Monday, August 30, 2010

Bravo Baveno

Soul mate celebrated his 38th birthday weekend, (managed to talk him down from a week to a weekend), just with us and I was determined to make it special as there was lack of friends and family for celebrations. We started a night early with balloons, cake and a buffett of his favourite pickings (yes fish fingers were on the menu), and the children even backed up the joy with a sleep in the next morning. After speaking to family on birthday morning, we headed for the markets and then off to music shop to buy the birthday boy a guitar. Budget rose slightly and he left shop smiling like a teenager with his first playboy magazine. Once unpacking fruit and veges, hubby took out the rubbish and returned to the apartment to find packed bags for our overnight adventure. "So I can't play my guitar yet?"


After an hours drive north west of Milano, (and some more harsh words with Loise GPS advisor, for some reason she always wants me to stay at someones private house, hubby and her get along much better than we do), we arrive at Lake Maggorie. Baveno is our destination and faces the Borromean Islands, it is situated in both a lakeside and mountain setting, and is characterized by precious examples of architecture, 19th century villas and by its famous pink granite quarries. We have lunch in Baveno, very peaceful, overlooking the lake and watching the boats come and go from the islands. Soul mate braved the ordering of spaghetti, which son attacked while sitting on daddy's lap as there were no highchairs, Happy Birthday Honey... here have some spaghetti in your ear. We bought some floaties for the kids and headed to Hotel Spendid for a swim and to open birthday presents over a glass of wine. The name says it all; the hotel was splendid, so were the views, room, food and company.


We had a lovely swim in the pool with daughter jumping in and out with an abundance of energy, and son just happy to float and take in his surroundings. Soul mate and I got to relax for a little while in the sun (10 minutes is better than nothing), while prince explored the space of the patio and made some new friends, and princess jumped from day bed to day bed and removed and replaced all of the rocks from the pot plants.


Back to the room to plan our evening when son decided to party like a rock star by weeing all over the floor and throwing birthday boys cup of red wine across the room. We decided it was too late to bath then head into town for dinner, and room service was not an option as we did not have a menu in our room and we were both to lazy to organise one. A quick clothes change and we braved the A-La-Carte in the Hotel. This was not the ideal setting for children, but after making presence known, (by throwing cutlery, food and few colouring pencils) they attracted their self selected audience and were happy to entertain wait staff and other hotel guests. We had a lovely bottle of wine and the antipasto buffet, children were free (when will these people learn that it this is not in their best financial interests with the Gonzalez children), and also helped ourselves to the dessert buffet, (to later find out that it was not included, gobble, gobble, ooops)!


Splendid weather the following day and we had a relaxing morning eating breakfast on the patio and planning our day of travel ahead. We took a ferry ride to two of the three Borromee Islands; visiting Isola dei Pescatori an old fishing village, now filled with restaurants, villas and gift stalls (350m long by 150m wide, so did not take long to explore), and Isola Bella, (320m by 400m, also not large enough to work up an appetite) occupied by a palace, large Italian garden, restaurants and stalls selling same t-shirt/ fridge magnet merchandise as first island, oh, and a 'nutella man'. Both islands have skinny rabbit warrened paths, and a walk around the outskirts; foot is your only transport and boat is your only escape. Not that you should need to escape but I did wonder how many tourist have slept on the pebbled beach after missing the evenings last ferry.








The children loved the ferry rides between the islands, as did the boat crew who would throw in a quick line to catch a fish between the docking and take off time of a few minutes. We disembarked at Stresa, had a quick wander, lunch of spinach canneloni, pesto gnocchi and fish ravioli. Boat trip back to Baveno for departing Gelati and 26€ of dried and crystalised fruit (kiwifruit, strawberries, apples, pineapples and pears; yum), got way too much but I think the market vendor spotted the suckers a mile away.


When we first moved to Milan, I found it bizarre that everyone left the city on the weekends, Sundays you literally have to dodge the tumbleweeds down the street. We were told that the summers were always spent at the lakes or in the mountains. Now I know why. Lake Como was gorgeous and alluring, Lake Maggiore was charming and relaxing, (or the small part we have seen anyway), hoping Lake Garda will be next on the list, I am sure it will not disappoint.

