Final Post with Recommended Links

OK, while all this is still somewhat fresh in my mind, here are links for future travelers:

Rome

Accommodations: Airbnb apartment in Trastevere: http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/plus/7529704 – Great apartment in a great location, walking distance from the hub of restaurants and bars in Trastevere. Only downside is it’s a bit far from the tram.

Favorite Restaurants

  • Ginger (near Spanish Steps) – amazing salads and fruit plates (if you tire of pasta!)
  • Ristorante La Tavernelle, Trastevere – huge menu of Italian favorites
  • Dar Poeta (pizza), Trastevere

 

Venice

Accommodations: Residenza de l’Ousmarin, https://www.residenzadelosmarin.com/  Good value B&B, spacious 2BR suite, very clean, view of the canals, great location

Favorite Restaurants

  • Osteria Alla Staffa (Castello) – great food (esp the fish!), but no terrace
  • Gelato: Gelateria Ca’ D’oro (Caraveggio)

 

Dolomites

Accommodations, Hotel Cavallino D’Oro in Castelrotto, http://www.cavallino.it/en/

2 connecting rooms (family suite), rooms 29 and 30 – perfect for the 4 of us! Excellent breakfast, great location right on the town square, 4-star hotel, extremely comfortable though no A/C

Favorite Restaurants:

  • Restaurant Liftstuberl – lovely outdoor tables and view of Castelrotto, though you have to be OK with farm smells!
  • Hut at the top of Mont Balluci – amazing panoramic views and good (German) food

 

Tuscany

Accommodations, Podere San Felippo, http://www.poderesanfilippo.com/en/

Favorite Restaurants:

  • Ristorante La Fattoria (Tavernelle Val di Pesa)
  • La Sosta di Pio VII – best food, really delicious pasta dishes
  • L’Antica Scuderia – best terrace, lovely views (Badia e Passignano)
  • Gelateria di Castellina – amazing gelato in the Chianti region
  • Gelateria Dondoli – Gelato world champion! (try the grapefruit)

 

A Heat Wave in Tuscany

My final blog is going to be a bit rushed, as I need to pack to head to the airport…

We spent a lot of our time in Tuscany in the pool (reminds me of our Goldberg family trip to Provence 2 years ago) due to the heat. It was 104 degrees both days!

Fortunately, we loved our place here – Podere San Fillipo – and it has a lovely pool. We have a 2-bedroom apartment that is HUGE, much larger than I’d imagined from the photos. And the place is super well equipped, very manicured, top notch service, most likely b/c it is owned by a 5-star hotel (Castelo del Nero) down the road!

img_4322img_4352We did manage to do an early morning surgical strike visit to San Gimignano, a cool medieval village surrounded by towers of varying heights. In the photo below, you can see Noah and the girls hovering in the shade, which is basically what you have to do around here!

img_4333As with all good outings in Italy, we finished with gelato, some of the best we’ve had in Italy (apparently the owner won a national gelato competition!)

img_4347That afternoon we got together with Helena, Steven and Ansley, who are staying at an agriturismo place just about 15 minutes away!!  It was so fun to spend time with them in Italy and ask Ansley how to say various things in Italian 🙂

We spent most of the afternoon at their pool and then had an amazing meal at a restaurant called La Sosta di Pio VII. The pasta here is AMAZING, and everything tastes so fresh.

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On Day 2 (last day in Italy!) we lazed around over swimming, foosball and hearts all morning. Then I dragged everyone out on a final outing in the afternoon to drive around the Chianti region. It was SOOOO hot, but we found a nice terrace to play cards and taste some olive oil.

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We finished with dinner in Badia e Passignano, another charming Tuscan village, this time with a historic abbey. We ate at l’Antica Scuderia, which has an absolutely lovely terrace overlooking the vineyards. This is a picture of the restaurant from above:

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Unfortunately, it was still 100 degrees with zero breeze, so we sweated our way through some slow service and did not make it home until close to 10 pm. The girls were absolutely exhausted and are still sleeping right now at 8am…

I can’t believe our trip is over — sad to leave Italy, but excited to see kitty and get back to 75 degree weather in San Anselmo!

