The Kains Take Tuscany!

We just arrived back from six fabulous days in Tuscany, mostly thanks to me, if I do say so myself. I wrote (in my mind) a stellar brief – taking into consideration the amount of time we had, our budget, my long-ago European travels and memories (or rather, lack thereof), my husband’s preferences and personality, and my kids’ preferences and personalities – and delivered on it in spades. The weather helped out a little too, so for that I will share a little bit of credit.

Peter is a wonderful planner at home of mini weekend explorations – a consumer of all local blogs, he’s always finding new places around town we’ve never been, interesting food, arts and culture to experience in this grand melting pot of a city. But I have always been the Itinerarist of our long-distance travel. Given that this was Europe, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us as a family unit (though I hope not), and that I have no job at the moment, and therefore no excuse for anything remotely resembling the uninspired, the pressure was on (self-inflicted, as it typically is) for our trip to be THE BEST.

Had I written an actual brief for myself, it would have read something like this:

Background

My family is headed to Italy at the end of August. My husband has never been to Italy; my kids have never been to Europe. I’ve been to Italy once, during my junior year abroad. My family came to visit me during spring break and instead of coming to Paris, where I was living, we traveled to Italy – Florence, Rome, Siena, Venice. I remember chocolate gelato, getting into a fight with my dad over the way he chewed, not being able to go to the bathroom for almost the entire time and having my family force-feed me prunes, having blood oranges for the first time, pasta drowned in olive oil, something having to do with a really weird shower that may or may not have been shared with the rest of the hotel floor, unspecified and very narrow cobblestone streets, my dad ordering pigeon, the Statue of David, the outside of a church – perhaps two, my mother’s insatiable appetite for art, which I didn’t share, a Mercedes we drove too fast to Venice. That combination sounds like it falls somewhere between awful and boring. It was neither – I actually enjoyed the trip a lot and my general memory of it is positive. But I certainly didn’t take away what I’d have expected a 20-year-old should have. And here I am traveling with a 12-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl. And a 45-year-old husband. I don’t know when or if we’ll go to Europe again. I feel it is my responsibility to ensure everyone looks back on this trip with specifically fond and meaningful memories.

The food, the landscape, the art, the architecture, the leathah! In Tuscany, there is so much to adore. Far too much to adore in six days. Force too much, and nothing will stick but resentment and lethargy. Push too little, and regret will plague me, and maybe Peter. (Kids won’t know enough to care.)

Objective

Will all the Kains to fall in love with Italy in six days.

Strategic Approach

Determine the sorts of things that will make each of my family members happy (the more overlap, the better!), find a handful of specific places and experiences that will deliver without question, and mix all of it into one delicious Italian batter.

Target

Family overall: active, not big on museums, food-lovers.

Husband Peter: really loves food – foreign supermarkets, street markets, restaurants, cooking. Will go along with a lot of touristy stuff but no specific interest in any of it. Will undoubtedly be working so needs a comfortable and convenient enough place to get work done; needs some down time in the schedule.

12-year-old Frank: really really loves food. Loves taking pictures. Not big on relaxation but too much walking without a reward or too much time in one place will drive him, and as a result, the rest of us, absolutely insane.

10-year-old Maggie: really loves pasta. Loves shopping, relaxing, pool-time. Hits her limit faster than anyone, her mood will change on a dime, and she’ll need something else to distract her.

Mandatories

A villa with a pool and a beautiful view, within walking distance to something resembling a town, and within day trip driving distance to Florence and Siena.

Timing and Budget

One week only. Keep flights and villa costs reasonable so we can spend freely on the experiences.

I ended up finding a handful of villas that fit the brief. We chose Casa Tosca because of the pool, which turned out to be more perfect than even the photos suggested. I also personally loved that it was a 10-minute, steep walk up to an old walled town. Anything for exercise! I did get the whole family to do the walk with me once – carrying groceries, to boot, Maggie to do it a second time, and Peter did it one night on his own while the rest of us slept, to clear his mind from candy bars and SuperBowl scripts – and perhaps to hang out with the jovial gang of old Italian men who hung out what seemed like 24 hours a day in front of the gelatti bar.

