Lucca with Kids

May 30, 2012

After three years of wonderful Italian adventures, I think we may have finally found the very best spot for a family vacation in all of Italy, at least it was for our little family: Lucca! An inviting little city in Northern Tuscany where the oldest part of town is nestled  into the protective arms of former fortress walls which are now pulsing with life: leafy green trees, walking/biking paths, playgrounds, and many happy faces.

We were lucky to be staying in a wonderful apartment in the heart of everything with easy access to all of the charming little nooks,crannies,and lively piazzas old Lucca (which is primarily a car-free zone). And in addition to our central location inside the city walls, the city itself was located within easy range of some very memorable side trips: Pisa and its famous leaning tower, Cinque Terre (more about that later), and even an impromptu visit to a cave, Grotta del Vento in the Alpuan Alps.


Bikes, bikes, and more bikes! It's the perfect way to get around town and a fun way to enjoy those paths on top of the walls. Although it seems as if there is a bike rental place on just about every corner, not all of the shops have kid friendly gear.  We ended up using the shop in Piazza Santa Maria (next to the tourist info office) since it seemed to have one of the largest selections of kids bikes including wild cats, bike trailers, and baby seats on adult bikes. It's actually a good thing we ended up here because we went through several different bike options with Camille before finally finding the best solution. She's been riding without training wheels for awhile now, but she didn't feel comfortable on any of the rental bikes she tried so we eventually just rented a bike trailer which made her very happy. I actually felt safer with her in the trailer since there aren't any barriers along the tops of the walls and the paths can get busy in certain spots. We also decided to rent bikes on a Monday which I think is a good option for families with young kids. The paths seemed pretty congested during the weekends and that can make it tricky for young cyclists to handle. Also, there aren't any bike helmets so either plan to bring your own, buy some, or just ride as the locals do.  Bike rental prices seemed to be pretty uniform throughout town: 3 euro per hour per bike. Highly recommend doing this!

Perhaps we have been in southern Italy for too long, but we were shocked by the sheer number of parks and playspaces for kids in Lucca. It's one of the most puzzling aspects of Sicily and most parts of Italy to can a country that adores children so much have such paltry parks? But Lucca proves to be the exception. There were actual playgrounds pleasantly situated under large trees both on tops of the city walls and down below with functioning equipment and very little graffiti. It really was a wonderful surprise for all of us and one of the reasons Lucca felt like such a family friendly spot (not to mention the welcoming mix of German, French, and Italian kids).


Another enjoyable aspect of Lucca was the food. We ate at several delicious and kid-friendly spots. Thanks to Martha's suggestion, we made reservations at Antica Locanda di Sesto on our very first night in Lucca and it turned out to be one of our favorite meals of the entire trip...a cozy trattoria with local, seasonal dishes and amazing hand made pastas (need a car to get to this pretty place outside of town). We'd also recommend Trattoria da Leo for a quick but enjoyable meal within the city walls. And finally thanks to Giacomo for suggesting Osteria del La Manza (pictured above) and Pizza da Felice (good pizza and the place to sample the local chick pea snacks). We ate well all weekend!


I always spend a big chunk of time searching for apartments during our trips since they really make traveling with kids so comfortable and we enjoy being immersed in the local community, but our recent stay in Lucca took our apartment stays to a new level. The apartment itself has a great layout for families with two bathrooms and two bedrooms. The ancient stairs leading up to the apartment are quite a little work out (so not recommended for folks with mobility issues), but there is a place at the bottom of the stairs to store bikes and strollers which is great. The location could not have been better and although it was on one of the main shopping street the apartment itself was very quiet due to the inner courtyard. 

But the true bonus of this apartment was the connection with the Locanda Sant'Agostino. The family that owns the apartment also runs the very romantic and chic little B & B a few streets away. As part of our rental agreement we were able to have a lovely breakfast each morning at the B & B. Giacomo and his family were so welcoming, and helpful with local suggestions. We really did have the best of both worlds...the independence and space of an apartment with the personal amenities that come with a bed and breakfast. Highly recommend this special place if you are considering a trip to Lucca.

