Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Well helllloooooo there Mr Clooney"

On Sundays everything is generally closed apart from the first Sunday of the month. So the city feels like a ghost town as everyone heads for the lakes and the coastline. We decided to beat the crowds and headed to lake Como on a Saturday. "Well helllooooo there Mr Clooney." Apparently George has a house on the lake (oh and the scenery is supposed to be lovely also).

After a short 45 minute drive from Milan we arrived at a park by the water for gelati (something the children are now accustom to), a play at the park, a train ride and a turn on the merry-go-round. Most of the parks have Merry-go-rounds with not only carousel horse but firetrucks, tea cups and of course the token moped (daughters favourite). It was 1 euro for children to ride a miniature train on a small oval link that laps 5 times, since I have to sit with my knees touching my earlobes in the tiny carriage, I get to ride for free! "Choo choo, ciao daddy", we wave to hubby on the park bench, trying to get that cute family shot which usually results in a happy family shot from the family in carriages before or after us.
Ready for scenery we climb into our Griswold mobile and drive along the lakes edge heading towards San Siro. The views are breathtakingly beautiful and I very quickly decide that this is one of the most stunning places I have visited thus far; I am sure it is a combination of the unique villas, mansions, restaurants, climbing vines on old buildings, narrow streets, reflective lake, mountains, perfect weather, my disbelief of destination and pure happiness. We stop along the way for pizza, bread and wine (something soul mate and I are now accustom to), yummy. Backdrop was surreal, would of asked hubby to pinch me if I did not bruise so easily; so instead enjoyed a few deep breaths and smiled at our new neighbouring city.

We head back along the lakes edge, we watch the locals sun baking on any rock space available and laugh at the old Italian men walking the streets wearing only their high waisted shorts. Time to daydream about retirement, "Definitely an option, we could spend our summers in our villa by Lake Como (next to George Clooney's of course) when the kids are off at boarding school in Switzerland"... BEEEEEEEP! Reality stops us head on in the form of a tourist bus (did I mention how narrow the roads were)? Buses are big and rental cars are small, so our game of chicken was quickly lost and we were instructed to reverse so the bus could pass. Panic set in as we saw the queue of cars behind us. Hubby reversed as much as our impatient followers would allow, he pulled his review mirror in (by trying to get out of the car instead of putting down the window, yep, panic had definitely set in), arms waved back and forth between us and the bus driver, daughter requested "More carrot please", we all breathed in, (because you know that makes the car skinnier), I closed my eyes, and the bus passed safely...
Decided best to head straight home to rock back and forth in the fetal position in the comfort of our own home. Was a scary experience, and I am told that the driving conditions are worse as you head towards the Italian coastline. A lovely day and we promised to return to do the cable cart ride up the mountain, a boat ride on the lake, and maybe next time, a coffee with George.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Toilet here, toilet there, toilet, toilet everywhere…

I think that princess feels as though her world must revolve around toilets, newly toilet trained, every time we leave or arrive anywhere “do you need to pee?” is the first communication. Check your dignity at the door, toddlers are all about bodily functions and tantrums! (Obviously innocent comments of observation and an out pouring of love is also thrown into the toddlers bubbled universe.) Thankfully princess has happily accepted that our 2 bathrooms have 2 toilets, 1 in each we do not use. My motherhood instinct tells me that explaining that a bidet is used to wash your bottom after a number 2 is sure to result in mummy cleaning water off the ceiling and constant requests from daughter to do more poos (so she can have water play)! So, for now, the second toilets are broken…

There are not too many public toilets around and it would be extremely rare to find a public toilet at a park. Most of the restaurants have a small toilet, and just like in Australia, it is good manners to only use them if you have purchased something from the premises. Public toilets are mostly neat and you are charged between 40c and 50c to use them, 20 c for a urinal (men get all the brakes)! I experienced a phobia moment when using a public toilet at a train station (usually no fear of public toilets apart from a Malaysian outhouse hole in the ground, fly ridden experience I never want to relive), so I deposited money in the slot, door opened and I am greeted by steel box, wet from ceiling to floor, a corroding body smell, with no toilet paper to boot. “Hubby and daughter did this before me, you can do it!” I tell myself. After a mild panic that I would not escape alive as all the instructions are in Italian, I took the action always warned not to do; “Don’t push the red button!” so I did then sprinted for freedom. (Alright a little over dramatic you may say but you had to be there.) You would be happy to know that hygiene conscious Italy usually have buttons on the floor to push with your foot to flush the toilet. In this particular case I think that I would have used my foot to flush the toilet even if the button was on top of the top of the toilet. I am not touching anything unnecessarily are you crazy! As the door closed behind me, I could hear water spraying from all angles in an attempt for the toilet to be sanitised before its next victim. (or perhaps just leaking pipes from the toilet next door?) I did not return to investigate. Another incident not to be spoken of again.

