Italy 2015 Wrap Up

[So uhh…Disclaimer.  This post is long.  Like makes previous posts that I’ve had a disclaimer on look short.  It’s just shy of 20,000 words.  A professional typist typing at 80 wpm would take 4 hours just to retype this post.  I don’t blame anyone if you don’t want to read through it entirely.  You can search the area/town you might be interested in or skip down to the concluding thoughts where I give more opinions/advice based on our experience.  The day by day portion is more of a travel journal.  Also, Alyce has a talent for saying more than I do in much fewer words, so you can read her posts too.  Good luck.]


Italy…Finally.  This one had been on both of our wish lists for a while.

Me – I’ve always been fascinated with Roman history.  The Romans were an incredible society and were more advanced than any other that would show up for quite some time.  My engineering side has always been impressed by what they were able to accomplish 2000 years ago.  My law side is similarly impressed with Rome.  The Louisiana Civil Code that we use today is a direct descendant from Roman law – one of the few things I took from the Legal Traditions class we had to take at LSU.  It equally influenced just about all of the Western legal systems.

Alyce – She has a strong Italian heritage on her mom’s side.  Her Nonna (the Italian word for grandmother) cooked all sorts of delicious Italian meals, many of which I was fortunate enough to get eat too.  Pasta, Pizza, Italian meats and cheeses are many of her favorite foods.  She loves the history too, just as I enjoy the food, markets, etc. as well.

As is usually the case, Alyce had to rein me in on the planning/scope of the trip.  I wanted 3 weeks.  Alyce shut that down being as we had never even traveled with James when she was submitting her vacation request.  Also, she had only been at her new job a couple weeks when vacation requests were due.  Going right for a 3 weeker would have been a little bold.  In fact, she just submitted her vacation requests for 2016, and the same situation played out.  I wanted three weeks; she settled at two.  I’ll get the three weeker in 2017… [Editors note: Since writing this, we have changed our 2016 fall vacation to 3 weeks.  Persistence pays off.]

Two weeks sounds like a lot – and it is for US vacations – but it really isn’t that long to see a country.  You lose one night to travel, so you’re down to 13 nights before you even get started.  Plus, we had a 15 month old with us.  We don’t quite see/do as much as we used to…

Speaking of which, I planned about half of what I usually would (in terms of meals/activities/wine/etc.), and we still ended up skipping half of what we had planned.  And that is fine and somewhat expected.  No one wins if we wake up a baby and have him scream through a lunch because we wanted to go to a particular place.  That’s not enjoyable for us or the others around us.

Similarly, I probably planned our stops a little differently in the past.  I definitely would have stopped a lot more along the way during our transits.  We drove right through the heart of the Chianti wine region and didn’t stop at a single place.  As it was, we stayed at 5 different spots over the 13 days…That’s moving when travelling with a one year old.

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Last Day

For our last day in Italy, we got up and moving pretty early.  We grabbed a couple of cappuccinos to go and walked around the big square.  It was pretty quiet, and we let James run around and chase the pigeons.  He really loved it! Our plan was to wear him out early so that he could take an early nap and we could actually make our 1:00 lunch reservations.


And that’s just what happened.  James took a 2 hour nap and we were able to have a pretty enjoyable last meal in Italy.  The restaurant, Osteria Alle Testiere, was wonderful.  Venice is know for their seafood, and we had lots of it: spaghetti with clams, octopus with gazpacho, mussels, and mixed grilled fish.  James enjoyed the gazpacho and spaghetti.  He had a few periods where he was very quiet, and I got to have a brief minute of peace.

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For the rest of the afternoon, we are just hung out and started packing up.

As a “last night of vacation treat” we had cookies and gelato for dinner! Back to reality tomorrow, but we are savoring every minute that we have left.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day.  We fly from Venice to Philidelphia to Charlotte to New Orleans.  I’m hoping that everything goes smoothly, unlike the flight over here!

I think we are all ready to get home, but we really enjoyed our time over here and especially our time together as a family.  Life gets pretty crazy at home between, work, daycare, etc.  It was nice to slow down and just chill out.


Of course we had our highs and lows, but we are happy with the way things went.

See you back home


Venice Bound

Today, we are leaving Barolo and heading for Venice.  The drive is about 3 hrs and 45 minutes.  Not as bad as the drive from Montalcino to Barolo, but it’s anyones guess how James is going to handle it.

He woke up in a great mood around 8:00, but it seems like he is just having an “off” day.  He’s pretty congested and his teeth may be bothering him.  We gave him some Tylenol and hit the road around 11:00.  He was asleep almost immediately.  To our surprise, he took a good nap then woke up in a good mood about an hour and a half before we got to Venice.

We turned in the rental car then caught a water taxi to our apartment.  We were quite a sight hauling all of our luggage across the busy street and onto a boat! There are water buses in Venice that are much much cheaper than the private taxis but we thought that it would just be easier with James and all of our stuff.

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James loved the boat ride! Venice is much different from the other places that we have been.  There’s a lot of action on the water and lots to look at for James.

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Our apartment in Venice is nice.  It is very close to the main square, so it will be really easy to get around.

