Friday, June 29, 2012

We loved Florence and Tuscany


There are three words that come to mind when I think about Florence: art, architecture, and leather. Walking in the city was like visiting an outdoor museum. It is the city for art lovers! The architecture was stunning and a lot of it was in color, which surprised me. Paris architecture is beautiful too but most of it is black and white. If you like leather, you will find leather stores splattered throughout the city, as well as cheaper leather goods in the outside market. My sophisticated mother-in-law bought a leather bag at one of the stores. I bought mine at the market :) That's how NOT sophisticated I am! But seriously, the bags are nice and the market prices are a bargain. I didn't even need another bag but I just couldn't pass the opportunity to buy one being in Florence. There are bags everywhere! Ladies be warned!


We only went to one museum since we didn't think Tristan was going to like it much. We went to the Galleria degli Uffizi, which is the main art museum there. Nearly everything in the museum is considered a masterpiece coming from famous artists such as Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, Raphael, Leonardo di Vinci, etc. We were right. Tristan couldn't have cared less and we had to carry him a lot to prevent him from touching everything. The art was impressive and so were some of the frames holding them. We got to look at pretty much everything but just not in detail.

We spent two full days inside Florence. Florence was beautiful. Florence was also super busy and noisy. It was such a relief to go back to our quiet farmhouse at the end of the day.


Siena is an old town in the Chianti region of Tuscany. It actually ended up being one of my favorite towns in Tuscany. Once again, the architecture was stunning. The main duomo there was smaller than the one in Florence. Walking around the town reminded me of old Italy. There was the Romanesque church, the Piazza del Campo, the great food and the candy and wine stores. It was just a charming little town. The day we went to Siena was also the day we were supposed to do San Gimignano but we ran out of time. I was totally bummed:(


The main attraction in Pisa was the Leaning Tower. It was cool to see. The town has a big university by the river but it wasn't as nice as Siena. There were two good restaurants I noted down but when we finally found them, they were closed. It wasn't even a Sunday. Maybe they just open for dinner. We ended up settling for mediocre food.

On the way home, we stopped by the Amedei chocolate factory. Amedei is home to the world's greatest chocolates. I have been tweeting about Amedei for awhile now and I already blogged about it over at Swoon For Food so if you like chocolate, you can read more about it there :)

Lucca & Viareggio

Lucca is a walled city and that alone made it interesting. There were few cars inside the city but there were cyclists everywhere! The wall was actually a walkway and cyclists, runners, and walkers strolled up there all around the city. We totally wanted to walk around up there but the fastest way was to rent bikes. We were only planning to visit Lucca for a couple of hours. We ended up renting one of these, which we thought was way cooler. It allowed us all to be closer together and it was not built for speed so it was good to take Tristan on it too.

We made the mistake of leaving the wall and then roaming around the city aimlessly with it. We totally got lost but luckily we could have cycled all the way in any direction and hit the wall again. We just had to find an entrance point and go back up the wall. Unfortunately, our bike time was almost up so we ended up racing in lightning speed past everyone just to make it back to the rental place on time. Remember how I said the thing was not built for speed? We went so fast, we thought the bolts were going to come off. Piece of junk. Or maybe it was us abusing it. Anyhow it was totally fun :)

Viareggio was a disappointment. We brought bathing suits but didn't know they built this whole industry around the beach. You had to pay for a change room in order to swim at the beach. Since it was near the end of the day it would have been 10 or 15 Euros for our group. Every part of the beach was blocked off by restaurants and businesses that collected fees for access. We ended up just going in to sit down for a drink. We decided not to swim after looking in the water. It was somewhat dirty and we only had maybe 30 minutes to 1 hour to swim before going home. The beach was huge though. Thousands of lawn chairs or sunbathing chairs were lined up along the beach leading up to the water. It's just too bad you had to pay for all that. It's sad really.

Greve in Chianti

The day we drove to Siena through the small countryside road, we didn't have time to stop in Greve. We decided to create a spare day in our schedule to go shopping and hang out at the farm. On this day we drove to Greve to taste and buy wine. I don't drink much myself but if you are ever in Tuscany, tasting wine is just one of those things you need to do. We also visited a nearby big grocery store. We ended up buying a lot of our food souvenirs there and I also shopped for things I needed to cook that day. We got plenty of rest and I made us a lovely pasta dinner at the farmhouse. For not doing much, that day ended up being a really nice day.

