Thursday, June 26, 2014

Baby's First: Trip to Vernazza, Cinque Terre

On our most recent trip to Italy, we stayed in the Ligurian town of Levanto, just a few kilometers north of Cinque Terre. Levanto is connected to Cinque Terre via the train, and is only about 5 minutes away from the northernmost town of Monterosso. However, if you stay on the train for just one more stop, you find the village where my wanderlust heart lives: Vernazza.

Or at least, we thought it was only more stop. In a real universe where logical things happen, it was only one more stop. But this is Italy after all, and Italy is sometimes it's own kind of universe. A universe where train schedules that are posted for all to see are deemed incorrect by the conductor once you get on the train, and half of the train finds themselves en route to La Spezia, instead of making stops in the other four villages. And did I mention that the conductor makes it like you read the schedule wrong? The universe that Trenitalia lives in is a strange one indeed.

But I digress. After making it's first stop in Monterosso our train sped on to La Spezia, and then a short time later it sped back in the direction we wanted. We got off in Vernazza hungry, thirsty and eager to revisit the village we love so much.

We also had some work to do while in Vernazza. We took the pictures for my first Sakura Bloom Sling Diary post, (which happened to be on the theme of strength), while we were there, because why not? This place is built out of the cliffs, both the homes and the agriculture, and is continually battered by the sea, withstanding sun and sand and is a testament of strength.

But besides all of that, everyone knows I love a good photo op.

We took the majority of the pictures on a once-hidden-to-us beach, one that I think may have been hidden to a lot of people, prior to the massive storms and landslides that hit Vernazza in October of 2011. I always seem to remember this cave looking underpass as being partially full of water, and I only ever saw one person walk back there. It was a remote rock beach, with scattered sea glass and terra cotta pieces that have been molded and shaped by the Mediterranean. The cliffs were there for all to feel how tiny we actually are in comparison to nature. And the cold Mediterranean was there to wake up our tired feet. It's fun to have visited a tiny town such as Vernazza for the fourth time in about three years and still find new things to love.

After taking our pictures and a snack break for Oswin, we headed down to the beach and Piazza Marconi.

Oswin has been going through phases of teething pretty badly (but still no teeth to show for it), and one of those phases happened to be while we were in Italy. Foccaccia worked wonders on her little gums.

Our trip to Vernazza was short this time around, but it was worth it to see the town up and running again. The last time we had visited was in January of 2012, when the town was still in ruins after the October storm. The restaurants and shops are open, and it made my heart so happy to see a bustling Piazza Marconi. Next time I hope we can grab dinner at Gambero Rosso (above), as their Frutti del Mar risotto was the best I've ever had in my life. Until next time Vernazza!

A la prochaine friends...


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries: Strength

A few weeks ago it was announced that Dan and I had each been chosen to be sling diarists for the Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries Volume V: All the Love, and it was a dream come true. Over the course of the next six months I'll be sharing my sling diary posts right here on the blog, and Dan will be sharing his over on Instagram. Today I'm really excited to share with you all my very first post for the sling diaries on the theme of strength. Thank you all, new readers and old alike, for following along on this journey with us.

My sweet little Oswin, 

When Papa and I moved from the United States to France four and a half years ago, before you were even a twinkle in our eyes, we took a leap into the unknown. For me, it was first time ever on an international flight, let alone living in a foreign country, and for Papa, it marked his return to living in Europe after several years back in the United States. It took courage for us to book those tickets. It took courage for us to pack our bags. It took courage for us to say our tearful "see you laters" to the friends and family we would miss so much...but it has taken strength to remain here for almost four and a half years. For you see Oswin, courage is what is necessary to make a monumental life change, but finding strength within yourself is what enables you to sustain that change.

It may not seem, that on the surface, it would take a lot of strength to live in a quaint little french village. We live a pretty charmed life here in SwitzerFrance: we are privy to some of the best cheese, chocolate and wine in the world, we live less than a mile from the Swiss border, we have a beautiful mountain with hiking trails in our backyard, and we're less than a two hour drive from the Italian border...but pretty surroundings don't make up for the void that can be left in your heart from missing the people you love. Choosing the expat life is a fulfilling and wonderful choice to open yourself up to new lands and experiences, but it does not come without consequence.

