October 24, 2009

Lunch (and rain) in Leesburg

After the most painless flying experience we've had in years (empty airport, half-full flight, on-time departure, early arrival), we headed to Leesburg for lunch. When I lived in the DC area, (too) many years ago, I was here only once, briefly. My recollection was of a historic town with quaint shops and restaurant, so it seemed like a worthwhile place to kill a few hours before checking into our room.

My impression was largely correct, though like so many picturesque, historic towns, there's less than meets the eye when you actually try to find something to do. In other words, Leesburg has many shops, but relatively few of interest to us. To be fair, we were there on a crowded, rainy Saturday with only one small umbrella we picked up at a grocery store 30 minutes earlier. In search of a bookstore, we walked about a block before deciding it was raining too hard, then ducked into a parking garage to wait out the worst of the downpour.

Lunch was a quick sandwich at Shoes Cup and Cork Club, a pleasant, atmospheric cafe/coffee shop on King Street, the main drag in town. The name reflects the space's history as an old shoe store, renovated enough to be comfortable but still retaining old signs and other reminders of times past.

A genuine trip...sans child!

Janene and I are on a plane, bound for a long weekend in Northern Virginia. It's the first time we've traveled by air since Evan came along, since five months before he was born, more than three and a half years ago. What a treat to have an uninterrupted conversation with my wife. To navigate the airport check-in process virtually hassle-free. To stroll through the airport with a relatively light carry-on (no portable DVD player!).

Yet more than any other mini-vacation we've taken, we're feeling his absence quite deeply. He's particularly cooperative and engaging these days, and fun to be around. I think we'll enjoy the time away together, celebrating a belated 10th anniversary, not to mention the 13th of our first date (10/27/96). But for now, we miss our little boy, who is probably having a great time with his grandparents (who no doubt are feeding him ice cream as we speak).

June 29, 2009

Time to leave already?

We're set to leave tomorrow. Unfortunately, I just wrote four paragraphs and accidentally deleted them. No time to write more, so I'll only describe this evening, which was lovely.

Dinner at Il Fico, a spot near Piazza Navona that I'd read about on the Internet. Outstanding Roman cuisine in a very informal setting. We walked back past the Pantheon and had probably our favorite moment on the trip. Sitting on the fountain steps in the center of the piazza, we read Evan a book while a street performer sang arias nearby.We finished in time to hear his final number, which Evan knows very well from one of his favorite YouTube videos. It brought a huge smile to his face, and therefore ours.

Then, gelato at Giolitti, followed by a very long walk back to the hotel. (We've been staying in the Westin Excelsior in a lovely suite, using hotel points. It's far nicer than our house, and I think they'll have to drag us out of here by our fingernails.)

In all, a very nice end to a very nice trip.

June 23, 2009

Some down time in Tuscany

Spending our third full day in Borgo Iesolana, near Bucine in Tuscany. There's much to love about this place.

Our apartment is beautiful. We chose our previous lodging, in Montàsola, for an opportunity to live like Italians for a few days. This time, we're living like Italians with more money. The apartment is spacious, with two bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen (including a dishwasher), and an enormous patio with sweeping views of the mountains and trees. While it's been too cool to use the pool, we've got one of those too, as well as vineyards to wander through, a ping-pong table and small soccer field at our disposal, and bales of hay to touch. (There's also a resident cat, Teo, who has already taken advantage of one open patio door to make himself at home on our couch.)

On the other hand, the approach to the grounds here is about 3 km long, beginning with a narrow brick bridge. I'd call it a one-lane bridge, but that overstates it. Really, the bridge is only slightly wider than our car, which isn't that big. The rest of the road is basically a gravel path. It takes us a good five to seven minutes to even make it to the main road—a drawback when traveling with an easily bored toddler.

Also, as nice as this place is, we feel nickel-and-dimed every time we need anything. Breakfast, which we haven't eaten since the first morning, consists of a small buffet of cereal, yogurt, juice, bread, and pastries and is 7 euros per person (even for Evan, even though "breakfast" for him consists of licking the Nutella off his toast). Internet access is 8 euros for an hour -- explaining the infrequent posting. Laundry is 10 euros to wash and dry a small load. They charge a considerable amount to change a single towel. And so on.

Still, it's been extremely pleasant to have a home base for an entire week, particularly one that's as geographically central. We began the week with a trip to the iperCOOP in Montevarchi to buy groceries. This was a memorable experience—all the glorious chaos of Italy in a single Costco-sized warehouse. You can buy seemingly anything in this store—fruit, cheese, fresh bread, televisions, mobile phones, swimming pool flotation devices (the reason we went in the first place), books, etc. It's not the sort of place to go when you've just got a few things you need because it's impossible to get in and out quickly. But it's definitely fun if you have the right attitude.

