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Castel Campo

Trying to keep track of the moments that take your breath away at Castel Campo is hopeless. Tasting the first spoonful of homemade risotto, hearing Saya exclaim ‘cock-a-doodles’ when she’d collect fresh farmhouse eggs, or simply turning potatoes over in a vegetable patch made my heart swoon. The sheer beauty of the week could be found in Fiavé’s green fields and in the generosity of our friends. No doubt this was the best place to be on our first vacation as a family of four.

Saturday started with a 3am wake up call to make a very early flight. Corey’s efforts to get everyone to take a nap at each leg of the journey were foiled by the sheer excitement of the many types of transport we’d take today: taxi, air-train, airplane, and rental car. While a couple naps were finally had on the drive from Verona’s airport to Fiavé, no one could get over how every turn in the road revealed an even more pristine rock formation, brilliant valley or clear stream. The cyclists were getting the best of the valley by riding the hills and curves and resting at local wineries dotting the road. We arrived mid-afternoon to a farmhouse with a cool tiled floor, and devoured a late lunch of piadinas (I hope it’s ok to refer to these as Italian quesadillas). Adventures began straight away with a visit to the ‘cock-a-doodles’ in the henhouse, and then a stroll to the dairy farm, and donkey pad. Our friends toured us around their barn, cottage and the surrounding fields. Seb made us dinner so we didn’t lift a finger in the evening before calling it an early night.

Sunday’s early morning sunshine warmed our faces as we collected eggs from the henhouse. We followed the route again for the dairy farm where Corey was getting braver by the minute reaching out to pet the ‘wildlife’.

We had lunch off of a winding road between two tunnels so if you didn’t know the restaurant was there, you’d completely miss it. Those who find it are treated to a menu where every single dish is delicious. Every. Single. Thing. For me, it felt like magic with the scenery, the food, the wine and the company all in cahoots with one another. The lunch tasted like vacation.

And then we had our first dinner at Castel Campo! The drive through the wooded forest keeps the castle hidden, and when we arrived at the stony walkway, we still were in disbelief that we were at a literal castle. The castle is a sight to behold and unlike anything I’ve experienced, but those two Adirondack chairs in the center of the green brought tears to my eyes because those felt like home. The first thing I did was nurse both Sachi and a glass of wine in those chairs. I needed this moment of gratitude: for the family camp tradition that raised me in those chairs, for the current memories I was making with my own kids, and the future adventures we’d build together. All of these thoughts flooded into my tear ducts while I took that moment for me.

I composed myself, made sure Saya and Sachi put on another fleece for the evening’s al fresco gathering and hovered around the makings of a Florentine steak dinner. Nonna Mina’s friends brought a feast for the grill, and the kitchen was serving up the best summer had to offer: zucchini and salad and a cheese plate for the masses! Can’t believe this is still only 24 hours into our trip.

On Monday, I felt confident to take Saya out in the early morning for the ‘chickens routine’ on my own. We made eggs together, and then while Sachi and Corey slept in, we met Lia for some swinging at the barn. Our girls playing between meals and naps and glasses of wine…I got a jog in today and found myself perfectly content with intermittent wifi. After Neri’s risotto lunch at the castle, I made a promise myself to cook more Italian food when I returned to London. Then, an evening of garden soup at the barn and a fireside hangout under the stars– how do I say “this is the life” in Italian?!

Tuesday was the lake trip. I’ll say two things: one, I understand the definition of aquamarine now, and two, I thought a unicorn would come out from behind the brush as we walked down the pebbly path. What a postcard! The water was cold yet refreshing, and swimming out to the small island on my own felt freeing. We snacked on the banks and helped the kids dip their toes into the shallow waters. In the evening, Neri made polenta in copper pots that he then wrapped in a towel to serve. It was coarse and perfect with a melty beef stew. I added a shakshuka (made during the kids’ three hour naps!), and Nonna Mina added kale chips from the garden for another wonderful al fresco dinner.

We finally got the official Castel Campo tour today. It’s easy to grow comfortable being in the courtyard, kitchen and garden that we realised on Wednesday we hadn’t had a proper tour. Nonna Mina first shared how the castle’s architecture has changed over time due to renovations, erosion, and keeping it up to date for large numbers of guests. There is family artwork all over. Sculptures made by Sof’s great grandmother, wall-sized portraits painted of members on both sides of the family tree, and Nonna Mina’s own creations which she won’t point out unless you ask. There is also a lot that isn’t theirs but it’s all remained even as the castle has changed hands over decades. The biggest surprise was the self-playing piano with Fats Waller sheet music that we all danced to in a large sitting room. Nonna Mina keeps the grounds herself and shared the hardest time is getting through freezing winter in a drafty castle as a party of one.

