Paris at Christmastime!

Although we lived there for two years, I can never get enough of Paris!

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And while we didn’t spend the actual day of Christmas there, we did get to go back late last week and early this week at Christmas-time … to take Scotty’s parents on a whirlwind tour of Lulu’s stompin’ – make that toddlin’ – grounds from her good-old-days!

See, there they are with Lulu at the Eiffel Tower.

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And here we are too.

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Apparently once you’ve lived there, you don’t even care if the quintessential photo of “Family by the Eiffel Tower” isn’t so iconic: really, I promise that’s the tower behind us, but there was also a heavy fog behind us that day too.

We took the grandparents past Lulu’s first nursery.  To our favorite bakeries.  To the Cirque d’Hiver, or Winter Circus.  Even braving the crowds in front of Galleries Lafayette and Printemps to see the elaborate holiday window displays.

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To the maneges, or carousels, that Lulu had adored as a toddler.  All the while, it remained rainy and overcast.

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But, they say you don’t go to Paris for the weather… and indeed it was pouring and fait beaucoups de vents, or blowing like crazy, when we arrived another day to show them Notre Dame.

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If you squint, you can see that that’s Lulu in the plastic-wrapped pousette, or stroller.  (By the way, the crèche – or nativity scene –  inside France’s most famous church was made by an Italian artisan.  Considering all the terrific presepi  or nativity scenes here in our home of Arezzo, it’s not surprising.  Italians really seem to have a lock on making these elaborate dioramas.  There’s even a life-sized one at our Duomo here. But I digress.)

Fortunately the weather did cooperate on the two most important days we had planned.

One was our now-regular reunion with her old (can you be old at five and six years old?!) playmate, Alec.  When Lulu was three and Alec was four, his mom and I got them together at a different park around Paris almost every week.

Sunday found them back together again.

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Scrambling up the rock climbing wall at our former neighborhood Park Georges Bressens with more dexterity than ever before.

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Jumping on a music-making machine.

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And, in spite of the language differences (Lulu’s French has long given way to Italian) – just being kids.   It was great.

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But what was probably the greatest of all – and arguably least Parisian – was our long-awaited pilgrimage to Disneyland!

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Homage to Lulu’s latest Princess heroine.

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Tigger Encounter.

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Chipmunk love: Is this Chip or Dale? (I know. Do you? 😉 )

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Cinderella’s Coach.

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Lulu couldn’t pull the sword from the stone.

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But she did get a special tête-à tête with Pere Noel, er, Father Christmas, wait, is it Babbo Natale? How ’bout good old Santa Claus!

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Anyway, it was well worth it.  Even the weather cooperated.

At least for Paris.

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Bisous and Baci and Happy Holidays everyone!

With love,

Gina

P.S. Hope your holidays are going wonderfully.  Go any place special? Doesn’t have to be far- just somewhere dear to the heart.  Cheers!

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Castle Sweet Castle!

As my friend Pavlina said when she first looked around yesterday, “Now, this is Tuscan living!” It’s true.  Although we spent the last year in a wonderful home in the Tuscan countryside, which was certainly an authentic experience –

Our first house the week we arrived, July 2011. (Note the pool, the lawn, the cypress - oh and the cute kid)
Our first house the week we arrived, July 2011. (Note the pool, the lawn, the cypress – oh and the cute kid)

– this week we moved to  Arezzo‘s centro storico or historic center, into a 500-year-old palazzo straight out of Italy’s artistic Renaissance epoch.

Our building is next to a small former church that now serves as a museum dedicated to the local Arezzo landscapes painted by Leonardo da Vinci.
Our building is next to a small former church that now serves as a museum dedicated to the local Arezzo landscapes painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

We’ve finally unpacked, so with me as your narrator and Lulu as your guide, here’s the er, much more than nickle, tour!

Benvenuti! Welcome!
Benvenuti! Welcome!

The word palazzo, of course, directly translates into “palace,” but it really refers to a large building than wraps around an interior courtyard that will usually house several members of an extended family – much like the hotels particulier, or grand town houses of Paris. Not quite royal, but as close as we’ll ever get!

Ours has been in one Italian family for generations – but as the grand hall inside shows you, there are doors inside to a few other residents, not only the three of us!

