Zipping up to Florence

All righty! Get Ready! Here’s a short post about Florence, Firenze if you want to get Italian about it, that will not have one photo of the Duomo or Ponte Vecchio or the Arno in it anywhere!

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Okay, so, there are plenty of photos of gelato-related goodness, but that’s because we just happened upon Florence’s annual Gelato Festival! Lucky us!

We didn’t even come here for that.  In fact, Lulu and I just zipped up on the train from our hometown Arezzo – to come to Florence for a quick visit with a consulting Super-Star who was in town on holiday with his wife.

But before that businessy meeting, Lulu and I had time to duck into a small, ambient Trattoria – “Lo Stracotto,” located in the equally small piazza Madonna Aldobrandini.  We shared some crostini nero (it’s warm chicken liver pate on toasted bread and yes, Lulu actually loves it) and a selection of salumi.

Che buona!
Che buona!

I especially liked the charming atmosphere – with the banner sentiment I definitely agree with –  that you see directly behind Lulu who is surrounded by wine:

"One can't live with only bread!"
“One can’t live with only bread!”

And then there was this quirky little quip from Captain Hook that I enjoyed seeing – although I thought it was interesting that a quote from British J.M. Barrie won out over something from Collodi – especially since Florence is filled with an abundance of Pinocchio souvenirs. But perhaps that’s precisely why:

“I hate him, I hate him!”

My meeting after lunch was at the former Medici Palace now known as the Four Seasons hotel.  Yes, it’s lush and scrumptious but I didn’t feel like snapping oodles of photos.  Except this one of a rhinoceros sculpture dressed as Arlecchino…


The 16th century opulence didn’t phase Lulu, of course. She was more interested in visiting the nearby park – for a quick ride on the giostra, or merry-go-round. Which she did.

In Cinderella’s Coach, no less.

??????????And although we are certainly not rich like the Medici family, we do happen to live close enough to visit one of the most wonderful cities in the world for just a few hours – not even stopping at any of the touristy places.

Like fortunate princesses indeed.

Or, at the very least, like two "lovely ladies" as the street sign implies!
Or, at the very least, like two “lovely ladies” as the street sign implies!

And one of those princesses was quite tired on the train-ride back home…


To all of you who enjoy travel and adventure, here’s to your next day trip – no matter where it may be!

Baci. Gina

P.S. Fun day trip you’d like to share? Would love to hear!

For more inspirational adventures in Italy with Lulu and me, please check out my new book Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me available worldwide from Amazon!


Guess Who Came to Dinner?

For every parent, attending a myriad of birthday parties becomes de rigueur when your children are young.


You know the drill: dump an assortment of unhealthy snacks in bowls, line up liters of sugar water, toss in a themed cake and matching paper napkins and plastic plates – maybe throw in a few games if you’d like, et voila, instant kiddie birthday party.


I have to admit that even here in Italy, where I tend to feel that the most routine events become more special due to their Tuscan backdrop, I’ve gotten so accustomed to all the birthday parties we have to attend, I’ve become a bit numb.

But, boy was I in for a surprise yesterday at the incredible birthday party for Lulu’s friend Margherita!

It wasn’t because Marghe’s wonderful parents, Serena and Luca, spent millions of Euros for a lavish spread of exotic delicacies – although  the chocolate mice and hedgehogs handmade by Serena’s mother were adorably and deliciously unique!


Lulu clearly loved them. I don’t want to think how many of the little creatures she popped into her mouth.


The rest of the treats was also certainly delicious  –  and with the addition of a basket of crisp, raw fava beans – also healthy!


The cake was indeed lovely too.


But, it was the setting that really knocked this festa out of the standard-issue birthday party ball-park.

The splendid view from our picnic area

Since non abbiamo una macchina, “we don’t have a car,” we don’t often visit places you can’t get to by train.  Fortunately, Margherita’s Mamma, Serena, was kind enough to pick Lulu and me up and drive us fifteen minutes out of our hometown of Arezzo, and to another world.


Parco Lignano rests atop a mountain following a windy narrow drive which fortunately and amazingly in spite of Lulu’s extreme motion sickness, did not make her throw up – Good driving Serena!


You’re met by a spread of shady woods and verdant meadows.

