Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmastime in Milano

We took the kids down to Milano one evening in early December. It was clear, and there were lights everywhere. It was a lot of fun!  Here are James, Norah, and Luca in the Galleria, which is a covered shopping center near the Piazza Duomo. It was built in the 1860's and 1870's, and inside, it is absolutely gorgeous (think frescoes, mosaic tile floors, the works...). For Christmas, they had the dome in the middle of the Galleria lit up in thousands of blue lights. Spectacular!

A view of the dome, with the symbol of Milano in lights.

A huge Christmas tree in the Piazza Duomo, and the beautiful church lit up...a lovely sight!
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Thanksgiving in Italy

Since we are planning a big trip for Christmas and knew we wouldn't be around for that, we decided to host Thanksgiving at our house for the Italian 'parenti'--relatives. Everyone came, so that meant 10 adults, and 6 kids in our apartment!  We all fit, too.  Norah was "captain" of the kids' table, which she enjoyed thoroughly!  We made turkey thighs in our tiny oven, and they were a hit!  Also, stuffing, salad, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, appetizers, lingonberry sauce (no cranberries here) and more!

Danilo is always game for some kids crawling all over him!

Susannah and Emma (my cousin Arianna's daughter) love to play together! They are about 6 months apart in age.
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November 2013 was...eventful

Both Luke and Susannah came down with the horrible: hand, foot, and mouth disease. This is not the same as foot and mouth disease that cows get. It's basically a virus that is spread through fluids or the juice in the blisters that break out on the hands and feet, and in the mouth (and in my kids' case, around the mouth...lovely!). The kids itched so badly and were so feverish the first 2 nights, they didn't sleep (which meant that I didn't sleep either). Then, after the blisters are done, ALL of the skin on the affected areas peels off--think sunburn peeling. Gross!

Luke had it much worse than Susannah. Poor guy. I had to keep him home for a week because he kept getting more blisters!

In other news, Susannah started WALKING!  Also, the first day she walked, she banged her face in to the floor (tile) and broke BOTH of her front teeth. So, now she has perfectly symmetrical pointy front teeth, like they were meant to be that way! Only until they fall out in 5 or 6 years!  She also LOVES her blankies more and more each day. She often can be found putting one on her head (maybe so she doesn't have to hold it?) and playing like it's no big deal.

We went to Parco di Monza and walked around closer to where the actual palace is. The king, when he lived here, had a massive pond and grotto and waterfall, and forest...he had everything!

Our view on the first sunny day after about 2 weeks straight of RAIN!
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Halloween, in Italy

I have to admit, Halloween is one of my least favorite holidays. However, for some reason, it's starting to take hold here in it would have been strange if the Americans didn't even put out an effort to dress up, right? The difference here is that most kids (no matter the age) dress up as really scary stuff, like ugly witches, zombies, mummies, etc. They really go all out. My kids went as a super hero (Super Norah), a soccer player (go AC Milan!) and a penguin.  I made Susannah's costume the day of Halloween. That's how much planning I put into this.

We went "trick-or-treating" with some friends at some apartments nearby. No one really expected us or knew why a group of 10 kids was knocking on their doors (that part of the tradition has yet to take hold!).  However, we did get a few people to open their doors and it was fun. One old man, who clearly lives alone, said it brightened his day to see so many children outside his door. That was sweet.
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Uncle Peter comes to Italy!

Peter, James' brother, was in Switzerland for work, so he made a stop down to see us for a weekend. We decided, like we do with most visitors, to take him to Lago di Como. We had a good time walking around and seeing the sites.

Luke's serious look...pre-haircut

Luke is dancing...when I asked him to take a photo.

Norah at Villa Olmo, near the lake
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Sunday, December 15, 2013


On our second day in the Cinque Terre, we decided to take the train to Vernazza, the 4th town in the string. We wanted to climb up to a famous castle there, Belforte. Before we did this, though, we woke up in our hotel in La Spezia. This was the view from our window:  much of the Italian Navy is based in La Spezia.

Here's Vernazza from sea level

On our way to the top of the castle...

Climbing the tower of the castle...

Lots of 'love locks' up at the top. We explained to Norah and Luca what they are.

Vernazza from the sky (well, the top of the tower, anyway...)

Here's a very typical 'street' in Vernazza. The Cinque Terre are beautiful, unique, and definitely NOT stroller friendly or car friendly!  Lots of steep, narrow paths and tons of steps everywhere!

Boats lined up in Piazza Marconi for the winter.
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Le Cinque Terre

James' colleague Brian was in Milan in early October, and we decided to take him (and ourselves) to the Cinque Terre for the weekend. It's always good to bring Brian along with us because he is great with our kids, doesn't seem to mind our disorganization, and is willing to help wrangle children when necessary.  We stayed in an old schoolhouse that had been converted to a very nice hotel in La Spezia, which is the nearest large town to the Cinque Terre.  We took a boat from La Spezia that stopped at each of the five towns along the coast (the Cinque Terre), as well as this town, Portovenere. This town is not technically in the "Cinque Terre" but it is really cool, too, and even has a castle built into a bluff.

Norah was NOT feeling well (later we learned she had an ear infection and some mild hand, foot and mouth disease...oops!) so she spent the boat ride sleeping soundly. Poor girl.

Here's the first town we visited: Manarola

Luca on a cannon overlooking Manarola

James, Susannah, and I

Brian and Luca being explorers in Manarola

Later, we took a boat from Manarola (the second town in the string of 5 towns) to Monterosso al Mare, the fifth town in the string.  Here, James took a dip in the sea (look closely), and Brian, the kids, and I hung out on the beach.

Suzy Cute on the sea shore

Norah was starting to feel better as the day went on.
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Above Varazze

Our second day in Varazze was not as sunny, so we decided to hike up the mountain behind the town to a sanctuario (church) at the top of a hill overlooking the sea. It was a long walk, all uphill, and the kids were superstars!  Oma had a brilliant (really!) idea of searching with them for pretty pieces of pottery on the trail (the trail was 'paved' with broken pottery and tiles in places).  We split the load and carried Susannah on our backs the whole way. She slept for much of it. When we got to the top, it started to sprinkle, but then it stopped!  We had a snack and then went back down to town and then drove home to Desio. The view was nice up there, but as it was cloudy and overcast, not as spectacular as it could have been.

Dad and Maria above Varazze
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Saturday, December 14, 2013


Zio Marco and Zia Raffaella were kind enough to let us stay in their place in Varazze, so the weekend after the Dolomites, we switched gears and went to the sea. We luckily had a beautiful, warm day on Saturday, and we even took a swim in the ocean!  I really like this photo of Luca looking on as Norah explores.

Norah on the path to our secret beach, which isn't really a secret, but seems that way. You have to climb through a bamboo stand and go down a steep path to get to it. There was another couple there when we got there, and they did NOT look happy to see our big group, but we weren't too annoying!

Norah and James getting ready to go in; Luca was just happy as a clam throwing rocks into the waves. We had to remind him several times to NOT throw them when people were in front of him. Luckily, he didn't hit anyone!

Wave crashing on the shore

Dad after his swim

Later, we walked back toward town and played on a sandier beach. Here's Oma and Susannah taking a break from pouring sand from one bucket to another.

Oma is passing on her fondness for searching for great rocks; in this case, it was sea glass they were looking for.
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