Saturday, 31 August 2013

Last calls..........we are on the way out.

The last week has been busy.  We took the train from Dorset to Gerard's Cross.... a 4.5hr journey to visit the L.F.'s relies, who graciously put us up for a couple of nights very last minute.  The weather was rather unkind while we were there so we took a few wet walks, went to see Planes and ate at their dinner table (reminding me very much of sitting at the Inksters dinner table, with A, 21 years earlier in The Hague...Waterford crystal, embossed tablecloths, impeccable manners & lively conversations).
As a complete contrast we headed from Gerard's Cross to Essex (another mega train trip) for a night to visit Miss G and The Fouf.  We had a tour of Essex which actually reminded me a lot of St Kilda. Seaside amusement parks and a wide windswept boulevard.  We ate homemade pizzas, stayed up laughing till late, ate more cream tea (with Rodda's amazing 'Classic Cornish Clotted Cream') and went to a pub in the sweet Old Town of Leigh-On-Sea for lunch by the the sun. I am not sure what I imagine Essex would be like but it definitely exceeded my expectations.  Thanks guys for the tour and hospitality.  We really enjoyed hanging out on your home turf Fouf!
Back to London and we headed straight for Shari's place in Brixton. It felt like coming home. There was sheer relief from all three of us to see Shari's friendly face and to be staying put for 5 days. In the last 4 days it seemed we had done more rail travel than some Poms would manage in a lifetime (especially some from Portland). It was strange to think 3 months earlier we had taken off for Norway on this epic journey, it only felt like a week had passed since we were last here. Z and the LF have come down with colds and have been snuffly and out of sorts since we left Weymouth.  It feels as though we have been limping to the finish line this week. Shari has been a brilliant host giving us plenty of space to make plans for our next leg and totally recoup.
I took off for a sleep over at Ladle's house one night.  We went to Dock Kitchen for a meal and had pre drinks at Paradise By Way of Kensal Green where we chanced upon an open mike night & met an interesting fellow who rather persistently nuzzeled in on our conversation &  proceeded to charm us with his flute (it was a little reminiscent of the time we were charmed in Istanbul, 6 years earlier, by Mike and his 'sweet apricots'. Somehow finding ourselves up in his 'den' fending of the sleazy carpet salesman and his apple tea).
We spent a lovely afternoon at Fran's, eating cream tea while soaking up the afternoon sunshine and sharing stories of our weeks since Italy. It was sweet getting the wee people together for a post-Italian-summer-holiday play. It was great to see Fran's place.. a home I feel I've been in many times before.....  Seeing Z so happy to be with his little buddies was lovely and it was hard to tear him away.
We took a visit to Selfridges and soaked up the city mayhem on Oxford street before heading to Hamstead Heath.  Here we spent an evening on Parliament Hill watching the antics of summer dog walkers and sun-drenched children, with Shari and Mel & co. (Mel a long time friend of the LF & Shari's who has recently relocated to London with her husband & two young boys).
On our last full day we met Ladle and Co. in Notting Hill where we ordered take away Ottolenghi and headed to Kennsington Gardens for a picnic.  The food, as expected, was just incredible. With a cocktail of flavours lingering in our mouths we turned balloons into interesting animals with our Magic Balloon kit and relaxed in the sun.  Once our food had settled and the kids became restless we treked across to the Serpentine Pavilion to see Sou Fujimoto's summer creation. After a coffee and climb here we made our way across to Lady Diana's Memorial Fountain. A great place to splash about on our last sunny summers day in London. We tearfully farewell our friends at the tube station making them promise to come out to Australia soon.
Friday night back in Brixton was pumping. The Brixton Market was flooded with people eating at small stalls selling food of every ethnicity, bar Indian! There is such a great vibe here and I've really enjoyed getting to know this part of town. The LF, Shari & Mel headed out for a few drinks while I packed and sorted our things ready for take off.  It's sad to be leaving London. I do love London in the summer time.
After our week recouping we could....almost..... do the whole thing again.

To all our friends and family here in London a HUGE thank you. Apologies to those we did not get to catch up with again on our return. Till next time bye bye and big love.

Next, Singapore. Then 7 nights on an island, totally phones, TV, computers or Instagram! We'll be soaking up some down time in a hut, on stilts, before heading home.

