Saturday, July 23, 2011

Siena Itlay: Lunch in the Rain

Italian Quote:  Anni e bicchieri di vino non si contano mai (Age and glasses of wine should never be counted)

Siena Italy - where do I start?  The day dawned cool and gray and we drove to Siena from Soriano with anticipation, having never been there before.  As we parked outside the city walls and began the walk towards the hillside fortress of Siena's walls, a light drizzle began to fall and we instinctively picked up our pace.  The winding old city passageways were confusing at first but once we relaxed and began to get our bearings it slowly began to make sense and we discovered that we were naturally winding our way towards the Piazzo Del Campo.
As we walked through the narrow winding streets I noticed the lovely colorful Pashima scarves that men and women were wearing.  I spied the entrance to a brightly lit shop displaying a rainbow of beautiful scarves and quickly ducked inside.  I purchased several of the soft wool pashimas - some for me and others for friends and family, then received a quick lesson from the sales clerk in the art of wearing the pashima.   With her help I looped a colorful pink scarf around my neck and stepped back out into the light rain, feeling instantly warmer and happy inside.  Tom, of course, was not as interested in colorful scarves and had stayed outside the shop to snap pictures of the streetscape.  He captured a lovely photo that will always represent Siena to me - the bright shop entrances casting their light on the wet cobblestones and people moving through the streets with their colorful umbrellas, going about their life and business in a wonderfully relaxed way.

We found a cafe with outdoor seating at the edge of the Piazzo Del Campo and settled down under the awnings to watch passers-by and enjoy the leisurely pace of life in Siena.  It was lunchtime and we were definitely in vacation mode by now - a carafe of red wine with our pasta would be a wonderful way to enjoy a relaxing lunch!  There is no need to ask for a particular label or variety - red or white is all you need ask for, as any of the wines are superb and delicious. 

We snuggled together, enjoyed the warming red wine, listened to soft raindrops on the awning above and watched the local school children dance in the rain on the Piazzo.  We grinned at each other - I was getting used to this lifestyle!  It would be hard to go back home to the lunch hour spent at my desk with emails and voicemails waiting to be returned.  But for today I was not going to think about that - I was going to enjoy the moment with my husband in a beautiful old city, a carafe of red wine and a plate of mushroom ravioli in front of us with a light rain providing soft background noise.  Life is beautiful!

Travel Tip:  Take time to enjoy the liesurely pace of life where you are.  And don't count the glasses of wine or your age...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

July 4th across the nation

"I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"
~ Patrick Henry, speech to the Second Virginia Convention

The fourth of July is a celebration of American freedom and liberty.  The day is full of symbolism and meaning, including fireworks that symbolize the battles waged for freedom and the general feeling of celebration among the American citizens.  It's not a holiday that can be argued against or religiously ignored like many of the other dates on the calendar.

Freedom and liberty are such precious gifts and we in the United States are incredibly blessed to experience the freedoms we have.  When our children were younger it occurred to us that they should experience 4th of July celebrations around the U.S. in order to gain perspective on the fact that this is a National celebration, uniting all of us together.  We wanted to expose them to how others across this great nation celebrate the victory of independence declared over 200 years ago.  Our quest to experience the 4th of July around the U.S. has taken us to some wonderful and fun destinations. 

Cortez, Colorado is a small town near the Mesa Verde National Park.  They have only one small city park and it was a very sparse and dry park.  As we approached with our requisite bucket of chicken and blankets, the kids were looking around uncertainly, wondering, "what kind of display could this town have?"  We spread out our blanket and waited enthusiastically for the sun to set and to our immense delight, this little town put on a better fireworks display then we have witnessed in our own large city!

Yellowstone National Park is a national treasure and we explored Old Faithful and witnessed the romping of grizzly bears, moose and buffalo for several days.  On the evening of the 4th we drove to the nearby community of Jackson Hole Wyoming and were treated to a wonderful display of fireworks set off from Snow King Mountain.   I chuckled to myself, picturing the moose and bison in the park, peering up at the evening sky wondering what they were witnessing as colors and sparkling lights twinkled overhead.

Newport Oregon.  It was a cold, windy and rainy 4th of July day and we were sure the fireworks would be cancelled.  We had rented a condo on the bay and settled in that evening (again with that requisite bucket of chicken!) to see what would happen.  As the evening progressed the sky cleared and the wind died down and once more - we were treated to a fireworks display to rival others.  The fireworks burst out over the open ocean, the sun was still spreading tiny rays of color across the western edge of the sky, and we had the best seats in the house - on the deck of our wonderful condo with cold chicken in hand and warm blankets wrapped around us.

Washington DC.  We decided to visit our nation's capital and expose our children to the rich history of our national city.  This trip was pre-9/11 and we were allowed to spread our blankets on the Whitehouse lawn to watch the fireworks display over the Washington monument.  The parks were crowded to maximum capacity but the crowd was calm and family oriented, excited to witness the 4th of July celebration in our nation's capital.  The display was nothing short of amazing and afterwards we packed up our blankets and kids and headed to the subway.  This is where the trip became a bit of a nail biter, as thousands of people began to crowd the subway station together, so close that we could not move in any direction and our little family became separated.  I grabbed the hands of my two youngest children and refused to let go, no matter how tight my grip.  I lost track of my husband but my oldest son is tall and I could see his head above the crowd ahead of me.  He was looking around, trying to maintain sight of me and in his eyes I saw the wild look of desperation and fear.  I prayed he'd stay calm in the crowd.  We made it back to the hotel safely and as I reflected the next day I was very impressed with what had happened the night before.  We were enveloped in the largest crowd I'd ever been in and swept through the crowd by sheer force.  But everyone was calm and kind and considerate of one another.  What a testimony to the goodness of mankind.

The Big Apple and Lady Liberty.  I've watched the NYC fireworks display on television many times and always marveled at their grandeur.  I saw the image of the Statue of Liberty, holding her torch with the fireworks illuminating behind her.  This year, we would see that show live!  We watched the display from a boat on the Hudson River and once more, we were not disappointed by the experience.  It was a very moving time for me, watching the fireworks bursting overhead and seeing the statue illuminated on her island in the background, representing freedom to the huddled masses that immigrated to our great nation.    

Kauai, Hawaii.  Fireworks on an island, over the ocean, with the calming tropical breezes sweeping over and around you.  The little island of Kauai has as rich a 4th of July celebration as any other part of the U.S. and when I consider all this island state went through in WW II, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the resulting battles that were waged, I felt a pride for our American military and a deep respect for the men whose lives were lost on December 7, 1941.

Windsor Colorado.  My son was a member of the Volunteer Fire department and he was a part of the fireworks crew on a recent 4th of July.  We got the privilege of front row seats to the local show, since he was one of the crew putting it on.  As we moved in that evening and settled down with our lawn chairs, blankets and friends, the Fire Chief gave us the opening lecture of safety first at such a close proximity to the fireworks.  When he ended the speech he said, "And now for the most important thing to remember.  If you see me running - you'd better run to!"  We stared at him in concern for a minute, wondering if this would really be necessary, and he laughed at our faces and expressions.  "Don't worry," he said, "I was really just joking with you on that one".
Watching fireworks in such close proximity to the launch pad and seeing my son in his fire gear moving around the front line, I felt such pride. 

What a great nation we live in!

Travel Tip:  Always join in the local celebrations wherever you happen to be.  This is the true way to experience the life of those in other places!