All things Italian

February has been a month of all things Italian.  With the kids hard at work getting used to distance education, and Paul working Monday to Friday in Rome, we decided to stay within Italy and spend the weekends exploring as much as possible.  With Paul’s contract quickly coming to an end too, we also felt the need to explore as much as possible in case we were leaving (good hindsight there!).  The kids and I are also visiting on a tourist visa, and we are conscious that our 90 days ends in the not to distant future.  3 months has flown by!

Naples and Pompeii were high on our list of places to explore.  We had heard mixed reviews about Naples, with most people either loving the eclectic, gritty streets or hating the city entirely.  Within easy driving distance of Rome, we headed down, sighing Mt.Vesuvius on the way.  A slight side trip took us to the Palace of Caserta, the largest palace constructed in the 18th century for the Bourbon Kings of Naples.  Of most interest to the boys were the cars parked inside the palace walls!  They had been driven down from Milan for an exhibition.  We were there pretty early so no barriers had been erected yet, allowing for a good look around!  The palace too was fairly empty of tourists, once again a major bonus of traveling in winter.  This also has downsides though, as the kids are very visible.  Staff followed us from room to room, tittering and grunting the Italian equivalent of “hands off” each time one of the kids came within breathing distance of an artifact, wall or window.  Swinging child-limbs were particularly frowned upon with disdain!  It made the experience slightly stressful, however we turned it into a walking joke and that shook off some of the pressure as we all wandered from room to room gawking at palace life.

The gardens were also meant to be spectacular.  In bad moods and freezing cold, we followed Paul the 2 miles to the back of the palace grounds to find the blessed gardens.  Not caring in the least, 5 of us walked through the garden gates, looked at the winter debris, and walked straight back out.  Poor Paul was very sad as we refused to walk any further in the cold, and he missed out on seeing what is meant to be remarkable English gardens.  He now starts the weekends by saying, “Anyone want to walk to see this garden I’ve heard about?!”

Naples is known for being pretty dodgy, so our next challenge was finding safe parking.  We had an idea to pay to park in an underground hotel carpark for the day as they are about as secure as you can get, which was great in theory, but proved mighty difficult trying to navigate the one way itty bitty streets, traffic and pedestrians.  We decided to chance a random underground carpark where they park it for you.  Given my parking disaster in Monaco, having someone park the car was far preferable than having to navigate it ourselves.  These carparks are beasts, going multi levels underground with poles that I am sure are positioned just to be hit.  We’d already packed all our valuables into one bag, and covered the rest of our luggage in the boot, so we headed off on foot to explore the city.  Good thing we took all our valuables too… when we got back to the car all our stuff had been gone through and shifted.  Nothing was taken this time thankfully (I guess they didn’t like our choice of undies and socks) but it shows you can never be too careful.

Naples is a great place to walk around and people watch.  Our favorite activity by far though was touring the underground bunkers and passageways.  We paid for a tour with Napoli Sotterranea, an entertaining and engaging tour group that have huge amounts of knowledge about the underworld in Naples.  The kids were enthralled immediately, as we navigated tight passageways and vast caverns.  All of us really enjoyed the part where we had to side-step through tiny gaps in the wall, with only candles for light.  We learnt a lot about life in Naples during WW2 and the bombings that shattered the city.

Rather than stay in Naples where decent accommodation is expensive, and cheap accommodation is super sketchy for a big family, we headed to Pompeii.  Our hotel was right opposite the entrance to the old city, so we knew we could explore bright an early the next morning very easily.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner at a family run trattoria in town, followed by a wander through the new Pompeii streets.

Once again, being winter, there was no queueing for entrance into Pompeii.  We decided to join up with two girls from China and pay a guy to take us around.  Staring at huge ruins is one thing, but having a knowledge guide being able to bring it to life makes the experience so much more enriching.  He engaged the kids the whole time, and taught us things we would never have otherwise known.  We thought the carved penises you see frequently on street corner walls was a sign that a brothel must have been there.  We were dead wrong!  They were symbols of vitality and fertility, blessing the people who lived in the surrounding streets!  Pompeii was and is, a once in life time opportunity that we are all blessed to have experienced.  We had hoped to climb Mount Vesuvius in the afternoon, but heavy cloud made it pointless.  So we headed north to Roma and began planning our next adventure!

Friends arrived the following day, so we geared up for a week of food, fun and frivolity.  We had a fabulous week with them, rounded out by a weekend in Florence that is one we will never forget.  Compared to Rome, Florence is impeccably clean.  There is an air of sophistication in Florence that isn’t present in Rome (probably because it’s masked by all the dog poo!).  We ate our way through salumeria’s, had the most phenomenal steak meal I’ve ever experienced, and danced like lids on the Ponte Vecchio.  Together with our friends, we made memories that we shall treasure forever.  Check out their amazing work at Dennistheprescott for a visual treat that will leave your tummy hungering for amazing food!

Following their departure, we planned for another weekend get away, this time to Amalfi.  It was another bucket list destination for me, so I was geared up and ready bright and early!  For weekend trips, we each pack a small daypack, making transportation very easy.  I’ve dreamed about driving the Amalfi Coast in a small convertible for many years.  Not quite a small convertible, but with a substantial sunroof, I fulfilled my dream in our Renault Espace.  For a people mover, it’s a lovely ride!

