Harper got to go to the Mystery Spot! It's a fabulous place in Santa Cruz, California, truly one of those wacky Americana places that are on every "Must See!" list for family roadtrips. Right up there with Largest Ball of Twine and The Corn Palace.
We went to Santa Cruz to visit family and friends last weekend and had a lovely time. (More on that in a later post.)
Yesterday, Harper brought home this drawing from preschool and I said, "Tell me about this drawing." And she said, "It's the Mystery Spot!"
We got lost one day, looking for our 2nd rental. (Ever the producer, I thought it best to scout the new location before actually moving there. So glad we did!) It was out in the country where all roads seem to be named Via delle Villa and therefore tough to nail down with google maps. We pulled into what looked to be a tiny parking lot/ticket office for a huge villa. I popped in to ask for directions (being the most fearless of our group with my .05% Italian language skills.) The two women there were almost able to help me but more importantly, I learned we were at the Villa Reale di Marlia. I promised we would come back for a tour and I'm so glad we did.
Upon our return, I went back into the tiny ticket office and the two same women were there. One turned to the other and said excitedly, in Italian, "This is the woman who was lost!" I laughed and bought tickets. At first it was disappointing to learn that all the buildings were closed. They are being restored and will be closed for probably years. (They only started restoring in 2015.) We went in anyway to view the gardens and man oh man did my disappointment disappear quickly. The tour map smartly takes you away from the buildings down to the lake first. Then you get this stunning view back up to the main house.
Then you walk back up to the main buildings via all the amazing side gardens.
The wisteria was stunning and smelled soooo good.
There is a pool and pool house tucked away on the side. I can't wait to go back and see this fully restored.
There is a Grotto, of course. All the best villas had them...
Inside the Grotto it was about 10 degrees cooler and looked like it used to spray water from all the fountains into the center. I suspect on hot summer days this would be the place to relax and cool off as you walked from the lake back to the house. ("house")
There were many other gardens and pathways - the Spanish Garden, the Green Theater, etc. But my favorite is the Lemon Garden. Kurt estimated it is a bit smaller than a football field. Half is lemon trees in pots (so you can move them indoors during winter!) and the other half is a big pond with a fountain.
A view from behind the fountain looking back at the Lemons:
Turns out, my favorite painter, John Singer Sargent, came here to paint. And he painted a few watercolors from this very Lemon Garden.
When you arrived in a carriage to the main house, this is what you saw when you exited the carriage - a huge fountain with multiple levels of water coming down. This photo does not do it justice except to show how large it is!
Here's a close up of the center. Also surprising, you could walk along that upper level next to the statues and giant urns. There were lovely little secret pathways through the trees and bushes back there. Excellent fun for this old romantic.
The huge water fountain (they call it the Water Theater) is behind this main building. We stopped halfway to empty rocks from our shoes.
The whole time we were there, walking the grounds, we saw one other family. Total. In the whole giant place.
When we left, I thanked the women again and they said they were having an event on Easter Monday - a Botanical Treasure Hunt for the kids! Um, yes, sign us up. So we came back! This time with a picnic and blankets (because you are always welcome to come in and picnic any time you want) and Harper really enjoyed the treasure hunt and of course the gift at the end. (Amazingly she wore the exact same outfit!)
Here she finds Boxwood and Lemons.
She hugged and kissed many of the trees and plants we found.
I love this place and I can't wait to go back often to see how things have come along. I want to picnic there all the time.
The true joy of spending a long time in one place is visiting wonderful things you find more than once. I highly recommend it.
Please visit the link of the villa - their photos are stunning and give you some better views. Villa Reale di Marlia
Kurt and his brother went to Rome for three days. Harper and I stayed behind to chill in/around Lucca. We went to a zoo yesterday (another unexpected treat) and today we went to the Pinocchio Park in Collodi. I've never read the book, only seen the Disney movie, which, honestly, is quite creepy and disturbing. Puppets turning into boys? Boys turning into Donkeys? Talking crickets? W E I R D. But hey, let's go to a park in honor of Pinocchio. The author was born in Collodi, hence the connection.
I'd read that it's a funky old fashioned little park but good for an outing. Little did I know what modern updates awaited! we got there around 11 and it had been raining a little so it was pretty empty. There was a school group as well, maybe 3rd graders, and they made a lot of noise, so it didn't feel totally empty. We walked in to the area with little rides and met Pinocchio himself. Kind of. I mean, he was dressed as Pinocchio and waved at the school kids as Pinocchio, but he also had the key for the three little rides and helped you on and pushed the start button. So.
Harper tried all three rides. They are hilarious in their antiquity and (lack of) speed.
