Monday, June 27, 2011

I'd prefer pull a rabbit out of my hat

I have officially achieved a hat trick!  Something has been accomplished 3 times, in this instance, I am referring to theft against me for the third time.  Alright, so this is not necessarily the kind of hat trick I wish upon myself.  Personally I would of preferred my hat trick to involve pulling out a rabbit, or rolling a top hat down my arm.

First I had my handbag stolen.  Then our car was broken into and someone stole our GPS, (which only spoke english by the way, so I hope the thief in this instance only speaks Italian).  Next; our weekend entertainment has been stolen.  Goodbye to my new bicycle, and to my husbands bicycle.  As a matter of fact, also a big farewell to the other six bicycles that have also been permanently borrowed from our apartments bike rack.  You would think I should solace in the fact that another six bikes were taken.  Nope.  There is no comfort in my sorrow.  Is it my bad luck or does Milan just have a high crime rate? How do you casually steal eight bikes?  What do you do with eight bikes? Were there eight thiefs?

Is this where my bike has gone?
I can not help but think that maybe if we rode to the markets on Sunday, (which is apparently when the robbery took place), that my bike would still be here.  I wonder if my bike had not been your 'average looking bike' then the thief would of thought it too suspicious to take.  They say "Third times a charm", I do not find this 'burglary thing' charming at all.

Maybe if I had this sort of bike it would of been left behind
What upsets me most of all, is the dwindled visions of  "happy European family" bike rides.  We only have six weeks to go.  It looks as though we will have to conclude our European tour via scooter.
Good things come in three's.
Three cheers for the thiefs, hip hip, hooray, hip hip hooray, hip hip hooray, (now stay away)!
I think the bandit came prepared with REALLY sharp scissors

This empty bike rack reflects the empty spot in my heart

I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like
- Queen

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Contagious moods and lack of lolly pops

On the last Sunday of the month, (excluding July and August) Naviglio Grande (the larger canal in Milan) comes alive for antique markets.  We had heard of these markets and today was literally our last chance to visit as they were about to close for the summer break, (along with the rest of Europe) and we would be ending our stay here in Italy mid August. 

Water was shallow and quite clear

Length of the market is said to be over 1km long
Second-hand vintage clothes, antiques, old books, furniture, clocks, silverware, jewellry, art work are all on display. For some reason I was expecting something similar to a flea market or a boot sale, but there were definitely no insects or boots for sale. The antiques are displayed by approximately 400 merchants and the market is unique due to its size and the variety of items.  Some furniture and art were priced over 1000€, and I think you needed a trained eye to distinguish between quality and a bargain.

Variety of instruments on display

"Can we carry this home on the metro?"

Retro posters and cards for sale

Navigation equipment for my next pirate adventure

No possibility of speed dialing here...
A lot of the shops on the canal are local artists and if you wander into some of the courtyards you can see more art on display as well as see the traditional public style housing of the past.  This ancient market was known as the “Artists center” where artists wanted to paint the old Naviglio canal and old buildings on the both bank of Naviglio. Even today this canal is used as an open air studio by many artists.

Art found permanently displayed on a wall in an alley

Exploring off the canal

Beautiful old buildings

a door
Some fashion designers have opened their boutiques and studios along the canal, I mostly noticed a retro vibe, and quite alot of comic book stores.
Gas pumps and juke boxes for sale

It was a really nice day and it would of been really pleasurable to stroll down the canal and see what interesting or strange things are on sale.  I say "would have" because with two tired toddlers in toe, princes bad mood was being contagious, and we were running out of lolly pops! After he spread his mood like the plague, he surrendered his complaints and settled for a sleep in my arms as i walked in the 30 degree heat.  Not quite the relaxing stroll I had envisioned.

 If you want to stop for lunch, many of the restaurants are open, but not until after 12, which is quite normal, but irritating when you have run out of lolly pops!  (Lolly pops are like my sponsor in an AA program, they should ALWAYS be accessible.) We found a great spot to have a foccacia, a refreshing ale, people watch and an opportunity for my son to sleep on my lap and dribble down my top.  I wish we had visited these markets sooner.  I have a feeling I will be thinking I wish I did that sooner about a lot of things in our last 6 weeks here.
My view from lunch, visual shopping

Energy restored after a bite to eat!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lost in translation

When I moved to Italy, my main concern was the language barrier.  I battled with my own insecurities in regards to communication, and I presumed that with my husband at work all day, it would be up to me to lead the family thru day to day life.  I was wrong.  I am being taught by my 3 year old. 

My daughter attends asilo in our building every morning, they only speak Italian to her, therefor I am learning something new everyday.  You don’t need to worry if you are not a native speaker, rather concentrate on what you learn with your child and incorporate the new words into everyday language. This can be as simple as replacing one word of an English sentence with the same word in the foreign language, such as a colour, a number or an animal. Replace English words with these words as often as possible. This will help build your memory and skill, and please your child with your efforts.

