Carnival: definitely a thing here

A few weeks before Ash Wednesday, I noticed some confetti scattered around the playground at Villa Borghese.  Cool, I thought, some kid must of had a birthday party.  Then I started noticing it at other playgrounds.  And on the streets.  And basically everywhere.  You can see where this is going . . .

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Turns out, this was all Carnival, or Carnevale here, related.  It felt like a secret society at times.  You don’t know when or where, but at some appointed time Italians will assemble and throw confetti (coriandoli) and silly string at each other.

We witnessed this on a trip to Tivoli.  The whole town was streaming toward the main piazza, as if drawn by a magnetic force.  Unfortunately, we were two Cheerios from full kid meltdown and needed food STAT so we couldn’t stick around to observe.  But when we emerged from lunch, it looked like a confetti bomb had gone off.  Save a few stragglers and the balloon vendor, the square was deserted.  (Oh, right, balloons and inflatable objects also seem integral to the secret fun.)

In addition to confetti, silly string, and balloons, Carnevale means dress up.  The toy store around the corner trotted out all the costumes you didn’t see at Halloween.  I dropped Henry at school the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and missed the dress up day memo.  In my defense, it was early days on school.  Also, NO ONE told me.  Everyone just seems to know.  Secret society.  Luckily, Henry was pretty psyched about the face painting and did not comment on his lack of costume.

They called this "Spider Clown"

They called this “Spider Clown”

Things intensified as we approached Fat Tuesday.  More dress up.  More confetti.  More streamers.

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I don’t know why this surprised me.  I just didn’t realize it was a thing.  Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  That’s a thing.  Carnival in Rio.  That’s a thing.  Carnevale in Venice.  That’s a thing.  But Rome (and apparently many other places in Europe)?  I didn’t know.

Carnival is DEFINITELY a thing in Tuscany.  Coincidentally, our trip to Montepulciano with my mom occurred the weekend before Lent.  A friend helpfully sent me a list of major celebrations in Tuscany, noting that we would be close to Foiano della Chiana, home of the oldest carnival celebration in Italy.  We played it by ear.  I wanted a more relaxing trip instead of stuffing everything in.  The hills in Tuscany make distances deceptive.

In the end, we did go.


Adults paid an admission into town (I think 8 euro).  We got there just in time for the confetti cannon.  I KNOW.  Hang on.  Let me set the scene.

It was crowded, but not scary crowded.  I wasn’t worried about being crushed or separated from my group.  Vendors sold bags of confetti and horns.  There were also food vendors galore selling yummy fried things.  You could even get hot wine, but it was not as good as at the German markets.

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The crowd was, shall we say, festive.  I think at least a quarter of the participants were in costume.  Most frequently costumed were kids and groups of bros, although there were some ladies as well.  These were not elaborate historical costumes like you’d see in Venice.  It really just looked like Halloween was happening in February.

It was loud.  Between people shouting and music blaring, you weren’t having an intimate conversation with anyone.

OK, back to the confetti cannon.  In the super old and fancy town hall in the main piazza, revelers lined the balcony, kind of like balconies on Bourbon Street.  We stood to the side of the scrum below.  After a countdown, the confetti guns fired.  These were sort of a letdown.  Just long tubes with some confetti shooting out.  But that was not all.  The group up top rained down confetti as the cannons fired.  Everyone down below threw confetti as well.

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After that stopped, they rained down inflatables.  Nemos.  Spidermans.  Peppa Pigs.  James lost his glasses trying to grab one, but luckily they were recovered before someone could stomp them.

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THEN, they tipped ginormous balls down into the crowd for some serious volleyball action.  It was a little surreal.

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After the crowd dispersed, we went around the corner.  And saw THIS:

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Turns out it was one of three incredibly elaborate floats we saw.  The floats seemed to be part of a very slow moving parade.  Slow moving because the route was in no way cleared and they were sort of just moving through the crowd.  They all had multiple moving pieces, like a bull shaking its head and dolphins leaping.  It was a sight to behold.

No words

No words

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They also had music THUMPING out of the speakers.  Mac was tolerant, but unflappable Henry was flapped.  We backed off and left a little bit later, picking up delicious porchetta sandwiches for the drive home.

When we got home, we found confetti everywhere.  In our shoes.  In our hair.  Somehow in the kids’ diapers.  So, yeah, Carnival.  Definitely a thing here.

Itinerary for me Ma

Lucky for me as a sightseeing planner, my mom has been to Rome a few times.  This means she will be excited to see things, but we don’t feel like we have to pack in every single sight.

So I have put together a sort of wish list for my mom’s stay.  As you will see, there is plenty of flexibility.


Pizza – maybe from Gaudi?

White wine

Red wine

Gelateria Salaria, our favorite close by gelato.

