La Dolce Vita: Florence and Siena

So as I mentioned, our travel day on Thursday was pretty exhausting. In a real bonehead move on my part, I asked JR to reserve tickets to the Accademia Gallery to see the David at 8:45am Friday morning. In my defense, my internet research said to make reservations in advance and that first thing in the morning was the way to go.  What I failed to really consider was that we’d be traveling most of the day Thursday, probably not sleep well that night, and that our rental house was a 45 minute drive from Florence. And that doesn’t even take parking into account, which we realized would be a big issue. I convinced everyone that it was well worth it to call the 60 euro reservation a loss and plan to sleep in.

We woke up Friday morning with zero plans, but after slowly making breakfast and getting ready, I figured it still made sense to head to Florence and enjoy the nice weather while we had it. After the fiasco the previous day, I refused to drive anywhere until we had phones with data on them. We made a quick stop in town for SIM cards before driving to Florence. Our AirBnB host recommended parking at a hotel that was a 15 minute walk from the main sights, and to our surprise, driving there and parking was quite easy. We stopped for lunch at a fantastic sandwich place, I’ Girone De’ Ghiotti, right off the main walking street. I spent a good amount of time researching and planning for our day in Florence so that we could make the most of our time and eat well, and this place did not disappoint! Just around the corner we made our first (of many) stops for gelato at Perche no!  It was fantastic of course and it was the first gelato experience for JR’s dad, William and my mom.

 
Lunch at I’ Gerone De’ Ghiotti

    
Gelato stop and walking with a monkey on my back.


We saw the Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signora, the Duomo, the San Lorenzo Market and Ponte Vecchio. In between the sightseeing, we found time to stop for wine, espresso, and the Disney store. You know, typical Italian things. My mom and sister took Abby in and returned with a princess outfit complete with shoes and a crown. Our girl was truly in her element there.

It was a wonderful day but quite long, and poor William was overtired and couldn’t fall asleep on the way back to Greve. Everyone wanted to go out to dinner but we didn’t want to risk the inevitable meltdown, so JR stayed behind while the rest of us went to La Cantina, a wonderful local restaurant in Greve. We loved this place from the moment we walked in the door. Alessandro, the owner/manager/concierge/I don’t know what, greeted us with fist bumps and a smile. As we sat down the servers brought over glasses of prosecco. And since neither my mom nor JR’s Dad drink, my sister and I were treated to two glasses each! They had a large menu and delicious food, and treated us to dessert wine and a plate of sweets when we were finished. When we left, we assured Alessandro that we’d return (and we certainly kept that promise).

That night, part of a sweet little annual tradition between Abby and my mom, they colored Easter eggs together. My mom packed all the supplies, just like she did last year in Scotland!

Greve has a big market in their square on Saturday mornings so we started the next day there. Lunch was at Antica Macelleria Falorni, the oldest butcher shop in Greve, founded in 1806. William fell asleep in the stroller, so my mom took Abby to a playground while the rest of us enjoyed an early afternoon wine stop. Many of the restaurants we visited included a 2 euro “cover charge” for water, bread, and basically just for sitting down. So stopping for wine usually included a light snack – no complaints from me.

We all met at the playground and enjoyed some downtime watching the kids play.

I started looking up dinner options and was surprised to discover that many recommended restaurants closed between lunch and dinner, and that meant they didn’t reopen until 6:30/7pm, or later in some cases. Not ideal for our kids who usually eat dinner at 5:45 pm. Or me, let’s be honest. And so that’s how we justified returning to La Cantina for the second night in a row.

On Sunday we spent the morning exploring the property around our house.

We ate lunch at home and then drove about an hour to Siena, one of the most famous cities in Tuscany. The drive was beautiful and easy – it helped that William slept the whole way. We parked at Il Campo and there were clear signs for it including some that updated with the number of free parking spots on each level. It was just a ten minute walk to the main square, Piazza del Campo.

