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June 29, 2009

Time to leave already?

We're set to leave tomorrow. Unfortunately, I just wrote four paragraphs and accidentally deleted them. No time to write more, so I'll only describe this evening, which was lovely.

Dinner at Il Fico, a spot near Piazza Navona that I'd read about on the Internet. Outstanding Roman cuisine in a very informal setting. We walked back past the Pantheon and had probably our favorite moment on the trip. Sitting on the fountain steps in the center of the piazza, we read Evan a book while a street performer sang arias nearby.We finished in time to hear his final number, which Evan knows very well from one of his favorite YouTube videos. It brought a huge smile to his face, and therefore ours.

Then, gelato at Giolitti, followed by a very long walk back to the hotel. (We've been staying in the Westin Excelsior in a lovely suite, using hotel points. It's far nicer than our house, and I think they'll have to drag us out of here by our fingernails.)

In all, a very nice end to a very nice trip.

June 23, 2009

Some down time in Tuscany

Spending our third full day in Borgo Iesolana, near Bucine in Tuscany. There's much to love about this place.

Our apartment is beautiful. We chose our previous lodging, in Montàsola, for an opportunity to live like Italians for a few days. This time, we're living like Italians with more money. The apartment is spacious, with two bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen (including a dishwasher), and an enormous patio with sweeping views of the mountains and trees. While it's been too cool to use the pool, we've got one of those too, as well as vineyards to wander through, a ping-pong table and small soccer field at our disposal, and bales of hay to touch. (There's also a resident cat, Teo, who has already taken advantage of one open patio door to make himself at home on our couch.)

On the other hand, the approach to the grounds here is about 3 km long, beginning with a narrow brick bridge. I'd call it a one-lane bridge, but that overstates it. Really, the bridge is only slightly wider than our car, which isn't that big. The rest of the road is basically a gravel path. It takes us a good five to seven minutes to even make it to the main road—a drawback when traveling with an easily bored toddler.

Also, as nice as this place is, we feel nickel-and-dimed every time we need anything. Breakfast, which we haven't eaten since the first morning, consists of a small buffet of cereal, yogurt, juice, bread, and pastries and is 7 euros per person (even for Evan, even though "breakfast" for him consists of licking the Nutella off his toast). Internet access is 8 euros for an hour -- explaining the infrequent posting. Laundry is 10 euros to wash and dry a small load. They charge a considerable amount to change a single towel. And so on.

Still, it's been extremely pleasant to have a home base for an entire week, particularly one that's as geographically central. We began the week with a trip to the iperCOOP in Montevarchi to buy groceries. This was a memorable experience—all the glorious chaos of Italy in a single Costco-sized warehouse. You can buy seemingly anything in this store—fruit, cheese, fresh bread, televisions, mobile phones, swimming pool flotation devices (the reason we went in the first place), books, etc. It's not the sort of place to go when you've just got a few things you need because it's impossible to get in and out quickly. But it's definitely fun if you have the right attitude.

Otherwise, we've stayed fairly close to home and not been too adventurous. Our most outstanding meal was at L'Antico Borgo in Civitella in Val di Chiana, a beautiful hilltop town that Evan particularly liked for the bells that rang on the hour. Since then, he's heard bells in other towns, but none seem to compare. We also spent the morning yesterday in Arezzo, a very pleasant city about 35 minutes away from our apartment. It's got an impressive cathedral and a nice mostly-pedestrian-only main shopping street.

Yesterday, needing a quick bite to eat, we grabbed some pizza slices at Gli Svizzeri, a touristy bar with a pleasant  terrace along Via Del Corso. Only after we sat did I notice its motto on the window, Per prendere un caffè è tradire la moglie, c'è sempre tempo. To have a coffee and cheat on one's wife, there's always time. You'd expect a place this classy to have outstanding food, but sadly, it was not. Twelve euros for three slices of pizza and a bottle of water later, we were on our way.

June 22, 2009

Our first few days

We've been off the grid since we arrived in Italy, hence the lack of any blog updates. Scusate.

It's been a nice if ultimately frustrating first few days here at Agriturismo Montepiano in Montàsola. We're about an hour and a half outside of Rome, yet we couldn't be in more of a different world.

The town is in a stunning location, a tiny, ancient hilltop castle/village with awesome views. The town itself is a true slice of Italian life. Aside from Letizia, our helpful proprietor, literally no one here speaks English. If I couldn't speak Italian, we'd be utterly helpless here. (Of course, if I couldn't speak Italian, we probably wouldn't be here at all.)

Staying here for three days has been extremely interesting. We booked our apartment thinking that we'd have the opportunity to get a sense to live like an Italian. Boy, have we. Montàsola is tiny. One restaurant, one bar, a post office, a pharmacy, a minuscule grocery store, a hundred or so residents, and...us.

We—and especially Evan (the resident biondo, "blondie")—stand out here. Every evening, four to six residents congregate on the nearest bench to discuss the day's happenings (including, I imagine, the strange Americans that insist on dining before 9 pm).

Montàsola seems more movie setting than active town. There's next to nothing to do except stroll around and watch the locals living their daily lives. Because there's so little activity here, Evan practically has the run of the place, and he's had a great time climbing the steep hills and steps, running through the piazzette with his bubbles to blow.

At the same time, two days ago we probably exhausted everything there is to do in town. And because of the combination of jet lag, Evan's general toddler-ness, and his toothache (more on this in a moment), we aren't really able to stray too far from our home base. Which means essentially that we can't go anywhere, because there's not much nearby either. The closest town, Casperia, is nearly 15 minutes away. It's only slightly larger than Montasola—it has a gas station, a few bars, a tabaccheria, and a restaurant.

Our two-bedroom apartment, La Terrazza, is reasonably sized and comes with views worth every penny. But it lacks air conditioning, which has been a big problem at night because it's been so warm. Also making it impossible to sleep is the pack of dogs that live, unseen, below our apartment and bark in tandem at regular intervals throughout the night.

Another challenge has been Evan, who in addition to being highly jet lagged, seems to be getting his molars in. We really thought we were done with teething. He's been constantly complaining about his teeth hurting, and it's even keeping him up at night. With the combination of the heat, our canine neighbors, and Evan's crying, we probably woke up 5 times each last night. It's been difficult. We hope it gets easier soon.

Our most memorable meal so far has been at the nearest restaurant, steps away from our apartment...Quello che c'è, c'è (what is, is). (They say they're franchising in New York, but I'm taking that with a large grain of salt.) Outstanding collection of antipasti, an excellent pappardelle with wild boar, good wine, and fantastic biscotti to finish the meal. Of course, by that time Evan had had more than enough of sitting, so Janene got to enjoy hers in our apartment an hour or so later.

By the time this is posted, we'll be in our next apartment, Borgo Iesolana, in Bucine. Back soon.

June 14, 2009

Italy blogging

On Tuesday, we're off to Italy -- me, Janene, and, yes, Evan, age-not-quite 3. This is the most ambitious trip we've tried with our resident toddler. He's extremely energetic these days and careens from delightful to impossible in a shockingly short time span.

In short, aside from some good food and lots of coffee, we have literally no idea what to expect from this trip.

I'm planning to do periodic blogging, depending on internet availability and how tired we get. At the same time, blogging will definitely be lighter than in the past. I spend so much time on the computer during my normal life that I'm also going to take a vacation from typing.

So...wish us buon viaggio e buona fortuna. Next stop, Agriturismo Montepiano on Wednesday for a 3-night stay.