Another long day, the San Gottard Pass and molti incidenti

Day 2 – Mulhouse to Abruzzo, via Switzerland

I am writing in my travel journal in the car as we have just left our hotel in Mulhouse.  It is 7.01am.  It is drizzly and grey.  We decided we would get straight on the road, rather than stay for breakfast.  We have enough provisions in the car to feed the boys for a couple of hours.  We decide that when we stop, we want to stop on the St Gotthard Pass.  We reach the Swiss border 40 minutes later.  There are no tolls in Switzerland, but you have to purchase a motorway pass at the border.  This costs just under €40, but it lasts for a year.

8.15am  The boys are asleep.  It is raining heavily now.  This does not detract from the stunning scenery.  However, I badly need a coffee now and so does Will.  Will is excited because we just passed a huge sign advertising the European Tractor Pulling Championships.  Why this is exciting I don’t know.  I didn’t even know it was a thing.  Will tried to explain why it is exciting, but I still don’t know.

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9.25am  There is a massive queue for the St Gotthard Tunnel.  Like last year, but not quite as bad, we want the pass though.  We are going to attempt to turn off before and hope if we go through one of the little villages we can link up to the Pass.  We take the turn off at Wassen and join the pass from there, avoiding sitting in the queue for an hour or more.  Hooray!

10.00-11.00am  We stopped for an hour at the top of the pass for a much needed coffee and we were all rather excited to see there was a selection of delicious looking cakes.  We bought a slice of black forest gateau and what looked like a light, moussey lemon affair, to share.  Both were delicious, although Squidge stole a lot of my favourite black forest gateau.  I loved the building we visited.  It houses a small museum on the history of the pass, along with a gift shop, clean toilets (hallelujah!) and a cafe.  The cafe had old photographs and paintings of the pass as it was, which looked rather terrifying in it’s original state.  Padawan wanted to buy his ‘girlfriend and future wife’ a swiss mountain goat, as in cuddly toy, not real, although knowing the recipient she would have loved a real goat.  As we head out of the building and into the crisp, clean air, Squidge spots a huge puddle and decides to jump up and down in it.  We let him have his moment of fun as we will be driving again for several hours.

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11.45am We are passing Lago di Lugano.  It looks very nice from what we can see, although there are lots of barriers at the side of the road which annoyingly obscure the view.  The sun is breaking through the clouds and we are happy we are in the Italian speaking side of Switzerland.

12.15pm We drive through the Italian border.  Padawan says ‘I am excited now as we will be home soon.’  We reach our first toll five minutes later.  It costs €2.20.  We reach another toll, again five minutes later, costing €2.90.

1.20pm  We always have the Italian radio on when we reach Italy.  We keep hearing ‘molti incidenti’, which is not good.  The traffic is heavy.  There have been two incidents near Piacenza.  Not surprising from the driving we have witnessed so far.  Lots of Range Rovers and trucks who are too impatient with the Ferragosto traffic taking silly chances that don’t pay off.  The temperature gauge on the car says it is 33 degrees.

3.30pm  It is now 37 degrees.  We are sitting in a traffic jam very near to Bologna.  Thank goodness for air-con.

8.00pm  After a very long time stuck in traffic, which we have never experienced like that before (except in Northern Italy), and a final toll of €41.50 we finally reach our home.  We have just unpacked what we need tonight and tomorrow morning and are going to head straight to bed.

Thoughts:
The boys’ faces lit up when we walked into the house and it made the long day worthwhile
We decided there and then we would not travel at Ferragosto again

The Journey: Day 1, Dover to Mulhouse

I am trying something a little different for my blog posts from my Summer outing to Abruzzo.  I will be, literally, giving you my pages from my holiday journal.  A sort of ‘dear diary….in Abruzzo’.  I think it’s good to show the reality of a holiday with young children.  My first post is pretty short because it’s the first day and fantastic as the French toll roads are to drive on, it’s very boring too.  Here goes….

Day 1: Dover to Mulhouse

Early start. Left at 3am. Two very excited little boys bundled in the back of the car.  Squidge (our 2 year old) falls asleep after 10 minutes.  Padawan (our Star Wars mad 6 year old) talks non-stop for about an hour, then falls asleep.

Arrived at Dover at 5.30am.  The boys have commenced lightsaber battles in the back of the car.  Will is walking around the car, in the wind and drizzle, stretching his legs whilst we wait for the ferry.  I need a coffee.