First she tried the cars - not bad! I love the design of all these vehicles.
Then the carousel. Uh... yeah. Not really her speed.
Then the boats. Harper seemed really unclear on why these rides were so (let's be honest) lame.
Then we moved on to a play place with stuff to climb and a fun little mini-zipline thing. Little did we know it was a foreshadow of bigger things to come!
Then we had a snack and then watched a puppet show - all in Italian of course - but we were surrounded by 30 school kids who laughed and howled and shouted at the puppets. I didn't take a picture, but it was a plywood box with a window and some red "curtains" and one guy doing two hand puppets at a time. It was the story of Pinocchio with Geppetto and Pinocchio at the start, up to the point of where Pinocchio has run away and the Fox and Cat show up. Then it ends...Uh, okay! Now, that part took about 20 minutes, so thank goodness it ended, because OMG.
Anyway....then we grabbed a sandwich and a popsicle. Harper fit right in with the kids eating their ice cream. I loved that.
After frozen treats we walked through the mini forest filled with sculptures of characters from the book - but not happy Disneyesque type sculpture with color or joy. No, these were like 1970's retro Post WW 2 Neorealism commentary on life. This is the statue of the Blue Fairy, which Harper clearly dug, so what the hell do I know?
But there were fun little secret paths and then you end up at/in the whale! Check that fab 70's Italian Design!
After the whale, in which you go into the mouth, then climb up a spiral staircase out the blow hole, then down some back stairs, there was a small hedge maze. We cranked through that pretty well.
Then. Then we got to the brand new adventure portion of the creaky old park. There are two parts - a smaller Ship thing for the kids to walk around, balance beams, swinging mini bridges, etc. All while on a harness and clipped onto cable. It's for ages 5 - 14 and Harper wanted ON! So I signed our lives away and she got buckled in and had instructions on how to clip in and out - made simple for kids.
And she was off!
Just freaking going for it.
Please note, I am far away - there is nobody else out there, no safety person, no monitor, nothing! Just my five year old daughter who clearly has been waiting for this opportunity for ages...(click for bigger)
But that was part 1. Part 2 is across the river. Over a swinging bridge. Harper, do you want to go? Yes. But the wire to hold onto is pretty high, do you think you can reach it? Yes. You have to swing across the river to come back, is that okay? Yes. I can't go with you, just the safety woman, still want to go? Yes.
I wasn't afraid she would get hurt, I was only afraid she might get all the way over and halfway through that course and something would scare her. I mean, there are times on a regular playground in LA where she asks for my help. But this??? She was on her own. And damn if she didn't freaking do it all.
Then the big finish! No hesitation, she just went! ZIP!
When she landed, she did look a bit pale, and I said are you okay? She nodded then smiled and I burst into tears and hugged her and told her how proud I was of her! She is my BADASS DAREDEVIL GIRL!
Then she want back to the ship 2 more times. She didn't want to do the zip again...fair enough. For the rest of the hour I hugged her and said how amazed and proud I was of her. DAMN!
At the end, there was a coloring place and the Blue Fairy (a young woman in a cheesy costume - Cheesy withe a capital Cheese) made her a little fairy wand to color. She asked her name and I had to say Harpe. P. Har--p -- er. And we got this:
But that's easy to do on vacation, no matter what! Uncle Glenn arrived the other morning and while Kurt when to pick him up in Florence, Harper and I were busy walking through town, seeing the sites, and taking pictures.
We walked past this tower with trees growing out of it and later that day, climbed up!
After lunch [dopo pranzo] Harper helped me withy my espresso.
I love being here with Harper and watching her just do her thing. I also love when she notices other kids doing something totally normal for here but out of the ordinary in LA - like drink right from spigots!
Oh the joys of the instant picture. Not the digital image on your phone, but the physical image you can hold in your hand. We bought Harper an Instax camera for this trip and she carries it when we go out and about. I let her take one roll a day (10 pics) and never tell her what to shoot. Here are two of my favorites:
(I ask her what she wants to call them, then note it on each pic.)
You may have seen them in magazines. You might have thought - dang, that looks cool and when I need to replace my regular old stupid toilet, I'm going to do something extraordinary.
Before you do it, call me. Call me and ask, "What was it like? For 3 weeks?" and I will tell you "Thank god we had a 2nd bathroom."
SQUARE TOILETS ARE CRAP! Seriously. There is a reason toilets are round. Don't argue, don't try to be "cool" or "fashionable". Just go with the usual thing because it is "standard" for a very good reason.*
At a restaurant last night, Harper got tired of the napkin in her lap. This morning I looked at the pictures and realized she was doing an homage to Nina Katchadourian and her lavatory series of images "in the Flemish Style".