Firenze: Freddo e Riscaldamento

Europe is in a cold snap. It’s severe to the east, but you know a snap is a real snap when it’s 20F in Tuscany.

Piazza San Marco, brrr.

The wind blows down the narrow canyons of the city center. My teeth rattle so hard when I am riding my bike that I can’t tell if it’s more from the uneven flagstones or the cold.

A woolen and cashmere peacoat provides insufficient protection, so mine has been retired until it warms up a bit again. I am straight-up piumino, or down coat (Ital., piume, feather, piumino, little feather, or down). My favorite. The one I bought in Arezzo four years ago, is brown and features a zipper and snaps and a positively Sapmi fur-trimmed hood with a drawstring. Harness the reindeer, I’ll be right down! No one recognizes me on the street in the piumino, and the two times someone did, I was surprised, because I look more hedgehog than human in it. Now I’m really mixing similes – I don’t even think Finland has any hedgehogs.

All bundled up. Following: various piumini solutions.

Slovenian park bench piumini.

Family piumini on vacation, plus Slovenian princess with no piumino.
Piumino incognito
San Marco piumini, waiting for the C1.
 Everyone has a piumino, and everyone wears the piumino. It is a grand Italian solution. NO wind at all can be felt through its padded, stitched layers.

We should have taken the clue from the hot water bottle someone left behind in our apartment that the winter months here might feel historic. Our heat works, but the building is old, and insulation is not its strong point. Many of the very warm heat registers are conveniently located under large windows. Those casements are both historically evocative and drafty.

I’d also brought my Scando hot water bottle back from the US (again, an Italian purchase from a design store in San Lorenzo four years ago, now shuttered), so I deployed those this week. The kids are fascinated.

Victor: What’s that?
Mom: A hot water bottle.
V: Why?
Me: To keep you warm.
V: How??
M: I put hot water in it. It stays warm most of the night. We tuck it into your bed. (I should mention here that his BMI must hover around 5 at present due to back-to-back November illness: five days of fever, then a tummy rampage.) They did this during horsey times.
V: They didn’t have heat in horsey times?
M: Well, they did, but it was not awesome.
V: Did they have pillows and blankets?
M: Yes.
Jason: Their pillows were made of rocks.
M: Do you want the hot water bottle?
V: I don’t know.

Sheep look much better with their skins on.

Taking an executive decision following his unhelpful user input, I made the hot water bottle and put it in his little bed, dressing it in a 3T t-shirt. We also have a few fake sheepskins purchased at IKEA, which are, undoubtedly, better than having a skinned sheep in the house. I mean – knit a blanket. Don’t peel the sheep and dry it out; it’s not 600 CE. The fake sheepskins each go under a small chi
ld at night. They are a total nighttime hit.

Victor loves the hot water bottle. Between fake sheepskin and hot water bottle, he is getting cozy sleep in his single bed. He woke up yesterday morning, and holding the hot water bottle up. said, “This is a problem. It is cold.” I told him the bottle cannot stay warm indefinitely. “Why?” Because it is the nature of hot water to lose heat. He is not impressed with physics.

Eleanor shares the Scando hot water bottle with me, as it is clothed in its own cover of brown fleece, with a baby reindeer on it. I have thought before that it might be a baby giraffe, but now I am almost positive it is a reindeer. Maybe a baby reindeer. What do you think? Zoom in.

My favorite wintertime accessory in Tuscany.

Eleanor on Tuesday night saw me filling the hot water bottles from our old kettle on the gas hob, and said, “Mommy! Coffee pillow!” She continues to call it that, which I love. Don’t stop.

Maybe there’s a market for that. A hot water bottle filled with coffee for mamas with creative streaks and packed days…

A final note. I just had to include these. Life imitates art.

Eleanor with a dolly in nido,
checking baby Billy Idol for lice
Victor on Slovenian trampoline looking suspiciously similar…

Slovenia: People Abroad

We made our move this morning from Bled to Ljubljana in car. A very short car ride! This is not a big country. With just 2 million people and a lot of forest and mountains, the distances to cover are not great, yet they offer much by way of quality scenery. We are settling in to our Airbnb rental home in the stare mesto (old town), across from a size M church with an XXL campanile – the Trnovo Church.

Trnovo Church, outside our front door. 