Sailing.  It’s 7am.  We got on the ferry very quickly and easily, so headed straight up to the restaurant.  We find a table by the window, at the back of the boat so the boys can see us sail away from the White Cliffs of Dover.  I have my coffee and croissant.  I’m feeling more awake.  We venture into the shop where I find my perfume with £20 off the normal price.  Yay!  Will finds Toblerone on offer and buys three huge bars.  Even though we will be driving through Switzerland tomorrow.

It is a calm crossing, but as we approach Calais, our eldest son is crying, with a sprained wrist.  Some nine year old with a pretentious name has been wrestling smaller kids in the soft play area, whilst his mother is round the corner in the cafe reading a newspaper.  We told him to stay away from this boy. Well, unfortunately our eldest learned a lesson from this, the hard way.  Mummy is [usually] right.  The boy’s mother is still oblivious/uninterested in the fuss, although his Grandfather walks in as we leave, to tell him off.  I wonder who the boy’s next victim will be on the return ferry.  Probably some unsuspecting toddler.

10am.  After exiting the ferry, we drive for an hour until we find a place we can pull over to bandage our son’s wrist.  We stop, I massage some arnica cream into his hand/wrist, bandage it and give him some medicine.  The boys fall asleep again, 10 minutes after leaving.

12.30pm.  It costs €22.20 for the first toll (Reims).  I realise I’ve forgotten to bring Mr Mouse and Professor Trunky for Squidge.  We dare not speak their names and hope he will not notice.

2pm Second toll (Batilly), €15.  We stop so the boys can have a run around, kick their ball and eat.  We all eat one of the rolls I’ve made and the boys demolish their Pombears.  French picnic areas are so clean.  We leave after a good break, ready to hit the road again.

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5.45pm After stopping earlier on, the last leg of our first day has seemed to take forever, so we are extremely pleased to reach the hotel (Novotel Mulhouse).  We have a family room, which the boys think is wonderful.  Thankfully the room is large with one double bed and two single beds for the boys.  Squidge instantly throws himself on the nearest single bed and jumps up and down, giggling.  Will takes our eldest son for a quick swim to see if the cold water will help his arm.  It does improve a little.

6.30pm  We are all exhausted so room service beckons.  Will and I order a burger and fries to share.  We are asked how we want the burger and Will says rare.  It was the best burger we have ever eaten!  I meant to take a photo before we ate it, but we were so hungry we demolished it.  The boys had fries and room service sent up some bread rolls and a bowl of rice for them too.
7.30pm  Sleep beckons for us all as we have a long day ahead of us.

Thoughts:
I wouldn’t hesitate to use this hotel again.  The staff were so kind to the boys and the rooms were clean and comfortable.
It’s been a long day, but the boys have both behaved so well in the car and the hotel.  Thank goodness.
Alsace is beautiful.
Even with roadworks, the French toll roads are amazing.  We’ve just driven through France in 9 hours.
Squidge, our toddler, kept saying ‘wee’ really loudly because he heard us speaking French and saying ‘oui’.  Slightly embarrassing, like Mr Bean in Mr Bean’s Holiday.
Avoid soft play area on ferries and children named after male Wuthering Heights characters

Where is home?

Firstly, let me apologise for going Awol on my blog for the last three months.  I have had rather a lot going on in my life lately and I struggle to write if my thoughts are elsewhere.  I do write very honestly about my life, or try to, but I did not want to write any blog posts half-heartedly.  Once again, I am amazed at the number of hits and followers my blog has been receiving without any new posts for three months, so thank you very much to all my new readers and followers, I appreciate it.

Finally, after years of moving around and feeling half my heart is in Italy and half in England, we are buying a home in England again (fingers crossed – the English property buying process is a nightmare).  I think regular readers will not be surprised after reading a post I had written a few months ago saying that with our children to consider and the state of the Italian economy, we would not be moving to Italy permanently.  I did struggle a little with accepting this because I thought that people were hoping we would live the dream and we were letting them down in some way.

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Things have changed….I have changed so much, Will and I both have, since our house in Abruzzo was first built.  We have finally settled in a little market town in England.  It has enough here to occupy us and we are near to the coast and the city, when we need them.  I decided pretty quickly after the birth of our eldest son that living in rural isolation is not for me.  I don’t want to have to drive just to get a pint of milk, or have to drive to school.  I enjoy walking and I like to have things nearby.  That said, living rurally on holiday is pretty idyllic.