Cue cards attached to doors, furniture, food, appliances, clothing and other items around the home are also an effective tool to help your child learn the words even quicker. I have purchased many post it notes.  Check out videos and movies with a bilingual approach or try watching your child’s favourite DVD with a foreign language soundtrack substituted for English (most DVDs have Select A Language option). This was a particularly easy option for us with cable television as it was all in Italian, but we could mostly sub title to English.

After a few months you will start to see progress, with your child naturally substituting foreign words for English equivalents in sentences, counting or identifying objects in the foreign language. My child often chooses the Italian books over the english, and emjoys teaching her brother.  Most words are english but said with an italian accent and ending, finishing most words with "o" or "a", and of course hand gestures!

Remember that young children will stay engaged and respond to language instruction if you make it fun. Provide your child with a fun environment in which to practice the words and phrases that they have learned, incorporating these words into games and songs, you’ll be building a great base in the new language. And your child will be learning and not even realise it!

They say that children who learn another language seem to do much better at school and university, so I am figuring that by a bit of extra effort now, scolarships will be received and I am already looking into cruises. If you’re sighing and wishing you lived in Europe, don’t despair, it really isn't much easier here.  There are schools in every country to give your child the benefits of learning an extra language, but it must also stem from the parents efforts.

It doesn’t really matter what language a child learns or even if they don’t become fluent; what’s important is the different way of looking at the world, openness to diverse concepts and critical thinking that learning a foreign language provides.

Teach your kid yourself

You don’t need to be fluent in a foreign language to teach it effectively. All you need is a little preparation and lots of creativity.

Being in a relationship where my partner speaks other languages, I encourage him to use italian as often as possible with the children.  This also gives him a perfect opportunity to complain about me to the children without me getting angry as I can not nderstand a word he is saying!

Some language facts

Collectively, Australians speak over 200 languages.

A 2006 Australian Census report indicates that 17% of the Australian population speaks a language other than English at home.

The most common languages other than English are Italian, Greek, Cantonese and Arabic.

Collectively, Chinese languages (including Cantonese, Mandarin and others) have the greatest number of speakers after English.

The three most commonly spoken indigenous languages are Kriol (an Australian Creole) and two Central Australian languages – Pitjantjatjara and Warlpiri.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Brescia could of been home

Brescia is the second largest city in Italy's Lombardy region (after Milan). Often overlooked by tourists, Brescia has the making of a great town with a castle, Roman ruins, Renaissance squares, and a medieval city center. This was originally going to be our destination to live instead of Milan, so I was eager to see what 'could of been'.

Town Hall
Palazzo della Loggia, or simply the Lodge, is a Renaissance palace site in the square, now home to the municipal council of Brescia.  It is said to be the city's prettiest square and was built in the 15th century. This is where we had a lovely lunch of mixed bruschetta and reflected on our lovely Lake Garda holiday.
Enjoying the view of the piazza over lunch

Market in the piazza

Torre dell'Orologio or the clock tower, was modelled on the campanile in Venice's Piazza San Marco.

Porta Bruciata, in one corner, is a medieval tower and gate.

We decided to call it a day when the rain started, and being a Sunday, everything appeared to be closed.  So the verdict on Brescia?  Ummm... We visited Brescia.  I love Milan.

"Can we go home now?"

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Over the draw bridge to Sirmione

To ensure that we did not totally sloth out by the pool for our entire holiday, we took a quick drive into Sirmione.  We have visited once before when we explored the Rocca Scaligera, a 13th Century Castle, so this time the visit was purely to expel some infant energy.  To enter the old town, you must cross a draw bridge, so you literally feel as though you are entering a little medieval town, but instead of knights and travelling merchants, you are greeted with tourists and upscale shopping.

Rocca Scaligera

Chilli and lemon stall... we bought some fresh coconut, yum!
We strolled along the waters edge and found a little pebbled beach.  This was a great spot for the children to collect some rocks and for my husband to revisit his fear of big attacking birds, otherwise known as the gentle swan. 

No soccer on the pebbled beach

Frightening the swans

Now this bird is more husbands size prefence
We continued along the waters edge to find an artist painting the castle and princess was a little confused as to why she couldn't have a turn. 