Come il Latte.  Simply the best.  Better than all the rest.

Catacombs of Priscilla

Villa Borghese

Villa Ada

Walk around downtown

A market


More gardens, maybe Villa d’Este in Tivoli

Hopefully I will be able to report back on successful list completion.  The weather is not on our side this week, but we’ll do what we can and hope things will look up.  Now I must away.  Somebody couldn’t be bothered to stay asleep for all of nap time and is trying to eat my arms as I type.


When to push it?

When to push it_

We were all set to go away this weekend.  Take advantage of the holiday.  Get out of town.  Check something else off the list.  It was gonna be great.

We found an amazing looking airbnb.  I plotted an itinerary I thought would work with our family’s rhythms.  I had a game plan to eat out and cook at home.  It was gonna be great.

Then the airbnb host responded and said that property wasn’t available only for two days even though it says that NOWHERE on the listing.

Then the forecast looked bleak.  Like rain all weekend all the time.  After having a stretch of dry days, I’d almost forgotten how much of a bummer the rain here can be.

We searched for another airbnb, but we couldn’t find anything that looked as nice.  Definitely not anywhere I’d want to be stuck if it rained nonstop.

We looked at the lovingly crafted itinerary.  Literally everything on the list we want to do is outside.  EVERYTHING.

Laura Vanderkam has mentioned recently about the do it anyway approach.  Yeah, you’re tired and your sweatpants are giving you that come hither look, but just do it.  You’ll probably have fun once you do and you’ll have the fun memories to look back on.

I’ve mentioned, less recently, the struggle on when to go for it.  When do you see the thing, even though doing it could push your kids past the point of enjoying being around them?

We pulled the plug.  After much deliberation, we will not be on a jaunt to Tuscany this weekend.  I hated doing it.  I hope it is the right call.

It’s just that rain with the kids is not fun.  Rain in the winter–cold, chills you to the bone rain–is downright miserable.  Kids + cold rain = not a fun weekend.  These are sights I want to actually see.  Not to just survive and endure.

So what is the answer for this bummer of a fail on the go-for-it attempt?  I am determined to have the best weekend in Rome ever.  Fun will be planned.  We will see things here.  We will see friends.  We will adventure!  And we’ll start working on planning another trip soon.  (My mom is coming in less than three weeks.  W00t!  Look out Rome.)

Do you get a three-day weekend?  Any big plans?  I wish you fun and adventure!


Apples and Oranges: San Gimignano and Volterra

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Two hill towns, both alike in dignity, in fair Tuscany where we lay our scene.  I hoped to have “hard hitting” analysis on the “better” hill town from our recent trip to Tuscany, but our experiences were really apples and oranges.  I liked both San Gimignano and Volterra.  If I could only recommend one, it might be San Gimignano.  No, Volterra.  But probably San Gimignano?  See, what I mean?  I just don’t know.  I want to say Volterra, but I feel like it didn’t get a fair shake.  Lemme ‘splain.

If you look at the guidebook (Rick Steves’ is our go to), it talks about both towns being nice but Volterra being more untouched by time and San Gimignano being super touristy.  San Gimignano is easier to get to from the highway, which likely factors in.

We did San Gimignano in a morning, the morning of the day with the gorgeous weather.  We had a nice walk through town.  In a way the hill towns are great for kids.  Because only local residents can drive, traffic is limited.  Definite elevation changes, but almost everything was stroller friendly.

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Henry became obsessed with this olive tree

Henry became obsessed with this olive tree

San Gimignano is famous for its surviving towers.  There used to be more (70something?).  These were a defense mechanism.  If you were getting sacked, you climbed up your tower and burnt the stairs.

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Tower selfie

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The town absolutely was touristy.  The tiny town has not one, but two torture museums.  Buses of tourists pulled up.  We passed through many groups visiting from all over the world.  I’m not sure we actually saw any locals.  It was not uncomfortably crowded, but we weren’t there during peak season.  In a way, the touristyness helped us out because things were actually open on a Sunday morning.

Streets off the beaten path were much quieter

Streets off the main drag were much quieter

After our stroll around town, we had a lovely al fresco lunch at Locanda di Sant’Agostino.  It was adjacent to a square and Henry ran around with Alessio, a similarly aged boy who happened to be eating with his parents one table over.  Even though we didn’t get to see inside the church or museums, we had a really nice time just experiencing the city.  One of those dolce vita moments.




Drinking local wine Vernaccia

Drinking local wine Vernaccia

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Henry’s new thing is climbing ALL THE THINGS

Contrast this to Volterra.  We went inside the city three times, but never in the daylight.  All three times were chilly.  Once it was raining.  I hoped to spend a morning in Volterra, but that was the day of ALL THE RAIN so we just kept going post afternoon nap.