I looked at flights for weeks – stupid prices, horrible schedules, airlines I’d never heard of – and then one day Delta offered a normal schedule at $550 a ticket. I shook as I made the reservation, being ever so careful to hit every right key swiftly yet accurately to ensure I didn’t disrupt what seemed too good to be true. BAM. Got them! Patience is a virtue and though typically not mine, I was able to come through this one time.

And then it was schedule time. Florence and Siena were musts. After speaking with a few friends who’d recently been to Italy, Lucca became a third must. I added San Gimignano after having read the Villa guide our hosts thoughtfully crafted. I wanted to: relax in our pool, go for a hike, visit a local market, ride a bike, eat incredible food, climb big towers for new views, see the big things (e.g. Duomos) I’d undoubtedly be asked about when I returned and would be embarrassed to have said we skipped, have my kids internalize that life a thousand years ago looked nothing like it does today, give my kids a first-hand understanding of how young America is compared to Europe, ensure we all returned with an appreciation for the beauty in architecture and art without needing to really understand it – in other words some Italian eye candy here and there, drive the way they do (we got a stick shift!), experience public transportation, learn a little about Italian cuisine by way of a cooking class, this having been a huge hit among everyone in Mexico a few years back with our beloved Daveed. As I put our schedule together, I realized something pretty cool – it didn’t look very different than what it would have if it were just Peter and me. I would have added a wine and olive oil tasting, and that’s about it. We have little adventurers for children, as it turns out. Here is what I planned, and how it all ended up going down… flexibility, like patience, is a virtue, and I tapped into my inner yogi to make it happen.

FYI… This is where it will probably get really boring for any reader who wasn’t a trip participant, if it hasn’t already, as this entry is doubling as a gift to my family so we can always reference it and remember the little details. Black is what I’d planned; red is what we did.

Saturday, August 17

  • Arrive at FCO (Rome Airport) at 5:25pm On time!
  • Easy Rent Cars – Jeep Compass: Via Aeroporto Di Fiumicino 320 Rome 00050 (in terminal) Easy Rent Cars turned out to be not a car rental service, but a broker. Our reservation was with Avis, but it had been canceled, because I had originally thought we were arriving at 11:25am, not having done the time change math. We spent an hour here, trying to determine if we were getting swindled. We ended up with a $400 Fiat stick shift, and thanked the good lord we’d all packed relatively lightly. Kinda fun. Here’s a picture of it at the house the next day.IMG_1081
  • Dinner at Agrietruria (Via Lazio, 3, 58015, Albinia GR, Italy) – 1.5 hours Great place but… couldn’t take us until 10pm despite many open tables. I didn’t argue. Tired and hungry family not happy, but didn’t complain. I felt guilty. We ended up finding a service area serving amazing sandwiches. It was there we discovered how strong the dollar really was. Each sandwich ended up being like $2.IMG_1067
  • Drive 2 hours to Montaione (Via Papa Giovanni XXII 24 Montaione, Toscana 50050) We arrived at 11:30pm, greeted by the friendly owners, two bottles of wine and a beautiful home.

