Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Italy Update #2

Hi all, just a quick update from Arezzo, halfway through our biking trip. So far everything has gone just perfectly. The weather here has been unseasonably cool, which basically means not nearly as roasting hot as it usually is here right now. So it's been perfect for biking. Our routes have all gone well, with an occasional assist from the GPS and a few unplanned detours, but all fun. We've biked lots of backroads through vineyards, sunflower fields, and around Lake Trasimeno. The towns have been just beautiful little jewels of medieval streets, castles, and churches. The kids have been doing great, we've gone over 100 miles so far, they are absolutely loving it! We have three more days of biking, and then it's on to Florence, Pisa, and the Cinque Terra for some relaxing last few days.

So far, we've biked through Perugia, Asissi, Castiglione del Lago, Cortona, and Arezzo. On to San Giovanni Valdarno, Pontessieve, and Firenze. People everywhere are extremely gracious and enthusiastic about our bikes. Lots of "Bravo!"s shouted from passing cars, house and store windows, and other cyclists, and occasional crowds gathered asking questions when we stop. I'm grateful I learned enough Italian to communicate, and I've found that I can make myself understood quite well (nice surprise). Motorists here are great toward bikes.

Our hotels have all been terrific, and the people who run them extremely gracious(especially about finding a place to put our huge bike contraptions). All in all, things couldn't be better, it is the trip of a lifetime for sure!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Buon Giorno from Roma

A quick post from an internet cafe in Roma. Things have been great so far, our apartment that we rented here in Rome is about a block from the Pantheon, two blocks from the Piazza Navona and a few blocks from the Trevi fountain. It's really within walking distance of just about everything here. Today we walked down to the Colliseum, decided not to brave the hordes there, but instead we headed up the Palatine Hill and enjoyed the break from the noise of dowtown Rome to stroll among the Cyprus trees and ancient ruins. Despite the crush of people below, it felt very peaceful up there and the kids could run and look over everything, taking as much time as they wanted to.

After that, we headed to the Fora Romana and all of the wonderful ruins. We also spent some time at the museum and great building surrounding the tomb of the Unknown Soldier here. Then it was some grocery shopping, home for dinner and a nice break, the kids played with the games and stuff they brought, and I took a short nap. This evening we got some gelato (of course!), the gelateria in a little side street near our apartment has to be the best in Rome. It's amazing stuff. Then a little evening stroll to the Trevi Fountain, and then a stop here in an internet cafe. Thus ends our first day in Rome.

Ciao, and I will try to update whenever I can!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tetris with Suitcases

So here's a little-known factoid about me - long ago in a former universe, I was a tester on the game of Tetris. This was back when I worked on the first Microsoft Games pack, yes the very same one that also brought you Freecell (you know who you are, all you Freecell addicts out there!) The approximately 80,000 games of Tetris I have played in my lifetime (getting paid to do so, mind you) are coming in handy as I attempt to pack four people's clothing into two carry-on backpack/suitcases.

Hubby in all of his wisdom bought us these handy packing cubes, so it's just a matter of getting everything to fit in the appropriate cube, and then getting all the cubes into the suitcase. Now with Mackenzie's clothes, this is a no-brainer. Being your basic twelve-year-old boy, the kid can exist for approximately eight weeks on one pair of shorts and one t-shirt (he does change his underwear, I'll hand him that much). With Asa's clothes, it's another question. It takes her at least three outfits just to get through the day. That's not counting the several pairs of pajamas that she might wear in the course of an evening (one pair for lounging, one pair for hearing stories read, another pair that's just the right temperature and texture for sleeping in). Hubby and I both tend more toward Mackenzie's end of the spectrum, I have no idea how this clothes-hound daughter of mine came along. Remember, this is the girl who loved her first set of shoes SO MUCH (she was 11 months old) that if she woke up in the middle of the night and she wasn't wearing them, she screamed and wailed. Clothing for her, for three and a half weeks? Bring on the U-Haul truck! Hubby's job of disassembling and packing our bicycles into suitcases along with tools, first-aid kit, spare tires, tubes, patches, chain links, grease, etc. simply pales in comparison.

