Posts Tagged With: Europe

Back to the Real Italy!

On our third day of Italian camping, we set off on a ferry from Punta Sabbioni to Venice to get back to some real Italy. Our kids begrudgingly joined us (like they had a choice). So much for their week’s respite from sightseeing, but this was small time. A half hour on a boat can hardly be called “travelling” surely. It was an overcast day, so we dragged them away from the waterpark and had a great afternoon walking around Venice, and touring the grand canal by waterbus. The boat there was fairly expensive for all five of us, so we did the freebies – Piazza St Marco, a quick look in the Basillica, the Rialto Bridge, and all the little photo ops in between. Venice has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe, but there’s still lots you can do with a family for free.
We even had a great big gelato each for only a euro more than it would have been anywhere else in Italy. In the end, the kids loved it – the gondoliers in their bright stripy shirts and straw hats, the fancy glass shops everywhere, and the elaborate masks in almost every window. well worth an afternoon out of the pool. It wasn’t sunny anyway. In fact, there was a huge thunderstorm on the way home!
Today, however, perfect pool day. Not a cloud in the sky and 26 degrees. Bet they’re glad we did Venice yesterday!

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Birthdays on the Road

Our middle daughter turned 11 yesterday, and we weren’t very prepared. I had booked us into Marina de Venezia, a Eurocamp destination with a massive waterpark, specifically to arrive on her birthday – her gift. What I hadn’t factored into those plans was that it was a five hour drive from Monterroso to the Venice Lido where the camp is. So, instead of waking up on her birthday morning and being able to enjoy the water park, she woke up to packing and then driving. And five hours was the actual driving time. As in, if you don’t stop to pee or eat, and you don’t take any wrong turns, which of course, we did. Although, I must say, I was much more adept at getting us back on the right road this time. I didn’t panic, and now that I know that just because one road crosses another on a map, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can get on it, things are better. Duh.
So, we arrived at the camp ground at about 3:30pm, and by the time we registered, found our caravan, unpacked a few things, and walked a very roundabout route to the waterpark, it was a half hour before closing. No matter, the looks on the kids faces when they saw it, and the squeals of delight as they launched themselves into one pool after another was worth it. Still, a weird birthday for her. No cake. No friends or family to celebrate with (except us of course), no gift wrap for the couple of little gifts we’d been able to find in Monterroso…different. She had mixed feelings about her day. It was fun, and she’s excited to be here for a week, but it was a day of missing people as well. It’s even harder since we have no Internet access now, because she doesn’t have that instantaneous contact with anyone.
This place is great for the kids, and that’s what it’s for, really – a week’s respite from travelling around, sightseeing. For us, the respite from driving, packing and unpacking is great, but this no longer feels like Italy. Actually, it feels a bit institutionalized. You stick your hand out the car window on the way in and have a permanent bracelet strapped on, and then you go out and find reception for your “holiday provider”, one of their couriers shows you to your quarters, and there are occasional instructional PA announcements that feel slightly disconcerting somehow. There is everything you could ever need here, shops full of grocery items with German, French, British, Swiss, and Italian names, catering for familiarity regardless of where you’re from, restaurants, toy and hardware stores…I’m not a huge fan of places like this. Doesn’t seem authentic – I could be anywhere.
On the other hand, there’s also miles of sandy Adriatic beach where I could surely get lost with a book from time to time while Dev takes over the demands of water slides and toy shops…

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Culture Shock

Well, I don’t think you can get much more Italy than this. Cinque Terre, meaning Five Lands, is exactly that – five villages connected by hiking trails and a railway. We arrived in the first of the five, Monterosso al Mare on Wednesday evening at about 6:30, and we wandered aimlessly until the guy we were renting an apartment from, Fabio, appeared on the street calling “Janet” (which was me, as it turns out). The kids were overwhelmed, and I was too, to be fair. It was a lot to take in after two full days of driving. Bustling streets, raucous Italian voices, and colourful stucco buildings – all very unfamiliar.

Here are some of the comments over the first few hours:

I don’t like it here.
I didn’t expect it to be so foreign.
It reminds me of India; I didn’t think it would be like India.
I feel like I’m in Alladin.
I want to leave; it’s scary here.

Here are some of the comments on our third and final night here:

I wish we could stay here.
It’s so comfortable here.
This is the best beach I ever went to.
I love Monterroso the best out of all the towns here; it’s so comfortable here.