Happy Birthday soul mate!!! I hope you enjoyed it my sweet and I look forward to many exciting birthdays to come. Mwah. X

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"DON'T PANIC!!!!!!!"

So if you are yelling "Don't panic!" at someone who is panicking, it may not help a panicked situation. Two hours into our trip towards home and the petrol light flashes, beeps, and I start to panic. Just a little. Okay, a lot. Winding roads thru the Alps, single lane 11km long tunnels, cars sitting on the speed limit of 130km/hr; not the ideal situation to break down in. Set the GPS for next petrol station, (that I miss the turn off for), aim for the next one, oh my goodness, there goes the exit, (Louis help me out here)! It has been over 20km, how much time do I have!!! Do an illegal turn and find ourselves in the single street town of Oulx. Wait at a railway crossing for 5 minutes (with the engine off, do not want to have to push car down the street), then find a little gas station. Could of guessed, "Gone to lunch, back in 2 hours!" Try for the other end of the street to find another gas station, unattended, but after a few tries we manage to work out the self pay/pump system.





As we had just crossed the border we enter a little pizzeria to be surprised inside by a bustle of families having lunch. Two wood fired pizzas cooked in front of us and 1 litre of wine later, we walk the street, take in the mountain views and decide we have procrastinated the end of our holiday long enough.




Apparently it is the role of the driver to keep their eye on the petrol gauge. Moral of the story; don't yell "Don't panic" at someone who is panicking; and maybe I let the petrol gauge get low on purpose so we could have a lovely lunch and views to finish our holiday, (maybe)??

Our one week's road trip between Italy, Switzerland and France, ended up costing us over 200€ in toll charges. We did not think that it would be this much, and next time we would probably avoid more tolls to see some little towns. It was a lot of time in the car for the children, but with snacks, stories, singing, naps and of course the DVD player, they were both very well behaved. Daughter managed to entertain herself by slowly tearing her sunshade each day and was actually wearing it as we pulled into home. Son managed to keep us entertained by waking (partly) for quick snacks, then back to sleep again. (See attached video.)










Thanks soul mate for our amazing memories and opportunities. I change my mind... I think we would be great on the Amazing Race!

Oh by the way, remember when we packed up to leave a week ago, I said that I felt like I had forgotten something. I remembered. The salmon cakes in the oven from the night before we left. "DON'T PANIC!" the oven was off, but the kitchen was pretty smelly!







video

"Get out of the gutter!"


Due to my theory that the big dots on the map are not always worth visiting, we did a drive thru Lyon. It looked beautiful and very similar to Paris, we should of had an overnight stay; instead we will return for a weekend. Lyon is the 2nd largest city in France and is also known as the culinary capital of France. Happiness is food remember! Although with the window down at one stage, there was a funny smell. "I think Leon smells" I said. "No I think it is Lyon" Daddy replied. "That's what I said" I said. "Yes Lyon smells!" There was a little confusion.


Our last nights stop was in Grenoble, France, and the city was much larger than I had expected. At the end of the day (a very long day), we arrived at our hotel safe and sound... Although it was a bumpy road as Loise (GPS advisor) was very confused driving through the city, and hubby was getting a little frustrated with my erratic driving, (I had been driving for about 6 hours). "Get out of the gutter, not your side of the road , look out for the tram , you are making the pedestrian sprint accross the road, blah, blah, blah!"




The hotel was more than comfortable and it was nice to spoil ourselves on the last night of our holiday. Views of the mountains, super soft pillows, our own bedroom, a personalised greeting waiting for us on the television and an elevator for the car, (see, I can be easily pleased without food). The children are now well adjusted to late nights, so we hit the town to explore for some dinner. We found a little restaurant, where we sat outside and watched the trams go by while dining on snails, squid, mussels and scallops;apple juice for princess, and a bottle of French wine for us. Daughter showed no interest in eating snails again, but did show a liking for trying to eat the snail shell, (where do my children get their eating habits from)? After a quick play in the water fountain on the way home, time for an early night, (11pm).



