Tag: Holiday

Day 7 – Italy

Day 7 – Italy

This was it, already, our last full day.  It always feels like the hardest day of the holiday as you feel like you have to make the most of it whilst simultaneously preparing to pack up and go home!  I decided to start the day with a bang and went for a run before breakfast.  I did a slightly longer route around town and ran past my two old supporters who were there cheering me on.  When I saw how happy their little faces were I could have cried, they patted the concrete barrier at the side of the road they were sitting on and asked me to sit with them and chat.  Well, I think that’s what they meant any way, it was impossible to tell.  I showed them photographs of my family, my home, my cats, my life and they reacted with smiles and ‘Mama Mia’ and ‘Bellissimo’ and pats on my knee and rubbed my cheeks.  I asked them to come and stay with me in Newcastle and they laughed and smiled.  Without being able to speak a word of Italian or them English, we had managed to connect and touch each other.  It was a wonderful feeling and a memory I will not easily forget.  I took a selfie and jogged off down the hill with them cheering and clapping my departure as if I was finishing in the Olympics.

The kids wanted another rest day but that wasn’t going to happen.  We agreed to swimming and relaxing but at the beach in Latino rather than our pool and so, once again, we headed down to the flatlands below.  It looked to be ‘just there’ as we looked off the veranda, but it was a good 30 minute drive.  As we looked from the veranda there was one building that stood out a mile as it must have been 40 floors high while everything else around it was no more than 4 or 5 even in the centre of town.  I couldn’t leave Italy and not know what this was!  It wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped, it was just a residential building called Torre Pontina.  Why they needed to build houses in the sky when there was so much land below that was untouched will forever be a mystery to me.

With a car full of confused faces, four wondering why we had stopped to take a look at the front door of a tower block and one because I couldn’t work out what they had built it for, we pressed on to the beach.  Before we dipped our toes we popped into what looked like a hotel canteen for a spot of lunch.  It was as bland as could be, after the good food we had enjoyed all week it felt like a microwave meal, but we were filled and that was all that mattered.  We headed on up the stony beach to find a quieter spot in view of the car and jumped in.  The sea was warm with gentle waves lapping on the shore.  You reached a deep spot about 10 meters out and then about 20 meters out you were back up to ankle depth on a sand bank before the sea slowly sloped off…the next land probably being Corsica which I had no intention of plodging out to.

As we came out of the sea a group of lads were playing football and acting like young men do, showing off, being loud and posing for any women that were on the beach giving them sideways glances to see if their efforts to look manly were paying off.  The only eye that these boys seemed to catch was that of an older gentleman that seemed to be suggesting they should move on and let people enjoy their day at the coast without being bothered.  At one point, one of the lads kicked a ball to his mate but it was flying at great pace towards us.  Instinct took over and I raised my foot up, took the pace off the ball and brought it under control perfectly at my feet. I am not sure who was more surprised, me that I had controlled a football or them that this old English guy had the moves still!

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We stopped for an ice cream and a coffee before heading home and the guy that owned the cafe had a son that owned a restaurant just outside of York so we chatted and I tried his own invention which was, effectively, a Mr Slushi laced with espresso coffee.  An ice cold slap followed by a caffeine bang and wallop.  I am not sure if it will take off or not but he can use that in his adverts if he likes.

We had an early start in the morning, with my desire for getting to airports and stations in good time we wouldn’t have any time to think never mind play in the pool.  We washed the sea salt off with chlorinated water and spent the rest of the afternoon lazing by the pool throwing fallen lemons at each other in the pool and letting the sun kiss us for one last time.WhatsApp Image 2018-10-27 at 22.10.26

The landlord had recommended a local restaurant called Chichibio which sat on the other side of town.  It had a terrace so you could eat your meal with a view of the mountains behind us and it was heaven.  Dressed in our finest we ate good food, drank, laughed, joked and watched the world go by and the sun drop out of view and the changing colours that come with it.  We would miss this place so much.  One last walk through town, one last ice cream in the piazza and one last meow from the cats outside the house and that was it, our last day was complete.

