Italy

Vic & Karen enjoying Venice

We like Italy. I’ve liked it since I first experienced it in 1973 and we spent more time there than any other country during our five-plus-year round the world adventure. So when we had a chance to take my brother and sister-in-law to Europe we weren’t surprised at all that they chose Italy.

Vic & Karen had a tough 2018. That was the year their little grandson Dex lost a nearly four-year battle with cancer. A couple months later we took Dex’s surviving brother Mat to Europe and this time it was their turn. Karen had never been across the Atlantic and Vic’s only experience was when he was in the Army in the 1970s, so this was going to be new for both of them. I’m pretty sure they had a good time, and even more certain we did.

First stop was Venice. And then you have to do a gondola ride, right?

Their choice – as it would be for most people – was to see Venice, Florence, and Rome. I mean, who wouldn’t? Since Mark and I have been to all three places lots of time there wasn’t a lot new for us to see or much to say about it here, for that matter. They are all beautiful cities with stunning art and history, but they also all suffer from massive tourist crowds. It just seems worse and worse every time we go and, to be honest, I don’t think Mark & I will go back to Venice or Florence again. Rome is big enough to handle the hordes, but Venice and Florence are just swamped. Both are incredible and beautiful, places you need to see, but there may be a limit as to how many times you need to go.

Along with those three must-see cities, we added a couple brief stops in central Italy. After Florence we drove to Casole d’Elsa, a tiny town in the province of Siena. No real reason except to experience a little of rural Italy in a beautiful hotel. And it gave us the opportunity to take day trips to Siena (beautiful, as always) and San Gimignano. We hadn’t been to the latter in over 20 years and while you’d like to say that these old Italian towns with histories going back many centuries don’t change, they do. A little more upscale than we remember, certainly more tourists.

The towers of San Gimignano

Speaking of day trips, from Casole d’Elsa we were heading to Assisi in Umbria. En route we stopped to visit old friends and former classmates Sarah & Eric. They both joined the foreign service after graduate school and after their careers in various spots around the world they’ve settled on an olive farm in the tiny, tiny town of Paciano. They made us lunch, gave us a tour of their 200-plus olive trees, and, before bidding us adieu, gave us a little can of their homemade olive oil. Fabulous!

The view from Sarah & Eric’s olive orchard

Assisi was another of those “haven’t been there in over 20 years” places. Beautiful, peaceful, historic, slightly off the standard tourist route, and needless to say great food. Then it was off to Rome and more of the tourist hordes.

The beautiful medieval streets of Assisi

And thus we spent two weeks with my brother and his wife. To our surprise, we found ourselves eager to get back to New York; that whole nesting thing seems to have taken hold. And of course the prospect of returning to the city where we had finally closed on our dream loft the day before leaving was exciting. I mean, now that we had closed we should be able to start construction pretty quickly, right?

Hahahaha!

Karen and the Grand Canal

Venice

Artsy Venice

Who says we don’t know how to be good tourists?

Mark documenting our gondola ride

Vic & Karen enjoying Florence

We might be a little jaded about Florence but I never tire of this view of the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River

Mark in Florence

The fabulous Mary Magdalene could be reason enough to return to Florence some day

The Arno River

A nice little walk outside Casole d’Elsa … and a rainbow!

On the way to Assisi we stopped for lunch with old friends Sarah & Eric. Great fun!

With Sarah

For a couple years we would come to Rome and the Trevi Fountain was closed off for renovations. Now it’s clean, beautiful, and unbelievably crowded.

John, Mark, Pat, and Jeanne celebrate their parents’ 80th birthdays

Earlier this year Mark’s parents both turned 80 so to celebrate we rented a house in Tuscany and got all the kids, spouses, and grandkids together. It was honestly a wonderful experience. With the families spread out from California to Virginia to wherever we happen to be we don’t all get together very often. It’s great fun to watch the grandkids grow up and renew their friendships. And on top of all that the villa a bit outside the little town of Gavarrano was fabulous, big enough for all of us, lots of spaces to hang out alone or with others, a pool for playing in. All that and two women, Anna & Rosa, who cooked and cleaned. It would be a challenge to think of a single thing not to have loved about the week.

