Monday, April 25, 2011

Which child is your favourite?

I quit.  I am usually good at holding down a job, I generally like to see things through and the last town I was settled in I was employed for ten years under the same company.  Now I last eight days... seriously?  I guess I am not quitting, just 'chucking a sicky', you know, giving myself a rostered day off.  We took the Open Bus Tour through Florence in the morning, but then I took absence from my tour guide role, and sent my parents off into the cold hard world of Firenze.  (Really not cold at all, could think of better places to get lost, and in hindsight, my mother appeared to know more about Florence in 24 hours than I did in 3 seperate visits.)  So with map in hand, they set off eagerly to return 6 hours later with sore legs and meandering like the huntch back of Nontre Damn, (but with a new love and appreciation of Florence).

Bus views were boring our little one.

And entertaining others...

River Arno

Piazza Santa Croce

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and its bell tower

My parents did a lot of walking and managed to explore the hills, gardens and city streets of the entire city  "You should go, very pram friendly!" she said as she showed me pictures of 45 degree sloped tracks that disappeared over the horizon. "Pack a picnic lunch."  How many weeks / aerobic sessions was I planning on staying for again?

Gardino di Boboli, largest garden in Europe, with pram friendly steep hills!

Husband and I making a quick escape!

Hubby and I, on the other side of the city map, decided that markets, food and shops, may be the perfect way to end a holiday.  It was, sorry Mr Visa, and we ended it with bargain shopping at a Euro shop for toys and stickers.  (It is the simple things that really please.)  Our lovely lunch was followed by a relaxing afternoon playing games with the children in the hotel room.  Once my parents returned from dinner, my husband and I were able to have a dinner out together, the first time since April 2010.  We were granted freedom at 9pm, headed straight for a glass of wine, walked the streets for an hour (lost), had a quick meal, both falling asleep at the table we returned home.  It was lovely to not carry a nappy, clean wipes and a plastic car in my handbag, but unfortunately, holidays can be exhausting, and so were we.

A fantastic whirlwind trip of Itlay.  When I asked my parents which destination was their favourite, they both answered all of them for different reasons.  It was the typical diplomatic response I'd expect from parents, I didn't ask them which child they loved more so you think they could be honest?  Then I thought about... they were being honest, after all parents aren't allowed to lie to their children, right?  Cinque Terre has quaint villages with breathtaking coastline, Rome has mind blowing history, Assisi has spirituality, Florence has style and elegance, and Venice is charming and romantic.  They are all fantastic in their own way, and just goes to prove that there is more to Italy than bottled water, coffee, checkered table clothes and vespas.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Firenze nudie run

View of Perugia
We had a quick tour of Perugia in the morning (to the end of our street and back) before we felt a few drops of rain and decided to head straight to Florence.  You can tell that you are having a scenic drive when you forget to turn on the radio; there is no need for conversation; and the only noise you hear is snoring and lips smacking to retrieve sleep drool escaping from little mouths in the back seat. The scenery was beautiful through the Tuscan rolling hills, and the 2 hour drive appeared to take minutes, (perhaps due to no altercation with our GPS advisor)?

We parked the cars in the public car park next to our hotel and arrived at the hotel balancing bags, on bags, on bags, on prams, with muffled sounds of children enclosed in there somewhere. We seemed to have more luggage than we started with; how?  Less food, less clothing as it was in washing bags in the car, same amount of children, ahhhhhh, travelling with more wine, of course! We walked towards the city centre and stopped next to the markets outside Bascilica di San Lorenzo for some Tuscan soup, Tomato soup and Spaghetti Bolegnese, (to be honest the first spaghetti I have tried in my 10 months in Italy, but well worth the wait)! The soup was deliciously different, my tomoto soup was thickened with bread and incomparable to the Campbell Tin variety I was expecting, (and I think my father was actually enjoying it until my mother described it as "yummy soup with soggy bread").
Spaghetti "Get your own" Bolognaise
Tomato soup

Tuscan vegetable soup
  After exploring the markets and cleaning our hands, (I mean feeling the fabric), on several scarfs, we had a quick look in the Bascilica and then continued on our way.  I love Florence.  It is my third visit, and I still can not tell you why I like it so much, in the words of a spoilt teenager, 'just because'.  Down the street, turn the corner, SLAP!  Right in the face.  "Ta Da!" the Duomo.  I actually said "Ta Da" (to fullfill my tour guide duty) my parents did not react, so I said it again, a little louder with less vigour, "Ta Da!  Sorry the queue is too long, we will enter on another day perhaps?" (Bet you wish you reacted to my first 'Ta Da' now?) Scarily, I am even amazing myself how quickly I am jumping in and out of my tour guide role.

