Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Front entrance to Villa Reale
The "Villa Reale" is composed of neoclassic style buildings; it was built in 1777-80 thanks to the archduke Ferdinand of Austria from the project of Giovanni Piermarini. Today it hosts the Civic gallery of art and the historical Museum with cloths of the XVII century and works of the XIX century.  It is 'said' to be open 7 days a week, but who ever said that is a big fat liar, or I am just becoming extremely simple in my old age, and obviously can not comprehend timetables or tourist brochures.  Firstly the entrance is from the road, there is no parking from the road, so we drive to the car park for Monza park and follow the signs.  We still can not seem to make it to the front entrace so we walk the entire circumference of the palace to make it to the front.  We stopped a man aged in his 60s dressed in lycra for directions to the entrance.  (To clarify, lycra seemed a bizarre choice as he was not pushing a bicyle, nor was he carrying a getto blaster and wearing leg warmers. But seemed friendly enough.)  I  even saw people out on the back steps of the palace taking photos, the thought crossed my mind, "Let's just knick in the back door"; but decorum over ruled and we looked for the front access.  Which was closed.  Ghost town.  No body around.  Strangely enough there was an open air theatre set up in the front yard.  I sort of felt like it was a suprise party I was not invited to, "Don't come out yet... she may see us!" So I waited at the front for a while, took a few photos for evidence just in case, then decided the palace was not meant to be. 

Nice back drop for a movie

Rear view of Villa Reale

So we decided to head to Monza Park for a picnic.  The park of Monza is located right behind the Villa Reale, and claims to be the biggest in Europe. It covers an area of 800 hectares, surrounded by a wall of 12 kms in length.  It was created in 1806 and later enlarged, originally starting as the park belonging to the "Villa Reale" and then becoming a much larger area which includes, apart from the "Villa Reale", the famous racing circuit (the Formula 1 track fits easily in it and can only be reached after walking for an hour or so), the horse racing course of Mirabello, two golf courses, a polo field and a swimming pool.  Not being to crash hot with directions, we actually parked in Monza Park and walked back into Villa Realle for our picnic.  Oh well.  It had a lot of grass, how was I to know that the big concrete barrier was a dividing wall?  We found some grass with the backdrop of a mini castle which is actually a cafe,  and decided to play and picnic.  Bocce, running up and down hills, eating, drinking, rolling down hills, being pulled down hills, reading books on a rug, and 'becoming one with bees'; finally halted by crutch grab and "pee pee" call.  So rush to the nearest toilet found us near the bike hire station.... Hhhhmmmmmm.
Lesson 1 - How to roll down a hill

Lesson 2 - Bocce balls are hard, aim for the ball not siblings

"I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts!"

Lesson 3 - Pulling your brother on a sheet is perfectly acceptable on gentley sloping grass;
 it is NOT acceptable on rocks or stairwells.

Our view from picnic rug
You know we had our bikes stolen.  Everybody seemed to be riding their bikes in this park. To be totally honest, I felt resentment, perhaps I did visualise a few of the fellow bike riders hitting a "really large pebble" and going posterior over mammary glands, (ass over tit).  But I am larger than this.  My bad luck, there good fortune... sure, ride your bike in the outdoors with your family.  Smile.  Get fresh air.  Teach your children about the importance of nature and the surrounds.

Bike hire
 I will not be beaten.  We are going to hire bikes, we are going to have fun, and we are not going to be concerned that we look like a scene out of  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ( , and by the way bike hire is by the hour.  Isn't Sunday supposed to be a day of rest?  "Huff puff, huff puff" ...... and on return of our cariage, our malnutirtiented bicycle merchant comments "Oh... your finished already?" (said in Italian obviously, but I get the gist!) And now, unlike "a true Italian mamma", I do not remove my heel and throw it at his head, nor do I kiss him on both cheeks and say he just needs a good woman to plump him up.  I simply smile, I did have fun, (35 minutes of fun to be exact), I challenge him to ride on a bike with my children for an hour, I say this in English, and really quickly.  (I have to watch my mouth, soon someone is going to understand english and not my sarcasm...and take my children.)