We booked a place through airbnb in Praiano, half way between Positano and Amalfi.  We had a stunning view across the water, and we were at the beginning of the Path of the Gods walk.  Our time in Amalfi was largely spent relaxing by the water whilst the kids clambered over rocks.  We walked the Path of the Gods, experiencing breath taking views in each direction, and enjoyed lunch in Positano.  We took it easy after a few big weekends away, and all came away better for it.  Amalfi is another ‘let’s go back’ destination, and Indi has decided it would be a great place to buy a house on one of the cliff’s, sit in his rocking chair drinking a glass of red with his cat on his knee, whilst writing a novel!

Rounding out February with a visit from some very dear friends, a trip to the Vatican Museums, and last meals at our favorite trattoria’s, February has been another stellar month.  Friends, food and fun seemed to be the February theme!

Today we say “Vediamo dopo Roma”.  We’ll be back someday to walk your endless cobblestone streets, argue with old men in the piazza about insignificant things (but what is this ‘home scholaring’ you talk about? I don’t understand?!), practice our Italian and eat more pasta.

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January’s adventures

From Corvara, Ostia Antica, Tivoli, Assisi, Spello, Rome, and Peru… it’s been an adventurous start to the year!

Corvara, Alta Badia is located in the Italian Alps in the Dolomites. The Dolomites are UNESCO world heritage listed and are a stunning part of the world Paul stumbled across online. Surprising the kids with their first ever snow experience, we spent Christmas through to the 30th December learning how to ski (or snow plough!). Discovering the ski culture ensured a fabulous week for us.  We headed to the slopes each morning around 830am, had lessons from 10-1, stopped for an hour for lunch, then attempted to ski from 2-4.30pm when the lifts closed as it became dark.  Dinners we usually cooked in our apartment, everyone being too tired to get re-dressed and head out to a restaurant.  By 8pm we were all asleep most evenings anyway!  Everyone loved the experience, the kids especially loved spending the afternoons chasing Paul down the runs.  It was awesome to see them bonding over something they could all share.  I don’t think skiing is naturally my thing. I am very good at getting on and off the ski lifts, excellent at eating lunch and simply wonderful at drinking wine of an evening. The co-ordination however of left, right, lean forward, was definitely not my forfeit. I gave it a solid try, but the bruises I am still sporting suggest much more practice is needed!

We spent Christmas Day playing games at our apartment, followed by lunch at a great local restaurant that had a mixture of Italian, Austrian and German cuisine.  Our lunch consisted of barley soup, a selection of meats and cheeses, wurstel, pork shank, lamb, local vegetables, and several desserts.  Christmas night we wandered down to the square, where Santa came and visited on a horse.  Sitting on hay bale seats, with tables attached to large drums filled with fire to keep warm, we were entertained by other tourists desperate to have their photo taken with Santa.  It was like watching a rugby scrum as parents shoved their kids to the front of the pack!

Aside from some sibling squabbles, and the occasional tantrum due to tiredness, we had a fabulous week away and I know that each of the kids would jump at the chance to ski again.

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An overnight stop in Bologna enroute to Rome.

Ostia Antica, an Ancient Roman city once the port of Ostia, it was also used as a fortress during its existence. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city was largely abandoned, allowing silt from the river Tiber to build up and eventually cover the existing infrastructure. The silt has ensured that most of the ruins are impeccably preserved, making the site comparable to a visit to Pompeii.  Visiting Ostia, only a 30 minute train ride from Porta San Paulo in Rome (3 euro for a return ticket), gave all of us a sense of what Ancient Roman life would have entailed. The ruins were almost completely whole in many places, therefore eclipsing the Roman Forum in our opinions, by enabling us to visualize daily life. We were able to enter the local pub, walk the commercial square, wander through the mill/bakery, and climb atop an apartment complex.

Tivoli, much like Ostia Antica, has a large set of ruins that once housed Emperor Hadrian’s country estate. Adriana Estate is over a hundred hectares of sweeping grounds, that once housed palaces, bath houses, a hospital, apartments, a commercial centre, and multiple buildings for entertaining. There is a huge olive grove which the kids loved running through, as well as pegging acorns at each other howling with pain, yet going straight back for more.

Tivoli is also home to Villa D’Este, which we enjoyed more than Adriana (probably because we’d just been to Ostia Antica and the ruins there really are pretty phenomenal). Villa D’Este has a very unassuming entrance, to the side of a quiet street in Tivoli. Inside, the buildings open up to reveal stunningly landscaped grounds with fountains everywhere you turn. The most impressive is perhaps the wall of fountains, stretching over a 100m long. We all loved visiting Villa D’Este, and imagining what life would have been like living there. The tranquility of the place was quite remarkable (though Ty and tranquil don’t usually go in the same sentence!).   The location is beautiful on its own, set into the side of a cliff looking back down the valley. Inside the estate has been restored to it’s original glory after being damaged during the war. Wandering through the home, each of the kids chose a ‘bedroom’… there was even one called Noah’s room which naturally he claimed!

The streets of Tivoli were lovely and quiet being winter, so we were able to freely wander around, poking our heads in the boutique stores and enjoying a delicious ‘pot luck’ Panini lunch (we had no idea what most of the ingredients were on the menu!

Entry to all of the above places were 8 euro per adult, and kids under 18 entered free. We have learnt we need to carry Noah’s passport everywhere now as we get questioned about his age constantly. He is loving it of course!

