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A Tuscan family adventure replete with pasta dreams and flying machines

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Last year, we had some leftover airline credit on Norwegian Airlines. On the day it was set to expire, in a panic, I asked my four-year-old son, Holt, where we should go.

“I love pasta!” he said. “But not with red sauce.”

Tagliolini basilico e pinoli con burrata Maremmana, at Trattoria Osenna, San Quirico, Val D' Orcia.
Tagliolini basilico e pinoli con burrata Maremmana, at Trattoria Osenna, San Quirico, Val D’ Orcia.  (Susan Wright / The New York Times)

In retrospect, perhaps I should not have organized an entire trip around trying to prove to my four-year-old that he did, in fact, like pasta al pomodoro; he just didn’t know it yet. Yet how could I ignore that ancient proverb of Italy, chiseled above the gateway to every town: Sucus ruber omnibus dilectus, “All love red sauce.”

Yes, Italy! We would go to Italy. At the time it seemed like such a good idea. Culture! Sun! Vespas! Ciao! It was only after buying the tickets that I remembered the problem with travelling with young children is that when it comes time to travel, you actually have to bring your young children with you.

So, what do you do? Namely, do you ruin your life on their behalf? With kids in tow you cannot have long, lingering 20-course dinners. (You cannot have two-course dinners.) You cannot spend a whole day in an art museum scrutinizing the pathos of Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro. You cannot while away an afternoon reading Dante’s “Inferno,” downing six bottles of Chianti as Pavarotti belts his way through Tosca.

In order for you to be happy, your children must be happy. If I’ve learned anything about living and travelling with children, it’s to keep things simple. Boil life down to its essence. Path of least resistance.

So, here was our entire agenda for our Italy trip in June: “Eat as much pasta as possible.” Full stop. Anything else that happened would be purely a bonus.

Our rough itinerary was to rent a car at the Rome-Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport and head up to Tuscany, spending three nights in the stunning Val d’Orcia region, where we would bounce around hilltop towns sampling the local pasta specialties. We would then flee north, to Siena and Florence. We would probably not see much art, if any. Our history lessons would be limited. We would eat pasta and then more pasta. We would turn pasta into a daily ritual, a prayer, a philosophical question, a prison sentence. We were either geniuses or fools. (Or both.)

Somehow we managed to survive the eigh-and-a-half-hour flight to Rome trapped in a metal tube with our children and 200 other passengers.

The airport was complete chaos. We finally located our lost luggage and a car with four wheels and, after a two-hour drive, jet lagged and completely discombobulated, we pulled into the dream that is Chiarentana, a huge, ancient Tuscan farmhouse built around a cobblestone courtyard with a linden tree at its centre. Chiarentana is on the sprawling La Foce estate overlooking a pastel valley of lavender and cypress trees. Olive orchards spill forth. Crickets buzz. The view from every window feels borderline illegal. Beauty has a way of simultaneously welcoming you and keeping you at arm’s length.

The formal garden at the main La Foce residence in the Val D' Orcia region of Tuscany.
The formal garden at the main La Foce residence in the Val D’ Orcia region of Tuscany.  (Susan Wright/The New York Times)

Iris Origo, an Anglo-American transplant, purchased La Foce in 1924 and proceeded to transform what was then a collection of poverty-stricken farms into a vibrant place, constructing an astonishing formal garden at the main La Foce residence, and building a school for the farm children of the valley. During the Second World War she took in several dozen orphans, which she wrote about in the evocative and slender “War in Val d’Orcia, An Italian War Diary 1943-1944.”

Chiarentana is now run by Iris’ lovely daughter, Donata. They sell several varieties of their own olive oil, including the frantoiano, which can transform a simple piece of bread into a gustative epiphany of earth and arbor and sky.

The place bleeds history. But my son Holt did not care about any of that. He was intent upon setting up a cheap plastic bowling set in that magical cobblestone courtyard. He created an elaborate game with arcane rules that could only be played in this courtyard, under this linden tree. I tried playing with him, but got it all wrong.

“No, that’s the home pin,” he said, weary at such ignorance.

There is something refreshing about watching the very young play in a very old place. We must care about history, but we must not care too much. The wheel of time spins.

The author's family ordered three pastas at Restaurant Dopolavoro on the La Foce estate in the Val d' Orcia region of Tuscany.
The author’s family ordered three pastas at Restaurant Dopolavoro on the La Foce estate in the Val d’ Orcia region of Tuscany.  (Susan Wright/The New York Times)

On our first full day in Tuscany we headed to the restaurant Dopolavoro La Foce, just down the road.

“Are you ready?” I asked Holt.