Sunday, August 18

  • Breakfast at I’Campia: Via Chiarenti, 46 +39 (0)571 69552; open 12-2:30pm Never went here, after having spoken to the owner’s 20-something son who suggested it wasn’t great and quite touristy. And after I realized that “breakfast” and “12pm” didn’t make sense.
  • COOP Supermarket (open from 8:30am-1pm) I went on my own before everyone else woke up and bought pastries, and milk to go with the coffee the owner had thoughtfully left for us in addition to fresh fruit, and lots of other goodies and essentials. Never have I seen a more beautiful view from a supermarket.
  • The owner arrived at 10:30 to walk through the house and explain how everything worked, and recommended a place for dinner, at which we quickly made a reservation: Osterio di Pesci.
  • I dragged the family up the hill to go to the COOP to buy more groceries for lunch and the week, and we explored the town, saw the place we were to have dinner, etc.IMG_1077
  • We lounged in the luxurious pool. And ate meat. Lots of meat. And artichokes. And fresh tomatoes. And drank vino, just two of us.IMG_1083
  • Hiking (for more info, visit the tourist office of Montaione to find a map of the High Valley of Carfalo stream trails (I also have a picture of the trail map on my phone)) Hiking was a bust. It was as if no one had visited any of the trails to even try to maintain them. After each being followed by our very own circling insect for 10 minutes, and then reaching the part of the path that had completely given up on itself, we turned around to the great excitement of everyone.IMG_1097 It was even my idea to do so… flexibility! Despite promising to go back to the pool, we ended up driving into San Vivaldo and walked around the Chapels, distracting the kids with a candy truck that had parked itself smartly at the entrance. And they bought the sort of disgusting things they could get at a candy store back home. The world is indeed global.
  • Explore Montaione. Instead, we just “explored” the pool.IMG_1091
  • Osteria di Pesce. It was good, but wouldn’t turn out to be the best. Frank was disappointed in his meal – cod and butter basically – and it was amazing to see how sad the whole family felt when this food lover felt he’d made a bad food decision. We started a pact here that we followed for the week, too: Respect the Food. In the U.S., the restaurants do their best to serve everyone simultaneously, which is about respecting your meal-mates. They clearly don’t follow the same protocol in Italy. Instead of making everyone wait to eat until everyone had their food, I relented and said we could follow the Italian way: eat it when you get it.
  • Nightswimming!IMG_1646

Monday, August 19 (Lucca) (one hour away)

  • Bring coins for parking First mistake was just thinking I could type “Lucca” into the GPS and everything else would work itself out. It did, but it would have been good to have driven to a specific lot. Lucca had been my former boss’ recommendation, and he was also the one to suggest bringing coins. I did that, but not enough, and the coin machines are all in Italian, so some nice couple who didn’t speak English took pity on me and together we ended up somehow working through it all.
  • Ride bikes (wall around city with wide walkway reserved for walkers and bikers; also a park great for picnicking) Second mistake was not having found a bike rental place in advance. I hid this fact from the family, quickly found one on Yelp and we marched that way, dragging Maggie away from shop windows and promising to return. Turns out there were a lot of bike rental places, most a lot closer. I don’t know if anyone else noticed this. The biking was awesome; everyone loved it though Maggie was embarrassed about her kiddie girlie bike. We went around twice and were able to see the whole city from this unique vantage point, as well as its surrounding countryside and mountains. IMG_7455IMG_0897We stopped at the Porta we had come in at so I could race down to the lot and replenish the meter.
  • Walk around the Piazza dell’Anfirteatro (former amphitheatre): lots of cool outdoor coffee shops to grab a beer, snack, lunch, etc. I hadn’t made a reservation for lunch, so we just walked towards the Piazza and picked a place that looked good. Frank had wanted pizza and this place didn’t have any, but it turned out to oddly be one of our favorite places, especially given I had to sweep cigarette ash off my chair before sitting down. Maggie was in a mood and initially didn’t order anything – not atypical behavior – but when the waitress returned, she ordered the steak. It was one of the best things we ate all week. IMG_8715The place was owned by this tatted out motorcyclist who’d left ashes on my chair, but that’s how they roll in Italia, so we rolled too.
  • We went to the Piazza afterwards to get a picture, and were happy to have found our less touristy nook restaurant vs choosing one advertising burgers on placards. Cool area, though.
  • Visit the Bell tower next to St Martin Cathedral We found a different tower on our way here, and just climbed that one. Not even sure what it was, but we got our view of the city and felt justly cultured.
  • We made good on our promise to Mags to let her shop. I panicked because a bunch of places were closed for Siesta, but we found the Italian Old Navy equivalent in ONZ, and she bought a pleathah jacket that may or may not be totally cheesy. But if it is, it’s Italian formaggio (after a week in Italy, I still had to look that word up) which makes it cool.
  • We decided to have an antipasto dinner at home… and lounge, and do a little work,

    and treat ourselves to gelatti for dessert. Favorite flavors were DARK (dark chocolate – oh my god) and Tiramisu.

