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Archive for December, 2011

Italy Top Five (and Two Low)

I’m definitely out of practice when it comes to summarizing travel experiences.  Back in January, when we were posting these every few days, the cute anecdotes just flowed.  In the tried and true fashion, here are the top 5 amazing highlights from our recent vacation, and a couple low points thrown in, for some color.

The Highs

1. Arriving – There’s something about long distance travel that always makes me think it might not happen.  Think of the logistics: drop of Basil, pack, get to bus station, bus to Boston, flight to Zurich, flight to Florence, cab to apartment.  With all those moving pieces, it always feels a little out of reach.  That’s why, after easy flights, no delays, and a cab driver who knew where we were going, it felt just amazing to see my mom’s smiling face at the apartment door.

This book was entirely unhelpful. Oops.

2. Food – Another general category, but this falls into two specific buckets.  First, the gelato.  It’s my second favorite food group (behind cilantro), and we could not get enough.  Gelato for lunch?  Why not…pistachios are healthy, right?  The second food highlight was all of the home cooked dinners by Drew for four out of six nights.  He went to the market in the morning and put it all together at night.  We had pasta, risotto and soup – all of it authentic because it was made in Italy!  We even celebrated with a traditional Italian seafood dinner with our shellfish risotto on Christmas Eve.

Market Love

3. David – Last time in Florence, I didn’t see the real David (for those not in the know, the real David is in a museum and the two fakes are outdoors).  The lines are usually around the block, and it’s just a statue, right?  Wrong.  This thing is insane.  18 feet tall, and so detailed you can literally see the veins in his hands.  And our resident art historian Michelle told us all about the making of the statue (the scene takes place before he kills Goliath despite what the plaque in front of the statue says…).  And, given that we went on Christmas Eve, we were practically the only people there.

4. Family Time – It doesn’t matter where we are, hanging out with my family is right up there with, well, gelato.  My seven favorite people in one house together for a week just can’t be beat.  We rocked it out playing the Game of Things, discussed every current issue in each our lives’ and drank a lot of wine.  Side note: currently there are 4 mental health experts/careerists in the group (that includes psych majors, full time professionals, and grad school hopefuls)…you can imagine what kind of conversations THAT leads to.  So, Julie, what do you think your need to take a shower every morning really says about you?

Just us Girls.

5. Christmas in Catholic Central – Wowza.  Italy is SUPER-Catholic.  85% in fact…we looked it up.   That means there are nativity scenes everywhere (and they don’t put the baby Jesus in until Christmas morning…not just tourists stealing them).  We went into like 5 churches every day.  We looked at probably 20+ paintings of the Annunciation (when the angel told Mary she was having a baby) every day.  We didn’t actually go to Mass (figured it would be too crowded), but we were entrenched in it.

The Lows

1. Travel Adventure – The day before the trip, we realized that Alice’s passport had expired.  After a hasty flight to Philly, an emergency passport renewal, and hefty expenses due to flight changes, we still all made it.  There were a few minutes there where I was pretty convinced we would be spending Christmas at home.  Well, scratch that – I would still get on the flight to Florence, but some people would be spending it at home.

2. Normal Group Travel Stuff – Anytime I’ve traveled in a large groups, some things are just annoying over time.  Who wants to go where?  You want to look in how many jewelry stores even though you’re clearly not buying anything?  Who is going to order the pizza? Stand in that line?  Buy the tickets?  Go to the bathroom?  Who’s going to hold everyone’s stuff in the meantime?  This is not a big complaint – it’s how you travel in a large group.  It’s just a thing.  (And I wanted to have two Lows so my friends and family reading this wouldn’t think we were completely spoiled brats by spending the holidays abroad!)

 

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Buon Natale!

This is officially two days late, but Buon Natale and Bueno Feste to all of my American friends!  We have had a fab time in Italy, and are wrapping up our time here with a last minute shopping spree in the various markets before our marathon journey home begins.   All of my personal photos are still safely in the camera, so here are some I swiped from Italian Google!

The famous Ponte Vecchio

 

Pallazo Vecchio - this building was one of the Medici family houses, and is now a museum and landmark.

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#10 – Read the best books ever written

I may have taken a hiatus from the blog for a few months, but I have kept up with some of my ongoing goals.  One is to read the best books ever written (list from TIME magazine).  This fall I focused my efforts on two new books, American Pastoral and Deliverance.

My five sentence reviews are below, but overall, I’m pleasantly surprised with how much I actually enjoyed these books.  I read Deliverance in one weekend, it was so riveting.  Actually, I’ve seen the movie (a long time ago, I didn’t really remember the plot) and I remember it being creepy.  And the book is definitely creepy.  So what little I did remember was spot on.  In 2012 I plan on adding reading another 5 from the list.

