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Italian Holiday

Bikes of Europe

Lana Hawk

Bikes. Bikes are everywhere over here in Italy. Not as many as in the Netherlands, but a LOT. I love seeing them and I am slightly obsessed with them. I have this idyllic image in my head of owning a cute cruiser bike with a basket on the front. I can ride to the store and buy flowers or a baguette to be perfectly displayed in the basket for my ride home. I mean cute right? My back-to-reality husband has more than once informed me this is not realistic. I would hardly use this adorable bike and it would just sit gathering dust in our garage. Well, hypothetical garage because our current U.S. residence is a PO Box and a storage unit. It's okay though, realism or not, I can enjoy the bikes while here in Europe and daydream about mine. Here is a small and certainly not all-inclusive collection of bikes I have spotted and adored in Europe over the last few years. A great excuse to go through old pictures! 

Settling In

Lana Hawk

Over the past few years, we have taken several trips to Europe each ranging between 10 to 14 days. Within two weeks, we usually begin to settle into routine and habits. We get used to new greetings, how to ask questions, and the culture we are surrounded by everyday. Just as we would begin to settle in, it was time to head home. Just as we finally figured out the correct way to greet someone or say "excuse me", we would head back to the normal "hello" back home. This time it is different. Two weeks in and we are feeling settled. This time, we aren't heading home to normal, but instead continuing to lean into our Italian existence.

As we continue to live for a bit in Florence, here are a few of the things we are leaning and settling into as well as accepting as our Italian normal.

  • Grocery Shopping: Definitely a different experience over here. We stop at the grocery or market almost daily for small trips. Only the essentials. At home, we usually went to the grocery for one big weekly trip and maybe only one other time throughout the week for whatever we forgot. Not here. We have to walk, round trip, about a mile to the grocery. There is no Costco style shopping over here when you don't have a car or roller bag to bring your groceries in. Yesterday, Adam carried 9 liters of water plus a bag of equal or greater weight back to our place. Our biggest trip yet, and not something we want to regularly do. Best to spread it out.
  • Fresh Pasta from the Market: After using grocery store pasta our first week, we have returned to Sant'Ambrogio market for fresh pasta. This is the "locals" market according to our Tuscan lunch hosts, and better than the central market for meat, pasta, and produce. We went yesterday and walked away with 3 fresh, new pastas to try including one with pear and one with lemon. Both delicious. 
  • Walking Everywhere: We rarely see a day with fewer than 7 miles of walking and/or running. Days we don't run are maybe closer to 5, which is not too shabby either. We easily rack up the miles just doing normal things like going to the grocery, language school, for a stroll, or to the market. A mile here and a mile there, next thing you know we have been on our feet for 4 hours walking the city after running earlier that day. We love this part of life in the city. Everything is accessible and walkable. We simply have to give ourselves a bit more time to get where we need to go. Definitely something we are happy to try and implement back home in the States as I wrote about here.
  • Eating LOTS of Pasta and Cheese: At home, we tend to eat more meat and veggies than cheese and pasta/carbs. Over here? Not so much. We are eating pasta and cheese daily and we are happy to report we aren't blowing up like blimps in weight. The pasta is fresh and light, the cheese is just plain delicious. It is hard NOT to indulge daily or EVERY meal. We have decided we balance it all out quite nicely with the 7+ miles we walk/run in a day. It is amazing how hungry you get when you are always walking, running, going. In Denver, we basically walk to our car and to the store or in to work. Not much for distance. We would never eat this way in the States, but when in Rome! I mean, when in Florence!
  • Crazy Hair: I had the same issue in London. Not enough time to let my hair do its thing and dry properly. Nope. Just get out of the shower and let the hair fight the elements and dry however the wind takes it. Not ideal and certainly not my best look. I have even resorted to using the provided hair dryer on occasion to look halfway presentable in public with soaking wet hair. Just learning to embrace the chaos.
  • Espresso: Courtesy of our AirBnB, I am learning to enjoy espresso. No "cafe americano" or "dirty water" (according to Italians) for me. While in Italy, I'm embracing the espresso and loving it. I may just want to pick up a killer espresso machine back in Denver!
  • Simplified Wardrobe: Adam and I brought one large back and one carry-on (plus an empty carry-on) over with us. Our wardrobes are simple and versatile. We are both quickly finding we have all we need. I have often thought/talked about moving towards a more simple, minimalist wardrobe and this trip may be what pushes me into action. I don't need much. I love everything I have with me. So why keep a closet loaded down with things I don't like or don't wear? Definitely more to come on this one.
  • No Dishwasher: Shock, I know. No dishwasher. We have to HAND WASH everything. With no dishwasher, meals run a little longer and usually involve some teamwork. One washer, one dryer. It takes a little more time to wrap up the meal, but we don't find it burdensome so much as a part of our routine. 
  • No TV: We don't usually watch a lot of television anyway, but here we haven't turned on the television once. We did bring movies with us, but when we watch a movie it is intentional. Television so often is used to fill a void of time or have noise on in the background or because we are simply bored. No more of that. Intentional movie watching or not at all. A welcomed change.

