to correct her” Note, HAVE to correct her, so I figure giving them eight is just her way of saying, “Get out of my class already!!”

So eight months into a twelve-month stay in a foreign country, I can honestly say as a family unit we are happy, involved in the community and eat like kings. We still feel like foreigners but also feel excepted by our neighbourhood, Nic and I are so happy we took the scary step of immersing the boys into Italian school cold-turkey-style because it has really paid off. Although the talk of being back in Australia is coming up more and more these days (especially from the boys), we are loving our life here. However, some home comforts are seeming a little closer (like having my car to do the grocery shopping!). I have a feeling the next 4 months are going to be action packed.

Mum and dad in Florence

We were lucky enough to have mum and dad drop in on us while they were holidaying in Bella Italia last week. It is no surprise really, since we are holding the majority of their grand children hostage on the other side of the world. The boys were pretty excited to see them again and to tell them all about life in Italy…whilst eating gelato of course!

Nanny and her oldest grand sons

Nanny and her oldest grand sons

Being February the rain did try to set in for the beginning of their stay, however, with a stroke of luck it didn’t seem to last very long and we were able to stroll through the neighbourhoods and see parts of Florence they did get to last time they were here.

A sunny February afternoon 2014

A sunny February afternoon 2014

You don’t really realise how much your own kids have grown until you see them up against someone you haven’t seen in a while. Max was hoping like mad he had grown (he has) and now he is even more excited to go home and see his auntie because he believes he may be taller than her now (I think he might be).

Streeter's in Tuscany

Streeter’s in Tuscany

Walking with mum and dad through the beautiful hills of Settignano was a real treat, something I never thought possible and yet here we were. Mum and dad instilled the idea of travel into my sister and I at a very young age and here we are standing on the cusp of the Tuscan hills over looking the city of Florence together. An adventure that started for them over 45-years ago was alive and strong, while Nic and I still have so much to see 14-years into our travelling life wondering where the next destination will be (I’m thinking a holiday in Vietnam might be on the cards for 2015).

One thing I know for sure is, no matter where we choose to live, be it Sydney, Chicago, Italy… one thing will never change and that is the pleasure of sharing our home with our friends and family and celebrating the adventures of life…one Spritz at a time.

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Spritz on the patio