Places to Go

Europe… Boats

Over the last few months (since Christmas!) I have been going through the fun but time-consuming process of organizing our most recent travel pictures for the “albums”.  (I guess I should say “photo books” – so modern these days…)

It has been a very slow process sorting through photos from weeks on the road in multiple countries with various cameras but every minute I spend looking at the pictures it brings me back to the trip, and I could spend every minute doing it with pleasure!

Some time in the last few months the author of a lovely travel blog I enjoy reading posted some photos of boats that completely stole my heart… the light she captured in her pictures brought back summer for me completely.  Some of our favourite “family scavenger hunt items” when traveling are boats.  As I discovered them again when going back through the (seemingly endless) photos, just for fun I thought it would be nice to post them all together…DSCN2771 DSCN3091 IMG_0598 IMG_0631 IMG_0632 IMG_0633 IMG_0637 IMG_0638 IMG_0639 IMG_0928 IMG_0929 IMG_1332 IMG_1693IMG_1220

G.Jr. was a boat lover on our trip too – wearing his captain’s hat he proudly saluted (and was saluted by!) sailors in the street.  (Sailors are a common sight in the many port towns around the Adriatic…)  Maybe he has a little sailor in him, passed down from his Papa.


I hope you enjoyed looking at the boat shots as much as I have… they put me in the mood for another adventure.

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” (Louisa May Alcott, Little Women)

Places to Go

Europe… Street Art

For the last few days I have been reminiscing about our summer holiday and posting some fun photos of our traditional family scavenger hunts (food, cars…) but this  post might be my very favourite… On this last trip, more than any other, I was struck over and over by the abundance of informal “street” art everywhere we went.  By the end of the summer all of us were joining in the search and sharing our discoveries.

For your entertainment:


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Firenze…(Art installation)

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(Street Art)

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(Renaissance paintings – reimagined with a scuba theme?)

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(Altered Street Signs)

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Have you noticed any amazing urban art lately?  I am loving the way it surprises me in unexpected places…

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” (Edgar Degas)

Places to Go

Europe…Vintage Cars

Another one for the car lovers in our midst… I have  been a fan of vintage European cars since before they were vintage – as we are aging together I think it’s important to give them some well deserved love and attention.  Of course, for a North American girl, the best way to find European vintage is to visit Europe!  As we travelled around this summer I was thrilled to see so many well cared for classics out and about as daily drivers.  For your entertainment: In Grisignana… IMG_0851 IMG_0868 In Rovigno… IMG_1265 In Pola… IMG_1485 In Buie… IMG_1506 IMG_1762 IMG_1791 IMG_1794 IMG_1797 In Firenze… IMG_2471 IMG_2472 IMG_2649 In Pisa… IMG_2768 Driving north (the further north we went, the more volkswagens we saw…) a gorgeous Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus with a split window coming up behind us on the freeway… IMG_2824 …and heading off (maybe home to Switzerland?) IMG_2822 In Bellagio… IMG_2976 (Lago di Como in the background…) IMG_2998 IMG_3000 IMG_3003 Sirmione (Lago di Garda in the background…) DSCN3628 In Trieste… IMG_3826 IMG_3829 IMG_3942 IMG_3946 …and in Renata and Ferruccio’s garage in Cranzetti.  I am hopeful that they will lend this one to me next time… IMG_3995 Looking through these photos is making me wish for spring time weather so that our own classic car can get out of the garage and back on the road!  Wherever your road leads you today, I hope it’s filled with fun and adventure…

Places to Go

Europe…Grocery Stores and Markets

Although things have been busy as usual around here, many of our friends and family are deep in the mid-winter blues and dreaming about spring… Whenever I get a moment of feeling blue these days I spend some time reminiscing about our summer holiday in Europe.  I posted so many photos that you might have felt like you were there with us, but I saved some special ones for just this time when I knew I would be dreaming of the next holiday.

