Category Archives: Family

100th tour de france kicks off in corsica

In honor of today’s start of the 100th Tour de France on the Mediterranean island of Corsica – I am reposting my last feature on this beautiful and favorite island of mine.  Enjoy! – BTH

A trip most memorable was when our daughter was three months old, we were living in Italy and we took our first family vacation to the beautiful and natural island of Corsica.

We (and our car) hopped a traghetto from Savona, Italy to Bastia on the island of Corsica, France. (Today’s Tour de France stage begins in Bastia.)

Heart pajamas were a good choice that day, as they smoothed an unfortunate and unnecessary encounter with police at a routine traffic stop on our drive down, due to a mix up with our car maintenance papers. (Even armed Italian policemen won’t resist a cute baby.)

We loved Bastia, with its surprisingly urban city feeling on an otherwise natural island. There we got a great feel for the unique Corsican character which is sprinkled with a little Italian and a little French, due to a history involving both countries. Corsica was under Genovese rule until  1729 when the Corsicans revolted and enjoyed independence for a short 40-year period, later ceding to France in  1769 . They still have an uneasy relationship with mainland France and Bastia has been the target of bomb explosions by Corsican militants.

Ferries arrive to Bastia’s port – the 100th Tour de France kicks off in Bastia today.

We drove down the Eastern coast of the island to Santa Giulia. There, at the recommendation of friends, we rented a villa at Les Toits de Santa Giulia  and every morning went for a swim in the nearby bay.  The beaches there and nearby were beautiful in  September, and the sparkling water and red rock formations were breathtaking.

the bay of Santa Giulia

La plage de Palombaggia was the most unforgettable beach (and likely the coolest place I’ve nursed a baby.)

the beach and beautiful red rock formations at Palombaggia

The nearest town, Porto Vecchio, offered a delicious bakery and creperie, just in time to remind us we were in France, as it’s easy to forget with so many reminders of Italy. Porto Vecchio has always been a “remember when?” moment, when we purchased a much too expensive International Herald Tribune to satiate my english language news craving, and driving off, watched each of its pages fly off the top of the car, where I had left it. (I blamed it on new mom mushy brain).

A highlight was the drive down to Bonifacio, at the southern most point of the island.

Citadel and cliffs of Bonifacio

The reconstructed and renovated citadel was originally built in the 9th century along with the foundation of the city. Bonifacio is known for its chalk-white limestone, sculpted in unusual shapes by the ocean. Not a stroller-friendly town, baby was put in the carrier and we explored this town on foot. Standing on the cliffs, we could see Sardegna.

white limestone cliffs of bonifacio with sardegna in the distance

This year we won’t make it back to Corsica, but we are researching islands not far from it, closer to the Italian coast and in the Tuscan archipelago. Whatever the weather when we arrive, my first order of business will be to jump in and take a swim in my most favorite sea of all.

interview with Playground around the Corner: Italy with Kids

I was recently introduced to the blog Playground around the Corner (“Italy with kids”) written by Italian mom Mary. My husband and I lived for many years in Italy and we became first-time parents there, so I was especially interested in her quest to collect information to help families find good playgrounds when traveling in Italy. Her larger goal is to work towards improving the investment and availability in clean, safe, quality play spaces in Italy.

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Mary of Playground around the Corner and her son enjoy a playground – with breathtaking views – in Cinque Terre

I recently asked Mary if I could interview her and learn why Italy – a country that loves bambini more than almost anything –  appears to be coming up short in meeting standards families are looking for in quality play spaces for their children . Read further to learn more about why she is passionate about this issue and what she is doing about it. And take notes on some fabulous playground recommendations for your next trip!

Bringing Travel Home (BTH): Why did you launch Playground around the Corner?

Playground around the Corner (PATC): When Riccardo – my first son – was two, we took a journey to the U.S. I love traveling and I’ve kept feeding this passion even with my son in tow. During this trip I realized the importance in finding safe, welcoming and stimulating places where he could play, move and have fun between visits to cathedrals and museums. What better than a playground?