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There are so many narrow walkways, bridges, and steps that we decided that we weren’t even going to attempt the stroller.  The Ergo baby carrier has worked out great for these types of situations.

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That evening we just walked around and took some pictures.  I’m surprised that I like Venice as much as I do.  It is so unique!  I think that I also like that there are no cars, scooters, bikes etc.  There are still a good bit of people, but it seems a little more relaxed than Rome and Florence.

We grabbed some bites to eat at a little bar and ate outside by the water.  It was all very good, but a seagull swooped in and snatched some crostini off of the plate while we were eating!

For dinner, we just stopped in a little pizza place to get something quick.  The pizza really wasn’t anything special, but James likes pizza.  He was good sitting on my lap quietly eating his cheese pizza and waving to the people at the next table.

One more full day before we head home!  I hope that this hurricane doesn’t give us any issues traveling!

See you soon


Last day in Barolo

For our last day in the wine region, we started out with a tasting at Elio Grasso.  It is a very nice winery, and we had a wonderful tour and tasting with another couple from the US.  They actually live in San Francisco and own some property in Napa, so it was fun talking with them about their favorite wineries and swapping notes about good restaurants in New Orleans.

James held it together pretty well.  He especially liked watching the machine that was cleaning the bottles and labeling them.


The winery and vineyard are on a gorgeous piece of property overlooking the hills.  After the tour, James and I spent alot of time playing outside in the grassy area.  He was in a good mood, and I was able to drink some really good wine in between chasing him.

One thing that we have noticed is that the prices of the wine and food are all extremely reasonable.  I’m talking like 10$ for a bottle of wine in a restaurant. That has really been a pleasant surprise.

The prices of wine in Napa have gone up so much even since we starting going back in 2010.  We have learned that one of the reasons is that many of these Italian wineries are 3rd and 4th generation families. They don’t want to change much from the way it has always been done, so they keep the prices about the same to maintain a loyal customer base.

James fell asleep in the car almost immediately after we left, consequently we cancelled our lunch reservations.  Justin picked up an antipasti plate from a restaurant near by and we ate in the room.

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In the afternoon, we had another tour/tasting at Cavollatto.  This winery is close by the hotel so we were able to walk there.  I could tell that James just wasn’t in the mood, so Justin took the tour while we played outside.  I did get to try some of the wine, and it was very good.  This was another family owed vineyard and one of the sons did the tour/tasting.

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All the wineries have been very nice and patient with James!  Even when he was trying to dip his breadstick in my glass of wine!

Dinner didn’t go too smoothly.  We attempted to eat in the restaurant in the hotel.  I could tell immediately that things were not going to go our way.  We barely made it through appetizers when James and I had to head back up to the room for bed.  Justin brought our entrees up to the room and we ate on the floor of the living room (for the 3rd time).

Tomorrow we leave for Venice.  This is our last stop before we come home.  I hope it’s a good one!



Today was our first day exploring the Barolo area.  Barolo is considered (by many) one of the most prestigious wine-making regions in all of Italy.  We have been to Napa multiple times and have also visited vineyards in New Zealand and Australia, so we were excited to do some tasting in Italy.

James decided to wake up early this morning, so we got a head start to the day (somewhat) and had an early breakfast.  The place we are staying at, Le Torri, provides a breakfast.  Like the last place, it is mainly fruit, yogurt, meats, breads, and cheese.  When we got there, they had already set out a high chair for James with a baby plate and utensils.  Everyone has been so nice and accommodating for James.  We had a couple of cappuccinos and James ate most of a yogurt.  The rest of the yogurt, he smeared all over his face, hands, etc.

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We had a 10:00 tour and tasting at GD Vajra.  Everything went pretty smoothly.  We always hope that James will quietly stay in the Ergo baby while we do what we want.  Well, we are 9 nights into this trip and that hasn’t happened yet.  He immediately wants to get down and run around like a crazy person.  Luckily, we were the only ones at that tasting so it wasn’t a big deal.  While we were trying the wines, the sweet tour guide brought out some toys for James to play with.  He was in good spirits, and it all went reasonably well.


We wanted to get some lunch at 12:00, but James fell asleep in the car and the plans changed.  We went back to the hotel so that a James can take a nap.  Flexibility has really been the name of the game on this trip.

After James woke up, we ate at Loconda Del Centro which is about a minute from the hotel.  James gnawed on a bread stick while we ate.  He did have 1 meltdown, but he recovered and the meal wasn’t a total fail.  He also tried some veal tartare and seemed to like it!

After lunch, we walked around the small town where we are staying, Castiglione Falletto.  We found an open area where James could run around and had a relaxing afternoon.

Next up on the agenda was a tasting at Bartolo Mascarello.  We went into the town of Barolo and walked around before the tasting.  We saw a school letting out for the day and all the kids coming off the bus to meet there parents.  Justin wore James in the Ergo baby and he seemed very content.  We had high hopes for a nice quiet tasting, but baby James had other plans.