After another Gonzalez ambush on a continental breakfast, we visit the world's first cable-car ride that was opened to the public. It took us 685m up the mountain to panoramic views of Grenoble, the river Isère and the various mountain ranges. We enjoyed the view and took ample photos before visiting the museum. Museum was interesting to see but all in French so a little difficult for some; we tried to make a donation but were told that the military could not accept as they are not allowed to be handed money. (Unlike the Malaysian officer who advised I bribe him with money to avoid a traffic ticket a few years ago.)


Back to the car, and time to head back to Milano. Poor soul mate is back to work in two days, it has been so lovely having this time together and experiencing our first real family holiday.

As long as we are well fed

Our Disney adventure had finally come to an end and the troops climbed aboard the Gonzo mobile for a 2 day road trip back to Milan. After a few nasty words with Loise, (our GPS advisor) and a little drive through the one street town of Le Subdray, we found our Novotel accommodation. Our hotel was just out of the small town Bourges; next to the freeway and surrounded by several other hotels (a little hotel commune), not the best scenery, but very comfortable none the less. It seemed very family friendly, with a games room, and we did not receive any dirty stares as our children threw their cutlery around the restaurant. We were entertained by our energised Matre De who sprinted around the restaurant like our princess in a Disney store. I tried a delicious lemon veal dish; hubby had a fresh salmon pasta and the children happy with meat and chips. Easily pleased, the Gonzalez family is always happy if well fed!



We headed into Bourges in the morning (old town city centre) for coffee and breakfast. The streets were cobblestone, houses and shops all timber thatched, each leaning with its own particular character. The streets intertwined showcasing patisseries, hair salons, shoe shops, and some restaurants and bars thrown in for good measure.






Arriving at Cathedral Saint-Etienne de Bourges, we were a little overwhelmed by the size and could not help but notice its resemblance to Notre Damme in Paris. It displayed Gothic architecture and picturesque arch ways carved full of patronage to the saints. The outside was currently being restored, which is understandable for a building that is over 800 years old. (Don't they say you should paint your house every 10 years? Wonder if that applies for churches?)







Bourges was a nice little stop, but would not necessarily make as a weekend destination. If done again, then we would get accomodation in town to experience it a bit more, something to be said about a new town at night time. (It's darker?)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When you wish upon a star...

Eurodisney was everything I anticipated it would be, I will not tell you about all the fantastic rides, (I would hate to tell you the punchline to a joke too early, or the football score when you have taped it to watch later), the magic is discovering it for yourself. But I will tell you...


"It's a world of laughter, a world or tears, its a world of hopes, its a world of fear, there's so much that we share, that its time we're aware, its a small world after all. Its a small world after all, its a small world after all, its a small world after all, its a small, small world. There is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide. And the oceans are wide. It's a small, small world."





Ok, so by this stage I hope you are at least humming the tune in your head. Great song, but is like that annoying jingle, (just like "saa-kaa-taaaa" or "I like aeroplane jelly"), I am still finding myself humming the tune in the shower and singing it at the fruit and vegetable section at the shops. It is however the theme for the ride that I felt necessary to go on twice. It is very sweet, and I am officially now putting patent on "It's a small world" for the name of a children's play and learn centre. (I have a memory like a goldfish, remind me about this in ten years.) Check out the attached video at the end of blog.

GOOD POINTS

  • A lot of the rides allow young children and son could go on the majority of the family rides (he got to go on 12 different rides and see 6 different shows), we decided he had his birthday two weeks early this year, they needed to be over 1 year old for rides.



  • It did not appear to be an issue to bring in your own food into the park (unlike Seaworld/ Dreamworld Australia). They check everyone's bag on entry but are purely checking for alcohol and explosives.


  • Food to buy is expensive but not ridiculous.


  • There is plenty of opportunity to have photos with the characters, (if your child does not freak out when they reach the front of the line, which may be unfortunate after waiting half an hour).


  • They give you estimates at the front of each ride for wait time and they are generally spot on, do not be put off by the length of the line as you are constantly moving and it is a good opportunity to people watch and make up stories about people, (I know you all do it).

BAD POINTS

  • The rain, but I am sure it will not be there when you visit.