One thing that I've learned from my time abroad is that you will find out who the people are who really care about you, and who you really care about as well. It's disappointing to see those who drop off, but it's heartening to see the relationships that have strengthened in our time away. This is true for people of all walks of life, that some relationships may fall by the wayside as we get older and change, but I've noticed the change very significantly since we've moved across the ocean. Figure out who the people are that you really care about, surround yourself with positive people who support you, and don't let them feel like you've taken their friendship for granted. Work at the relationships worth keeping. Have the self-respect and inner fortitude to let go of the toxic ones. And never underestimate the power that a simple phone call, postcard, or letter can have to keep friendships alive and strong.

One day you may choose to live abroad, and continue on with the life that you were brought into. You may meet resistance from those who will miss you once you've gone where your heart calls. You may meet resistance from those who don't understand the way of life that you choose. I hope that you hear your own voice above that of the crowd, for in the end you are the only one who has to come to terms with the life that you choose. Find your voice. Answer to no one but your own heart and conscience as they will be with you forever.

The expat life is a fulfilling one, but not one without some bouts of loneliness and homesickness. The same can be said for anywhere you choose to move that takes you away from the place you consider home. I hope that wherever you find yourself in this life, whatever continent or living situation, that you know that you are not alone. We are always here for a shoulder to cry on. Being lonely or homesick, shedding a few tears, none of these things make you weak, they make you an empathetic person. Being a strong person doesn't mean that you have to become hard and unemotional - allow your feelings to flow. Allow yourself to feel what you feel, acknowledge the feelings, write them down, cry it out, do some yoga, and take those experiences with you. We all have to fall down and fail from time to time to appreciate how strong we really are.

I hope that one day you will fall madly in love with someone who loves you the same, someone that will treat you as an equal and their best friend. I am so unbelievably lucky to have met your Papa that night in an old karaoke bar on a tiny little street in Philadelphia. He is my rock, as I am his. He brings out the best in me, and helps me to find my strength when I can't find it. I hope that one day you too will find someone to love who will remind you of your strength when a reminder is needed. You deserve all the happiness in the world and are so worth loving.

I hope you find the strength to live the life you love, with the ones that you love. Have patience in finding what that means for you. Don't let others rush you, because you can't force or rush being authentically happy. Some may try to pressure you down certain paths, because it may be what they expect of you. Don't let them. Have the strength to say "that way is not for me." It may take time to find out what route is for you, so try some other routes along the way. Live in those routes until you find what fits. And what makes you happy. Have the power to go a different route, and live your passions. What I want most for you is to be successful in the pursuit of your own happiness. Finding the strength within you to be true to who you really are will help you to do that.

I hope that one day, if you decide to have children, that you travel with them, as we do with you. It is not easy, but it's worth it. In just over 8 months of your life, you've been to five countries, and have traveled by plane, train, and automobile. Traveling with children is empowering after the fact, but requires great patience, strength, and the ability to laugh at yourself while it is happening. But I promise you that it is worth it. Every bit of it. This past weekend we took you to the Italian Riviera, to explore a new-to-us city (Levanto), and a city that is like an old friend (Vernazza, Cinque Terre). There were moments where my strength lagged behind my fatigue. But between Papa and I we did it. And we're so proud of the little adventurer you've become. I'm very sure that you're already a better traveler than I am.

And if you do choose the life of the expat, or wander far from home, just remember to drop Mama and Papa a line when you can. And maybe some pictures of your adventures. And a nice box of the local delicacy. Preferably chocolate.

I can't wait to see what you do with your one wild and precious life little girl.



Sling pictured: Simple Silk Baby Sling in Sandstone by Sakura Bloom

The Road to Levanto

With our car packed with the essentials, we took off on Friday evening for our big Italian Road Trip. This road trip not only marked our first time back in Italy in almost 2 years, but Oswin's first to our favorite european country. If you're keeping track at home,this brings our little adventurer's total to five countries by just over 8 months old (with her first four, in order, being Switzerland, France, Germany, and the United States.)  

Since we were leaving in the evening, we decided to split the 6-7 hours of driving between two days. This would allow us to check out a new town in either Aosta or Piedmont, before heading to our final destination of Levanto in Liguria. 

