Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jingle Bells on a Farmers Day...

It snowed a few days ago, (and that is when I told my daughter Santa would come), therefor Christmas came early this year. Using this as our excuse, my husband and I purchased our Christmas present for each other on the weekend. A new camera; it came from England; the buttons on the camera are in English; but the manuals provided are written in Italian, French, Dutch and German. All languages which I am not familiar. My loved one obviously had high hopes of me recalling my grade 10 education of German; "But we are going to Munich in a week, I was relying on you!" Smile faded very quickly when I told him I may of embellished the truth a little; but I can count to 10 and sing a verse of a song in German, that is also substituted with various, "na na na na Deautch" type sounds, (always thought if I did a little jig; dancing with imaginary stein in my hand then I could get away with anything. Apparently this will not help us to check into a hotel or ask for directions, although it will make for an interesting sight.) So now we have a new toy, one that I have been secretly wanting for such a long time. Unfortunately the cameras functions are as bewildering to me as a vegetarian with a love of osso bucco. I want to learn how to use it but the manual pictures are not enough to get me by; so I will once again turn to the Internet for support and some English assistance.

Succumbed to the spirit of all things festive, prince and princess have decorated the Christmas tree all by themselves. And everyday since its arrival, the tree has been undecorated and decorated again and again by busy little hands. Daughter is truly in the spirit of the season and enjoys sharing her rendition of Jingle Bells with us; "Oh what fun it is to ride.....on a farmers day/dancing all the way/ on fathers day/ down at Warners Bay". Her version is much more exciting than ours!

Friday, November 26, 2010

'They' said it would snow...

It was a recent trip to the local park that made me think about how I was experiencing such different weather to those back home in Australia. I was touching the slide to make sure that it was not too cold for the children instead of worrying it would burn their bottom. When I Skype my family on the Internet, I often say, "It's cold, go and put a jumper on", or "Why do you have a glass of wine in your hand at 8 o'clock in the morning?" I am still obviously getting used to the differences in time and season from the other side of the world.

I was very excited this morning to wake up, look out the window and see snow! I know that is what 'they' said to expect, but 'they' say a lot of things; and how often does the weather man get it right, (especially when it comes to an outdoor party, picnic planned in the park, or washing your car). So here I am running from window to window like an excited puppy in the back seat of the car. Prince just points out the window, speaks a bit of gibberish and continues playing. Princess says "The snow is sweet, is Santa going to come and leave 3 presents under the tree?" (My fault here as I may of mentioned that the fat man in red will drop by when it snows, now I have a month of explaining his GPS is out of batteries and he may be a little lost?) Hubby commented "Yeh I saw it" when I attacked him to come and see. (Think he is preoccupied with thoughts about his walk to and from train station with icicle mucus under his nose.)

People who have never been to Italy in winter, harbour the belief that Italy is the place where the sun shines all the time. I know I did. Well, we were obviously wrong. I may have my white Christmas!!!

So thinking about snow angels and snow men I am reveling in this excitement before it turns into slush and mud and I am complaining that "I need to get out of the house, I wish this snow would go away!"

What I did not know about snow:

  • Every snowflake has its own unique shape and is different than all other snowflakes. (Unique just like a zebras stripes or a tomato bruschetta in restaurants.)

  • All snowflakes have six sides.

  • Snowflakes aren’t always white.

  • Wind blown snow and black dirt is called snirt, (could of guessed).

  • The average snowflake falls at a speed of 5km per hour.

  • Snowflakes are made up of ice crystals, (not real crystals).

  • It is supposed to be a nice experience to catch them on your tongue.

  • They hurt when rolled into a big ball and thrown at a body part.

By afternoon, all trace of snow has disappeared and now my toddler wants to see it!! We spend the afternoon cutting out our own snowflakes; we avoid blood shed with the scissors; and hang one with the stars and fairies in her room, ("fairies will now need a jacket so they don't get cold").

Finally I share the joy!

