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

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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

Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici parade, Firenze

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Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici in 1743. She was the last direct descendant of the ruling branch of the Medici family, whose will bequeathed the art collection now housed in the Uffizi to the city and stipulated that it could never be removed from Florence. Having found out this information from my lovely husband, I thought it quite fitting that there was a parade in her honour.

Max did ask me yesterday if he could take the day off school to see it, which I blew off as his attempt at skiving off. However, when I met up with mum and dad in the centre of Florence yesterday and stood amongst the beautifully bright costumes of the paraders I had a pang of guilt. Here I was enjoying the festivities, costumes and atmosphere while my kids were at school ‘learning’. I had to ask myself, wouldn’t this be a learning experience for them as well? After all it isn’t everyday you get to enjoy a Renaissance pageant re-enactment in a city that draws your eye and heart back to the days that had been. I was sorry for my abrupt answer and will actually think about the question next time before being so dismissive.

Thanks to dad’s handy work, I have these beautiful photos to share. Something that stung a little when showing Max.

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Drummers

The streets of tourists and locals alike paused in their pursuits to take in the beautiful colours and arrangement of this 40-strong parade slowly marching down the streets of Florence. It was a sight to behold and even better when you had no idea what was on the horizon, all you could here was the beat of the drums and the slow roll of the march.

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Guys with very cool guns in leather…my boys are drooling

It was my guess the participants costumes were handed down among the families for generations and showing enormous pride in the occasion. I also had the feeling that my dad would have loved to be a part of the procession too! (In fact the guy with the moustache in the photo below looks a bit like dad.)

I loved this guy with the moustache

I loved this guy with the moustache

San Gimignano take two

Just a little over 8 years ago my friend Jo asked me to go on a day trip with her and her then 4 year old daughter to a town I had never herd of, San Gimignano. In fact a town I couldn’t pronounce without falling over the g’s! Max was 4-ish and Alex must have been 8-10months?? Anyway, I loved hanging out with Jo so it was an instant ‘yes’. Eight years ago we were poor as church mice (Nic was a student doing his Phd) and Jo being a fabulous friend recommended we take a packed lunch and just enjoy the views, so with sangos and fruit packed we headed to one my all time favourite towns in Italy. The medieval town blew me away the first time I laid eyes on it and again the second time around, eight years later.

With Jo I remember pushing strollers up the somewhat steep streets and letting the kids run around the square chasing whatever they could find, namely each other! We took lots of photos, picnicked under trees on the outside of the town’s medieval walls and soaked in the surrounds while devouring our sandwiches. I was so excited to tell Nic about this wonderful town and hoped I would be able to show it to him one day. Sadly all my pictures of eight years ago have gone when the bastards stole our computer a few years ago when our house was burgled, however, last Sunday we got to take a whole lot more photos and with Nic included.

I couldn’t help but think of Jo as we were strolling around, we didn’t go into any of the free churches (saw them last time) but we did go into the Palazzo Comunale and have a look around at the frescos and climbed the tower (actually I have to confess, Nic and Alex made it all the way to the top of the tower and took some amazing shots while Max and I only made it three quarters of the way up the stairs before we turned around and looked out of a window a little closer to ground level).

We had a wonderful day together but in all honesty no more so than when I went as a much poorer mother of two 8 years ago: I would have to say each time was as enjoyable as the other. So really the company you keep is much more memorable than the money you spend. It is an easy drive from Florence, straight up the autostrada, very well signposted and very easy to park. I know you can also catch buses to San Gimignano so really there is no excuse not to see this beautiful town for yourself when you plan your trip to Italy, and if you need a little incentive check out the scenes below….

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Looking out from somewhere up in the tower taken by Alex on his way up Image

This is a back end view as we were walking into town, the towers are so striking and to see them like this you have to walk to the end of town (which will take you all of 10 minutes at a casual stroll).

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This is my favourite shot….see how high up they were? Woo!

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Pretty happy with himself…and rightly so!

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Alex loves taking ‘selfies’, however, this time he wanted one with all of us…..come to think of it, this could be the first family shot in months!

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This was inside the Palazzo Comunale, so beautiful to stand in on a warm day and look upImage

 

What is there to not love about this place?

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The boys were super happy to eat pizza as they haven’t had any since Rome. Nic and I managed to find a deli that made us some delicious porchetta and marinated eggplant rolls (thank god we both ate them as the garlic breath was fairly intense afterward!)

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Come on guys, just ONE serious shot for your grandparents??? 

 

Settignano…..Best views of Florence

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I know I have talked about our family walks a few times, however, one of our favourite places to wonder around would have to be Settignano. I could go on and talk about the winding roads and picturesque views of rolling hills and breath taking views of Florence, OR, I could just show you! For anyone visiting Florence for a few days and eager to head out of town and away from the million other tourists for a couple of hours, then I suggest you go on down to Piazza San Marco, jump on the number ten bus and enjoy the ride up to Settignano (which will take about 25minutes). The bus drops you right in the heart of Settignano and from there you can stroll around the town and up into the hills for breath taking views of the Italy I am sure you really want to see. Don’t take a map, just walk and enjoy the views, you won’t get lost, however, you could just fall in love with the place.