 Vic mugging on Eippurova ulica close to our house

 Picturesque brewery a few steps from where we’re staying

International graffiti – a perennial draw

A few observations about people abroad:

Slovenes dress more like Americans than do Italians. I was startled to see adults in daylight wearing two-piece sweatsuits. Our children look less vagrant than they tend to do by comparison in Italy. People are bigger here, probably due to the unofficial “every meal meat” policy. Plus pastry as often as possible. There’s less coffee. In fact, hardly any espresso!

It was very easy to pick out the Italians at Bled for their neat fits and nice glasses. And nice hair. And nice everything. It’s not that the Slovenes did not also have nice down coats and Desigual suede boots and new jeans. But everything just seemed to not fit as well.

Italians always look extra sparkly no matter where they are. Please, Italy, rub off on me. Let me age as graciously as an 80-year-old Florentine grandmother spinning through town on her bike with her friend in a down coat and lipstick, 10,000 steps per day and varied groups for dinner each evening while Chianti pours modestly!

Ok… back to Slovenia…

Our Kinderhotel in Bled

As I picked my way down the hill from the hotel to the lake with Eleanor in a borrowed stroller, we came across a rather large group of Americans who were as perplexed as we were regarding the stair situation in Bled. We mumbled something to each other regarding outcroppings of rock on the slanted dirt path. The assertive middle-aged father promptly asked me where I was from.

“We live in Italy,” I said.
“Oh!” he replied. “We live in Belgium.” He gestured to his wife, children, and a very tired looking mother in law who was making her way uphill with an oxygen cart and a walker. (Excellent advance research, people.) “Why you in Italy? Military, or business?”
“Neither,” I replied. “Academia.”
“Well, happy new year to you, too!” He turned around and started talking to his family again.
It took me a moment to realize what had just happened. I laughed.

I appreciate a little “welcome to destination X” trivia myself. Slovenia, as I regaled Jason with smartphone-channelled wiki help in the car, was the first former Communist country to go straight-up EU. Its annual per capita is >$32k. It is a wealthy country here. With that population of just 2 million, there is no danger of any Slovexit. A Prussian history has given them, no doubt, a well-fortified education system, as Slovenes were the most literate and well-educated immigrants to come through Ellis Island, at an impressive 90%. Ljubljana definitely maintains a smart intello vibe with its 50,000 students.

Victor and I had a post-sundown saunter into Ljubljana center together tonight, walking on a wide sidewalk down a main arterial. He trilled numbers and destinations as the busses purred by, all electric, all full. Congress Square was decked out for the holidays in lights as a band completed a soundcheck for an imminent concert.

We hit the H&M for a few things (also learning that “moski” means “men,” which is fun), got some money out, scoped out a kiosk to buy our new vijneta prior to setting back out for Italy on the 30th, and did some legwork on how the buses work and where to buy tickets. We also saw the electric train doing its loop. I love that our children are seeing firsthand how and where things are different, and good, and that the world is a welcoming and varied place. Vic’s urban calm and confidence really struck me tonight as I watched him move through crowds, his bright green and yellow Oregon stocking cap in place under his hood. Wow, I thought, he sees things and he just wants to try, try, try. He was practically ready to hop onto a bus without me. I pointed out that we had not paid great attention on the way in and so were not exactly sure which number to take (9, as it turns out, direction: Stepanskij Naselje). He booked the return 1.5k with me in the dark with nary a fuss nor a whimper. That’s my boy! I thought with pride.

 Bridge next to where we are staying

 Stare mesto – centro

  Stare mesto – centro

 Stare mesto – centro – Congress Square with Ljubljana castle in background

“Mommy, do you have any tissue?”
“Gahh! No, Victor, I am so sorry, I forgot. Use your mitten, we can wash…”
“That’s ok, mommy. I already licked it.”

[I am a hopeless shutterbug – making up for years as a young traveller who was to shy to take any pictures, and too poor to afford decent film or hardware!]

Firenze – Treviso – Postojna, Slovenia

Alas and alack! I had planned to blog our Christmas trip to the Slavic lands, but unfortunately the Blogger app is not working on the phone. Further, and understandably, I did not bring my laptop.

Our destination lay a mere five hours from Florence, but with autostrada traffic and two small children in the back, we knew we would have to break it up at least once if not twice. Our plan: to hit the Autogrille in Bologna, and then to meet with our friends Tomaso and Francesca at their house in Treviso for lunch with their two young children.