Patterns

Lana Hawk

Patterns are everywhere. We learn to recognize them, solve them, and create them from an early age. We talk about patterns in everything from math and science to fashion and social media. Our news feeds are full of what is "trending", essentially tracking the patterns of our habits. The history of humans is a long list of patterns and the changes to those patterns over time. Patterns of movement, of diet, of language, and behavior. We love patterns.

There is some comfort to me in seeing and identifying patterns. Sort of like seeing a familiar face in a sea of unknowns. You can identify a pattern then all of a sudden there seems to be order. Things are in their place, in an orderly line up or sequence and it is visible and tangible. For someone who likes order and control, patterns bring a familiarity that is sometimes lost in an always changing world. Anyone else feel that way? I think that is why I often am drawn to patterns and repeating, crisp, clear lines. A little bit of order in a new place. My introverted self loves those glimpses of the familiar. Don't get me wrong, I love to travel. I can stroll for hours in a new place in complete silence and be perfectly content, but I always find the patterns. I am drawn to the patterns, both natural and man-made that create a rhythm to what I am seeing. 

Despite my love for visual patterns, patterns can also be destructive. Think of the saying "old habits die hard". Patterns, once they have their grip, are hard to discard and change. We get stuck in our ways because we have always done it this way or that way or because we can't break out of our vicious cycle of "normal". Sometimes to change a pattern you have to remove yourself from the normal. Break away from what you always do, where you always do it. Drink your coffee in a new place, make yourself turn off the tv, eat dinner at the table starting now, drive a different way to work, turn off the radio, don't stop at the mall on your way home, skip Starbucks drive through for a day, and the list goes on. Our days are often a never-ending list of patterns and habits. We get stuck in doing things the same way we always have and complain about our bad habits or normal existence. Despite the visually appeal and comforting nature of patterns, some are meant to be broken or changed or reinvented. Find a new pattern, make a new normal, and start now. Don't wait until New Years to make a cliche resolution that will disappear before February hits. Make a promise to yourself to make new habits and positive patterns and start now.

As I said above, I love finding patterns as we travel. Sidewalks, monuments, the symmetry of a fountain. They create a little order and draw your eye in to whatever beauty they are creating. As a photographer, it is the whole leading lines idea, but for me it's just a reminder of something constant and familiar. So I always search for them and make a point to capture them. Here are a few recent ones. 

Running in Florence

Lana Hawk

Yep, we are still running. Well I guess technically I am back to running. I trained for handful of half marathons and a half ironman in 2013-2014 and sort of haven't trained specifically for a race since. Whoops! After a couple years off racing, I'm back at to it and what better place to start my training than Florence? The plan is to be in shape for a half marathon in February, so we are taking to the streets of Florence to get back in running shape. Running through a new city is something Adam really enjoys. You can see more of the city running than you can walking because of time. I on the other hand am a bit more hesitant. I like to know an area before taking to the streets. So usually, Adam goes out on a run and finds a route that works and seems safe and then I will join him the next time. We always run together, well he always runs with me and then he will go on his own if he wants a faster run and more miles. 

