I have no proof that when my sister, Michelle came to visit with her husband and daughter (David and Elsa) that he was the tallest man in all of Italy… but I’d say there’s a good shot! When I picked them up at the airport, I simply looked for the tallest/shortest couple combo possible (he’s a hair over 6’8″ and she’s a modest 5’2″). I spotted them instantly and helped them get some caffeine before taking them home for our big Italian lunch.
David, Elsa and Michelle – he’s crouching down to make it in the frame
Julia’s younger cousin, Elsa was her newest obsession and she had been excited all week leading up to their visit. She would wake up every day and scroll to some of the video’s or pictures we had on our iPad and scream “ELSA!” When the real thing walked (or rather, crawled) through the door – she was like a kid on Christmas. She couldn’t stop hugging and kissing her. Although, she had an awkward way of pulling her in by the neck – so much so that we dubbed Julia the, “Scranton Strangler” (you “Office” fans will get the reference).
The girls all reunited – Julia just wanted to kiss Elsa all the time
“Is my cousin trying to strangle me?!”
Michelle and David have a high-paced, action-packed lifestyle in Chicago and they were looking forward to a couple weeks of unplugging from their demanding jobs that they both do so well. We were happy to accommodate and show them a slow-paced trip filled with lots of good food and wine. We spent a couple days in the area, taking it easy. We visited the local park with the girls, we walked around downtown Como, we drove through many of the smaller lake towns. I showed David my favorite 5k loop and we went running together nearly every morning. Michelle cracked up one day after her privacy was invaded by our little Julia, somewhere in the beginning stages of potty training. She barged in and saw Michelle on the “potty” and declared to her, “Michelle… potty… YAHHH!”
The girls playing at the park
Jules sporting a pose in Como
It was drizzling when we went to Menaggio
Getting close to the ducks
Elsa fell in love with Italian food – especially risotto
“Mom, why is Julia always all up on my grill?!”
The day we spent driving around the lake was not the most cooperative of days – the temperature was pleasant, but the views were impeded by a haze and a constant drizzle dampened our tour. We stopped for a coffee and a leg-strech in one of our favorite towns, Menaggio before two fussy babies told us it was time to get home. On our way back, the constant drizzle gave us a wonderful gift – a double rainbow! This was something I’d personally never seen and only heard about in the internet-sensation youtube video.
We pulled over and took about 10,000 photos. Below are my favorites.
You could really see both rainbows so clearly
The “inside” rainbow landed directly on Bellagio
All the girls
David shooting the rainbow
The original plan for Michelle and David’s vacation was to spend a week with us and another week exploring another part of Europe. We convinced them that it was much easier to just stay with us, making our place the home-base. So a few days into the trip, they planned to go to Cinque Terre. Jen and I had plenty to keep us busy around the house so we sent them off exploring on their own.
Levanto (David’s photo)
Cinque Terre is a beautiful gem in the Italian Riveria. The area consists of five rural fishing villages (the name means, “five lands“) that are interconnected via a pedestrian walkway. I first discovered this not-so-well-known destination 10 years ago during a study abroad and instantly fell in love. Today, the popularity of the place has reached stratospheric heights and tourists from all over the world come to see the uniquely beautiful terrain. While the change in visitors has altered the local landscape and flavor, it does not deteriorate the beauty of the villages themselves. Michelle and David selected a beautiful B&B in a town just outside Cinque Terre, Levanto which offers beautiful panoramics of the area. They had such a lovely time that they extended their trip by an extra day to really soak it all up. I borrowed a few of David’s photos in order to post them.
Momma with her baby
Elsa, the little adventurer
When they returned from their road trip, we spent a few more days locally (the seemingly endless rain kept us close to home) before embarking on another trip, this time all together. The destination – Tuscany. The specific area – open ended. Tuscany is probably the most well known region in Italy. What many people don’t realize is that it’s quite large with a lot of wonderful places to see. What you can’t do is pick a bad area, so I was confident that my internet search would yield a choice that was at least suitable for us. I underestimated just how perfect a location we would discover. A search across many of my favorite websites for this type of thing (trip-advisor, booking.com, agriturismo.net, etc.) lead me to a B&B in the Chianti region of central Tuscany. Borgo Sicelle was the perfect place. The location (midway between Florence and Sienna) offered us a chance to embark on great day trips. The property (originally an old farmhouse, carefully renovated) allowed us to rent a small apartment with individual rooms and a kitchen. The owners (Franco and Silvia) were so hospitable that we had everything we could want and more (including pack-n-plays in each bedroom). I don’t usually use this blog as a forum to recommend places to eat, see or stay (at least not intentionally) – but I will in this case. If you find yourself in Tuscany, stay at Borgo Sicelle!
