April 17, 2009
France and Italy….
It all started at an Olive Crest Auction over a year ago. A bunch of friends gathered together to support a great organization that benefits foster children. We all had been ogling over a beautiful Villa in Tuscany. By the end of the night, with paddles in the air, we were the proud owners of a week in Tuscany with 2 other families from our neighborhood (Ted and Sue Hawksford and Kriss and Terry Wells). We had traveled together to Whistler and Sun Peaks with the Hawksford and Wells families and knew that the families all traveled well together. It proved to hold true even on foreign soil. The Villa boasts 9 bedrooms and 8 1/2 baths. It seemed silly to use just 6 of the rooms so we decided to invite grandparents to join in the festivities. It was beautiful to see 3 generations of each family traveling the world….so many treasured memories for all!
Each of the 3 families planed their own itineraries. At times we overlapped in cities for a day but it all culminated with the arrival in Tuscany for a week together. The Chandler family adventures are documented below for your enjoyment (and because all my friends/family/clients keep bugging me to see photos). We started in Paris. The weather was beautiful, chilly at night but warm during the day.
A view from on top of the Eiffel Tower.
We took a boat cruise with the Wells family that helped me to capture some great angles of some of the cities treasures. Below is Notre Dame.
Rob and I had a talk with our kids before we went on the trip. We explained that when you travel not everything will go your way. You have to roll with whatever happens and make the best of it. At times, we would expect the kids to be mature and responsible. Other times, they would be able to run about and just be kids. We were sure to balance that time which helped make it a great trip for us all. Here they were clearly were in KID mode!
They even did well in the Louvre….although we were only there for about 2 hours before it was time to escape to a less “breakable” environment.
The kids noted that there were just too many body parts exposed on the statues. They wondered why they didn’t have PG ratings back then.
I loved seeing Notre Dame. There was a park with some toys for the kids to ride/play on just out of this photo. Rob whipped the kids around on spinning toys while I was able to get some photos.
The gargoyles sticking out of the building to guard the tower were very impressive. To think that they were built thousands of years ago and still stand so perfectly amazed me.
Venice was our favorite city. The last time I was here over 20 years ago, it rained so hard that the streets were covered in water. This photo shows centuries of water mark levels. Nobody lives on the first floor of these buildings.
A ride in the gondola was a highlight for me in this city. I loved seeing it from the perspective of the water level. There are no cars, just boats and your feet that help you navigate the city of Venice. There are 118 islands connected by over 400 bridges. Both kids got the opportunity to guide the boats through the canals.
Brooke looks dangerously close to the wall don’t you think!
Isn’t it romantic…..
Okay, maybe not, we followed the Wells family through the canals of Venice on their boat (party of 5).
St. Mark’s Square was a favorite spot for the kids. They quickly learned that the pigeons are fearless. If you feed them they will sit on you, fight for food, and of course occasionally relieve themselves on you. Yuck. But the kids didn’t care. They LOVED the pigeons. We spent upwards of 4 hours at St. Mark’s over the course of 2 days…just to feed the pigeons. It made for great photos though I must admit.
Here Grandma Deanie gets into the moment. The birds loved her in particular. This is my favorite photo of Deanie (Rob’s mom). She was a fantastic traveler. She was so happy to be on the trip that it showed in everything she did. She kept up with us all day, was the last one to bed and the first one up with a smile. Loved having you with us Deanie!
It tickles when they peck for the food.
Rob is trying to negotiate with the bird NOT to poop on his shoulder. The bird hopped on his hat…and pooped.
It’s an all out battle for the food. Not sure why because all day long tourists feed these crazy birds. They should be so fat that they can’t fly!
We spent part of a day in Murano and Burano….famous for their glass blowing and lace making. Grandma Deanie bought each of her 4 granddaughters a monogrammed lace handkerchief to carry on their wedding day. She even got one for my son (monogrammed with a C) to give to his bride on their wedding day. How special is that. What a treasure. Here the kids are in Burano (about a 45 minute boat ride from the center of Venice).