'They' say it is supposed to snow all day Sunday..."Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Dance monkey dance"

"G! How to Play 2010" is a Fair - an event in Milan dedicated to the world of children, of adolescents and families whose second edition, held in November of 2009, was attended by over 40,000 visitors in three days of exhibition."

Who could resist a packed convention centre filled with sugar high excited children all carrying an average of 3 balloons each...

The event was well organised; all of the children were 'tagged' on entry so not to get lost, and there was ample entertainment. The toys were offered for play with parents and children and there was plenty of opportunity for art, craft, and hands on learning experiences (involving cooking, milking cows and riding scooters and cars around a road with signs and obstacles).

Princesses favourite activity was Barbie, (bizarrely this was also a babysitting service; just sign your child in and off you go; free)! Javier and I stood behind the roped off area with the majority of other over protective parents, watching on like a day at the zoo. "Dance monkey dance!" Daughter was a little overwhelmed by the amount of children, (or perhaps the amount of pink and parents staring)? It took a while before she stopped looking for us and eventually picked up a barbie. But when it was time to leave, she conveniently refused to hear our calls and kept busy reorganising the pens at the drawing table and ensuring she had touched every pink glittery toy on offer.

Prince enjoyed deconstructing others constructions in the lego area, and he tried his hardest to steal balloons from those oblivious, (after we disposed of his because he kept whacking strangers).

As the volume of children, squeals and tears increased, we decided it might be best to call it a day. We should have known that the children had reached their stimulation limit when princess started screaming because she got a love heart balloon instead of a sword. A great day. It is always nice to find something that is centered around the children, that is close to home, and that is free!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Patience is not a virtue, it is a waste of time

Patience is not a virtue, it is a waste of time. The roads here are always so hectic, everyone is in such a rush, I keep telling myself it is purely because people want to get home to their families to have quality time, (think I could be making excuses here). So here is the long awaited list of Italian self proclaimed driving rules. I have been biting my tongue for a while now since I love this place so much, unfortunately I can bite no more...
  • Park your car at any which angle and ensure if you are leaving the car in the middle of the road, (so you can go shopping, visit a friend or grab a coffee), leave your hazard lights on.
  • Ignore all stop signs and treat them as a give way bench mark. Red lights on round abouts are there purely to help pedestrians not to stop cars, no pedestrian, no need to stop.
  • The equation for your driving speed = maximum permitted speed + 25km/hr + X. (X is simply formulated by your masculinity or the type of car you must flaunt.)
  • There should be exception to the above rule when road maintenance leads to signs stating reduced maximum speeds. But there is not. Ignore such signs under all circumstances. 60 really means 135+ on a two lane 110 km/h road.
  • While driving stay on the left most lane, (if more than two) and keep your left indicator light blinking so traffic in front of you know they must move to the right to make room for you. When they do not do move, hastily flash your lights, honk and wave your fist at the mamma's boy in front of you (who is obviously a tourist). If they still do not move over, promptly maneuver to approximately 10cm from the bumper of the vehicle in front of you, remain in close proximity until the car moves over, drive past and carry on as though none of this just happened.
  • Ignore the uninterrupted line on two lane roads, you must overtake any traffic in front of you. Especially in case of queues resulting from slow traffic, it is imperative that you move to the front of the queue by overtaking the cars in the line one at the time and squeezing back in when on coming traffic and double parked cars force you to do so.
  • Hazard lights are to be used often; if there is traffic ahead, if you wish to overtake a car, when you want to double park, and if there is a good song playing on your radio.

I do not wish to make a mockery out of the Italians, just the antics of their driving. They really do drive this way. My theory at this stage is to stick to the limits, stay out of their way, and realise that they are not angry drivers, they just like to make the most of their time...