It’s amazing how you get used to a place, and how quickly it can feel like home. The first night they were clinging to us, and tonight they were racing around the streets, dodging tourists, laughing and shouting just like the local kids. They can order their own gelato, count to ten, and say thank you. They even hiked the arduous trail from Monterroso to Vernazza today, a stunning part of the Cinque Terre UNESCO World Heritage trail that links the five towns. It was a two hour, steep uphill trek, on which Liah was occasionally “going to die”, but all in all was quite successful. We saw lemon orchards, and lots of grape vines connected by a little “grape roller coaster” that allowed the farmers to pick way up on the cliffs and get the grapes back down again. The views of the ocean were absolutely stunning.
We also took the train to Riomiaggiore to have a little visit there, and then came back to an afternoon of snorkeling. A lot to fit in a day, but a great one.
This quick trip has reminded us that we need to stay longer in places. We are really just getting our bearings, figuring out how to read the menus, where to buy the best bread, where the freshest pastries can be found, and it’s time to go! Well worth the stop though, even though it was a hairy drive getting here – I would definitely consider a train in if we were to ever do this again.
Off to the Adriatic Coast tomorrow!

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Sat Nav Shenanigans

So, for those who are not aware, a sat nav is a gps system, you know the ones that talk to you and tell you when to turn, what lane to be in, and generally lead you straight to your destination once you plug the address in.
We’ve never actually used one before, but on the way down to St Ives, we tried out the one Dev’s brother had lent us, and by the time we got through the motorway confusion at Birmingham, we were sold! The girls named our sat nav voice “Josie Porgie” and Josie quickly became like part of the family. We praised her constantly, and she got us to Plymouth, then Swanage, without incident. Right to the doorsteps of the places we were staying. Fantastic. We even joked about the sat nav in the Picasso and pretended to be Bryn talking to Nessa….(you’ll understand that if you’re British and you’ve ever watched Gavin and Stacey).
So yesterday morning, we left for France feeling pretty confident, and ready for our 10 hour drive. Josie was fully charged and ready to go. But I wasn’t sure I really liked the way she got us out of Swanage – wasn’t the quickest way. So, we lost an hour there. This should have raised suspicion, but I think she may have been lulling us into a false sense of security. And you know how the rest of that day went if you read my last post…
Then when we finally got to France, Josie kept trying to get us off the highways onto little roads. Little roads that would only add time to our already arduous driving schedule. I started to get cross with Josie and turned her off from time to time. But I forgave her each time for her misdemeanors, and when we were finally able to get her to accept the name of the town in which we had booked our hotel, we went back to full reliance on Josie. Even though the route she was taking us was not the same as the one on the iPad. Which again, should have raised suspicion. But we still trusted her (although not as much, it has to be said). So, when she announced, at 10:30pm (which was already an hour and a half later than we were supposed to arrive), that we had reached our destination, we were very relieved.
Until we realized we were at a motorway service station. With one guy working. Who didn’t speak a word of English. Then I wanted to swear at Josie.
Turns out, she took us to the service station because it was sort of close to where we were going. On the map. But unfortunately, there was no exit to get to it. So after three very stressful attempts at communicating with the guy in the services, during which I realized how bad my French actually sucks, we figured out that we had to drive another 12 km down the highway and then double back on a parallel road to get to the hotel. Meanwhile, I had managed to contact the hotel, and a very stressed and tired sounding woman informed me that reception closed at 10pm (it was now 11), but that she would come back when we got there. When we got there, it was 11:53. Which made the grand total of driving time 14 hours, with three short bathroom stops. This was no sat nav misdemeanor. This was a full on felony.
Josie has been disowned. I turned her off today and shoved her in the glove compartment. If she had been ours, and not on loan, I would have shoved her under the tire. Right before we drove off.
Bitch.

On the up side, when we woke up this morning and ventured outside our hotel (Hotel Arts et Terroirs – which I suspected at midnight last night may mean Arts and Terror, and wondered why I would ever book a place with a name like that), we were deep in the Burgundy region. The little walk down the street to find a bank machine for euros, a post office to pay the toll fine we incurred last night when the toll booth would not take a credit card, and a patisserie for some breakfast, we were greeted with right-out-of-a-movie vineyards as far as the eye could see. It was really beautiful, and we regretted having to rush off so quickly to begin today’s driving adventure.
And another upside to the day was confirmation that we have the three best kids in the world. What other kids would quietly endure 14 hours in a car, making their own sandwiches along the way, and silently panicking as their parents flounder until 11:53pm?

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