I must rush to do the last of our packing. xx


Monday, 26 August 2013

Way down in Weymouth

We have just spent the last week down in Weymouth staying with friends. These friends we met around 8 years ago in Turkey. The LF & I were in Turkey for a month on our honeymoon and met S & B (B is a mad Scotsman) on a gullet trip. We spent 4 blissful days sailing around the mediterranean together.
The LF has kept in regular contact with them via Skype & he stayed with them about 4 years ago on the tail end of a business trip to Europe for work. They now have two boys, Sennan (3) & Toby (1), who Z absolutely adored and vice versa.
Having survived our late night flight from Milan, totally crashing out at the Premiere Inn in Gatwick, we jumped a train to the South West coast.  The train ride from Gatwick took three hours and the further we travelled the grizzlier the weather became. Grey skies rolled in and the rain streamed down the train windows. Having dodged rain for almost three months we were retiscent to complain about the UK's poor form. Cardigans and jeans were reluctantly pulled out from the bottom of our packs after lying dormant for over a month and were reinstated as staple clothing items. Thankfully the rain was short lived and for the most part we were treated to splendid seaside weather, by UK standards anyway.
Alternative sleep-ins, small town touring in S & B's pimped up VW van, nights spent playing vinyl, making 'best of' playlists and many a laugh at the seaside antics of the English have kept us entertained.....not to mention B's natural propensity for the pub.
We traveled to the small quaint country town of Abbotsbury and hiked up to the abandoned chapel for an incredible view of the coastline.  We spent a day in Lyme Rygis where we sampled the famous Dorset pasties from Mulberry Manor. While the kids enjoyed swimming in the shallows B was called to action, by S and I, when a lady misjudged the boardwalk and fell backwards smacking her white rinsed head against the stones where a ring of red blood quickly appeared. The poor dear was shaken but ok. B, an off duty paramedic, had her back on her feet in no time.
S took us on a tour of the Isle of Portland, a bizarre Isle off the coast of Weymouth, wind swept and I imagine rather bleak in the winter.  This little Isle is home to 3 prisons and interestingly was also the home of the Australian Sailing team during the Olympics. On the way down we stopped at The Cove on Chisel Beach for a pint. Some of you may know it from the Ian McEwan novel.
The LF and I took Z & Sennan to the Weymouth carnival on Wednesday and after a number of tummy turning rides for the wee lads we ate lunch with them down on the beach, which was heaving.  Extended families arrived with a serious amount of paraphernalia. Everything bar the kitchen sink is required, it seems, for an enjoyable day by the English seaside. Watching them set up with wind breakers, blow up paddle aids, deck chairs, pumps, mats, dogs.....and so on was an entertaining activity.  I felt like I was on the set of Gavin & Stacey. Afterwards we headed to the Spy Glass Hotel beer garden to watch the Red Arrows perform for Weymouth Carnival Day.
One afternoon we did a bush walk to Smugglers Cove (rather sweaty for leathers are not advisable!). We ate lunch around at The Wishing Well, Portland Crab sandwiches and Dorset cream tea!
S & B took care of the Z man one night and secretly booked the LF and I in for a romantic meal at Mallums in the old harbour, their sister-in-law then came and babysat all three kids so they could then meet us for a drink after dinner.  It was a fun and rather late night resulting in a few sore heads the next day (these Scotsmen are lethal!).
I managed to dodge the back of B's motorbike rather skilfully.  I am pretty terrible on a bike so the idea of being a pillion around single lane country towns on a motorbike rather terrified me. Thank you LF for taking a hit for the team. I'm eternally grateful. The 140mph speeds may have seen me pass out. I was pleased to be riding up front with S in the van.  It was really lovely getting to know her better and I wished we had snuck off for a few more girls outings together. Thanks for having us guys. We hope to see you in Oz next Easter. xx

(Sorry Dad! I am a little slow getting this post up. Love xx)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Summer in Milan

We're sitting at Milan airport waiting for our flight to Gatwick after spending the last 2 nights here. With a 2 hour delay just announced I thought I would write about our time here while it is still fresh.
Milan has been fantastic. I am a little sad to be leaving tonight. We arrived at midday on Wednesday from Lugano. It's a train trip I had done twenty years earlier, only in reverse. I was on route from Florence to Zurich and was so impressed by the scenery. I remember scribbling in my guide book the name 'Menaggio' as we sped by vowing to return. It was incredibly beautiful even in the dead of winter, covered in snow. Seeing it in summer was just as impressive.
August in Italy is quiet in the towns as everyone vacates for either the sea or the mountains. This worked in our favour as the city was so easy to navigate without the crowds. The streets were quiet and it felt like Christmas holiday period in Melbourne. Our hotel was situated on Corso Sempione and it was a short walk through Arco Della Pace  to Parco Sempione and the Castello Sforzesco.