Returning from a day out of Milan on a Sunday, we hit night traffic where it took us 45 minutes to travel 5km to our home. This was the perfect opportunity for hubby to vent against the Italian drivers that had bothered him so much on one of his drives home from work in the week previous. "Always across the intersections, they never know when to stop!" he says pointing to the mangled car jam in front of us. "Why can't people just wait, instead of making there own lanes, no point in going around, you are not going to get anywhere!", with these words, a car takes the footpath next to us and then stops beside us. 2 lanes have already been made 4, and our new friend to the right was keen to make it 5! At first glance, there wasn't even anyone driving; closer examination, a tuft of grey hair, coke bottled glasses pushed against the top of the steering wheel; that's right, Nonna was taking us on the outside. "Oh no you don't Nonna!" replied soul mate cutting her off... I am still adjusting to Milan's self proclaimed driving rules...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Revenge of the door man!

In an earlier post "Check depth of leave pile before jumping ", I stated that ; "Sympathy must be had for the apartment porter and care taker that are out there every morning with a thin broom, sweeping every single leaf off the path and driveway. I am sure the tree is laughing from above because once they finish, it is time for them to start all over again." So after 10hours straight of chainsaw sounds last week, I looked out my kitchen window to the apartment next door, to see this... like a soaring bird with diarrhoea 'I will have my revenge'.... (says the door man)...

Run tree run!!! Save yourself!!! It appears now the porter is laughing. Is this normal behaviour when Autumn/ Winter arrives, (or is this just a door man who has had enough of sweeping)? I guess I have to look out of another window for my golden leaf bliss...
Now I can see all of my neighbours clearly; great way for me to see how the Italians cook in their own kitchen, (just need some binoculars to get ingrediants and measurements right).

Private dining in Piacenza

Estate di san martino - 2010 13th to 14th of November, celebrated in Piacenza (one hour south of Milan). This is a celebration of young and old, hosting markets with fresh local produce and activities for the children. Sounded like a good destination for a day trip, so we looked up the brochure on the Internet. "Significa rinnovare l'armonia fra la città e la campagna che vivono ciascuna dell' altra, accogliere ciò che ci è stato consegnato ed è ancora presente nel nostro intimo." So for those of you, like myself, who do not speak Italian, I will google translate this for you... "Indian summer means to renew the harmony between the city and country living of each other, to accept what we have been delivered and is still in our underwear." I love to wear underwear so this was a celebration for me! Think perhaps something was lost in translation?

The town was so clean and tidy! The buildings were spend id and a lot of the buildings had huge wooden doors some with the most fantastic carvings on them. The town was extremely quiet when we arrived and it was really nice just wandering the streets taking in the atmosphere.

We found the petting zoo, which consisted of 2 lamas and 2 ponies in a small caged area, (unsure as to whether lamas were 'spitters', hubby had us all at safe viewing distance from patting). Daughter then spotted 2 jumping castles; straight onto the large climbing slide, she repeatedly climbed to the top, decided the slide was too big then back down the ladder again. By attempt number 5, courage arrived to try the slide; loved it; but then was landing pad for another slider, (fun came to a quick end until she joined her brother on the smaller jumping castle).

We were surprised that the large town celebration lacked people, so we decided to look for a restaurant to pass some time. After walking the streets for over 20 minutes, (and wishing that we had stoped for the free wine and potato chips sampling earlier), we finally found a restaurant. When hubby went inside, all of the tables appeared to be taken, but we were told that they could accommodate for us by setting up a table downstairs, in our own area, "I'd like a private dining room please!"

"Assolutamente perfetto!" Absolutely perfect! Son fell asleep as we arrived and transferred onto a bench seat where he slept for a further hour; there were no other patrons for us to bother so the children could play; it was a set menu so we did not need to think about ordering; and apparently in Piacenza, you drink wine from a bowl (does it get any better)?