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Italy Day 3- Pompeii

Italy Day 3- Pompeii

After a relatively relaxing day around the pool we had built ourselves up for a long drive and a long hard day of walking around in the heat.

We set off toward Pompeii, around 2 and a half hours south of Sermoneta and 130 miles. It felt like most of those miles and minutes were spent getting from the top of our little hill to the motorway but, once we got there, the trip wasn’t too bad at all.  Saying that the trip was uneventful is only true in terms of Italian roads rather than British roads but we arrived safely none the less.  My strategy of blowing my horn every 10 minutes, no matter what was happening, seemed to be working.

We followed the route set out on the app of our phones and that got us most of the way there. Once we reached Napoli we didn’t need the app any more as the signposts took over and we could enjoy the view.  I say enjoy, but the view from the left hand side of the car was Vesuvius towering above us and dominating the skyline but out of the right hand side were the suburbs of Napoli.  This wasn’t so pretty.  Like a lot of port towns, you could tell that this was a bit rough. I wouldn’t like to have left the car unlocked anywhere in this area.  Even locked it would have been a chance.

As we got into Pompeii I started to get a feel for what the place was like very quickly.  This didn’t feel like it was going to be a serious historical day of interest. It was going to be an expensive tourist trap with chancers and vagabonds surrounding the area waiting to suck money from unexpected tourists wallets.  We drove past the main entrance to the historical site and parked up at one of the many car parks that lined the road.  Each one having a few old men waving you in as if driving past would be a terrible mistake and breaking some sort of law.  We drove past a few and picked one at random and parked up.  As we got out and applied our sun cream, it was clearly a very hot day and it was going to be hard work getting the kids to walk around in this heat looking at history in the making.

 


My mum and brother followed us down in their car and, as we waited for them to let us know where they had parked and arrange to meet them, we headed to the petrol station next to the car park and topped up on supplies and used their facilities.  The toilets smelt like they had been installed just after the Vesuvius eruption in AD 78 and not cleaned since.  I refused to enter as did my girl child so we bought water and mints instead.  Having been charged 3 EUR for a small bottle of water, I was getting the idea that this was going to be a long and miserable day for me!

We got the call from my mum and we met up at the collection of market stalls near the visitor centre.  We checked the first few stalls and realised that they all sold the same things, just displayed in a different order.  Lots of Roman stuff, lots of volcanic rock jewellery and a surprising amount of penis shaped items, all with Pompeii written on them.  I couldn’t think where we would display these items when we got home so, despite thinking that they were hilarious, I didn’t buy anything.

We decided it would be best to eat before we got into the centre itself and so, like the idiots that we are, decided to eat at the little cafe right outside the gates.  I was already worried about the potential cost/quality issues of eating right outside an international tourist trap and wasn’t made to feel any less relaxed when the menu arrived without prices on it.  We ordered sandwiches, a few salads, a couple of soft drinks and smoothies and it cost us more that €100.  I can’t give you the exact price as it was hidden from me to prevent me from ruining the rest of the day for me and anyone that met me.  As the bill was paid, I was whisked away from the cafe, we walked over to the gates and worked out how much this would cost us.

Again, I was jostled out of the way to prevent me feeling faint, but when Titchy came over to show me the tickets, I knew immediately that the tickets must have been reasonable!  At €15 per adult and the kids in for free, I was pretty happy and set off through the big fans with water spraying from them to cool us down with a skip in my step.

In my mind, Pompeii was going to be loads of little houses filled with history that you could walk around and be blown away by, as if history had been stopped by volcanic ash and then started again by Italian archaeologist peeling away the layers.  I was expecting each home to have contorted bodies and riddles to solve.  I have to say, I was very disappointed.  Maybe it was because we didn’t sign up to a guided tour, but it felt like a long walk in extreme dusty heat around some derelict houses.  It was hard work walking around, especially when we had tired and hot kids to chaperone.  Frankly, it was a bit boring.  There, I said it.