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Mary’s son playing at a playground in Trentino

In foreign countries I have never had any difficulties finding information about play areas: web and tourism offices provide complete information about placement and equipment of playgrounds. On the contrary, when I travel around Italy and I look for information about Italian play areas (parco giochi) I never find anything useful: no images, no descriptions, no maps. With my blog I want to fill this gap and provide useful information for families visiting Italy with children.

BTH: Have you visited American playgrounds? What is your impression of them compared to those in Italy?
PATC: After visiting playgrounds in Boston, New York and Toronto I’ve started to dedicate attention to Italian play areas. In Italy there is not a culture about playgrounds as there is in America or in many north European countries. In the foreign countries I visited, I loved spending time in the play areas I ran into because they are – for the most part – original, stimulating, welcoming, and well-placed. On the contrary, Italian playgrounds are too often neglected, anonymous, standardized and convey a negative image in the eyes of tourists who travel to Italy to discover its beauty.

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a much too common sight – a neglected Italian playground

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Another goal that I hope to reach with my blog, not immediate but equally important, is to shed light on the subject and to encourage the people in charge to take care of existing playgrounds, as well as investing in new play areas for children.

BTH: Those of us with kids know how important it is to find playgrounds or open play space when traveling with our little ones. What recommendations would you give families visiting Italy and looking for a playground? What are your top picks?

PATC: When I travel with my children I believe in the rule of “I give you, you give me” and what does a child wish more than play? If you come to Italy and you look for information about where your kids could play, you will find endless information about the most famous theme parks, but there are hardly any details about the small playgrounds that exist in every village, just around the corner. With my blog I want to provide the missing information and, with contributions from readers and other bloggers, I hope to soon be able to cover most of our beautiful country. I describe the playgrounds I visit in a very objective way and often I’m sorry for criticizing rather than praising, but I hope that the criticism may serve to improve. Fortunately there are many beautiful exceptions: at the moment I would put on the podium the play areas I visited in the Cinque Terre and in play areas in Trentino , with special attention for the universally accessible playground there is in the lovely Jesolo because every playground should be designed in order to allow every child to enjoy it.

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a creative playground space in Manarola, Cinque Terre

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Another fantastic playground find in Trentino

BTH: Americans believe Italy is a child-friendly, child-centric place because Italians love children so much. Then why are playgrounds being neglected in your opinion? Some of my favorite memories from having a child and living in Italy were the piazzas in the evening full of children and their families. But I also remember going to a mall shopping with my infant daughter and unable to find a changing table, even in the bathrooms.

PATC: If you ask me if Italians are child friendly: yes, they are. Children are welcome everywhere and are allowed in every restaurant, bar, museum, store and especially older people always have a smile or a nice word for children.

But if you ask me if Italy has much to offer to families with children my answer is not as positive at all: there are a very few dedicated facilities such as changing tables or play areas in restaurants or shops, no dedicated parking spots at the malls, hospitals or other venues. There is a very poor support for families with children – for example, finding daycare is very difficult for working parents,so many mothers end up having to either quit their job or rely on friends and family.

Play areas dedicated to children  – areas of prime importance for the growth of children both for a physical stimulus and, most of all, for creative and relational opportunities –  are too often neglected and badly-maintained (in my blog, unfortunately, there are a lot of examples). Those responsible for the design and management of playgrounds should not just open a catalog and choose three items within the budget, but rather look for information, study, and be curious about this issue, otherwise kids end up playing in the streets, piazzas or prefer the walls of the house and the video or TV screen to outdoor play.

To learn more about Playground around the Corner and also get tips for finding the best play spaces on your next vacation to Italy (I know I will), visit www.playgroundaroundthecorner.com

ave maria di lourdes

I’m convinced that you can relive memories through your senses more accurately than flipping through a photo album.