Back to the English home, I cannot wait to own a period house again and use my interior design creativity.  More importantly, I want to create a home that our little boys love and feel safe in, and know that it is theirs.

With the potential move looming, I realise how amazing our friends are and why I would not want to leave them.  We have had friends offering to help us paint the house we have been renting, help with the move, help with childcare….in fact, yesterday, our friends Pete and Lorraine came to us and brought a home-made cake, knowing how busy we have been.  After varnishing doors, painting and clearing rubbish, it was such a welcome respite and so kind.  We value these friends.  Friends who think of you selflessly are not ten a penny.

We still love our home in Roccamontepiano and Abruzzo, when we are out there, but it is now purely a holiday home and I feel I will appreciate it a lot more now, as such.  It is as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders at last.  I cannot wait to return to Abruzzo and just enjoy it for the beautiful place it is.

Travelling to Abruzzo

This will be my last blog post for the next three weeks or so.  We are going on our annual Abruzzen Summer holiday and quite frankly, I need some time to get organised and my little boys are keeping me busy!

I thought I would write a post about how we travel to Abruzzo because people are often asking me whether we fly, or drive.  Indeed, we do both.

Flying to Abruzzo

Ryanair are probably the easiest airline for us to use.  They are the only airline that fly into Pescara, which is our nearest airport. Sometimes, it has been cheaper to fly to Rome Ciampino (still with Ryanair), or Rome Fiumicino with Easyjet and then drive the extra hour to our house. There are bargains occasionally with tickets, but only if you have flexibility with dates and this is often out of school holidays, which is no good to us.
Pescara’s airport is small, modern and clean.  It does lack in shops and only has one small bar, but we often wander over the road (after check-in) to Auchan, which has several places to eat, which are very good value and shops.

After we factor in air tickets, parking (uk end), car hire and child seats for the hire car, it costs between £1,500-£1,800 for the four of us.

Taking the Train

Our friends Bo and Paul did this when they came out for our wedding in 2006.  They enjoyed it, although they did say it was quite tiring.  They got the train from London and then had to change at Bologna, where they then got a train into Pescara.  Italian trains are pretty cheap and, from our experience, are clean and always on time.  Bo used the website The Man in Seat Sixty-One to sort this all out and it worked wonderfully for them.  I would say taking the train from the uk would be a great experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it with young children.

I don’t know how much Bo and Paul paid for their tickets, but I can tell you that when Will travelled from Pescara to Turin last month, it cost him around £40.  That is cheap compared to uk train prices.  He has travelled on the Freccia Rossa, which is the high speed train and said it was amazing.  The year before we got married in Abruzzo, Will and I flew into Milan, then took the train directly to Pescara and it was a brilliant journey, particularly when the train runs parallel along the coastline.  You can almost reach out and touch the adriatic.

Driving to Italy

If we decide to spend 2-3 weeks on holiday in Abruzzo, we almost always drive.  We worked out that it costs £800 compared to the quote above for flying!  This includes the ferry, fuel, tolls and hotel stops.  We always take the Dover-Calais crossing.  This costs between £100-£130, either with P&O Ferries, or My Ferry

Over the last ten years of driving to Italy, we have taken various routes to see what works and, as much as anything, for the adventure of it.  We decided last year that the best routes we have ever taken were via the Rhone-Alpes, or Alsace regions of France, then through Switzerland and we always take the San Gottard pass (except in the Winter).  The pass doesn’t take much longer than the tunnel, maybe ten minutes, but it is stunning and we want the boys to see and learn as much as possible when they travel with us.

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The French toll roads are worth every penny.  They are kept immaculate, as are the French roadside services.  The baby changing facilities and young children’s toilets in the family rest-rooms are brilliant.

The roads do get a little crazier/busier when you hit Italy.  Milan and Bologna are the hotspots.  If you can avoid them, or avoid being near these cities in rush hour, then you can hopefully avoid any delays in your journey.

It feels a bit surreal sometimes when early in the morning you’re on a ferry crossing the English Channel, then that evening, you’re eating a tarte tatin in France, in a fairytale village…..then the next morning you’re driving through dramatic mountains in Switzerland, stopping for a Toblerone (yep!) and hot chocolate, and then that night you’re on your balcony in Italy.  I won’t lie, it is pretty tiring and that’s why you need to be staying for 2 weeks at least to make it worthwhile, but it is so much fun.  You can also pack you car with whatever you want.  No restrictions.
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I am hoping to visit some new places such as Rocca Calascio (the castle in Ladyhawke) and I cannot wait to share our adventures with you all when I return.  We should also be attending the biggest festa of the year, the Festa di San Rocco, which is attended by over 30,000 people in our tiny little village.  Can you believe it?