How could it be Thursday and our last full day together? We tilled potatoes, cut cavelo nero kale and plucked a few tomatoes from the garden. I went on another jog in the morning, and we had a dumpling soup for lunch. From what I remember, the dumplings are a country dish using old bread and leftovers like cured ham to flavor them. The broth was divine and filled our tummies before another lazy afternoon filled with naps. We ate apericena tonight- a remix of aperitivo that flows easily into ‘cena’ or dinner. That’s one compound word I won’t forget for future Italy visits. We ended the evening with gelato made from the milk of sixteen local cows down the road. I found I didn’t even know what flavor to order Saya since we don’t take her to eat ice cream or gelato. I let her pick her ‘color’ and she selected elderflower. She devoured it all.

Friday was the last day of vacation. We’d pretty much mastered the morning egg collection except this time when Saya went to reach for an egg, a chicken was still in the coop and scared the crap out of her! I would have run too. Sof suggested local lunch at a cute sandwich shop right next to a playground. Sachi had her first swing, and I took a few rides on the zipline. I savored the last three hour nap from our girls before we shared our final castle dinner of risotto with Neri and Nonna Mina. The girls basically tucked themselves in while Corey and I packed up, both of us reflecting on how easy it felt to make this our home for the week. Yeah, it’s a castle.

Gratitude really pulls me through on Saturday morning when we wake up at 3am to do the drive back to Verona airport only to be met with a delayed EasyJet flight. I’m also not mentally prepared for the arrival into London. The masses on the train are out for boozy brunches and I have to bat away the hands that want to pinch the cheeks of my beautiful girls. We’re still in a pandemic, people! But the drive, delayed plane, air-train, and taxi are all over and we’re napping as a family, just happily exhausted once we get home. We started the trip abuzz about visiting a castle. We admit we returned home spilling stories about the castle. Yet, I also returned home knowing it’s not actually all about the castle. It’s the change of pace in the outdoors. It’s rejuvenating to be on zero schedule. Campo, like Toulumne and Samuel P, holds space to recharge and to find joy in family tradition. For that experience, I was simply grateful to be in a new location that brought me back to my roots.

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Welcome Saya!

Saya was born at 2:42 am on May 2, 2019. I still can’t find the words to describe laboring, birthing, and welcoming a new baby into the world, but the summary is that I am in awe of what a woman’s body can do. It’s hard to overstate how incredible we are. I also know I couldn’t have done it without Corey’s support, too. And my doula was a gift. If you want more details, I am open to share about my experience or about our doula, but without further ado, let’s get to our baby who made us a family.

First Moments: Saya’s first waking moment was in the birth center hallway in her dad’s arms. The midwives urgently whisked her away from me to support her breathing before I was able to meet her. As the midwives began to wheel her to the neonatal unit, Corey ignored their requests to keep her in the bassinet and carried her back into the room to unite us. Instinctively, he knew I needed to meet her before she was taken to the neonatal unit. He looked into my eyes as he handed her to me and said “I have something to tell you…we have a little girl”.

Over three hours later, I was wheeled into the neonatal unit to see Corey skin to skin with our baby, with her suckling on his pinky finger. I lost it. I couldn’t stop the tears. I had so many emotions overwhelming me at one time. I was encouraged to feed her on the spot, even with the tears in my eyes. After this first attempt at nursing, I fell asleep in the recliner for I don’t know how long.

We spent five days at the birth ward for our baby to complete her round of antibiotics. In that time, we got to know midwives, transitional care workers, breastfeeding consultants, and most importantly, our little one. We named her on day two and began to explore our rhythm as a parental team. Corey made sure I slept and ate as often as possible. I practiced nursing and keeping track of the numerous pamphlets from hospital staff. Neither of us thought about changing her outfit until we realized we were going to be discharged…which is why every picture below looks like it was taken on the same day 😉

Arriving home: Many parents told us we’d be so nervous about keeping Saya alive when she first arrived at home that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. Honestly, we were so excited to get away from the sounds and smells of the hospital that we immediately put Saya in her pram/stroller and walked to pick up sushi and show her off to our local kebab guys. Looking back, that was far too much for our first couple of hours at home. But it was hilarious how excited we were to ‘do parenting’ the way we imagined it.

Week 2- Our first guests: I was nervous to ‘do parenting right’ in front of our friends, but that quickly melted away after I saw how excited and loving people were towards our new family. Sam, Rich, Zachariah and Chantal made us brunch to celebrate our first two weeks together. Kate brought her energy and fun stories of Corey from high school. Ruth helped us reflect on our birthing experience, and supported me with nursing. Bachan sent a nursing cover, Jose and Miya sent chocolates, and Grandad’s stories debuted to welcome his sixth grandchild.

How lucky is our little girl to have so much love from abroad? In addition to visitors, she had a steady stream of thoughtful gifts that kept our mail box full. Each sent with warm words of encouragement and excitement.

Week 3- Grandad and Mamo Visit: I couldn’t wait to welcome Grandad and Mamo! With Corey going back to work, their presence helped settle myself nerves with being on my own during the day. I thought I was in love with my little girl, but seeing them hold my first child was a moment like no other.

Each morning, between 5-6am, Grandad would be waiting to welcome Saya into his arms. They would do ‘stations’ around our flat while I caught few more moments of sleep. Mamo led the charge for finding new books for her library, and identified her first case of diaper rash. They helped me find friendly places to nurse in our neighborhood, and were always in favor of a good pub lunch. Saya had her first bath, too, and let’s just say that afterwards we all felt we’d earned an ice cream cone. We all agreed that you need three adults to one infant if you want to stand a chance!