Another great feature of this town are the wonderful cafes you can visit and rest your weary legs at and for the gelato lovers, there is a gelateria there as well! Take a moment to feast your eyes on this beautiful part of the world and start planning your next trip to a mountain village near you……fresh country air does you the world of good!

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It was a soaring hot day as you can see by the heat haze but hiding in the shade made it painless.Image

I am never sure if we are just way to embarrassing to be seen with or just really slow walkers but Max will always be strides ahead of us.

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The other side of town, I could sit and look at this view for hours….

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and if you decide to jump off the bus a little earlier this pic is taken from the bottom end of town and also includes a good butt workout!

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Oh, we must of been really slow here!Image

I love this peek a boo shot of the city….Image

A cheap, cheerful and extremely relaxing way to see a little bit more of this glorious city!

Lago di Bilancino

I feel as if I’d just spent the last few days on a resort with not a care in the world!

An adventure was put to us Friday night by our newly acquainted friends Guy and Shelly from I Tatti while they were over sharing a lovely bottle of vino and enjoying the cool evening breeze. Guy had rented a vespa for the weekend to test out whether he wanted to buy an auto or manual (and also to see if Shelly was up for the ride). They were going to take a ride out of town to an undisclosed venue (a surprise for Shelly) and wondered if we’d like to take their car and come with??

With about a seconds thought I jumped at the chance even though I hadn’t driven a manual for quite a while and it was on the opposite side of the road. Minor details when your heart craves adventure!

The sporty convertible was awaiting us when we arrived at their place the next morning. Shelly had already popped the roof down as it was an absolute stunning day for a drive in the country. However, I have this annoying problem that stops me from driving in convertibles. I freak out driving in wide open spaces with the sun shining and no roof on top. As weird as it is, I completely spin out and start having panic attacks so despite the cries of despair from the boys as Shelly put the roof back down we were pretty much good to go on our most excellent adventure.

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We were off to Lago di Bilancino which is a man-made lake about 30km from Florence. There is no train line anywhere near the lake so without a car/vespa it is pretty hard to get to. Hopping back into a car that is on the opposite side to our car in Australia didn’t feel as weird as I thought it might, I guess all those years of driving in the States set me up pretty well. I also managed to get out of the drive way without stalling so we were off to a pretty good start. 

The drive was beautiful, it started out in the back blocks of Fiesole and wound through beautiful green farm lands and tiny villages you would never know existed. I managed to try very hard to get us lost (totally missed a turn!) however, Nic is a great navigator and managed to take us on a journey through the back roads of god-knows-where that looked more like a mountain goat trail than an actual road (I found out it was in fact a road as this car came pelting towards us on a very narrow path!). After driving along the goat track for about 10 minutes we all of a sudden were at a T-intersection with white lines and very fast cars. We managed to lose our vespa companions right around the time I was missing the turn (as it happens they also missed a few turns), however, we all managed to arrive at the lake in about 40 mins after leaving home and taking in the spectacular view that lay before us

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It wasn’t what I was expecting, and to tell you the truth I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was something along the lines of a sandy beach and water. What we got was a lot more than that! We parked the car and headed down to Cafe Bahia which had everything you could possibly need for a day at a lake. We hired a beach umbrella and two large fold out beds for 15 euro (really good for a day’s hire I thought), plonked ourselves down, applied copious amounts of sunscreen which I am sure was of great fascination to the beautifully super-tanned Italians who surrounded us, and then hit the water. 

Not only was it a lake but a lake with toys! After getting use to the shockingly cold water, we all swam out to these great bouncing pontoons that kept us and the other 50+ people entertained for hours. Trying to climb up the ladder on the side of the blue inflatable was a little precarious. However, after watching about 20 people prior to attempting it myself, I figured out the fastest and least embarrassing way to get up (all I needed was to be not only the whitest person there but also the most clumsy!).

ImageWe climbed, swam, jumped off the big long white things, and then proceeded to lie back on the sun beds (in the shade of course) and watch as the boys found another blow up water slide and proceeded to show the local kids just how silly you could be on something so fun

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Hours passed and all we did was relax and enjoy the beautiful day. Hunger kicked in around two so we took the 20m walk up to the cafe and enjoyed some lovely summer salads that were really reasonable priced at around 7 euro each and tasted fresh and  delicious. After lunch we went back to our beach beds and did as a lot of Italians were doing — taking an afternoon siesta while the kids went back for more water action.

The boys love the water and it is always a struggle to get them out so when the time came to deliver the bad news it was, as we expected, the hardest part of the day. With a few more slides and spills on the white inflatable they were soon ready to hit the road.

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I managed to make it home without getting us lost which is always a good end to a perfect summer day. However, I did manage to get caught on a very narrow road (close to home) with an oncoming vehicle. That needed a bit of juggling for us both to pass one another without joining as one. In the end I had to reverse up with the reverse beeper going out of control as there really was nowhere to go! We just happened to be walking on this same road the week before so here is a picture of where we were suppose to fit two cars…..

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See I can almost touch both sides of the road!

I cannot remember a day when the four of us were so content and relaxed doing nothing but swimming and resting. A day trip from Florence I highly recommend in the summer months for families, singles…anyone who needs a bit of R&R!