One of my favourite things to do on any trip is investigate the various grocery stores.  It is extra fun to do so in foreign countries!  You really never know what you might find. Continental Europe has a fascination with English and uses it rampantly on random products. While Nonna shopped I had many laughs with the children trying to find strange and silly examples on the shelves. Also fun and fascinating: searching for unique products that don’t exist in our part of the world. Every place has its own specialty, and we were in the land of my favourites!  Bread, pastries, cheese, sausage, ice cream, wine… I was in love.  Every time we shopped it was like being in the best European deli ever, except it really was Europe… Delicious.

Fun with labels:

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Off the shelf options that are gourmet wish lists here at home:

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First sign that Europeans take their coffee very seriously:


Endless sangria mixing options:

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Pastry case from paradise: (this one is in Venice – the meringues alone are making my mouth water…)


Chocolate bar aisle in Switzerland: (very serious – do not fool around with less than amazing chocolate…)


Things I wish I could buy at our local:

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The largest (and cheapest) selection of wine and (Mr. Martini approved) beer:

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This five litre bottle of wine was 20$.  20$.  Why am I still here?!

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Grocery store takeout: (one million times better than the hot dog stand at Costco, and cheaper…)

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But the very very best thing about being a food lover in Europe is the easy abundance of roadside groceries…










These photos are just a tiny slice of a pretty wonderful  holiday – I hope your world has something delicious in stock to tide you over until your next vacation too!

From the desk of...

Parenting Moment…

Earlier this year my youngest child began his final year of preschool.  He is growing up so quickly, and I’m not sure I am ready for the things to come.  I worry that I am just able to parent adequately enough for the world I grew up in, but not at all for the world that has sprouted up around me in the meantime… My son will inherit a world that my grandmother would hardly recognize, and he will need a great variety of skills to find his own place to be productive in that world… am I giving him the skills he needs?


My daughter, a unique joy in my world, faces her own struggles as she grows toward independence.  I can’t be with her every moment, and I can’t protect her from the inevitable encounters with people who will be mean.  She faces a world filled with people who don’t adore her and understand her as intricately as I do – have I given her the skills to be confident and capable in the face of criticism?


I recognize these same worries on the faces of the parents who entrust the care of their children to me every day, and in the conversations I have with many friends and family members who worry for the children they love.  (“Are they getting the skills they will need to navigate this world I feel like I don’t understand?  Do I need to give them something more?  Have I already failed as a parent somehow?”)

And then I stop to think for a minute, and I realize these important truths:

We are all human.  We are all connected.  We share the same basic needs and the same basic fears.  And even though our world has changed in ways I can hardly comprehend (technology! politics! economy!) the nature of children has not changed.  The skills we knew to be valuable when we were growing and learning ourselves are just as valuable and just as valid today…


This summer, on our family vacation in Europe, I stopped to peek into a little Italian preschool.  These incredible posters, detailing the philosophy of the school, decorated the beautiful garden out front: IMG_3670

“The right to silence.  I am entitled to  listen to the blowing of the wind, the singing of the birds, and the gurgling of the water.”


“The right to learn.  Every child has the right to build knowledge with imagination, the right to feed a taste for discovery and a passion for questioning…”


“The right to the wilderness.  I am entitled to build a shelter, to play in the forest, to have grasses to hide in and trees to climb.”


“The right to do things by hand.  I have the right to hammer nails, to saw, sand, glue, fashion out of clay, tie with strings and to create fire.”


“The right to get dirty.  I have the right to play with sand, soil, leaves, water, rocks and twigs.”


“The right to be idle.  I have the right to live in moments of time unscheduled by adults.”


“The right to darkness.  I am entitled to see the sunrise and sunset, and to admire the night, the moon and the stars.”