Siena was beautiful and Piazza del Campo was unforgettable. It was a bit windy, but otherwise I could have spent hours people watching and wandering the streets. Twice a year Piazza del Campo is transformed into a horse track where the 17 neighborhoods of Siena challenge each other in a famous horse race called “Palio.”

 

We stopped for gelato at Grom (highly rated but just okay to me, I quickly became a gelato expert). On our way to the Duomo, Abby passed out in the stroller. We kept William moving with the promise of blueberries, and it was so funny watching him wobble down the streets. JR, his dad, my sister and I did a quick visit inside the cathedral. It was really impressive and well worth it.

We returned to Piazza del Campo and I had the genius idea that JR and I should climb the 400 steps up the Torre del Mange, a tower over looking the square. I regretted the idea around the 50th step, but we made it to the top!


400 steps! 

I had hoped we could spend more time in the town, but the weather was cooling quickly. Abby was still sound asleep in the stroller and we knew William was more than ready for a nap, so we made our way back to Greve. Huge thanks to my sister for wearing William (no small feat since he’s over 25lbs now) while Abby hogged the stroller. And thanks to all three of our traveling companions for staying with the kids so JR and I could enjoy a date night that evening!

To be continued.

 

La Dolce Vita

Alternate title: 10 days of wine and gelato.

We just returned from a pretty amazing trip to Italy. JR’s Dad visited us in Tbilisi for 5 days beforehand, and we enjoyed showing him our favorite spots around town. JR also took him on an overnight trip to Kazbegi and a quick trip to Gori.

For the full Tbilisi experience, he had the pleasure of a 2:45 am airport pick up with us. A giant 16-person mini bus picked us up (the only available vehicle that could accommodate us and all of our stuff) and dropped us at the airport. As we shuffled to the Lufthansa check-in, I realized we were missing one car seat. JR quickly called the driver, who kindly returned to the airport to drop it off. Major crisis narrowly averted.

Our flight to Munich was uneventful. We were scheduled to have a layover of just under 5 hours, but it turned into more than 6. That’s a little long for my taste. I went back and forth over which stroller to take on this trip and even though my Britax B Agile Double is like a best friend to me, I was worried about trunk space and narrow Italian streets, so we took our City Mini Single GT. We still wanted William to be in his car seat on the flight, and it’s a giant beast of a seat so we borrowed our friend’s car seat cart for the airport transits. This thing is amazing! It was very easy to wheel around, even with Abby riding in it.  Best of all, she fell asleep in it for HOURS at the airport. We propped her up at an angle near the gate and let her sleep. Since we don’t take a car seat on the plane for her anymore, we checked her car seat in this great new travel bag I bought (I actually also just bought her a new car seat all together. I’m really keeping this industry in business – and JR displeased.) Highly recommend both of those items if you travel frequently!

 

My mom met us in Munich which was a surprise for Abby. We loved the new play area near Gate K9, it was perfect for both kids and had seating for adults. After getting as much energy out as we could, it was finally time to board the flight to Florence. It was delightfully short, and the airport is super tiny so we were on our way to our rental car in no time. My mom stayed back at the airport to wait for my sister to arrive and that’s when things started to derail.

JR’s Dad stayed with the kids while we picked up our car and tried to install both car seats. Car seat installation is the bane of my existence. Once that travesty ended, I drew the short stick and got to sit in the middle seat between the two car seats. Sit is not entirely accurate, as I was more wedged in between them and couldn’t put my shoulders back. Oh well, it was only going to be a 45 minute drive to our rental. Or so we thought.