Lulu's stroller parked outside our door.
Lulu’s stroller parked outside our door.

Inside our unassuming personal entrance, you’re met by a handy-dandy foyer/entry way. Surrounded by historic prints of ancient Arezzo and Tuscany, you can hang up your coat and come inside where it’s warmer – because like a castle, it’s cold here!

DSCN0549Then there are two smaller – almost Hobbit-sized – doors to choose from. You may have to duck – people were shorter 500 years ago – but then you enter the main parlor with its soaring 20 foot ceilings and real vaults and carved cornices!

Of course we already put up the Christmas tree!
Of course we already put up the Christmas tree!

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Turn to your left and step up through the archway into the large dining room.  Scotty will fix your drink; Lulu hasn’t quite mastered her mixology course yet.

The door from the dining room opens out into the courtyard.  It’s not the green grass lawn from our former place, but it is all ours!

DSCN0541Back inside on the first floor, you’ll find a small kitchen – was it made for a servant or for a long-suffering, but doting, Italian Mamma, I wonder?

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Next, things get really crazy! Go back through the dining room and another interior door takes you down a loooong passageway.

Yes, that's Lulu at the top of the stairs
Yes, that’s Lulu at the top of the stairs

This hall wraps around to the opposite side of the court-yard to an enormous guestroom with a private bath that sleeps three.

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Lulu has already asked if she can jump on this bed.

But what makes this corridor the most special – to Lulu at least – is that under the stairs, there’s a real Harry Potteresque secret room.  We’ve decorated for Lulu and she loves it!

DSCN0555But, unlike Harry Potter, Lulu doesn’t have to sleep in her room under the stairs.  Instead her bedroom is the first one at the top of the stairs! We’ve learned it’s the same room that our landlord slept in as a boy.

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DSCN0520All righty, tutti! That about more than does it. We’ve never lived any place like this  before and we’re so grateful to be experiencing this wonderful Italian “urban” atmosphere.  Best of all, we have plenty of room now for visitors!  Any takers?

Ci vediamo presto!

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Love,

Gina

The Long Way Home

This marks the last full week of living in the Tuscan countryside.

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It’s been more than a year since we first called this house home.  We’ve enjoyed its large yard and pool, and getting to know our wonderful vicini or neighbors, but now it’s time to go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs many of you may already know, it’s not because we’re leaving Italy, but because we’re moving a centro or into the historic center of our medieval town, Arezzo.

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And the reason for our move, primarily, is because it’s a looong walk for us each day into town.

So, in honor of our soon-to-be-over daily sojourn, I’d like to take you all on a tour of our “long way home” (or into town, depending on the direction). 😉

It goes something like this.  Every morning, you’ll find me pushing Lulu in her passeggino (stroller), to school, the grocery store, the farmacia, pharmacy , –  anywhere that a person needs to go in their daily life- we do it too – just without a car.

Away from our house on via della Cella 62 on the gravel strada privata.

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Along our small country road lined with vineyards, cypress trees and our neighbors’ sprawling compound houses.

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Past the Count’s large yellow villa. (Yes, we really do live near an honest-to-God Count)

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Then we turn onto the narrow shoulder for a dangerous stretch on busy Buone Conte Montefeltro street.  See the cars speeding toward us yesterday morning in the nebbia or fog?!

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Fortunately, we’ve never had a close-call with any of the zooming vehicles. And I have to acknowledge that the arduous walk is definitely good exercise for me in-between my bowls of steaming hot Italian pasta.

Best of all have been the neighbors along our path –  who have evolved from first staring at us curiously from their windows, to greeting us by name from their gates – to  handing  us fresh eggs from their chicken coops or wonderful honey from their own personal bee skeps.

In gratitude, Lulu and I delivered boxes of sugar cookies to them yesterday afternoon – baked by me and decorated, of course, by you-know-who.

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While we won’t miss the long walk home, we will miss our neighbors (and their pets – like Lucy, below, who we pet every time we see her!) who have also become friends.

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Now, next week: our new home and next Tuscan adventure!

Ciao, tutti!

Love, Gina

P.S. Is there a place you’ve moved from – or are about to leave, with mixed feelings?  Tell me about it!