  • Queues; or perhaps just the Gonzalez luck? Everytime we joined a queue it was long, then nobody would join for at least 5 minutes, making it look short to others. I have this problem all the time; at the shops, short queue, then the lady in front needs a price check; at the tolls, shortest queue, then the man in front misses the tray with the coin throw; 'constantly chasing the fast lane'. What is our rush anyway? "We need to entertain a baby and toddler!!!!!" There should be a special fast lane...


  • Fast pass is only valid for one ride at a time...


  • Patience seems to be lost, survival mode kicks in, and it appears that it is every family for themselves while at the toilets, line queues, gift shops, restaurants and MOST definitely photo opportunities with characters. (Soul mate was standing with pram and 2 children, when Minnie decided it would be her photo spot; there was a definite squeal from my husband, and he experienced his first paparazzi moment with hoards of Minnie fans bombarding him).


  • The fireworks were on too late for our children, (11 months and 2 1/2 years). Probably could of stretched them out and could of if we had an extra day? Due to the sun not going down until just before 10pm in summer and the hours of the park, it makes sense for the finale to be so late. Hopefully there will be another visit for us.


ADVICE FOR PARENTS

  • Pack your own food BUT allow for special treats. It is a special day and dried apricot is no substitute for fairy floss. (Did not participate and now feel guilty!) Pop corn and some drinks come in special novelty containers, so you may be saving on a souvenir later on.


  • Buy your souvenirs at the end of your last day. This means you do not have to leave belongings in your pram, which is left at the queue for every ride, and you have a few days to decide what you want, diminishing the impulse buy. (Take note of your child's "cutey" face and do not fall for the "but I love it", unless there is promise of your late entry into the retirement village in 50+ years time.)






  • Definitely utilise the bus service from your hotel, it is free, frequent, convenient, and you do not have to look for the car park.


  • Plan your day and beat the queues. Make the most of the fast pass (one at a time per ticket), this allows you to book a time for your ride, may save you an hour a day!



  • Be 'understanding' to a bored child. Half an hour wait is a while for us but forever for a toddler. Be patient and allow climbing over chains, playing peek-a-boo with strangers, reflecting on fairy tales, colour/ shape/number recognition games, and of course (if you are familiar with my children), a perfect time for snacks and refreshments!






  • Plan the shows into your itinerary. We lucked the 4 leaf clover and stumbled on our shows in perfect agenda; the shows are all pretty fantastic for the 'littlies', so worth the planning if you are a planner.


  • Do not, I repeat, DO NOT wait an hour for the train ride around the park. Thought it would be a great way to see 'behind the scenes' but purely showed us bush and was not worth the wait, (unless you have a husband "that is totally into railways and stuff")!


  • Research your special deals as far as accommodation and tickets go, do not hesitate, and just remember, you are paying for memories. What is it worth to you?

Mr Walt Disney, you are such a clever man, thaw out and see you in Los Angeles...


video

These gumboots were made for walking

We arrived at My Explorers Hotel, Chessy, ignoring the pouring rain and ready for some fun. Our hotel room is once again 'comfortable'; we all have our own beds (that we do not necessarily stay in until morning), toilet, bathroom, but no bar fridge (have found this common so far in most of our hotels).



















We caught the bus from the hotel to Eurodisney, it leaves every 15 minutes and is more convenient than driving, (I know this because we tried to drive but could not find the car park, so we returned to the hotel and caught the bus). Day one is pouring with rain, and by the afternoon Walt provides even more (for Disney effect I'm sure) just to contribute to our soaked sock situation. As frostbite kicks in, hubby and I realise that daughter and every other patron have come well prepared with gumboots. After 4 hours of fun in the rain we decide to head for the local shopping centre to source gumboots. Two hours later we find some pretty pink gumboots a few sizes too small in a sports store. Apparently these are the only gumboots left in the entire shopping centre due to the day's weather!