Otherwise, we've stayed fairly close to home and not been too adventurous. Our most outstanding meal was at L'Antico Borgo in Civitella in Val di Chiana, a beautiful hilltop town that Evan particularly liked for the bells that rang on the hour. Since then, he's heard bells in other towns, but none seem to compare. We also spent the morning yesterday in Arezzo, a very pleasant city about 35 minutes away from our apartment. It's got an impressive cathedral and a nice mostly-pedestrian-only main shopping street.

Yesterday, needing a quick bite to eat, we grabbed some pizza slices at Gli Svizzeri, a touristy bar with a pleasant  terrace along Via Del Corso. Only after we sat did I notice its motto on the window, Per prendere un caffè è tradire la moglie, c'è sempre tempo. To have a coffee and cheat on one's wife, there's always time. You'd expect a place this classy to have outstanding food, but sadly, it was not. Twelve euros for three slices of pizza and a bottle of water later, we were on our way.

June 22, 2009

Our first few days

We've been off the grid since we arrived in Italy, hence the lack of any blog updates. Scusate.

It's been a nice if ultimately frustrating first few days here at Agriturismo Montepiano in Montàsola. We're about an hour and a half outside of Rome, yet we couldn't be in more of a different world.

The town is in a stunning location, a tiny, ancient hilltop castle/village with awesome views. The town itself is a true slice of Italian life. Aside from Letizia, our helpful proprietor, literally no one here speaks English. If I couldn't speak Italian, we'd be utterly helpless here. (Of course, if I couldn't speak Italian, we probably wouldn't be here at all.)

Staying here for three days has been extremely interesting. We booked our apartment thinking that we'd have the opportunity to get a sense to live like an Italian. Boy, have we. Montàsola is tiny. One restaurant, one bar, a post office, a pharmacy, a minuscule grocery store, a hundred or so residents, and...us.

We—and especially Evan (the resident biondo, "blondie")—stand out here. Every evening, four to six residents congregate on the nearest bench to discuss the day's happenings (including, I imagine, the strange Americans that insist on dining before 9 pm).

Montàsola seems more movie setting than active town. There's next to nothing to do except stroll around and watch the locals living their daily lives. Because there's so little activity here, Evan practically has the run of the place, and he's had a great time climbing the steep hills and steps, running through the piazzette with his bubbles to blow.

At the same time, two days ago we probably exhausted everything there is to do in town. And because of the combination of jet lag, Evan's general toddler-ness, and his toothache (more on this in a moment), we aren't really able to stray too far from our home base. Which means essentially that we can't go anywhere, because there's not much nearby either. The closest town, Casperia, is nearly 15 minutes away. It's only slightly larger than Montasola—it has a gas station, a few bars, a tabaccheria, and a restaurant.

Our two-bedroom apartment, La Terrazza, is reasonably sized and comes with views worth every penny. But it lacks air conditioning, which has been a big problem at night because it's been so warm. Also making it impossible to sleep is the pack of dogs that live, unseen, below our apartment and bark in tandem at regular intervals throughout the night.

Another challenge has been Evan, who in addition to being highly jet lagged, seems to be getting his molars in. We really thought we were done with teething. He's been constantly complaining about his teeth hurting, and it's even keeping him up at night. With the combination of the heat, our canine neighbors, and Evan's crying, we probably woke up 5 times each last night. It's been difficult. We hope it gets easier soon.

Our most memorable meal so far has been at the nearest restaurant, steps away from our apartment...Quello che c'è, c'è (what is, is). (They say they're franchising in New York, but I'm taking that with a large grain of salt.) Outstanding collection of antipasti, an excellent pappardelle with wild boar, good wine, and fantastic biscotti to finish the meal. Of course, by that time Evan had had more than enough of sitting, so Janene got to enjoy hers in our apartment an hour or so later.

By the time this is posted, we'll be in our next apartment, Borgo Iesolana, in Bucine. Back soon.

June 14, 2009

Italy blogging

On Tuesday, we're off to Italy -- me, Janene, and, yes, Evan, age-not-quite 3. This is the most ambitious trip we've tried with our resident toddler. He's extremely energetic these days and careens from delightful to impossible in a shockingly short time span.