Every one of these sentiments represents something I absolutely believe to be true, and many of the parents of the children I work with believe the same things too, and yet…

… there is so much pressure in the world around us to be greater-faster-smarter, that it is hard to hold fast even to what we already know…


(photo by Miss G…)


At the beginning of this school year, when I was in the throes of back to school planning, lunch making and labelling, I received a letter from my son’s preschool that gave a moment of pause.  I’m not sure of the original source, but it told the story of a worried mother, looking online for help understanding what her own preschool child was struggling with.  In wondering what her child should be able to do, she was greeted with a list of achievements and talents that served to make her own fears and worries worse… (what if the other children already know more?  what if my child is falling behind?)

The teacher reading this list of fears and the ridiculous lists of achievements and “learning goals” was understandably frustrated, but in response to the many with their lists of targets and learning goals and outcomes and achievements she had this incredible wisdom to share:

Childhood isn’t a race.

She is so right!  It isn’t a ladder of achievements that starts at birth and climbs up to a bar exam (or a dance exam!) or the ivy league or a six (seven?) figure salary as a measure of success.  Childhood is the beginning of a great adventure that serves as a season of discovery for those who are living it and as an opportunity for renewal for those participating in the journey the second (or third!) time around…


(…photo by Miss G…)

The teacher writing this letter went on to include this list of required learning for 4 year olds, and I would add only, as I am a parent of both a 4 and and an 8 year old, and a teacher of many students well beyond, that this is required learning for all children, whatever their age…

…that they’re loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time

…that they are safe, and how to keep themselves safe in public, with others, and in varied situations

…that they can trust their instincts about people and that they never have to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking

…that their family will back them up

…how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use their imagination

…that is is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats six legs

…their own interests, and that it is okay to follow them

…that the world is God’s creation and so are they

…that they are wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvellous

…that it is just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies or fairy houses as it is to practice phonics.  (Scratch that.  Way more worthy.)


(…photo by Miss G…)


So I take a deep breath.  I think of my children and of the incredible joy that they bring to their days.  I think of the way that the world is opening up for them and I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the energy of that world of discovery with them.  As for the rest of the “learning targets”… we’ll figure them out as we go…


Places to Go

European Farm Life…Finale


We passed our final days in Europe with visits from friends and relatives as our children cemented their status as real locals.


They participated in the tomato sauce making process (sugo, fatto in casa!) so for dinner we had a roast and pasta, accompanied by sauce from tomatoes which, that morning, were just growing on the vines in the fields. Amazing. The children spent the best part of their time “helping” with the canning in the yard, and ferrying the various parts of the process in and out of the cantina during sudden spurts of rain. One other highlight: a visit to the pumpkin patch, and then the required scrubbing of two very dirty farm children!








Our final beach excursion was to Zambrattia – a very family oriented beach with an easy lagoon for the children to play… Perfect weather as it was not too hot. We finally had a chance to bake the cold and damp of our northern adventures out of our Canadian bones!





We were back in Matterada in time to freshen up and head out for dinner in Petrovia at Kantina Melon. All thirteen of us this time – a great family send off.







I had to have the truffles.  The ravioli was perfect: stuffed with soft cheese and covered in shaved truffles. I soaked up the sauce with crusty bread to savor every mouthful… I could eat this meal every day and never be tired of it!


Still, I coveted Matteo’s volcano pizza. Next time!  The other options – especially  the meat platter – were incredibly well received all around the table…








We finished the day back in Matterada for grappa (gooseberry?) and evening conversation… this really is the good life.

Another day meant more cousins coming to visit, and then a special trip to the cemetery and a candlelight mass.  I hope my children never forget how much love was poured out for them in that tiny church…

After mass and a farewell visit with the priest we ran into more cousins again just outside. We said more goodbyes before walking home to find another festa underway – the sampling of the latest pride of Matterada: sour cherry liquor.  It was a bittersweet ending for our last night in the village…

On our very last day Nonna and Zia were outdoing each other in the kitchen. We ate all day. Pancakes and thick crispy bacon for breakfast, then a packing marathon to make all of our gifts and souvenirs fit. (Mr. Martini is the champion of the luggage scale, and eventually it all worked out although we have to leave some things behind… )

For lunch we had the last of the homemade food: pasta with homemade sauce and sandwiches with prosciutto, cheese and olives… More visiting friends and then a last minute visit to Cranzetti – I can’t believe we only made it here at the very end! Renata and Ferruccio’s garden was as beautiful as always.