Ancient Etruscan arch.  In WWII, the town convinced the Nazis not to destroy it by literally digging up the streets to plug the gate.

Ancient Etruscan arch. In WWII, the town convinced the Nazis not to destroy it by literally digging up the streets to plug the gate.

Volterra definitely felt less touristy.  You didn’t see as many tchotchke shops although there were some.  You did feel like you were surrounded by Italians.  Real live Italians that actually lived here.  But I can’t definitively say that Volterra is less touristy; only that the town is less touristy in the evening, which is what you’d probably expect many places.

Well preserved ancient theater

Well preserved ancient Roman theater

Palazzo dei Priori

Palazzo dei Priori

We did enjoy some nice food, like our magical night at Enoteca Del DucaTrattoria da Bado outside of town was amazing.  We also had a tasty meal at Don Beta, which was conveniently open closer to when we like to eat.  We had a miss on Sunday night where we scrounged for takeout pizza after nothing was open, even things that said they’d be open.  *Cough* La Vena di Vino *Cough*

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Volterra had sort of a creepy vibe.  This could have been heightened by the dark.  It felt stark.  Craggy.  A little desolate.  This is where Twilight’s Volturi live.  Meyer picked it based on the name, but you could totally see a vampire strolling around the corner at night.

Local cookie, Ossi di Morta, "bones of the dead"  (It tastes almondy and crunches.  You know, like bones.)

Local cookie, Ossi di Morta, “bones of the dead” (It tastes almondy and crunches. You know, like bones.)

I’m glad we saw both.  Volterra was a very intriguing city, but our overall experience in San Gimignano was probably more pleasant for factors outside of Volterra’s control.

So after that imperfect and highly unscientific comparison, if you could visit only one, which one are you leaning toward?

Remind me not to live in the mountains

I was excited about our vacation.  I was excited to explore some new towns.  I was excited to taste some new foods.  But I was particularly excited about the drive.  Picture it: a scenic drive through rolling hills flanked by olive trees and vineyards.  It would be so picturesque, I just knew it.

Fast forward to actual drive.  We left post-lunch to try to align afternoon nap with the three hour drive.  (This was largely successful until we stopped for gas.)  The drive along the autostrade was uneventful.  Same for the smaller highway.  And then we turned off onto the local roads.

I had just been telling James that I hoped our kids wouldn’t be the carsick kind, thinking about those poor unfortunate types with delicate constitutions who had to stop frequently and clean their cars more often.  I didn’t think that *I* would be the weak link on the team.  But, alas, although I wasn’t sick, I was the one white-knuckling it around the curves and with an uncomfortable pit in my stomach.

First, these are not hills.  I suppose they aren’t mountains, but they have to be close.  Mini-mountains if you will.  Very tall.

Second, for the most part, the speed limit is 60 mph!  And people are doing it!

Third, people did not seem to be behaving as if they were dealing with very narrow, mountainous roads with high speed limits.  We’d come around a blind curve and a car would be parked in the middle of the road, the inhabitants off looking at some flora or fauna.  People would be walking beside the shoulder-less road.  Bikes would be cruising along, seemingly oblivious to the traffic bearing down on them.

It was gorgeous.  I will give it that.  Grape vines turning a golden yellow.  Clouds over the top of a mountain.  But the drive was intense.  And I wasn’t even the one driving.

We reached Volterra in the late afternoon.  Because there was no recognized address, James had punched the GPS coordinates into the navigator.  Unfortunately, the GPS tried to take us on there on a route without roads.  This resulted in some turns down very narrow roads with my saying things like “this can’t possibly be two-way!!!”  But we made it back on track and found our agriturismo down a long and bumpy dirt road.

The sun was setting and we watched it slip over the horizon.  It was, admittedly, gorgeous.  I could almost see putting up with the hassle of these roads for it, I thought.


Then I realized we’d have to go navigate these roads AT NIGHT if we wanted dinner.  We survived.  My hand cramped a little from gripping the door handle all the way.

And then when we emerged the next morning, it was a truly breathtaking scene.  A perfect Tuscan day.  The sun shone brightly.  Clouds looked like they had been placed in the sky as props.  You could see the sheep grazing on the next mountain–even hear them baaing along through some trick of sound.  It was green and beautiful and wonderful.

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So I definitely do see the appeal.  I get it.  Just not for me.  A nice place to visit, but not to live.  I mean, it snows here, people!  I don’t even want to think about the roads then.

Tuscany bound!

Sorry for the light posting this week.  As we speak, we are packing up for our first overnight trip.  Back next week with stories of the kids terrorizing Tuscan hill towns!

NBD, this is where we are staying.  Try not to be super jelly.