There are positives to my flush tales; as mentioned earlier, Italian appear to be pretty clean and sanitary conscious. Larger toilets in shopping centres in Milan all seem to have ‘foot flushes’ (do not quote me on the lingo) or automatic flushes and spray for cleaning seats. I have even experienced toilets with harnessed seats mounted to the wall so you can hang your baby (just as you would hang your handbag) as you go about your business. I have experienced toilet seats that automatically lift (which is interesting to try and keep down while trying to place a toddler on top) and involves many limbs and a couple of close calls “Mummy I am falling!!” “Mummy why is my bottom wet?”

99% of all basins and soap dispensers are censored and the other day to dry my hands I placed them into a box where they were blown from all angles. I realise that I am making it sound as though I only ever used an 'outbox' when I lived down under; I was aware how toilets worked before I visited Milan, just a bit more observant being somewhere different I guess. Oh and I would love to tell you which way the water flushes here, but just checked at my house and the water just went straight down, then refilled??? There must be further investigation...

“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”

There is no place like home, but keen to make this our new home I am determined to accept all those differences and make them normal to our new life.

Second day in our new home and I am vacuuming our new Ikea carpet that is covered in mess from unpacking and building our Ikea shelves, I am told confidently “Stop now mummy, it is too loud, I cannot hear the tv!” I am unsure at this stage whether or not she realises that she is watching cartoons in Italian, a language that she does not comprehend (that I know of). Back to Ikea for a moment, anyone who knows me is quite aware of my love for Ikea and their pack of 100 candles and white pots, so it did not take us long to venture there for a home necessity shop. I was pleased to find Ikea is mirrored no matter the country apart from a few vital changes to adapt to the Italian lifestyle. A large television is in the canteen replaying Italian football games (soccer to the Aussie reader), wine and beer is purchased for a couple of euro with your meatballs and you can be given a cage on a trolley so your small dog may enjoy your Ikea experience with you also!!!

Every day I seem to notice something not quite right (by my narrow minded Australian standards), but I am learning to adapt and keep telling myself I am like Alice and this is my wonderland. I am quick to learn a few things; when you are driving 1 lane really means 3; if you would like to go into a shop or grab a coffee and cannot find a park “allora” just stop in the middle of the street and put your hazard lights on; zebra crossings simply signify the place best to sprint across the road and appear to be the bulls eye on the dart board for cars and moped drivers (very quickly have flashbacks to grade 4 trying to run in and out of skip rope without falling over, only this time I have a baby and toddler hanging from limbs).

Hubby and I joined the gym next door in hope to regain fitness and to perhaps counteract our new love of bread with dinner every night. It appears that we have joined a ‘skinny and sweatless’ gym. You have to look good and it is imperative that you make your workout look easy as you are not to sweat at any stage (thought that you joined a gym to lose weight but it appears everyone took care of that before enrolling). When I asked (or got hubby to ask, still struggling a bit with communication without hands) about a water machine to drink from, we were directed to the small vending machine with aqua and sports drinks. This stood next to the huge espresso machine – a few quick caffeine shots in between sets anyone? I am still adjusting to this countries love of coffee. Bars / cafes are on every corner and also in between, there is usually no sitting involved, just a few quick espresso shots thrown back while standing. I am told that we must by an espresso machine in order to be fully accepted into the Italian culture (this said of course by my caffeine jittery husband). Do not see the point at this stage as coffee is under 1 euro most places. Coffee vending machines have also been spotted on tourist buses, car parks and shopping centres. Can I blame their crazy driving on the caffeine buzz?

“I know who farted!”