Tuesday August 20 (Florence)

Drive to Castelfiorentino (13 minute drive) and take the direct train to Florence S. Maria Novella (45 minutes/6 euros). Trains are operated by Trenitalia. The 7:58am gets in at 8:57am. I made the fam get up at what felt like an ungodly hour with the time change. And the schedule I had from the guest book was wrong… the 7:58 wasn’t express. But we got in a little after 9 and it was fine.

The real street market in Florence is on Tuesday morning in the Cascine park. From the central rail station take the Tramvia overground train to the Cascine (10 minutes ride) A homeless man who initially creeped me out was trying to press buttons for me on the machine to ensure we went in the right direction. I figured out he was actually helping before I made too big of a scene, gave him 50 cents, and we were on our way to the biggest street market any of us has ever seen. (Turns out Cascine is pronounced Ca-Chee-Nee. Dumb American.) We didn’t make it through the whole thing, just enough so that we could comparison shop several leather bags for Coocs, and one for Renese. And of course the boys couldn’t resist a pork sandwich (which might have turned out to be #1 on the Italy food list after all was said and done.)

Ponte Vecchio

Only bridge across the Arno the Germans didn’t destroy in WWII – Walked here from Cascine Park. Frank contemplated a Rolex before realizing he didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars. Maggie and I bought a Christmas ornament. Here we joined every American tourist in Italy – oddly, there were very few others we saw during our entire stay.IMG_1731

Duomo

(Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore). 12pm according to ticket (be there 15 minutes early). Bought tickets to ensure climb. Need to print out beforehand. This does not provide access to the cathedral itself. Thank God we bought the tickets beforehand – should have taken a picture of the line had I not. I did take a picture of the pre-teens sitting on the curb waiting with their eye-rolling demeanor.IMG_3134 This ended up being a damn long climb, and clausterphobic as hell in parts. Was definitely silently talking myself through not freaking out, Frank not so silent about it. But the views were incredible.

Lunch: (1pm reservation: 055 293045): Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori  Via Dei Magazzini 3R, 50122, Florence Italy

Just one of several restaurants at which I made a reservation that we never went to. Timing didn’t work. Kids were set on pizza. The place I’d found the night before turned out to be “closed for vacanzes” which sucked because it was quite a walk and I’d promised a respite “just around the corner, kids!” Eye daggers abound. We ended up at an awesome outdoor place that provided light spritzes every few minutes just when we were getting too hot.

We had some time to kill before our next stop and money was burning holes in the kids’ pockets. Maggie ended up with an apron to wear to our cooking class the next evening. Frank had a caricature done – the characteristic the artist chose to focus on was his smirk. He’d closed his mouth so unfortunately his big teeth didn’t play a part. But he thought it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen.

Basilica of Santa Croce (tombs of the famous). I have tickets printed

Jimmy had suggested we do this. It was cool to be among the remains of the most famous people in the world, though I think it was a bit lost on the kids. Peter and I were thankful for the air conditioning. Took a picture of the kids fake-praying, and haven’t determined whether this is funny as intended or offensive, so I think this is as far as it will go.IMG_7768

Leonardo da Vinci museum. Made reservations for 4pm (be there 15 minutes early)

