Monday, 30 June 2014

... part of the curriculum ...

Before we left, lots of people asked us not if, but how, we were going to home school the kids while we were away. 

The answer ... we weren't...but look what's happened....

We've covered geography, languages, art appreciation, history, nutrition (!!) and now this week we're concentrating on "swim and survive" (just like they did at Waimea this term). 

It's been tough....

Thursday, 26 June 2014

... a holiday within a holiday ...

Days 68- 71 ... at the villa, near San Gimignano ...

1, 2 and 3  Bellavista villa 
4, 5 and 6.  San Gimignano home of many towers and amazing gelati
7.  Obligatory tower shots
8.  Those sunflowers

We are staying in a villa made of rocks.  The villa has a pool.  One of the days after we were swimming I pushed Daddy back in the pool with his towel on. It was very funny.  His towel was soaking wet.  In San Gimignano we climbed a tower.  It had big bells at the top.  It was really hot.  After the tower one of the other towers rang their bells - I was glad it wasn't our tower.

We are staying at a villa with three apartments. The villa has a pool that we spent a lot of time in. One of those times when we spent ages playing and swimming Grace and I had gone up to the house so we didn't see it but Jack pushed Daddy in the water with his towel in. Apparently it was payback for throwing him in the water. 
In San Gimignano we climbed a tall tower. At the top you had to be careful if you were tall so you didn't bump your head. Later one of the bells in one of the towers rang - Jack said he was glad it wasn't our tower. 
On Tuesday we went to Pisa!! The leaning tower of Pisa is amazing!! We didn't get to climb up it but we spent a lot of time taking photos of us three holding it up. Years ago Daddy took a photo of Mummy with her legs up in the air holding the tower. But no one is allowed on the grass anymore so we made do with holding it up. A detour through Lucca, and driving back home we found sunflowers. The next day we did basically nothing. The dinner was amazing in Volterra. We all shared a platter with all sorts of things on it then I had soup with pasta. It was delicious.

Watch out Tasmanian roads! I may have picked up some cavalier Italian road skills ... driving at a speed limit double what the signs say, passing on blind corners, overuse of the horn and entering an intersection and then looking left and right.
Al's fingernails are warn out and I just ignore the screaming, abuse and horns (from the backseat).
Great to be in one spot for 2 weeks with a great pool (except when 5 year old pushes you in!)
I am also going to miss the 'walled town' when back in Tasmania with more great examples in Tuscany... San Gimignano, Volterra and Lucca.
Except...what are the Italians (and French) up to when they stop you from walking and sitting  on their grass???
What is grass for if it is not to walk on or lie on when tired? It also prevents 'silly' feet shots of Leaning Tower of Pisa!


We are staying in a villa in Tuscany.  There are two other families here. We've had lots of swims....the pool is really nice.  On the first night we drove into Certaldo for dinner .... we went to a pirate pizza place...I had ragu with my was delicious.  On Sunday we spent the whole day in the pool.  Daddy made us eggs for lunch.  They were really nice.  At dinner I didn't feel very well because I'd swallowed too much pool water.  I didn't eat much dinner and I didn't have an icecream (at the best gelati place in the world!!!!!).
On Monday we went back to San Gimignano...we went back to the best gelati shop!  It was our reward for climbing the tower.  Later we went to a museum that had a photo exhibition on - by Elliot Erwitt - the photos were really interesting.  
The next day we went to Pisa.  It was really, really hot.  We walked to the leaning tower.  It wasn't as tall as I thought it would be.  Next to it were 2 churches.  Mummy took photos of us "holding" up the tower.  
On the way home we had a detour through Lucca.  Of course we had to have an icecream on the way back to the car.  I was doing a Jack and had lemon.  We bought some fresh pasta for dinner ... 3 types...gnocchi, ravioli and tortellini.  I had the ravioli with spinach and was delicious.
Yesterday we stayed home all the afternoon Lily, mummy and I had a swim.  Lily and I were doing backflips.  That night we drove to Volterra for dinner...we had a shared entree of bruschetta, ham, salami and cheese.  For main course Jack and I had ravioli with meat sauce...we love Italy!

No vampires in Volterra ... but we have found fields of sunflowers, blue skies, World Cup winning gelati and more amazing food.  Jack says he is sick of "walking round the world" and wants to go home but the rest of us are still having too much fun.  

Sunday, 22 June 2014

... Roma ...