Well, what can I say, we pretty much were over the statues, monuments, churches, and were ready to shop the leather market. Grandma Deanie took the prize for the most purchases with a leather jacket, gloves, purse, belt, about 10 pashminas and silk scarves.
TUSCANY….THE VILLA MADALENA IN MONTISI
WOW, was the only word that would escape my mouth when we arrived and weaved our way through the enormous villa that would be our home base for the next week. It was spectacular. Each of the 9 bedrooms was well appointed with a private bathroom. The formal dining room had a table that expanded to seat 20. The kitchen was huge with slab granite counter-tops. There was a breakfast nook for 10 and an outdoor dining table for 20. Every detail was authentic in this ancient stable that was turned into an amazing villa.
The villa quickly became home to us all. We traveled to little towns during the day and returned home to the comforts we all enjoy. Here Sue or “Camp Counselor Hawksford” as we adults referred to her, read stories to the children about the art we had seen. Had they just read the book it would have been on thing. But to LIVE it and actually see these places is another. It was such a rewarding moment to witness their enthusiasm for learning all cuddled up in their jammies.
What trip to Tuscany would be complete with out a few tours of wineries. We only visited a few but while we tasted wine, the kids entertained themselves playing football, ducking under grape vines, and climbing whatever stone wall happened to be near by.
One of the wine tastings was in an old castle. So after you tasted, you got to climb up in really tall towers with sheer drops on either side….not sure how smart that is…but everyone kept the consumption under control.
Between stops, “Camp Counselor Hawksford” kept the kids busy with games like this one….trying to untie the knot. It was hilarious.
One of our day trips was to a natural hot springs pool. No Photoshop here…this is the real water color. Swim caps are required and add to cultural experience. Terry was the only adult brave enough to venture in the water with the kids. Here he is leading a conga line.
And here he lifts his son and mine to try to make a tower as big as the one in Pisa.
The grandparents on the trip enjoyed watching the kids swim too……but they didn’t brave the green water.
Back in Montisi, our quaint little town of 300 people. This was our local grocery store. The language barrier was fun to conquer with sign language. Terry would put an “A” or Ted an “O” on the end of all our English words in hopes of it sounding Italian.
The streets were narrow. With the exception of one road that lead through the little town, the other side streets were for walking only.
There was no doubt that when 19 Americans pulled into town, we were known. We were respectful of the locals but with a group that large, you can definitely hear us coming. Here a cute little Italian lady watched us wander the streets.
The local bakery had delicious pastries. We quickly learned that we needed to pre-order enough for a group our size or the town would be out of pastries. So we had a standing order for 2 dozen tasty croissants and sweets. This lovely old woman was on her way back from picking up her bread for the day.
The Italian people were so friendly and tried their best to help us. I didn’t find that to be the case in France despite my ability to speak basic French. There was just a different feeling in Italy. The welcome feeling of family and an appreciate for the 3 generations of travelers in our group.
Notice the metal stakes/hoops…they are from ancient times. This is where they would tie the horses.
I was so impressed with the kids ability to get creative. They went fishing in the goldfish pond. They played cards and games. They put together performances for the adults at night complete with stand up comedy, dance routines, lip-syncs, and even a fashion show. There was no limit to their vision.
Lauren modeling the latest fashions.
Dick and Sue Triplett (Wells’ grandparents) treated us all to an authentic Italian cooking class one afternoon at the villa. We made 3 different fresh pasta dishes, a delicious roasted vegetable dish and a dessert. It all complimented our vino purchases from the vineyards.
We even collected fresh herbs from the villa garden to create amazing flavors in our meal.
One of our day trips was to Sienna. It was a big city in comparison to the little villages we were used to visiting. We quickly realized that keeping track of 19 people in a group was much easier in a small town where you could easily see everyone even if they wandered ahead. We settled down in a big local square to rest and have a little toast. The kids were playing with their cameras, petting dogs and chasing birds. All of a sudden this marching band came out of one of the side streets. They were playing “Oh When the Saint Go Marching In”. It was hilarious.