-La Portavoz (Linda)

3 Days in the Dolomites

I really loved our time in the Dolomites. We stayed in an adorable pristine town that felt more like Switzerland than Italy (except for how hot it was!) Our hotel – Cavallino d’Oro – was right on the town square of Castelrotto, so we could easily walk to dinner…and gelato.  Best of all, we had a glorious view of the mountains from our own little balcony – as shown in the photo below.

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The breakfast buffet was also lovely, quite a spread. We had two connecting rooms, so plenty of space. The only down side was that being right on the town square we heard the bells ringing (quite loudly) each morning at 6am. And since we had no AC, we had to have the windows open.

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The hiking in the Dolomites is set up so well, particularly for retirees – which seemed to be in the majority – and families (though we didn’t actually run into many young kids on the trails).

There are several reasons for this: 1) an apparently good bus system (though we did not take it); 2) lots of gondolas, trams and chair lifts that do a lot of the hard uphill work for you, so many hikes start from up high; 3) an extensive network of “huts” that are essentially full service restaurants with great views — where everyone seems to enjoy lunches consisting of beer and meat…you know, light hiking fare!

For us, these huts were key stopping points for refreshments and cards on both of our hikes. Below you’ll see the view from our lunch spot on Day 1 and on Day 2:

img_4251img_4301On the first day our hike was from Passo Pordoi, and the weather was absolutely glorious – super clear, warm, but not too hot. It was about an hour drive from Castelrotto, and I must say the drive was a bit harrowing. The roads were good, but fairly narrow and windy – and the real issue was the number of bikes and motorcycles on the road. Noah – as always – was calm and composed, not at all rattled, but my white knuckles on the passenger door reminded me of my Dad 😉

The girls were not psyched about hiking, but they were pretty good sports, and the frequent breaks (and many hands of Hearts) helped! The views were just incredible, including of one of the few (perhaps the only?) glaciers in the Dolomites:

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On the second day it was unfortunately hazier, most likely due to the heat.  This time we just had a 10 minute drive to Alpe di Suisi (also known as Seiser Alm Bahn) for a gondola ride to Campuchi, where we then did hike 14 to Mont Balluci. The Alpe di Siusi is a high alpine meadow, I believe the largest in Europe. So the nice thing is that the hiking is pretty flat, and you are surrounded by the peaks of the Dolomites. I had read that the wildflowers were lovely, and they did not disappoint.

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I particularly loved the pink ones (alpine rose?), which we saw as we reached the top:

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(In the picture below Cassidy found just the spot to tickle my leg while the photo was being taken!)

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The hut where we had lunch on the top of Mont Balluci also had a great playground — check out the view from that swing!  All this is definitely making us want to come back in the winter and ski here — the skiing with these incredible views must be pretty special!

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Both days we were back in Castelrotto by about 4pm for ice cream and some well-deserved down time, which was great. We even got to watch some of the womens’ world cup in the hotel lobby, which Sierra has really been enjoying!

-La Portavoz (Linda)

 

Hiking with Hearts

Of course, my parents chose to go hiking on our first day in Castelrotto. Not that I didn’t enjoy the views, or that the hike wasn’t super mellow, but hiking just isn’t my favorite way to pass the time. Basically we hiked for 45 minutes on flat terrain, stopped for lunch, played hearts and hiked for 45 more minutes. It was beautiful, though. We had great views the entire walk.

After lunch we sort of just chilled.

The next day we went on another hike. This time we took a tram up to the top and were walking on a paved path most of the time. The path was also surrounded by wildflowers.

I spent the entire hike blowing on dandelions and putting the seeds in my pockets. I’ll be finding dandelion seeds in those shorts for years to come! There was a place to stop for lunch on the way where we had a nice view while eating. I personally enjoyed that hike more than the first.

Everything around here has two names. Because we are so close to Germany, every thing has a German name and the Italian translation. Super confusing. Also, the bell schedule is very random in our little town of Castelrotto. My mom told me that Tuscany, which is where we are staying next, is going to be 106 degrees! But that’s okay because we will have a pool.

-La Niña Curiosa

Reflections on Venice

Now that we’ve left Venice, I’m trying to decide whether I would have wanted more time there or not. It’s such an incredible place, and I feel like we only saw a small fraction of its neighborhoods and tourist attractions. We must also be the first tourists who managed to spend 3 days in Venice without going inside a single church! (The girls seem to have had their fill, and I decided not to push it).