Places on my original agenda that we didn't visit were San Gimignano, as mentioned above, and Cinque Terre. We simply did not have enough time. If it were just the three of us, we probably would have done everything but we were traveling with my parents-in-law too. They were pretty tired from everything we already did. They were not used to traveling at all and it totally showed. I'm still bummed about Cinque Terre but it was too far and I was getting sick of being in the car as well. Traveling to a new foreign city with a 3 year old and seniors was no easy task either. Overall, I think we still had a great time in Tuscany. Weather-wise spring time was definitely the best time to visit!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Random photos of Toulon from our past trip

As you may be aware, we went to France and Italy a few weeks ago. Besides posting pictures of our farmhouse and the countryside of Tuscany, I haven't posted a thing from France or the rest of Tuscany. To be honest, I didn't know what to do next. I could probably easily do another six posts on our trip but so much time has passed now and I just want to share a bit more and then move on. There are so many other things going on and I'm falling very behind! :( To complete my documentation of our past vacation, I will do this post and one more after this. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I think the best way to share our experience is through some of the pictures we took.

Omg. There are so many pictures! I am just overwhelmed. Over 1500 pictures were taken! This is part of the reason why I have been taking so long with these blog posts. Wouldn't you procrastinate too? How do I share just a few pictures when there are probably 1000 good ones? Omg.

We stayed in Toulon for a long time because Tristan's grandparents lived there, as well as his great grandpa. Our only plan in Toulon was to see relatives and hang out with them as much as possible. We had no plans to go anywhere or do anything in particular. When there was nobody left to see, we actually found ourselves bored silly. We spend countless hours playing with Tristan, going for walks, and watching television at his great grandpa's house. Jean-Louis even went out for runs while Tristan and I sat around home waiting for him.

Tristan got to see his family a lot but most of the time, it was just the three of us alone doing things like playing and walking into town. It actually made us notice even more how the South of France really isn't kid-friendly at all. It's better than Paris perhaps. Besides the beach and playground near the beach, there is nothing much else to do. As far as I know, there are only two public playgrounds. One is a 25 minute walk and the other is about a 1 hour walk. None of them have any shade. Most playgrounds are inside of schools, which are gated and locked. We went to the same playground over and over and I was getting so sick of it. Luckily, it was a nice playground. The lack of playgrounds is one thing and the lack of child-friendly restaurants is another. Tristan is a good eater and is well behaved when we dine out so it isn't ever really a big deal for us. When Tristan's little cousins came to visit though, we almost went to Ikea for a family lunch! It was the closest thing they could come up with that was kid-friendly and that wouldn't cost a fortune. In the end, we decided it was going to be too busy at Ikea so we settled for fast Chinese food in town. Oh, the horror. It was as yucky as I had expected. Seriously.

Tristan got to hang out and bond with his French family and that was the most important. As an added bonus, we also took some great photos of him with his grandparents, great grandpa, and his little cousins. He got along so well with his three girl cousins! It was so cute :) It was also great to see people our age with little kids too who we could hang out with.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Vancouver Mom Blogging Event

Tonight I went out to a networking event for mom bloggers in Vancouver. I dragged along Jean-Louis and Tristan for support :) We pretty much don't do anything without each other. I was also quite nervous to go alone and meet friends I have made over the years in my virtual world. Until tonight, I have only met one of my Tweeples in real-life. I have been on Twitter for over two years now. Kind of ridiculous, right? It's so ridiculous I had to put "meet another virtual friend in real-life" down as one of my resolutions and goals for 2012.

I'm not sure how it happened but I made the top 30 list of mom bloggers in Vancouver this year. In fact I just made the list because someone else bailed out. I guess you can say I was a wildcard nominee :) I have never set out to be very public with my blog and have kept a fairly low profile since I started blogging in 2008. I have just a few followers and I don't even tweet about 99% of my posts. I tweet about my Swoon For Food posts but not posts for this mommy blog. Wildcard or not, for me to be one of the top 30 mom bloggers, someone (at least one person) must have nominated me and I'm completely flattered! I know it wasn't my husband because he was as surprised as me. In fact when it came time to vote for the top mom blogger out of the top 30 list, he didn't even vote for me. I told him to since I didn't want to look lame with no votes but he forgot :( Dang.