A day trip to the Umbria region on a weekend enabled Paul to join in our adventures. He is being very gracious allowing the kids and I to explore all week long, and he is loving his new job, but I know he would rather be with us than working! The Umbria region is famous for olive oil, local wine and truffles, so we thoroughly indulged in it all. Stopping in Spello, we walked briskly to the top of the town where we had a fabulous view back down the valley. It was bloody freezing though, and the cobblestones had largely iced over making walking a tad hazardous! After an hour or so of visiting Spello’s sites, we headed for Assisi, the main purpose for our day trip.

Rick Steves does a great free audio tour around Europe. We have each downloaded his app onto our various devices, and before we head out anywhere, we download the specific location we are going to so we can listen to his commentaries. Armed with earbuds and phones/ipods, we wander around various locations listening as he informs us about the history behind each place. He gives you a specific location to start at, enabling you to see all of the place in a specific order. This has been a fabulous find for all of us, allowing us to learn so much more than we would have on our own, as well as saving us mega $$$ hiring audio guides wherever we go. The kids enjoy being able to move at their own pace too, and each place comes with an interactive map, making it hard to get lost.

Assisi is a beautiful Italian town, built high upon a hill. We loved exploring the cathedral that is a monument to St.Francis, and the final resting place of his remains, as well as the castle and surrounding streets. Assisi is stunningly beautiful, with world-renowned artwork available to view, as well as a rich history. We really enjoyed being able to share with the kids the history of St. Francis. It was fascinating to them that he gave up living the life of a rich, businessman’s son, to live as Jesus lived. His desire was to love the unlovable, and care for those whom others had cast aside, as well as shun any form of materialism. It was a freezing cold day that we visited, with snow on the ground and icy roads, and they kept saying how cold St. Francis must have been in winter, given that he wore a simple sack robe and sandal-esque shoes, and most often slept in the fields. We were wrapped in multiple layers and still felt cold!

Arriving back in Rome we learned of the need for Paul to head to Lima, Peru for a couple of weeks. This year, our goal is to stay together as much as possible as a family unit. We haven’t had a year where Paul hasn’t travelled for long periods since the kids were born. They haven’t had their Dad come home to them every evening, for a year, ever.  So although it wasn’t planned for, we all booked last minute tickets to Lima!

Flying via the UK, then onto Lima, we arrived after 16 odd hours to a much warmer climate than Rome. Paul had flown ahead of us, so we jumped in a van and made our way to Miraflores, a suburb on the ocean in Lima. Unbeknownst to myself previously, Peru is home to some of the most fabulous cuisine in the world. With one of the top ten restaurants in the world in Miraflores, I quickly discovered that eating out in Lima is a treat for the taste buds!  We made sure to sample as much Peruvian cuisine as we could, especially loving the fresh ceviche.

Whilst in Lima we followed Trip Advisors advice and hit up many of the top 30 places to visit. We took in the zoo, the boardwalk, and many of the parks. We visited ruins, the Barranco district, surfed and swam with sea lions!

Heading further afield we visited Lunahuana in the desert and went white water rafting.  We all loved the rafting experience, although the water was pretty chilly.  Indi and Tia sat up the front of the raft, having no clue they would cop most of the rapids.  We have some fabulous footage of Indi getting unexpectedly wiped out, with his mouth gaping open in shock and the rest of us laughing like hyenas!

Our trip to Lunahuana was especially funny due to our accommodation.  Hailed as an ecolodge, we booked a place that looked and sounded great on paper.  Stating it could accommodate 6 people, we arrived to discover we had been assigned two rooms – one with a double bed and one with 3 single beds.  The bathroom was a communal bathroom down the hallway that we shared with other guests.  When we asked the owner about the possibility of an extra bed to accommodate all 6 of us, he shrugged and said, “No, we don’t have one!”.  Having left our bed rolls in Rome, Indi and Ty topped and tailed.  Ty woke in the morning with his teeth chattering, having lost his battle for the blanket in the middle of the night.

Paul and I woke around 1230am to a strange sound.  It was raining quite heavily outside, and the roof was leaking inside.  Paul jumped out of bed once he realized the strange sound was the water running through the ceiling and landing on him in bed!  Shoving the bed as far across the room as we could, and soaking the wet spots with a towel, we went back to sleep.  In the morning, Paul chatted with the owner about the rains and our leaking roof.  The owner shrugged and said, “It only rains here once a year.  What can you do?”  The whole experience was very ‘rustic’ and ‘earthy’!

Having booked our trip to Peru so last minute, we decided not to try and rush a trip to Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Mancora or the Nazca Lines this time around. We weren’t prepared with our gear, nor did we have the time to do it proper justice.  It is definitely added to our bucket list though of places we’d like to explore further!

Never having had the opportunity to visit before, Lima and surrounds was an unexpected treat for all of us. Rich in culture, history and with an amazing gastronomy scene, as well as having a lot of familiar shops and products, we all really enjoyed our time in Lima and felt quite at home there.

As January draws to an end, we’re enjoying visiting with some friends from the USA, Paul’s birthday is upon us this Sunday, and school officially begins next week.  We can’t wait to see what February brings!

Ty’s Skiing Adventure

Over Christmas we went skiing in the Dolomites.  The Dolomites are in the Italian Alps.  Before I went skiing I felt confident and happy.  I felt confident because I thought I was going to learn how to ski really quickly.  I felt happy because I was so excited to get out on the snow!

On the first day we had to get our ski’s, snow boots and helmets.  We rented them from underneath the ski school.  We got a locker.  The locker was cool because it had heaters for our gloves and boots!  On the first day it was really strange getting all our gear on.  Once we got all our gear on, we went upstairs and met Simone, our ski instructor.  