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In any case, while we were there I thought we really needed one more day, but now that we are in the Dolomites, I’m kind of glad to be in a cooler, calmer, greener place. Although I had fully prepared myself for the throngs of tourists in Venice, it really is overwhelming! That said, we did a pretty good job getting off the beaten path for strolls through residential neighborhoods that felt much more authentic (e.g. northern Castello, parts of Caraveggio).

Here are my Venice highlights:

  1. Our Bed and Breakfast – Residenza de l’Ousmarin – was fabulous! We had two bedrooms, a nice modern bathroom, a view of the canal from the living room (as shown in the photo below), and a great location just 5 min walk from San Marco square.

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2. Going to the top of the campinile (tower) in San Marco Square early in the morning of our first day — amazing view, and not yet crowded!

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3. Our lunch at Harry’s Bar, a generous treat from Noah’s colleagues at Plastiq (and perfectly timed, as we sat in an air conditioned room with a lovely view of the Grand Canal (see photo below) during the heat of the day – and yes, it was HOT!)

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4. Visit to Palazzo Ducale and learning a bit about the fascinating history of the Venetian Republic, its government and those Doges.

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5. Sitting by a canal for dinner on the second day in our neighborhood (mediocre food, but what a lovely view!)

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6. Strolling through Caraveggio on Day 3 – much quieter neighborhood, with lots of cute happy hour spots along a canal (lowlight was then fighting our way onto a crowded ferry for a long trip back to our B&B…)

7. Teaching the girls Hearts at a Pizzeria in Murano after making our purchases of glass souvenirs.

8. Evening gondola ride on our final evening in Venice.

Yesterday was a long travel day to get from Venice to the Dolomites. We took one public ferry, two trains, then a cab to the airport to pick up our rental car, followed by a 30-min drive to Castelrotto. More on that tomorrow!

-La Portavoz

 

 

Subways of Venice

The public boat we took to Murano was so crowded we decided to call it the subway of Venice.

After getting off the “subway” we walked a little ways to our glass blowing tour, which was amazing. The man blowing the glass started with a metal pole, stuck it in his oven and pulled it out with liquid glass on it. He would blow on the end of the pole and the glass would blow up! He rolled it around in colored dust, added more liquid glass, swirled the pole, and Voila! A vase.

Once the tour was over we walked around the island looking at Murano glass shops. We each picked out a souvenir. I chose a necklace charm and earrings. We had lunch (cheap touristy pizza) closely followed by the Jewish Ghetto. We didn’t stay for very long because we were all cooked, but we saw some synagogues. I had lasagna for dinner at a restaurant called Restaurant Allá Staffa. Afterwards we went on a gondola ride around the canals.

The next morning we boarded the ferry to the train station and rode to the Dolomites. We had to switch trains along the way, then we rode a taxi to the car rental place to pick up our rental car. We drove all the way to Castelrotto, the cutest little town ever, where we are staying.

This time we are in two connected rooms, much smaller than previous rooms but just as comfortable. I am going to sleep well tonight, given that I used every single form of transportation imaginable!

-La Nina Curiosa

Welcome to Venice

The morning was mostly uneventful. We packed, showered and ran out the door. Once we boarded the train it took about four hours to reach Venice. Venice introduced itself to us by having us wait in a very long line to board the ferry. Once we finally boarded the ferry we traveled down the canals until we reached our hotel.

This time we are staying in a room at a bed & breakfast. It’s also pretty spacious, but I’m still sharing a bed.

The next day the breakfast part of bed & breakfast opened later than we thought it would, so we had some snacks and headed out to buy tickets for an ancient castle that was now a museum. We also went up a huge bell tower and got a view of Venice.

After breakfast we wandered around Venice aimlessly. I’m not even kidding. We walked around the city of Venice, no idea whatsoever where we were going. Finally we decided to go home, and we got out the Google maps. Lunch was at Harry’s bar, an extremely expensive restaurant. The only reason we went there was because my dad’s colleagues gave him a gift card for Father’s Day. But it was delicious food.

Finally we went to go see the castle that we had bought tickets for earlier. It was incredible! There was a staircase thats ceiling was made of 24 karat gold,

paintings of all of the Roman gods and, my favorite, the dungeon!

