To Market, To Market, Again

Before we left the United States we really weren’t that familiar with the concept of a city market. Back in Maine we often shopped at our weekly farmer’s market during the summer, but it wasn’t until we traveled to San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico that we experienced our first “real market”. Markets that sell everything from spoons to live animals all packed tightly into one space. We were amazed and a bit overwhelmed by all the colors, sights, and sounds of so many people coming together to buy their food, clothes, and household goods. The crowds and closely packed space of the market along with the many types of meat displayed out in the open made the San Cris. market a bit of a challenge for our family of claustrophobic, vegans. However, we loved the convenient location and the super friendly vendors.

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When we arrived in Italy we discovered that Lucca is home to a street market as well. Every Wednesday and Saturday just down the road from our rental apartment vendors would park vans and trucks along a closed off street to sell clothing, flowers, household supplies and produce. We were particularly surprised to discover that most of the vendors were selling socks and underwear. If you were in need of undergarments you could buy anything from fancy lingerie to sensible dress socks. Alas, with our SmartWools and Fruit of the Looms holding up well we didn’t do much business at this market.

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Now that we are in Split, Croatia we are once again experiencing a city market. In fact Split has two market areas. The market to the East of Diocletian’s Palace is quite large with vendors selling clothing (lots of underwear vendors here too), produce, meat, and household goods. To the West of Diocletian’s Palace is the fish market, or in Croatian the Ribarnica. This market is super easy to find due to the smell, and it is housed in its own building. While the smell of the fish market is hard to miss the Younger Fives were excited to find that the rest of the meat sold at the Split market is kept behind refrigerated cases. They will probably never get over literally coming face to face with dead chickens in Mexico.

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Up, Up, and Up Again: Exploring Split’s Marjan

Lucca, Italy has two large playgrounds just beneath the wall, as well as two smaller ones on top of the wall.

Lucca, Italy has two large playgrounds just beneath the wall, as well as two smaller ones on top of the wall.

When we left Lucca, Italy for Split, Croatia the Younger Fives were pretty bummed to leave behind Lucca’s wall and the four nearby playgrounds. We actually chose to live in Lucca out of every other city in Italy because it had such a great play-space for children. Not many cities can compete with a pedestrian friendly wall encircling the entire city, peppered with well maintained playgrounds? However, now that we have visited Split’s Marjan we can safely say that it gives Lucca a run for its money.

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The Marjan is a massive, forested hill that takes up the entire peninsula to the west of Split’s Old Town. To access the Marjan you start climbing sets of stairs that begin just off of the waterfront promenade. The kids had a blast racing each other up the stairs and looking back on Diocletian’s Palace from the scenic view points. However, they were completely amazed when we emerged into a Pine forest about half-way up the hill. The trees are huge, and we haven’t actually been in a forest since last march when we visited Sequoia National Park, so we were all giddy with excitement. As soon as the kids noticed the playground and three amazing climbing structures they were off like shots to spend the next hours playing under the trees.

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We couldn’t have imagined how good it would feel to be back in a forest breathing clean air with no cars buzzing by, or noise from nearby roads. Lately we have been hard hit by how much we miss being out in nature. Even on Lucca’s wall we were always within eye sight of cars and trucks zooming past. However, on the Marjan it was so quiet, and the air was so clean that you wouldn’t believe that the city of Split was just a short distance away. It was hard for us to pull ourselves away, but finally we rallied the troops and finished climbing the last set of stairs to the top of the hill.

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At the very top of the hill is a large observation area with amazing views of Split and the Mosor mountains to the North, and the Adriatic and nearby islands to the South. The top of the hill is know as the Telegrin (telegraph). It gets its name from the optical station of telegraph that Napoleon’s troops installed at the start of the 19th century. While the rest of our day included scrambling along the rocks and enjoying a picnic lunch we can’t wait to go back to discover the many other exciting treasures that this gem of a public park offers, including hermitage caves dating back to the 15th century. A visit to the Marjan will definitely become part of our weekly routine while we are here in Split.

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The Best Souvenirs

DSC06240-picsayBefore we get too far into the new year and our adventures in Croatia we wanted to share an amazing find from our trip to Venice, Italy. While exploring the streets along the canals of Venice we found ourselves surrounded by shops selling magnificently decorated masks. Venice has a long history of masks which were worn during the celebration of Carnival, but also at other times of the year to hide identity or social status.