So apparently there are two of these. I had made reservations at the smaller of the two, to my initial chagrin. Turned out to be a blessing, however. I can’t imagine the kids having been able to focus on anything more than we did. But this may have been the coolest spot we visited, and the most we learned. Everything was interactive, which kept the kids occupied and interested for far longer than they would have been otherwise. Still talking only about 35 minutes, however. This saved Frank as well – turns out he had a bunch of summer homework to do that we didn’t know anything about until after we arrived back from Italy. This because the science museum where he took a selfie of a selfie of a selfie (Room of Mirrors.)IMG_8564

Dinner @ 7:30pm (reservation already made). Trattoria Pandemonio Via Del Leone 50/r 50124 Florence, Italy +39 055/224002

And once again, a reservation we bagged. The three of us bribed Maggie with gelatti, as she was the only one who wanted to kill the 2.5 hours we would have had to, had we stayed for dinner.

Train back: 10:10pm gets in at 10:54pm

Actually, we made a 6 or 7ish train back, and grabbed dinner at a place close to Montaione that had been recommended to us by a few people: Il Caminetto. It wasn’t our favorite of the trip, but the dessert was delicious, and the atmosphere was cool. And Frank loved his gnocci – and when Frank loves his food, everyone is happy. And then we let the kids do their screen thing: can’t force all that culture without allowing a little crap!IMG_1255

Wednesday, August 21 (stay in Montaione)

Biking: bikes are rented via LandHill and I downloaded Wikiloc for bike routes

Having driven the crazy windy roads around the town, and watching adults struggle on bikes, we decided very quickly that biking around there would be a terrible idea. I actually don’t know how that place is even in business, because we’re kind of crazy and if we won’t do it, who will? We opted for the pool instead, and so this became yet another reservation I’d made that was bagged. We floated, played marco polo and did swimming races. Chased off horse flies. Saved lizards from chlorine. And got ourselves excited for our cooking class that afternoon.

3:45 cooking class at our villa: personal Chef Erika Elia (see downloaded menu on computer); +39 340 6779798; info@cuocheinvacanza.it; www.cuocheinvacanza.com 

Bruchetta, rosemary pork, homemade pasta and ragu, tiramisu. Delicious not just because we made it, but because it was actually delicious. Like restaurant delicious.

Thursday, August 22 (Sienna)

I learned from the Lucca experience and found a parking lot ahead of time, so we drove directly there. Stopped for gas on the way, and were surprised to be helped by an older woman in a house dress with a purse strapped around her neck? Is this how it’s always done in Italy, we wondered?IMG_1457 Five-minute walk to the center of the city. I fell in love with this place all over again.

Piazza del Campo: Town square IMG_5007We passed the Duomo on the way to this place but I was so intent on getting to the Piazza that I didn’t even recognize it as the Duomo. I wouldn’t admit that to anyone, other than anyone reading this blog, I guess. My mom would be horrified. Anyway, we got a three-part ticket to the Civic Museum, Santa Maria della Scalla and the Mangia tower climb (this is named after a guy’s nickname, Mangia, who apparently ate a lot. I tried to get Mangia to stick as a nickname for Frank but it didn’t work. Maggie’s Italian nickname was Morta-bella, because she grew quite fond of mortadella.)

Civic Museum. After having read a few different articles, I told the kids to simply focus on the walls here. They must have taken a hundred pictures between the two of them. The ceilings were incredible too. To have had time to give to such beauty and detail. We talked about this with the kids – the stories that were intended by the art, and what it could tell you about the lives these artists were living. Fairly surface discussions but enough, perhaps, for them to remember they’d visited?IMG_8622

Torra del Mangia: climb this tower. With its height of 87 meters, it offers one of the most beautiful views of the city. (opens at 10am… line starts earlier… maybe one of us stand in line?)

Lines were nothing like in Florence, and we had no issues getting in. Another long-ish climb but nothing like the Duomo in Florence. This one was covered in bird poop, however, which was a slight bummer. That said, having given Maggie my phone to take pictures, both of the kids were transfixed and we were the last ones to descend, holding up the next set of folks walking up (basically, we were the people we hated when we were on our way up.)