Being in Florence for an extended stay means we get to find our route and sort of stick to a routine. Lucky for us, we are situated sort of on the east side of the central part of Florence. Which has conveniently placed us within a mile of a nice pedestrian path along the Arno River. Before arriving, we were prepared to run the stone streets of Florence dodging people and cars and scooters and bikes and dog poo. Instead, we take a nice half mile walk until we are out of the congested zone, run another half mile and we are along the edge of the river enjoying a long stretch of a path lined with trees with few intersections to navigate. As mentioned in yesterday's post, central Florence doesn't have much in the way of greenery, but nearly everyday we get the benefit of the river view and the small parks along it during our run. It's a nice way to enjoy a different side of the city and escape the noise for a bit. The asphalt pedestrian path runs for about a mile to the east before turning into a dirt path which extends even further. Once on the dirt path, you can join many of the other Florence runners and go for another 2.5 miles. You can catch a glimpse of the hills and vineyards just outside the city and enjoy the Arno River without the crowds of tourists. We have never found ourselves completely alone out there as the path is frequented by locals on their daily walk or run. 

If you ever find yourself in need of a good run in Florence, I highly recommend catching the pedestrian path where Viale Giovanni Amendola meets Lungarno del Tempio. It is on the river side of the road and starts on the corner with the small park. It has quickly become one of my favorite parts about our new routine. Once we get to some longer runs, we will try another park on the west side of Florence. I am still running shorter distances, so I'm not there yet! Once we make the trip down there, I will be sure to add that in.    

A few more iPhone shots below of one of our morning runs. Sorry they aren't better quality! No running with a heavy DSLR for me. 

Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens

Lana Hawk

First, a little language school update. After three days focused on masculine/feminine and plural/singular nouns and adjectives I can confidently say I am just as lost as ever! It helps to see the words and get a lot of repetition but I definitely have a long way to go. We started a bit of verb conjugation today, which I know will be beneficial when we pursue Spanish back in the states. Until then, I will continue to spend two hours of my day being utterly confused.

Today the sun came out and we had a beautiful day. We have been waiting to visit Boboli Gardens until we had a bit more sunshine and warm temperatures, so today was perfect for an afternoon outing. Boboli Gardens sits south of the Arno River attached to the Pitti Palace complex. It is an easy walk across Ponte Vecchio to reach the palace. At the palace you have a couple ticket options. The first includes the palace and the second doesn't, but includes the gardens. We really just wanted a chance to walk through the expansive gardens, so we went with option number two. In the middle of Florence, a city covered in stone with not a tree in sight unless you are along the river or in one of the small, bur rare, neighborhood parks, walking through this giant green space was pretty incredible. It is a matrix of vine covered paths, trees, bushes, statues, and more. We spent 2.5 hours in the garden and a couple small museums (costume and treasures) and feel like we missed the bulk of it all. The history nerd in me was constantly imagining the Medici family going out for a stroll in their "garden" and getting lost for hours! Despite the warm weather, it was quiet in the gardens and we enjoyed a mini escape from the constant street noise and people in Florence. I really felt like we got a small glimpse into the life of a New Yorker and the need to "get away" to Central Park. Glad to know if we need a little green space we can head back to Boboli Gardens (or out on a run along the Arno River).

Bringing Italy to the States

Lana Hawk

As I've mentioned a couple times (see here and here), this trip is meant to usher in changes to our life and rhythm back in the states. The space and time here is intended to be used for us to prioritize what we value as a couple and encourage/push us to implement real and lasting change in our "normal" life. Create a new normal.

We love Europe and specifically Italy for several reasons, some are easily transferred, others not. We can't turn Denver into Italy, and despite our love for travel, it isn't currently on our radar to try and make this a full time deal. So, how do we change or influence our USA life for the better? We had our first full conversation about this tonight. We brainstormed the lessons and priorities we want to bring back with us to Denver. How can we pack Italy in a suitcase?

