Siena, Italy!

I finally got around to posting pictures from part of our summer vacation (Stockholm, Sweden!) and I'm itching to share the rest with you guys. Warning, I'm totally making like Hunger Games and dividing the last post into two! I'm sorry! There were just so many pictures, and plus, our time in Italy was divided into equal parts (Siena and Florence), so they deserve their own post :)

We left Sweden completely in love with Scandinavia and everything it represents. Stockholm syndrome, anyone? So much so that I experienced some pretty hefty culture shock when we arrived in Italy. Italy is the complete opposite of Sweden in every way you can imagine. Religion, history, climate, culture, architecture, customs, food, accessibility, ease with children, you name it. And for a homebody like me, going on week three away from home, all of these drastic changes were tough. Adjusting to Italy took some time, and we weren't BFFS right away, but this country and culture has so much to offer and soon I noticed. Or maybe the gelato charmed me? Totally possible. Gelatoooo.

Right after arriving in Florence we rushed to catch our bus for Siena where we would spend the first few days. Siena is small and historic and lovely. It's much slower paced and has far fewer tourists. We stayed in a gorgeous two floor apartment that was decked out in everything you could imagine a 100 year old Italian villa having. That is to say, it was beautiful, but not the least bit kid-friendly!

Those open green shutters were one of our bedrooms! And the big courtyard was inside the building - a nice place for the kids to blow off some steam before coming into the museum apartment!

The only places where we felt somewhat confident that the kids couldn't break a precious heirloom were the kitchen and bedrooms. We spent a lot of time in those rooms! And we saved introducing them to Lego for the first time until this portion of the trip and I'm SO glad we did! My friend Loni lent us some Lego and the kids were immediately obsessed. It's six months later and they're the same! Thanks Loni! You saved many an irreplaceable artifact!

Our first morning in Siena we went exploring and found the most beautiful system of alleys. It was straight out of a dream!

We spent a lot of one-on-one or one-on-two time with our kids (aka DIVIDE AND CONQUER!). Brad would take the big two on an adventure, or just Chloe on a hike in the carrier. Back then our kids still napped occasionally so during nap time all four of us would sleep and Brad would do a solo adventure, then I'd often wake up and go to a cafe for some alone time while Brad watched the kids. Traveling with three kids under age five may be a voyage but it's sure not a vacation, so we did what we could to give each other down time.

There were a few playgrounds in Siena, but never any children. Which was odd since school was out and the kids were all on summer holiday. I noticed a lack of children right away, a trend that continued on to Florence. When I asked Brad's uncle about it (an intellectual who lives in Southern Italy with great insights - basically the perfect person to send my cultural queries to), he explained that Italy actually has the lowest birthrate in the world apart from Japan! Who knew? Economic crisis and shifting values are assumed to be the culprit. It also explained why we felt Italy (at least Florence and Siena) was surprisingly un-friendly to children and families. Yes, Italy! I know Italy has a well known reputation for loving children and laissez-faire child rearing (Reggio Emilia, a very child-directed educational approach hails from Italy) but we found adults to be overbearing, rude, and uncomfortable with our children. It was a hard thing to accept given that we chose Italy as a destination with our children based on this false reputation, but we made the best of it and loved our time.

It is such a wonder using fountains that are several hundred years old - and still work! So much of Italy remains as it did 500 years ago and that is definitely an experience I will not forget. Next to this beautiful fountain was a Tiger, my all-time favourite cheap store (of course from Scandinavia, heart!) which is just so cool. That a modern chain store can plop right next to this 300 year old fountain and just coexist happily. That is the charm of Old Europe.

Siena has an incredible piazza in the center of the town where you can find everyone around dinner time. The kids took pretty quickly to pigeon chasing. I was so afraid that Chloe would bail on the downhill and uneven ground but she never did. This was a daily occurrence. Gelato for dessert, pigeon chasing, people watching, breathing it all in. Ah. 

One rainy day we decided to tour a massive cathedral. I always have mixed feelings when I'm touring a humongous church like this. For all of the gold and pomp, for all of the marble and statues, for all of the objective beauty, it can feel hollow. It's an art to appreciate something while still being critical.

Siena was the perfect first step into Italian culture. Coming from Sweden, I'm thankful we didn't jump right into Florence, where the cultural differences were even more pronounced. It was quiet but still exciting, beautiful but simple, and ever so charming. It wasn't just the gelato!

ps - you can find our stroller here :)


  1. I studied in Perugia and later did thesis research in Rome; while there are a lot of foreign students (from everywhere) in Perugia, it isn't as heavily touristed as Florence. I never really liked Florence for that reason. You'd certainly prefer the little Franciscan churches (and spirituality) in Umbria. Assisi itself can be a bit much in terms of the "pilgrim industry", but there again the solution is to visit early, or out of season.

    The tourists include not only Christians of all denominations but also Buddhists, who have a great love of Francis, who, like the Buddha, gave up everything from his affluent youth.

    In a way, Italy is experiencing the changes Québec did in the early 1960s, with a plummeting birthrate. But while the 1960s saw unprecedented prosperity here, times can be very hard in Italy nowadays and precarious work is very common even among highly-educated people.

    There are a lot of tourists - and pilgrims - in Rome as well, but it is a far larger city and there are many areas where few tourists venture.

    By the way, I love your red skirt.

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