Monday, January 25, 2016

Postcards from Puglia, Italy

There's a lot to say about our trip to Puglia, Italy over the Christmas holiday. Unfortunately there's not a lot of time to say it, as we move back to the U.S. in just a few weeks. I'm knee-deep in to-do lists, packing, relocation documents, blah, blah, blah. Apparently repatriating yourself is every bit as time consuming as expatriating yourself.

Nevertheless, I'm not going to let one of our last European trips of this phase of our lives tick by without being mentioned on the blog. And come to think of it, sharing a lot of photos and not a lot of time-consuming words is probably the best way to reflect on our travels to this region of Italy anyway. Puglia was jam packed with beauty. And also a fair amount of challenges. This is not an area of the world that caters to tourists or even English speakers in general. Which is refreshing in many ways, but also a little stressful and sometimes more than a little inconvenient. Like when you're desperate to feed your children at 6:30 p.m. and nothing is open until 8 p.m. What can I say, we follow a senior citizen eating schedule around here.

Anyway, let's let the beautiful photos tell the story. Because the incredibly gorgeous places, views, and buildings we saw are what I'm going to remember about Puglia anyway. Not leaving my credit card at a café two hours drive away.

First Stop: Borgo Egnazia

After flying into the Brindisi airport, we began our Puglian travels at the luxurious Borgo Egnazia resort. I wrote a full review of our experience at Ciao Bambino, head that way if you want the details. The brief summary is that we came, we pasta'd and pizza'd, we indoor pooled, we kids clubbed, and we relaxed. Bliss.

Next Stop: Ostuni

We made a brief stop on the coast after leaving Borgo Egnazia (picture above), then we headed to the hillside town of Ostuni. The charm of this place was oozing out of every little alleyway and café.

It was particularly dazzling all lit up for Christmas.

From Ostuni, we did a day trip to Alberobello to see the famous trulli homes.

Next Stop: Lecce

We didn't stay the night in this historic city known for its baroque architecture and ancient ruins, but it would be a good place to base yourself if you wanted to just stick to one location but still explore Puglia. Very centrally located and large enough to have enough amenities. For us, a day wandering around its famous sites was enough of a taste of its many visual treats (and there are many).

Final Stop: Otranto

If I had to pick a favorite area of Puglia, Otranto would be it. Gorgeous beachside location: check. Magical, winding streets and paths through the historic center of town: check. One knock-your-socks-off fantastic meal: check. For my family, it was pretty much the best of what makes Puglia so special, all wrapped up in one convenient town. And for off season travelers like us, it was one of the few seaside towns we passed through that wasn't completely boarded up for the winter season. In fact, it was bustling with activity, at least over the New Year's holiday.

Puglia was unlike anywhere else we've been in Europe. Gorgeous beyond compare. And with a dash of ruggedness and edginess that kept us on our toes.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Happy 4th Birthday, Little Arrow!

As you may know, I like to write posts to the boys on their birthdays, and it is Little Arrow's 4th birthday (you can read his 1st2nd, and 3rd posts and Big Arrow's 2nd3rd4th, 5th, and 6th posts at the links.) Forgive this temporary transformation of this travel blog into an incomplete baby book... I'll resume my normal travel tales and tips in a few days.

Little man, I've been thinking about what I might write to you in this space, on the eve of your fourth birthday, for weeks now. I want to do justice to my feelings toward you. How complex they are, yet how pure and full of love they are, too. Your personality has truly blossomed this year. We're getting a much clearer snapshots of the boy you're becoming and man you'll be someday. And we love everything we're seeing.

I say my feelings are complex because you challenge me every single day. Sometimes every single minute. Not because you're naughty (though you are, sometimes) or because you're difficult (though you are sometimes that, too). But because in most ways you're nothing like me. And I'm learning to appreciate how parenting someone so different from "my own self" (as you like to say!) is making me a better person.

I see a coloring sheet, and I can't wait to fill it with fabulous shades that I think will look beautiful together. You see a coloring sheet and you want to make it look exactly like the cover of the coloring book. I see a stack of puzzles and get bored. You see puzzles as a jumble just waiting to be organized. You're gravitating toward counting and math while I'm drawn to words and writing. I love to snuggle my family, but if I lay down next to you in your bed you make me maintain a strict 1 inch boundary of no touching.

I see risky playground equipment and think, "no way." You see them and think, "challenge accepted."

I fill my life with our small families and a few close friends. You're reportedly the most popular kid in your class, and I'm reminded of that whenever I pick you up from nursery and two dozen children come running to the fence to say goodbye to you. I'm a morning person, you're at your grouchiest when you first wake up. I'm laid back and not very picky. You demand things to be exactly as you want them, whether its the color of your dinner plate or the stray string hanging off your sock or only wearing that Captain America shirt with those particular dark blue trousers.