Days 63-65 Roma

1.  Pantheon (my favourite building ever)
2.  Spiral staircase at the Vatican
3.  Gladiator Jack
4.  Espresso (must have been after 11am)
5.  Piazza Navona (spot the gelati spoons!!)
6.  Fresh cherries- campo Di Fiori
7.  St Peter's Square
8.  Colosseum

The hotel had a bus to take us to the train station.  It was always busy on the trains.  The trip to Rome only took 20 minutes.  I liked to count the stops.  When we arrived at the station we didn't have to walk far to the Spanish Steps. Lily counted 136 but the book said 138. 
We also saw the Pantheon that has a hole in the roof. The only light in the whole building came through the hole.  If the rain came through the hole there were tiny holes in the floor to drain the water.  

Rome is the place for street sellers. Seriously no matter where you walk someone is asking you to buy their stuff or to give them money. We are staying near the edge of Rome at a nice hotel called Piccolo Borgo and apart from the creaking water tank waking most of us up it was actually quite nice. The hotel had a pool and we didn't get to use it much because of the thunder storms. We took the hotels shuttle to the metro then caught a train to Rome. We saw the Spanish steps and according to the Rome book there were 138 but I only got 136. One man dressed up as a gladiator had mummy take a photo of him pretending to chop jacks head off. She took several photos with all of us and it ended up costing ten euros but we only gave him four. We moved on to the Trevi fountain with only one downfall. The fountain was under construction and had no water in it at all:(  It was a busy day for us, the steps, fountain, building with a hole in the roof and the colosseum all in one day. The colosseum was really nice to look at. It was cool how bits of it were falling down. The building with the hole in the roof was cool too.  We took lots of photos. We went to the Vatican museum on Thursday the ceilings were great except it was hot and all I wanted to do was hop in the pool. St. Peter's looked cool from the outside but I wish we could have gone inside. Although I didn't really want to wait in the long lines. I bought a bag at a stall at the markets on Friday so now I can carry my own stuff around. We finally got to have a swim on the last day and it was nice. The place we are staying at now has the same sort of pool.

On Wednesday we caught the metro to Spagna (one of the train stations).  Then we walked to the Spanish steps.  While going up Lily and I counted all the steps there were 136.  Half way up I mis-counted.  After we got a photo whith a man dressed up as a gladiator. He wanted Mum to give him ten euros (she only gave him four).  We walked to the trevi fountain. It was covered up with scaffolding so we didn't throw a coin in.  So we walked to the pantheon.  It has a big hole in the in the roof.  When it rains the water gets soaked up because there are little holes in the floor.  
On Thursday we went to the Vatican Museum........ it was really big.  The ceiling had pattens on it ......... they were really detailed.  At the end Dad bought a puzzle of one of the paintings in the Museum.  That night we sat In pub and watched the World Cup Australia vs Holland.  Holland Won :( :( :( :(.  
Last day in Roma:
Today we had one last look around.  Lily and I both bought a bag. Then we went home and had a swim 
Grace :-)

When planning our Europe trip I tried to talk Alison out of going to Rome. It added to our driving distances and and I had no strong memories of my previous  visit.
I lost this battle and I am glad I did. Spanish Steps, Vatican, the Colosseum and Travestere were all highlights.
And Australia v Holland in a Roman bar with some very anxious Dutch supporters.
Continue to love the Italian drivers who ignore lines on roads; as long as you are heading in the right direction it is all okay.
No commitment from my family who chose gelato over a 3 hour queue to enter St Peters!

Rome is still crazy beautiful. It's crumbling but majestic.  It's loud, fast and furious. It's smelly and dirty (the anti-smoking lobby have got a mammoth task here).  The drivers are insane ... as are the pedestrians (crossing even a small road has sorely tested Jack's "wait for the green man" approach).  It's full of surprises, style and sellers - some with charm, others brash  or even outright rude.  It's manic and fun. I'm glad we came back. I'm even glad we didn't make it up St Peters this's another reason to return.

Monday, 16 June 2014

... cinque terre ...

Days 60 and 61 - walking the Cinque Terre

1.  Manorolo
2.  Up and up further
3.  Vernazza
4.  More gelati
5.  Corniglia
6.  Monterosso

Yesterday we did the 5 town walk.  When we went up the tracks there were loads of steps. On the rocks there were marks to show you were on the right track. The first walk was from Riomaggiore to Manarolo.  At Manarolo we had a look around and had icecream. My flavour was lemon. We caught the train to the next town which was called Corniglia. After we got off the train we had to walk up 443 steps. We had lunch there...I had spaghetti with tomato was yummy.  After that Daddy made us walk to Vernazza and then we caught the train home.  
Today we walked to Vernazza from a different town. At Vernazza we caught a water taxi to Riomaggiore. We had lunch there...we had seafood.  I had some squid and anchovies .. and some chips. This afternoon Daddy, Lily and Grace went for a swim but I didn't want to go.  

