(And yesterday it was well over sixty degrees, so now it’s gone. For now.)
For a few years now, Alex has been curious about the whole Santa thing. “Is he really real?” “How does he deliver so many toys?” “Do reindeer really fly?” “How does he MAKE everything?” “Does he really know when you are sleeping or awake? That’s creepy.”
My response has always been the exact same thing. Year after year, question after question:
“What do you think?”
And it works! Who knew that kids could be so easily tricked by simply asking what they think? “What do you think?” left Alex with the ability to keep believing, even though he had his doubts. He thought Santa probably didn’t actually know when he was sleeping, and he thought the toys were probably made in his toy workshop even though the same toys could be bought at any store. He thought Santa was real. The last few years, it totally worked.
“Mom. I was just remembering that time last year when I said I wanted a certain light saber and you told me, ‘maybe Santa got it!’ and then Santa did get it. I was thinking about that. And I want to know if maybe you got it and put it under the tree?”
“What do you think?”
“MOM. I’m asking you a question. Did you give me the toy?”
“…what do you think?”
Lather, rinse, repeat. I said “what do you think?” probably four or five more times as he asked me about this toy. I said, “what do you think?” when he blatantly asked me if Santa was real. I said, “what do you think?” when he asked if Santa was fake and again pressed on whether we give him presents and signed them as if they were from Santa. “What do you think, buddy?”
He got mad.
He told me I wasn’t answering his question. That he was asking me a yes or no question and that I was being mean and annoying and, “MOM! TELL ME! TELL ME THE TRUTH!”
I told him.
“I’m a little sad. But it’s also really nice that you gave me all of those presents. This year, I’m going to ask who each Santa present is actually from so that I can thank them.”
I’m a little sad, too. Santa remained a Little Kid Thing. Alex’s belief kept him in Little Kid Land. He’s really growing up.
We were in Europe when class photos were taken. At the time, there was no scheduled make up day, so I was pretty sure we were just going to miss second grade photos. I was a little bummed, but I take so many pictures of Alex already that it isn’t like we would be missing proof of his second grade self.
Luckily, they did have a make up day, and Alex picked out a nice plaid shirt, wet and brushed his hair, and off he went to be cute for the camera. “Be adorable!” I told him as he got out of the car. “Ugh, mom, I’m always adorable.”
Because it was a make up day, I didn’t have the form to fill out to order pictures ahead of time, and instead had to call in my order. When I eventually got ahold of the owner/photographer, he had to warn me:
“Ma’am, we have a rule. We have this rule that we can’t touch the kids, so we can’t fix their hair.”
I cracked up. I knew his hair was long, and crazy, we’d been meaning to get a trim but he kept insisting he liked it that way. I knew we had brushed it in the morning, but that is a futile endeavor. It just ends up crazy as soon as moves his head anyway.
“I just know you’re placing an order for pictures and magnets, so I have to tell you…it’s a cute picture, you know…other than the hair.”
I laughed again. He offered to e-mail me a copy of the picture before I placed my order, but I declined. I kept my order.
Who cares if his hair is wild? I thought to myself. It will be a real representation of Second Grade Alex.
It sure is.
I love it.
I sort of, kind of, (totally), forgot that I never actually wrote about the second half of our amazing trip to Europe in September. We spent a week in Italy, enjoying a little of this, and of course a little of that. Italy, to put it simply, blew my mind. I had no idea it was so gorgeous. I had no idea the people were so nice, so beautiful, so interesting. I had no idea that I could fall in love with a location.
After spending one night in Florence, we woke up early to catch a train. From Florence, through Milan, we landed in Nice, France. Nice was, well, it was nice. Very, very, nice.
Unfortunately one night in Nice is not nearly enough time to get to know the city, so obviously I will just have to return again some day. We wandered around a bit in the evening, and even less the next day, but what little I saw was beautiful. The ocean, of course, was exquisite.
From Nice, we took a train to Avignon, another super cool walled in city, built with winding streets that made it nearly impossible to ever be conquered. We spent three nights in Avignon, visiting the Pope’s Palace, wandering the narrow cobblestone streets, and, of course, eating lots of food and drinking lots of wine.
The views at the top of the Pope’s Palace were spectacular. I could have stayed up there for hours, just staring off into the distance, figuring out what each little village was, what role it had in various historical times.
The Pope’s Palace was an amazing thing to see. These two buildings were exquisite: at once beautiful and horrifying because of the clear strength of the fortress, not to mention the religious imagery.