I hope you all have a wonderful Summer.  Allo fino prossima volta! xx

The grass isn’t always greener….

With the unusually warm weather in the uk, I have been rather lax on the blogging front.  I thought it apt I write a weather-related post.

If I had a pound for every time somebody said, ‘oh, I bet it’s hot and sunny in Italy every time you go’, I’d be a wealthy woman.  Yes, for the most part we do have some glorious weather when we holiday, but we have also experienced the not so nice weather.

Take our Christmas trip, when we drove to Italy with our boys, all fine on the way down and for the stay at our house, but we encountered this on our way home after we had spent a couple of days in Turin….

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Scary.  A lorry was abandoned as it had got stuck.  The queue for the Frejus Tunnel was getting longer.  We were trying not to panic with the boys sitting in the back, but the snow was falling faster and we didn’t have our winter tyres on.  Big mistake.  Huge.  In most European countries, having winter tyres on your car from October to March (I think) is a legal requirement, but not so in the United Kingdom.

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I had mentioned to Mr Abruzzo that we may need winter tyres and he laughed and said we’d be fine.  He admitted in the car that day that I had been right.  Happily enough, we made it to the Frejus Tunnel and we met clear roads and zero snow on the French side.  Phew!  Lesson learned: Winter tyres when driving abroad in the winter

On my trip to Abruzzo with my best friend in April, we wanted to drive to the top of the Passo Lanciano.  It was a little bit foggy, but we thought it would clear.  After a cioccolata calda at the ski cafe, we thought it was a great idea.

It wasn’t.  It looks very pretty in this photo below, but we turned the corner and it was literally a whiteout.  I have no photo of that because Laura was gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles and I was clutching my seat with equally whitened hands.

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I know the road well enough to know where (eventually after a scary ten minutes driving further) there is a wide expanse where the skiing car park is so we could turn around.  We made it back down the mountain.  Worse thing is it happened again the following day when we tried to drive along the Passo Leonardo, except it had only been a bit drizzly so we didn’t expect fog to come rolling in.  Lesson learned: fog can get worse and doesn’t clear quickly.

During the same holiday, Laura and I set off from the house and the sky looked a little threatening, but we figured we would be ok if it just rained.  We got to the village and this happened….

We managed to pull over and off the road, which had turned into a river.  My photo does not do it justice.  As the rain started to slow, we turned round and went home.  This is what the weather had looked like that morning.

Lesson learned: Italian weather can be just as unpredictable as British weather.  Also, when holidaying with best friends, adventures always occur.

So there you go.  I have been told by several of my readers that they appreciate the honesty of my blogging and that I don’t write with rose-tinted glasses on.  Italy is beautiful and indeed wonderful, but it doesn’t guarantee the weather matches every time!

Check out Sunday Traveler, hosted by my travel blogging buddy SJ at Chasing the Donkey  I have discovered how beautiful Croatia is via SJ’s blog. Hope you enjoy reading about it too. xx

Girls’ trip to Abruzzo: Hold the Octopus

Those of you who read my blog before may remember that I had a long weekend last October, in Abruzzo with my best friend.  We had such a nice time, despite the rain and carabinieri  that we returned in April for a five day break.

We arrived late on a Thursday night and checked the forecast for the next few days.  The one day that looked good was the following day, the rest were forecast to have heavy showers.  We decided that on Friday we would visit Vasto and the Costa dei Trabocchi, as Laura had not visited this part of Abruzzo before.

On arriving at Vasto the following morning, bathed in glorious sunshine, we were very pleased with ourselves.  Laura because she drove there and me, because I navigated and we managed to avoid tolls and parking fees.

Vasto is in southern Abruzzo and is around one hour’s drive from my house in the mountains.  What I love about Vasto and the coastline in this part of Abruzzo, is the feeling that you could be in Sicily.  It has the look of, what I think, is real southern Italy.  The water is the most stunning colour and the beaches and coastline dramatic.

Vasto’s promenade was the busiest I have ever seen it.  We found out later that it was a National Holiday in Italy.  Everybody was out on their passeggiata, although normally this takes place in the evenings when the weather is cooler.