Our tour guide was about 15 minutes late, but at first things were looking up.  James was being sweet and flirting with the other people in our group.  Awesome.  However, once we started, things took at turn for the worst.  We went into the wine cellar and James started fussing so I took him outside.  A first, he wanted to play with a pitchfork.  I decided that that was a bad idea.  James acted like I just killed his best friend.  Then, he wanted to sweep the floor with the brooms that they had outside.  Ok, I can deal with that.  He likes to sweep at home, so I though this would keep him entertained for a while.  Unfortunately, he can’t maneuver the broom over concrete as well as he can on the hardwood floor at home.  Well, that was just too much to handle for a 15 month old.  He cried when he tried to sweep, then he cried when I took it away.  Not just a gentle wimpering, but a full blown scream on the top of his lungs.  Justin said that all he could hear was screaming outside the cellar, and it made him super stressed out.  At least I wasn’t alone in my misery.

I spent the rest of the “tasting” outside with James watching “the wheels on the bus” on the iPad.  The nice tour guide did bring me out a very appreciated glass of wine.

We had dinner at L’Argaj down the street from the hotel.  It was very good and luckily we were one of only 2 tables.  James was reasonably good.  He ate some breadstick,  grilled octopus and panna cotta.


The day had its highs and lows, but overall we are still very much enjoying being out in the countryside.  I think we all just feel so much more relaxed here and making great memories as a family. One day we may look back at this experience and say “what were we thinking?”  But I think we will also laugh a lot at some of the things that have happened!


A Birthday Miracle

I’m not really a birthday person. I don’t really get overly excited about it, but this year James gave me the best present ever.

Today we drove from Montalcino  to Barolo.  I’ve sort of been dreading this day because it is about a 5 hour drive and James typically doesn’t do too great on long car rides.  Our “plan” was to drive 2 hours to Pisa, get out the car, walk around, and have lunch.  Then, we were going to finish the 3 hour car ride.  As we have gotten further into this trip, we always laugh when we talk about our ” plan.” The truth is, James make the plans.  If he’s not happy, there is no point in forcing some sort of schedule.  But today, everything went according to plan!

We left Montalcino around 10:30 after a good breakfast and coffee and headed out on the road.  James stayed awake for the 2 hours until Pisa, and he was really good.  Our hope was that he would stay awake for the first half of the ride and then he could sleep the second half.

Once we got to Pisa, we parked and saw the Tower.  We were amazed at all the tourists and hawkers.  Pisa is obviously a hot spot to visit.  We walked around.  Yep, the tower surely does lean.


We found a restaurant and had a quick margarita pizza for lunch.  I did another miracle diaper change in the bathroom, and we were back on the road.


James fell asleep pretty early on the ride.  Justin and I held our breadth hoping that he would stay asleep.  The car ride was very quiet.  I was afraid that if I said anything that he would wake up.  We drove through lots and lots of tunnels and more winding hills.

About 30 minutes before we got there, James woke up.  But…..he didn’t cry and fight to get out of his seat (miracle).  He drank his milk, and we made it to our destination.

In Barolo, we are staying at Le Torri.  It is more of a traditional hotel than we have been staying in.  It’s very nice.  It overlooks all of the vineyards, and it is so beautiful!


We drank some wine from Uccelliera (the vineyard that we visited) and celebrated a successful day….. and my birthday.  We got some food from the restaurant on the property and had a nice quiet evening.

Tomorrow, we visit some vineyards in Barolo


A Vineyard Visit

Today, we started out with a great breakfast provided by Castel Brunello.  It was mainly meats, cheeses, bread, fruit etc.  But it was nice to have something easily accessible.  I guess that’s the downside to staying in apartments rather than hotels.  James really enjoyed a banana yogurt, but by the end of breakfast both he and I were covered in yogurt so we had to change clothes before going out.  Just in case anyone was wondering, we currently have no dirty laundry! I’ve really been trying to stay on top of it.

So, the plan was to go to an 11:00 wine tour and tasting and then lunch at 1:00 at Il Lecchio, and we actually did it!  Usually, we start out with a loose plan and let James’s mood guide the day.  He actually let us do everything that we wanted!

We went to Uccellliera vineyard and had such a nice time.  The owner/winemaker’s wife gave us a tour and tasting.  Everything was great.  When we first pulled up, their 6 month old German Shepard puppy greeted us, and James loved her.  When we were in the cellar doing the tasting, their 4 year old daughter played with James and kept him entertained.  The wife, Paola, spoke good English and the daughter is taking English lessons.  Paola’s husband, Andrea, is the winemaker.  They were all very sweet and make great wine!

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Lunch at Il Lecchio was great.  I loved the fact that there were alot of other kids in the restaurant.  One table looked like a big family with about 5 young children.  There was a baby that looked like she was about 2 weeks old.  It was fun to watch them, and it was also good to know that James wasn’t the loudest one in the restaurant.  He has been eating great.  He’s had veal, pasta, fried zucchini, frittata, and eggplant!

After James took a nap, we headed out to see the main town of Montalcino. It is a very cute, quiet town with lots of wine tasting bars! We didn’t go in any but they all seemed really nice.  It was very windy and quite a bit colder than it had been on the trip so we didn’t stay out long.  We got back to the apartment around 7:30 and had a quiet night.