Here is a brief list and explanation of our current ideas:

  • Walking: Make walking a priority. We walk everywhere here. In a day, we easily put 5+ miles on our feet doing "normal" stuff. Going to the grocery, walking to a boutique, heading to language school. We love the activity level of just living life over here. Our goal when we return is to buy a house close enough to walk SOMEWHERE. Grocery store, coffee shop, restaurant, somewhere. And then actually do it.
  • Balance: We have easily slipped into a nice, slow rhythm here. Slow mornings, long walks, leisurely meals, that sort of thing. This isn't always possible, but we would like to find a balance between having an active life without being hurried.
  • Traditions: Family traditions are fun for me around the holidays. I grew up with a few, as did Adam, that add to the Christmas celebration. I would love to see us create new family traditions surrounding the holidays, with or without kids. We probably won't come to Italy every year, but we could alway make fresh pasta on Christmas Eve. Doesn't sound too bad to me.
  • Wardrobe: For a 7 week trip, packing seemed a bit daunting. I had to pare down my wardrobe to only items which provided a lot of versatility and wear. Adam did the same bringing a number of shirts that double for everyday wear and running. We have quickly discovered we don't NEED a lot of extras. I love the idea of a minimalist, quality, functional wardrobe instead of an overly trendy or cheap wardrobe. It isn't a novel idea, but I need to really focus on building a wardrobe like that. I am naturally drawn to simple clothes and clean lines, so why not embrace it!
  • Quality Time: Over here we have obviously had a lot of quality time. Sometimes quality time has to be created and prioritized. We can easily spend a lot of time together without it being quality. Finding time to make dinner together, take a walk, put down our phones, ask each other questions, and so on is a great way to continue to make space at home.
  • Second Language: This one we talk about almost every time we travel. We both want to learn a new language and learn it well. We are in language school over here for Italian, but will probably focus attention on Spanish back home. A bit more practical and Adam already has a pretty solid base. (Fun fact for you, I took 6 years of Japanese in high school and college. Crazy and completely impractical I know). It is amazing to watch many Europeans easily flip between 2 or sometimes 3+ languages. We want to make it a priority to learn a new language and make it stick. 

So there's the start to our list. Many weeks and conversations to come, including Adam's favorite part... an ACTION PLAN. 

What lessons have you learned in your travels? How can you keep those fresh in your daily life at home? Don't wait for the new year to make changes, just DO IT! 

First Day of School

Lana Hawk

This morning was our first day of language school. I'm not going to lie, I was pretty pumped at the idea of going "back to school." I love to learn, always have and hopefully always will. As we began to plan for Italy, language school came up in conversation. Growing up, Adam learned a bit of Spanish (still knows quite a bit) and I took Japanese. I know, I know. Japanese? Why Japanese? It was unique and different and so I took it. I took 3 more semesters of Japanese in college because my one semester of Spanish at 7:30 in the morning hurt my brain. So I know a tiny bit of Japanese and a handful of words in other languages that may actually be useful to me in my life and travels.

In talking about our life together and priorities moving forward, both of us truly have a desire to learn another language and learn it well. It is humbling to travel around Europe and hear people easily flip in and out of multiple languages. It is amazing to me and honestly makes me a little jealous. I know we don't HAVE to learn a second language and we do take language classes in school, but most don't really learn the language. You have to be diligent, studious and truly immerse yourself in a language to learn it. Most of us, Adam and I included, don't have those opportunities on a daily basis. We aren't surrounded by a different culture and language when we are back in Denver. Even so, one of our priorities moving forward is to expand our brain a bit by trying to learn another language. Maybe not fluent, maybe not perfect, but to learn. Although Italian will most likely not be the goal once we return, it sure is fun to learn as much as we can while here!

