Cinque Terre Italy is not for the faint of heart! When I heard there are five little fishing villages, clinging to cliffs over the ocean in Italy, and that these villages were only accessible by hiking, train or boat… I knew WE HAD TO GO! I became obsessed with photos of these stunning, colorful little towns on Pinterest and Instagram, showing them to my kids, getting them excited for our day-long adventure into the protected national park, that is Cinque Terre.
We were staying in an AirBnB villa about thirty-minutes west of Pisa Airport, in a tiny Tuscan mountain village, and when I planned our trip from my computer back home in Oregon, it seemed like a reasonable day-trip. But when I plugged it into my phones GPS, I realized it was more than 100 miles away. No problem I thought, I love to drive and it’s a great way to see the countryside.
Did I mention that it was our fist day attempting to drive in Italy, in our tiny gutless Fiat!? If you’ve never driven in Italy, let me just warn you that it’s exactly how I’d imagine it would be to drive with indi-car racers on back roads…as the ONLY inexperienced driver! It’s mildly terrifying. There are no speed limits, no rules, no one uses signals, and no matter how fast you’re driving there is always a Nono, or truck driver, trying to run you off the road. All that to say, that it was NOTHING compared to driving the last few miles into Riomaggiore (the first of these five villages). There are no cars allowed (and no roads even if they were) inside these towns, but you can drive down a ANXIETY-ATTACK inducing narrow one-lane road to park above the towns. As you make your way down this road be sure to hug your steering-wheel with both hands, because on one side there are no guard rails and the drop is about 1,000 feet off the cliff to the ocean. There’s no room for fear here! If you are prone to vertigo or have a fear of heights just know that pushing past those fears (which I definitely had to do) is well worth it.
Happy New Year! And what a great way to get 2017 started, with a surprise snow storm in my home town of Portland Oregon.
If you’ve never been to Oregon, the stereotypes are normally dead on, in that it rains A LOT. But this year has been off the norms across the board. Summer was 90-100 degrees on a regular basis, fall was warm and dry, and now winter is throwing us all for a loop with several snow and ice storms in a row. It’s been about a month of this on and off snow/ice situation that has shut the city (and schools, sigh) down much of December and several days already in the New Year. Continue reading “Portland Snow Day!”…
It’s a little past midnight and I’m lying awake listening to the sounds of Rome buzzing outside my bedroom window. The apartment is dark, except for thin streams of light through the window shutters from street lamps. My kids are asleep, snoring softly but I am far too excited. It’s our first night in Roma and I am filled with its electric energy, a vast contrast to our past week in the quiet hillsides of Tuscany. There, the moon was the only light at midnight streaming through six-foot glass shuttered doors. The only sound, that of the wind occasionally shaking wood against glass.
But Rome is positively alive. Through my open window I hear someone across the courtyard chopping loudly on a cutting board. The knife bang, bangs away, the smell of garlic drifts, they’re humming loudly, unphased that it’s the middle of the night. In the apartment two floors down, a couple is singing at full capacity; “No Women No Cry” in very broken English. He’s all: “Hey little sister, don’t shed no tear.” And she’s all: “No women no CRYYYY!” It sounds like they are drunkenly dancing around each word and one another. A man drops a stack of plates in the café on the bottom floor, sending such a loud cascade of sound up the courtyard that it nearly rattles my windowpane. He follows it with what I can only assume, is a string of Italian curse words. There’s the clinking of wine glasses and rounds of loud laughter drifting up from the streets open air café’s through Kanen’s window across the hall. Then a little transient musical performance makes its way down the middle of the street stopping at tables, the accordion player billowing out classic Italian melodies in hopes of earning a few euros.
Holiday traditions at the Christmas tree farm. Every year my kids and I head to the country to cut down our tree, its one of my favorite rituals of the holiday season.
For the past few years we’ve gone to Helvatia Tree and Lavender Farm in the beautiful countryside west of Portland Oregon. It’s nestled between rolling hills, overlooking surrounded by farmland and grazing alpacas. Yesterday the parking lot overflowed with urban yuppies in Hunter rain boots and flannel shirts, toting babies bundled like snowmen. The paths were muddy, and the fake snow was twirling through the air over delighted toddlers. It smelled of pin and sawdust, and every few minutes you’d hear the sound of a chainsaw trimming the bottom of a tree.
Kanen, being the man of the house, grabbed a hand-saw and tarp to kneel on and we set out in search of our perfect tree. Izzy spotted it first, spinning with delight in her bright red cap that we’d picked up from a street vendor in Venice. It was perfect. It took all three of them to get it down, but we did it!