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Simone taught me how to get my ski’s and my boots connected, so I would be safe whilst I skiied.  We went down to ski-land, where there is a training hill, and an obstacle course to teach us how to lean, duck and turn.  We spent the whole first morning practising there.  Practicing there made me so happy.  I thought I would want to ski for the rest of my life!

That afternoon, Dad took us back to the Corvara ski slope, and I had my first go on a bigger hill.  I loved it and I felt so free!  I went really fast going down the hill in s’s!

After the second day of lessons, I was ready to go to another slope.  We went on a bigger ski lift, and Dad took me on an even bigger slope!  I felt so confident now, I kept going off on my own!

By the end of our week of skiing, I was doing jumps, and going really fast down huge slopes.  I loved everything about skiing.  I was even better than Noah!  On the last day, we entered an obstacle course race.  It was to see how fast we could go down a really fast slope, whilst skiing in s’s.  I came first and won a trophy!

I liked the white snow because it was cold. I really liked to throw snowballs at Mama!  I fell over a few times on the snow but it didn’t hurt.  I went on some of the most fun ski slopes and I did some jumps like a pro!

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At the end of the week we had to go back home to Rome.  I loved trying skiing for the first time ever.  I think I will come back again!

Roaming in Rome

Rome

Rome is a really cool city and I don’t think it is a bad place for our first inner-city living adventure. My favourite thing about it is of course the food but there is some cool stuff to see as well. I personally like it a lot.

The living quarters:

Our apartment is something that’s for sure!  It only has two bedrooms which means that I am on the couch.  This is ok except that the door doesn’t close fully to the balcony, which is great on the freezing winter nights! It feels tiny compared to my last house but I don’t mind because it is a roof over our heads and a bed to sleep in. The others complain that the smell is bad (it has sewer gas) but I don’t mind it that much, since I probably smell just as bad without a shower.  The shower, by the way, only has hot water when it feels like it, which isn’t very often. It is a good apartment despite all that and it just takes some adjusting to the different style of living. Outside of our apartment is our little neighbourhood area where I find the food amazing and a nice little quieter area of Rome.

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Our kitchen

Driving:

Let me talk about driving. All my friends are beginning to get their driver’s permits and I have been asked on multiple occasions if I have mine. When asked that question I answer that even if I could, it would be an accident waiting to happen. How people don’t crash here I will never understand but what I do understand is that I prefer to walk. The roads are all cobblestone which makes for a bumpy trip and there isn’t really any defined lanes. People have the freedom to drive pretty much anywhere, overtaking you from many different angles. The roads are tiny which makes driving in our new car even more interesting, since it is big compared to the tiny smart cars here. Another component under the driving section is parking. I feel bad for mum and dad because it is the most stressful thing. Everybody parks everywhere they can whether it’s the middle of the highway or inside our lobby, people always find a way!  

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Exploration:

Rome is insane. So much craziness packed into 1285 square kilometres. It has a really historic and fascinating history packed with information. It began in 31 BCE and now has many hidden surprises around every corner, literally. We will be casually strolling around and turn the corner and see the huge Pantheon appear out of nowhere. Over our stay we have explored most of the major sights and spent hours checking out the city. It is interesting to learn about and stand in the places of majorly important emperors and leaders who took over a large portion of the world today, expanding their empire with greatness. It was really cool seeing my favourite place in Rome, the Colosseum, after watching the movie Gladiator and learning about it with Rick and Lisa. It was a very important part of Roman history. A lot of places in Rome have domed roofs which is interesting when looking over from a high viewpoint. Another astonishing place to see was the Vatican which was the most magnificent church I have ever seen. On the topic of churches there is over 900 in Rome which is crazy. As you can tell the city is obviously a great place to be living in.

Food:

Man, food is my most treasured thing in this world, and this world sent me here for a reason. Italian food was good before but in Italy well, you get the idea. I have yet to go to one restaurant where I didn’t 100% love the food. I have a couple of favourites but it is too hard to pick between 9,700 restaurants in Rome. I love everything. There are great sandwich shops, pizza places, pasta places… it is heavenly. There is a great pizza place right near our house where eating there is always an experience. The owner is quirky, and has an obsession with cable ties.  Last time we went there he cable-tied Mum’s bag to her chair!  I also adore a pasta place in Trastevere which has amazing food and also a sandwich shop right near the Vatican called La Salumeria. Those are my top three restaurants so far but everything is good. Another great thing about Italy is gelati. It is reasonably cheap and a very great way to end a meal. We went to a place that has 50 flavours. My new favourite food city is Rome!  Rome is a really awesome city and I wouldn’t mind living here for the rest of the year.  Hopefully I can be upgraded off the couch though!

Written by Noah

Our new normal: re-learning new ways to live

I’m not going to lie, traveling with kids is hard work.  In the past 8 weeks I have been known to say, “On what planet did I think traveling with our kids around the world was a good idea?!”  They get tired.  They get grumpy.  They get sick of each other.  They get sick of moving.  They get sick of packing.  They get sick of looking at new things.  They especially get sick of looking inside another Cathedral!  To top it off, traveling involves moving in and out of different living/eating/communing spaces.  There is no ‘normal’ other than whatever happens, it is that moments ‘normal’.

For the past few years, we had the privilege of living in a spacious home with plenty of yard and streets to run around.  Each of us had our own space that we could find peace in, rejuvenate and chill out in.  The house was functional, clean, warm in winter, cool in summer, and set up just right to accommodate our family.  Traveling is totally different. You have to take what you get.  It requires immense patience, tolerance, creativity and flexibility.