If you get the chance to visit The Cinque Terre, you MUST!
Although make sure your knees are ready for the descents, mine have more wear and tear than 18 years ago!

Yesterday we caught a train to Riomaggiore ( at the end of the Cinque Terre).  Then we walked up and down big hills ( it was tiring ) to the next town Manarola. We had a look around and found a gelateria (ice- cream shop).  We had two flavours.  No guessing what Jack had .. LEMON! Then we caught a train to Corniglia but we still had to walk up the hill to the town. We had lunch there...I had pesto pasta.   Then we had to walk to Vernazza. We had another icecream there...this time I had lemon! While eating we climbed on the rocks near the harbour. We caught a train back to Monterosso. When we got off the train Lily, Jack and I went the wrong way. On the way home we found a shop selling all lemon stuff...we had a lemon slushie was nice. 
Today we to Vernazza and caught a water taxi.  On the way one of the big boats made lots of waves...we had to stop and turn around so they hit us from behind. At Riomaggiore we walked to a seafood shop for lunch. The food was really yummy. Later I got to have my favourite gelati flavour again from Slurp... its mandarin and its delicious. 

Yesterday for a bit of exercise we caught a train to Riomaggiore which is at the end of the Cinque Terre. Then we walked up and down mountains (some of us were sweating like mad) to the next town Manarola. We had a look around and found a nice place for an ice cream. We had two flavours, I had melon and pineapple and no prizes for guessing what Jack had! Then when we had all finished, Jack had half of it on his face, we caught a train to Corniglia. Then up 443 steps to the town (the sign said there were 364!) We had lunch at a nice place and I had the yummiest pesto and pasta. The Caprese salad (mozzarella, tomato and basil) was amazing to.(I ate all mozzarella and no tomato) it's cool how they make it look like their flag. Then we started walking up through the mountains again towards Vernazza. The walk is tiring luckily we had biscuits packed in the bag or Jack might have perished! We finally made it to Vernazza. The town looks really lovely Mum took heaps of photos not to mention one of her cinnamon and strawberry ice cream against a pink wall. I was keen for a swim when we got back but we ended up not going caused by the looks of the weather. Today we walked the last walk from Monterosso (which is where we are staying) to Vernazza. We all thought that track was the busiest of them all because of the number of people on it. After the walk Grace, Dad and I had a swim at the beach before coming home. 
By the way if you count the number of scoops we beat three ice creams. 

18 years ago we walked between the 5 towns in a single day and celebrated with seafood and wine.  Since then the whole area has been included in the UNESCO world heritage listing and much of the easier coastal walking was washed away in the floods of 2011.  
Officially only the Vernazza <--> Monterosso part of the track is open...the goat trails we found up and down the hills near Manarolo and Corniglia are only for the brave (and those willing to bribe their children with gelati). 
It's still one of the most stunning and beautiful places I've ever been.  
I'm glad we're comfortable with bribes, slow walking, mineral water and a few moans. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014 dolce vita ...

Day 58 ... France --> Italy


1,2 and 3.  Private and public beaches at Monterosso
4 and 5.  Amazing gelato
6 and 7.  Closely followed by the best meal of the trip so far
8.  Tunnel driving

On Thursday we packed up our bags and said goodbye to Uzès. Because we weren't booked in to Italy till the next day we stayed at Frejus which is in France. The next day we left France for Italy. Going through millions of tunnels I don't think Grace was very happy because of what she was reading with. Mum managed to get a photo of the car lights in the tunnel. We are staying at a nice apartment on top of a restaurant. We had a lemonade down at the restaurant while Mum and Dad learnt about the walking tracks and things like that. For dinner we went to a restaurant recommended by a man sitting down at it. A lovely dinner of pesto gnocchi and seafood risotto(Jack had bolognese) we are all in heaven. 
That same day before dinner we went down to the beach to have a swim. The water was lovely for a hot day and Jack, Grace and I spent ages collecting stones. Despite Dad saying we could only take ten I managed to sneak one extra in. 

Yesterday we drove from France to Italy. There were over a hundred tunnels.
We went to the beach and had a swim. In the water there was a small boat that had a slide on it. You climbed up some stairs and then slid down the slide into water.
After we had a swim me, Grace and Lily looked for interesting rocks.

