A Quick Day Trip to Bologna
A few days before leaving Florence, we traveled by train to Bologna. Absolutely loved this city, a bit grittier than Florence, a history of university and revolution, incredible food. Revolution + food. My kind of city.
It was finally time to leave Florence, despite how much we loved the city. I have learned now that there is only so much time we can stay in a place without a grounding set of activities. In Chiang Mai – because the city was full of expats, because some activities were offered in English, and because of the informality of certain classes – it was easy to enrol the kids (and Chris/me!) in activities. This offered the guise of routine and meant that Chris and I did not have to play the role of tour innovator each day, which we did in Florence. I am also finding that while the kids do love cities, they seem more grounded with frequent nature touchpoints. So we left, knowing it was time to go, but also deeply appreciative of the time we spent in this city. Encounters with history and art around every corner, incredible food, connections with friends, and a culture of prioritizing time with loved ones – Aperol Spritzes in hands. Here are a few shots from our last couple of days in Firenze, including leaving our home in a very packed COMPACT-size car.
The Marathon (Elba)
When Chris had this wild idea of training for a marathon in Vietnam, I only half-listened. Not because I didn’t believe him, but because it all seemed so far away and perhaps even farfetched. I couldn’t imagine being out of Asia. I couldn’t imagine he would figure out how to adhere to an arduous training schedule in places where running just seemed so very out of place. Honestly, I was having a hard time even fathoming our lives four months in the future. But he did it, with a perseverance, discipline, and spirit that impressed us all. Every long run (and sometimes the short ones too) seemed to be an adventure. Never too dangerous, but sometimes just unpredictable enough to keep him guessing about what would show up around the next winding turn.
What was perhaps even more impressive than the discipline of this enterprise was what an incredible vehicle running is for truly seeing places. The villagers in central Sri Lanka who helped him run up a mountain and then invited them into their shack, or the army cadets in northern Sri Lanka who filled his water bottle when the oppressive heat had drained him of water, or the warm smiles and conversations in central Vietnam with villagers in places travellers rarely pass through, detours he had to take around water buffalo, or the many un/wanted animals on his runs – snakes, monkeys, cows, wild dogs, etc.
Anyway, he did it. Trained with discipline, finished strong, and drank in the beauty of the Elba coastline route. Also note the final video in this series in which Chris saw a VIPER during the marathon. He really attracts these animals.
What a dream that Chris’ marathon took us to an island that we would probably have skipped simply because we are overwhelmed by ‘what to see in Italy.’
Our final day after the marathon was for adventuring around the island. Chris planned the day in his Chris way, knowing that our first activity would probably not be on my list if I had indeed known what was in store for us. But he knew that I would have no choice but to go along for the "ride."
All I knew was that we would ascend a mountain on a gondola. Now, some of you may know that heights have never been my thing, but that I have persevered and intentionally pushed through the fear. Chris has been a strong partner in this regard, never pushing me too far beyond my comfort zone, but just far enough to allow me to stretch. His personality is also not one to indulge this fear of mine, so he generally will just move forward when it seems like I’ve gotten the complaining out of my system.
Back to the gondola. I have been on my share of gondolas no problem. Sometimes when I get stuck up high because the machine stops my heart leaps into my throat, and well, that’s not my favorite moment, but really – I don’t consider gondolas a problem. But then we arrived on Monte Capanne.
Obie, my compatriot in not loving heights, looked at me with a somewhat pained/disbelieving expression on his face and we guffawed in unison, “HELL NO.” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Chris laugh so hard. I think even he did not realize how rickety these gondolas would be.
Let me describe this gondola to you if it is not crystal clear from the pictures. They are very small yellow jails that can hold two adults at most and swing on a precarious line above you. You stand in it. Like a bird cage that stops at your hips. This structure does not stop as you get on and you run alongside to hop in and hop out. 18 minutes. 18 very long minutes.
At some point I realized that I was not going to be able to bow out of this one. I also wasn’t going to be able to save face. It was decided I would go with Emmet, who had no fear. We ventured in. I told Emmet he would have to distract me with stories throughout the 18 minutes of hell, I mean, glorious beauty. Over the chestnut trees, then the sheer ascent past steep cliffs and boulder fields, views of the island behind us, dots of red roofed villages in the distance, a ring of ocean. It was stunning, though I saw little of it on the way up.
Emmet did not distract me. He would not go along with my requests for storytelling. But intermittently, between the hundreds of photos and videos he was taking, he would say, “Mom, you will never have this moment again. This is a once in a lifetime experience. Isn’t it amazing?” And I realized he was simply parroting my own words back to me.
After exiting the gondola and hiking up to the top of the mountain, it was then sneakily revealed by Chris that we would in fact have to take the gondola again back down (he had told us at first that we would hike down, but it turned out to be a two-hour hike and we didn’t have the time/food to do it). On the way down, which admittedly was much easier (I actually opened my eyes), Emmet asked, “Would you ever do something like this on your own?” And we talked about how I likely would not do that on my own, and I blessed him to find partners in his life who could complement him, who could challenge him to do the things that scared him.
As my kids get older, it’s harder to hide from them those moments of the real me. At another stage of parenting, I might have been stiff lipped about being freaked out by a rickety gondola. They would probably have sensed it nonetheless, but I figure at this point – be honest about who I am, how those things have served/not served me in my life, and let my kids decide who they want to be as they grow into themselves.
That day in Elba was pretty incredible. The low-lying clouds lifted. We hiked on crystal-strewn rocks around blue-green seas and baked in the sun. We ate lunch in a charming little town with a friendly but possibly rabid cat. Chris and Emmet jumped into freezing crystal clear waters. The combination of adventure, a little fear, beauty, sun, exploration – everyone was pretty blissed out. A good day.
We left Elba yesterday for a week at an agriturismo in Tuscany. En route, we stopped in Pisa, falling prey to ridiculously posing next to the leaning tower. How could we not?