Neither of us had a data plan for Italy, so we were relying completely on my Google Maps print out. Mistake! All it took was one missed exit and we were totally off track. It was super difficult to turn around and make our way back to the original mistake, so we kept getting further and further mixed up. That’s when Abby started complaining about her stomach, and did I mention William had already been crying the whole time? The kids were hungry and cranky. I thought William might have needed a diaper change, so JR pulled off on a side road and literally changed him on the hood of the car. #parentsoftheyear

After TWO HOURS of driving, we finally arrived at our rental in Greve in Chianti. It was a little more rustic than I expected, although to be fair the pictures we saw were accurate. It was also super super cold outside the day, and possibly colder inside this house. And I saw death traps everywhere for the kids. I rushed JR and his dad back out the door to find the closest grocery store so we could make dinner. And then I was alone with two hungry, cranky kids for the longest 45 minutes ever.

Eventually they came back, my mom and my sister arrived in their own rental car, and we all sat down for dinner and a glass of wine. We toasted to our arrival and the excitement of being together in Italy, and all was well.

To be continued.

 

CLOs in KL

A few weeks ago I traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a week long Community Liason Office (CLO) training. It was my first trip to Asia, and the first job training I’ve had in a very long time, certainly the first since JR joined the Foreign Service. There were 19 other CLOs and the whole week was wonderful. The group leading the training did a fantastic job of keeping things interesting, and I have a ton of great new ideas (now I just need to find the time to implement them) for Tbilisi. I also feel like I made 19 new friends!

It was a long journey to KL, with two interesting things that happened just before we landed. With no warning or preamble, a voice on the intercom announced  “Carrying drugs into Malaysia is a federal crime and punishable by death.” Alrighty then. Images of Brokedown Palace flashed through my mind as I imagined a lifelong prison sentence in a foreign country, with no Kate Beckinsale to keep me company.

A few minutes later, another unexpected announcement: “In accordance with local laws, the flight attendants will now walk through the cabin spraying insecticide.” Um, okay? I covered my face and hoped for the best.

Once I reached my destination, it was pretty smooth sailing. The days were packed with training and then some scheduled evening events, and when we didn’t have something organized as a whole group, smaller groups broke off and made plans for dinner, shopping and sight seeing. I had a great time and enjoyed the chance to do something new and different. Here are some pictures from the trip.

Although it was only a week away from post and I met so many amazing people, it was probably the longest I’ve been away from my family. Traveling solo was fun but I was ready to go home!

Bakuriani

We took advantage of our 3-day weekend, packed our 27 bags, and drove to Bakuriani, a ski resort town about two and a half hours from Tbilisi. Our kids are not the greatest car travelers and honestly, packing up so much stuff to manage two nights away is a lot of effort. Still, I want to enjoy Georgia and these opportunities while we can. I booked a two-bedroom apartment with decent reviews and then put on my game face to tackle the packing situation.

I will say that buying packing cubes has been a total game changer for me. It makes it so much easier for me to pack up each family member in one cube, and then put all of our stuff into one larger bag instead of hauling individual bags for each person. It limits my overpacking. I still overpack, but I only put in as much as I can fit in the packing cube. I bought a few different brands in multiple colors so I can color code. When it was all said and done, we had one huge clothes bag, an extra bag for just the snow gear, a stroller, extra blankets, toy bag, food bag, and a cooler. Oh and the pack n’ play and extra mattress for my precious William’s sleep. I felt like I’d done so well but that is really a LOT for two nights away.

We stayed at the Hotel King David in their newly opened two bedroom apartment. The apartment itself was great. The kitchen had all the basics, including a full size fridge, microwave, two burners, and dishes. It is set a few feet apart from the hotel so it felt a little secluded and it was pretty quiet, which we appreciated. It was centrally located so we could walk anywhere we needed to go and had free parking. The parking was a bit annoying the morning we went to leave because a car had parked right up to our back passenger door, leaving me no way to get Abby strapped into her car seat. Also when JR started loading the car that morning, the front door to the hotel was locked. He couldn’t get out. There wasn’t an attendant at the front desk so he went down to the kitchen for assistance. He tried to explain how concerning the locked door was, that there could have been a fire, and the woman just kept smiling at him and saying, yes but there is no fire! You see, it’s fine! Breakfast was included but not served until 9am. My kids are awake by 6:30 so that didn’t do us much good. Overall, we were happy with the space, but a little concerned about the locked doors and the price was a bit high for the area.