They’re dotted with playgrounds and there’s even a small kind of petting zoo where Lulu tentatively decided to feed a very zealous deer.



And it was here in this wilderness type setting, where the astonishing birthday surprise arrived – in the form of an uninvited animal guest – much bigger than ants or squirrels.


Yes! Here’s a cinghiale who came to our picnic area!  “A what?” you may be saying, if you’re not from around here.


That’s “wild boar” to you English speakers.  And the above blurry photo (sorry, I was just a little nervous!) shows you how it looked from my daughter and the other children’s perspectives.  If I had audio for this blog, you would be hearing tremendously loud squeals and shrieks – from the kids, not the boar.

Okay, now she's jumped the fence and come up to our level!
Okay, now it’s jumped the fence and come up to our level!

Now, I know a little about cinghiali, about 150,000 of them roam wild in Tuscany.  They’re hunted and appear as a regular item on many menus.  In fact, I’ve seen them many times, er, on my plate – but never this up close and personal!

My Italian friends who were used to this kind of thing, were tossing it pieces of fruit.  Since cinghiali are technically herbivores, I asked if you could ever feed them like Lulu did those deer.  My friends laughed at me, of course, and said the wild boars are dangerous, unpredictable and known to eat lizards and frogs and could very likely bite the hand that tried to feed them.

DSCN2508 Got it! Then why aren’t we freaking out more that the wild boar is this close to us?

Finally, it decided it had had enough. It casually climbed down the hill away from our picnic table and we watched as it calmly ambled back toward the woods.


The conversations turned away from our unexpected guest and back to the festivities at hand.

I, however, couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Here’s to the most memorable birthday party in Tuscany I have so far attended.


I can only imagine what’s next?!

Grazie, tutti, for joining me.  Any notable birthday parties you’d like to share?  Any wild animal encounters?  Tell me!

And for more cinghiali stories and other fun from Tuscany, please buy Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” available worldwide on Amazon. 

baci, Gina

Go!…because you never know what you’ll find

Lulu became a pompiere, or firefighter, for a day!  

But, it almost didn’t happen.


We recently took the short train trip from our home in Arezzo to the small village of Castiglion Fiorentino for the morning.  Nothing special planned.  Just thought we’d meander through its quaint cobbled streets.


Far across from the park we stumbled upon, I heard a voice on a loud-speaker.  The sound was over-modulated and, of course, in Italian, so I couldn’t understand.  Straining, I could see quite a few people milling about and what looked like an obstacle course.  “Clearly,”  I  thought, “it’s some sort of event  – a race or something.” But I don’t speak the language well and I didn’t know anything about it. I was nervous. Should I go check it out?


Of course. Why not?  I took Lulu’s hand in mine and we walked toward the people and those unintelligible sounds.

Indeed, there was an obstacle course. In fact, it was a mini-fire-fighting-training course – for kids!


Now, I had to be brave and go over to the sign-in table and inquire in my halting Italian, if it were possible for Lulu to try.


“Ma certo,” the kind lady sitting at the table responded to my blubbered request. “Of course.” At first, Lulu said she didn’t want to.  Perhaps it was a bit overwhelming for her too. Although she speaks the language, the scene was confusing and chaotic with all the helmeted grown-ups and kids running everywhere.  But after a little gentle urging from the volunteers, she did it! Complete with vest and red pompiere helmet!


Up the ladder…


…and down the pole!


Through the rings…


…another ladder…


…and even through the “tunnel!”


Across the smoking beam!


Lulu even got to shoot a water hose


…at some real flames!


But, I think our favorite part was when she had to put on a face mask and go inside a “burning” house to make a rescue!


Yey! Teddy was saved!


After she completed the course, Lulu received this wonderful certificate – proving that she was a real “Vigile del Fuoco,” or fighter of fires! It’s now proudly on display in her bedroom and the memory of the day still brings a smile to both of our faces.


And if I had been too embarrassed to ask, or if Lulu had been too timid to try, none of it would’ve happened.

Till next time, here’s hoping you push past your fears and inhibitions and try something that ends up bringing you joy!  Have you done something like this? Tell me!

Baci, Gina

For more adventures with Lulu in Italy, please buy my new book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me – available worldwide on Amazon!