Borgo Sicelle from the road
Inside one of the courtyards, showing some of the apartments
Another apartment with their own outdoor tables
One view from the property – the large open patch is a vineyard
Directly across is a small trattoria (restaurant) and next door is a church
Our “front yard”… at least for a few days
The upper terrace
When we arrived, Franco gave us the lay of the land. He also gifted us a bottle of wine made by his brother-in-law (a Chianti, of course) and helped us get settled in by touring us around his amazing property (complete with several private apartments, infinity pool, multiple terraces, a playground, rec room and more). He also explained that many of the local restaurants were participating in a pseudo “restaurant-week” where they were offering pre-fix menu’s at discounted prices. Silvia helped us call and make a reservation at a restaurant, La Torre in Castellina in Chianti, one of the main villages in the area. We arrived on time for our 7:00pm reservation and didn’t leave until all six courses had been served and we’d had our grappa. It was close to 11:00pm by the time we got home and got the girls in bed.
Outside the restaurant
Night fell while we were inside
The Rocca of Castellina at night
Another angle of the Rocca
Julia was exhausted by the time we got home
The next day, we all took our coffee outside before setting out on an excursion Franco helped us script. We visited a few of the nearby villages, including a stopover for lunch in Volpaia – a medieval village that is as rich in history and beauty as it is in quality wine.
Coffee on our patio
We had a wonderful lunch here
After lunch Julia took a stroll
David tried to keep up
The girls had fun together
Julia calling out to the people below
Looking cool with mommy
A street scene in Volpaia
In the center of town
At the end of the day, we pulled together a nice selection of food (meats, cheeses, olives, sardines, etc.) and dined outside while the sun set behind us.
Rustic dinner we threw together to dine al fresco
About to sit down to dinner
The girls were quick to finish eating so they could play
We loved the sunset
The Tuscan hills came to life with such vibrant colors
The following day we went to Siena, a short 30 minute drive from our hotel. Siena was settled by the Etrucans between 900 – 400 BC. Today, it stands as one of the most visited locations in Italy. The city center has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides the rich art, architecture, museums and cuisine – the city is famously known for Il Palio, a horserace held twice a year in the main square, Piazza del Campo.
Julia and Michelle made matching braids for the day
Inside Piazza del Campo
Teaching Julia how to use the camera
I took her for a walk in the piazza
Michelle with her hands full
Julia ate all of my mint gelatto
At the end of the day, we swung back by Castellina in Chianti to visit the Macellaio (butcher) and pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables. We had seen Franco using the BBQ the night before and David and I couldn’t get it out of our mind. Our first choice to grill… a big hunk of cinghiale (boar), a specialty of the Tuscan region. Unfortunately, the only boar he had in that day was in a salami (which we got – delicious). For the BBQ, we opted for another Tuscan speciality, bistecca (steak) and salsiccia (sausage). As David and I approached the grill, we admitted to each other that it had been a while since either of us had grilled using charcoal (hedging in case either of us made a critical error). We were further handicapped by the fact that the charcoal provided wasn’t the posh, self-burning American kind – but rather some hard-to-light wood variation. Finally, we both had the gnawing image of Franco’s perfect coals glowing like small pillows delivered straight from Hades the night before. We managed to get enough of a fire going to grill meat – our manhood was in tact and we delivered perfectly cooked steak and sausage to the family. Thousands of years of genetic programing proved to be successful.
The butcher wielding his tools
Julia helped us pick our fruit
We had some of the antipasti in front of our “house” before the grilling commenced
Salami (boar salami on the left) and bread
Jen helping us stoke the fire
A finocchio (fennel) salad
We had learned that we were a “three-bottle” family
Eventually, our time in Chianti came to an end (even after extending an extra day) and we headed back to home to Como. Sadly, Michelle and David’s visit to Italy had also come to an end and we helped Michelle pack for her flight home the next day. What about David, you ask? Well, he must have liked us so much that he stayed an extra night and flew to London the day following day on a business trip. We were thrilled to host their little family, Julia loved having Elsa and we will always remember that trip to Tuscany as something truly special.