Monday, November 19, 2012

Great Gift Idea For Kids... and Adults

Alex's birthday was approaching fast, and I was not ready - I had no idea what to get! While I  LOVE LOVE LOVE giving (and receiving) gifts, I take forever to come up with a great gift idea searching for something special. Luckily, I have a friend who is a walking treasure filled with really great gift ideas. And, like always, she came to the rescue -"Why don't you get him a Betta fish?" she asked.

"Oh no," I said,  "I don't think I could commit to cleaning the tank every few weeks."

"But you don't have to," she replied, "Betta fish lives in a bowl which is pretty easy to clean."

"You mean just like cutie Cleo from Pinoccio?" Oh, that was a really great gift idea!

So we went to a pets' store together, and twenty fun minutes later we came out with a bowl, aquarium gravel, cute little cave for fish to hide in, fake plants, Betta water conditioner, an about Betta fish flyer, and a beautiful Betta fish, of course!
Problem was solved! The gift turned out to be truly special. And Alex called his new friend Feneffie :)

...And now I want my own Betta fish!

With love always,
xo, Zuma A

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Floating Jewel

It is difficult to imagine what people of Spina, Altino, Aquileia, Adria, and Padura, went through during the times of barbarian invasion. Witnessing the brutality, being fearful for their lives and lives of their loved ones was devastating. But those who managed to escape and resettle on the islands in the lagoon did not know that one day they would take control of their lives, grow again, and start building a masterpiece, a city the likes of which is not to be found anywhere in the world - Venice.
In the afternoon when we arrived, the sun was cheerfully shining, spilling its bling all over the Grand Canal. The traffic by the train station was very busy - some people were rushing to get into the water-bus that was already crammed with the passengers, others were trying to catch taxi, water taxi that is...

...A trip to Venice is a surreal experience - I kept wanting to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. And I wasn't. At the moment I was standing on a boat on the way to our hotel enjoying the soft touch of Venetian sun and wind. And only ten minutes later we parked by the hotel. While the doorman was fishing our luggage out of the boat, we checked in and went up to the room. And as we entered, we were up for a treat - our windows were looking at the Grand Canal and Basilica of San Marco... I had to pinch myself again... I felt anxious to get out and explore the city, so we dropped our stuff and off to the boat that was waiting downstairs to take us across the Canal to San Marco Piazza.

The itinerary of the day: lunch at San Marco Piazza, check out Bastilica, and yes, a Gondola ride.
We got back to the hotel late, exhausted from all the information our senses had to process that day.

It was difficult to comprehend how people could come up with the idea of building city on water and make it work by building beautiful little bridges to connect all the dots. Venetians are unique, artistic and sophisticated. It is the only city in Europe that is functioning without motorcars or trucks!

In evening Varuzh and I got to explore the city by foot - we decided to simply get lost in Venice's maze of narrow tiny streets, hoping to find glimpses of daily routine of local life. And we did. We found little tailor shops, tiny fabric stores and art studios, yards with tricycles and Lakers balls waiting for their owners. We saw moms and dads coming back home from work and kids walking home from school, old ladies walking their dogs or hanging laundry outside. Life seemed no different from ours, just different setting...

Ahh, at the moment I realized how much I missed my home, my boys, family and friends... my setting...  I felt I was ready to go back home and face the routine that I was so desperately running away from just a week earlier.

I turned to Varuzh who was standing by the window looking and Grand Canal under the stars.

"I think I am ready to go home," I said.
"Me too," he replied and smiled. He must have thought that we think in sink. He continued standing by the window for a long time, probably thinking about this incredibly beautiful floating city.
With love always,
Zuma A.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A day in Tuscany

At around 7AM I woke up from the sound of the Church Bells ringing. I was sleeping so deeply, that I had to take a moment to process as to where I was. I looked around and found myself in a cute hotel room in the center of beautiful Florence. Varuzh was standing in the balcony listening to the sounds of bells of the Church across the street. He turned to me and said: "Isn't it amazing? This is one of the most beautiful cities in the world!" I was still too sleepy to say anything, but who would disagree with this statement?!