Riding on the road

Riding on the gravel

Riding off the beaten track

Some hills proved too much for the thighs!
The day ends with 3 turns on the carasoul, and 10 turns each on the jump and slide.  Not quite sure who had the most fun here... I do love a good slippery dip!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bonza, bonza, off to Monza

The history of Monza is closely related to that of Milan. The cathedral, founded (6th cent.) by the Lombard queen Theodolinda, contains the iron crown of Lombardy, which was made, according to tradition, from a nail of Christ's cross from the crucifixion, and which was used to crown Charlemagneme, Charles V, Napoleon I, and other emperors as kings of Lombardy or of Italy. This definitely warranted the purchase of a ticket.  Forethought... kids free, yeehah!!  They only allowed groups in on half hour timeslots and we managed the last before lunch.  After thought.... I do not undersatnd Italian... doh!  So I hear, "blah, blah, blah, princepessa, blah, blah, princepe, blah blah". I felt as though I was about to witness some sort of rare spy device, (x-ray goggles would of been cool), as the informant unlocked vault after vault to finally reveal the crown in a glass chamber.  We were even locked into an iron gated section of the cathedral to witness the crown, (not quite sure how a fire evacuation plan would come into practice here).  I am later to find out that the alleged nail from Christ's Cross is about as feasible as my qualification for the tv show So You Think You Can Dance.  Not likely.  But none the less, it was a pretty crown.
The treasury also contains the crown, fan and gold comb of Theodelinda, and, as well as Gothic crosses and reliquaries, a golden hen, (no it does not lay golden eggs) and seven chickens, representing Lombardy and her seven provinces.

After our crown viewing we took a quick exit out of the echoing cathedral to walk the streets and grab some lunch.  It seems odd to say that each of these places we visit are so different from each other because I know I always describe the cobblestone streets, cute little alleyways and numerous churches.  This is obviously prevalent in most small Italian cities, but they all still retain their own differing character, like a birthmark would seperate a twin. 

The children dictate where our lunch stop will be, with a call of "pee pee", my son has his hands on his bits as he hops up and down, so we go to the closest restaurant near us.  We enjoy a few glasses of wine and mixed paninis, and I have a relaxing lunch.  My husband on the other hand gets to experience what he only describes as a "poo party", with both children, on seperate occassions.  For some reason, he is looking a little stressed when he returns to the table with son in a completely new outfit, he is muttering something about no nappy wipes in the bag.  On reflection, those snarling noises he was making at me were probably out of animosity not flirting.

We decided to just wander the streets, passing several churches, we found ourselves in and out of a couple of stores, and took a break for some gelati.  This seems to be our common weekend practice.

We stumbled upon Arengario, the broletto of Monza, a medieval palace which used to serve for meetings of the city council or nobles.  Its arcaded groundfloor occasionaly served as an open court of law, and I am sure as a shelter from the rain for shoppers in modern times. 

The Autodromo Nazionale Monza is a race track that has hosted the Formula One Italian Grand Prix since the sport's inception.  It is built in the Royal Villa of Monza park in a woodland setting, and the site has three tracks – the 5.793 kilometres Grand Prix track, the 2.405 kilometres Junior track, and a decaying 4.250 kilometres high speed track with steep bankings.  We were hoping to make the park in the afternoon, but as the clouds rolled over and we noticed the time on our watch, we decided for another day trip tomorrow. 

IF - Interesting Fact
The Monza circuit has been the arena of many fatal accidents, especially in the early years of the Formula One world championship, and has claimed the lives of 52 drivers and 35 spectators.