For our last meal:  fried potatoes, chicken cutlets, bean salad, muscato… Apple hazelnut struccolo for dessert with ice cream from Trieste (my favourites: hazelnut and pistachio… ) and then one last festa out front with everyone gathered together and prosecco to toast…

Then – the saddest part of every trip – the long goodbye.

Our village-to-Vancouver journey had countless incidents and anecdotes too, but the most meaningful one for me was this – a quote I noticed in the movie I watched on the long flight home:

“To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain.  Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.” (Celine, Journey to the Edge of Night) (Quoted in the movie “La Grand Bellezza”… great film!)

This was the trip of a lifetime in many ways, and it is hard to accept that we are back home again with life “as usual” unfolding around us.  There were life changing moments every single day, and writing them out here has only made me more nostalgic for them – I am really counting the days before we get a chance to go back…

Something I am grateful for, although it wasn’t anticipated: the effect of Europe on my children.  The chance to see and live in a different place, with different languages, different money and different culture has changed the way they look at and experience their regular every day world.  It has opened their eyes and hearts and minds to the wide world beyond their own front step.  It has created questions and conflicts, it has intrigued and inspired, and most of all it has created a kind of curious empathy that is impossible to teach without real life experience…  They will never be the same, and for that above all else, I am so incredibly overjoyed, in awe, and overwhelmingly grateful!

Every voyage has a story – this was the story of one family on one voyage, and I hope that this is only the beginning of a lifetime of stories from all of us…



Places to Go

Trieste…San Giusto


Our last big European city exploration was another visit to Trieste, this time in search of the San Giusto cathedral and castle.







On my first trip I was given a beautiful framed pewter engraving of the church and have wanted to see it for myself ever since.  I am so glad we got the chance!  Even though it is a huge hike (or twisty drive) to get there it is definitely worth the effort – the church is beautiful and sits on so much history, plus the view is lovely. We could see clearly out to the Adriatic…IMG_3832

…as well as to Castello Miramare (the subject of my other pewter engraving…)


…and beyond to the lighthouse – Il Faro di Vittoria…


As always I was mesmerized by the architecture.  The church is filled with beautiful sculptures, reliefs, mosaics, chandeliers and the most lovely (and simple) rose window… (These architectural shots are for Tia – no windows with flowers today, but something a little bit older…)
















…of course there is a lion…


…or two…


…or three!





After spending some time exploring the castle we drove back down to town and wandered through Trieste for the last time. (So sad!) We found the tram to Opicina at Piazza Oberdan and added that to our “prossima volta” list – Nonno talks about it often.


For “lunch” we bought some pastries at a tiny bakery, ate them again on the church steps looking out at the canal grande, and then walked back to Piazza Unita for gelato. (Pera, dark chocolate, pesce and mandarinetta…)











Trieste is a lovely place to get lost for awhile, as many artists, writers and thinkers have known well before me.  I am already dreaming about my wandering time there, and looking forward to another visit sooner than later…

My favourite thing about Trieste on this trip: the chance to share my love with the greatest loves I have ever known… and discovering that the very best thing about the gorgeous old statues is that they provide the perfect shade for an afternoon gelato… my happiness is complete!


“In Trieste, with its many sadnesses,
its beauties of sky and district,
there is a steep hill called Via del Monte.
It begins with a synagogue and closes with a cloister; midway
up the street is a chapel; there from a meadow
you can scope out the dark energy of life,
and the sea with its ships, the promontory,
the crowds and the awnings of the market…

Via del Monte is the street of holy affection,
but the street of delight and love
is always Via Domenico Rossetti.
This green suburban byway, which loses,
day by day, its color, and is always
more city, less countryside, still keeps
the fascination of its best years,
its first scattered villas
and sparse rows of saplings. Whoever
strolls by in these last evenings
of summer—when every window is open
on a far vista,
where someone waits, knitting, or reading—
thinks that perhaps his beloved
might flourish again, in the old pleasure
of living, of loving him, him only;
and her little son, too, rosy with health.”