Prior to our trip, someone tried to convince me that Lucca could easily be seen in an afternoon and that we should plan to see more of Tuscany by staying in multiple spots. I am so glad we didn't follow that piece of advice. In general, I think we lean more towards the slow travel approach and would rather savor local experiences, than rush through a checklist of must-see sites. I honestly think our family could easily have spent a week or two in Lucca and been very happy just to ride bikes, fill up our water jugs at the fountain in the closest piazza, and wander the streets at dusk. Lucca lured us into her beckoning arms and made us wish we could stay for even longer.

Empty Chairs

May 24, 2012

7 Portes Restaurant, Barcelona, April 2012

Sandy Perfection: Punta Braccetto

May 23, 2012

One of the most enjoyable parts of living on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, is exploring all of the different beaches: the rocky black lava of the Cyclops coast, the pebbly beaches of Giardini Naxos, the beach balls of Vendicari, the stunning sunsets in Mozia, the dramatic Turkish steps, and even those beaches which are fringed with debris. They are all wonderful and enticing in their own ways, but a few weekends ago, we happily landed upon one of the very best beaches we have experienced during our time in Sicily.  A quiet, sandy cove with several clusters of campgrounds, Punta Bracceto was perfect for our little gathering of families. 

The kids spent the entire weekend dipping and dashing in the gentle waves. And when they weren't in the ocean, they were furiously digging an enormous hole. The adults spent the weekend chatting, reading, and admiring the incredibly clean beach (we were all pleasantly shocked to see actual recycling bins along the beach). The little cabins (more like little mobile homes), were new and comfortable. The daily visits from the vegetable man and the baker were delicious and convenient. The Scarabeao Camping staff were very helpful in organizing an very tasty dinner at a local seafood restaurant. But most of all the weekend was just plain fun. We all found ourselves wishing we had stumbled upon this little gem sooner.

In addition to the beachy delights, Punta Braccetto is also within easy reach of Donnafugata Castle, the Kamarina ruins, and the very lovely Ragusa Ibla.  And speaking of Sicilian gems, did you happen to see this last week? Looks as if we aren't the only ones who continue to be charmed by this place. We will certain miss island living.

Teacher Portraits

May 21, 2012

Drawings by Camille, embroidery by me (except for Mr. A's beard which Camille wanted to do herself), frames by Ikea, and voila: teacher gifts!

Heart in Hand

May 18, 2012

Four years. Still makes me sad.

Military Family Travel

May 17, 2012

Navarre Beach, Florida, July 2007

I have been doing a lot of research lately. Trying to learn more about our next destination, researching schools, summer camps, and local sites. Although, we are getting increasingly sad about leaving Sicily, it's hard not to be excited about what is awaiting us. Ok, maybe not so jazzed about returning to humidity and mosquitoes, but everything else sounds good, especially re-connecting with family and friends.

In the midst of all this research, I have been bookmarking quite a few military related travel discounts. Some are programs that we have used previously when living in the States and others are brand new. I have to admit that many times I forget to ask for a military discount (many stores and restaurants actually have them upon request), but these military perks are just too good to overlook (especially Blue Star Museums and the National Parks Pass). I am putting these here so I can remember them, but also in hopes that they will be of use to other military families. And please, please share any that you come across.

Family Travel : Always Pack a Sketchbook

May 16, 2012

Drawing the Powder Tower in Prague, September 2011

A simple item but such a very good one for travelers of all ages. Perfect for drawing famous monuments, sketching favorite pieces of art, family drawing sessions while waiting for trains, games of tic tac toe and hangman while waiting for dinner, and documenting highlights of a trip. Sketchbooks are always handy and they are usually easy to find, especially in museum gift shops and local bookstores. How do you use your sketchbooks?

Here are a few of our favorite family drawing games:

- Add to the scribble: 
One person starts with a scribble and passes the sketchbook to the next person to add onto the scribble until a complete drawing emerges.

- Pick a theme: 
Take turns picking a theme that everyone draws at the same time (monsters, robots, silly vehicles, etc).

- Dot to Dot:
 Make your own dot-to-dot drawings and mazes for each other.

- Funny Faces:
Start with ovals and create a colorful cast of characters by adding unique features to each face.

To The Water

May 11, 2012

Oasi del Simeto, Sicily, April 2012

We are headed to the water for a weekend of beach camping with friends. Can't wait to dip our toes in the sea, bask in the Sicilian sun, and exhale. Happy Mother's Day!


