Our third week in Italy was spent in the Prosecco road, which was named a new UNESCO Heritage Site the second day we were there! This is the area where the DOCG Prosecco comes from. We were in Tarzo - a small village between all the vineyards. Måns and I went to a Prosecco tasting where they are restoring an old building for a bed and breakfast. The fields have been in the family for 3 generations. We also had another impromtu Prosecco tasting near Santa Stefano. We visited the National Park of the Belluno Dolomites, which is about where they start. It was really nice! On another day we went to Lido di Jesolo, which is a sandy beach near Venice. And of course we had another visit to Ai Pioppi. This is the amusement park that one man built in the woods behind his food stand all by himself. All rides work just with human power. He's been working on it for almost 50 years. It's an amazing place so we had to go back!
For week 2, we moved to northern Tuscany in the Garfagana region to Bagni di Lucca. This place used to be famous for its thermal spas, and was often visited by musicians and poets (Puccini, Shelley, Byron, Browning). Now they are dead and it's our turn to visit. We stayed in a really nice house with a small pool that we could cool off in, which was great since Italy was experiening a heat wave while we were there. The property was surrounded by lemon trees, olive trees and caper vines, which produce a very pretty flower! We visited all the cute, small villages, including one called Lucchio Alto located at the top of a mountain. The houses have to build their rooms on top of each other because they hang from the cliff. Luckily, our host, Giuseppe took us up because he was picking up some cheese from a lady that makes it on the mountain. At one point, we had to stop the car to let about 20 goats run past. At the top of that hill was the ruins of an ancient castle. It was really beautiful but it was also extremely hot and a long and steep hike. It was worth it for the views though!
We started our 3 week vacation with a week in Levanto on the Ligurian coast. The plan was to take a direct flight to Milan and then drive down. The reality was that our flight was cancelled and we were re-routed with 3 flights - Stockholm to Helsinki, Helsinki to Rome, Rome to Milan. We stayed on the top floor of a very nice building in the center of Levanto. We had a huge terrace. Of course, we had to share that with a family of seagulls. They liked to wake us up each morning around 5. Seagull alarm clock. Of course we went to the beach in Levanto, in neighboring Monterosso and in Santa Margherita. We also took a boat from there to Portofino. "Vacation spot for the rich." (We could afford an ice cream). On the way to Portofino, there are huge yachts anchored. One had a helicopter landing pad, another had a basketball court and a waterslide from the 3rd floor of the yacht. Again, we were almost out of our price range just affording those 4 ice creams. A few photos from week 1 of our trip:
Athens turned out to be a very nice city. We were lucky to get an apartment near everything we wanted to see, including an 11th century Byzantine church directly outside the balcony. Turns out, these churches are on every few blocks and being 11th century in Athens is nothing when everything else is thousands of years old. A café owner told us, “You dig anywhere in this city, you find something ancient.” And he was right. There are several places on the sidewalks that are covered in glass where you can see ancient ruins or tiles. Most likely, this happens when they are fixing a pipe or a crack in the sidewalk and then it’s, (sigh…) “Looks like we’re going to need another piece of glass over the sidewalk. Got some more ruins from 1000 BC.... again.” Our apartment also turned out to be very strategically located just a block from the Pinball Museum. Måns was immediately at home. Of course we spent our first day exploring the Acropolis, which is high on a hill in the center of town looking over everything. This, of course, includes the famous Parthenon, a temple to the goddess Athena, completed in 438 BC. It also includes many other famous sites and ruins. The oldest artifacts found in the Acropolis so far date all the way back to 6000 BC. So, just a bit older than my kids think I am. On other days, we visited the Temple of Zeus, the huge Flea Market, the Ancient Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus. We even saw the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Parliament, where on Sundays, the guards wear the traditional uniform of the War of Independence in 1821, which is the famous outfit with the white skirts and pom-pom shoes. We were in Athens on January 6th, which is a very important Christmas holiday in Greece (and many other countries). The 11th century church across the street wanted to make sure we didn’t forget this and rang the bells at 7am. The day before this, it seemed to be the custom that groups of children would walk down the streets with violins, triangles and special decorated boxes to collect money while singing Christmas songs. It was very cute! Other notable things about Athens:
- Vendors sell a street snack called koulouri, which is a ring-shaped bread covered in sesame seeds. Very good!
- The entire city is filled with orange trees! They’re everywhere. A few lemon trees too. They line the streets, so I guess you could eat for free if you want. I picked one and besides having a lot of seeds, they were just fine.
- There is a special Greek wine called Restina, which has been made for at least 2000 years. It contains pine resin. It makes an interesting flavor.
- You can’t flush toilet paper. Most the pipes in the city are too small. You have to put it in the trash (except new public places). We would often wait until we were at modern museums so we could go to the bathroom without doing that.
We spent a week in August right around where the borders of the Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria regions meet. That basically meant that almost every city in the area was a medieval city on a hill, with the most amazing food and castles in every direction. This was also the area of the thermal baths. All the baths we went to were natural and completely free! I made the mistake of telling the kids that people have gone to these baths for centuries for wellness cures to get rid of their impurities. This led to much shouting at every place we went of "REMOVE OUR IMPURITIES!" so it maybe wasn't always the most relaxing place to be.
We are back from a fun but very hot trip to visit family and friends in Texas! This time we got to feed bison and ostriches, swam with baby alligators, wore a python as a necklace and tried an apple pie hamburger, just to name a few things. Between the four of us, we made it out with just one sunburn, about 40 mosquito bites and 13 fire ant bites (all on one foot).