After finding our language school, we entered to find a small operation. A couple small classrooms and a front desk area. We were handed a couple of workbooks and sent to room A to begin our lessons. We sat down around a small table with 5 other people in complete silence until our lesson began. Although the silence was a bit awkward for Adam, my introverted self found it normal and comforting. Pretty funny! Our teacher, Francesca, arrived a few minutes later and began right away. All in Italian. All, quick Italian. For the next two hours we learned some Italian basics including how to say "I am" and "my name". We shared where we were from before moving into learning masculine/feminine and articles. Can I just say, what the what? Total brain explosion. I have been working on the Duolingo app for a month or so leading up to the trip, but apparently not much of it stuck. I recognized some words and knew a few of the differences, but it was really helpful to see it all listed out in front of me. The very basic sorting, writing, identifying. It helped to see it. I am far enough removed from school to begin to understand how I learn best independent of an institution. I am a visual person and it helps to see as much as possible. See things side by side. English to Italian. Italian to English. Pictures. Anything visual and it helps me. I am also a furious notetaker because I am a nerd first, but also a bit on the OCD side and the movement of note taking helps me remember. The caveat is it HAS to be handwritten. Typing isn't the same. The teacher in me notices those things about myself.

The constant Italian was a bit overwhelming at first, but Francesca did a great job of explaining, answering questions, and using it as a tool. It helps to hear the language over and over to understand pronunciation, as well as sentence structure. We were in the beginner class, so luckily we weren't the only ones overwhelmed! Our class included classmates from Lebanon, Taiwan, China via San Francisco, Tajikistan, and another American. Crazy! The girl from Tajikistan said she knows no English. So she listened to complete gibberish as we often asked questions or clarified in English. The other-non Americans already speak at least 2 other languages, some 3. Quite the eclectic group. We head back tomorrow for day 2 and look forward to learning a bit more and sharing it with you soon!

Other things on our list of things to do: investigate the best spot to find a leather jacket and try all the best cafes. Thanks for reading and happy Monday!

 

Day Trip to Siena

Lana Hawk

A couple days ago we took our first day trip out to Siena. We caught the 8:50 bus out of Firenze SMN train station and made our way to Siena. Easy! An hour and a half later we arrived in Siena. We did very little research before heading out, but knew the Siena Cathedral was a must see and strolling through the cute town was the way to go. So we arrived with no real agenda which was perfect.

Once we sort of figured out where we were, we followed the crowds towards town and began to wander. Lucky for us, if you follow the crowds and head downhill, you will eventually end up at the Siena Cathedral. It started to drizzle a bit, so we went ahead and ventured into the cathedral. I can't say this enough, if you can travel outside of busy season, DO IT! This adorable Tuscan town was nearly deserted. The cathedral was pretty much empty. So great. Siena Cathedral was worth the visit. We wandered through the museum and once again, were in awe at the age of everything. Tons of church artifacts and art. No matter how much art we continue to see, I will never cease to be amazed at the age and beauty of everything here.  The highlight of the museum was the panoramic view at the top. A tiny (stress TINY), spiral staircase led us up to two different viewpoints. They looked out over the town and the surrounding hills. A little bit of mist and fog made it pretty picture perfect.

We walked through the rest of the church including a crypt with frescoes painted in the 1300s and only unearthed in the 1990s. They were buried for 700 years. Crazy. The cathedral itself, as well as the baptistery, had more stunning ceilings. The Piccolomini Library inside the cathedral was the highlight for me with painted ceilings more vibrant than most other ceilings we have seen. The colors remain the same as they were when they were painted in the 13th century. They have never been "restored". Pretty crazy to think about it. I will post more pictures of those ceilings in a later post because I am too obsessed and their are far too many.

After finishing up at the cathedral, we followed Rick Steves and his Siena walk to see more of town. We ate lunch at a cute place (Rick Steves recommendation) near Il Campo, the main square, before making our way back to the bus stop. It was a relaxing day and a great first day trip for us. Even with the drizzly weather, the town was quaint with plenty of streets to wander through and enjoy. If you ask Adam, he will tell you, one of my favorite things to do is just wander, look in store windows, watch people, see corners not seen before, experience something new with no real agenda. We have had lots of opportunities to do just that in our first week here with plenty more to come. We start our two weeks of language school tomorrow to add a little structure to our day. I'm totally nerding out at the idea of "going to class". Once a school nerd, always a school nerd. 