After a wander, it was already lunchtime, so we found a restaurant on the seafront where we grabbed the last available table.  If a restaurant is busy with locals then you know the food will be good, in general.

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Now, I love seafood, but I ordered a frutti di mare misti (mixed seafood salad) and I got a plate of octopus.  The lollo rosso was there….but seriously, the octopus…..basta! (enough!).  Laura (whilst not so secretly relieved she didn’t order this) had chosen carpaccio di pesce spada (swordfish carpaccio).  I tried it and it was divine!  Even with Laura having some of my octopus, there was still half a plate left when the waiter took it away.  Octopus is one of those things where I want a couple of bits and then I’ve had enough, even when cooked well, I find it chewy and I’m quickly over it.

Thankfully, we had ordered the same main, calamari.  The calamari put the smile back on my face.  Cooked to perfection in a light as air, melt in the mouth batter.  We both agreed that we could have eaten another plate.  It was so nice that I gobbled it up and forgot to take a photo of it!  This lunch cost us €13 each.  I don’t think I will ever order a mixed seafood salad again because I am quite frankly frightened that I will end up with a load of octopus.

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We meandered back in the afternoon sun to our car and drove up the hill into the historical centre of Vasto.  After a stroll around the pretty town, we found a nice cafe overlooking the coastline and had a coffee (always served with a glass of water here), for €1 each.  The town was almost deserted as most people were on the seafront.

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After a lovely first day, we headed back home to the mountains, where we chilled out with a bottle of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, some fresh mozzarella and bread, and watched the Season 1 boxset of Nashville. Bliss!

Arrivederci dalle My Family and Abruzzo

I started this blog in mid-June last year without realising how many people from all over the world would end up reading it.  People from the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, China, Israel, all over Europe, India…

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When I got married in Abruzzo, I had intended to start a blog, or write a book, but life got in the way.  I am a little sad to end my blog, but I have found of late, that it has been harder to write.  I mentioned this briefly in a previous post.

When I started writing, we still had not ruled out moving to Italy full time and hence my blog would have progressed to an ex-pat blog, warts and all life in Italy.  It saddens me to say that we have decided for sure that we will not be migrating.

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The whole world is aware of Italy’s economic problems.  With two small children, how can we move them somewhere, where at present, there is not a lot of hope for youngsters?  When our eldest son says he wishes he was in Italy and why can’t we live there….I’d be lying if I didn’t say my heart isn’t breaking a little right now.

On a brighter note, I have received some wonderful emails, tweets and comments on my blog from all over the world.  I hope I have done a good job of introducing you all to this beautiful part of Italy.  I have added some of my favourite photos that I have taken in Abruzzo in this post.

We are also very fortunate that we have this wonderful holiday home that we can use every year and that we can leave to our sons to enjoy with their families one day.

Thank you to all my regular readers, who always commented and supported my blog, in particular; Tiffany, Bonnie, Deb, Rosey, Jessica (Independent Travel Cats), Jessica (Italian Bunny Report) Glenda, Vanisha, Diana at Browsing Italy, along with my dear friends, Pete and Lorraine, Ali and Laura.

I hope many of you travel to Abruzzo in the future and understand why I love it so much.

Thank you all for reading.  Baci!

Cycling and Abruzzo

Firstly, let me say, sorry to my readers.  I have been somewhat absent of late in the blogging world.

I am thinking about ending my Abruzzo blog.  Sometimes I love it, but over the last month I haven’t been getting as much back from this blog as I have been putting in.  I have a few reasons;

Firstly, my youngest son is 20 months and needing a lot more attention!

I am finding my film blog easier to write and less hassle.  I have nearly 70 readers after only three weeks and this is without constant link-ups etc.

When I first started this blog, we were still unsure as a family if, or indeed, when, we would be moving to Abruzzo.  I think I can say with certainty now, that this will not be happening.  To move our children with no secure jobs, or a large amount of savings, is not something we want to do.  On our last visit at Christmas, our friends who own bars were saying how bad the economic situation in Italy is.  So many youngsters are out of work and disillusioned.  For youngsters who have families with money, generally in Northern Italy, they are studying abroad and have more opportunities, but for ordinary Italians, things look bleak.  I will keep you posted, should I decide to not carry on with this blog.  Thank you to all my regular readers.

Cycling has played a part in our holidays to Abruzzo, in one way or another, since Will and I first visited in 2002.