I have always loved Thanksgiving, it’s the last pure holiday, and that makes it even more special. I love cooking with my kids and expanding on our family traditions each year. This year dinner preparations began on Wednesday with each of us stepping into our traditional roles. Kanen peels the yams and apples. Izzy snaps the green beans and cuts the Brussels sprouts, and Mira makes the cranberry sauce. It’s my favorite time of year.
Delicious Classic Thanksgiving Apple Pie recipe. This is my favorite time of year, and besides Christmas my FAVORITE holiday.
I’ve been perfecting this recipe for homemade apple pie since I was nine years old. Back then my parents had pretty strict rules on what we could eat; so there was honey instead of sugar, and no butter. Lets just say that this version is a bit less healthy, but it sure taste WAY better!
I absolutely LOVE sharing these recipes with my kids, and watching them enjoy cooking as much as I always have. Each year we step into our traditions with more enthusiasm, each of us taking on our roles in the preparation of our favorite dinner of the year. Thanksgiving was the only holiday I celebrated as a child, so it’s always been very special. And what could be better than a holiday dedicated to cooking with your family!?
This apple pie is simple but delicious and turns out perfectly every time. I’m also including my recipe for flakey pie crust. You’ll need to double it for this recipe, as one portion will go on top, and the other on bottom.
One of our most memorable experiences in Tuscany was the night we cooked a five-course meal, taught by a local chef, Alessandra. I was most excited to learn how to make authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce, Tuscan style.
My twins Mira and Izzy love to cook and they were transfixed by Alessandra, hearing her stories in broken English, and learning how the recipes she taught us had been passed down for generations in her family.
We made Bruschetta with olive tamponade for an appetizer, stuffed eggplant, roasted red-pepper salad, hand-made pasta (with just flour and egg!) topped with our Bolognese sauce, and Tiramisu for desert!
It was a five hour cooking lesson, but worth every minute to learn the true authentic ways of Tuscan cooking, especially this Italian staple.
I’ve made the sauce a few times, and each time mixed a few ingredients from other authentic recipes experimenting, until I found the perfect combination that taste just like our pasta in Italy!
This sauce is actually pretty easy to make but takes A LONG time to cook! I simmered mine for four hours, Alessandra said it needs a minimum of three hours, so you might want to start this on the stove and then move it to a low-heat crockpot.
Kids plan Italy Adventure! 5 Reasons why I let my three young children plan our trip of a lifetime.
Going to Italy is not just a vacation for me, it’s the realization of a life-long dream, and what some might call a near obsession. Since my teens the allure of discovering Venice; driving the winding roads of Tuscany, and eating pasta in Rome, has pulled at the very core of me. It’s almost a spiritual, attraction I feel, as if it’s the one place I’ll feel most at home in the world.
For this reason I didn’t want to just take my kids to Italy, I wanted them to understand it’s magical spell and help me discover it for the first time; together as a family. But how can I make two nine-year-old’s and a thirteen-year-old, really get it?
My greatest fear is that we’d get there, after them hearing me talk it up all their lives, and they would say; “Everything is so old and yucky!” I feared they wouldn’t get it. And that would kill me.
Here’s my ultimate international travel packing list based on what I learned from our recent family trip to Italy.
Everyone said I way over-packed for traveling with kids to a foreign country, but I’d have to say this list was clutch! The only thing I didn’t really need was the nine pairs of heels I packed which I’ve since taken off this list lol
Here’s what I did to prepare before our trip, what I packed that we really couldn’t live without. Hope it helps make yours amazing too!
Call your cell phone company and set-up an international calling and data plan for when you are away. -I did this but didn’t realize that it still will not work much of the time. Be sure to have your “roaming” turned on when you’re t
here or it won’t work at all. WiFi tended to be our best option, but you still want one of these plans as your bill will terrify you when you get home if you don’t have it set up prior to leaving.
Set up a “travel alert” for all your bank accounts and credit cards. -This one is a must as your bank will likely decline all transactions if you don’t have this alert on your account BEFORE you leave. Setting it up while abroad can be much harder. Just call the number on the back of your card and give them the dates for your trip, be sure to include any layover locations as well so your card will work in those airports.
I wanted to share the 20 things I learned while traveling in Italy, they might help if you’re planning a visit.
These would have been helpful to know before I went!
DON’T turn in your American money at the airport “change” station. If possible don’t arrive with ANY US money that you plan on exchanging. I had $150 US that I’d planned to exchange our first day and did so in the airport, it cost me $50. So for $150 US I got 100 Euros and no it wasn’t the exchange rate (which was 1.16). Their fees are outrageous!
