London: a day in photos

An early walk through Chealsea..

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Playing with famous phone booths..

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A strangely charming cemetery..

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A delicious brunch

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A walk past the Natural History Museum..  IMG_8464 IMG_8465 IMG_8467 IMG_8470 Into Hyde Park..

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Along the Thames River IMG_8501 IMG_8503 IMG_8516 IMG_8518 IMG_8521 IMG_8522 IMG_8525

Across the London Bridge..

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Saw something old..

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Something new..

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Something royal..

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and the London Marathon..

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a quick look at Big Ben..

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The London Eye..

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Changing of the guards at the Royal Palace..

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guardsA metro ride..

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A little window shopping..

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and dinner at The White Horse.

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London: The Royal Gardens

The Royal Gardens are flawless. Pink, yellow and white flowers punctuate the lush green lawns spaning the property. Swans grace the gentle waters of St. James Park Lake. It was prettier than a picture, and one of the many highlights of the trip.

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London: Notting Hill and Portobello Road

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London took me by surprise; I fell in love immediately. I was warned of it’s less than desirable weather, and terrible food. For me, neither of those accusations were true. I savored each scrumptious meal, and was lucky enough to go on one of the very few blue-skyed weekends. The city was ALIVE.  Because I took hundreds of pictures, I don’t know where to begin. But why not with our last day, in Notting Hill..

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Right off the subway, there was an explosion of vibrant colors.  We hit Portobello Market on an off day, allowing us to breeze through Notting Hill freely. I was in awe of the loudly painted homes and abundance of blooming flowers.

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After OOOOing and AHHHing over every nook of this neighborhood, we settled in a quaint little pub for lunch. Fish and chips for him, salmon cakes for me. pub 2 pub 1

London, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Bravo.

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La Primavera

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I am (extremely) happy to say spring has finally arrived. Six cold and dark  months were tough for this born and raised California girl. But winter has released it’s grip on the city, revealing green lawns, bright flowers, and sparkling cobblestones.  We spent this last week soaking it all in; lounging in Parco Valentino, strolling along the Po river, meandering through antique shows, and slurping up smoothies (with my brand new orange ‘Blendy’!) My joy is boundless. I will stop trying to explain, because, as Neltje Blanchan says, it’s hopeless.

“Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring?”

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Pasqua

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Here in Italy, Easter is a big deal. In addition to four days of vacation, students showered me with gifts; chocolate eggs, flowers, and jewelry. I’m enjoying how celebrated religious holidays are; but missing others – halloween, Valentines day, St. Patricks day. Here in Piemonte (though each region differs immensely in Italy) people celebrate by going to church on Sunday, buying a chocolate egg for kids (thankfully Luca’s mom still considers us kids) and having a BBQ on Pasquetta – or Little Easter, the Monday after Easter Sunday. We celebrated with some family friends over too much food, wine and delicious desserts.

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For Easter lunch, we had rolata (a boiled egg wrapped in a slice of ham and turkey breast) and piselli e prosciutto. Dessert was fragole (fresh strawberries) e gelato.

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These popular eggs, the Kinder Sorpressa, were first made in Italy in 1974. They contain a plastic egg, with a surprise inside; a toy car, stuffed animal, and so on. Currently, they are illegal in the US due to the ‘choking hazard’.

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BBQ lunch on Pasquetta..

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Adorable new addition to the world..

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Dessert was homemade Pastiera Napoletana (a delicious pie of ricotta cheese and dried fruits). Buona Pasqua!

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On the top of a hill in Torino, just 10 minutes from the city center, is this gorgeous soft peachy – orange church. It can be reached by car or a by an adorable 2-car red train. Once you’ve arrived at the top, you can tour the church, grab a bite to eat in the small restaurant, or, it’s biggest attraction, check out the view. We came on a snowy day so the visibility wasn’t great, but you can still see the River Po and the River Dora, and the snowy alps off in the distance.

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Pré-Saint-Didier Terme

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Visiting Pré-Saint-Didier Terme is one of my most memorable experiences in Italy thus far. It is magnificently located; hidden deep in the alps where Switzerland, Italy, and France meet. With my mom and her husband here for ‘Ski Week’, we sought out some easy day trips. ( Also a perfect place to relax after our half-marathon in Verona the week before! ) Upon arrival we were given a lovely cozy white robe, and a brief explanation of the spa. There are over 40 natural water spas in and outside of the building, saunas, massage rooms, mud baths, and relaxation rooms. We first loaded up in the complementary buffet; fresh fruits and veggies, juices, teas, yogurts and granola. Luca is still a bit skeptical in the picture bellow..

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Eventually we made our way outside. We lost hours roaming from the spas, to the saunas, to the buffet and back. Snow fell softly in the afternoon, as we gazed at the mountains in a trance.

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Here, my mom looks on as Luca and I stand under the heated waterfall.. Heaven.