I hate to admit this, but before I became your mom, I think I may have been a bit judgemental toward people who weren't much like me. Now that I see life through your eyes, I know deeply and purely in a way I never knew before how absolutely fantastic it is that we're all so different. Because of you, I've welcomed friends into my life that are a lot more like you than me and my life is much richer for it. You're open to adventures and experiences that bring so much joy to all of us. And you challenge our family to be more open-minded, more accepting, and more embracing of diversity. Couldn't we all use more of that these days?

Plus, we laugh harder and more often because of the myriad of ways you entertain us. (Some day we'll tell you about that time you shushed us all at dinner only to get up, turn your back to us, and blow us away with an enormous fart. I earned my boy mom badge that day by laughing instead of scolding.)

We joke that the scariest words to hear are you saying, "Hey everybody, watch this!" You are my wild child, through and through.

When they wheeled me into surgery the day you were born, James Taylor's Sweet Baby James was playing in the operating room. I remember being overcome with this feeling that I just couldn't wait another moment to meet you. And each morning, for the past four years, when you yell at the top of your lungs for me to come into your room, I think to myself that I just can't wait to see what you'll get up to that day. I know it'll surprise me, challenge me, frustrate me, and delight me. Sometimes all at the same time. Isn't that wonderful?

I hope I get to feel that way for many more years, sweet boy. Happy birthday!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Saalbach's Kohlmais: Where Mountain Dreams Come True

It was hard to gauge how family friendly our summer trip to Austria was going to be. I thought my kids would be in awe of the mountain landscape, something very foreign for this Midwestern family. And they were. (Read my post about our time on Asitz Mountain in Leogang here.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Floating in the Clouds Atop Leogang's Asitz Mountain

A good friend of mine studied abroad in Austria while we were in college. When she came back to school after living there for a semester, the thing I remember most is that she said, "Wunderbar!" a lot. (She also taught us how to wear our scarves the way Europeans do, and I still think of her every time I wrap myself up that way.)

When my eyes first saw those Austrian Alps as we drove from Munich during our summer trip, I finally understood what that wunderbar! nonsense was all about. I can't think of a better way to describe those majestic mountains. They are truly full of wonder in every possible way.

The mountain view from the top of the Asitz mountain in Leogang was without a doubt the most breathtaking landscape I've ever seen. Perhaps my feelings toward it is due in part to the fact that the morning started out wet and foggy. We thought there was a good chance we'd take the gondola to the top, only to be completely surrounded by cloud cover. Maybe there's something to the "playing hard to get" philosophy because I'm fairly certain that's what the mountain was doing to us as we made our way toward the top. But Asitz did not let us down, and the skies partially cleared just as we arrived at the summit.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Day in Wells Saves the Day

On tonight's episode of Family Travel Gone Wrong: A family pulls into a parking spot in the center of the small city of Wells in Somerset, England, a 20-minute drive from their campsite. They arrive very wet, having woken up to a soggy campsite after a torrential downpour all night. (Miraculously, our Coleman Instant Tent stayed completely dry!) They had spent the previous 24 hours stranded at their campsite when the matriarch of the family (me) locked both sets of keys in the trunk of the car, leaving them with only one wallet, a little bit of cash, a tent and some clothes. All other belongings including phones, food, camping supplies, books, etc., were locked inside the car. This family endured the drama of three different mechanics attempting to unlock the car over the previous 24 hour period.

True story.

Needless to say, we were in need of a hot meal and something (anything) to go our way if our weekend camping getaway was to be salvaged.

Wells delivered.

After refueling (oh, what two cups of steaming coffee does to an exhausted parent's disposition!), we embarked on a walk about town. It was raining again at this point, but we were so overjoyed to be out exploring with full, warm bellies that we barely noticed.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Biking Through Munich with Kids

Getting from point A to point B when sightseeing through a city with kids can be exhausting, exhilarating and exciting (how's that for alliteration!) My kids have delighted in various subways, trains, buses, etc. as we've traveled around European cities. And we've withstood a few epic tantrums on public transit also. But in Munich, we found our new favorite way to get around: bikes!

Truth be told, we love to ride bikes as a family, but we almost always head to places with dedicated bike paths. I'm not very comfortable riding my bike through city streets, in and out of traffic, especially with the boys, so we've never rented bikes during city visits. Until Munich, when after our first day there, we realized it was relatively flat and had bike lanes on almost every major street (often protected by a curb away from vehicle traffic). It was the type of biking that seemed both safe and fun, and we knew the boys would love it.

The weather forecast was glorious on the morning of our second day in Munich. After a quick game of footie in a nearby park (and coffee for mom and dad, naturally), we headed straight to Mike's Bikes rental office. (They offer organized tours that leave from the Marienplatz, but we wanted the flexibility to go wherever we wanted that day.)

We had a route in mind, but the staff there provided us with a helpful map that showed good streets for biking. They got us fitted with bikes and helmets (and a tandem tag-a-long for Big Arrow and a seat for Little Arrow), and off we went. (I'll break down our exact route at the end of the post for those wishing to re-create our day.)