View at Museum of Vancouver
As one of the top mom bloggers this year, I got invited to the event last night to celebrate Vancouver Mom Bloggers at the Museum of Vancouver. I almost didn't go but then I got permission to bring both Jean-Louis and Tristan :) I only had to purchase a ticket for Jean-Louis so that was cool. There were around 150 people there this year. Moms were going to be pampered since they had stands for hair styling, make-up, nails, and of course wine and food. A few bloggers from the previous years spoke a bit about what they knew about blogging to inspire us all. They all did a great job too! We also got professional head shots done and was sent home with goodie bags. Huge ones! Omg. Thank you to all those who sponsored the event and thanks for supporting moms who blog :) I'm totally blown away by all the great gifts and coupons. If that wasn't enough, there were prizes and we ended up winning one from Aquaventures. Woohoo!

We got there at 6:30PM for the start of it and left around 8:30PM. I had picked Tristan up early from daycare and he was all bathed and dressed up before we left. If we were going to go out during a week night, I wanted us to be organized so that we could more or less still be on schedule with our daily routine. It was a dress-up type of event so I took advantage of it to dress Tristan up :) He's got a lot of dressy clothes but he doesn't really get many opportunities to wear them. I was more excited to groom him than myself!

Thanks to the blogger event, I was able to meet two of my virtual friends. Two! In fact, I was hoping to meet more but it was hard to find them in a crowd of 150. Many of the ladies there were also ladies I follow on Twitter but I only had an avatar picture to work from. Unless they follow my blog, they would not know what I looked like from my avatar either! I also chatted with a few others who were there just to network. Surprisingly, they were not part of the blogosphere.

I'm glad I went to the event. It really wasn't as scary as I thought it would be :) I did feel awkward a few times standing alone trying to find people. I was glad Jean-Louis and Tristan came with me. Most importantly, I am thrilled to be able to check off one of my 2012 resolutions: meet another virtual friend in person! Go me! :)

Aquaventures prize bag!
Think Tristan can get away with the pink swim cap??

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

We stayed at a farmhouse in Tuscany for a week

This past trip to France, we decided to stay an extra week and go somewhere new with my parents-in-law. We threw some ideas around like Berlin, somewhere in Austria, somewhere in Portugal, Florence, Corsica (just for Tristan really), Crete, and Prague. In the end, Florence with the surrounding area in Tuscany won. Florence was initially suggested by my mother-in-law so I'm glad she was pleased :)

After some research, I found this great farmhouse just 20 minutes from Florence. The idea was to drive down to Florence from the South of France so we needed a place that had safe parking for our car. Parking is both a nightmare and in short supply inside Florence. When I saw the farmhouse, I knew it was perfect! When we arrived it was exactly what I had imagined it would be. There were a few things I wish were different about our stay but overall, it was great! I just wrote a review for the farmhouse today and I think I would go back if we were to return to Florence again.

The farm and the surrounding area was what I had always pictured Tuscany to be. Rolling hills of Chianti vineyards, olive groves, green grass, fruit trees, and just a peaceful countryside setting. We had donkeys nearby the shared swimming pool area and chickens and roosters in another farm nearby. I heard the roosters as early as 5AM. Of course with farm life also comes bugs, lizards, and mosquitoes. The first two nights I couldn't sleep because mosquitoes were buzzing in my ear all night. I slept under the covers but it was hard to breathe and it was hot! During the week we were in Tuscany, the temperature was 25-29C during the day. It didn't rain at all until after we left.


Each day we took road trips to nearby cities to visit other parts of Tuscany and we spent two days inside Florence. Our farm was in a great location to do all of this. For Florence, we would drive 2 minutes to Sieci, park our car all day there and take the train into the city. It was only 2 Euros and the train only took 20 minutes. We were told that parking was difficult and you could easily pay 40 Euros a day for parking. Parking at the train station in Sieci was free. It was somewhat of a relief to return back to the quiet farmhouse after a full day in a hustling downtown Florence.

Most evenings we would make it back to the farmhouse and have a light dinner outside in our own private patio. It was warm and we had a beautiful view of the Tuscan hills. It was June and the sun didn't set until late. When the meal was done and we cleared the table, Tristan would run around and play near the farmhouse with Jean-Louis. Then the moon would rise and we would take pictures of it. Why not, hey? :)

I was so excited about our trip when I first rented the farmhouse. Now that we have stayed there, I have to say it really was the best decision. Our experience of Florence and Tuscany would have been very different had we stayed at a hotel in the city center of Florence. It really was countryside bliss :)

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