At one point I was excited to see a board that I assumed would have information on it and point out something to see or think about so I skipped over ready to be brought back into the swing of things. Turns out that the only display board that we had seen on our mile long walk was to explain what the three different coloured recycling bins were for.  Only when we got to the top end of the site did we find a handful of relics and casts, to take a good look at them all took us about 15 minutes.  A lot of walking in the sun for 15 minutes of interest.

One bright spot was when we listened in on an organised tour as the guide highlighted quite a sizable phallus on the pavement.  He removed the dust around it by pouring his water on the black stone member built into the pavement and explained it was giving directions to the ‘fun house’.  I will let you decide what sort of fun house it was pointing out, but it didn’t involve Pat Sharpe.   The laughs that the kids had looking at this 2,000 year old cock were priceless, but this soon wavered when we had to explain what it was there for.  I left at this point and scurried off for cover!

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Our plan had been to visit Pompeii in the morning and a trip to the crater of Vesuvius in the afternoon if time permitted.  We rounded the kids up and headed back to the car with the promise that we would head straight home and maybe have a half hour in the pool before dinner.  It was a long drive South and so we wouldn’t see the volcano on this trip.  It seemed a shame to be that close to Napoli and not see what it was like and so I made a sneaky detour to see if we could see anything exciting of the port town.  It very quickly became apparent that Napoli was very much like every other port town but with the added edge of a Mafia undertone.  We were heading through back streets and the graffiti was pretty ominous and dark so I skipped that idea and headed back North on the motorway.

After an hour on the road and a few traffic jams to hold us up, it became apparent that we wouldn’t get back in time to eat and swim.  As regular readers of the blog may know, I have a great interest in the second world war and I spotted signs for Monte Cassino.    Above the town of Monte Cassino, on top of a rocky hill, is a monastery which was the site of the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944.  We decided to head off the motorway and grab a meal in the town, just to say that I had been there.

We found a very local Pizza restaurant, well it was actually more of a takeaway really, but with seats outside and locals pottering about outside which is always a good sign.  We shared authentic pizza and some arancini, great big deep-fried balls of rice stuffed with cheese.  As we ate up and chatted and laughed, I realised that it would be years, if ever, before I would be back here and so I had to take the chance while I could.  There would be plenty of days for swimming to come.

 


We headed up the very windy road up the hill to the monastery and the views were stunning.  It was very clear why such a bloody price has been paid during the war for this land as the monastery has a perfect panoramic view of the flat expansive land below, the only route north to Rome.  We were not really appropriately dressed for a tour of a monastery and so we were not too upset when we got up to the gates to find them closing for the evening.  Instead, we headed a little way back down the mountain to visit the Polish cemetery.  I have been to many war cemeteries and they hold a very special place with me.  They are always immaculately clean and have their own special noise.  A special sort of quiet that seems to allow only birdsong and background traffic to penetrate it.

Heading back to the car, a little quieter and more sombre than when we arrived, we twisted and turned our way back down the side of the mountain as the warm evening sun started to drop for the day.  I felt very lucky to be there to see such amazing sights and share laughs with the people that I love in a time of such peace, thanks to the sacrifices of those that had trodden this bloody path so many years before.

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Italy – Day 2

Italy – Day 2

It’s funny when you wake up in an air-conditioned room, in your semi-conscious state, that you forget that you are on holiday and that the temperature is entirely man made.  As soon as I opened the back door and stepped out into the open air, it hit me.  It must have been eight o’clock but it was already very hot and humid but with the gentle breeze in your face blowing off the sea and hitting the elevated rock face we were perched on.  The view below was still amazing and the horseshoe of mountains seemed to hold and protect that farmland, villages and even the big town of Latina below us.

We had picked up provisions for breakfast the previous evening and spread out the bread, jam, fruit and cheese selection and ate breakfast and soaked in the sun.  No-one was keen on doing too much after the long slog of the day before so we agreed that it would be a rest and recuperation day.  My mum and brother set off to find a supermarket and explore the villages below as the rest of us stayed in the villa and played in the pool.