Three nights in Avignon was plenty, and we were all ready for the final portion of our trip: Paris!
Unlike Avignon, three nights in Paris is not enough. Not enough by far. In all honesty, we didn’t do very much in Paris besides walk around and eat, and I probably could have done exactly that for another week or two.
Our visit to the Musee Rodin was a highlight of the trip. It was a cool, cloudy, day, and we spent our time wandering the gardens. Sculpture is one of my favorite (maybe favorite?) forms of art, so this was a really enjoyable experience. We weren’t able to tour the inside of the museum due to renovations, but the gardens were plenty for a tired eight-year-old boy anyway.
I had so much fun taking pictures throughout Paris, and I hope I really do return some day. There is so much more to see, to do, to experience.
I will keep my fingers crossed that this wasn’t a once in a lifetime trip. That some day, some way, we will return to Italy and to Paris. I still think about our trip on a near daily basis. I remember the beautiful trees, the amazingly old buildings, the gorgeous mountains, and, of course, the best coffee, wine, bread, and food.
What a trip.
After our amazing first couple of days in Italy, it seemed like nothing could top the experiences we’d already had. How could something beat the views? The awesome towns? The delicious food and wine?
We spent a day with a local tour guide walking around Cinque Terre, which is a small area consisting of five towns built into the coastline along the Italian Riviera. These little towns are picturesque, with the classic (at least to my mind) image of Mediterranean coastal towns: lots of multi colored buildings built into what appears to be the side of a mountain.
It is rumored (no idea of its accuracy) that the houses are all painted different colors so that when the men were off working in the sea, fishing, or perhaps on their way home, they could easily look back and know which house was theirs and thus which house had their wives and children inside them. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?
We only ended up visiting three of the five towns, a fact that to me simply means I have to go back one day. Each of the little villages was similar, consisting of narrow winding roads, steep stairways, and laundry hanging from windows. Each village also had unique features, from the size, to the steepness, to the popularity, to the beach access, to the specific types of food. I really enjoyed walking down the tiny, narrow paths, up steps upon steps upon steps, and hearing the stories about the residents pouring boiling oil from the second or third floor of their homes onto the Pirates who routinely got lost among the narrow streets.
There is a trail you can take between each and every town, and otherwise the towns are only accessible by train or a very narrow, not recommended to traverse, road. When the towns were built, the only access was by foot or by sea.
When we reached the second town on our stop, we had to put our feet in the Mediterranean Sea. How could we not? The water was warm, and blue, and just…perfection. The pictures don’t do it justice because I’m a total amateur, and the haziness of the day really made it tough to capture some of the amazingness of it all. I swear to you, though, the water was a blue I’ve never seen before. It reminded me a bit of the Caribbean, but a deeper blue.
Alex started off just putting his feet in, but that quickly became a laughable endeavor of staying dry. His shorts got wet, his shirt got wet, and pretty soon we let him take his shirt of and he ended up totally submerging himself in the waves.
After so many busy days, we had a day of rest: a day of hanging out by the pool, a day to do laundry, snack, read, and recover. The pool was a bit chilly, but was so clean, salt water!, and so crazy beautiful as it overlooked the mountains and farm land and the small personal vineyard.
Alex, of course, loved this day. While he found some aspects enjoyable in our busy days of walking around and doing tourist-y things, he was so happy to have a day at “home” to relax.
As if the day couldn’t have been perfect enough for Alex, we ended the evening with a five hour Pizza Making Workshop with a real chef!
We made the dough from scratch, and got to enjoy cheese, wine, cecina, a chickpea flour flatbread that was so good I wished I could eat one whole pan of it, while we waited for the dough to rise.
Each one of us got to make a pizza, picking as many toppings from the beautiful array of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, as we wanted.
In the end, we were handed certificates, indicating that we “passed” the Pizza Chef Workshop.
It was a great night, and we all went to bed stuffed. Between the appetizers, our home made pizza, and then the chefs making us a few different dessert pizzas to try (nutella, sugar, pear and cheese!), it was a great way to spend our last night in the Villa.
The next day, we packed up. We said goodbye to the amazing villa, drove about an hour away, and spent a few hours in Florence before taking a train to France the next morning. I could easily have spent another day or two wandering around the beautiful streets of Florence, but even the limited time we were there was lovely. The shopping alone could have been an all day activity!
Florence was cool. The artists, the craftsmen, the gorgeous buildings, the religious history, the bridges, and, of course, the street vendors.