Our first afternoon we walked along Corso Sempione to the park, through the castle and wove our way through the streets to Brera to meander the pedestrian streets and drool over the apartments.  I had tried to book an apartment in Brera which was a slightly over budget but an amazing position and beautifully furnished. I would definitely consider moving if when I could can afford an apartment around this area. Coming home we caught  the #1 tram, an old rickety tram with wooden benches and slat flooring reminiscent of chilhood tram trips in Melbourne.   
The next morning back on the tram we jumped off at Piazza Cavour and wove our way through the seductive golden triangle!  Fortunately (for our wallets) most of the stores were closed for their summer break but we enjoyed window shopping as the Milanese definitely have their visual merchandising figured out. Every high end shop was so simple, oozing style and definitely created a sense of desire! My favorite store being the furniture store, Nilufor. They had the most incredible bookshelf which we later discover was a Franco Albini. We strolled down Corso vittale Emmanuel II watching the buskers and street performers, dodging dodgy salesmen, crowds (the only crowded street in Milan at this time) and polizi patrol cars to emerge at the Duomo. Here I'll make a little confession. We dared, in Italy, for the first time this trip to bribe Z with lunch at McDonald's. The LF and I refrained but all was not lost on this experience. They have the most spectacular view of the Duomo from their first floor 'restaurant'. Duck in for a drink or toilet break (or bribe your child  *i'll write a post on this once home) to check out the view. With a gallery bribe up our sleeves we visited Pinacoteca di Brera. The gallery houses a vast collection of Milanese artwork from early renaissance to contemporary works... albeit heavily geared towards the renaissance with a lot of biblical references which was interesting explaining to Z, who was quite horrified by some of the images.
Our last dinner in Milan was not quite as I imagined. I did not even realise I held a vision of how it should be until we were seated and I was desperately trying to rewind the last 15 minutes in order to choose a different outcome. I desperately knew the scene I was sitting in was not meant for me!  Instead of being seated at a gorgeous little Osteria in the back streets of Brera sipping a lovely Italian Gew├╝rztraminer and traditional home style Italian fare we had somehow made our way to the 'Lygon Street' strip of Brera, sitting at a restaurant spraying fine mists of water at intervals on the Pommy tourists expiring under the 'extreme' weather, downing large pints of larger while listening to Frank Sinatra, Bonnie Tyler & a bevie of bad 80's tracks. Z had rather loudly insisted on 'this one' and since we had pushed our luck already that day, we buckled. Thankfully once the horror wore off we laughed hysterically and rather enjoyed ourselves. All part of the pitfalls and pleasures of traveling with kids.
On our last day we spent our time at Triennale Di Milano, Milan's brilliant design museum. There were four exhibitions on and they were all beautifully curated, The Syndrome of Influence being a favourite. The building is vast and the detailing beautiful, mosaic floors, huge windows, imposing staircases all set on the edge of Parco Sempione. You definitely need to set aside at a minimum half a day to explore this treasure. We ended our visit with lunch at the cafe in the sculpture garden before heading back for our airport transfer.
Unfortunately, our plane has now been delayed 4 hours so instead of getting in at 8pm it looks like we'll be touching down in the wee hours of the morning. I am exhausted I can only imagine how tired the Z man must feel, poor lad. Luckily we've pre booked a room at Gatwick airport so once we touch down we can roll in to bed, ready for our train trip to Waymouth tomorrow. 
Buonenotte a tutti & grazie mille Milan. xx

PS. Sorry about the font issue again. I'm too tired for any more tonight so it will have to do for now.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Lugano, lugano, lugano...

From Montese we had to head back up to Switzerland to drop off our hire car.  We originally intended to return to Zurich and fly back to the UK from there. However, the idea of 6 hours in the car didn't exactly excite us.....or the Z man.  So we made a decision to head to Lugano, just over the border,  instead.  We would stay a few nights then take the train, a one hour journey, to Milan. Sorted.
Great decision. Lugano is stunning. It's a little like Lake Como goes to Monte Carlo. Expensive, well groomed and so very stylish.  
We were staying in the Ibis Budget hotel. There was no flashy hotel suite or Maserati waiting to collect us form the train station but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.  
We spent a sunny morning cruising around Lago di Luganno on one of the large ferries.  As recommended we stopped off in Gandria for lunch.  Gandria is a gorgeous little pedestrian town situated right on the lake and you could be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere along the Amalfi coast. A great place to visit but it would be rather quiet and the swimming slightly treacherous with a child. If you have the time another great spot to stop off for a bite would be Grotto die Pescatori . We didn't have time this visit but I'd love to at some point. 
Back in Lugano we headed straight for the public 'lido' for a swim.  There are many fantastic public pools in Lugano and I would love to road test them all. We went for the closest, Lido Riva Caccia, which had a spectacular view of the lake and plonked ourselves down for an afternoon of swimming.   People watching at this pool was just as entertaining as the swimming! There was many a fine lady in full bathing regalia.... earrings, makeup, mani, pedi, perfect hair..... gracefully gliding across the lake. They seemed, like the swans of the lake, to move as a flock.  It was quite the site. As the afternoon wears on there is a shuffle for free lettino's, which are more expensive than the entrance fee, and some serious repositioning to follow the sun.  Afternoon drinks on the deck begin and the mood is jovial. It's the perfect place to see out the day.  
Although it was short we loved our time in Lugano and would definitely love to head back some day for longer. 