Dalton AKA “Spidey” climbed on EVERYTHING he could. And wow was he fast. I’d turn around and he’d be 15 feet up in the air. “Grandpa Dick” (Hawksford’s grandpa) was always playing sweeper bringing up the rear of the group and keeping Dalton from climbing too high.
On our last day in Tuscany, we drove to a small town in the hills to visit with Giorgio, the father of one of Terry’s friends. He didn’t speak a word of English so we hired a translator to join us for our adventures. We got lost on our way to meet them. When we finally connected we visited ancient tombs, toured a beautiful little town, had a 6 course lunch in an old farm house, played soccer in the farmyard, and visited Giorgio’s family vineyard.
The ancient towns we visited were literally carved out of stone and built on sheer cliffs. This is Pitigliano the town where Giorgio’s family winery is located nearby.
This is part of the vineyard, Vino Melosini, that Giorgio and his family own. They grow grapes to sell to the wineries. I wish that it would have been rich with leaves and grapes…would have made for more impressive photos. I guess I’ll just have to go back in the fall sometime.
Signs of spring. A single bloom.
I wanted some photos of sheep as they were dotted all over the rolling hills of Tuscany. Every-time I’d get close they would run away. I didn’t bring my big lenses because they are so heavy. So I had to physically get close to the sheep. I got that opportunity on the farm next to Giorgio’s. It was all good until they started to stampede and I actually got a bit scared. The kids came running behind me and the pack diverted and took off. I felt bad for the sheep owner…he had to chase them back to the field from the road. Oops.
At the end of our final day in Tuscany, we came home to a beautiful catered dinner hosted by Dick and Sue Triplett. It was the perfect way to end a busy day of sight seeing and end our time together. We all went around the table and talked about our favorite moments on the trip. Terry toasted to each of us individually in a tear filled room. One final farewell dinner under the Tuscan Sunset….and we all went our separate ways to wrap up our trips.
We left early in the morning to head to Rome. We only had 24 hours in Rome and had lots to see. On the recommendation of a friend, we decided to hire a private tour guide and a car/driver to help us navigate the city. Giancarlo Schettino (email@example.com) ended up being the BEST that money can buy. He was a fantastic guide who showed Ancient Rome and the Vatican City. We would drive through the city seeing beautiful sites and go on roads that other vehicles were not allowed to travel. It takes a special permit that few have to drive these places. We would get out of the car with Giancarlo and tour the sites, then the car/driver would be waiting for us on the other side to wisk us off to the next place. It was a beautiful way to see this amazing city. My favorite stop was the Roman Forum. With Giancarlo’s help, he created a story that if I closed my eyes I could feel like I was back in time. His descriptions and storytelling made what could have been a “oh look another piece of stone” tour a magical adventure instead.
We stopped for a water break. The fountains had a “she-wolf” head with 2 holes. You used one finger to plug the bottom one and the water sprayed up out of the top. The idea was to do it a little bit so you could raise the water to drink. Dalton had other ideas….it was like a water gun to spray his sister.
Outside the Egyptian Embassy Dalton poses with their guards. He was fascinated that the guns were real. Not something you see in Sammamish.
Republic of Italy recognizes the HQ of the Knights of Malta as a sovereign nation. We were guided to a large door with a well-worn keyhole. Giancarlo encouraged us to go ahead—you know you want to—take a peek. Our gaze took us through a well-manicured garden, across Rome, and came to rest on the dome of St. Peter’s, located in yet another sovereign nation—Vatican City. This series of 3 photos is Rob holding Dalton to look through the keyhole, the keyhole itself, and what lies beyond.
Our travels were truly an incredible adventure. We are blessed to have had this experience and to have shared with with such wonderful families. I loved traveling with Grandma Deanie, Rob and my kids. It is a trip I will cherish forever. Thanks to the Hawksfords, Wells, and both sets of grandparents for making our stay at the villa so enjoyable. So now we’ve done Canada and Europe together….what’s next?
I hope that each person reading this has enjoyed learning about our trip. I have about 1,500 more photos for anyone interested in seeing them. Ha.
Also, post a comment if you’d like. I’d love to know what photos are favorites or which stories you liked best.