Other than that, the news from here is that we're almost ready to roll. I've got all of our nights' stays booked through the first two weeks. It's very eclectic, I think we're hitting every sort of accomodation available:

farm "agriturismo"

We'll be in Rome for a week, then we're training it to Perugia where we unpack the bikes, and pedal our way through the Tuscan countryside through Cortona and Arezzo and up to Florence. At that point the bikes get packed away again and we have a few days in the Cinque Terra to recuperate before we head back to Rome to celebrate Asa's birthday and then fly home.

We have taken several good rides with the kids, the bikes, and the rolling suitcase contraptions, including one good one through the rolling hills of the wine country just outside of town. I think it was a suitable fascimile for the type of terrain we're likely to encounter. One weekend we did 65 miles with the kids over three days, so I think we're ready on that front.

I have spoken Italian to several people over the phone by now, and have been understood and had people reply back to me in Italian and understood them! I have emailed in Italian. So I have some little confidence that I will do okay in the places where there are few English speakers. I only know the present tense of verbs, so my Italian will be sounding something like "I am being in Rome next week and am to be needing a room", but I figure that will have to do, I have no time to memorize perfect and pluperfect and past participles.

We're not taking a laptop along (I can hear your collective gasp of disbelief from here) so I may or may not be updating my blog while we're gone. It will depend on the availability of cyber cafes along our route, and my desire to spend any time in front of a screen while the duomos, the wineries, the Roman ruins, and the gelatterias call my name.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Birthday Weekend

It seems like it can't possibly have been a year since this happened last but here it is again, my son's birthday. The day I met him, the day he was born, the day I saw his eyes for the first time. He has been such a force of joy in my life, and such an instrument of change to the person that I am as well. We had an awesome weekend to celebrate his birthday. Of course, he got his presents from us family members while everyone was still in pajamas in the morning, including this cute hippo headrest from his little sis' (she also gave him a hippo cookie cutter and hippo alarm clock, and noticing the hippos shirt - a birthday present from grandma last year - I'm sure you sense a theme here!). Yes, the boy still loves hippos. "Donation to WWF hippo protection" was one item on his birthday list in fact, and he has talked lately of a future in wildlife biology, studying hippos of course.

Then he wanted to camping, so we headed to one of the most beautiful places on earth: Waldo Lake. Some friends were camping there and we joined up for a couple of days of sunshine, incredible clear water (one of the clearest lakes in the world, with over 100 foot visibility), forest, and an amazing display of stars at night. My mom came to join us and brought her kayak, which Mackenzie really enjoyed paddling around in for hours and hours (I think mom thought she might never pry her paddle back out of his hands)

Besides kayaking, we went hiking, the kids rode bikes all over the place, there's a swimming dock, and they waded around catching frogs in the marshes and had frog races. All the things that make a late-summer camping trip so sweet....

At 4:14 in the afternoon, my alarm went off. Mackenzie and I were alone on the shore, he was still wrapped in a towel, and I wished him the happiest of birthdays in that quiet moment (and of course, snapped a pic of my birthday boy, looking very quietly contemplative here).

After getting home late Friday night, we spent Saturday morning getting ready for his birthday party. I woke up at about 2:30 am in a mild panic. The wind was blowing a cold and pelting rain through the open French doors in our bedroom, and Mackenzie had planned an outdoor party with lots of games (and he had about 20 guests coming, so I was envisioning how I would keep all of those kids busy in our house if we got rained out!) But I shouldn't have worried as Saturday dawned clear, if a little chillier than the usual August weather. The sun shone on his party and everyone had fun playing tug-of-war, capture the flag, and water balloon fights.

And of course, he had fun opening presents, from a chess clock to D&D books, Yu Gi Oh cards, favorite games and gift cards, he got some very thoughtful presents from his friends. Then they all played in the park until the dusk closed in on another turning of the year.
The next day, we went for a hike up a local mountain with my sis and brother-in-law. It was great to have them here for the long weekend, and celebrate together as a family. The good weather held until about an hour after everyone hit the road to go home, and then it started pouring. It was definitely a serendipitous little window of weather for Mackenzie's birthday weekend.

As always, I'm grateful that I've gotten to spend another year on this planet in this young man's company. As he grows and matures, we spend more time together as friends, and less time with me reminding him to wash behind his ears or pouring his milk. He's a great person to hang out with, even if he wasn't my son he'd be one of my favorite people on the planet. With a ready quip, a rollcking laugh, an inquisitive spirit, and a soft spot for hippos, his cat, and all creatures great and small, he's just a terrific 12 year old kid.