The Art of Slowing Down

Lana Hawk

One of the big motivations for our trip was the chance to slow down and reconnect with one another and ourselves. As I get older, I continue to be amazed at how intentionally hurried and busy we are. We want to go, rush, get this, do that, compete. Compete with one another, our past and strive forward into our future. Always striving. I often find myself hurried. Looking around, comparing myself, and then joining in the rush. Looking at others, their careers, clothes, and thinking that should be me. So I join in the hustle. The game. Until I get a bit of sense slapped into me by an event, realization, or my husband (not a literal slap of course).

A few months ago, I read a quote by one of my favorite artists, Charlie Mackesy. He is just enough crazy and a lot of brilliant with a side of wit. I heard him speak at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in London back in 2007 and have been hooked ever since. I occasionally pick up an HTB podcast just to hear him tell his stories. He posted a quote on Twitter a few months back and it struck a chord with me.  It came at a time when Adam and I were dreaming up our holiday "what ifs" and it just stuck.

"Odd that when asked how we are, often 'busy' equals validating and good. And not busy feels like a failure. Man as set out at great pace to go nowhere."    -Charlie Mackesy.

"Set out at great pace to go nowhere." Isn't that the truth sometimes? Maybe most of the time or always? When I look back on my life, I want one rich with love, experiences, stories, and people. Long chats over coffee. Dinner parties with lifelong friends. Laughter shared over the table and games. Hikes in the mountains. Exploring new places. Soaking in art and music and culture. Not stuff. Not late nights at the office. Not hours watching television. I want to make my own stories, not watch others act out a fake reality or worse, present a biased portrayal of reality. 

So when it came down to it, Adam and I chose a break. A step back to reset and find what we want individually and together. Moving forward, what matters to live a rich, intentional life. We are learning to slow down, breathe a bit, enjoy EXPERIENCING LIFE together, not just a schedule or to do list or project. Not everyone can run away to Italy for 7 weeks, but everyone can take a step back, press pause, breathe, evaluate. Get inspired and engage in what matters. Say no when you need to and start saying yes to areas in your life that need a bit more space. So as we continue our journey, this is what I am processing. The intent of this blog is to share this journey in Italy and continue processing back in the States in the new year. Until then, ITALY!

For some inspirational reads to get you in the intentional living mindset, may I suggest:

  • Daring Greatly (Brene Brown) - to help with intentional conversations with others and yourself
  • Present Over Perfect (Shauna Niequist) - to engage in intentional, life-giving experiences
  • Simple Matters (Erin Boyle) - to simplify your life and possessions to make space for things that matter

Afternoon at Uffizi

Lana Hawk

Today was another relaxed day. After our AirBnB culinary experience yesterday, we snuggled up and watched a couple movies before calling it a night. We slept in late this morning and then went on a run along the Arno. After lunch we decided to head out and check out Uffizi Gallery. Adam has never been and I love art museums. Seemed like a perfect way to spend this chilly, cloudy afternoon. 

Every time I come to Europe and go to the museums, I am amazed at how old everything is. You go to cities like Boston in the US and buildings from the 1600s are a big deal. Go to Europe and it seems like everything is at least 500 years old. Nearly every piece of art we saw in Uffizi was from the 1400-1500s with some statues from the 2nd century. A lot of the pieces we saw have been in the Uffizi Gallery since the 1700s. It is crazy and the more you see, the more it kind of seems normal. Oh, that painting is 700 years old? Big deal. 

The other thing that hits me when walking through old cities like Florence is that the United States is a baby of a country. We have been around as an independent country for less than 300 years. Are we a world leader? Of course, but we are also very young. We are going to go through changes, some good and some not, but that's what happens. History happens. I love to see other countries and cultures to see what we can learn from them and their rich history moving forward. It never hurts to press pause for a second and realize where we fit in the big picture, individually and as a nation. 