The definition of Bonza is excellent, pleasing and amusing... I think this describes Monza perfectly.  All is bonza when in Monza!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bulls in a china shop

Since we are trying to squeeze in tourist acts in any moment possible, we decided it was time to take the bulls by the horns and visit a museum in Milan.  We generally avoid museums.  I am presuming they have a similar motto to shops regarding valuables, "You break it, you pay".  Therefore entering the china shop wearing red with two juvinille bulls would not be in our best interests.  I am not even quite sure how you would go about replacing a vase from the 5th Century, "Do you take VISA?"

The Bagatti Valsecchi Museum is a not-for-profit historic house museum in downtown Milan. The Italian Renaissance art and decorative arts collections of the barons Bagatti Valsecchi are displayed in their home and visitors may view not only particular pieces of art, but also the house's authentic ambiances, expressive of late 19th century aristocratic Milanese taste.  The children are told not to touch, but as we enter the first room they both run to climb up onto an old chair.  From this point on, we are followed extremely closely by security in each room, (I can even let you know that the security man in the study had bad breath), they were definitely near-at-hand and not stealth.  Bit hard to blend in really; clumsy family of four enters and my husband's whispering louder than a scream "Don't touch" to the bulls.  Waste of time really.  Bulls obviously don't understand english, or italian.

The building was designed in Neo-Renaissance style, it has an elegant facade and is furnished with works of art and imitation Renaissance furniture.

15th to 17th century furniture for children
The rooms feature tapestries, ivory work, ceramics and arms, and important art works.

16th and 17th Century porcelain vases

Found next to a bed, alarm clocks have definitely changed over time

Bath tub

16th century wood paneling furniture concealing a piano

Private ballroom for princess to perform her ballet

Potty training anyone?

16th century bed with Christ ascending Calvary and scenes
from the old testament carved in the bedstead.
We managed to escape without having to pay for anything, and the non-smiling guards even managed a smile at us as we were leaving.  Hang on a minute... was it because we were leaving?  I wish we had taken the opportunity to visit a few more places like this sooner, it is a great way to educate the children and I relish in the history.  I love old stuff!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Hey Cremona, ohhhh Cremona!"

Cremona is a city in northern Italy famous for its production of high-quality violins. We had decided that Cremona would be a good destination for a day trip for two reasons; its travel time from Milan was under my prerequisite of 1 and a half hours, and Cremona rhymes with Mona. Sounds like a silly reason?  Not really since I have had  "Hey Mona" sang by Craig McLachlan (ex-Neighbours actor) stuck in my head all week.  So luckily for my family the entire car trip to Cremona went with me singing a little like this....
"Hey Cremona, ohhhhh Cremona, hey Cremona, ohhhh Cremona,
Tell you Cremona, what I'm going to do, (add air guitar and Billy Idol lip raise here)
I'm going to take my family and come visit you, (add air guitar and Billy Idol lip raise here)
We'll eat gelati and drink your wine, (add air guitar and Billy Idol lip raise here)
Climb a big tower and have a great time, (add air guitar and Billy Idol lip raise here)
Hey Cremona, ohhhhh Cremona, hey Cremona, ohhhh Cremona!"

My husband will have you believe otherwise, but his humming turned into singing, and we had more than 4 verses to our song by the time we arrived.

Beautiful buildings
 We are still finding hidden treasures in Italy, I thought it would not be possible to find anymore great destinations.  Seriously, I'm like Christopher Columbus on a good day.  Cremona is a modest sort of place that has some fine Renaissance and medieval buildings, and its cobbled streets make for some pleasurable wandering.  We were greeted by markets spread out over two large piazzas and in several streets; this is a great start to the day for me, I think markets always create a friendly atmosphere. It offered the same general fare we are accustomed to, with clothes, bags, underwear, fruit and vege, with the occassional odds and ends stall. 