There are thermal baths and a 1st Century Grotto (Grotte di Catullo) at the tip of the peninsula, but feeling the presence of the hunger monster, we weaved back through the streets of hidden hotels and fancy pants villas to a little restaurant.  A shared pizza and a dash of wine meant it was now time to return to the hotel pool for a lazy afternoon.  Another great day at Lake Garda.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Venice; labyrinth of beauty

We travelled to Venice for the day with 50 000 other tourists to visit my uncles and do some sightseeing.  Unfortunately, we had chosen a long weekend holiday to visit, which also coincided with the departure of 4 cruise ships over the weekend.  The last time I visited Venice, it was in Winter on a rainy day.  I was left with the impression of a misty, eerie, quiet and magical place.  On that occassion, we could barely see 2 meters infront of us while walking the streets, and all we could hear was the water lapping up against the boats and gondolas.  My impression of Venice has now changed.  This time round, Venice was bustling with excitement, sun glistened off the water, and even though their was a light floating scent of sweaty shoe, it was still magical. Venice captures the impression of a magical floating city; 400 foot bridges and 170 boat canals connect the city to make it easily accessible to the public and create a welcoming rat maze for tourists.

A day in Venice can be one big adventure. Caught in the winding and seemingly endless streets and bridges of confusion, you have no other choice but to keep on walking— which is actually a good thing! There’s no better way to explore Venice than by getting lost and being pleasantly surprised in what it has to offer at your next turn. Our wandering led us to Palazzo Pappadopoli.  This beautiful building accomodated an exhibition showcasing 19 independent artists for the 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, “ILLUMInations,” whose title literally draws attention to the importance of global artistic developments. Of course, by global artistic development, I really mean; holes in the ground to stand in, a watermelon cut into a square and placed in an empty room, a film of barbie lesbian love, and a mock beach set at night.  We accidently wandered into the staff kitchen, and it wasn't until we were told we had taken a wrong turn, that I realised it was actually a staff member washing dishes, not a 'live exhibit'.  Shame, she was doing a really good job.

Door knob found at Palazzo Papadopoli

Educating children with some art
 There was a great view out of the windows of Palazzo Pappadopoli of the grand canal, and it was a perfect spot to see the cartage of gondolas having drag races with a mixture of passengers.  We spotted tour groups, romancing couples, parents holding onto children shirts, and a man with his computer not quite willing to leave the bustle of life and immerse himself in the ambience of Venice.  These traditional and symbolic boats have been used as transport around the narrow Venetian waterways for more than 10 centuries. Evolving and perfected through time, Gondolas are designed to be easily operated by a highly-skilled oarsman known as a Gondolier, (they are also designed to empty the wallets of the voyager).

Seriously?  Put down the computer!

Hello Mr Gondolier...

Nice view

On your marks, get set, go!!!
We entered a restaurant that had been recommended, but upon their observation of my children, they were suddenly, apparently, 'fully booked'.  Considering the restaurant only had 2 customers and it was 1.30pm, I suspect they were more concerned about the possible on slaught and disturbance made by 6 adults and 4 children. I often wonder if restaurants in Italy have my family photo pinned behind the concierge desk with a big red cross through it.   We are known for leaving a lasting impression, (usually in the form of stained table cloths and broken glasses). So we found a little pizzeria and indulged in a typical italian lunch of breads, wine and pasta, followed of course by gelati, then another necessary stop for cold beer, cheese and meats.

Anyone have a wipe handy?

Num num num!
We reached the Rialto bridge and weaved our way through the mass of tourists trying to capture that typical holiday snap from the bridge down the grand canal.  Every city seems to have that illusory photo; holding up the leaning tower of Pisa, hand on top of the Eiffel Tower, pretending to lean on an Egyptian Pyramid, or to pick the nose from a face of Mount Rushmore.  We noticed extra crowds gathering around and water police and jet skiis started circling a terrace below.  Cameras started flashing hectically and people whispered to each other, "Chi è, chi è?" (Who is it?).  My husband recognised it to be the President of the Republic of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano.  My uncle on the other hand thought that another George would be more exciting.  So after a few loud squeels of, "It's George Clooney" and his amusement at the disruption he caused, we avoided the elbows of Italian mothers trying to get a closer look and headed back to their hotel.

Rialto bridge

Prince trying to see what the commotion was about

"Yoo hoo, George!"
Unfortunately, prince and princess could not make the distance, and needed to be carried, simulataeously falling asleep.  What better way to experience the 400 foot bridges, then by carrying the dead weight of the war wounded in the summer heat.  Fortunately for me, with two extra strong arms to help, we performed WWF sub technique for the entire walk back to share the load.

A queue was started behind my Uncle for a carry home...

Too much excitement

Too much magic
It was a lovely day, and I am glad we have now experienced a hot and cold Venice; good to know it is magical 100% of the time.

IF Interesting Fact

Only 3 to 4 Gondolier licenses are issued annually. To qualify, applicants must be able to finish an extensive training after passing a rigorous exam. Apparently there are only 400 licensed Gondolas operating in Venice today.