"Ta Da"......"Hmmm hmmm"......"Taaa Daaa!"

We walked on to catch up with my mate Dave, and was quite releived that I was not seeing him under the same circumstances as our last meeting.  Which for your information, was when our GPS advisor took my husband to see 'Statue of David' through the busy pedestrian only Piazza della Signoria; I think she took soul mate literally when he mentioned the statue, (after all, there was no GPS button stating "in the vicinity of, with a nice park for a car larger than a 'smart car' that would not cost more than 20€ an hour, (please), (thank you)".    Apparently my husband is on some sort of quest to enter the Guiness Book of Records for 'Most driven pedestrian only piazzas in Europe'.  You can do it sweetheat, (but preferably not with me in the car)!

Parents with my mate Dave
Next stop was the famous Ponte Vecchio; a medievil bridge over the Arno River, noted for still having shops built along it,  butchers initially occupied the shops but now present tenants are jewellers.  Yes jewellers.  Great jewellers. Mmmmmmmm.  Gelati on the way, some had smaller gelati than others, then some serious window shopping.  The sort that had the shop owners following me with windex to remove the drool stains from the windows.  I can dream can't I? 

Double waffle, gelati and chocolate sauce equals 4 pilates sessions!

Little bit of bling.


Children told to dance in the street, (bit of busking), so mummy could get a ring!

After drinks in the hotel bar for happy hour, a shower followed by a naked run up and down our hallway, (children not adults), another glass of wine, (adults not children), then bed. Impetuous Italian tour is almost at its conclusion, and I am feeling a little victorious and somber. Yes, it is possible to be happy and sad at the same time. (Kind of like the whole chicken or egg conundrum?)
Nice bar, and children managed entry without fake ID (passport).

Friday, April 22, 2011

We will see you there...

Fabio, "I can not believe it's not butter!"
Our final full day in Rome and it was imperative to see the Colosseum, Palatine and The Forum.  We paid the extra for a guided tour from a short haired Fabio look alike, who I think fancied himself to be a bit of a modern day gladiator.

A few facts you may not know about the Colosseum;
  • It has about 80 entrances and can accommodate 50,000 spectators, so it is pretty big.
  • Construction of this huge edifice started in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80.
  • In 847, the southern side of the Colosseum collapsed because of a devastating earthquake.
  • The Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as animal hunts, mock sea battles, re-enactments of famous battles, executions and dramas.
  • During the inaugural games of the Colosseum in 80 AD held by Titus, some 9,000 wild animals were slaughtered, this was obviously well before animal liberation.
  • It is estimated that the games played in the Colosseum for hundreds of years have taken the lives of about 500,000 people and over a million wild animals.
  • Based on historical evidences, it shows that 200 bullock carts were used to transport marble to the construction site.
  • Receiving millions of visitors every year, the Colosseum is the most famous tourist attraction of Rome.
  • Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney and Ray Charles were some of the few famous singers that performed at the Colosseum. 

We followed our tour of the colosseum with a tour of Palatine and the Forum.  It is astounding that some of these ruins still exist, and my children seemed to enjoy jumping on the big rocks and fallen marble. It was a day filled with history lessons, and a lot of walking. 

Picking flowers at Palatine

Climbing ruins at Palatine

Exploring the Forum
 Still not feeling 100%, I took a pregnancy test, and had a sigh of relief that there will not be a little Roman baby.  But no sigh of relief as I am awake all night running to the bathroom and rinsing off dirty clothes.  I get up in the morning feeling like I am recovering from Woodstock.  Noises were amplified, lights magnified, and even the smell of coffee makes my stomach turn and my sphinxter play peek-a-boo.  We decide to alter our plans by heading directly to our hotel in Perugia, so I can rest, and the tour group can continue onto Assisi for the remainder of the day.

We pack our suitcases, pay our bill, and ensure that something is broken minutes before the hotel manager comes to inspect the room.  In this particular case, our princess has self-selected a very nice glass coffee table.  The smashed glass is cleaned, invoice for replacement table paid, and we are on our way.