After 2 nights in our hotel the paperwork was finally ready for us to move into our new home for the next 2 ½ years. First impressions are usually the best to go by and princess kept running from room to room, jumping on her bed and saying “I like this one”, my heart fluttered, belly lifted and I felt comfortable in our new apartment. We all have our own rooms, a big enough living space to not trip over each other, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen with washing machine and dishwasher, plenty of storage and shutter blinds on every door and window to fool my children into thinking that it is night time at 7 o’clock. There is a supermarket right next door and above it there is a gym, so there will be no excuse for not eating well, or for working off the well eaten food, talk about chasing my own tail!

There may perhaps be one negative to our new humble abode, getting to and from our front door. The lift is a little on the small side and “I know who farted” is a quick process of elimination. It takes 4 people, which you would think would be convenient as we are a family of 4, but the size restricts a pram unless it is folded and we all hug each other. Love to share the love but it is averaging 35 degrees every day, sweaty love. As we later discovered, a family of 4, after a shop at Ikea and a toddler requesting “mummy I go wee wee”, results in panic, giggles and an urgency to loose more weight so we can fit more in the lift.

Here come the Griswold’s

Unlike National Lampoon’s vacation, this Griswold’s family is staying for a while, and I still cannot imagine how we are all going to fit into a small hire car “It will work out, don’t worry about it”, soul mate always has the glass half full before I swallow it all down just to make an empty point. So 3 large suitcases, 2 huge weekend bags, port-a-cot, pram, 2 car seats, back pack, cabin bag, a flower cabin bag (“I will take it myself”) and a red beetle bike bag (“I will ride it now”) seemed unlikely to fit in the 2 door smart car I had been dreaming entire month previous that we had hired. So I pushed a double pram and held a shoulder bag or two as my husband managed his way through a crowd of photo clicking tourists pushing two large luggage trolleys simultaneously (which he could not see over or around) chanting “anybody in the road gets knocked over”. Frown turned to smile as we were greeted by hubby's work friend, he offered us a friendly smile, luggage support to the hotel and assurance of a 4 door hatch.

Our first couple of nights in Milan were spent in a hotel room with 3am being the standard wake up time to play for the entire family. A perfect time for soul mate to teach baby prince about compression and sine waves with a metal slinky, for my daughter to catch up on drawing and stickers, and for me to start my blog and ponder on our new Italian life ahead.

And then their heads began to turn…

Anxiety had arrived at the departure gate with such a long flight ahead with two small children. Getting to travel business class helped to calm the nerves, although I am sure unsettled others; “Aren’t your children adorable” followed by a muttered “please lord I have done you no wrong, please let them be in cattle station seating!” To be fair on the children, the first leg of the trip was a dream run, 14 ½ hours to Dubai cut 45 minutes short as the pilot had “good wind”. Daughter watched movies, she chose and ate her own special meals, before having an eight hour sleep. Son slept for first ten hours, mostly in soul mate’s arms, and I did not sleep, just dozed (although this could be untrue as I have five hours unaccounted for somewhere).

And then their heads began to turn, or as my Uncle would say referring my daughter to the exorcist movie “Why is your head spinning Regan?” So things went a little downhill once we landed in Dubai. After son’s 3rd fall hitting his head (from a totally stationary position) and after daughter’s 2nd sit down 60’s hippy protest in the middle of a very busy trolley and stroller filled Dubai airport, hubby and I conferred that it would be best to return to the lounge and administer Phenergan. This is a child sedative that was not needed on the first leg of the trip, “Can’t hurt them, the last 6 ½ hours will be a breeze” we said smiling, anticipating our peaceful glass of champagne as the children slept. I am pretty sure that this memory will be remembered with some of life’s greatest regrets on my death bed. “Should we of bought that house / Was that the best career move / Why did we administer Phenergan?” So let us not speak of this memory scarring event, although I will just say, fellow passengers all turned up their head phones, and there was a definite tag team between hubby and I at meal times with the words “You can serve mine when my husband/ wife has finished” being growled. I would never say do not travel with young children, how else would you all get to the other side of the world; just give the children more credit for their own survival mechanisms, no doubt they are better than your own.

Saying goodbye is never easy… “I think I have something in my eye”

“It is not forever”

“We will come visit you”

“You will have the time of your life” (The last time I had the time of my life it was the birth of my two children, so now a little apprehensive, do not know what to expect!)

I hoped not to offend friends and family by crying at the sight of them, (it had nothing to do with scary looks or bad breath), I think I had something in my eye. Truly upset that I could not take everyone with me to experience these new memories. So I have decided to write this blog/ travel journal so hopefully you all feel as though you are all here with us.