Friday, 16 August 2013

So long, Montese

Our last few days in Montese were spent pretty much the same as the first.  Late lazy mornings, hour upon hour by the pool, trying to escape multiple bee stings and the obligatory afternoon spritzing. The rest of our time there seemed to revolved around food.
Marzia very kindly taught us how to make gnocchi.  The three of us sat in her kitchen and watched as she measured, kneaded and chopped the gnocchi into puffy bite sized pieces. We took turns in following her direction and were pleased by our results.  Light, delicious gnocchi which we all sat down and shared, with Enrico & Marzia, for lunch.  Z even had two helpings. A miracle!
We tried an ice-cream sandwich which, despite how it sounds, was pretty incredible.  The bun was a delicious panettone type roll.....a little too sweet for the LF which meant I 'had to' make my way through the lot.
We ate dinner watching the sunset at the Terrace Restaurant, Hotel Miramonti in Montese. One of the best views in Montese. It was an early birthday celebration for the Ladle and we lapped up the time, without children, thankful for Ladle's parents who took care of all three munchkins. The food was fantastic and the lambrusco was flowing.  It was great to have a few laughs with Ladle and the BF for old times sake.  The kids also had a great time attending a concert at the church.  Apparently Little Miss G and the Z man had to sit at the back & cover their mouths to hold in their fits of laughter.
On our last night we were treated to pizza & beer (& grappa) by Fran and Sam, who turned up with enough pizza to feed the entire village!  Thankfully we were joined by Enrico, Marzia, Ladle, BF and the kids to help polish off .....mmm, approximately a 3rd of the pizza.  Marzia had also made two mascapone desserts (or sorry, puddings).  They were AMAZING! One was coffee the other wild berries.  I had a helping of each....ok, 2 helpings of the wild berries. I couldn't resist.
There was also a little bingle outside the supermarket and again a lot of tooting but this time the tooting was coming from the LF, countless parades around the square, humorous trips to the supermarket, a scenic drive to Maserno for spring water and time spent wandering the town with our buddies. It was so good to hang out with Milly & Greta and get to know them over an extended period.  Great friendships were formed.  The Z man really enjoyed having the girls and their cousins, Gus & Isi, to play with.  Thanks guys for fun times and a relaxing visit to the mountains of Montese..... unfortunately I can't get those poolside tunes out of my head (You will never know... Play Hard.... Wake me up!... La La La.....Mi Mi Mi ...... L'Universo Tranne Noi........ Estate ...... and one for Ben Bonfire heart)! Aaaaargghhhhh, I AM extremely grateful I don't have to endure another day of the 'Very Normal People' radio station.  xx

Grazie mille & big hugs to Miss G and her parents, Enrico & Marzia, for having us stay.  We really do hope to see you all in Australia again soon. xxx

Friday, 9 August 2013

Into the Mountains....Montese.