There were two main kid-friendly areas, one right near the ski slopes and the other a few minutes in the opposite direction that had an ice skating rink, sledding hill, play areas and small rides and attractions. A few weeks ago I took Abby ice skating here and she really liked it, so we waited for the rink to open (website says 10am but what they really mean is 11am). The skating rink had an option for a half hour skate with an instructor, so Abby was off for her second lesson while William played in a special area for little ones. They both loved being pulled around on the sled, Abby especially enjoyed making JR pull her up and back down the little hill a few dozen times.

We are not skiers, but Abby said she wanted to try. I wasn’t sure if she’d really go for it, but the ski instructor seemed really nice and she happily went off with him up the hill. It was awesome watching her come flying back down the hill, with a huge smile on her face and asking to go again. I’m really glad she tried it and hope I can take her again.

Abby also absolutely loved being in a hotel. She thought it was so much fun and kept telling me she wanted to stay there for “the long day”, which is her way of staying for a long time.

 

 

Even though it’s not exactly relaxing to travel with our kids, the long weekend went by quickly and we were glad to enjoy a weekend away exploring more of Georgia.

 

The Merriest

Happy New Year!

December was a super busy month for my office, so I was definitely ready for a holiday break. My parents and my brother arrived in the early morning hours of the 22nd. After 24+ hours of travel, they were exhausted and excited to take showers and head to bed. Unfortunately for them, my neighborhood had no water! In a complete lack of preparedness on our end and contrary to emergency planning instructions received from the Embassy, JR and I had no extra bottled water for drinking, coffee, teeth brushing – nada at our home. He ran out to the store while we rationed what was left in our Brita pitcher in the fridge. I couldn’t imagine going to work without a shower, so we packed our bags to shower at the Embassy’s gym. Thankfully the water was restored by about 9am. While this allowed them to shower, Abby had other ideas about letting them rest. She kept them busy with crafts, games, and talking nonstop. No idea where she gets that.

We took them to Shadow of Metekhi, a great restaurant with beautiful views, for their first taste of Georgian food and dancing, and then spent the rest of the weekend in Christmas mode. Abby was really into Santa and all things Christmas. We’ve been singing Rudolph every night at bedtime since August (note, we are STILL singing Rudolph. She’s not ready to move on.)


Christmas Eve

 
Christmas morning

Abby’s favorite gifts were a small stuffed mouse JR bought her in Armenia, a camera from Nana and Papu, and her big girl bike. My mom was really skeptical when we (read: JR) put the bike together without the training wheels. I just wanted to see how she did without them since she did so well on her balance bike , but everyone else acted like I was crazy so I made her put on all sorts of protective gear just in case. To all of our amazement, she was riding solo within in a few tries! We were so excited for her and she was certainly very proud of herself, but adamant about no pictures!

During the rest of their visit we explored Tbilisi…

…ate khinkali

…saw The Nutcracker at the Tbilisi Opera House

…went to the Tbilisi Zoo where Abby had her face painted for the first time

and generally enjoyed all of our time together. It was truly wonderful to have our family visit us here during the holidays and we miss them already. Counting down to our next visit!

William is One!

The happiest little baby boy in the world is now the happiest one year old!

 

 

William is smiley, mischievous, and so much fun. He has eight (8!) teeth, a ton of hair, and he started walking a few weeks ago. Nothing can stop him now – except his sister. She’s about 80% loving, 10% indifferent and 10% terrorizing. We’ve enjoyed so many adventures together as a family of four this past year. We went to Scotland, welcomed my sister to Tbilisi, returned to the States for a fun-filled summer with friends and family, took a road trip through Florida and Tennessee, celebrated Halloween and Thanksgiving, and many other fun adventures in between.