Orto De Pecci. This delightful park, where you can easily spend half a day, can be reached in 5 minutes by foot from Piazza del Campo at Via Porta Giustizia 39. The park is situated in a valley looking up at the city. It has a large green lawn, a small goldfish pond and a fenced area with goats, a donkey and peacocks. There are also ducks and geese allowed to walk freely in the park so you might want to bring some bread crumbs for them. As an extra plus, the park has a café/pizzeria which offers coffee, drinks and snacks during the day. Lunch starts at 12.30 pm. If you follow the path through the park you will reach a medieval garden, taking you back in time showing you how gardens were kept during medieval time.

This was indeed a “delightful park,” and it was so nice to sit down in the middle of a park and have a real meal, and of course a glass of wine. Cool view of the city we wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise. The medieval garden, which I had been really excited about seeing, is nothing to write about unfortunately. Looks very much like a current day garden… perhaps that was the point? Some sweet animals, too. But this park helped make Siena really our speed – to have a little oasis in the middle of Italian “urbania”… so cool.

Santa Maria della Scala: one of the oldest hospitals in Europe, where pilgrims were welcomed (Siena is along the ancient Via Francigena pilgrimage route which connected Rome to central Europe) as well as the poor and abandoned children. The complex is located right in front of the Duomo.

The best part about this place was the underground city it once was… we think, at least. That’s what we gathered from the exhibits and it certainly did feel that way – that we were walking on similar cobblestone streets two floors under this complex to the ones we were walking around outside. There were some cool pieces of art, drawings and sculptures here as well that we couldn’t spend any time with, because the kids were getting vvvvvveeeerrrry restless.

Go shopping: The main shopping street is Via Banchi di Sopra, where you will find a variety of boutiques especially clothes, bags and shoe shops.

The shopping was disappointing, though Mags did end up buying a few things for her friends in a little bag and scarf shop we ducked into in order to escape the rain (the first rain we’d seen in Italy!) I had even done shopping research and had a few stores in mind. It’s weird you kind of assume when you read reviews of places online that the people writing them have the same taste as you do. Clearly, in this case, they did not. And unfortunately we wasted our time when I potentially could have snagged the last few tickets to do the “unfinished church walk”, the only thing we had wanted to do that turns out had sold out. But just walking around to find these shops was incredible. The building that Benetton was in was gorgeous. Like Trader Joe’s in Brooklyn being at the old bank sort of thing, except this building was oh, I don’t know, 800 years old.

Duomo

I begged the kids to stop bothering each other – JUST ONE LAST PLACE AND THIS IS A HOUSE OF WORSHIP! I had to wear what were like hospital scrubs to cover my shoulders actually, similar to in Florence at Santa Croce. We ended up having to split up the boy and girl, and Mags and I walked around. Most interesting to her and me were the floors, marble depicting the same sorts of stories we’d seen on the walls at the Civic Museum, and the carvings above the thrones surrounding the front of the church. We chose which carving we believed were most “us.” Potentially this little conversation will remain her memory?IMG_6703

This was the perfect amount of time for this fam in Siena, and we headed out around 5pm.

San Gimignano for dinner on way back from Sienna. The best tip to find parking availability is to be there after 5:30pm. Walk around the ancient cobbled streets, visiting its many shops that sell some interesting hand painted pottery and leather goods. Walk up to the Rocca for the best view of the valley.