DO use bank or credit union ATM’s and NOT the “change” ATMS that you’ll see in Rome or other major cities. Those ones charge a HUGE fee on top of the exchange rate. Get the max amount out at once to avoid fees each time you pull money out, and then keep what you’re not using that day hidden at your hotel or apartment.
Plan to use “cash” aka Euro’s everywhere and for everything that’s not a major purchase. All restaurants and taxi’s prefer it and some will be bitches about running your card.
Tips are most always included in your restaurant tab though if you ask your waiter, they will tell you that it’s not, that way they get double tipped. You can almost never leave a tip on a charge card slip, so be prepared to leave it in Euro’s if you don’t see gratuity added to your bill.
Double check your restaurant bill. Many restaurants in Rome charged 1 Euro per-person for bread. They bring it automatically then put it on your bill. So if you don’t want it, be sure to refuse it. They will also ALWAYS charge for bottled water and most of the time it’s actual purchased bottled water, but if it’s from a bottle you can see was not one you can buy in the store, push back on them charging for it.
Cabs will take credit cards even when they tell you they don’t.
Make sure you have your pin number set for ALL cards, they use personal machines all over Italy which require a pin on every transaction.
When you order water they will ask; “Gas or No Gas?” Which means sparkling or regular water.
Tours leave ON TIME, so if you’re even five minutes late you can miss the tour and not be refunded. -This happened to us at the Vatican because of traffic getting to our meeting point. We were five minutes late and they had left. Thank God the tour agreed to re-book us for the next day, which came with a re-booking fee of 75 Euros! So don’t be late!
Try not to eat within a block of a main attraction. The food won’t be as good and the prices will be double or even quadruple compared to restaurants located just a block or two away. We learned this the hard way when we ordered: a coffee, 4 croissants, bottle of water and two yogurt cups for 110 Euros across from the Vatican! #Robbed.
If you are near the Colosseum in Rome walk two blocks to Trattoria Luzzi it was hands down the best meal we had on our entire trip and was across the street from our AirBnB apartment!
Which reminds me, forget hotels! We used AirBnB for our apartment in Venice, our villa in Tuscany and our stunning Rome apartment and only paid between $129-$160 a night! I never would have been able to take this trip if it wasn’t for AirBnB. The places were exactly as described, hosts were very helpful and it was awesome to have a home and live like a local.
There are no dryers in Italy! Every place we stayed there was a washing machine but no dryer. People still hang their clothes to dry on a line or a drying rack, so just be prepared.
We loved our tours. I booked our Vatican and Colosseum tours through Viator and City Wonders conducted both. The kids loved them, the trip would not have been the same otherwise.
Truck stops are gourmet stores/restaurants! This was our biggest surprise, to find that an average “auto stop” aka truck stop, was a cross between Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble! The food was delicious and cheep.
Lufthansa is badass! This was our first time flying with Lufthansa and our economy ticket got us what would be considered first class service in the US. Including: two full five-course meals, hot towel service, entertainment centers to rival the best loaded TV back home, after dinner drink service, wine with dinner service, coffee and tea service and bottomless anything you want to drink at any time! Go Lufthansa!
Italian drivers are nuts! I was most afraid of driving in Italy, hearing all the stories of the “autobahn.” And let me tell you they are all true! There are no speed limits on Italian highways (which I came to understand and loved by the end of our trip) but in the beginning it’s terrifying. You’ll be going 90 MPH and be run off the road by a grandpa or a truck doing 110 who’s flashing their lights and INSIDE your bumper! It’s madness! There are no rules, so passing a line of cars in a blind corner with no shoulder and a two-lane road is normal. Be prepared to come to play ball! It’s all about the offense in Italian driving, there is NO defense.
If you can figure it out on your own, it’s better not to ask. I found that for the most part Italian’s had no patience for “stupido American’s” so look around, if you can figure out the answer without asking, you’ll be glad you did.
Save on data. One way to do this is to set up your directions in either Google maps or the iPhone map option, hit “go” and then turn your phone onto airplane mode, your navigation will still work in real time but you won’t be charged for all that roaming data. Use WIFI. Most cafe’s and even markets offer free wifi, so whenever possible always ask if they do, and use it instead of your roaming data minutes.
Learn a little Italian before you go. The kids and I all downloaded the language app Duolingo before our trip and learned quite a bit of basic Italian which came in handy. I also used Google Translate a lot to save common phrases such as: “Where’s the bathroom?” (p.s. they call it a toilet). I could pull these up even when I was off line, and use them in a clutch situation. Italian’s really appreciated when they saw me or my kids speaking Italian.
These are just a few of the things I learned that once I did improved our trip, and maybe they can help improve yours too. Have you ever been to Italy? Have any favorite tips to share? Leave them in the comments below or tweet me.