The kids introduced me to a new game called, rather fittingly, Marco Polo. Someone was picked as being ‘it’ and they had to stand in the middle of the pool with their eyes shut while everyone else ‘hid’ in the pool.  The ‘it’, with eyes still firmly shut then shouted ‘Marco’ and the hunted had to respond “Polo” and, using sound alone, they had to tag the hunted.  Simple, old fashioned fun, but it killed hours and didn’t involve any sort of electronic device so it was good for me!

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For lunch I wandered into the town square to pick up some more bread, crisps and drinks and took the opportunity to wander through some more of the cobbled streets and say hello to more of the locals.  It was obvious that the village was family focused and a lot of the people that lived there had lived there for generations.  I suspected that none of the front doors were locked and no one had any secrets.  Everyone was terribly friendly and very helpful, especially when it came to helping with my shopping when I had such a terrible grasp of Italian.

As the sun started to drop behind the far-off mountains off to the North it was time to get out of the pool and freshen up for our evening in town.  Our departure from the house was delayed somewhat by the neighbourhood cats and how bloody cute they were.  Hanging around their benefactor’s front door for their biscuits to be thrown out to them.  I say benefactor very carefully as it wasn’t their owner, they never seemed to get into the house, just hang around outside like it was a soup kitchen for homeless cats.

We wandered up the cobbled streets and stopped at the first restaurant we found.  A smart and friendly young chap looked after us and we sat inside the empty main room and ordered our meals.  It is amazing how tiring it can be to do absolutely nothing all day and we were all dropping tired as we had a meal that was far too nice for a family with three kids, two of whom were vegetarians, to appreciate. I think my little boy missed the subtle flavours of the locally sourced truffles and wild mushrooms in his pasta dish, but he pretty much ate every last mouthful none the less.

It was becoming a bit of a tradition, if you can have a tradition after two days, that on the walk home we stopped on the viewing platform next to the church and just watched the world go by for a little while.  I vividly remember holding onto my daughter, silently, and just watching the cars and scooters pottering along the roads and thinking how lucky we were to have found this spot.

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Italy bound

Italy bound

After months of procrastination and changes of plans, we found ourselves sitting on a plane from Newcastle to Rome in the last week of the school summer holidays.  Three kids 14 and under plus four adults, all set to soak in anything and everything that Italy had to throw at us.  As always, Newcastle airport was an absolute delight to pass through.  We arrived in a mini bus from the airport parking at Callerton Park and got through check in and customs with not a single problem.  The kids did ask us about why people were drinking pints of lager before the normal time for breakfast, but we explained that stag and hen parties mean that adults have different rules applied to them.

We flew with Jet2 and had the most stunning views of the Alps or Dolomites on the way over, it’s very hard to tell the difference from so high up.  Maybe there should be a project, we could crowd fund it, where huge labels can be placed at strategic points around the globe so that aeroplane passengers know exactly where they are in the world.  I know that the big planes have this on the in-flight display, but the short haul flights miss out and I would be happy to chip in a fiver to get this off the ground.  Who else is in?
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WhatsApp Image 2018-10-27 at 21.59.50We landed bang on time at Rome Fiumicino and found our first life hack of the holiday.  If you travel with under 12’s you get to skip the queue at passport control.  It almost makes travelling with kids worthwhile.  Almost.  We found out that it wasn’t always such a great idea moments later having got through passport control as we immediately lost the kids car seat that we had checked in at Newcastle airport under ‘Excess baggage’ despite it being the size of a box of cornflakes.  We were told that you had to pick it up from a certain area so wandered over and found a massive collection of, what appeared to be, abandoned car seats and pushchairs that you could pick up without any sort of checks taking place.  Life hack two of the holiday, don’t take a pushchair or child seat with you, just pick one up on arrival and run!

The seven of us, with six suitcases and a child seat in tow, looked like we were heading off from New York to join the gold rush but we were in fact heading to pick up the hire cars.  My brother and I, as designated drivers, took a ticket from the machine that, I think, they had taken from the deli counter at Asda when they remodelled in the late 80’s.  Despite our number coming up, a loud American lass that was dressed as if she was heading to a Yoga convention decided that, as she was louder than everyone else in the room, she should be seen to next.  I was happy so long as it meant I never had to see her or hear her ever again.