Is this place for real? The kids were asleep in the back, and Peter was yammering away on a conference call next to me, and I’m winding through vineyards and groves in my little stick shift Italian car and up on the hill I see the most beautiful city it feels like I’ve ever seen. Feels fake. Girls and boys split up, again. I finally bought myself something – a gorgeous leather purse for peanuts, and Mags got something for yet another friend. We also got a taste for global tourism as Maggie forced me to stop in a store where they had the same curled-up, breathing kittens they have at the street fairs in Brooklyn. Boy and girl teams met up again on the stairs of yet another church in yet another square and just sat and stared in awe at our surroundings. On the way to dinner we made an impromptu stop at a cool exhibition that reminded me of something we might happen upon in the East Village. IMG_1438

Le Vecchie Mura @8pm on the terrace. Via Piandornella, 15, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy

Yes! Had made this reservation and kept it! We got there at 7pm and had to wait for 20 minutes in a garden that overlooked the valley, drinking peppery-tasting white wine that couldn’t have been more delicious. Certainly a tourist joint, this one, but one that hadn’t compromised the food, and for the view we would have eaten just about anything.

Then have ice cream at the Gelato place in the main square: Piazza della Cisterna

So this is supposed to be the best gelatti ever. It was amazing… as was every gelatti I had everywhere else. I’m apparently not a gelatti connoisseur.

Friday, August 23 (Montaione)

Car Park Piazza Gramsci local market (8am-1pm)

I had nothing on the docket this day. I thought everyone would be happy about this, and I think they were, though that didn’t stop the questions: what are we doing today, what are we doing today, what are we doing today, are we doing anything today??? This was the first morning I decided to go for a run, and it was nice to explore a bit more of the outskirts of town that we hadn’t yet seen. They actually have a zipline at the school – way cooler playgrounds than in Brooklyn! I also stopped at the local market, which was fun to see but not much there. I could have bought a bunch of things for $10, but it would have been the kind of stuff that I would have bought just to buy. Still no kids’ clothing, much to Maggie’s chagrin. It’s as if there are no elementary school-aged kids in Italy. So much baby stuff, so much woman stuff. Do the others walk around naked? They had beautiful bins full of nuts and dried fruit that, had I wanted nuts and dried fruit, I would have been all over. But I really wanted fresh fruit, and the peaches were hard. So I just browsed and ended up doing my shopping for breakfast and lunch at the coop again. Mags and I did buy a few pieces of pretty jewelry for 5 euros apiece on my second trip up to town, once she’d awaken. More swimming races in the afternoon until the owner stopped by and reminded us that swimming in thunder could kill us (made me feel like a great mom.)

We had dinner in San Vivaldi at what was definitely a local’s joint. Check out the spelling of my name they caught over the phone… actually not too much worse than in the States come to think of it.IMG_1454

The waiter sat at our table to take our order. And when it was time for the bill, it was as if they didn’t care if we paid or not… we finally just left cash at the table. Full-on meat-filled meal IMG_1455complete with appetizers and wine: under $90. Frank was unable to send pictures to his family text at this place because the service was bad… had it not been, his AT&T bill may have cleared $600. As it was, we got socked with a $548 bill – guess turning off data doesn’t do it. Live and learn.

While each of the big and little Italian towns we visited had their own distinct vibe, they all shared one wonderful characteristic: cleanliness. New York smells like garbage, in Paris you can’t walk ten steps without dodging dog poop. Here, no poop. No garbage. Lots of garbage men (and women!) and trucks, and a very organized recycling system that puts our half-ass attempt to recycle and compost in NYC to shame. The general waste bin is by far the smallest of all.IMG_1447 Clean, neat and tidy, ancient, fragrant, delicious, self-respecting and respectful, healthy, neighborly. What a perfect little culture, for each of them and each of us. You’d have never known the government was literally collapsing during our stay.

Saturday, August 24 (leave)

4:30am departure. Poured rain for most of the ride. Thunder. Lightening. Kids slept. I white-knuckled it. We didn’t end up getting home to Brooklyn until 10:30pm. Soooo… a true 24-hour return trip. Exhausting. With a little piano mixed in at Charles De Gaulle.

And if I’d told anyone that was what was in store before we left, I’m fairly certain none of it would have happened. But as with all memories, the good outweighs the bad. So what we all remember is bliss (give or take 10%.) The most efficient and effective ‘The Kains Take Tuscany’ campaign execution we could have dreamed of!

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