Day two and an early start to find gumboots 'out of town'. 20 minute drive to success. We choose knee high rubber boots, then ditch them for hiking boots, then ditch them for waterproof sneakers, then ditch them for fishing boots, then ditch them for horse riding boots, then ditch them for black gumboots, (found eventually at the very back of the store). There is a nappy explosion change and a toddler toilet trip thrown in the agenda just for added excitement. Step outside, oh look, lovely sunshine! We opt to keep the boots for a rainy day and brave our semi damp shoes from the day prior. Happy to get our princess to Fantasyland for a princess fix; oh look, pouring rain! Guess should have worn boots? Wet, tired, but fun filled, we head back to the hotel after 5 for daughter to try the swimming pool and water slides.



Day 3 it is cloudy and grey so surely we have it right this time, "We must all wear gumboots!" Our longest day, we were in the park by 10 o'clock and did not leave until after 6. We managed over 8 rides with both the kids, they napped in the pram while we had lunch and we did a lot of walking. We head back to the hotel so children could play in the ball pit, and so mummy and daddy could have a bottle of Ròse. Oh look, prune feet due to wearing hot and sweaty gumboots on a stinking hot cloudless day!




Day 4 sandals and sunshine. I have spent the entire day looking at everyones feet trying to spot someone to mock, would you believe that not one person is wearing a gumboot in such beautiful weather?



Our hotel was a great choice and really catered to the needs and entertainment of the children. There was a large covered swimming pool, Pirate Ship, Play Areas, Internet Access (convenient for our last minute hotel bookings), Disney Boutique (not so convenient as daughter's latest 'thing' is touching every piece of merchandise in any shop, this makes for a long grocery shop when just going for milk), Video Games Arcades, 3 restaurants, 2 bars, 1 Brioche Dorée Snack-Bar and a great buffet breakfast that provided us with our days snacks.


We would recommend this hotel to anyone travelling with children; young up to teenage years. Our only regret, (apart from the gumboots, but I guess that is not the hotels fault), would be not booking another night as we felt a bit rushed trying to fit in the activities at the hotel as well as the fun park.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Where is the mustard?

We had a pleasant hotel stay and breakfast in our Geneve hotel. Take your pick how you say it, Geneve, Geneva, Genf, Ginerva all seem to be acceptable. We were going to hit the town but miserable weather and children due for a nap had us tour the 2nd largest city in Switzerland by car, (in twenty minutes). It was 9 o'clock on a Sunday, so everything was closed, and we know it was 9 o'clock as every second shop displayed either a swiss watch or a cuckoo clock. After taking a few photos we decided to drive towards Troyes and to make some random stops of discovery along the way. When it rains, it pours, and we had wishfull thoughts that the clouds were emptying now to give us beautiful weather for our Eurodisney adventure tomorrow. Soul mate said he cursed us with his "We have had great luck with the weather" comment yesterday. Does saying "touch wood" and tapping your head really help un-jinx yourself?



We found a little place called Beaune on our way to Dijon. This is a sleepy old town in city walls, all cobblestone streets and limited driving. Filled with patisseries and restaurants, this would be a great little weekend destination and is the wine capital of Burgandy, so also a great place to taste some delicious wines. Do not think that Beaune is steered towards tourists but would be a great place for tourists to stop. (Our little secret, do not want the tour busses ruining its beauty.)




We requested that the GPS avoid toll roads for a while and then found ourselves in some lovely little towns. This is something that we should of done sooner and that I would recommend; of course depending on time limitations and how well young children travel in the car between A and B.


Just because a town has a big dot on the map, does not necessarily mean it will be a place worth visiting. I wanted to pass thru Dijon (yes, home of the mustard) for lunch, but everything was mostly closed and we did not feel the appeal necessary to stop. Most of the city appeared to be under restoration, both roads and buildings. We did however see a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut (first seen in Europe), but not really a consolation for no Dijon mustard.


Next onto Troyes. Very cute little town with half timbered houses and dark alleyed streets. Troyes was chosen as it is situated only 2 hours out of Paris and would help to cut down our travel time the next day. Sporting raincoats and umbrella's we headed into town for a meal to discover a labyrinth of creperies, pizzerias and a-la-carte restaurants. Choosing a busy restaurant (food poisoning less likely with higher food turn over?) we dined on snails, duck and fish. Princess did not want to try snail; hesitation was not an issue for prince; after all he does eat dirt. Our hotel was comfortable, (polite way of saying their were holes in the walls, but nice staff and no sign of rats), and Mia and Leon slept in until 8 o'clock, (always the way when you want an early start). The restaurant fed us well with crossaints, bagettes, meat, cheeses and coffee, which appears to be the extent of every hotel breakfast at this stage. Not letting the pouring rain dampen our spirits, we packed up the car, and head off for our Eurodisney adventure. I think hubby and I were more excited than the children. Daughter was just excited to get back in the car so she could watch her DVD player.