Our current abode is a 2 bedroom, 6th floor apartment 20 minutes walk from the heart of Rome, Italy.  The totally space would fit inside our old kitchen and living room!  The location, however, is fabulous.  We are in the foodie capital of Rome, surrounded by fresh food markets, amazing restaurants and wine bars.  History is everywhere, with Roman ruins to be found around every other corner.  We are a few minutes walk from the Tiber River, a few minutes walk from the Metro and Train, and can access the beach waiting 40 minutes by train.  Truly, it’s a pretty great spot.

There’s only so many hours, however, I can convince the kids to walk around the city, looking at monuments, exploring museums or talking about Ancient Rome.  They get sick of the cigarette smoke being blown in their faces and avoiding dog poo that litters the streets.  With so much high-density living, the only place for dogs to do their business is in the streets.  For some reason, not many people pick it up, so it’s everywhere.  When we walk, ‘poop’ gets passed down the line and we point, so it can be avoided.   On days when they don’t want to do much, we hang out in the apartment.

The apartment itself is itty bitty.  We have a narrow galley kitchen, bathroom/laundry, 2 bedrooms, a small balcony, and a small living room that fits a small table for 6 and a sofa couch.  There’s also a second toilet and shower stall, though the shower leaks water all over the floor (we’re trying to seal it) and the toilet is a camping toilet, so it’s only for number 1’s!

Living in such a small space requires massive changes from what we are used to as a family unit.  Someone is always tripping over someone else.  There is no peace and quiet or privacy.  We’re having to teach the kids to use quiet feet, and not drag chairs across the floor and run from room to room.  We’re all having to learn how to find downtime in a very small space.  Even getting into the apartment, up multiple flights of stairs, has required re-learning.  The stairs are marble.  Kids like to run.  They have no concept of picking up their feet to make the sound lighter, rather than the thumping echoes that our kids seem to excel at.  Re-learning how to climb stairs, to stop the guys from the apartment on the 3rd floor constantly sticking their heads out to see who is making all the noise, takes time and endless patience.

The apartment pipes have sewer gas too which makes for some stinky aromas.  The gas comes in waves throughout the day, coming up from the river, making for several gagging moments.  I have to remember to run water down all of the pipes each day to try and eliminate the worst of it.  To take out the rubbish, you have to carry it all downstairs, and deposit it in the right bins.  Shopping is all done via foot, so whatever you purchase, you have to carry back home.  No more fortnightly shopping for me!  It’s a lot of re-learning, re-adjusting and re-thinking all the time.  Some days it’s so exhausting we question the worth of the experiences we are trying to have.

Yet apartment living also provides countless laughs and quirky moments.  The guys across the courtyard hang their fresh groceries out the window to keep them chilled, rather than use their fridge.  We look out each day to see their blue bags holding clementines, apples and veggies from hooks outside the kitchen window.  Or the guys painting the 7th floor apartment across the courtyard who find our family entertaining to watch (no more walking round in underwear!).  The lady above us is an aspiring opera singer who practices for hours on end, and thankfully hits most of the right notes!  The guy that lives directly next door loves playing his guitar on a Saturday morning, and practices singing in English  to some of the old classics.  Someone above us has a very delicate snore that we are learning to blend in with our new background noises.  We haven’t been game enough yet to hang our laundry out the window like everyone else does… I’m still not sure my undies wouldn’t end up fluttering down and landing on someone’s kitchen window.

The apartment was originally purchased by a no-kid couple who are our Landlords.  They both worked and ate out most nights so the kitchen is pretty sparsely kitted out.  For the first week we lived here, I served dinner using plastic salad servers.  It’s pretty funny trying to flip burgers with a plastic salad server and not have it melt.  I can’t figure out how to use the convection oven either, (yes I’ve googled the oven but it has no serial or model numbers so I’ve looked for hours at images until I found the right one, and there are only the plans online, no user manual.  If anyone out there knows how to operate an Ikea/Whirlpool Convection Oven, please message me!) so dinners are limited to what I can create on the stove top.  My big treat today was to purchase a serving spoon, spatula and potato masher.  Mashed potatoes are never going to taste so good!

Entertainment is limited.  We are traveling with packs, so there is nothing substantial that fits inside to occupy a child’s mind.  The temptation is to throw their  various electronic devices at them and say ‘go nuts’.  I do utilize them each day, but with limited and monitored usage.  Instead, we have a couple of decks of cards that get a good work out everyday.  I always carry them in my bag so that if a meal is taken a long time to come, I can pull them out and we can play a card game whilst we wait.  We bought a $6 chess board that is passed around constantly.  A 1000 piece puzzle was a Christmas present that is now being built on a cardboard box in our living space.  Time on electronics becomes research into what we are doing the following day, or whatever we discovered today that we wanted to know more about.  Or online scrabble.  Or monopoly.  There are loads of boardgames online that are free to download.  Kindle is a fabulous app, that allows the kids to read each other’s books that we download from Amazon Prime.  For $10 a month we can download up 10 books at a time.  When we want to download a new book, we simply return the book that’s been read, and borrow a new one. For $10 a month, we get access to countless new release books.  Brilliant!

So far, we are all alive, we are exploring, and we are adjusting to our new normal.  We have fantastic moments, where we all stand in awe at the majesty of what we are witnessing.    Truly, the world is a ginormous place and we are barely scratching the surface.  We have moments where we are all yelling, arguing and wishing we were anywhere but here.  We crave space, security and continuity.  Despite the hardships we experience, we are making the most of our new space, our new environment, and the new places we choose to surround ourselves with.  It’s our choice to live like this, and we are attempting to make the most of every moment, every day.