In short, aside from some good food and lots of coffee, we have literally no idea what to expect from this trip.

I'm planning to do periodic blogging, depending on internet availability and how tired we get. At the same time, blogging will definitely be lighter than in the past. I spend so much time on the computer during my normal life that I'm also going to take a vacation from typing.

So...wish us buon viaggio e buona fortuna. Next stop, Agriturismo Montepiano on Wednesday for a 3-night stay.

March 28, 2007

A day at the Mall

A very pleasant day today. Reasonably cool -- upper 60s with a nice breeze, but quite warm when the sun was out, which was the case for most of the day.

Like yesterday, Evan had a great time in the city. There were so many things for him to look at -- the tall Metro escalators, the smiling passers-by, the fast subway cars whizzing past him on the platform, and a big lawn to play on (otherwise known as The Mall.)

I started off the day with a short run in the beautiful neighborhood around the hotel, headed northwest past the embassies, then left into Dumbarton Oaks Park. What a wonderful place for a run. Only a few steps into the park, as you descend a big hill, you suddenly feel like you're miles from the city. The noise dissipates, and what had been an urban run suddenly turns into a cross-country trail. It made me wish we had anything remotely comparable at home and nostalgic for my two years living in the DC area.

By the time I returned to the hotel, Evan was up from his nap, and we headed to lunch at Five Guys at the National Place Food Court near Metro Center. We'd read about this place on the Internet. Its burgers and fries are rated as some of the best in DC. We don't know about that, but it was very good, and very cheap, and very greasy. This isn't fine dining. But the small cheeseburger -- not particularly small -- was around $3, and the small fries, plenty big enough for Janene and me to split, were about that as well. For about $12 between us, we had a delicious, not very healthy meal.

March 27, 2007

Along for the ride

When you're traveling with a baby, you're never anonymous. Everywhere you go, you get smiles in your direction. Today was a beautiful upper-70s March day in D.C. -- the sort of gorgeous early spring day that's fairly common there but really, really rare in Chicago -- and Evan was wearing his Hawaiian shirt and jeans shorts. Janene was out for a walk this morning with him while I was working in a cafe, and she reported how many people stopped out of the blue to say how cute he looked in the stroller. He's a conversation starter.

A baby also has a way of turning the mundane into something exciting, and the enthusiasm becomes infectious. Who knew that a laminated menu or a tassled pillow in the hotel could entertain for so long. It's a lot of fun.

There are drawbacks, too. At about 7:30, we were enjoying a lovely walk on a beautiful evening, strolling up Embassy Row, and were forced to cut our night short because we know we have to get back to the hotel before Evan falls asleep in the stroller instead of his Heavenly Crib®. We didn't want to go in -- Du Pont Circle is filled with great bookstores (both used and new), interesting restaurants, and nice neighborhoods for a stroll -- but an early evening is a small price to pay for not having to endure long stretches of crying later.

We're also learning how much energy one needs simply to do anything with a baby. We purposely kept the itinerary light on this trip, yet we've never been so exhausted while traveling -- not after a day of walking up and down hills in San Francisco, not after a day of dodging Italian drivers on the Amalfi Coast, not ever. At the end of the day, it certainly feels like we've done a full day's worth of traveling and then some -- even if I don't necessarily have pages worth of materials worth writing about.

March 26, 2007

In DC, and very tired

Traveling is so much more tiring than it used to be, in our pre-parent days. Everything takes so much longer. There is so much more stuff. You don't just get in a taxi -- you have to load the trunk with the stroller and all of your bags, then strap in the car seat and make sure it's totally secure before you can go on your way. Airplane flights, subway rides, trips down escalators...it all requires multiple steps.

The flight to DC was uneventful, but by the time we got to our room at the Westin Embassy Row -- in a beautiful neighborhood two blocks from DuPont Circle, though the hotel badly needs renovating -- we were completely spent.

Evan, however, was ready to go. After a short rest in the hotel, we took a walk to Luigi's, where Evan became the third generation of Kessler to eat there (it was a favorite college hangout for my dad). The food's not bad -- old school, traditional Italian with red checkered tablecloths -- but if that's your reason for going there, you're missing the point. It's just a great, classic Washington spot that's been operating since the 40s, and I try to stop in every time we're in town.

March 07, 2007

Kid blogging

The key activity involved with any travel blog is traveling. Since Evan's been born, we haven't done any to speak of. But we're going to try to get back on that horse later this month, when we head to our nation's capital for a quick four-day jaunt.