When our kids are asked what they remember most about our summer trip to Italy, they often say the taste of rich gelato. More recently, my daughter mentions the memory and sound of bells chiming from church towers.

I know exactly what day she is remembering. We were staying in the hills just south of Florence taking a walk overlooking the olive trees surrounding our apartment.

A nearby church tower began chiming. Then another joined in from farther away. And another. They played off each other and continued for a good five or ten minutes. The bell chimes bounced off the distant hills and filled the air. This chorus of bells against a backdrop of silence stopped us in our tracks as we listened. When my husband and I lived in Italy, the sounds of church bells were an everyday occurrence – we hardly noticed some days. But on that day it was a beautiful and memorable shared experience between mother and daughter.

My daughter’s memory reminds me that I do miss the church bells. I don’t hear them at home. When we lived in Italy,  the local town church chimed an unfogettable and beautiful song only on Sundays. So over the years, I’d often sit on our balcony high up on the hill and listen. I knew I could count on hearing it each week. My mother recognized the song as “Ave Maria di Lourdes” because she listened to it as a child growing up in Germany. To confirm it was the song, I found a version on youtube.  Take a listen and perhaps it will take you back to a country or time that is special to you.

travel is the best investment for kids

It’s back to school time and I agree with whoever said public schools should sponsor and promote ‘travel teams’ much like sports teams, because of the  life lessons the act of traveling provides young people. Our trip to Italy earlier this summer has left a lasting impression on our two children and reinforced a key family value of the importance of exposing them to different cultures from an early age – even if it’s a trade-off to a bigger house, newer appliances or a nicer car.

Stazione Santa Lucia, Venice

Read about my tips on traveling in Italy with kids here through my interview this month with travel, art and culture blog, This is My Happiness.

top 3 new experiences this spring in Italy

On our trip back to Italy last month, we walked a lot down memory lane – visiting our old apartments, old jobs, old friends, favorite beaches, buildings, bars and restaurants. The children were gracious, my oldest posing in front of the hospital she was born and standing on the lungolago for a picture where I strolled her endlessly years ago.

But what was equally enjoyable was the creation of new memories with our children through new experiences in an old country with endless things to discover.

Three of our favorite new Italian finds this Spring include:

Visiting the Madame Fisscher exhibit at Palazzo Grassi, Venice (through July 15, 2012)

Even if you are not a contemporary art fan or have had enough of Venice (but is that possible in the city that never gets old?), it may be worth visiting this exhibit if only to  enter the breathtaking Palazzo Grassi for the first time.

From the brochure, “The exhibit offers a journey through Urs Fischer’s artistic career from the nineties to today.  His work, characterized by humor, penchant for paradox and virtuosity of execution, employes simultaneously an extraordinary diversity of media and materials.  It calls into question the history of art and sculpture, our relationship to the body, the notion of time and the status of the object.”  Our favorites include “Untitled”,  two men in candle wax allowing visitors to witness the transformation as the flame burns (the head representing Fischer himself had fallen into his hands when we were there) and the idea of the importance of all processes of transformation, the body’s endurance and duration of artwork; Jeff Koons monumental pink “Balloon Dog” (which is used to contrast a nearby Fischer work);  “A Light Sigh is the Sound of my Life”,  an enormous sphere, slowly rotating on itself made of different materials (what looked like skin and hair). My daughter also gave a thumbs up to the “floating” cigarette box  hung by a thin wire from the ceiling while the naked professional model/woman in the “Necrophonia” room was a surprise.

Eating at GustaPizza, Florence

Near Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence I ate some of the best pizza I’ve had in central and northern Italy. Our friend who lives in the area introduced it to us. Delicious and affordable,  my pizza came with rucola and grana (above) while the kids had Margherita. If you are traveling in the area this summer, this casual restaurant is not to miss.