Spain was intriguing. I loved France but I LOVE Italy more. 
The food, the people, the gelato .
I did not like the drive into Monterosso al Mare, the first of The Cinque Terre towns. It made the drive across the Pyrenees a breeze. One lane roads, sections of roads that had been washed away in 2011 floods exposing steep cliffs,and mad Italian drivers. I will never get Al to drive now!
We drove 300km from Frejus (near Cannes) to Cinque Terre and conservatively 10% of trip was underground (the great Europe tunnels). In the section from Monaco to Genoa there are 110 tunnels!
Have not inspired the kids to walk the trek between the 5 towns YET. They just want to swim in warm Mediterranean waters and eat ice cream!
Guess what Jack had for dinner last night?

On Thursday we packed our big red bags and off we drove heading for ITALY.  We stayed in Frejus which is near the border of France and Italy.  When we got the hotel we walked down to the pool.  I was the first to get in.  Lily and I were doing forward and backward flips off daddy's knees.  After we were doing forward flips off the edge................... it was really fun.  For dinner we went to Mc Donalds (Jack was really happy because he loves Mc Donald's). 
Yesterday we drove to Italy.  I was reading the sixth harry potter book on daddy's kindle but when we went though all the tunnels I couldn't read because I didn't have a light (I wish the tunnels weren't there).  After we finally arrived in Italy we walked down to the beach. When we got on the sand we realised the sand was really hot so we had to run down to the water.  After our swim Lily, Jack  and I started collecting little rocks.

Mad, fast French drivers have been replaced by completely insane Italian ones.  We were overtaken by approximately 62395 cars, 2439 caravans, 3111 large, looming lorries, more motorbikes and vespas and even (on a down hill stretch) a bike.  AND I had my eyes shut on the down hill goat tracks they call mountain roads....I'm never driving here!
Grace and I were both racing the dark tunnels to finish The Half Blood Prince (me with tears streaming down my face).  
The rewards for arriving in Monterosso are high though...a gorgeous apartment in the old part of town, the BEST seafood risotto ever, amazing gelato and those views!!  La dolce vita indeed.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

... blogging before we leave Uzés ..


Days 54 - 56 Uzés and surrounds

1.  The gang of smalls
2 and 3.  Donut day
4.  Roman temple Nîmes
5.  The arena Nîmes
6.  Pretty goat's cheese at the markets
7 and 8.   Icecream experts in action

For one of the hottest days ever we drove to a water fun park(more of a pool). We stayed there for 6 hours basically on a doughnut ride that went round part of the pool. Mum thinks we went on it 75 times! Another hot day was spent at an arena where they used to do bull fighting and animal fighting. One fact is that they fed the people that had been sentenced to death to the lions. Disgusting! On Tuesday (another really hot day) we went to a pool that Dad wasn't allowed to swim in. Apparently a lot of French pools only let people wear tight bathers and Dads weren't tight. It was fun

For a nation known for its stylishness I'm not sure the French have got their pool rules sorted....budgie smugglers or tight boxers are not a look everyone can do well.  Or should.
And rashies are banned too... unless you are prepared to take on the whistle blowing life guards.  Although that's not surprising ... for a nation of hypochondriacs they smoke a lot, drink way too much coke and seem oblivious to the risk of UV.
While they did 75 rounds on the donuts ( I did manage about 15) we hired sun lounges (seriously - you have to pay extra to sit and watch your kids swim!) and read Harry #5 in its entirety (again) ...I'm not far behind Grace now who has almost finished The Half Blood Prince.  Simply can't get into Game of Thrones...any other recommendations??
We're all looking forward to Italy - more icecream, more pizza, more bolognaise....what's not to love?!!
We might even get Jack to try a gelati flavour other than citron.

On Monday we went to a water park.  FIrst we got changed in the change rooms.  Then we went on the donut ride.  I liked the donut ride because it had some slopes.  On the donut ride somtimes you span around on the first slope.  I fell off once but I didn't hurt myself.  I went on the donut ride about 70 times.  

This week it was so HOT.  We drove to a water park near Serviers. There was a donut ride.............. it was really fun.  Once when we were going round Jack and another boy we're trying to go down a little hill at the same time and at the bottom Jack's donut flipped over and scraped his ear................... it must have really hurt. 

It is amazing how 35 degree heat slows you down...body and soul.
Jack ate his 100th plate of bolognese last night and we have not been to Italy yet.  
No run ins with toll roads this week only the French bather police.
You can only swim in French public swimming pools with budgie smugglers on! 
Not my best look!
Leaving France( again) for a month in Italy. Our holiday clock is ticking so much faster.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

... summer in Provence ...