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While we usually don’t buy souvenirs (they take up too much space in our luggage) we couldn’t resist leaving Venice with masks of our own. We were overjoyed to discover that most shops sold undercoated masks for only 1 or 2 Euros. These masks are an unbelievable bargain compared to any other souvenir that we have come across, and they are amazingly well constructed. They tie with beautiful ribbons and don’t break after being dropped multiple times onto hard surfaces (the kids had fun testing that out).

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Once we returned home we saved the decorating of our masks for New Year’s Eve. It made the perfect activity leading up to the late night festivities. Once all the masks were decorated (we used markers, but paints, glitter, stickers or even fabric would work as well) we tied them on had great fun pretending that our New Year’s Eve party was actually a masked gala at the palace in Venice 🙂

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Lucca Holiday Potpourri

 

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While Christmas has come and gone here in Lucca, there are still plenty of reminders: holiday lights still span the streets, and our Christmas tree ornaments still hang on our lovely tree pictured above. In the spirit of prolonging that Christmas magic for a little while longer, we wanted to share both our holiday highlights of spending Christmas in Lucca as well as our annual Christmas poem.

 

What was your favorite part about having Christmas in Lucca?

Five of Hearts: Of course I liked Santa coming, presents, stockings, the Christmas tree, decorations, and most of all family. But I really liked getting to check out all the new Christmas things (like the lights and the decorations and watching the ice skaters in Lucca).

Five Ball: I liked when we played Labyrinth as a family.

High Five: I loved when I ate all the dates and Mom told Nana about it, that I ate my brother’s dates. [Parental Note: Let’s hope this doesn’t become a pattern; stealing his brother’s dates in the future will likely lead to high tempers and broken hearts.]

Five Spice: My favorite part was our Christmas tree. We all had a blast making and hanging ornaments together, and the fact that our tree was a lamp made it super easy to light up without having to fuss over finding that one burned-out bulb in the string.

Five String: I loved listening to the church bells as they chimed on Christmas Eve with a special holiday vigor.

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Lucca, Midwinter

Walking backwards on the wall,

Against the flow of feet and time.

The season heeds the church bells’ call,

In tune with carols sung in rhyme.

Piles of leaves have ended fall;

Winter floats on breath that climbs.

Lights are strung across the street

Pavement sings with booted feet

As window shoppers make the beat,

Hot chocolate keeps the skaters warm

To carousels the children swarm

As Santa grins in local form.

 

Another lap, the lights all fade,

Candles glow in drafty rooms.

Roasted swans in pans are laid,

As silent fall the heavy looms.

Children laugh while lutes are played,

Feet on wooden platforms boom.

On Christmas Eve the twelve nights start

In trees are apples, red and tart

The Mass of Christ, a solemn heart,

Which soon gives way to revelry

As gifts are passed from old to wee

Like Magi on Epiphany.

 

Around again, on roads traversed,

By sandals marching out from Rome.

It’s Saturnalia, roles reversed,

With public feasts and gifts at home.

The first are last, the last are first,

Decree the gods beneath the dome.

Masters cleaning out the stable

Servants at the master’s table

Eating all that they are able,

Saffron cakes with honey sheen

Poets capturing the scene

The lares and sprigs of evergreen.

 

A stream of Latin flooding all,

Splashing with its rise and fall,

On wooden tablet, marble wall.

The ink descends, part glue and soot,

Tucked away, in tree roots put,

Stretching forwards, underfoot.

 

A Holiday Happy Birthday

Five of Hearts is a Christmas baby and super proud of it! In fact she has always harbored a secret hope that she is somehow related to Santa. Her dream come true would be to live at the North Pole decorating cookies, hanging ornaments, and singing Christmas carols all year long. We as her family are so very glad that we don’t have to share her with Santa and the elves, and instead get to be with her year-round. She is our very cherished piece of Christmas magic and we all delight in her so much. She lights up every room and makes every day brighter with her generous nature, huge heart, and love of life.

As a Christmas baby she never complains about sharing her birthday. Instead she happily enjoys Christmas and then the next day lets the celebration of her birth begin. As she turned eight this year her father and I were very excited that she wanted to spend a special birthday evening with just us. So, after celebrating with her brothers all day she spent the evening snuggled up with us on the couch watching Chocolat. Five of Hearts adores chocolate as well as Johnny Depp, so she couldn’t have picked a better movie. Being in Lucca where they sell really good vegan chocolate (we stocked up) made the entire evening perfect.

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Five of Hearts has made Christmas infinitely more wonderful since she came into our lives, and we all hope that Santa understands if he ever wants her to join him at the North Pole he’ll have to take us along as well.