A Tuscan Adventure

We’re just back from Italy!  And I’m reeling with joy, not just because of the fantastic experiences we’ve had over the last four days, but also with the sheer delight of having witnessed a desire manifest so exquisitely!

The trip was so good I’m in danger of letting the old perfectionism get in the way of writing about it …  so, while my memories are still fresh, I’ll list a few of the highlights of our Tuscan experience:

  • The best thing of all, and the one that’s hardest to put into words, was how C totally “got” the joy of Italy: chic Italians eating ice creams as they go about La Passeggiata; narrow streets winding their way between beautiful old buildings;   the legacy of centuries of magnificent art strewn liberally around the city; golden sunlight on the Ponte Vecchio in the early evening…

  • The view from our Florence hotel room

  • The children’s excitement at spotting things on the “treasure hunt” I “put together”.  (I use both terms loosely; I am really good at launching ideas and less good at following through – what started out in my head as something involving laminated photos and a treasure map ended up as post-it notes flagging pages in our guidebook.  The kids didn’t mind a bit though.)
  • We’ve been lucky enough to take the children abroad many times, but mostly on package holidays to the beach or ski slopes, so this felt like their first real experience of another culture, close-up.  They were thrilled, as I still am, by simple experiences like taking Italian trains, window-shopping and enjoying the early morning sunshine at pavement cafes, savouring super-sweet croissants while locals at the bar chatted noisily over their breakfast cappuccinos.  J admired the taxi which took us back to Pisa airport: “it looks like a racing car!” (earning him an appreciative grin from our suave young driver), while C remarked, excitedly, “I’ve never been in a foreign taxi before!”

  • C’s delight in the miniature statue of Michelangelo’s David she begged me to buy for 4 Euros from a Florence souvenir stall.  I cherish her innocence of any cynical grown-up notions of tackiness!
  • Climbing the narrow, windy steps (and ladders!) to the very top of the Duomo (dome) of Florence Cathedral.  This really was the perfect culmination of a desire which began with our reading of “Pippo The Fool”, the story of how Filippo Brunelleschi designed the dome.

  • Our afternoon wandering around Boboli Gardens, the grand, sweeping gardens just south of the river Arno, laid out nearly five hundred years ago by the Medici family.  My consistent inability to orient us on the map made for wonderful meanderings through parts of the gardens we never would have seen had I had more of a clue where we were at any point!  We spent about an hour indulging our senses on this smooth, cool piece of marble nestled in a dappled glade.

The children spent another hour happily messing around with the trickle of water flowing down here…

While  I took  photos.

And of course there was ice cream at the end of our travels.

  • Pisa: basking in the sunshine with C in the Field Of Miracles (while a few feet away J added “in the shadow of the leaning tower of Pisa” to his list of “places I have played my Nintendo DS”!); playing “I Spy” in the botanical gardens; J’s photos!

One of my favourite things to do when I’m on holiday is fantasize about the next one. (I used to worry that this was detracting from enjoying the moment; but when I checked in with myself I realised that, for me, it enhances it!)  I’d like to continue the Southern European theme and make our next destination the Spanish city of Granada, where I spent a wonderful year when I was in my twenties.  In my planning I’ll take on board one of the things we learned in Italy – that, as introverts, we need to balance time spent in the exciting hustle and bustle of a city, with green open spaces and, in warm weather, cooling water to play in .  Granada, home of the magnificent Moorish palace, the Alhambra, with its delightful Generalife gardens, is perfectly situated right next to the beautiful Alpujarra mountains and within easy reach of the beaches of the Costa Tropical.  I’m getting excited already!

The Joy Of Planning

One of the things I was looking forward to about home educating both my children was having more flexibility to travel.  In a year or so I’d love to spend a month exploring Europe by camper van or train, and driving home from Centerparcs I made a shortlist of places I thought we could “practise” on: Italy (culture, sunshine, food), the south of Spain (I spent a year in Granada in my 20’s), and Paris (culture, French, Eurostar).

It was therefore with great excitement that I booked for the three of us to go to Italy for three days in April.  I had had in mind Florence, a beautiful and managably-sized city I fell in love with when I was lucky enough to visit on a business trip.  C fancied Pisa, for its famous tower.  J was happy to go anywhere there was pizza, pasta and ice cream!  MyItalian geography isn’t great, so I was thrilled to discover that not only is Pisa a budget-airline destination whose airport is ten minutes walk from the city centre, but that Florence is only an hour away by train.

With flights and hotels booked (two nights in Florence, one in Pisa) I am now ridiculously over-excited!  The Earworms Italian app is on my iPhone; I have tracked down second hand copies of Pippo The Fool (a children’s story about the eponymous architect considered to be the father of Renaissance architecture, and whom we have to thank for Florence’s famous Duomo) and Leonardo And The Flying Boy (“an exciting introduction to the great genius of the Italian Renaissance”); I have added some wonderful blogs like CiaoBambino to my google reader; and I have even started reminding myself what the Renaissance was all about, thanks to some excellent children’s history websites!

So – very inspired, and extremely appreciative of the instant and free resources the internet provides – and the people who put them up there, of course!

My Library Thing

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