Back to Uffizi. Another part I love about these old museums is all there is to see. No matter where you look, there is something beautiful to see. Paintings on the ceiling, statues everywhere, detailing on the walls and in the corners, views of the city out the windows, tile floors, and of course, all those old paintings. I love to walk through museums and try and document the details as well as the paintings. The paintings are great, but google what they look like and you get the idea. The details and the buildings make the experience in my opinion. The long corridors with colorful ceilings and bright windows. The ornate frames for each individual painting. Those are the things that make the visit worthwhile. Look at the art and enjoy the art, but don't miss the essence of the building and the city that created it. If I had to choose between Accademia and Uffizi, I would probably go with Uffizi. Many leave the David feeling a bit underwhelmed. The Uffizi, as a whole, has more art to see and includes names like Leonardo da Vinci and Boticelli. I loved the David and still think it is an amazing piece to see in person, but if you have to choose one, Uffizi is more bang for your buck. If you can do both, schedule a time slot for the David and make the trip.

AirBnB Experience: A Tuscan Lunch

Lana Hawk

So here's a little back story for you. I am notorious for ruining surprises for Adam or not even attempting them. I may think of a great idea, but then don't follow through or tell Adam about it before pursuing it. Not sure why. Just one of those "quirks" I have I guess. Adam struggles with this quirk of mine because he LOVES surprises. He has successfully pulled off a large number of surprises for me including bringing in two of my best friends for a weekend at Grandview for my 30th birthday. I had no idea. So, I had a great idea to surprise Adam with an experience in Florence during our stay. Shockingly enough, I pulled it off! A few months ago I was invited to participate in a Beta program for AirBnB that involved trying an experience in cities around the world. Florence was one of their offered cities. They offered a long list of options including everything from dancing to perfume making and art to theatre. With Italy being such a food-centric country, cooking classes were also on the list. We love to cook together and have taken a number of cooking classes throughout our marriage. So it was an easy choice and one I knew would be a hit with Adam.

When looking to book, I hesitated for awhile, but eventually purchased "The Tuscan Lunch" option with chef Massimiliano (or Max). This experience was much more extensive and inclusive than previous cooking classes and it was amazing. I successfully pulled off the surprise last night and we have had an amazing experience the past couple days! I will try to do the experience justice with an explanation and a few pictures, but know that no words or pictures could adequately portray our experience. We loved it all! 

Last night, we met Max and his friend and co-chef, Luca, at a local restaurant to meet and talk over wine and charcuterie. For two hours, we had the opportunity to talk with two true Florentines while enjoying wine, cheese, various cured meats, and sandwiches. There was plenty of food and fun conversation getting to know Max and Luca. We are amazed over and over at how many people here speak English. Sometimes it is a bit "broken", but at the end of the day they can communicate perfectly fine in English. Through our travels, Adam and I have become more and more determined to learn how to speak another language. We are attending language school starting on Monday, but will pursue opportunities once we are back in the States. Anyways, back to our evening. Max and Luca were absolutely delightful. We loved talking with them and navigating the language barrier playing a game called "Como si dice..." or How do you say...? There were several pauses and Google translator searches, but we learned more about our hosts all over a LOT of delicious food. Their friend, who worked at the restaurant, was also incredibly friendly and helpful in explaining the meats, cheese, and wine pairings. After getting to know one another and planning our menu for the next day, we said good night and walked away full and happy! 

The next morning, we met Max and Luca at the Sant'Ambrogio Market, a local food market in Florence. They walked us through local ingredients, cuisine, and in-season vegetables and we shopped together. Every time they do this experience, they use the same vendors in the market and get fresh, local ingredients. We decided on a few local breads and cheeses for our appetizer, rabbit ragu with ravioli di patate (potato) for our first course, and trippa (cow stomach lining) for our main. We went all in with the menu and wanted to eat as the Florentines do! Our gracious hosts assured us it was good and we said yes. Yikes! After stopping for espresso in the market, prosecco on our walk to the kitchen, and one more market stop for tomatoes we made it to our professional kitchen to cook. So far, so good!

At the kitchen, Max and Luca coached us through various stages of the cooking process and we stepped in to help with chopping and prep work. We learned the base of a good ragu sauce (carrots, celery, onion, and olive oil) and how to make our rabbit ragu. Luca was in charge of the trippa (Max said he makes the best trippa). We worked in the kitchen, chatted with our hosts, and enjoyed smelling our lunch and getting hungrier by the minute.