(Umberto Saba)


Places to Go

Sirmione and Lago di Garda…

Back into the world of summer – Lago di Garda!


(Photo by Miss G.   – the best one out of all the 500 or so that we took…)

The waves were giant and crashing against the shore.







We finished our epic day of travelling with a walk to enjoy the view of the lake and of the castle in the old city just across from our hotel at the tip of the peninsula.



We stopped for dinner at a restaurant that seemed quiet and unassuming from the front:


(Il Cavallo – specialty of the house is horse meat, although we weren’t adventurous enough to try it.  Seriously!)  We were completely surprised to find a great party underway out back on the giant and gorgeous patio.  This is where all of the locals are – literally all generations and personalities were represented.  Amazing!  Pizza for dinner (quatro stagione, capricciosa)…



…and then gelato of course – we are back in Italy!  (mandorlato, fragola, cioccolato – extra dark!)

It was nice to be down to only two languages, brief as it was. We stayed at the simple but serviceable Hotel Ganfo, where “Albergo” and “Bar” are separated by a partition only, and attended by the same Cameriere. A bit dicey for a while as our passports submitted for registration were lying on the bar next to the sliced lemons…  The kids were thrilled with their bunk beds though, and we were all in need of a good night’s rest!  It was calmer on the lake in the morning. Another travelers breakfast – chocolate croissants and cold cuts, yum! Our morning adventure:  after a tour of the local morning market we visited the historic town of Sirmione. We walked up the peninsula into the town – a huge wind and a stormy sky meant we had to put on layers – but we came over the moat through the town/castle gate into the land of holiday sun.





Look!  A lion!


Sirmione is a tiny gem, in spite of the hordes of gelato eating tourists. The castle is impressive, and the buildings are dripping with flowers and vines.



Not quite in the Veneto, but the Venetian flag is flying…



















We wandered in and around the alleys, dodging the occasional car, and marveled at the loveliness of this tiny jewel of the lake… (rewarded of course with gelato: chocolate mint and mela…) then climbed back into our little car for the last leg of our circle journey…

Next stop: one last trip to the big city -Trieste- and then our emotional final days of the farm life that we love so very much…

Places to Go

Switzerland to Italy (beautiful, terrifying, inspiring, exhausting…)

A very big day on the driving front… we left north-east Switzerland in the early morning and headed south to Lichtenstein…





…and then back into Switzerland!  (Only in Europe…)

This was the moment when I began to register the end of our holiday – as we were driving south along the eastern border of Switzerland my eye caught the tiniest flashes of yellow leaves amongst the green leafy foliage; the trees knew it even if we weren’t ready to accept it – the seasons were about to change…

We continued on our way south, heading to the Italian border.







We stopped by the Marmorera Sea…



…and then through some VERY crazy hairpin turns and blind corners in tiny villages…  until we reached two kilometers above sea level (through the wild untamed mountains, where nothing dares to grow) at the Julierpass.  We stopped at the top of the pass to use the facilities and discovered it was only 7degrees with only cold running water – yikes! There was nothing but rock and scrub in every direction – almost no trees, but an occasional house here and there stuck out on the mountain face.  (Who could live up here in this wilderness?!  What kind of life would it be?!  I was fascinated by the wondering…)


We passed through Silvaplana…



…and then zigzagged back and forth again until we arrived at the glamorous and sporty Saint Moritz…





…then up again with glimpses of glaciers and waterfalls…










past Pontresina and Poschiavo…


…and into Tirano for a well deserved snack break.