The set menu cost 12.50€ each and children shared with us, there was plenty of food and the wine was lovely, (ended up paying 60€, wine was a bit more than expected, or perhaps we just drank a bit more than expected, I blame the bowls)!
  • Fresh bread

  • Parmesan cheese and ham (Parma ham)

  • White wine risotto and crespella (pancakes rolled and filled with cheese and ham)

  • Roasted duck, pork roll filled with cheese and roasted potato in rosemary and butter
  • Apple pie with cherry sauce

We left the restaurant very content 2 and a half hours after we arrived, always a great sign of a fantastic meal. The town had now woken from its slumber and we could hardly move in the crowded streets. We made our way back to the markets to buy some balloons, wine, salami and cheese, and to brave the jumping castle again. Children were given free nutella on bread, they had a ride on a stable tractor, son pat the pony and put his finger up its nose and daughter lined up for half an hour for her free horse ride. (Only to decide after she was on the horse with helmet on that she did not wish to have a turn anymore.)

It was a lovely day, the sun had set, so with warm roasted chestnuts in hand, we headed back to the car for our drive home. We arrived home 2 hours later, (last 45minutes of drive was travelling 5km in Milan city), I managed to smash 2 bottles of wine on pavement and the balloons popped. Despite the last hour of the trip, it was a lovely day in Piacenza.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Down the hill in a rubbish bin

Laveno is situated about an hour out of Milan and is on the east side of Lake Maggiore. It is the only natural harbour on the lake and it was our destination for a daily outing. Not knowing much about the place, we were mainly hoping for a scenic drive, a nice lunch and some time out of the house, (forecast was wet for the next few days so were not sure if we would be rained in all weekend).

As all things Italian, the town was old with pretty alleyways, buildings, churches and modern shops. Laveno benefited from the backdrop of a beautiful lake and steep mountains, and for a Saturday, appeared extremely quiet with only residents wandering the streets. After a stroll along the waters edge and a a close call with some large swans, we settled for a relaxing meal of pasta, pizza, bruschetta and bread (becoming the standard food order).

Our last minute research in the car, (Lonely Planet we would be lost without you), informed us of a cable way up the hill in Laveno. We have done this once with the kids before in France and thought it would be a nice way to view the lake. No where in the book were we told that I would be placed in a rubbish bin like Oscar the Grouch from Seasame Street, as I travel 1062 metres up a hill for 16minutes. Surprise!

Hubby went in first with son and I travelled after with daughter, (we both followed a man with a large dog...bizarre). The panoramic views were breathtaking; we could see Lake Maggiore, the Alps, the Pre Alps, the Lombard lakes and the plain of the River Po. Considering the size of our travel craft, I actually felt quite safe, the only challenge was trying to hold Mia for the journey so she could have a nice view.

I must admit that about half way up the hill I had a moment. The cable way stopped, there was complete silence from the surrounding woods, then a big gust of wind arrived creating a whirlpool of red and gold leaves through the air. It was peaceful and surreal at the same time. I turned to princess and said, "This is lovely, I am having a moment". Do not think she quite understood my place of zen. So I yelled ahead to loved one, "I am having a moment!" Breaking the silence, broke the moment, "What?" he hollered back. "I am having a moment!" I yelled again, (okay, moment is now gone). He smiled and waved, then we both yelled simultaneously, "It is raining leaves!" (Okay moment is back again! But now I have the song it is 'raining men' in my head for the rest of the journey.)

As we reached the top we were greeted by a sign advising us of a solarium and a naked man in a top hat with a walking stick. I needed to remind myself that in Italy a solarium is purely an outside deck, and I am pretty sure that the following picture was not an invite to an old age nudist colony, but informing us of a hiking trail.

We took great interest in watching the hang gliders take off from the top of the mountain, and I must admit I felt a little nervous for them running straight off the edge. When I asked daughter if she would like to have a turn, she replied, "I don't want to, daddy can do it!" In other words if its him or me, I am sacrificing my daddy! A beautiful position for a park, you certainly could not beat the view, and a lovely time was had on the swings, see-saw and slide. After a coffee and 3 interesting toilet visits with princess to the hole in the ground, (not sure if it was the cold weather or curiosity), it was time to climb back in our dustbins and descend the mountain.

A lovely day. Once again I find it hard to believe that all of this beauty is at our doorstep. Beginning to think that we are seeing more of Italy than most Italians! I know I didn't see enough of Australia when it was home. Sometimes you take home for granted.