We ordered three pastas, including eliche with fresh ricotta and wild fennel. Eliche means propeller in Italian; the pasta is shaped like a spiral, or the path a propeller would make in the water. Holt enjoyed this information. Like many boys his age, Holt is fascinated by systems, shapes, how things work and don’t work; it seemed like his entire third year was composed simply of reciting a taxonomy of construction vehicles.

The pastas came. They were divine. Life shrunk to its simplest ingredients. We do not need much to be happy in this world: something to slurp, something to sip. Everyone sat very quietly eating, even Max, our youngest. We marvelled at the path propellers make from our mouths to our stomach. Suddenly Holt held his fork aloft, eliche skewered on its tongs. “This is the best thing in my life!” he exclaimed.

From that very successful first lunch things became a bit wobbly. My children, like most children, do not sit at tables for extended periods of time. Why sit at a table? Tables are boring, flat things that cannot be slapped, climbed upon, taken apart without reprimand. Children wonder: Why do adults always sit at tables for hours and hours, talking and not talking?

My children preferred hanging out with Bertoldo, the depressive, wise donkey of Chiarentana who bleats at the sadness of mortality each morning. Holt loves a good patch of sand from which he can narrate the history of the universe. Max loves a good door threshold. Or a ramp. He will spend half an hour opening and shutting a door or running up and down a ramp. But neither of them will sit at a table for very long. Oh no.

On our second day, Holt also made the declaration that he hated all old buildings. This did not bode well for our trip. He made this announcement after we visited the geometric Horti Leonini Garden in the village of San Quirico d’Orcia and came across a medieval tower that had been destroyed by the Nazis as they retreated from the countryside during the Second World War. In Holt’s mind, all old structures would fall down on top of us. Entropy was inevitable. He woke up in the middle of the night completely inconsolable.

“I hate old buildings!” he wailed over and over. “I want to go home!” In the gloaming, Bertoldo, the donkey, commiserated.

Outdoor dining at Trattoria Osenna in the village of San Quirico.
Outdoor dining at Trattoria Osenna in the village of San Quirico.  (Susan Wright/The New York Times)

We did not follow the logic of the toddler. We did not go home. We ate more pasta. So much pasta. In San Quirico, village of the fallen tower, we savoured homemade pici al cinghiale at Trattoria Osenna. This is pasta made from a sumptuous ragu of wild boar. It will change your life.

Pici is the local style of eggless peasant pasta; it is like plump, irregular strands of spaghetti, stretched out by hand. The term pici comes from the Italian word “appiciare” which is the ancient action of rolling and coaxing out those long, lumpy strings. The owner of Osenna, Luca, told us his mother, the chef, could stretch a single strand of pici to more than 6 feet long.

“You could wrap it around your whole body!” said Holt. Luca said this was not traditional but he would convey the idea to his mother.

After several days of drifting through the villages of the Val d’Orcia, a life I could easily adjust to, we headed north to one of the true gems of Italy, Siena, an ancient walled city of winding passageways and bountiful gelaterias that is a perfect size for kids and adults alike. We walked up the hill and suddenly found ourselves face to face with the Duomo, that jaw-dropping cathedral adorned in its distinctive black and white stripes.

I winced, wary of Holt’s allergy to antiquity, but he was awed by the intricacy of its facade, replete with biblical scenes, grumpy lions and saints frozen in various karate poses. Inside, we marvelled at the giant mosaic covering the entire church floor and the Piccolomini Library, filled with an array of huge, illuminated manuscripts that took the breath away. On our way out of the cathedral, Holt wanted to light a candle.

Children light candles in the Duomo of Siena.
Children light candles in the Duomo of Siena.  (Susan Wright/The New York Times)

“Every day you come here to bless God,” he said, completely out of the blue. Then: “This is my favourite building in the world.”

The city is famous for its Palio di Siena, a 400-year-old manic horse race that circles the Piazza del Campio. Twice each summer 10 horses and riders representing the various “contrade” or districts of the city run pell-mell around a temporary clay track.

We were in Siena a week before the first Palio of the summer, and the clay had just been laid, and rickety bleachers erected all around the racetrack. Imagining the screaming hordes, we sneaked through the ropes into the middle of the piazza, the still-wet clay sticking to our stroller’s wheels. We were practically the only ones in the whole square, a moment of perfect serenity. Holt pretended he was a horse. Max pretended he was Holt.

Later, after eating a divine tagliatelle al pesto made from zucchini and almonds and a simple, flawless spaghetti al pomodoro e basilico (Red Sauce!) which Holt declared was “pretty OK,” we wandered through the green oasis of L’Orto de’Pecci, once the site of a psychiatric hospital and now a co-operative garden with a little restaurant, resident peacocks and a sculpture of a giant steel head that you could walk inside called “Open Mind” by Justin Peyser. Everyone was happy: This was art that you could slap.