I can not do 2 things at once!

Packing bags for 24 hours, numerous checklists, 3 trips to the car, we can just see out of the back windsreen, are we are ready to begin our road trip north to the French Alps? Have a funny feeling we have forgotten something; double check on children, passports and husband so think we are ready for our adventure. Heading for Chamonix, we go into an 11km tunnel in Italy and come out in France. We are charged 43.70€ for the toll (return), which I later discover is only the beginning of our toll expense. (We estimated spending over 200€ in toll roads over the week! Wasted 35€ due to paying twice at one stage; our bad. We did not really budget for the toll roads, actually, come to think of it, we did not really budget for the holiday. "We will worry about it later/ You only live once/ Butter and bread for dinner this week/ Blah blah blah!")




It started to rain heavily while I was driving, so with clenched jaw and white knuckles from strangling the steering wheel, I adopted tunnel vision and missed half the drive to Mount Blanc. Although I did have commentry. "Wow look at that castle! Can you see the river! Look over there! How about that!" Taking the manly excuse of "I can not do two things at once, can you take a photo!" Hubby took my hint, and reeled in his excitement to satisfy my nerves of driving in the rain. Once the rain eased off a little, I was presented with mountains that disappear into the clouds; they seemed two dimensional and never ending. French Alps. We were speechless and reverted back to cave man talk. "Wow. Big hill. Nice set."





Chamonix, Mount Blanc, reminded me of a lego town I used to make with my brother and sister on the loungeroom floor over the Christmas holidays. (We are talking in the 80's not recently, although must admit can not wait until daughter shows interest. In lego town, not the 80's.) The villas all look picture perfect, in neat little rows, with pretty flowers in planter boxes and very neat and tidy.





We wanted to go on the cable cart ride to Plan de l'Alguille, 2308m up Mount Blanc, it was 14€ return and departed every 15 minutes. Unfortunately, we were told that children under 3 years should not go up as it was too dangerous on their ears and their hearts, it was our decision and responsibity if we chose to partake, "Take them at your own risk". Deciding that the heart is pretty important for bodily function, we opted for the towns tourist train ride instead. Similar to the size of the trains you see carting children around the larger shopping centres, not really the open bus tour we had become accustomed to, but fun none the less.





We stopped for a lunch of crepes and omelette, then walked the main street, salivating over the chocolate shops and patisseries. Sometimes you can not capture beauty, no matter how hard you try. (I tell myself this everymorning I am putting make up on in the mirror.) Numerous photos were taken of the Mer de Glace (sea of ice) Glacier that kept popping out from behind the buildings and mountains. The glacier is the second largest in the Alps and had a magnetic affect, 14km long, it kept playing peek-a-boo with me all day, and I kept finding it in the corner of my eye. A beautiful backdrop. Seeing snow topped mountains and glaciers in the middle of summer - craziness! We even thought it was snowing at one stage but then realised it was just wind blowing flower particles, (ok, so we are new to this)!





After a necessary chocolate purchase from a chocolatier, it started to rain, so we headed back to the car. We had an hours drive until we reached Geneve, Switzerland, our destination for the night. Three countries in one day, but no jet lag! (Or stamp in my passport so you will have to take my word for it.) It amazes me that within 3 1/2 hours of driving, we travel thru 3 countries, where more than 3 languages are spoken. Do people literally speak a different dilect as soon as you cross that invisible border? We were unsure about Switzerland and were to find out that they speak Swiss German, some French and some Italian. What clever people.


QUOTE OF THE DAY; "I am yelling at you because I love you!"
Daughter tried to open the car door while we were in motion. I found the above words spilling out of my mouth. Soul mate now thinks he has found a great line to re-use in a disagreement with me!