On our last morning in Rome, we took a taxi to the train station and had no problems finding our high-speed train to Venice. We located our seats, stowed our luggage, and sat down to enjoy a three-hour train ride through the Italian countryside—this is the way to travel, people! The weather became progressively more overcast and rainy as we rode, but we still enjoyed seeing the small Tuscan farmhouses and rolling hills as we flew by at well over 100mph. We also had time to check out a couple of great kids books I had found in the bookstore in Rome: an Usborne History of Rome book and Alberta Garini’s A Kids’ Guide to Venice. Piper enjoyed the kids overview of Ancient Rome and later brought it in to share with her class. And we all appreciated the Kids’ Guide to Venice—tons of great ideas on what to see in Venice and what kids would find interesting at the various sites. All with great colorful drawings.
Once we arrived, we took a vaporetto to the San Stae stop and met our wonderful AirBnB hosts, Silvia and Manuel. Their modern, recently renovated apartment looking out over a small canal was just lovely: all clean white lines with splashes of color. Once again, the girls had a sweet little attic room with two twin beds and their own bathroom. And, no annoying birds or church bells! Score one point for Venice.
We loved it, and our hosts sat with us for almost an hour after we arrived, giving us the tour of the apartment, showing us how to use the various appliances, and giving us lots of restaurant recommendations while marking them on a big map of Venice. The apartment was located on the border of the San Polo and Santa Croce neighborhoods, which was an excellent spot. At least a few blocks away from the crazy crowds around the Rialto Bridge and major Venetian sites, but still close enough to walk almost everywhere we wanted to go.
Does the word “vacation” conjure up images of white-sand beaches, fruity drinks with umbrellas in them, and hours spent lying on a chaise by the ocean with a stack of books next to you? Nothing to do, nowhere to be, and the hardest decision you have to make is what to order for dinner? That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Well that is not what happens when you vacation with your children—anywhere, really, but certainly not when you travel abroad with them. And so, I will refrain from calling our Italy adventure a vacation, because the only thing vacation-y about it was that Chuck and I sorely needed one after we got back.
That said, we knew this going in, and armed with the correct mindset (more of a warrior approaching the battlefield), our trip to Italy was so worthwhile and even, dare I say, fun. We took off from Paris on a Tuesday morning and were in Rome a mere 2 hours later—no long flights, no jet leg, Europe is awesome! We took a taxi from the airport to our apartment, although the taxi could only get within 3 blocks of the flat before having to stop because of pedestrian traffic. Our address was merely the name of a tiny square off a small road near the Campo dei Fiori, but we pulled our suitcases trustingly down the narrow street and found our AirBnB contact waiting there for us (phew!). Once again, AirBnB did not disappoint! We were in a very unique apartment with a small kitchen tucked away under the eaves and a loft bedroom for the girls (it was reached by way of a ladder, and adults could barely stand up there, but the girls loved it).
It rained on and off our first afternoon in Rome, but nothing could stop us from our first taste of gelato at a little ice cream shop near the Pantheon. We marveled at all the twisty and turny streets and the fact that you could walk around the corner and find some pile of old rocks or half a tower dating back to Ancient Roman times!
There’s a reason for the cliché about Paris in the springtime. In March and the beginning of April, it seemed like leaves were appearing back on the trees at an interminably slow pace, patches of flowers here and there suddenly in bloom, one fountain filled and turned on, and then another. And then suddenly the end of April arrived, and the gardens and parks exploded into color. My regular jogs in the Champs de Mars park are now under the canopy of leafy trees, where it seems like just yesterday there hung bare branches. The fences have been taken down from around the main grassy areas in the park, so that on the weekends, the lawn is covered with picnickers, and surrounded by colorful patches of newly-bloomed flowers. And just as predictably as the flowers, as my new ex-pat friends have told me, visitor season has arrived.
We are hosting a bunch of friends over the next couple of months, but first up was my mom. She arrived a few days into the girls’ (2nd, but who’s counting) two-week Spring Break, and we were thrilled to have her. The night before she arrived Piper told me, “I’m more excited than Christmas Eve and the night before Easter that Grandma is coming tomorrow!!” She (Grandma) arrived safely (bringing me more treats from home, including some good old American trashy magazines. I was kind of disappointed to find that pretty much nothing has changed in the world of celebrity gossip—sometimes it seems like we’ve been here for years, and then the same actress is still pregnant and that annoying Jersey Housewife/Inmate person is still front page news and you realize that we have only been gone a few months…). We had lots of ideas for our days with Grandma, but when the forecast for the day after she arrived was promising, we decided to visit Giverny (Claude Monet’s home and garden).
Not long after moving to Paris, I was convinced that I had found food heaven. Quaint little bistros on every corner, fresh baguettes, biting into a croissant or pain au chocolat still warm from the oven. I would move here for the cheese shops alone. And the farmers markets that pop up every day of the week in different parts of the city (Tuesdays, I pass one on my way to and from the girls’ school when I go to read with Ruby’s class. Wednesdays and Sundays, there’s one just a few blocks from our house.) The grocery stores have an entire aisle devoted to yogurt.
And I haven’t even mentioned the wine. Eating here is good, real good. But slowly, some cracks have begun to appear. The bistros, while most of them serve good-enough food, are not the classic French perfection of the past. I’ve had some (gasp!) just ok meals here. The beer is pretty terrible in the majority of places. The espresso, though everywhere, is mostly controlled by the Café Richard monopoly and is frankly, not very good. (Side note: how can one coffee company provide the coffee to what seems like all of the bistros and boulangeries here?? Is that allowed?? And why do French people, who clearly love their espresso, not do something to get some good coffee here? Why have they not organized a strike, like for everything else?)
And apparently some American traditions are slowly making their way over here, as evidenced by this article I saw in the paper the other day.
Yes, there is a major argument brewing here on “doggy bags,” with some people advocating doggy bags to reduce food waste, and others arguing that doggy bags create more container waste, and people rarely eat their leftovers anyway (oh, and that French refrigerators are too small for that sort of thing, and by the way French restaurants make sure to serve only the most reasonable portions unlike in the U.S. where portions are, and I quote, “gargantuan"). But most importantly, it’s just not done, chèrie. Personally, I think they find the term “doggy bag” to be offensive to their ever-present dogs. In fact, the article asserts that name would never fly, and instead it would be called “gourmet bag” or “rest-o-pack”.