{Oswin approves of the Mediterranean}

Dan found us an adorable little B & B called "Lo Teisson," which translates to "The Badger." "Lo Teisson" was located in the small town of Pollein, which sits in the Aosta Valley region. Funny thing about the B & B? Apparently it was named after the pet badger that the family who runs the B & B once had as a pet. Badgers aside, the B & B was really cute, in an old chalet at the foot of the moutnains. We didn't have a lot of time in Pollein, just enough time to take a walk and admire some of the locals gardens, and grab some pizza at a local restaurant. Oswin was a trooper and hung out like a perfect little dinner guest, until far past her bedtime. 

In the morning we had breakfast at "Lo Teisson," and it reminded me how much I love how Italians do breakfast. There were cookies and yogurts and cakes and fruit and cappucino and jams...delicious. That may actually sound a lot like a french breakfast, but french pastries are much more butter based, where I find that Italian baked goods tend to be a bit heartier and nut based. We had our breakfast, checked out of the Badger, and off we went towards Liguria, Levanto, and the Cinque Terre. 

After about 3.5 hours in the car, and about 45 minutes of that driving a roller coaster ride route up and down the cliffs that line the small towns of the Mediterranean, we pulled into Levanto...a litlte bit on the car sick side. I don't usually get car sick, but driving along those cliffs really screwed up my equilibrium. I knew a little beach time would make everything better, because in my mind there's not much that the sand and sea can't cure. We got the keys to the apartment that we were renting, dropped our bags, and headed down to the beach. 

One thing that immediately jumps out to me about Levanto? Jasmine. Holy Jasmine aroma. Jasmine grows everywhere in Levanto, to the point where if you're a bit car sick it might be a bit much to handle. Once my vomitus feelings passed however, I found the aroma to be lovely. I've never been to a place that grew so much or smelled so of the pretty flowering plant. The smell will now forever be linked with the lovely streets of Levanto for me. 

After about a ten minute walk, we made it down to the beach. I felt any stress or cares that I had before melt away. There really is nothing quite like the Italian Riviera. 

As much as we love Cinque Terre, the only one of the five towns with a real legitimate beach is Monterosso, which happens to be just south of Levanto, and can be reached by either a 4 minute ride on the train or about a 2.5 hour hike. I was happy to find that Levanto's beach was sandy, as opposed to a lot of the rock beaches we've come across while in Europe. Still no shells to be found, but a lot of little sea weathered pebbles, sea glass and terra cotta to be collected as treasures if you wish (I did). There were several private beachs with the matching umbrella and chaise lounge deal going on, but we opted for the free beach on all of our beach time this trip, as the free beach was really nice. There was a lifeguard, room to spread out, and a pier topped with a bar, at your service. 

We had picked up some foccacia bread and 2 Birra Moretti's on our walk down, because we were famished and thirsty. It ended up being the best focaccia bread I've ever had in my life. Oswin enjoyed it too, as we let her chew on the crusts to help those little teething gums of hers. 

I have this problem with any body of salt water. I can't resist getting in. Whether it's June or January, Dan knows that I will either stay in for an hour, or at least semi-submerge myself (cough:cough: January in Riomaggiore 2012 cough:cough). The water was warmer than I had ever experienced the Mediterranean to be, almost like tepid bath water. It was unbelievable. Having spent half of my life at the beach I knew that meant a storm was coming. 

We spent about 2 hours on the beach that first day, which wasn't bad since we didn't get down there until about 5:30 PM. On the way home the clouds started rolling in. We were exhausted, and knew that we shouldn't try to push Oswin too far by going out for dinner that night, so we picked up a bottle of wine and some snacks to have in the apartment after she went to bed. After all, that night was to be Italy's first game for World Cup, so we needed game snacks. 

As we approached our apartment for the next three days, it begin to lightly rain. By the time we got inside, we could see the lightning over the ocean. Within minutes the thunder began to boom and the rain poured down. We were so happy we left the beach when we did. We welcomed the storm, as what better way to spend your first night in an Italian apartment then with a nice bottle of Chianti, the sound of a sleeping baby, and thunder and rain coming down? For us there was no better way. We needed to sleep and recharge, as we had a busy day ahead of us the next day. We'd be going back to Vernazza, Cinque Terre for the first time since January 2012, and we needed to rest up! But after just one more glass of wine of course...

A la prochaine friends...