Note: Tomaso and I both studied abroad in the same year in Strasbourg, France 20 years ago and recently attended a reunion in the UK last month with a number of other people who had also accompanied us on the journey of that glorious Gallic year.

The lunch having concluded at an appropriate Italian hour of 4 p.m., with ample barolo, panettone, and coffee, we set off for Slovenia as the sunset over the Adriatic Sea, with Jason monitoring the GPS on both his iPhone and the car’s system. Night fell and fell quickly. We were unfamiliar with the landscape and so did not recognize the mountains and the lights atop them for what they were, thinking instead that they were low flying airplanes. We were promptly pulled over at the border by a Slovenian Highway Patrol, who threw broken English convey to us the fact that we had failed to equip our rented Italian car with a proper Slovenian documentation to use on Slovenian highways. The vijneta is a sort of prepaid annual traffic toll. The officials asked for all of our documents and documentation, took numerous pictures of us in our car, and finally returned to say that we would be allowed to drive and continue on our trip if we were to pay them 15 euros for the document for the car and a 150 euro fine. 
“That’s too much!” Victor helpfully yelled from the back seat. 
 “I don’t have that kind of money, Jason told her. We will just turn around and go back to Italy and not do our trip here in Slovenia.”
“Of course this is a scam,” Jason muttered.  After long minutes the female officer returned to our car. 
Jason again muttered, either they’re going to arrest me or we will continue on our trip. The officer gave us a receipt for our 15 euros and did not charge us a fine at all. She wished us a Merry Christmas, and we were on our way. 
We arrived at our albergo agriturismo at what felt like midnight after many wrong turns in the pitch black. Dinner was laid out for us. We all went to bed under thick eiderdowns atop soft mattresses dreaming of the magical caves we were to see the next morning.
Jason woke me up at three. “Eleanor has a fever,” he said. 
The next morning we gave Eleanor some baby Tylenol and headed to the caves, Postojna Jama. They were never mines but always just tourist attractions so did not extend deeply but rather very far into the limestone mountains of the karst. So far in fact that we had to take a train! Well, that was exciting. 

We stopped at a Lidl to provision and headed back to the hotel. Jason and I split the nap. In the second half, Victor and I toured the farm.

When Eleanor awoke from her nap, she was hot, sluggish and cranky. And wheezing. Etc. After a quick consultation with the office we decided to take her back into town for some urgent care.
I was concerned she had an ear infection, bronchitis, or both. The Postojna hospital was all but deserted. Eventually a very unofficial looking woman came out and directed us down the hall. The urgent care clinic was more ambulance driver depot. We sat in the hall for some time. Jason called a hospital in Trieste who confirmed they could see us right away if we made the 30 minute drive.
Eleanor looked worse. 
We finally went and knocked on the door and told them that we would take Eleanor back to Italy if they were not able to see us, or if they were unable to call a doctor. We were quickly assured by a paramedic that a doctor would see us soon. 
Moments later we were ushered in and Eleanor was immediately attended to by no less than two doctors two nurses and two paramedics and some other sundry staff who were wandering around to help out. It was clear that they had no routine experiencing 2 year old with fevers, as they subjected her to a battery of diagnostics that were impressive to say the least. Her oxygen saturation was checked multiple times, as was her blood pressure and resting heart rate, as well as a blood panel to check her white blood cell count before they can make a definitive diagnosis. We were there for about an hour and a half. Finally they said that she did not have an ear infection, and bronchitis was borderline, but they were going to give her a nebulizer treatment. After having been messed with for so long Eleanor was in no mood for such a treatment but she did it through tears. 
They wrote us prescriptions and told us that we could come back the next day for another treatment because the doctor also wanted to see Eleanor again. It was a very international staff that spoke English and Italian from Slovenia and Serbia. The cost for all of this care? 11 euros. Parking was 4 euros. Eleanor characteristically gave the Serbian doctor a running hug and warm embrace before we left.
Back at the hotel everybody was feeling better and so we went to dinner again which was infinitely easier with a baby in better spirits.  
We returned to the hospital today for Eleanor’s follow-up nebulizer treatment, with the same staff who had seen us before last night and greeted us like old friends, due in no small part to Eleanor’s superb social skills. The Serbian doctor pronounced Eleanor much-improved, and we gave her our panettone and gratitude for their wonderful care.
More to come! We are on the road until December 30.