A week in France

We had two main reasons for making Paris our first stop on this leg of our European adventure.  One was to collect a car we’ve leased for 4 months, which was cheaper to pick up in Paris than most other cities.  The other was to fulfill Tia’s wish of visiting the Eiffel Tower for her birthday.  So, after 28 hours flying and in transit, the kids and I made it to Charles De Gaulle airport, where we found Paul waiting in the baggage area.

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Paul watching us arrive in CDG airport from the baggage area!

Completely wrecked but willing to explore, we dropped our bags at the hotel, then headed straight out for a ‘short’ stroll.   As the temperature plummeted and the sun set at 4.45pm, so too did the kids waning enthusiasm.  Their body clocks were telling them it was roughly 1am, and it was time to sleep after only managing 6 or so hours in 2 days.  After 5km of wandering through the city streets, we found a restaurant and headed inside.  Within minutes of ordering, Ty was fast asleep with Indi following closely behind.  Much hilarity for other patrons ensued as they fell face first time and again, being caught by Paul or I before they landed in their meals.  Tia and Noah happily ate the extra food, and we somehow managed to wrangle them out of the restaurant and back onto the streets.

Paul was determined to visit the Louvre as Friday night was free entry night for kids saving significant $$$.  To put it mildly, I think we’ve cured out kids of the Louvre forever.  They all declared they never want to go there again (it didn’t help that we got lost and couldn’t find a way out for about an hour!).  No interest in the Egyptian artifacts, not a care about the Mona Lisa, paintings by the world’s most famous artists were ‘puff’, and Napoleon who?!  Note to self: don’t do anything significant with kids after flying from one country to another long haul.

Tia’s birthday dawned a pretty overcast day and very heavy pollution.  After a breakfast of chocolate mousse with a candle and ‘Joyeux Anniversaire’ sung by the hotel staff (who doesn’t want chocolate mousse for breakfast?!), we headed out to the Eiffel Tower.  Passing the Concergerie along the way, as well as a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral, we took in as many sights as we could.  Tia was adamant we would climb the Tower at night, so we took some happy snaps together, wandered underneath the structure, then headed for the Arc de Triomphe.

fullsizeoutput_3f83.jpegWe all loved the Arc de Triomphe, more for the round about entertainment than anything.  Though the fact that Napoleon built it to celebrate the French Army’s success and took 30 years to complete is a pretty cool fact!  One of the kids declared sitting on a bench at the Arc better than watching TV!  With no marked lanes, yet traffic coming from all directions and merging, turning and changing directions, it is a good half hour entertainment of near misses and collisions!

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Enjoying watching traffic!

After a wee nap in the late afternoon, we grabbed another train, and popped out at a Christmas Market on the Champs-Elysées.  Famous for multiple reasons, (the Tour de France finish line is here, Bastille Day parade occurs here, loads of cafes, etc), it felt like every mana and his dog had descended upon the avenue.  It was crazy packed, with hundreds of people squeezed in to a very small walkway.  At times, breathing was only possible if you could expand your chest far enough.  We managed to escape the crowds, grab some crepes, and head towards the tower.  The pollution was very heavy still and it wasn’t until we were right upon the tower you could actually see it.  Tia was gutted as we made the decision not to climb it that night, as the visibility was so bad.  She was naturally very upset, and there ended the evening!

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Waking on the Sunday morning, we discovered it had rained, washing away much of the pollution.  We quickly headed out, making a beeline for the Eiffel Tower.  Somehow we managed to arrive there 5 minutes before opening, Paul got us first in line to buy tickets to climb up (the massive queues were for people who were using the elevators), Ty ran ahead completely in his element, and we were the first ones up on level 1!  Walking around just the 6 of us with one other couple was quite surreal and eerie.  Who gets the Eiffel Tower to themselves?!  The view was stunning, with visibility well past Sacre-Couer.  Tia understood our decision we’d made the night before and there were many “I’m sorry’s” and kisses and hugs.

Next up we headed to Montmartre District, and Sacre-Coeur.  I personally love this area for all it’s colour and diversity.  The streets are fun, filled with little cafes and restaurants, there are artists everywhere, and the vibe is palpable.  We had a lovely time wandering through Sacre-Couer, taking in some of the Sunday church service during communion time.  We also had the added bonus of being spotted by a good friend from New Zealand, and having a silent very excited reunion within the church!  A big catch up ensued outside with views of Paris in the background.  Very surreal but we’ll take it!

After tripping round Montmartre we made our way back into Paris, and headed to the Musee D’Armee.  This seemed to capture the kids attention more than anything else we’d done.  With room after room of different wars and battles, they loved looking at all the various uniforms, weapons and battlefields.  We also chanced upon a live demonstration in the court yard and enjoyed watching the catapult and cannons in action.

The Monday morning we headed to the rental location to pick up our lease car.  Upon arrival, we were informed that the car wasn’t able to be brought into the city as the pollution was too bad (if the car hasn’t got prior permission on high pollution days it is not allowed inside certain limits).  The car was at another location waiting for us to pick up, about another half an hours drive.  Jumping in two taxis, with no idea where we were going, we headed off into the unknown!  Eventually we arrived in Roissy, right near the airport, and were shown our car.  Small by Australian standards for a people mover, teeny tiny by Texan standards, but big for Europe, we managed to somehow fit our luggage in and finally made our way out of Paris, only 3 hours later than we had hoped.  With a 7 hour drive ahead of us, we skipped a visit to Versailles as we had planned, and headed for Toulouse.  Let’s just say small car, tightly packed = grumpy kids and even grumpier parents.  Long drive!