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Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is so comfortable with tourists that it’s easy to navigate the city in English or Spanish, as a first time visitor, veteran fan, wanderer or serious sight-seeker.  No matter the style of travel you prefer, I think a person can learn a lot with days away from their regular routine.  Here are some Barca lessons from our newly formed travel team: Corey D, May, Mrs. Woo, and myself.

  1. If you see a set of  outdoor tables packed with diners, don’t just pull up a chair with the crowd.  Take note of the table cloths.  These differentiate between eating the most popular pinchos on the block and the frozen-to-fried food at Punjabi Bar 😦 , the opportunistic restaurant whose tables are mixed in with the others!  At least we learned this lesson in our first 2 hours of arriving Barcelona.
  2. Definitely score some jamon and salami at the local markets.  Definitely say ‘Puedo probar?’ to taste a few morsels, and definitely ask the gentleman to slice your purchases unless you’re keen for an arm workout using the dull knife at the airbnb.  Corey D and May took the first jamon-slicing shift for our happy hour of baguette, yummy cured meat, olives, tomatoes, and an inexpensive bottle of red from the grocery store.
  3. Check out the Caixa Forum for free arts events.  It was an easy walk from our Poble-Sec apartment to see Julia Colom Quartet, a jazz group giving a free show.  Bonus: the concert ended in time for us to check out the Magic Fountain across the street!
  4. Lesson Four: Ask the servers what their favorite thing is on the menu… even if it feel obvious that you’re going to order some form of octopus at the restaurant called Pulpetto.  Our server pointed us towards the steak!? It was the best thing we ate that night.
  5. Wake up just a little earlier to take the long road.  You never know when you’ll need to stop to admire the street art, or shop at the bric-a-brac market along the port to purchase a cataplana copper clam-shaped plate with your friend’s girlfriend’s mom’s Euro?!  I only later learned that I’d need a gas range to cook with this treasure, but I’ll figure that out later.
  6. Keep up the daily learning by taking a walking tour- I’ve had great experiences with the Sandeman group offering pay-what-you-will prices.  Below, the cliff notes of the tour.

This square is where local came to pay taxes or came to watch an execution.  Our guide shared that Columbus walked these steps to meet Queen Isabella who sponsored his trip to the Americas. When asked who wanted to take a picture on the stairs, no one in the group budged.

Picasso’s frieze depicts various Catalonian traditions that were suppressed under the Franco regime.  It looks like a painting, but it’s a sandblasting technique with very small black stones engrained into a larger stone slab.fullsizeoutput_1b7c

We visited the historically Jewish quarter which you’d nearly miss if someone didn’t point it out.  During the Spanish Inquisition, any non-Catholic holy space had to be built lower than any Catholic space.  The synagogue’s windows were practically at the same level as the street.

This neighborhood used to be where the town met the sea port, the poorest area in town. This church was built by the port workers, men who after finishing their work on the ships, would carry stones from the quarry over a mountain to ensure a church was built in this neighborhood.  The workers are memorialized at the church entrance.

Mulberry Graveyard and Independence Square are the reminders of Catalan’s history of nationalism, and its turbulent history with the rest of the nation.  The Catalonians turned on the Spanish crown in the War of Spanish Succession in the early 1700s.  This traitorous act was confronted in the siege of Barcelona.  Starving Catalonia defenders were killed as the Spanish military stormed the city, and buried the men and boys in the square now known as the Mulberry Graveyard and Independence Square.  The crown establish a military base in Barcelona with many of the canons pointing inwards as a reminder of the pecking order in Spain.  There is an eternal flame in the red arching structure, and currently, the square is frequented by locals pushing for Catalonian independence.

World Expo Park and Arc de Triumph:  Our guide shared that the 1992 Olympic Games launched Barcelona into the world of international tourism.  The city used its funds to build a decent stadium, but one far less elaborate than many of the arenas we see today.  The city focused using funds money into the city’s transportation and port infrastructure.  The stadium’s location overlooked the sea and the city so that viewers around the world would see the Olympic events televised against a beautiful backdrop.  The first year of Olympic beach volleyball couldn’t be hosted without sand, so the city imported Egyptian sand to build the beaches– beaches that remain a magnet for tourism.  Finally, the Arc De Triumph isn’t an arc commemorating a war, but rather a ‘welcome gate’ into the garden park promenade.

7. Lesson Seven: Linger after the tour to ask your guide for local lunch suggestions.  You’ll end up at a spot like Joanet, in a shady plaza, eating baby squid and broadbeans with the perfect house white.

8. Top tip: check out which museums offer free hours.  We saw an incredible photography exhibit at the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona (CCCB).  The World Press Photo Contest rewards photographers who’ve contributed to the past year of visual journalism.

I squeezed every last minute out of this weekend with Corey D, May, and Mrs. Woo!  Looking forward to more spontaneous adventures soon.