For dinner we had cheap touristy food. I wasn’t hungry from my huge lunch anyway. Can’t wait for our last day in Venice!

-La Nina Curiosa

Virtual Reality brings History Alive!

Wednesday morning may have been my favorite excursion so far in Rome, as we got off the beaten path a bit and found a lovely peaceful area of the city around the Giardino degli Aranci – one of the seven hills of Rome with a panoramic view of the city.

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Nearby is the famous view of St. Peter’s from the keyhole in a door of the Gran Priorato di Roma dell’Ordine di Malta. From there we strolled over to Piazza St. Anselmo (!), which was charming (photo shows the girls in front of Hotel S. Anselmo!).

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I discovered a good way to get the girls engaged in sightseeing by having them navigate – first using the old-fashioned map, and then later using the GPS on my phone. Cassidy lost interest in this fairly quickly, but Sierra loved it and ended up getting us from Piazza San Anselmo all the way to the Terme di Caracalla (ancient Roman baths, which I learned Sierra knows a bit about from her reading). It turned out to be a real trip highlight, in large part because they had a virtual reality audio guide that allowed the girls to see what the baths would have looked like in Roman times. Genius!  Now THIS is the way to do tours with kids.

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After learning about what Romans did at the baths, we once again got to go underground and see how they were operated from below. The scale of the engineering feat is insane – 2,000 tons of wood were stored below ground to feed the furnaces that heated the water for the baths above. Slaves labored below ground to keep this operation running to serve 6,000 to 8,000 bathers per day. The underground area was only excavated in 2012 and opened to the public fairly recently. It is crazy how well all this stuff is preserved, given that it is 2000 years old and has been through multiple earthquakes, not to mention wars, etc.

After a nice lunch in Trastevere (my first prosciutto and melon!) and a brief rest at home, we had to rush over to Galeria Borghese for our pre-booked entry time (they give you 2-hour windows). I had no idea they would be so strict about the exit time, so we had less than an hour to see the museum by the time we got there. In the end that was OK though – I think Sierra and I would have liked more time, but Noah and Cassidy breezed through in about 45 minutes!

The Villa is absolutely stunning, with frescoed ceilings, mosaic floors, and incredible art on the walls. It is set up more like a private art collection than a museum, so it’s a bit hard to figure out exactly what you are looking at without a guide. Still, the main attraction on the 1st floor were these incredible Bernini sculptures placed in the center of each room, and that’s what we spent a lot of time looking at.

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It was so cool to hear Sierra tell the stories of the various Roman gods; she really knows mythology quite well, thanks to a combo of Percy Jackson and the Greek and Roman mythology book her cousins sent her.  The frescoes (depicting mythological stories) on the ceilings were also amazing – we spent so long looking up that our necks were aching!

The rest of the afternoon we essentially killed time (aka avoided walking) while waiting for dinnertime, which I wanted to have downtown in order to see the fountains and monuments after dark.

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Alas, once again we failed. I found myself wishing it would just get dark at 8pm, but it doesn’t get dark here until well after 9! We must have played at least 3 hours of Five Crowns over the course of the afternoon and dinner – which we ate near the Trevi Fountain.

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At 8pm the Trevi Fountain was still jam packed with tourists, and none of us had the energy to walk to Piazza Navona, where I had hoped to catch a drink around sunset. Instead, we took a taxi home and got the girls to bed.

[A side note about taxi drivers in Rome: I am not impressed. Most of them have not been friendly, and all of them spend the entire ride talking on the phone and texting – sometimes both at the same time, as they usually have two phones on the dashboard. They weave in and out of traffic and zoom through yellow lights at top speed.]

I was tempted to go back out again solo to see Rome after dark – but decided to put up my swollen feet instead! I will definitely need to come back to Rome to experience the nightlife…or else come in a different season when it gets dark earlier?!

-La Portavoz

Lots Of History

WOW! Nine whole hours of sleep! I didn’t know I was capable! On top of that we ate pan au chocolate for breakfast! Life couldn’t get better. Except it did. We arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica at 7:00, basically skipping all the lines. The outside was very impressive, with all the columns and what not,

but it only got better. The Grand Hall was breathtaking. Beautiful ceilings and stunning statues.