When we eventually got to the front of the queue, I was happy I had lost my rightful place in the queue as the lad who looked after us was absolutely spot on.  He was one of these people that, despite ‘just’ being the guy at the car hire station, he actually managed to add to the holiday by doing his job so well, with a smile on his face and a kind word and the odd joke with my little boy. As with almost everything in life these days, I got asked to do a follow up survey once we had picked the car up, I hope he got the kind words that I left for him passed on.

Having got all of the paperwork squared away and turned down 329 different types of insurance that they tried to upsell me, we headed out to pick up the cars.  I had been allocated a Jeep and my brother a hybrid Toyota Yaris.  Squeaking our way round and down the shiny floored multi story car park, I had about two minutes to get used to the car and the handling before hitting the Italian roads.  I had driven in Italy last year, but mainly on the motorway in the North of the country, but this was different!

If you haven’t driven in rush hour Rome, all be it just the outskirts, it’s pretty easy to imagine.  It’s like playing Mario Kart but instead of bananas and mushrooms the other players have a child in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. Seriously, it’s like being in a car in the UK in the 1980’s, it’s not unusual to see kids standing on the passenger seat with no seatbelt on or two kids sharing the passenger seat.  Insane.

The excitement of the crazy driving got a bit much for me.  I was so focused on blowing my horn at people and shouting Mama Mia as drivers switched lanes for fun in front of me, I forgot to follow the directions.  It took a few false starts and U-turns but we were eventually on the way and eating into the 90KM to Sermoneta, our home for the week.  It was only about an hour and a half away but that, on top of the early start, the flight time, the wait to get out of the airport and it was touch and go if the three kids would have driven each other to madness in the back seats before we arrived.

We broke up the journey with a service station stop where we loaded up with mini loafs of bread, crisps, chocolate and fizzy pop.  Classic car trip fodder.  While everyone else got the provisions I stayed in the Jeep and worked out what the dazzling array of buttons were all about.  I managed to get my phone synced up with the blue tooth so that I could play my tunes but that didn’t last for more than half a song I seem to recall.

I thought that the car was handling a little strangely and I had worked out what I thought it was.  The Jeep was fitted with lane assist and so every time you switched lanes the car tried to auto correct you and put you back.  I had a choice, I had to either fight to move in and out of traffic while overtaking or be the only person in Italy who used indicators.  I didn’t want to be the odd one out so it was a good upper body work out for the rest of the week, fighting against my AI car.

The motorway eventually turned into a main road, the main road into a minor and the minor into a single track that snaked along the flat expanse of land between the Mediterranean sea to the west and the mountains overlooking it.   As we got closer to the mountainside, we could make out a village hanging off the side of it.  We knew we were close and there wasn’t much else around and so that had to be Sermoneta.  We came to a junction and turned off up the hill.  The kids, who had just started to get a bit bored and fighty, suddenly had something else to focus on and it was starting to get exciting, trying to work out where we would be and what was going to be around us for the next seven nights.

We followed the hair pinning road up the ever steepening hill and followed the road into the town square.  It felt like we were not the first people to drive into the town square expecting to find their lodging and be surprised that it was pedestrian access only after about 500 meters.  Titchy jumped out and asked for directions and was told we had come in the wrong side of town and had to come in via the back road.  At least we think that that was said.  Either way, I had to perform a tricky U-turn in the town square watched by, what looked like, the entire village that had come out to see the foreign guy take the wrong route.

The square was full of life.  Cafes, shops and an ice cream shop jumped out to the kids and they thought it was looking good. Driving out of the town square and working our way around the back of the village, we worked our way up and around the tight single track road until we hit the car park at the end of the line.  We had arrived at our destination.

I was not able to get my mobile phone working in Italy at all for the next week and so the landlord was not able to call me to arrange access.  So we waited around for a while looking for keys, trying locks and search for clues as if we were taking part in an escape room.  Eventually, we got in and as the adults worked out who would stay in which room and began unpacking, the kids walked down the terrace to the swimming pool. They wanted in and they wanted in fast!