Cremona has a picturesque historic center with most sights clustered around the main square, Piazza del Comune. It was interesting to see how quickly this space was transformed from a busy market place, to an outdoor eating area for the local bars.


nuts, olives, dried fruits

Delicious grilled prawn and squid
Once again we had a lovely lunch in a restaurant found down a little alley, but still retaining the duomo as the backdrop.  I am silently starting to panic that these weekend lunches are coming to an end.  Children seem to be in rhythm and routine; toys out, dispersed between two, extra cushion requested for kneeling on the chair, and juice ordered; next, scout nearby patrons for some attention.  On this particular occassion there was a little boy behind us, so he unknowingly provided entertainment, and it proved to be a successful meal with only 3 toilet trips.

Our lunch stop

The Torrazzo houses the world's
 largest astronomical clock.

The Cathedral bell tower, (Torrazzo), is the second tallest brick tower in Europe and Europe's oldest surviving tower over 100 meters tall. It was completed in 1309 and is 112.7 meters.  The tower was going to be a challenge.  Foolishly I have been running the stairs in our apartment for the last few mornings as well as a few gym sessions, feeling fragile would be an understatement.   Truth be told my calfs and thighs quiver even trying to get on and off the toilet at the moment. There is an impressive 500 stairs to be climbed to reach the top of the tower  for magnificent views of the city and countryside, (I get in early and register interest in the lighter child for when their legs decide not to work).  Needless to say my children are warriors.  500 stairs unassisted.  "Oh yeh, go baby!"  (imagine me double pumping like Beyonce right now).  We had to be extremeley quiet as to not scare the dragon away, but what ever works right?  Parenting has had me doing some bizarre things, like waving goodbye to bodily functions, and eating air cake, (which apparently I took a bite too big the other day), so an imaginary dragon hunt between tourists is not so embarassing really. We had to help a little with the last few steps which were cramped and spiral; and vertigo was setting in for me, it would of been nice to have my husband carry me also.  (Am I expecting too much out of our marriage?)  The view was worth the effort. Town planning intrigues me in Europe how things appeared centred around the church, then neatly cobwebs out from there.  Princess and Prince had a quick little run, (about 1 minutes worth).  "We are ready to go now!"  What goes up, must come down, only with half the man power.  The children are carried the entire way down, but I am not bothered as I am proud of there 'up' efforts, (and I had already reserved the light weight).

500 stairs and over 100 meters tall

"I do it!"

Amazing views
The duomo was closed for lunch break, yes even the devout need some downtime.  We filled in some time with gelati on the steps and a game of chase around some statues.  The early 12th century cathedral, or duomo, is Romanesque in style with Gothic and Baroque elements that were added later. The facade holds many sculptures and inside the Cathedral are 14th to 16th century frescoes and other important artworks.  I thought it was beautiful.  I told hubby that it may even be the most beautiful duomo we have visited.  He responds by letting me know that apparently I say this everytime we leave a church.  I must really start paying a bit more attention to myself.
Duomo and tower


Every bowl was out of holy water? Alot of weekend visitors.  This particular one had a lizard at its base.

Every wall was covered in frescos, marble or gold trimmings

Ummmm, pretty sure the priests cloak room and computer was supposed to be out of bounds.

Floor to ceiling, just amazing!

Quick play before going inside

Always time for gelati
 The Palazzo Comunale, or town hall, was constructed in the early 13th century. 13th century frescoes can be seen under the portico while other frescoes are from the Renaissance period. Inside there are decorated rooms of the palazzo and an exhibit of string instruments, (we did not enter the violin museum as my son is currently obsessed with "rocking out on his guitar", I had a vision of him smashing a violin on any platform he may find).

Town Hall

Also on the main square, the Loggia dei Militi dates from the 13th century and is a good example of Lombard-Gothic architecture. Under the portico you'll see Hercules holding the city emblem as according to legend, Hercules founded the city.

Cremona has been a famous music center since the 16th century and is still known for its artisan workshops producing high-quality stringed instruments. Antonio Stradivari was a famous luthier, producing over 1100 violins and his violins are some of the best in the world. Today there is a a luthier school and many small workshops producing stringed instruments.  They even have a large violin on the roundabout as you enter the town, I guess similar to the Big Banana and Big Pineapple.  Small towns love to glorify themselves with big things.