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Heated seat, heated steering wheel, and massage chairs.  Yeah baby!

I seem to have a knack for finding dodgy locations (note to self, don’t book hotels close to major train terminals) and Toulouse was no exception.  Thankfully we had secure parking (though I almost took out the side of the car whilst parking) and a very secure apartment.  Dinner was bread, cheese and meats from the local supermarket, and we all crashed out for the night.  Only an hour from Toulouse is the town of Carcassonne.  We made our way there early the next morning, to visit the Chateau Comtal.  As far as Castles go, it’s the biggest I’ve ever seen!  We had a fun hour running around the walls, climbing the turrets and imaging ourselves pouring hot oil and flaming arrows at our enemies!

The medieval town of Aigues-Morte was our next car break.  Over crowded in summer, we experienced a nearly empty town within the fortified walls.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch at a bio-organic cafe, specializing in homemade burgers, crepes and wine!  Random combination but it suited all of us just fandandy (fine and dandy!).  Leaving the town we got to witness the famous Camargue horses running through a field in the Camargue National Park, dozens of flamingoes in the water, and the local breed of black bulls.

Arriving late in the day to Cavalaire-sur-mer, a seaside town about 10km from St.Tropez, we were greeted by our hostess at Villa la Clarte.  Accommodation in the French Riviera is pretty steep for a big family, especially if you’re staying one night, so a B n B was a great option for this stop.  We were the only guests, and were given the run of the place.  Our hostess was lovely, and cooked us a beautiful breakfast the next morning, with homemade pastries and breads.  Hello winter weight!

A short walk down a very steep hill saw us arrive along the main drag.  With the kids still adjusting to eating late (nothing opens before 7pm) we headed to one of the few restaurants open.  Our host at LC Caffe was fabulous.  He had very little English, we had very little French, but between us and another couple who got in on the fun, we managed to order a wonderful meal using google translate and charades.  The poor guy was exhausted after taking our order, but it was well  worth the effort!  One thing we noticed eating in different locations throughout France, was very few children out with their families.  We are used to being stared at being an above average family size, but here we stood out more the usual.  Loads of couples out eating, big groups of adults with friends, but barely any children.

The following day was a relatively short drive, though we did loads of stops to check out: St.Tropez, Saint Maxime, Cannes, Nice, Monaco, and Roqueburne-Cap-Martin.  The architecture was so very different between all the different seaside towns, from humungous mansions complete with heli-pads, to apartments set on the edge of cliffs.   Walking along the promenade in Cannes was gorgeous, with glorious winter sunshine and several elderly people swimming in the sea.  We climbed up multiple flights of stairs to a tower that overlooks the city of Cannes, which gave us a great overview of the area.

Noah loved Monaco and declared one day he is going to live there and drive a Lambo!  If I never go back again I will be just fine (I was the driver… the only positive was it helped prepare me for driving in Rome)!  We decided to park in an underground paid carpark and walk into the main area of Monaco, avoiding the potential difficulty of negotiating a bigger car on tiny one way streets.  Big mistake.  We parked in a garage with two different signs which we didn’t realize until we were stuck.  One way was for smaller vehicles, and the other for bigger vehicles.  Yep, I went the smaller vehicle way.  And got stuck.  Next to a pole and a wall.  With another (tiny) car behind me.

I will say though, Monaco is full of beautiful people and I would’ve loved some people watching time.  We visited the palace and watched as dozens of children exited the palace gates, arms filled with goodie bags and presents.  Later we discovered that at Christmas time with royal family host two parties: one is for the children of the palace staff, and the other is for underprivileged children of Monaco.  The royal family are present throughout both parties, and hand each child a named gift, chatting with every child individually.  Seeing the joy on the kids faces was pretty cool.  It helps that the palace is in an amazing location, perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean!

Making our way along the roads to Roqueburne-Cap-Martin in the dark probably wasn’t the best plan in the world (it makes the Great Ocean Road look like a walk in the park), but we managed to negotiate the tiny roads and constant hair-pin bends to arrive safely.  After dinner at another local haunt (we always try and eat where the locals frequent, not the tourists), we enjoyed walking the quiet promenade at night.  Somehow in our decision making, we decided a decent walk before crossing the border into Italy was in order.  We missed visiting the Monte Carlo Casino, so we made that our walking destination.  The walk was spectacular, but by the time we got to the Casino we’d already done 10km, and still had to get back!  Tia fell along the way too so we had a skinned knee and swollen hand to contend with, as well as a grumpy (older) teenager who has decided all walking is evil.  The only thing that saved the walk for him was seeing the cars lined up outside the casino. Once again, public transport came to our rescue as we ran for a train that deposited us back within 1/2km walk of our apartment.  We missed check out time (ops) and had a tricky half an hour where we had to decide what to do with the old fashioned keys (no key cards here) and remote for the garage entry.  Best not to miss check out time when it’s off peak season and the reception desks are staffed infrequently throughout the day.  Ops again.