Inside, the house was lovely with big, comfortable rooms and a pool table, but outside was where this place came into its own.  There was a terrace with a Barbeque and a patio table and chairs from which you could look out over the winding roads that we had just come through and the sea off in the distance.  We were to spend many an hour there in the next week just watching planes taking off, farmers zig zag back and forth over their fields, cyclists making their progress and clouds forming and moving in from the sea.  It really was the most perfect view.  One section further down the terrace and you had a swimming pool and sun loungers from which you could relax and take in the same views, just this time with kids trying to drown you.

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This was going to be a good holiday, I could tell.

We were all pretty tired by the time we had unpacked and got used to the surroundings so we decided to take a little walk into the town square and pick up something to eat.  We snaked our way through the narrow, cobbled streets and headed towards where we thought the town square was that we had driven up earlier in the afternoon.  We thought we were lucky by finding it pretty much right away, it turns out that there were only about three streets that all meet at the main square so we would have done well NOT to find it.

There was a lovely atmosphere.  Old people sitting in seats just watching the world go by, families (all locals) chatting over drinks at cafes and children running around playing without a care in the world.  All dressed up and just savouring the warm evening air.  We picked a pizza shop, it wasn’t a restaurant, more like a takeaway with a few seats and a table outside on the cobble steps.  We ate lovely slices of pizza fresh from the oven and watched customer after customer walk in, chat to the owner like a long-lost friend and pick up their takeaway pizza.  It felt amazing to be let into their world, no delivery guys, and no options, just going to the one guy in town that did takeaway pizza and chatting with him. Making a connection and saying hello to neighbours and friends as they waited to be served.

As we walked back to the house, we could hear family life going on through windows above open to let a cool breeze into the rooms.  Football on the TV, children crying, singing along to radios, family life.  Old people sat outside their front doors, keeping guard and chatting excitedly as we walked past them and said our ‘goodnights’ to them.  We thought it was the perfect evening, but there was still one more treat before bedtime.

Outside the house there must have been a dozen cats and two kittens all pottering about waiting to be fed by one of the neighbours.  Some were friendlier than others and they all looked like street cats but well fed, but the ones that were brave enough to hang around us were rewarded with cuddles and love before bed.  I think we all went to bed happy that we had picked the right place to call home, Sermoneta.

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Where has the time gone?

Where has the time gone?

Is it just me of is 2018 moving faster that you average year?

It seems like just yesterday that I was complaining about the ‘beast from the East’ and wearing two jumpers to get to work and here I am a good way through May sitting in the living room with sun pouring in through the window.

So, what have you missed out on since the last post back in March?

Well, we have booked a holiday!  Initially there were going to be six adults and four kids and so we were looking at a villa somewhere to house us all.  I have to say, it was a blooming nightmare.  We tried Air b’n’b but the process was painful and messy and so we were recommended a site called http://www.homeaway.co.uk

We had a few issues, mainly that we tried to book a place that was showing as available but when we tried to book we were told that it was unavailable.  Looking back, that sounds quite trivial, but when you spend night after night researching and filtering and negotiating with all of the people looking to travel and then you think you have found the perfect place, it was a right kick in the nuts.

In fact, it took so long to find a place that some of the party ducked out early!  So, with new filters to put in place, we found a great place in Italy in a village called Sermoneta in central Italy.

It looks to be a perfect quiet village on a hill above a swamp dating back to the 12th century.  It looks amazing and I cant wait to get out there.  It will be a great base to visit the Amalfi coast, Pompeii and, with my interest in the second world war, Anzio and Monte Casino.  I will have to see if I can get those trips past Titchy!

More then anything, I am looking forward to eating Italian food in a little old fashioned restaurant with an Italian grandma sitting in the corner laughing at us,  I want to ruin a white shirt eating by eating  pasta!

Looking into 2019, we have a family wedding to go to in Adelaide and are mixing that up with a trip to Kangaroo Island.  I can only cope with one trip at a time, but that will be the next one to think about!

Does anyone have any ideas for either trip, places that we must see or places that we must go?  I would be delighted to hear from you and even ore delighted if you have any car hire ideas!!