Car convoys are always amusing.  Particularly when both cars have a GPS that obviously attended different navigation schools, both drivers like to 'trust their sense of direction', and both passengers like to panic.  We had the lead but took a few wrong turns, and managed to loose my parents in the process.  We pulled into a service station and attempted to calmly talk them through the GPS menu to check the address and turn up the volume.  I must admit I was a little concerned to hear their estimated time of arrival had leaped from 2 hours to 3 hours, and then to 5 hours, (all in a manner of 2 minutes), "Oh lordy it is going to be a long day!"  There are now four people yelling in my parents car; my mother, my father, me on the phone and Lois their GPS advisor, (who is now stuck on the highest volume possible).  I think my mother had had quite enough and left me with a simple "We will see you there", before hanging up the phone.  I could hear doubt in her voice and did not know if it was because she did not think they would make it to Perugia, or if she was ready to ditch the tour group.

The drive ended up like a treasure hunt as we slowly passed all the clues my parents had left us.  The 44km until next service station sign, the 2 toll stations, and even the farm tractor they were passing at one stage; as it turns out my parents were actually infront of us, not behind us, (until they detoured onto the dirt road leading to a random farm house).  Happy ending for all as we checked into the Perugian hotel safely, and my mother arrived saying it was a beautiful drive with no dramas.  (I think the Tuscan hills stole her stress on the drive.)

Still feeling ill, I spoil myself with a bath and a sleep, and I send my parents, hubby and angels to Assisi, one of the most religious places in the world, on Good Friday....
Stairs in Assisi that I did not have to climb with a pram!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No high 5 for the pope

When in Rome do as the Romans do... drive fast, eat and drink well, dress smartly and look important!  It looks like I will have a challenging next few days!
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city.  Romes history spans over two and a half thousand years, so needless to say, we had a lot to try and do in our 2 days of 'touristing'.  We started the day with a great buffett breakfast on our roof top terrace overlooking the top of St Peters Basilica, then strolled to see the Basilica in all its beauty.

St Peters Cathedral seen from breakfast terrace 
Rome has for centuries been the home of the Roman Catholic Church and the bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the pope.  As we arrived at Vatican City, we were greeted by a swarm of people eager to be present for the popes address.  Sections were restricted and I was approached and asked if I would like to enter the barricaded area. "No thanks" I replied casually, then I realised I may of just given up the opportunity to shake hands with the 'Big Papa', (does he shake hands), or perhaps a high 5?  Isn't he supposed to perform miracles or something?  I have a nasty rash on my finger, maybe he could get rid of it for me?  Feeling like I had just thrown away a winning lottery ticket, we waited for a while, then decided to catch the open bus tour. The crowds were similar to that of the Super Bowl, so best to get out of there while there was still a bit of walking space.  We did actually manage a glimpse of  Papa Benny as he arrived.  Did you know he whips around Vatican City in a little white golf buggy?  He does not drive of course, that is his caddies job.
Golf buggy Vatican style

"Yoo hoo, over here!"
The bus tour took us past all the major sights such as The Roman Forum, The Colosseum, The Vatican, and several areas of untouchable rocks and bricks, (that now shelter and provide play havens for tailess cats).  The history is amazing, the fore thought mind blowing, and I feel as though I am literally witnessing where the world began.
"Now listen carefully son, there will be a history test after the bus trip!"
We chose to further explore by foot and walked from St Peters, past Castle of Saint Angelo and into Pantheon.  Lunch in Piazza Novana and gelato at the Trevi Fountain; after refueling our bodies, we walk to a crypt that displays bone art by the Capuchin Monks.  Off to the Spanish Stairs, "Just because it is something you have to do", is the response to my parents when they ask why.  I have a feeling my tour guide skills were fading as the day progressed.
Castle of Saint Angelo


Piazza Novana

Trevi Fountain

Capuchin crypt

Spanish stairs

Times have changed for me.  Instead of bar hopping, we are church hopping.  We entered several different churches during the day, just to appreciate the uniqueness on offer.  My parents were quiet.  Even hubby mentioned, "Um, they are not saying too much, do you think we are boring them?"  I replied that that is not the tour guides problem.  Afterall, it was a bit late now for my parents to book with another tour company.

Returning to the apartment, children fed and put to bed, we finally managed to absorb part of our day.  I was relieved to know that my parents were as moved and taken by the history, beauty and enormity of ambience as my husband and I.  Tomorrow is a whole new day.