Here are some recent pictures of this happy face and his wild sister. We are going to do a small birthday party when my family arrives in a few weeks, assuming I can master baking an egg-less cake. Sidenote – I did bake my very first pies, mostly from scratch, I definitely used canned pumpkin but I made my own crust – for the first time ever at Thanksgiving and they turned out pretty well! Hopefully I’m on a roll.

  

The last several months have been busy and challenging for us. I finally started my new job as the CLO (Community Liason Office) Coordinator at our Embassy. I love it, but it definitely requires a lot of energy and focus. At home, Abby is every bit of her 3 and a half years old. She can charm you and wrap you around her little finger, and then turn around and crush your dreams of sleep, happiness, anything really. According to the internet and the dozens of friends and parents I’ve surveyed, this is all pretty standard for her age. And so, we wait patiently or in my case, not so patiently, for her to turn 4 and leave some of this crazy behind. If you are a parent who thinks age 4 was harder than age 3, please, I beg of you, do not comment or reply or inform me of this news in any way, shape or form.

Family picture last year and this year:

 

 

Preschool Days

We hit a major milestone in our family a few weeks ago when Abby started preschool. She’s in the 3 year old “Jolly Stars” class at the international school right beside our neighborhood. We knew she’d attend this school, but we still met with the director earlier this summer to ask questions and learn more about the program. He was very patient with me as we went through my long list of questions ranging from “What happens if she doesn’t eat lunch?” to “Do you have safety drills for an active shooter on the campus?” I’m definitely that parent.

 

On her first day, she was so excited to put on her backpack, meet her teacher and classmates, and she wasn’t phased at all when JR and I said goodbye. She handled it the same the next day, but then we had a weekend together and that following Monday was rough. She cried, she was so upset and didn’t want me to leave. And it was awful. I felt like a terrible mother, even though I knew she would be fine. I knew she liked school, I knew she was safe and happy there – even though I knew all of those things, it broke my heart to leave her there crying. She did that multiple times the second week, but I’m happy to report weeks 3 and 4 were tear-free!

We love asking her about her day and hearing her version of events. Who she played with, what she learned, what they’ll do tomorrow.  She was thrilled to bring in her seashells from our Florida vacation for her first Show-and-Tell, and she loves visiting the library. She’s not too happy with their lunch options yet, but we’re not giving up because I really, really do not want to pack a lunch every day.

When she’s not amazing us with her vocabulary and sweetness, she is testing our limits by being a normal three year old. (Or so my mother says, I’ve insisted the child might actually be possessed.)

William also had his own little milestone -he’s 9 months old now! He is crawling, babbling (JR thinks he’s saying Dada already but we won’t be counting his first word until he says Mama), has two bottom teeth, and he has the best giggles. Just like Abby at this age, he’s a Daddy’s boy. He lights up when JR enters the room or cries if he walks away. When I walk in he’s kind of like, oh you again.

He’s tried so many new foods and I’m learning new recipes and ideas to avoid eggs. The first round of egg-less banana bread turned out just okay, but the second recipe we tried was much better. I’m going to continue to tweak it a bit because we really like muffins/bread in our house so it would be great if we had more options for him to eat. The egg-free pancakes were no good. I mean the kids ate them, but I was not impressed. This is all pretty new for me. I’m decent in the kitchen but I’m a strict recipe-follower. Many of the recipes that are egg free are also designed for kids with other allergies, so they might avoid dairy, nuts, wheat and/or soy. Since we only need to replace the eggs, I’m making some changes to existing recipes and hoping for the best.

It’s fun watching Abby and William try to “play” together. Right now that means him following her around and trying to take her toys. Little does she know this is just the beginning!

 

We’re losing sleep but having a great time with these two, although recently I looked at JR and asked, “How did we get here? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were out all night at Lodge Bar?” Time flies!