It's not yet clear whether traveling with a seven-month-old will allow us to do enough interesting things worth writing about. And by interesting, I mean interesting from a travel perspective. I don't want this to become a place to describe the latest adorable thing that Evan's figured out how to do (though, wait until you hear about this one...).

We'll give it a shot. Back in late March.

February 11, 2007

The reason I haven't been blogging lately

Evan's first day of school - 5
Originally uploaded by lpk725.
We've been busy. Here's what with.

June 09, 2006

Slow start, lovely park

Had a slow start to the morning. Janene wasn't feeling great for a few hours, and then as soon as she was doing better, I got a stomachache that kept us in our room for another hour more. But once we finally got going, we saw some beautiful glacier-influenced scenery today. First stop was Toft's Point, just up the road in Bailey's Harbor, a nature preserve with beautiful open Lake Michigan views. It's a lovely spot, with open grasslands giving way to huge, flat stepping stones leading up to the water. Quick lunch back in Bailey's Harbor, buffalo burgers at Weisgerbers Cornerstone Pub. Pure Wisconsin, right down to its collection of headshots of famous Green Bay Packers. Then a lovely walk in Whitefish Dunes State Park. Both Janene and I like the idea of hiking a lot but don't do so well when we actually have to get close to nature. But this park has not only beautiful scenery, but nice wide trails that help keep nature at a comfortable distance. Janene's stamina was the only problem on this walk, as the hills -- something we don't see a lot in Highland Park -- were a bit much for her. On the way home, we made a brief stop at Cave Point County Park, next to Whitefish Dunes and equally beautiful. Then on to Wilson's in Ephraim for an old-fashioned root beer float. (If you're in the mood to transport yourself back to the 1950s, then Door County may be for you.)

June 07, 2006

Not the "New England of the Midwest." But nice enough.

I've seen Door County referred to in various guidebooks as "the New England of the Midwest." According to Lee's Law of Travel, anyplace that describes itself as the X of the Y is not nearly as good as the original.

I'm here to report that Door County has not disproved Lee's Law, although it's a reasonably pleasant place to spend a few days.

Today was a day for exploring the peninsula, beginning with Peninsula State Park, which according to our guidebook gets as many visitors per year as Yellowstone National Park.

It was quite empty today, which we attributed to it being midweek. But it could have just as easily been because we're the only ones who didn't hear that Wisconsin's mosquito population was throwing a party. I think we were the guests of honor. The ranger said that he'd never seen so many mosquitos at any time in the past three years. We believe it. We stepped out of the car and were instantly swarmed. Then we got back in, killing one mosquito after another, generating bug-lotion-greasy handprints all over the windshield.

We managed to find a reasonably bug-free hike to do along Green Bay and had a pleasant walk for about 30 minutes. Lunch was in nearby Fish Creek at The Cookery. The food was pretty good -- Janene had a large salad with grilled chicken and dried local cherries while I had a garlic pesto burger -- but we were the youngest people in the restaurant by about 25 years.

Baileys Harbor in 15 minutes or less

While Janene was getting ready for the day, I took a walk to explore Baileys Harbor, our home for the next couple of days. It's very pretty and relaxing and unhurried, especially since it's still early for tourist season. We've read that we're on the "quiet" side of the peninsula, and I believe it. There's not much here -- not much traffic, not many stores, not many restaurants. It's a relaxing getaway and very beautiful, but don't expect much to do here.

June 06, 2006

In Door County

Made it to Door County, Wisconsin, in time for dinner. For a long time this morning, we didn't think we'd make it out our own door.

Last night we had been warned by ComEd that there would be a planned power outage this morning at 9. It was bad enough that we only had 12 hours' notice -- particularly since I had some last-minute work to complete before we could go. But they also turned the electricity off at 8:30, a half-hour before they said they were going to. So I didn't get the files off my computer that I needed, so we couldn't do some last minute ironing, so we couldn't load the dishwasher, and so on. But even worse, we couldn't get the garage door open until a service person came to fix it (it was fortunate we were able to get someone to our house on short notice.

The power came back on at around 12:30, and we were on our way. We made the obligatory detour to Milwaukee for custard at Kopps, finally making it to Door County at around 6:30 in time for dinner -- a very good but overpriced meal at the Harbor Fish Market and Grille. I'll post more tomorrow after we've had a chance to see more of the area. But we very much like where we're staying, the Blacksmith Inn, in Bailey's Harbor, Wisconsin. The room overlooks the water, and we have a great view of Lake Michigan, as well as a soothing soundtrack of water lapping up on the shore.