Monthly Archives: August 2012

Tuscany

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Before too much time passes, I want to get a post up about our fabulous trip to Tuscany in late May (I know I am jumping around a bit, but the important thing is to get the highlights in here…right?).  My dad and Joyce came to spend another month with us before we leave Europe.  Since it has been a long time dream of my dad’s to spend a vacation at a farmhouse in Tuscany, we figured no time like the present!

We drove down from Stuttgart, while they planned on meeting us at our villa outside of San Gimignano after a couple of days in Rome.  Our drive was surprisingly easy (the boys have finally learned to relax in the car) and we arrived mid-afternoon.  We headed into San Gim for dinner and expected to see Nana and Pappy when we got back.  Unfortunately, some ambiguous directions, a remote location, and a late start rendered them lost and we spent the first night alone.  We re-grouped the next morning and met the up for the drive to Siena for the day.   It was a beautiful city, but the next time we do a similar trip I think we would choose just one “big” city to reduce the time “touring” and spend more time “experiencing.”  In fairness, I might have a different view if we hadn’t spent 90 minutes looking for parking, but I digress…

The rest of the week was a balance of wine country and Tuscan towns.  Unfortunately, it rained the first part of the week, which made staying home less appealing.  The upside is we saw quite a few of the hill towns in the area and replenished our wine stock with visits to Montepulciano and Chianti.   

         

We had a surpisingly easy day in Florence.  We found it less overrun with tourists than Siena and had some fun exploring a bit off the beaten track.  Pappy and Nanny took Dominic to see Michaelangelo’s David and then to the Duomo, where he climbed all 463 steps BY HIMSELF.  When we met back up, he was so proud and eager to tell us about his accomplishment.  Meanwhile, Tony and I took Ali with us to see David.  We didn’t expect him to get much out of it, but to our surprise, he talked about it throughout the trip and can still identify it when he sees it in a picture.  Moment like that, away from the guilt of multiple moves, changing friends, and struggles with languages, I am able to appreciate the experiences our kids are having as a result of our nomadic lifestyle. 

The rest of the week was spent eating, tasting wine, and enjoying the villa (Tony would probably argue there was a good amount of shopping in there, too, but I think it was pretty tame).  Once the weather cleared in the latter part of the week, the boys had a ball romping through the olive trees playing hide and seek with Pappy, swimming when I couldn’t talk them out of it, catching lizards and fireflies.  All in all a pretty great time.

                                                                                                

 

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Just Plain Pretty

ImageImage  We may like the work in the desert, but we are mountain people through and through.  One of the joys of Europe has been running into vistas like this.  The above is a rest stop about halfway through Switzerland on the way to Italy.  I wanted to stay and stare at the view all day.

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No Kids Allowed!

Tony and I were grateful to have a chance to get a few weekends away by ourselves this summer, thanks to my parents.  We agonized over how to use these precious days most effectively.  Ultimately, we headed first to Barcelona for a long weekend in early May.   Our focus here was really on the amazing food and wine.  Speaking for myself, though, I was much more impressed by the amazing architecture than I expected.  In particular, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia absolutely lived up to its hype as the most incredible (although unfinished) building ever created.  We also took in a great classical guitar concert and, of course, ate.

Next up was a suprise trip to France’s Champagne region over Father’s Day.  I knew Tony really wanted to see Belleau Wood, made famous by the Marine’s in WWI, before we left Europe.  It had fallen off our agenda, however, and I decided to put it back on.  In addition to seeing the site of the famous battle, the fountain that gave the Marine’s their “Devil Dog” name, and a beautiful monument and cemetery, we spent some quality time taking in the region’s most famous product.  We went on a tour of the champagne making process that took us out to the vineyards and to a family ferementing/bottling operation and tried our first Michelin-starred restaurant (the cheese cart alone was worth the experience, while the dog yapping under the table next to us to the – very vocal – chagrin of another guest reminded us we were indeed in France!).

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Berlin

As the summer – and our time in Germany –  began to wind down, Tony picked me up from the airport one morning after a quick trip to DC and we headed to Berlin.  This was a trip we had both been eagerly anticipating.  Tony has done a lot of reading this year focused on post-WWII/Cold War Berlin and was eager to experience the complicated and magical (my word) city himself.  For me, it was a return to a city that I feel like I have seen grow up – from 1991, when the Wall was still largely in tact and Soviet soldiers still roamed the streets of East Berlin, to 1995 when it was the world’s biggest construction zone, to 2000 as the seat of Government was being moved back to the traditional capital and the city was beginning to re-establish itself on the world stage.  This visit was surprising emotional for me as I saw that the “living history” era I had been fortunate to experience had really transformed into a monument to a past I felt intimately involved in. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                We got to see it from an interesting vantage point – after a morning at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, we hopped in a Trabi for a two hour drive around the city.  The only thing I remember from my last ride in one of these East German cars was the lack of shocks.  Twenty years has not improved upon that.

 

Trabi!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The highlight for me was a return to the East Side Gallery – or, rather, the backside of it which had been closed off on my previous return trips.  In 1991, some AFS friends and I, in Berlin for several weeks living with East German families at the midway point of our year in West Germany, took some spray paint and added our own graffiti to the Berlin Wall.  While surely painted over many times since, being back in that spot evoked some amazing memories. 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         On our way out of town, we made one last stop in Potsdam to see the Glienicke Brucke, the bridge where Cold War spy exchanges took place and where East Germans streamed across in November 1989 as the Berlin Wall opened.  Berlin continues to have a hold on me like no other place.  After all of our travels this year around Europe, and elsewhere before that, I think I have to conclude it remains my favorite city.

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