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At the end of the day the sun came out, giving us a peak of the gorgeous landscape.

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For more information ( and better pictures ) check out their site! http://termedipre.it/en/dc-acqua.html

Ivrea Orange Battle

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Each year, Ivrea celebrates the Orange Battle. This mayham originates from a myth in which an Italian royal of the city used to require virgins to spend their first night in bed with him, before they married. This went along for some years without a hitch, until one spritly young lady refused to sleep with him, and instead severed his head with a sword.
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  To re-inact this event, the town is seperated into 9 teams, from 9 neighborhoods in the city. Each team has a decorated horse drawn carriage, defending the Italian royal family. Those commoners on the ground defend the  brave woman. One woman is elected (or, ahem, pays THOUSANDS of euro) to play the role of the Mugaina, and parades around the city for the 3 days of the festival. On the 3rd day the Mugaina holds an orange on a sword representing the royal’s dismantaled head. It is rumored that she must work out several months in advance to hold up this very heavy sword, or the crowd boos and hisses at the Mugaina.
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We went in costume to the pre-party before the battle. As a team, we traveled to each of the 9 neighborhoods, chanting and dancing through the streets. The parade ended at the river, where fireworks exploded, and live music went well into the morning hours.. The next day the battle commensed, and we drug our not so energetic selves back to the city. You are supposed to wear red to signify that you are not participating in the battle, but are simply a bistander. Of course I was drapped in red, and frankly, nobody cared. This battle is no joke.
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We watched the first battle from a far. As one of the carts drove in front of us, and people on the ground began to throw the oranges. I had absolutely no idea the force and violence that would ensue. It’s rumored that some people freeze their oranges, or implant tiny rocks. I was transported back  into time, as the two teams in battle gear annilated each other. Later, we decided to go to an area which is fenced off, so we could get closer (in safety).
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HOWEVER, we took a wrong turn, and ended up in the direct route of the carriages. As I began to see people run down the narrow street in terror, I looked at what followed them; a carriage with men in battle gear, headed RIGHT for us. I screamed, as any normal girl would, and pressed myself up against the wall. It was no use. The horses stopped (as did my heart) jumped high into the air, and barreled towards me. I was pelted. First they hit all around me, making loud SMACKs against the stone walls. Then came the direct hits; my back, my legs, my head.
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This repeated several more times. Because we were trapped and it was impossible to leave this area without risk, we stayed.  Faces were smeared with sweat, blood, and oranges. My hair was saturated with pulp. The smell of smashed citrus and horse feeces was thick in my nose. My heart racing, I turned to my friend to express my shock in the fact that we had survived. “That was exciting!” she shouted, face glowing. Luca turned his head, smiling widly. These two were crazy.
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Exhausted, we slowly and carefully made our way back to the car. The peals were smeared along the pavement, making it difficult to walk without slipping. That evening, we slept in a heap of exhaustion, that only the Orange Battle could create.
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Until next year..
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Winter in Italy


Around this time of year, as myself and fellow teachers scramble to finish assessments and parent-teachers conferences, I find myself beginning the countdown to the oh-so-sweet summer. As I expressed these thoughts to a co-worker on the playground, she stopped me. In response to my dreams of warmer weather and lazy mornings, she said “be careful not to wish your life away.”

I felt the effects of her statement immediately. Being my first winter EVER, I certainly have had my struggles. Luca encouraged me that winter is a time for reflection, reading, tea, and rest. Though in theory it’s a nice idea, I find that a month would have been sufficient. With the words of my blunt British friend ringing in my ears, I am giving this winter another shot.

Lyon, France

I used to think my immunity to kids many illnesses was iron-clad, until this year. I have come down with everything I’ve encountered. It ended up being an quick induction  to Italian health care, which has in equal parts infuriated and impressed me. The latest was a stomach flu which knocked me off my feet for a cool 24 hours. It began the night of Luca’s graduation. We’d spent the afternoon celebrating, and ended up at the train station to buy tickets for our upcoming trip to Lyon. As we waited in line, I started think as if the combination of sparkling wine and espresso was a bad idea. It was about 5:50pm, and I excused myself to the restroom. Luca kindly accompanied me, as you often have to pay for the use of public restrooms, and I wasn’t sure of the procedure. When we arrived back at the ticket office, it was closed. This should have been an indication of what was to come of our trip to France.