Villa Il Castagno Wine Resort is near Siena.
Villa Il Castagno Wine Resort is near Siena.  (Susan Wright/The New York Times)

We probably should have just stayed in Siena. It is like that other ancient Italian proverb: Libentissime cum liberis uno loco se continere. “When your kids are content, don’t move an inch.” But my wife had never been to Florence and so we headed up the winding autostradale for the last leg of our trip.

Our Airbnb was in Oltrarno, the hip, Brooklyn-like Florentine neighbourhood just south of the River Arno, filled with little eateries and shops selling artisanal rucksacks and handmade puppets.

Our first day we ventured into the sweaty scrum of central Florence and were quickly repelled by a tsunami of tourists. Florence in the high season is a nightmare. You cannot breathe, you cannot move. Our whole family grew quite cranky until we bought some gelato alla stracciatella. It has been proven by science that gelato is the cure for all ills, including gout, gunshot wounds and existential despair.

We didn’t even try to make it to the Uffizi Gallery or see the famous sites. My traveller alarm bells kept going off: We were missing out on the Caravaggios! But you are always missing out with kids. That is kind of the point. The beauty is in the miss.

Museo Leonardo Da Vinci in Florence is where children can crank and pull at his inventions.
Museo Leonardo Da Vinci in Florence is where children can crank and pull at his inventions.  (Susan Wright/The New York Times)

Instead, we headed to the small Museo Leonardo da Vinci, where the kids could crank and pull at all of his inventions, including what looked like the world’s first bow flex exercise machine. They were very happy. In one corner stood Leonardo’s helicopter, which resembled the eliche propellers we had eaten that first day.

“It didn’t work,” I said to Holt, pointing to the helicopter. “It couldn’t fly.” This felt perhaps more tragic to me than it should, a metaphor for our times. Good ideas that never take off.

“That’s OK,” Holt said. And it was.

To complete the famous Dead Scientist Museum Double, we visited the first-rate Museo Galileo (just past the foolish hordes waiting for hours to get into the Uffizi!) It’s a rich space filled with cosmographic spheres, a pantheon of cannonsize telescopes, sensuous maps of the heavens, and two of Galileo’s actual fingers.

One exhibit in particular caught my eye: a marble run with two paths of descent, the first a straight decline and the other a longer, lazy bend called the brachistochrone curve that goes down and then up again.

By all appearances, the straight line, the shortest path, is the quickest route to the bottom. Right?

Nope. Galileo discovered it was the brachistochrone curve, which, despite being longer, delivers the ball first. And as I watched Holt put marble after marble down each path, testing and retesting the hypothesis, I began to irresponsibly apply such principles to our little Italian adventure. The straightest way is not always the best way. Rather, by weathering the natural curves of life, by going down and then up, by lingering at the doorway for half an hour as Max joyfully closes and opens the door again and again, you are actually taking the more efficient path.

Our last evening in Italy we skipped into the Boboli Gardens just before closing. The evening sunlight was loose and pillowy. We were almost completely alone; the masses toiled in the city beneath. The Boboli is a tiered Florentine paradise of ancient statues and geometric fountains and rambling hedgework. In one clearing we came across a strikingly modern sculpture: a clean, white marble oval entitled “Secret of the Sky,” by Ken Yasuda. The perfection of the form was startling against the wilds of the surrounding greenery.

“It’s like a gem turned sideways,” Holt said. “It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” When you are four-years-old, there is no such thing as hyperbole.

Alla Vecchia Bettola is a Florentine restaurant with communal tables and iron pots hanging from the ceiling.
Alla Vecchia Bettola is a Florentine restaurant with communal tables and iron pots hanging from the ceiling.  (Susan Wright/The New York Times)

Nearby, we found a magical little restaurant, Alla Vecchia Bettola, with communal tables and iron pots hanging from the ceiling. They managed to seat us despite being packed with Florentines. After 14 straight meals of pasta, this would be our last.

By this point, the four of us were used to things. We were like a well-oiled machine. As soon as we sat, we ordered the children’s meals. The kids tolerated the tableness of the table. Max did not demand his customary ramp exercises. We had our iPhone apps at the ready but did not need them. We all seemed to sense this little experiment was coming to an end. A group from Quebec at our table remarked how well behaved our children were.

“They are not like this normally,” I said. “They have been trained. Like seals.”

The restaurant hummed. Locals laughed and made intricate gestures with their fingertips that meant all was not lost.

I had one more bite of ravioli. And then I was done. I had finally overdosed on Italian food, something I did not think was scientifically possible.

“Down,” said Max, pointing at the ground.

And down we went. We had taken the wandering path and arrived at this moment, just in time.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

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Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

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One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

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Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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