May 10, 2012


Bonne Maman jam jars are perfect for buttons and beads.

- Large aluminum cans for colored pencils and markers

- Icing containers with lids and labels for all sorts of things

- Apple sauce cups (can't see in this image) work well for paint and bead sorting 

This is what has worked for us for the past three years and I think we'll keep using this up-cycled approach to storing and organizing our art supplies.  I remember seeing a similar posting once of someone who found all sorts of good uses for peanut butter jars and so I occasionally save and use those, too. And I will always admire my grandmother's ingenuity at crocheting plastic bags into colorful and functional  baskets (must post pics of those when we eventually get settled and unpacked). But our little art supply storage system pales in comparison to The Repair Cafe and Wasteland. Both very inspiring and motivating examples of how re-cycling and re-creating can lead to beauty, community, and positive changes.


Empty Walls

May 9, 2012

8 Italian movers, 2 trucks, 8 and half crates, 2 damaged pieces of art, 5 bottles of soda, 3 large bags of chips, 10 sandwiches, and 1 yelling incident. The walls are empty, the loaner furniture is in place, and the floors have been mopped: our pack-out is finally complete. 

Now we are just hoping the turtle food that was accidentally packed won't be smelling too foul after a two month journey around the world.


May 4, 2012

Cefalu Cathedral, March 2012

Buried in piles of stuff, I am craving the next stage of this international move. The stage that will happen after the moving trucks depart next week. The stage of moving when we live in an empty, clutter-free house with loaner furniture and borrowed dishes. The stage when we exhale a bit because a big item (packing out) has been checked off the lengthy list. The stage that will push us to be more creative in our play, in our cooking, in our living...making the most with a very little amount. The stage that always prompts me to think, "we should live like this on a more regular basis", but in the back of my mind I know that will never happen.

That will never happen because I am a pack rat. And that's why this current stage of disassembling our house is so exhausting and yet so very necessary. It's always shocking to me to see what we accumulate in just three years in one spot. Thank goodness we move so often. Lugging out bags of garbage and thrift store donations, leaves me feeling a bit sick (how could so much junk really be in that closet?!) and also exhilarated (it's very a clear sign of progress when one closet is finally emptied out).

The movers come on Tuesday. We still have lots of sorting, sifting, and donating to do. It will certainly be a weekend full of dismantling. Hope your weekend is a bit more pleasant.

Travels with Pacy : Barcelona

May 2, 2012

We have a new traveling partner: Pacy! A Pacy is an old friend of ours whom we have adored ever since reading all of the Lin family picture books and the Year of the Dog chapter book series by Grace Lin. As many of you already know, we are hard core Grace Lin fans, but her Pacy books are truly our favorites. A big part of the appeal is the connection to Taiwan. It's not easy to find books about Taiwanese culture or the Taiwanese-American experience, especially children's books, but even without that piece it's hard not to be charmed by Pacy. She's funny, honest, creative,spunky, and addicted to dim sum.

The first we heard of Pacy's travels was during her trip to Paris. In fact, when we traveled to Paris a few weeks later we kept our eyes open in hopes of finding her, but she's a sneaky little one and we didn't see any sign of her. About a month later we were thrilled to hear about the newest book in the series, Dumpling Days, and even more excited to discover that there would be a very special book celebration in Boston. Although we were sad not to make the lengthy trip to Boston, we got tickets for my sister and her family to attend the event. They went, had a great time, and even got to meet Grace (we were very jealous!). And thanks to them we soon found a copy of Dumpling Days and our very own Pocket Pacy waiting for us in our mail box. 

So of course we had to take Pacy with us to Barcelona. Turns out she loved the food as much as we did. Really, what's not to love about Tapas? 

You can have a chance to win your very own Pocket Pacy by entering the monthly drawing. Hope you get lucky, because she's a very worldly and easy-going travel partner (take a peek at her recent trip to Slovakia and Hungary). And in honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, take a look at some of Grace Lin's favorite books. Also, be sure to check out this interview, too.

Make a Wish

May 1, 2012

Super-sized, wispy goodness on a tall green stem: Sicily has the biggest dandelions we have ever seen.

She paused at the front door, fist wrapped around the stem and asked: "Is there a difference between wishing and praying?" Before I could answer, she had scampered out into the crisp evening to blow and wish and pray.

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