"called to build the kingdom first through the romance and adventure of our home..."


Europe Trip | Day 2 | Palace of Venaria

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
(Giuseppe Verdi)

This second day was our only rainy/poor weather day of the trip... and I'm actually really glad we got to see it! As we drove south from the Alps to the Northern Italy Coast we looked out our windows adoringly. Caleb couldn't stop talking about the towns "nestled" into the hills, "tucked" into the land, and "perched" on the cliffs. The fog puffs rolled in and out and it all felt cinematic and brooding. We loved it.

However, we had to make sure we made the most of the day! Honestly, Caleb and I could carry on with any travel plans in the rain. Rain jackets, umbrellas, and darting in and out of buildings is no problem. But the kids. It's another story when little ones are slipping, cold, strapped-in, and uncomfortable! I wanted to make sure we still "experienced Italy" but indoors. Palace of Venaria it was! (I was inspired by Naomi Davis who has taken her kids into many castles/palaces/tours while traveling.)

I'm SO glad it rained.

Otherwise we may not have stopped and made an indoor solution work. And this was one of the best memories of the whole trip. It was not crowded in the slightest, the kids could roam around the big rooms, and then run around the Galleria Grande. I was happy as a plum to take our time enjoying the splendor (snapping pictures furiously) and Caleb inspected the doors, trim, and engravings in awe. 

There are 54 rooms to go through (I don't think we hit them all! haha But we did at least a few dozen!) filled with history of the home. It was built in the late 1600's by Charles Emmanuel for, what I can tell, basically a bragging right and "honor" for his wife, Marie Jeanne Baptiste, Regent of Savoy.  It was all the rage. Buying towns and building manors. It was also his hunting lodge *straight line mouth emoji* It turned into a military hub during Napoleon's era and was used as a training facility by the Italian government much after.

But now, happily, the gardens and buildings are restored to their former glory... and glorious they are! The art and building detail was head-spinning. Like walking through Tuscan Pemberley.

This item on display was one of my favorite parts of the visit: an enormous hand-drawn family tree. The intricacy and printer-like quality...!

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When I shared a picture from this visit on Instagram, a few people asked me how I took such a great picture while traveling. The quick answer? We had ton of time, no crowds to fight, and I wanted to! Haha The longer answer is, well, you know "the best-laid plans of mice and men..."  Just because a mama is hopeful doesn't mean "it" is going to happen! My general rule of thumb for travel pictures with the kids is: setting and characters. Meaning, I'll take pictures of the places and the stuff ("the setting") all on its own, and then try to get the kids against a wall or on a bench or anywhere, really, during that day. I know I can compile these images together for an album, or, say, a blog post, to tell the story of the day. I don't HAVE to have the kids in all the stage-setting shots, since Lord knows they're probably face-first into the stroller basket looking for a cookie. "Never try to make a happy child happier!" And certainly never try to make a happy child upset haha!

If I've been able to do both things I start to gain traction and courage and think about getting the characters IN the setting. If anyone ever offers to "take a picture of the four of you" I always say yes (we had a number taken this trip... and a couple were perfect!!). Then once the kids have been documented I sometimes let myself try to get a shot of just Caleb and I that isn't a selfie. Practically speaking, this means I'm manning the camera and he's manning the kids for the most part. When I've gotten what I want (or things are starting to fall apart and I'm needed), I put my camera away and turn that part of my brain off. And for me, since I am a photographer, having my camera out and being in "picture mode" doesn't take me away from the present. Truthfully, when I'm even taking pictures with my phone I feel that pull away from the moment -- tapping a screen and seeing it through a flashcard size window. But when I am using my camera it's almost a tool to focus in on the moment; to absorb the scene. Maybe how some journal about a travel day or listen to certain music to set the tone/memory in place. I believe what I'm doing is useful and good for our little family history; something we and our kids and hopefully their kids! will look back on someday and I also find it personally fun. Anywho, there's the long answer!

I was worried we wouldn't get pictures of us "in the setting" and I couldn't stand it because everything was SO beautiful. I took a few of Rowdy playing, and then selfies in a mirrored door... but I needn't have worried! There was pleeeenty of time for pictures, and even setting the camera aside in the Galleria Grande.

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This is the exact view you see when you push past the curtain doorway to enter the room. We stopped in our tracks and my heart began to race. Overwhelming in the grandest, most inspiring ways.

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We spent about 20-30 minutes in here! The kids played tag, rolled on the floor, looked out the windows, and enjoyed their echoes. We could not BELIEVE that no one else was in here!! Other groups walked through and I saw maybe two people snap a picture. But no one stopped. Everyone just walked through like a hallway. I guess when you're from Italy and you've seen it all, this ain't much? I don't know. We were enthralled. Right before we were ready to go I thought Caleb and I should try to get a pretty shot. This was the luckiest iPhone selfie ever. One try!! (Caleb had been so sweet, too. He grabbed me up in a big swaying hug and burst out "This is so romantic!" I love his easily-moved, affectionate wonder. That's part of why I wanted a "real" picture of us to remember. It had been a "real" memorable moment not just as a family, but as a couple. He brings out the softie in me ;) And even convinced me to be in front of the camera solo. *horrors* it didn't last long but... that happened?

