Monday, July 4, 2011

through the middle ages to Bella Italia

After we got back from the US, time was flying by and before we knew it, it was time to go on vacation! Despite what some of you might think ("These Koller's are always on vacation, living the high life..." ;)) we actually both have a pretty busy schedule. April is juggling all the responsibilities of the household: getting kids ready on time in the morning, getting Jonas to school, running errands in between picking Jonas up, going to the grocery store with not always cooperative kids, fixing lunch for everybody, then trying to get them to nap at the same time... only to get them up again after a much too short nap, feeding them some snacks in between them fighting over who gets to play with the toy motorcycles or airplanes and wanting to ride bikes outside. And when it is finally time for them to go to sleep and her having some well deserved quiet time, the hubby comes home and unloads a whole day's worth of frustration at work... Sometimes I wonder who's actually more work for April, the kids or the hubby ;) Either way, she is such a blessing to all of our lives!

We do manage to get an occasional weekend trip in, like this one to a Medieval market in Zurich downtown at the end of May, with good food and drink, as well as many medieval attractions and contraptions. Oh, and the sword and weapon makers are a vital part of the festival.

All in all a fun family experience, leaving Jonas dreaming about when we can go to a real knights festival, with sword fights, jugglers, harlequins and all... We'll try to make that happen later this year. 

Once in a while we also still make it down to Zurich Seefeld, to our old stomping grounds when we first arrived in this strange alpine nation. On a beautiful day, the park in Seefeld right at Lake Zurich is always worth a trip. And not only because Jonas absolutely loves riding the train on the way there.

Sara is growing up incredibly fast. I find it hard to believe that while she doesn't talk much, yet, she seems to have an opinion on everything she does already! And most of the time she knows exactly what she wants. Which is usually what Jonas is playing with at any given moment.

Isn't she adorable? She's got Daddy wrapped around her finger already...

Jonas is growing up almost too fast. The conversations we have with him make me almost forget that he is not even four, yet! I think his vocabulary is more extensive than Daddy's...and he uses it constantly. He is displaying a wide range of interests, one day it is Dinosaurs (and for a lot of them he still has the names memorized), the next day it is airplanes and airports and yet another day he wants to know everything about Motorcycles.

Talking about Motorcycles, I was watching "Red Bull Fighters" the other night.  If you haven't seen it, it is a motorcycle competition with guys on dirt bikes doing loops and flips on their motorcycles. I DVR'd it, because (contrary to April's explicit wishes ;)) I had to show this to Jonas. Of course he is loving it, and he's been talking about buying a race motorcycle, and a dirt motorcycle, and a road motorcycle ever since...

One of the following weekends, Oma and Uncle Toby came to visit, and we took a fun trip to the Rheinfalls at Schaffhausen, Europe's largest waterfalls (I think), basically a European Mini version of Niagara Falls...

It was a fun time for everybody, and we got to spend some quality time with Oma and Uncle Toby.

Then, finally, it was time for our long awaited vacation to Bella Italia.

After an overnight stop in Milano (which other than the Duomo is really not all that great, April and I agreed), we arrived at our quaint Fattoria Castiglionchio, a medieval farm in Tuscany, 10 miles outside of Florence. In the middle ages it was semi-fortified farm, which was owned by different weathy Florentine families. Tuscany has quite a few of these Fattorias, which were organized as self-sufficient communities, where many families lived and worked the surrounding vineyards, olive groves and other land. The place we stayed at had a Tower (which was part of a wider defense system in this part of the country), community kitchen and even a small church.
The current owners bought the Castiglionchio and surrounding land in the mid-1970's and over time started to convert the quarters for the farmworkers and their families, as well as the owner's quarters into vacation apartments. Beautiful place, if you ever plan a vacation in Tuscany, we can highly recommend it!

From our Fattoria we took several day trips to Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Siena and a few small cities along the road. We'll just post pictures, that says it all about how beautiful Italy and in particular the Tuscany region is.

The kids enjoyed the trip a lot as well. Oma and Opa spent the week in Italy with us, which was a lot of fun, and the kids got a lot of quality time with them. The grounds around the Fattoria had quite a bit to offer for kids, and made for a perfect backdrop for some beautiful pictures as well. Take a look...

Then, after we got back from our Italian vacation, our dear friends Jessica and Tyson arrived! They spent a week here in the Zurich area, where April showed them around Zurich and Luzern. It is amazing that while they were here, we went to downtown Zurich for dinner one night, and we finally found a really good restaurant with French and Swiss cuisine. It was great!So good in fact that not even the check at the end of the meal could ruin the experience any more... It was worth it, and we will definitely go there again. Not too often though, because if we haven't mentioned it yet, eating out too often can break the bank real quick in these parts...

And then, to end a perfect week, we drove to Oma's house near Stuttgart to drop off the kids and headed to our favorite city in Germany. Or for April maybe in Europe outside of Italy :)

We had a great time showing Tyson and Jessica around our old stomping grounds, enjoying the streets of Munich, the English Garden, the Viktualienmarkt and other sights.
 A mandatory stop was the famous Hofbraeuhaus, where we enjoyed some Bavarian food and drink. They always have live music and it is a unique atmosphere. The waiter was quite unfriendly, and even more so after saw his tip, but luckily that guy does not brew the beer, which as a matter of fact is excellent there.

The next day we went to one of our favorites, the Weisses Braeuhaus. We love it there, food and beer are wonderful, and the place itself is beautifully decorated. If you happen to be in Munich, definitely check it out.

Oh, and last but not least, April and I ventured into a "Trachten-Shop" in Munich, where we found a great deal on some Lederhosen outfits. April looked adorable in the "Dirndl", however in the end decided against purchasing it.

I on the other hand, after much deliberation and repeated  encouragement from friends and spouse, am now the proud owner of an original and complete Lederhosen outfit. Expect to see me show up in style at the Charlotte Oktoberfest once we are back. And I guess I will have to go to the Munich Oktoberfest again this year :) Anybody want to join?

This was our eventful month of July. Many great memories and great time with family and friends.