27 August 2010

What to Do for the Last Couple Days

WITH ONLY A bit of time left before we head back to France we have to make the most of the last few days in Italy. Besides cleaning the house and fitting everything into the car, there are basically only two things to do: 1) eat as much pasta and pizza as possible, and 2) play lots of sports. We've been taking care of number 1 pretty regularly so number two became a primary focus for the male factions within the family.

Two pieces of background information: 1) soccer (football) fields in the south of France are NEVER grass -- always a synthetic imitation or, worse, dirt. But less than 500 meters from our house here in Italy there is a set of two beautiful fields with 100% natural grass. To top it off, all the goals have a good net around them, making the playing area all the more fun. 2) Our house in France is located in a very hilly part of the 06; it's almost too hilly for the kids to really enjoy riding their bikes around the house. Instead, we have to take them by car to other nearby areas where they can ride and ride and ride. Not so here -- we can ride for miles and choose either flat or mountainous routes. Today, as you'll see, we Patrick and I chose a 22 mile course that had 2 or 3 nice climbs. It was without question the most 'difficult' ride Patrick has ever attempted; but he did great!)

Here's the evidence:

Cycling and sunflowers. Perfect.

Big climb up toward Panicale.

A very deserved water break. The ride up to the old village of Panicale from the main road is about 800 meters -- but at nearly 15% grade.

Oh, I made it up too.

More relaxed on the way down.

26 August 2010

Almost Time to Go

THERE IS SOMETHING nice about returning 'home' after a long vacation. Ok, not always -- but sometimes. We'll leave Italy with mixed feelings: we're sorry to leave but are also kind of ready to get back to the south of France. The kids are particularly excited to get back because they start 6eme next week (6th grade) and that means they will be with me at my school for the first time. It also means they'll be in school with about 1200 other students ranging from 6th to 12th grade. Yikes/Fun!

Most of you know about our summer situation. In a nutshell it is this: we have to be out of our house because the owner of the property uses it and rents it out during the oh-so-lucrative summer months. That means that each summer we have to (or 'get to') find a place to go for about 12 weeks. What makes it slightly complicated is that 4 of those weeks come while school is in session so we are forced to find somewhere to stay in the oh-so-expensive Cote d'Azur. Maybe that's why the place we have found for the past two summers is a 40 sq. meter (you read that correctly) apartment in a villa in Roquefort-les-Pins. (Note: to be fair, its great! Very, very small -- but great. It's on the lower level of a beautiful house owned by a great 80+ woman named Madame Ferment. Nice terrace and lovely pool for the kids).
But once school is out we are free to go where we want, or, more precisely, where we can find something suitable and within our price range. We've been very lucky and this year is no different. Macchie, the small village where we have been this summer, has been wonderful. The house we rented is beautiful, charming, 'homey', and located in an incredibly beautiful part of Italy -- just on the Umbria/Tuscany border.

We leave this weekend and we'll miss it. Excited to get back, but we'll miss our summer in Italy Much of it is documented in the posts that follow. One last family photo -- this one from the great Tuscan village of Pienza:

The Threaders

CORTONA, ITALY WITH some friends from Le Rouret.

The last one is not Cortona but on the shores of lake Trasimeno where we spent a very nice afternoon on Tuesday.

20 August 2010

Brand New Album Covers

AFTER TWO AND a half very full days walking around Rome, we spent today relaxing at home. And by about 4:00pm the kids and I got a bit restless so we decided to have some fun -- and what could be more fun than...creating fake album covers using super-easy-to-use photo editing software from Flickr? We collaborated on the group and album names and came up with our favorite six album covers. Now we'd like to see which one you like best. On the sidebar there is a survey where you can pick your favorite cover. Take everything into consideration: the photo, the layout, the group name, the album name. Vote as many times as you like. The kids will be waiting for the results.

(quick note here: Macchie is village where we are staying this summer)

Late Update: looks like you can only vote once if you use the same browser. Also, you can click photos for bigger image

Um, yeah, there's a lot to see in Rome

IT WOULD BE impossible to describe our trip to Rome in a few sentences or paragraphs. There was just too much. It's even a bit difficult to digest all the things we saw and experienced in what can only be described as a whirlwind tour of the city. There is just so much in Rome -- almost too much. I've been to Rome before, on two occasions, but those trips were very short and I only experienced the visual aspect of Rome...I basically just 'took in the sights'. But this time we took the tours (thanks pp & gg!!).

Kerri's parents have been visiting for a few weeks and since their flight back to DC was out of Rome we decided to spend their last couple of days here touring the city. Since we didn't have a whole lot of time we tried to pack as much in as possible. We did. I'll skip the "you won't believe how great this was" descriptions and just get to the summary: we did a lot and we had fun. There, that's about it.

I could add a few details, like the fact that we (and I'm using the term 'we' fairly loosely here) spent the extra money and had guided tours of all the sights. It really was the best way to go for three key reasons: 1) we avoided the long, long, long, long lines, 2) we got a great amount of information that we simply wouldn't have had if we walked around by ourselves, and 3) Patrick and Julia loved the guides -- they were usually standing up in the front, right in front of them, seemingly hanging on their every word. We were lucky to have a great guide named Tom who is a recent graduate from Royal Halloway with a major in Ancient Roman History. He was our guide through the Palatine Hill & Forum on Tuesday evening and we liked him so much we also joined his tour group the next day when we went through the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's -- a tour that lasted more than 4 hours (that tour alone is mind-bogglingly incredible -- with all the history, art, etc...).