We definitely got sucked in, as a group, to the street vendors selling all sorts of goods, and ended up buying a few things. Alex found a bag, eyed in on it right away, and wanted it so badly. “For my friend here? 100 dollars,” is how the conversation started with the salesman. Alex, of course, nodded and said, “YES!” instantly. Laughing, we got the vendor down quite a bit, and Alex ended up really, really, happy with his purchase. He also learned a bit about haggling, a very important lesson that school would not have taught him.
All in all, I couldn’t have been happier with our time in Italy. The only thing that would have made it better would have been more time, but for our one week stay? It was pretty much perfection. Delicious food, wine, a happy child, really beautiful sights, and an opportunity to experience just a touch of another culture.
The mountains surprised me.
I don’t know what I had expected when hearing “the hills of Tuscany” over and over again, but somehow I was still surprised by them. The landscape was, simply put, exquisite.
The villa we rented for our week in Italy was in the cutest little town, with a population of around 1,500. We joked at the car rental station outside of the airport that people must do weird things with their cars here because they were all so dirty, but the reality is that many of the roads are simply dirt roads. Our little villa was on one, the last house on a stretch of dirt road. It looked off into the (again, surprising!) mountains, over a small vineyard (used for the owner’s use only).
Even on the cloudy days it was breathtaking.
We ventured out most days, visiting various villages/towns/cities and, of course, spending one full day enjoying three wine tours.
Pisa was as expected: touristy, some cool buildings, a good place to spend a few hours. Alex loved seeing The Leaning Tower of Pisa. “MOM! It actually leans!”
The same day we visited Pisa, we went on to Lucca, which was maybe (possibly? How to decide?!) my favorite place of the whole trip. A walled-in city, it has the quintessential narrow streets, dark alleys, tiny turn after tiny turn. More touristy than I was expecting, it somehow wasn’t an annoyance. We walked along the wall because that’s a thing that you can do (!), and generally enjoyed our short time there, including an unbelievably good dinner.
The wine tours were my favorite day of the whole week in Italy, maybe of the whole trip. I only wished I could have spent it with Alex, but we were lucky enough to be able to leave him behind with an uncle who wasn’t interested in wine.
We went to three different vineyards, learning all about the process of making wine, organic production, fermentation, the awesome barrels and all that good stuff. It was really interesting, and each vineyard that we visited somehow was even better than the last (and it wasn’t just because we tasted wine at each place!). The first vineyard offered us our initial experience of learning all about wine making, and came with an adorably attractive Italian guide.
The second vineyard had breathtaking views over the landscape of Tuscany, served us a delicious lunch, and is renowned for a sweet wine. The sweet wine that is so famous, winning many awards year after year, we were lucky enough to witness a rare part of: the air drying of the grapes.
After two vineyards, we were all pretty tired. It was getting late, entering the early evening hours, and we had been out of the house since nine in the morning. We asked our wonderful tour guide to keep the last tour short, but once we got to the vineyard and were greeted by the owners we were too in love to leave quickly. This third vineyard could not have been a more perfect way to end the day.
The property of this vineyard was beyond comprehension. It was too beautiful. The buildings, the land, the view.
The owners were some of the most fun people I could have imagined enjoying some time with. An Italian man and his French wife have created some delicious wines, and were the most gracious hosts. This really was the icing on top of the cake for this day.
Our last three days were also pretty great (Cinque Terre, Pool + Pizza Day, and Florence), but they’ll have to wait. Can’t overload the system with too much Cool Italy Stuff.
Our flight left on Friday evening and we didn’t return until two weeks (and one day) later.
It was the longest trip I’ve ever been on. By far the longest for Alex, and Zach, too. We’ve been lucky enough to go on a few one week trips, but two weeks is a whole different thing.
Through Paris, we flew into Florence, Italy, where we picked up a rental car and drove into the hills of Tuscany for one week.
The little village we stayed in was wonderful. It was very small, with only a few restaurants, and no grocery store. We had to drive to the “big” town a few kilometers away for the grocery store.
Alex, Zach, and I travelled with Zach’s parents, and met up with two uncles and their wives for the week in Italy. We visited Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and a few small villages. We ate tons of food, and drank a ton of wine.
Our second week was France, leaving behind the uncles and aunts. After Italy, France had a lot to live up to. It didn’t disappoint.
We are jet lagged, exhausted, surrounded by dirty laundry, and so, so, happy. Experiencing something like this, a two week trip to Europe, is an unbelievable experience.
It still feels surreal.
(More to come. But: jet lag. Laundry. Errands. Over two thousand photos to look through. You know, the normal life stuff.)