On Saturday, two days later  (during which the flu took over my life, turned my stomach inside out, and then back again) we woke up to depart. Luca started to feel ill, and we knew immediately what he was in for. He spent the next two hours experiencing the same hell I’d just exited; but I will stray from unnecessary descriptions. Because we’d been planning this trip for over a month, and we were meeting friends from the US, we decided to try and go anyway. We took the car, which would provide us with some flexibility if he needed a travel break. In about an hour and a half we reached France and snow, and Luca was hanging in there..
In a total of 3.5 hours, we reached Lyon. What I’d not planned on was loosing reception while in France, so our GPS didn’t work once we had hit the boarder. Within the first few turns in the city limits of Lyon we were lost, even though our hotel was supposed to be within 5 miles. Once you’re lost in a foreign city, you’re LOST. We pulled over on an tried to distinguish one Rue from another, and made it to the hotel about 40 minutes later. Now we were at the 4 hour mark. Luca was turning green and we were hours late meeting our friends. We circled the block and quickly realized that parking would be an issue. I hopped out to check-in and let our friends know we arrived, thinking it would take Luca a half hour or so, tops. In the end, Luca drove around for 2 more hours. TWO HOURS. By the time he got our of the car it was all he could do to walk to the hotel and sleep.


My lovely friends Meagan and Dave, and I stepped out into the late afternoon in a city nothing short of magical. As in turns out we were one weekend early for the Festival of Lights in Lyon, where the entire city puts out an inspiring array of artistic lights to celebrate Mary. Many of the lights were already up and it is a sight I will forever remember. We settled into a quiet restaurant and filled each other in on our lives over a few drinks. There is something very special about traveling far and wide to meet up with people you love, in unknown cities. This delightful feeling wont ever loose its charm for me. After a dinner with the four of us in a swanky spot, and a quick stop at a wine bar, we all happily headed back to the hotel. As they were still recovering from a late night in Paris, and Luca and I from our day of travels.

In the morning we woke to snow, and a quiet quiet city. We wandered a French farmers market, stocked with Christmas trees, unique gifts, fantastic food and hot wine. We got comfortable in a tiny river restaurant, and had a few glasses to warm ourselves. Meandering through the city along the river we couldn’t help but be drawn to the hill where a large cathedral takes over the skyline. We crossed the river and began the assent through the tiny alleys and glittering shops to the church. I grabbed a crepe, and enjoyed every sweet gooey bite.

Along the way up we caught a view of the city. The icy street turned into a snowy path, with pops of yellow flowers for contrast. 

 
Reaching the top we devoured another steaming glass of hot wine, and enjoyed the view with the few others braving the cold. Later stepping inside the massive cathedral, we enjoyed a few quiet moments. There is nothing like a crumbling church floors and walls from many people passing in and out, to remind you of what really matters. We gazed at the stained glass, lit a prayer candle, and quietly made our way back down the mountain. 

 

 
Around 5, after a late lunch, we headed back to our car to return home. The nightmare of our previous travel day was a distant memory, and Luca was feeling much better. As we trudged through the snow with our luggage and arrived at our car, we slowed to a stop. We were blocked in by another car. After about 20 or so minutes of each of us trying to get out, it was confirmed; we wouldn’t be going anywhere. We left our bags and walked back to the hotel.. it was now dark, bellow freezing, and snowing. The concierge was kind enough to call the police for us, and we were assured they would come; after they finished some other business. Our friends oh-so-kindly joined us, after I tearfully explained what was happening. Back at the car, the boys had a second round of trying to get it out. In their lowest moment, they tried to lift the other car out of its spot, to no avail.
 After an hour, we asked countless passersby to call for us. Though very few people spoke English, they could see our situation clearly and helped us out. The result was always the same; the police would come after they finished something else. A sad silence fell over our small group, and we took turns warming up in the car. Around hour two, a woman came down from the building to take her dog out to relieve itself. She peered over at the four of us, and made her way over. She too was enraged that someone would block us, as she has had a similar problem being a homeowner in this area. She took it upon herself to ring the bell of all the neighbors, in search of the cars owner.  We knew better than to be hopeful, and we not surprised that the effort was fruitless. Though many apartment inhabitants looked down from their windows to see who was calling, no one claimed the car. We thanked her for her help, and insisted she warmed herself in her home. 

As luck would have it, she insisted we come up as well. We cautiously climbed the stairs to her third floor beautifully decorated Napoleon era flat, not fully comprehending our decision.  This turn of events turned into a evening that didn’t make sense until the next morning. As she dragged on her cigarette, she explained to her husband why, at 9:00pm on a Sunday, had brought up guests. He, carefully stroking his moustache, slowly warmed to the idea, and over the next few hours she (from Paris)  and her husband (from Mexico city), told us of their love story. Pulling out appetizers and cocktails, we gave up trying to make sense of the evening and sat back to listen. Living in many countries, having three beautiful daughters (they pulled out all their albums) and experiencing many struggles; their life wasn’t easy- but it sure was colorful..
 

The next morning, (no, the police never came, and we lugged everything back to the hotel for another night), over cafe au lait, Luca expressed his belief that though this chaotic weekend presented many trials; we were destined to meet this couple. As an inspiration for a lifestyle; full of spontaneity, rich in culture, and strong in love. 


**Only pictures I had from my phone, can’t find any on my camera. Meagan, Dave; help me out?!