Renting a motorboat, Lago di Garda

All the years we lived on the lake, while we enjoyed its stunning water by ferry-boat and swimming, it’s hard to believe we never rented a boat. On the lungolago in our old village of Toscolano Maderno, you can rent a motor boat for an hour for 75 euros. While a splurge for us, the kids agree it was one of the best activities we chose to do on the trip. The views of the villas and castles and mountains lining the coast are best experienced by boat. The boats go fast enough to feel the thrill of bumping over small waves and wind through the hair.

earth day air drying

In the past I’ve posted about good habits I picked up abroad that I’ve stuck with.

Today, I put one into action for Earth Day. Our temperatures have warmed up sufficiently to begin air drying my family’s clothes again. 

Years ago you would have heard me complaining about the lack of dryers found in Italy, particularly in winter when clothes took over the house, placed on top of water heaters to dry. But today I fully appreciate doing without some American “luxuries” and reap the many benefits of hangdrying clothes.

Your clothes feel better. Your clothes smell better. Your clothes will iron easier. And… they will last longer.

Not to mention, you feel fantastic sucking up less of Mother Earth’s energy in the form of a dryer.

Happy Earth Day from Bringing Travel Home! Are you doing anything special today to honor Mother Earth?

french parenting lessons

Last week I discovered the Wall Street Journal article “Why French Parents are Superior,” by American expat, journalist and author Pamela Druckerman. It wasn’t more than two paragraphs down when my head began shaking up and down uncontrollably – like a marionette doll at the Luxembourg Gardens – in agreement and recollection from my time abroad.  The article discussed her book released last week,”Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.”

Druckerman, raising her children in Paris, describes the French parent’s ability to achieve outcomes so many American parents seem to have such difficulty with. Like teaching our children to sleep through the night, eat and sit nicely at meals (no ginormous bags of pirate booty and pretzels every half hour might just help, dontcha think?), properly and politely greet adults, avoid interrupting and play on their own. The French practices of teaching respect, patience, self-control and delayed gratification – with easy, calm authority (“big eyes” she calls them), and being involved with the family without being obsessive are key points, according to Druckerman, and hard to come by in my parts these days.

Our baby was under a year old when we returned  to the States, yet I still got a small taste of the parenting style in Northern Italy. And I do say Druckerman’s observations are not just a French thing.  I encountered some similar characteristics with many families there. At  birthday parties, children played happily together while parents sat on chairs – not down on the floor  – and enjoyed a glass of wine. Down the hill from our house was a part playground/part outdoor cafe (Awesome Idea. Why has it not caught on here?). Moms chatted and drank coffee – guilt-free- while the children played. At pick-up time at the local Italian preschool, parents were not even allowed in the playground area. The kids were having so much fun together they hardly noticed. Finally, the children knew they were expected to greet adults. As Judith Warner writes this week in  “Why American Kids are Brats” for Time.com, saying hello and goodbye helps them to learn that they aren’t the only ones with feelings.

Parenting styles will come and go. I’ve tried them all. I’ll admit it, after reading one book when I was desperate, I even followed the advice to roar (yes, roar) with my toddler as she melted down – giving voice, I guess, to the temper tantrum. Some experts say feed their ego or they’ll grow up with no confidence. Others say don’t feed their ego – if you do, they won’t be prepared for life’s hard lessons. Be their best friend. Be not their best friend – show who is boss! But the article suggests that amidst helicopter and other kinds of current popular  parenting styles, some core, common sense lessons have gone lost and forgotten – like setting boundaries and teaching manners, good behavior and respect for who’s in control.

Even though she makes the point that French parents aren’t perfect, I imagine this book, like all others on parenting, could ignite a heated debate. But it makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe I’m an example of a new kind of American mom, who went to too many Positive Parenting workshops early in my mom career, and years later, hear myself telling my kids “No means no because I said so!”  Then realizing this is exactly the message I want to send them.

To read more about Pamela Druckerman and her new book,  “Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” visit http://www.pameladruckerman.com/books/

UPDATE: “Teaching Self-Control, the American Way” is a fantastic NY Times editorial that came out in response to the attention this book has been getting.