We have been in Montese a small village in the province of Modena for the last 5 days.  It is about 1.5 hours south west of Bologna along narrow, windy roads into the mountain tops.   We have come to spend time with my friend, Ladle, (who's father grew up here) and her family (the Ladle is here with the BF, her two beautiful girls, her parents, her sister, brother-in-law and two nephews...all Inglese!).  I was last here 13 years ago so it has been interesting to see people I met back then and revisit a town I have held great affection for.  Since that time we have had a couple of Montese friends come to Melbourne to stay with us,  Miss G, whose place we are staying in now and Francessca, who runs Los Recicladores.
Days have been slow and mainly spent around the pool.  There is an inflatable elephant slide and donut style trampoline in the centre of the pool to make things a little interesting.  I managed to go down the slide on my side and land with a great splash, legs akimbo, water up the schnoz, laughing underwater while gasping for air. Parents are lethal on this thing (and quite possibly should be banned)! A number of times the lifeguard has blown his whistle and yelled 'Inglese, no!'
The LF and I made a day trip to Siena while Z stayed back with the clan for more swimming and shenanigans (thank you!).  The temperature down there was 39 degrees so we were pleased to retreat to the cooler temperatures in the cave like restaurant at Antica Osteria Da Divo for a long and delicious lunch. I had been to Siena back in January 1992 however it was the LF's first experience. It was way too hot for standing in long summer-holiday queues so we skipped the 'tourist hotspots' & walked the narrow streets in the shade taking in the quieter streets around town. Back in the mountains where the weather is cooler (by a margin it seems...especially at night) we headed straight to the bar in the piazza to meet the clan for a spritz, a little evening ritual I'm becoming rather fond of. 
Miss G's parents, Enrico & Marzia, have been delightful.  They live in the apartment two floors above ours and we have fumbled through, on the little Italian I have and little English they have, to hold some rather animated conversions (quite possibly talking about completely different topics while nodding agreeably at one another).  Enrico comes down each evening to water the plants and tend to his veggie patch out the front of our apartment and Z takes particular joy in running out and shouting 'Ciao Enrico.  Come Stai?'  
We are pretty relaxed here and life is sweet in this small town.  Again it's been great to hear the sounds of a smaller  town, especially around dusk.  Last night we were lulled by choir practice in the apartment block across from ours while we ate dinner and watched the sun set.  It was one of those totally missable 'incredible moments'.......  

Saturday, 3 August 2013

another lake....this time Como.

We are feeling pretty relaxed after 3 days here in Pognana Lario, Lake Como. Pognana is a small village located halfway between Como & Bellagio.  I have full respect for the LF getting us here in one piece. There was a point I almost ended up in tears....the road is harrowing!  Swimming, crazy driving,  tight roads, antipasto, gelato, queasy bus trips, ferry rides, relishing the the sounds & smells of small town Italian living, more swimming and abundant love for this place..... that just about sums up the last 3 days.  We loved Menaggio, Bellagio & Verena. So much so that we missed the last bus home from Bellagio one night. A blessing is disguise really. The cab was practically a limo, way smoother and WAY LESS honking than the bus. We have the most incredible views (right across the lake to George's place, I kid you not!).  I could write more about the joys of Lake Como but I am off the lap up the last of our time here.  Tomorrow Montese. Night xx

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Zermatt & the mighty Matterhorn

After leaving our friends in Biel we hit the road and headed for Zermatt. Not originally on our itinerary Mr & Mrs M recommended a stop off for 2 nights on our way to Lake Como. We took the rain with us, which had arrived the evening before and continued throughout the night. The mountains were covered in thick clouds giving them a slightly eerie Jane Campion cinematic quality.It was a 31/2 hr drive from Biel to Zermatt that kept us mesmerized (well the 2 of us anyway, Z man has taken to long trips with the headphones & iPad) the whole way and even included a drive on overland train. Luckily Mr M had tipped us off about the train otherwise we may have freaked out as one minute you're driving along a highway and the next you're seamlessly ushered onto a train and whizzing through the mountain base without much warning (or so it seemed to us non natives).Our next little adventure came when somehow we missed the 'Matterhorn Kiss & Ride' turn off in Tasch and drove our hire car all the way to Zermatt! Oops. We were a little unsure as to why there was so much finger shaking at us until 3 kindly gents stopped us in Zermatt and said 'No cars. You not allowed. Go back to Tasche'. The very narrow dual roads with traffic signals, finger shaking and cars only sporting 'vs' number plates should have been a giveaway but .... No. We scuttled back down the treacherous road to Tasche where we parked in the all too obvious train terminal and caught the Matterhorn express back to town.We loved Zermatt even though we arrived in the rain and the mountains were pretty much covered by cloud. We instantly knew this place was pretty special. Our hotel was great, booked two days prior, we were promptly juggled into a larger room even though they were fully booked by the gorgeous lady on reception. She also gave us a list of great eateries not on the main drag, & tracked down an electric kettle for us.Once we woke the next day the clouds had pretty much cleared and the rain which had left us untouched for the previous 2 months retreated.Somewhat expensive but we'll worth the cost. We took a 8 seater cable car up to Trockener Steg and from there another larger cable carriage to the Matterhorn Glacial Paradise 3883m above sea level. The trip up takes around 1 hour.  It is a truly awe-inspiring journey. It was  the first time Z man's first  snow experience. It is a summer snow wonderland up here.  We went from around 34 to -3degrees and back again in a day. It was definitely not the average kind of day.

**Apologies for the different font sizes.  We have a crazy internet connection which keeps dropping out.  We are now in Lake Como, George is calling and I am desperate to get out to explore the for now....crazy fonts will have to do. x


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