Day 50-53  Engravies - -> Carcassonne --> Uzés

1.  A much older and cuter Citroen than the one we are driving 
2.  A breakfast to rival the best breakfast - at Domaine Thomson Engravies
3.  Too many good choices
4.  Mirepoix on market day
5.  Chateau Lastours
6.  Breakfast baskets at Carcasonne
7.  Carcassonne by evening light - we stayed within the walls
8.  Summery kids
9, 10, 11.  Pont du Gard

On Thursday  after a lovely breakfast of berries at Sarah's b&b we sadly said goodbye and started off for Carcassonne. We stopped at Mirepoix to have a last look. We didn't do very much but Mummy accidentally stepped in dog poo and her shoes smelt. 
On the way we stopped at a couple of ruins. Climbing up lots of stairs in the heat we finally made it to the top. One of the spiral staircases was pitch black so you had to feel your way around. There were four ruins in total and I don't know how we got through them all in the heat. 
After a long car ride and a few stops, we found ourselves at a sort of castle. But inside the castle it was like a mini town, with more than a couple of restaurants, shops, and apartments. The place we were staying was hard to find at first but we found it ok in the end. We set off looking for dinner after making ourselves feel at home in the apartment. There were a lot to choose from but in the end we found somewhere ok. We all shared a couple of things- they were average. Mummy said the most exciting thing about Carcassonne was the pigeon guts ( we saw a dead pigeon).  Jack wouldn't stop talking about guts after that. It was really quite disgusting. 
After bread and butter for breakfast we set off for Uzes, or as daddy pronounced it oozies. Today it was the hottest day of my life! We drove to Pont du Gard, to see what Grace calls an amazing roman bridge. It was quite amazing actually and because it was so hot we changed out of our clothes to bathers and slowly got used to the cold water. Grace and Daddy went out first while Jack and I splashed each other. Then when Jack got out Grace and I swam out quote far. We almost got to the other side but we didn't. After getting changed we had and ice cream. I had raspberry. 

Today we drove to Pont du Gard.  It was 33 degrees - the car said so.  Before we went down to the river we had an icecream.  In the river were loads of tiny fish and lots of slimy moss.  Lily and Grace had a competition to see who got the most slimy stuff and Grace won.
After we left Sarah's B&B we had a look round Mirepoix.  Then we went to some ruins.  We had to climb a mountain.  At the first ruin we climbed the tower.  It was really dark.

Summer in Europe started officially on June 1 but everyone in the south of France know it started yesterday, June 7. Two days over 30 degrees and at least 5 more to come!
All adventures this week will involve at least some swimming in a river, pool or waterpark -  so if I can find a swimming pool (piscine) close by I hope to see Nimes' amphitheatre which is the best preserved in the world.
Pont du Gard today, the tallest Roman aqueduct ever made at 48 m and provided water for Nimes for 500 years. The Romans were impressive builders.
I have a major dilemma at moment as I am loving France but my family are trying to stop me uttering any words or sentences in French. They say I am committing some sort of crime against the language and if Mitterand was still President I would  be in gaol. I think they love me?
DK 4003km AT 0km

On Thursday we left Sarah's house (the B&B).  We stopped at Mirepoix to have a last look around because the market was on.  We bought some fruit and mummy went to the post office.  
Then we headed to Lastours.  There were four ruins on top of the hill.  My favourite one was the 4th one ... it had a lovely view.  Finally after a few more hours of driving we found Carcassonne.  From the outside it looked like we were staying in a huge castle.  When we actually got inside it was a small town.  It took us a few minutes to find our hotel.  We had two separate rooms... daddy, Lily, Jack and I slept in one and mummy slept in the other one.  
In the morning mummy collected baskets of bread and croissants from downstairs.  I had 1 1/2 croissants ... they were delicious (they weren't as good as Sarah's though).  Just before we left we saw a dead bird on the road, you could see its guts (I thought they were worms at first).
Friday was a really boring day in the car (except I got to play on my iPad mini a lot).
On Friday (in Uzes) we went out to dinner.  I had lots of different things.
Today we drove to Pont du Gard.  We were there to look at a great big bridge built by the romans.  We got to swim in the river under it.  In the river were little fish and green slime.  Lily and I had a competition to see who could get the most slime in their hands...I won.   Lily and I swam almost across to the other side of the river.  When we got back to shore my hands felt really weird and sore.  After that we got another icecream - I had mandarin for the 2nd time in a day!