IF Interesting Fact
On June 13, 2007, a 24-year-old man attempted to drive a Toyota Celica down the Spanish Steps. No one was hurt, but several of the 200-year-old steps were chipped and scuffed. The driver was arrested and a breath test showed his blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit for driving.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Acoustics for Dancing Queen

Mum proving she is as strong as Dad

Dad holding up Leaning Tower

Next stop Roma.  But what sort of tour guide would I be if I did not take my parents to the Leaning Tower to hold it up first? Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, (pronounced 'Pizza' by my parents).  The Leaning Tower is the most famous image of the city, but it is only one of many works of art and architecture in the city's  Piazza del DuomoIt also houses the Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistery and the Monumental Cemetery. I did prewarn my tour group that the tower was smaller than they may anticipate; they still seemed to be quite impressed by the archetectural beauty of the tower and the duomo.  We bought tickets and went inside the Cathedral to witness beautiful paintings, mosaics and coffer ceiling.  The Baptistery's interior was suprisingly bland and lacked decoration, but it had notable acoustics.  A caretaker demonstrates 3-voice polyphonic harmony every half hour into the large tube columns in the centre. It took every bit of will power I possessed  not to break into song, (I would of done a great version of Dancing Queen by Abba).


Duomo exterior

Playing drums in the Duomo

Duomo interior

Battistero di San Giovanni  

Baptistery interior

After an hours stop, we head back to the bar next to our parked car to buy a stale foccacia for lunch.  Then get caught by the owner sneaking out of the patisserie up the road with an unstale foccacia.  The coast road towards the end of our voyage to Rome is quite pretty, (and the 7 prostitutes spread along the main highway provide us with some giggles and entertainment).  As expected, driving in Rome is intimidating, and we are pleased to arrive at our apartment safely so we can put the car keys away for a couple of days. I actually would of preferred the car keys to go away before they assisted my husband in driving over my seeing glasses.  I accidently dropped them when getting out of the car, then hubby decided to fix his parking; forward, backwards, forward, backwards, crunch.  Now I can not look down my nose at my kids without my glasses falling off and banging them on the head. 'Two birds with one stone' perhaps.

Interesting Fact
Italy's largest baptistery (54.86m tall and 104m in circumference), the Battistero di San Giovanni is also slightly taller than the Leaning Tower across the square. As it shares the same unstable ground as the tower, the baptistery also has a slight lean of 0.6 degrees towards the cathedral.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Train karma

We have another full day at Cinque Terre and decided that a boat trip may be the best way to take in the full beauty of the area.  It was team goal to be at the train station on time with coins in hand in the morning, and we did so successfully 2 minutes before the train was to depart.  We also successfully managed to delay the train by 10 minutes by breaking the door trying to ram the pram inside.  Yup, we broke a train door, another achievement to add to my list of things I do not particulary want to achieve in life.  The door would not stay closed and after much confusion and attempts to fix it, the conducter taped it up, locked it permanently, and gave us a look of "please try not to break anything else".   (Perhaps this was karma for the train not waiting for us the day prior?)

I feel fine enough last night to have a glass of wine, (suprise, suprise), and watch a beautiful sunset.  But feeling a little off again this morning, I am now convinced that I am either pregnant due to immaculate conception, or I have finally contracted the gastro bug my family all revelled in the week prior.  (I feel a bit silly now thinking it was my sunglasses making me sick.) Unfortunately, since we are a family of sharers and carers, my mother is now also sick; in hindsight, probably her own fault as she is the one who raised me to share.  We board the boat and I am chewing motion sickness gum like a dirty baseball player chewing tobacco.  The view from the sea was the best way to admire the scenery and provided a panoramic view of the entire coast with its picturesque villages.  It is breathtaking, every stop is post card perfect, the weather is charming, my motion sickness gum is working, and I have another 'pinch me I must be dreaming', (but do not literally pinch me I bruise easily), type moment.



 We docked at Portovenere, an impressive sea village, with tower like houses trimming the old town of churches and castles that dated back to the 4th century.  We climbed aboard another boat for a quick tour of the islands Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, before enjoying a leisurely lunch then boat returning to Monterosso.


Boat trip around 3 small islands
 Last night of our stay was enjoyed with yet another glass of wine and a picture perfect sun set.

Another sunset...

IF Interesting Fact
The mountainsides of the Cinque Terre are heavily terraced and are used to cultivate grapes and olives.  (Wine and olives, my 2 favourite things, what a magical place!)