Next stop, Genoa, Italy.  Famous for winding streets, chaos, and pesto genovese, it lived up to all 3 trademarks!  We enjoyed a lovely stroll around the old town city streets at night, a hike up to Spianatta Castelletto for a view over the entire city, and dining on chick pea fries, purple cauliflower and gnocchi pesto at Il Genovese.  Then back to Hotel Nologo for a very cosy sleep (we were all lined up in a row next to each other!).

Friday we left Genoa early (several circles around town before we finally found our way out!), pointing the car towards Roma.  Due to a few accidents, we took the coastal route via San Remo (meh… I prefer San Remo Victoria far more!) and Pisa.  A quick stop in Pisa for the obligatory photos, then flat out to Rome before peak hour traffic set in.  We made it by 4pm, found a car park in the street near our apartment, managed the 6 flights of stairs to our new abode, and we are in!

Stay tuned for more adventures as the exploration of Rome and our new neighbourhood begins.

Tips for sightseeing in Paris with kids: 

  1. Air B n B is a good place to look for accommodation for larger families, although we found a great deal with the Novotel in Bercy.  It it is right on the Metro and provides quick and easy access to anywhere you want to explore.  The staff are lovely and speak multiple languages, and the rooms were spacious by European standards.
  2. Grab a tourist map of the city and circle the main places you want to visit.  Plot out a rough plan of where you’ll head each day, based on the map and closest Metro locations.  This way, you won’t be doubling back or walking needlessly in circles.
  3. Kids (especially when jet lagged), will inevitably crash at some point.  Like adults, there is only so long adrenaline can keep them going.  Make plans for each day so you have a rough idea of what direction you are moving in, but be flexible and be prepared to alter your plans at a moments notice.  Children aren’t convenient and will not all crash at the same time.  They will drag it out, over multiple days, and tag in and out with each other in the game we call, ‘Who’s going to crack it today?’  Just roll with it! We tell the kids that they all take it in turns, and to be extra kind and tolerant of the kid who’s cracking it, as they might be next!
  4. Tickets are usually cheaper if you buy them at the entrance gates.  We found that there were unwritten deals at every place we went to saving us major $$$.
  5. The Metro is the easiest and best way to get around.  Once again, buy tickets at the counter as they were half the price of the electronic machines.  If pollution is bad Monday-Friday, the Metro is free!
  6. Go to the major tourist areas to eat if you’re feeling intimidated or unsure, then walk behind the tourist areas a street or two.  The food is better, the service more authentic and once again, it’s far cheaper!
  7. Teach the kids basic phrases.  A Merci Beaucoup, S’il vous plait, and Bonjour! Ca va? goes a long way when you are trying to negotiate a situation and need assistance.
  8. Breakfasts and lunches can be done super easy by eating at corner store creperies, patisseries, and buying meats and cheeses from a delicatessen.
  9. Kids don’t like to walk all day!  Where an adult might walk 10 – 12 hours exploring a new city, our kids were struggling after 6 – 8 hours.  We averaged 15km walking per day in Paris, and covered a lot of ground by also using the Metro to rest and get around the areas we weren’t interested in seeing.
  10. If you are planning on visiting Monaco and surrounds, I highly recommend taking your private helicopter or jet to avoid car parking issues.

S’later Straya, Bonjour France!

Melbourne is a difficult place to walk away from.  We’ve had a fabulous visit, as always, and each time it gets that bit harder to make our way to the airport.  Most of our family is here, and many life long friends from far and wide.  Big love and hugs to everyone who has opened their homes, fed and watered us, met as in random locations, and laughed til we’ve cried.  From Ballarat to Rosebud, and everyone in between, we love you all a ton.  To the many strangers we’ve met in parks, stores and restaurants, thanks for asking why my kids aren’t in school, allowing us to share some of our story, and for now following our adventures!  Your genuine interest and encouragement means a lot.

A summary of our Melbourne fun:

Sleep overs and catch ups with Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents, Great Grandparent (Big Pop, always wonderful to see you!) and life long friends;

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Big Pop, Pop and Nana with the grandkids and great grandkids!

Countless trips to Melbourne’s best playgrounds (we love Wombat Bend Playspace in Templestowe and Yarra Glen Adventure Playground);

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Wildlife spotting;

Freezing beach walks and stinking hot beach walks (Cape Schack was our favorite for exploring out of town… in town, we like to explore sections of the The Bay Trail… up the mountains we like the Kokoda Trail walking all the way to The Piggery Cafe for lunch);

Family and extended family dinners;

Cousin craziness all over town;

A visit to the zoo (Aside from San Diego Zoo, Melbourne Zoo is the best zoo we have ever visited.  Their exhibits are world class and do Melbourne proud); several birthday parties; Early Christmas celebrations; Swimming in different locations;

Eating favorite foods (meat pies, mince pies, Baker’s Delight bread, fish n chips, shortbread, souvlaki’s, lots of Thai/Vietnamese/Japanese); Play dates;

Big girl play dates;

Christmas lights;

Playing tourist in the city to see all the Christmas fun;

Drinking plenty of Australian wine with the fav easy drinking being Pepperjack Cab Sav from the Barossa and of course, sampling the best avo smash Victoria has to offer (after eating far more than I should, all over Victoria, my number one vote goes to The Holy Bean Cafe in Rosebud – goat’s cheese and avo smash on pumpkin bread with dukkah, beetroot, smoked tomato and beetroot… worth the drive Melbournites!  The second best was at Hawk and Hunter in Ripponlea).

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HOLY BEAN AVO – Delicious!

All in all Melbourne, it’s been wonderful once again.  It’s getting harder and harder to get on that plane.

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