When I finally got up, we went to our favorite shop to get coffee and pastry for breakfast.  Interestingly, I noticed that Florentians don't spend much time on breakfast. They place an order and stay by the counter to chat and finish their choice of sweet pastry and espresso. Then, they wait until the shop owner finally tells them how much they owe. It took me some time to get used to this - I am used to pay for coffee and blueberry scone at Starbucks right upfront!

While I was trying to finalize my choice of pastry, the shop owner Rafael suddenly asked: "So how do you like Florence?"

"Oh, it is amazing... so beautiful," I said.

"So how about if we trade?" he suddenly asked. "I will go to live in California and you stay here." Getting no response from me, he continued: "You can have my home, you can have my shop, you can have everything."

Well, as beautiful as Florence is, I was not willing to trade... and after we walked out of the store, I felt a little sad - Rafael was not the only person who expressed such frustration... Traveling to Florence is not the same as living in Florence. But then, honestly, my life is not a picnic either - I am not a stranger to frustrating days.

We kept walking. Rafael's delicious espresso started kicking in, and the energy of anticipating a day of seeing and learning something new was getting me very excited.

The itinerary of the day: morning walk around the city, visiting the Academy Gallery, wine tasting in Chianti.
 Okay, when I said "visit Academy", I really meant... to see the one and only Michelangelo's David...

... And what can I say - I get very excited about many things, but there are three things in the world of art that wowed me: Da Vinci's Mona Lisa that I've seen in Paris, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and, now, Michelangelo's David.

Yes, seeing David got to be on everyone's bucket list!

Academy is a small place with two halls, one of which belongs entirely to David. And honestly, once you've seen David, you've seen the perfection itself.

We staid at the Academy for quite some time, I just couldn't say good-by; I was in love...

...we had to get to hotel by 2PM to meet our new friend Martina, who would take us to the charming region of Chianti...

...When we finally got back from Chianti, it was already late. The streets were dark, the lights were off with the exception of one restaurant that had soft yellow light glowing through its windows. It looked like a hidden jewel, and we had to walk in.

The restaurant was packed, but the owner managed to get us a table for two. He served us the most delicious food and wine. The day could never end any better way.
I passed out the second my head touched the pillow. I could not imagined that I haven't even seen it all - the next day we were off to Venice...

With love always,
xo, Zuma A.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Three Days In Rome: world wonders, travel tips, and more

After the last few posts, it became obvious that I was in a desperate need of a break... And the trip to one of the most beautiful places on Earth could not come at a better time.

My Honey and I were off to Italy - the land of history, art, music, fashion, culture, love...

Getting ready for a trip is never fun for working parents - we had to complete all the work that had pressing deadlines, make all necessary calls and attend meetings, pack, get Alex ready for his stay with his favorite aunt who generously and bravely offered to take care of him while we were gone... But once we dropped our luggage in the trunk of the car, locked the doors and drove off to the airport, the trip had officially began. 

... The flight was about ten-hour long, so we watched movies, read travel guides and magazines, and dozed off from time to time. Time passed by quickly, and, soon, we and our luggage landed in Fumicino airport.

Our plan was to spend in Rome three days meeting people, taking walks through the three-thousand-year-old history of culture, politics, religion, art. This city never fails to amaze.  
When Varuzh and I planned this trip, we wanted to fit into our schedule as many places to see as possible. Understanding that a person can spend in Rome years and not be able to experience everything this city has to offer, we had to settle for a few sites only. Being hopeless romantics, we also had to set time for just walking on the streets of Rome, breathing in the Roman air, dreaming, talking about lives and arts of Michelangelo, Verdi, Fellini, about all the stages of life of this amazing city...  If only its stones could talk... Until now I never really realized that Rome has seen it all - after early development, there was a Roman Republic, Imperial Rome, Holy Rome, Medieval Rome, Renaissance Rome, Baroque Rome, Modern Rome! 