(Don’t ask Mr.Martini about Tirano.  He still hasn’t recovered.  The pita place, however, was amazing.) From Tirano we followed the NavFree map east and upwards through a tiny little one lane town (terrifyingly narrow!) into another maze of crazy switchback rural roads.  Memorable moments: the cranky potato seller on a hairpin turn (who buys potatoes from a roadside stand when just stopping a car risks life and limb?!) and then the campanile at the end of a mountainside curve with a tree growing right through the cupola… (note the hard left curve in the photo – they were all like that …)


until (after extreme driving and the craziest tunnel relay of our trip) we finally came out at Lago Iseo…


…just in time to see the storm shift and return to the sun streaked sky… a short drive to Lago di Garda and our last chance for the land of summer

Places to Go

Lago di Como…

From Genoa we drove on through Piemonte,  into Lombardy, around Milan, and then up to Como.  (No sane people would bring two small children on holiday into Milan…)

We are sentimentally retracing the steps that brought us through this beautiful province once before…


The first view of the lake is amazing, but it doesn’t stop at that!  Every turn of the (very twisty) road leads to a spectacular view. Just past Tremezzo is our hotel:  a special place for our family and overflowing with significance.  The last time we came to Lake Como we only needed a table for three – this time, never mind the opinions of doctors and such, we came with a family member who owes his own beginnings to the magic of this special place.  (As Stana said before our first visit: “Ah, Como… sempre romantico!”)


The Hotel Grand Cadenabbia is like a genteel aunt at a garden party… quiet, stately, well dressed and never flashy.  Style and composure are her hallmarks…










It is nice to be back, and to see that the hotel is in good repair although five years have passed since our last visit…

Last time we were here:


This time:


In spite of a sudden torrential rain (thunder included!) we braved the outdoors to swim, as promised to our children, in the hotel pool. So fun!  Just the four of us and one adventurous middle aged Brit made use of the pool in the warm rain, which became quite a spectacle for the other guests with more delicate constitutions – we were photographed and cheered on by many families who watched us laugh and play in disbelief.  (It was only rain!  We are from Vancouver!) 

After drying off with our hotel room blow dryer we wandered down to El Timon in Tremezzo for pizza (just like our last visit) and spent the evening sharing a mixed language conversation with a French couple seated next to us.  Back and forth between three languages for one meal was a stretch – one of the great challenges/benefits of travelling!  Also worth noting: children are natural ambassadors. Ours are constantly making friends with random strangers, and we are all the better for it…

Tonight’s pizza selection: Hawaiian, Diavola, Tmon – the last made with pesto and sausage, yummy!)





After dinner we took a walk north past Cadenabbia for gelato (mirtilli, lampone, caffe, cioccolatto) and some window shopping in preparation for a big day tomorrow. One of my very favourite places: Villa Carlotta and the garden of fairies…







So much still to see, but we are thrilled to be back!  (Miss G. wants to stay for a week. Better start saving. )






Morning at Lake Como is grey and misty. We woke up early for breakfast in the dining room and were rewarded with a gradual lightening of clouds and sky to reveal the lake and the opposite shore… Where we are on the west side of the lake looks directly across at Bellagio. More chocolate croissants! This seems to be an Italian breakfast staple and is another motivation to move to Italy forever! 

After breakfast we took the ferry from Cadenabbia to Bellagio.


We were just in time to see all the shopkeepers opening up their stores and laying out their wares for display. Silk scarves are the stars of the show, followed by jewelry (including murano glass), leather goods, ceramics and gourmet specialty foods…




All of these shops are lovely to look at, but not as lovely as the winding cobbled stairs and overflowing flowers with beautiful views of the lake all around.












This time I managed to stop into the church – a beautiful place for prayer or reflection – dark and serious and absolutely silent.


Our early morning quiet was disappearing as more and more people came out for the day.  We ferried back across the lake, soaking in the views just one more time.










We are on our way north again!

In the meantime, something is starting to catch my attention, even while I am half way around the world on holiday… Could it be almost that time again?