American Pastoral – 5 Sentence Review

Seymour “Swede” Levov was a big man on campus in high school and has died recently.  At his younger brother’s 45th high school reunion, the full story comes out that Swede wasn’t as happy and successful as everyone thought.  Instead, his life has been complicated like most people’s – a rebellious child, wife having an affair, turbulent business.  The moral of the story? While things may seem smooth (or ‘pastoral’) on the surface, there is more going on in peoples’ lives that can’t be ignored forever.

Deliverance  – 5 Sentence Review

Four friends go on a camping and canoe trip in the back woods of Georgia, before a dam is constructed on the river.  They meet a lot of weird characters, most of whom are creepy and potentially inbred.  On the second day, during a rest on the side of the river, one man is violently attacked and raped by a local and another friend comes to the rescue, killing the attacker.  The friends attempt to make their way down the rest of the river, knowing that they are now being ‘hunted’ by locals.  In a heroic feat, one of the friends is able to make another kill, three of the four friends survive the ordeal and they leave the area for good (after being asked by the local sheriff to never return).

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Italy, circa 2006

Barring any travel-related incidents, delays, or issues, when this posts I will be safely in Florence, Italy, kicking off a amazeballs trip (oh, yes, in the 6-month delay since I last posted I picked up this new word) with my family.  Drew decided that there is no good way to tell people you are spending Christmas in Italy without sounding like a jerk.  He may be right.  I think it makes us sound like glamorous jet-setters, but to each his own.

This picture is from 2006, but our current apartment is just behind that row of buildings. Weird, right? It's like I'm a future stalker of myself.

If you’d like to convince your family to spend the holidays in an exotic locale, it really can be done.  I’ve written about some of the logistics of this previously.  Here are a few simple steps:

  1. Begin with a family that lives all over the place, making any holiday visit a hassle for at least several people.  In our family, 4 out of 5 kids live out-of-state (2 well beyond driving distance) full-time and the 5th is just biding her time until she can also move far away.
  2. Sprinkle in a little adventurous spirit.  No worries – this may take years to develop.  In our family, the bulk of our international travel has been in the past decade.  During that time, we’ve had one Peace Corps volunteer (West Africa), one year-long post-college traveler (4 continents), one volunteer in Ethiopia, one adventure in Asia, and a nice mix of additional Western European jaunts thrown in there (I can count 15-20 European trips combined among all of us).
  3. Plant the idea early and bake.  The first time we did this (yes, we’ve done this before – 2007, Paris), the idea was planted about 18 months in advance.  One sister was heading into the Peace Corps, her ability to come home for Christmas was shaky at best, and I ever so subtly suggested that perhaps a trip to Paris, the mid-point location, would be a good idea?  It helps that Paris is my dad’s favorite city, several of us kids took many years of French in school, and we found the most unbelievable apartment to share among 9 of us.
  4. Just do it.  Once an idea like this gets some family momentum, it’s hard to put the brakes on.  The emails start flying, the vacations from work are officially booked, credit cards magically appear for flights, and poof.  Here we are.

As my pictures are still in the camera, here are a few from my last trip to Florence (October 2006).

My first Florence gelato experience - hopefully the daily tradition is continuing in 2011The Duomo - center of the cityView of Florence from the Duomo bell tower (just 400 steps to the top!)

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Time flies.  After a full six months of not posting anything here, I have no better excuse.  I have lots of worse excuses – too much work, too much traveling for work, not enough focus, not enough time, boring content, etc.

My real feelings about why my writing has tapered off are, as with most things, complicated.  After the high of the Asia trip (the links are still active, so just head back into the archives of Jan/Feb to relive the entire thing), normal life appeared boring in comparison (at least to me).  When things got interesting again and I took a new job, I was much busier figuring out how to travel and work, and even though I may have had interesting things to say, I was lacking the time.  Finally, when I figured out the schedule and got comfortable with the job, I had the time again but felt guilty about the time that had passed, the gaping hole in the archive calendar.

And here we are.

I am not starting anew on January 1st, as might be customary for a fresh start.  I have spent a good amount of time over the past two weeks reviving my active goal setting (which was ditched mid-year amid the job change), and vowing to make 2012 a more deliberate and amazing year than 2011.  And, I must say, that’s a pretty tall order given that 2011 started off with a month in Asia, and wrapped up with career changes, a move to NYC on the horizon and a trip to Italy (which hasn’t even started yet!).

Might as well kick of 2012 in style right here, right now.  Much more to come as the year wraps up and I finalize my goals, spend the holidays in Firenze (Florence, just perfecting my overdone accent in my head), and enjoy the calm of the holidays.

Oh, and all the cute photos I was including in every post?  Yeah, I haven’t taken a picture since September (and that was for a wedding I was helping with).  I’m also planning on changing that in the new year, but in the meantime, here’s an oldie but goodie from January 1, 2011 when I was just stepping into a new year, and kicking off our Asia adventure.

Jan. 1, 2011 - kicking of the new year with a plane to Asia

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