Here is how our three-days-in-Rome itinerary looked like:
Friday night - hang out by Spanish Steps, dine, and shop, of course!
Saturday - visit the Vatican City, spend the entire evening by the Trevi Fountain
Sunday - see the Colosseum, Palazzo dei Conservatori, walk along the Tevere river with a stop at Piazza Navona.
Monday morning - Early morning walk and breakfast by the Trevi Fountain. Then, off to the station to take a high speed train to charming Florence

The days were passing fast, but I felt the spirit of the city immediately. It felt so... familiar. Was it because the city's piazzas, fountains, statutes and paintings were captured in books and movies that I loved so much and watched over and over since I was a kid? Stepping on Spanish Steps felt as if I have been there many times before right by Princess Anne with gelato in her hand.  The Trevi Fountain felt magical. Remember La Dolce Vita? And seeing the iconic image of the Hand of God giving life to Adam on Sistine Chapel ceiling made me feel so... humble. I was in awe. How could a human paint such perfection? 

Trip to Rome was inspiring and empowering...

...but it does not mean that the trip was not... exhausting! We walked and walked and walked! The streets were crowded and lines to every site were very long!

Luckily, we were prepared. So I thought to put together a list of the top five things to pack and do when you are preparing for your trip to Rome:

1. Plan in advance what sites you want to see and make reservations on-line! Rome is crowded. Thousands of people from all over the world come to Rome to visit the Vatican City and Colloseaum, and the lines are very very very long! By making reservations on-line, you will be able to avoid standing for hours in lines and have more time and energy to see the world's wonders.

2. Keep in mind that in some places the credit cards are still not accepted, so bring some cash with you.
*Two notes - I found that the exchange rate and fees are much better in Rome BUT be alert for pickpockets!

3. Check the weather forecast... but don't believe it blindly - pack clothes to wear in layers: t-shirts, shirts, jackets or sweaters (especially if you are traveling during fall, winter, or spring time).

4. Pack several pairs of the most comfortable shoes you can find in your closet. City is not big, and, most likely, you would be getting to the most of the places by walking... and then you would be walking inside those places a lot too. Changing shoes could help you to relieve the pains - be kind to your feet.

5. Pack a few loose clothing items - believe me, you will be eating delicious pasta dishes and pizzas daily! And ending your meals without a cup of cappuccino and tiramisu is simply a culinary crime.

Hope this helps!

With love always
xo, Zuma A.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In The Garden

It is a great feeling to wake up in the morning to a soul warming aroma of a freshly brewed pot of coffee. Varuzh is awesome! Ahhhh. After accumulating stress during the week, I finally started letting it go, and the cold that made me feel so miserable was finally gone...

I poured coffee into my favorite yellow mug, added a little milk, and, while still in my pajamas, headed out to my garden.

Varuzh was already there, getting ready to plant a few plants I picked up from Roger's Garden a week earlier.

As we were designing where to plant the flowers and where to plant the trees, I realized that our garden started to take some shape. Finally! It is not nearly finished, but it is no longer an empty place with some plants here and some plants there. Nice.

I suddenly felt so... grown up. As a child I have always thought that moms, aunties, and grandparents grow gardens, and kids play in gardens. I read so many books about greatest children's adventures that took place in gardens! And now I watch Alex play in the garden... in my garden!

So I kept sipping the coffee, chatting with Varuzh while he was placing the stones to create a little pathway.
Then I watched him planting the new plants. They looked so pretty and colorful. I was assured by my friend Mary Ann, that these plants are pretty easy to care for, and that they will soon take over the garden. And that is exactly what I want. I want my garden be a beautiful mix of colors, wild and chaotic.

Once I finished drinking coffee, I went to the kitchen to put the mug into the sink. On the way back to the garden, I grabbed my camera. I find it so relaxing to walk from plant to plant, explore their beauty. 

Plants are so peaceful in the morning and glow an amazing renewed energy.

Here are some of my beautiful finds!

I felt so refreshed.

With love always, 
xo Zuma A.