As we walked out we chatted about how many little royal Savoy children had done the exact same thing our kids just did and how, no, I don't need a souvenir hand towel from the gift shop. Two villages and a palace will do. 😘

Ps. They host an actual Grand Ball here! Look!

Up next! Portofino & St. Margherita!

Europe Trip | Day 1 | Chamonix + Annecy

"So ask the travelled inhabitant of any nation, 'In what country on earth would you rather live?' — 'Certainly in my own, where are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest & sweetest affections and recollections of my life. Which would be my second choice? France.'"
(Thomas Jefferson)

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This trip. Wow. It is quite hard to know where to begin. Caleb and I, like probably very many and very average dating couples, had always talked about wanting to visit Europe together, specifically Italy and France.

After six years of keeping that desire near the top of the list, we had halfway decided to take a two or three week trip whenever we went across the pond. Enough time to see the heart and coast of Italy, the home of the great "rebirth of literature, music, philosophy, other arts, and science." The Alps, the prestigious Milan, always-a-good-idea Paris, roving vineyards, valleys, and hills in Tuscany, Cannes (after falling in love with it thanks to Mr. Bean), the small town used as inspiration for Belle's hometown in Beauty & The Beast, Provence, the stacked colorful buildings on the Mediterranean Sea, Versailles. Central and South France to Northern and Central Italy, please.

As it goes, we were never finding just the right price, the right hunk of time, the right schedule. "Before we have kids!" (ha.), "Before Rowdy turns two so he's still free..." (ha.) "Before we have another baby!" (ha!) After a couple milestones went by, and enticed by the best deal I've seen on Groupon Getaways in years of hunting, the time had come. We would have to "split" our "perfect" (pffft, don't get me wrong... what we did was divine) plan into two smaller trips, but we had to stop talking about it and just go. So, we did five actual days in Italy with one actual day in the French Alps, plus three travel days bookending the whole experience. The "bottom half" of our original plan, for 1/3 of the price that I'd seen otherwise! I can't say enough about how spectacular each and every day was. 

Sometimes people (me included) utilize the skill of photography and presentation to make an event or moment look better than it really was. In this case, photographs and words fall shamefully short. I can't describe how blue the air was, how close the snow-capped cliffs hugged in every direction, how thrilling the chilled air was to inhale, how charming building after building after building, how quiet and still the town sat. (This was us for 85% of the week). 

So! France, you were an elegant tease and we will be back for more! After leaving Orlando at 5 am, taking the train downtown to Madison Square Garden for lunch, and trekking back to the airport, we flew eight hours from New York to Milan, landing at 8:00 am Italian Time, which was 2:00 am our time, a time we could easily be going to bed! Phew. Everyone's advice was to push through it. So we did. But jet lag hit harder than we expected... it was tough to pull that "all-nighter" physically. Thankfully our day's plans fueled us with Trenta sized cups of adrenaline and shots of majesty to keep us awake! We got into our rental car and drove almost three hours into Chamonix and glorious Mount Blanc, where we wandered about and ate lunch, then left in late afternoon for Annecy, arriving about an hour later.

We checked into our hotel and loaded the kids up to meet our friend Sylvie for the evening. She is in school in Geneva and we were both bridesmaids in our mutual best friends weddings last year. In-between timeline changes and jewelry sharing, we talked a number of times about seeing her in Europe this coming year. It was wonderful to have made it happen! And SO great to have a familiar face, long dinner conversation, and delightful friend to spend the evening with. We fell in love with France that night, Annecy in particular. It was our favorite place in the whole trip. The mountains, the lake, the winding alleys, the bridges covered in moss and ivy, the flowers flowers flowers, the lack of marketing for tourists, the colors and detail on the buildings, the food and wine and CROISSANTS, the cleanliness, the pale blue glacial water flowing through town. Ugh, I still wonder if it was a real place or if I was walking through a dream.

Alright, without further ado, the pictures:


So tired / "so funny" / but so happy! Summer slept the whole flight to Milan! Good thing because the rest of us didn't ;)

Our first meal! We kept saying "I don't know if this is good or if we're just really tired and hungry... BUT THIS IS SO GOOD." The bread and cheese, especially... a refrain we repeated many a time.


Hey pretty Sylv! You're a good one. Thank you for the effort, the "chill" with our crazy kids, all we talked about, and affirming our wonder. If Sylvie says Annecy is "a special place," it must be true. She's seen far more than we have!

Caleb's favorite setting/spot in the entire trip! Oh, I wish I could get a picture to really capture all the details of it! 

Every turn and street was more darling and romantic than the next.

I'm proud of these babies! It was a long day and they were little troopers. Not without breakdowns, but they didn't quit. And they really had so much fun, like they could sense the specialness or excitement!

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Not bad for 20 hours of travel and 36 without sleep! ha! #keepbackingup

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Oooooh! Melts my heart. He was so happy!

What We Ate: 

Vinistrot / Red wine, charcuterie, steak, greens, and frites. (One of our favorite meals!!)
Phillipe Rigollot / Croissant and dessert (IN-sane! A Sylvie reccomendation!)
Cafe Valentino / Garlic bread, pasta, pizza, salad

A Few iPhone Snaps:

Up next: Beginning our Italian leg of the adventure, starting in Turin and Venaria!