And most incredible of all, the view from the dome. We climbed up 560 stairs, and the result made it worthwhile.

My favorite view was actually one of the inside of the Basilica.

In the afternoon we went to see the Colosseum. Before we got to see it we had to sit through a lot of talking in the hot sun. Man, was it hot out! I was so tired, too. It was like all of my lack of sleep was catching up to me. I felt like I would either melt or fall asleep. But the actual Colosseum part was amazing!

Gladiators fighting wild animals. It’s crazy! Did you know that less than 5 percent of the Gladiators survived the fights?

The evening was so much cooler, and we had a great dinner. I fell asleep very quickly!

-La Nina Curiosa

551 stairs, a 160-minute course on Ancient Rome, and 1 (genius) spray bottle

So my original vision for our daily schedule in Rome — informed by conversations with friends who recently traveled to Europe with kids – was that we would stay up late to enjoy late dinners al fresco, and then sleep in until 10am. Sadly, that is just not the schedule that this family runs on! Despite going to bed at 11pm that first night (exhausted), Noah and the girls were up at 4am and never went back to sleep. As a result, that night we barely made it through dinner; Cassidy was falling asleep at the table by 8pm. The next morning the girls were awake around 5, and on Day 2 Sierra fell asleep on our taxi ride both to and from the Coliseum. She was completely exhausted, and once again both girls barely made it to 9pm!

In the end, this schedule ended up working well for us in Rome, as it allowed us to get some sightseeing in quite early, then come back for a break during the heat of the day. This was particularly helpful on Tuesday morning, as we walked out the door before 7am and arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica by 7:15. I loved being out early before the crowds, when there is still a cool breeze and nice light for photos.

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We were all blown away by St. Peter’s Basilica – the girls jaws dropped as we walked in the door and craned our necks to take in the incredible ceiling.

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As usual, the art in the Basilica sparked tons of religious questions that Noah and I were ill-equipped to answer. [Note to self: need to procure children’s bible for this family of heathens.] They wanted to know how old Jesus was when he died, where he was buried, and whether Mary was there when he died. They wanted to know who chooses the Pope, if the Pope is the President of the Vatican, and if someone ever attacked the Vatican, would Italy defend it?

After walking through the Basilica, we climbed the 551 stairs to the top of the dome. The most amazing part was when you walk out into the nave (interior of the dome), about halfway up. It was incredible to look down on St. Peter’s from above, and especially to have a close—up view of the mosaic art on the walls, which I had not even realized was all mosaic when viewed from below. It is absolutely crazy to imagine the amount of labor – and logistics! – that went into it.

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I was super impressed by the girls charging up all those stairs; they were the only kids up there and were passing various groups of adults who were breathing hard and sweating!

After St. Peter’s we wimped out and took a taxi back to our apartment, where we had some nice down time and ate leftover pizza from the night before. We prepared ourselves for our afternoon tour of the Coliseum, which I knew was going to be a challenge, as our pre-booked tour had assigned us the unfortunate entry time of 3pm. Ugh. We procured a spray bottle to fill with water, along with some gummy candy; these ended up being absolutely critical provisions.

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The tour started with the Roman Forum, and our tour guide Fabio proved to be both extremely knowledgeable and extremely long-winded. He was seemingly indefatigable despite the blazing sun and withering tour group. The girls, quite understandably, quickly gave up on listening and focused instead on trying to find small patches of shade to crouch in while they waited for Fabio to move along to the next site. Cassidy and Sierra were the only young kids on the tour, and the commentary was definitely geared to an adult audience. Bummer.

After the Forum we finally made it to the Coliseum, which was pretty fascinating, especially the “VIP Underground Access” where we got to see where the animals were kept and winched up to the stadium with pulleys through trap doors in the floor. Apparently they had animals from all over the world, lions, tigers, elephants, even ostriches!

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That evening we were supposed to have dinner at a restaurant in Trastevere recommended by Jill, but after Sierra fell asleep in the taxi and asked to go to bed at 6pm, we decided to abort and go for an early dinner closer to our apartment. It worked out OK, but boy was I bummed to miss Roma Sparita. Should I start giving the girls coffee? Or Red Bull?!

The photo below shows the requisite gelato stop after dinner!

-La Portavoz

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