Once food was prepared, we sat to enjoy our Tuscan lunch together. I'm sure it was a quiet day for Max and Luca only having two of us instead of the normal ten, but we loved it. Quiet conversation, plenty to help with in the kitchen, and a memorable experience. The food was also incredible! The rabbit ragu had a white wine sauce with a hint of orange that made it extra delicious. Despite the scary idea of cow stomach, it was delicious in it's red sauce. We also enjoyed burrata cheese with bread and sun-dried tomatoes as an appetizer. Burrata is a  mozzarella exterior, filled with cream and found in the south of Italy. We then finished our meal with cake made from chestnut flour, raisins and walnuts with slices of persimmon on the side. All while sipping on wine from the Chianti region, always a win!

I truly can't say enough about this experience. The AirBnB experiences are now available to all on the AirBnB app and I highly recommend the Tuscan Lunch with Max and Luca. Incredible hosts who are friendly and helpful. We got an endless list of recommendations from them as well as tips for cooking and experiencing the region. Look them up! If you don't want to do the group experience, they also offer home cooking experiences, classes, or meals for you. They come to you and cook for you or with you!  You can check them out here. It is worth every penny and they will work with you on dietary preferences. You don't have to try get too crazy and try trippa, but you should try this experience, it's second to none. Max also manages various accommodations around the region and you can check out some pretty spectacular places here

Our plan is to try out some of their restaurant and activity recommendations, as they had some pretty good ones. We will be sure to let you know how it goes! I can't say enough about these guys. Such an enjoyable couple of days. Grazie Max and Luca! Spettacolare!

The O Bag

Lana Hawk

In my normal/everyday world, I am attempting to cut back and stick with buying versatile clothing and accessories. I want the items I own to be useful, versatile, and long lasting. I don't want to continue to buy overly trendy items that will be out of style next year and I also don't want to buy cheap clothing that will wear out quickly. And I must say, it isn't easy. I constantly see tops and pants and purses and jewelry I want. Have you ever tried to go into Target and AVOID the clothing all together. It isn't easy. Being in Europe is also making this task quite difficult. Style over here is different than most places I have lived in the US. They seem to value function, versatility, and neutrality over the super trendy. But at the same time, they always appear put together and on trend. Weird right? All of that makes me want to buy an entirely new wardrobe over here defeating my mission to simplify and cut back. It helps knowing I have very limited additional space in our bags to pack more on top of what I brought over. A brilliant way to keep my shopping in check. I'm sure Adam is super thankful for baggage and weight limits.

Before we came over, I did have a short list of things I wanted to purchase while here. The list includes a leather jacket, my shopping spree at Galeries Lafayette, and an O bag. I saw these bags this summer and was intrigued by them. The concept is fairly simple. You buy a body of the bag and then you can choose from a variety of interchangeable straps, liners, and trim. Which ultimately means you can change the look of your purse without buying an entirely new bag. You simply change out the handles or trim or lining. Kind of brilliant if you think about it. The body of the bags are made of some sort of synthetic/rubber like material helping them keep their shape and making them easy to clean. The texture of the bag is a bit different and takes a bit to get used to, but their uniqueness and functionality made them a win for me!

In our wandering the past couple days, we came across the store and I decided to go ahead and take the leap. I opted for a black bag with a dark brown handle and wool liner. I didn't buy a trim because I wasn't immediately sold on any of the options. I also know that if I decide I want one, I can always order one online and change it out myself. All the liners, trim, and straps are easily changed and switched out making them easy to customize at home. I'm sure eventually I will get a couple more liner options to change it up moving forward. They have several body types too. From tiny bags to larger totes and everything in between. You should definitely check them out if it at all sounds interesting. (O Bag Online)

Their watches are produced with a similar concept in mind. They are also interchangeable and offer an endless number of watch faces and band colors. I'm sure I will venture back to the store over the coming weeks and investigate my options a bit more. If I do, I will be sure to share with you my choices! Until then, a little peak at my latest purchase and my new favorite bag.