And rather than trying to describe it all, we’ll just let the pictures tell the story.

Meals were a major event during the week. We were a few miles out of town so we had dinner every night at the villa, with Rosa cooking most of them. The food was great and I was crazy about this semi-outdoor dining area in a passageway between the two buildings that made up the old farmhouse. Big enough for all 17 of us, with cool breezes blowing through, it was just about perfect.

And since we were celebrating birthdays, here’s Mark’s mother blowing out the candles

Our villa was a mile-and-a-half up this dirt road at the top of a hill, which meant it was incredibly private and quiet up there. And beautiful, with what seemed sometimes as all of Tuscany laid out in front of us

We did a few day trips around Tuscany, the first to Siena, our favorite spot in Tuscany

Siena’s Duomo

The ceiling

Then there was Pisa with the cathedral in the foreground and that crazy leaning thing in back

One day was a trip to the beach at Castiglione della Pescaia, a nice beach area with what looked like a beautiful town behind it

Jeanne is always the one taking the pictures but is never in the pictures. Here she is with her kids Jamal & Leigh

A little excursion was a hike up to some castle ruins just a little way from our house. In retrospect the ruins weren’t interesting enough to justify the climb (and the unsafe conditions up there) but we did at least get a good picture of Nico.

The excursions were fun but the best part was all the time hanging out with each other. Here’s Mark with a few of his nieces & nephews

Me and Ava

Ava, Alma, & Jasmine

Jasmine, Ava, and Leigh

Jasmine & Leigh

Jeanne & Mumpy

Love this picture of Pat & Jenny!

And just Jenny

Just Mark, looking very serious

And peering over his espresso

Me & Mark with Jamal & Leigh

Lydia, Jamal, Leigh, & Molly

Alma & John

And John, our purveyor of great wines

Early in the trip John and Alma drove up to Massa Marattimo, an impossibly cute hill town with a great wine store. After that he went back pretty much every day – this time with Jamal – to pick out wines for the evening meal.

Mark & Leigh

Jeanne wanted to read Irving Stone’s classic fictional biography of Michelangelo “The Agony & The Ecstasy” but had trouble finding it in print. Here in Tuscany, though, you can still find it on the bookshelves.

And finally, the food was great, as you would expect in Tuscany. And having your own cook and cleaning staff for most of the meals wasn’t all bad….

Our lovely nieces Molly and Lydia grace the Trevi Fountain

From the Seychelles we caught a long flight through Istanbul to Rome to kick off our late summer in Europe. We’ll be seeing lots of family and friends in various parts of Europe over the next few months. After two days on our own in Rome we welcomed the first arrivals: my mom and dad. And then my brother Pat, his wife Jenny, and Pat’s twin daughters, Molly and Lydia.

The eight of us had two days together in Rome before heading up to a rented villa in Tuscany for the week, where we will be joined by my other two siblings, their spouses, and five more nieces and nephews. But first we got to have fun running around Rome showing the top sites to Molly and Lydia.

While we were still on our own we had dinner at a place with a wine cellar down below dating from 50 A.D. Very atmospheric!

Grappa in the ancient wine cellar

Jim managed to find a fairly artful steak tartare. It was supposed to be “French style” though it wasn’t quite as French as he likes them. But it was pretty.

We don’t always make time for sites as touristy as the Trevi Fountain, but we couldn’t NOT take the girls there. And it is beautiful, despite the tourist hordes.

July afternoons in Rome are ridiculously hot, but mornings along the Tiber are so lovely and pleasant.

I love the big shady plane trees that drape over the walkways along the Tiber

The beauty of Rome is walking into one of the gazillions of random churches and discovering The Redeemer by Michelangelo

Touring ancient Rome with Mumpy and Lidd

Once the hard core touring is done, we got to take people to our favorite spot in the Campo de Fiori for aperitivos. Here is Jenny and Mumpy.

The best part of drinks in Campo de Fiori is being watched over Giordano Bruno

Then on to dinner close to Campo de Fiori

The antipasto plate. Italians do cold cuts very, very well.

Who doesn’t love the Colisseum?