Of course, there are lots of things to do in Rome without tour guides and we did most of those as well. In addition to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Forum, and Vatican -- we also managed to squeeze in:
  • the Trevi Fountain
  • the Spanish Steps
  • Piazza Novona, Piazza Venizia,
  • St. Peter's square
  • the Pantheon
  • shopping (photo of the results of our shopping are below)
  • two great dinners (near the Campo di Fiori called 'Buffeta Due' and one near the Trevi Fountain)
  • about 10 stops for gelato
  • rides on city buses and the Rome Metro
  • lots of walking through the Roman streets
  • a few cafe stops
  • one bus tour around town -- sitting, of course, on the top of an open double-decker buss.

In front of the Colosseum

After exiting the Forum.

St. Peter's Square

There's our guide, Tom. And there are the kids right in the front.

It's tough to get a good photo in front of the Trevi Fountain because it is so packed with people!!

Piazza Navona

Umbrellas up to keep the sun away in front of the Pantheon.

Breaking out the Italy gear!

16 August 2010

Adriatic for the Day

IT'S BEEN NEARLY 20 years since I took a dip in the Adriatic Sea. Back in the summer of 1991 I took a little dip near the seaside port of Brindisi, Italy while waiting for a ferry to Greece with Kerri, her brother, and another friend. Yesterday we spent the day at the beach near Pasaro and enjoyed beautiful weather, perfect water temperature, and lots of topless bathers delicious ice cream sandwiches. On the way home we drove along the coast to Ancona where we had a simple, but delicious dinner at a restaurant called Cafe Diana (sing that to the tune of 'Dirty Diana' and you've got about three minutes of pure fun). It took about 2.5 hours to drive to the coast from where we are staying in central Italy, but the drive had some spectacular views and we had two DVD screens in the back to entertain the little ones (and by 'little ones' I mean Kerri and her mother).

Fighting? Playing?

Long jumping in the sand: 5 yr-olds love this.

...oh, and 11 yr-olds (apparently)

Kerri and kids (I don't often find her actually in the water).

P, H, J

14 August 2010

A Very Quick Word About Food

VERY, VERY QUICK. Fresh pasta plus fresh sauce is tough to beat.

We've been enjoying great food so far this summer and last night may have been the best so far. Kerri's parents are here visiting and we went 5 km up the road to the hilltop village of Panicale for dinner. Incredible! Fresh vegetable risotto, pasta with tomato and garlic sauce, bruschetta (the kind with enough garlic to last a week), pici a Cacio e Pepe*, a white pizza with eggplant and peppers, and the list goes on.

*What the recipe for this? Here it is: 1) loads of your favorite pasta 2) loads of pecorino cheese 3) loads and loads of black pepper 4) a little olive oil. Done. I had it for the first time a couple nights ago in a town called Orvieto and it was incredible. Pasta with pecorino and pepper -- try it!

'Home' for the Summer

FROM FAR AWAY, and from closer up. This is where we are for the summer. Beautiful. The third photograph is the view from just up the road.

07 August 2010

Il Gigante

WHEN YOU VISIT the Gallaria dell'Academia in Florence, you're not supposed to take photos. But I took one anyway as you can see on the left.

We had three goals for yesterday's visit to Florence: 1) see Micelangelo's David, 2) visit the Florence Cathedral, called the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, and 3) hit up the great market in the center of town and buy souvenirs and stuff for the kids. Mission accomplished; key chains, sweatshirts, tea spoons, leather wrist bands, dresses, a street performer's CD, and -- most importantly -- several knock-off soccer jerseys.

But the highlight was seeing the David -- even the kids might agree. The sheer size and grandeur of the piece is nothing if not staggering. The house where we are staying has loads of books and I have just finished reading Anton Gil's Il Gigante: Michelangelo, Florence, and the David -- 1492-1504-- a fascinating book about the how, when, where, and why of the 'David' (or 'the giant' as it was called). Reading about the history of the work really made seeing it all the more impressive. The one thing that nothing can really prepare you for is the sheer size of the sculpture. The photo I've put up sort of gives you a feel -- just look at David compared to that security guard who wasn't paying attention to me taking the photo behind him. Of course, the way the Galley Academie has it set up doesn't hurt either -- in a rotunda at the end of a long corridor with 35-40 ft. ceilings. Spectacular -- almost takes your breath away when you first enter the opposite end of the corridor and see Il Gigante at the far end of the hall.

Today the kids spent about an hour watching a great BBC documentary on Michelanglo on Youtube. Now they can't wait to see the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel. That's coming up in a few weeks.

1 Month Photos

HARD TO BELIEVE it's been almost a month since we arrived in central Italy. The summer does go by fast. Here's a link to some photos of our adventures so far -- you'll see the whole family, plus the Garez and Pitton families as well -- if you look real carefully. Make sure to view the pics in the slideshow mode.

03 August 2010

The Growing Peleton

I'M NOT A fanatic, but I love cycling. I like watching it; reading about it; doing it; and most importantly, pretending I'm better at it than I am. One of the fun things that always happens when Kerri's parents come for a visit each summer is that Les and I go out every morning for a ride before breakfast. Two summers ago we cycled around the Aude and Ariege regions of southern France. Last summer we toured the Alsace region near Strasbourg -- even managing to ride into Germany one morning. (videos and recaps here, here, and a trip along the Alsace Wine Route here.)

Two summers ago it was just Les and I who hit the roads each morning. Last summer Patrick began getting in on it -- joining us a couple of times for longish rides. But this summer we have added a fourth:Henry thinks he can do 30-40 km with us, he really does. But we usually work it like this: after our longer ride, we do a quick 2-3 km tour with Henry, who thinks it is great. When we get close to the house he sprints ahead and puts one hand in the air -- index finger extended -- to signify that he has clearly won the race.