That year, we discovered the Giro d’Italia had cycled past the road where our future house would be.  The Giro is the second most prestigious cycling tour, after the Tour de France, but although second, it is the favourite of many commentators and cyclists. The winners jersey is pink rather than yellow.  Another race, the Tirreno-Adriatico has often passed through parts of Abruzzo we know and love.

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On a solo trip, Will took his bike with him, followed the markings on the road, many saying ‘Pantani’ in honour of much-loved Marco Pantani, and completed his first mountain climb.  Will was hooked on a new sport, having previously been into motocross and supamoto.

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Between 2002, with the house build, and our wedding in 2006, we realised just how popular cycling was outside of the uk.  This has changed dramatically in the last two years thanks to super-sprinter Mark ‘Cav’ Cavendish and Bradley ‘Wiggo’ Wiggins.

In May 2007 our friends, Paul and Rachel, joined us on holiday when we went to our first Giro stage, in
Teramo.  We should have left the house earlier that day and got a good spot on the mountain pass.  We arrived late and although we could see everything, the cyclists flew past in a riot of colour.  However, many cyclists smiled, or gave a slight nod when they saw our Union flag.  An unusual sight in a non-tourist destination.  Will and Paul had taken their bikes along on the holiday and went off cycling up the Passo Lanciano four or five days out of the ten we were there.

In 2008, I was pregnant with our first son and not very well so I didn’t fancy travelling.  Will had a long weekend cycling with his friend Neil.  They rode their bikes to a Giro mountain stage in Pescoconstanzo.

In 2009 we took our eldest son, who was nearly ten months, along with our friends Laura and Nick, on holiday.  The Giro was going right near our house on Passo Lanciano (see post A Heatwave).  We had an amazing day.  It felt like an all day party, but it was safe for families and children.  Both Nick and Laura have taken up cycling (Laura since last year).  Laura being my best friend, the one who always used to hate sport!  The way she is headed, I think she will be cycling up the Passo Lanciano in the future.

We returned in May 2010 and watched a mountain
stage near Sulmona.  However, the heavens
opened and the rain came out in full force, just as the peloton arrived.  It was still a brilliant spectacle.

Will and Nick took their bikes on a combined gardening and cycling trip, in Spring last year.  Nick had never done a mountain climb before.  Passo Lanciano is a tough climb, even for pro-cyclists, so this is no mean feat.  He did it and  felt justifiably proud of this.  They also cycled from our house in the mountains down to Pescara at the coast.
Since then, we have had our other little boy and our eldest started full time school in September 2012, so we haven’t been to a Giro stage.  When our youngest is three, if the Giro goes up the Passo Lanciano again, then we want to take the boys to see it.  Actually being there and seeing the effort the cyclists have to put in, is pretty special and inspiring.

For road cycling enthusiasts and mountain biking enthusiasts, Abruzzo is fantastic.  The car drivers in Europe treat cyclists as equals so there are not the same concerns for would-be cyclists as in the uk.  There are mountain biking trails in abundance in woodlands, forests, open plains, hills and mountains.

Our eldest had a balance bike and moved straight to a bike without stabilisers.  He says he is going to be faster than Mark Cavendish when he is a pro-cyclist, along with his duties as a Film Director(!).  Essentially, lightspeed then.  I like the way he is thinking though and who knows, in the future, we could be in Abruzzo, watching the Giro, cheering one of our boys on.

Venice – City of Sighs!

I’m not sure if I love or hate Venice.  I know I always rave about Italy and it may seem that I have rose-tinted glasses on, but I assure you that I have not and this post will prove it. The following photos were taken on my old (non) digital camera in 1996!

I first visited Venice on a day trip from Austria, when I was 21 years old.  It was early Summer so it was hot, but not unpleasantly so.  However, the sheer numbers of tourists blew my mind.

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The minute you wander away from Piazza San Marco and keep going for a good half an hour, things start to improve and it gets quieter and you start to see actual Italians rather than tourists.

Venice is stunning, don’t get me wrong, but it is very hard to appreciate when you are being jostled and the noise…..put it this way, I couldn’t get off the Rialto Bridge quick enough!

Some people may not notice any of the above, but I am somebody who doesn’t like the thought of a cruise holiday, or organised trips.  I like to be with whom I want, stop when I want or move on when I want.  You could argue that I love Rome and that is a tourist destination.  Very true, however, Rome is large enough for tourists and Romans with plenty of quiet areas and green spaces if you need them.
I know Venetians get extremely fed up with tourists and this does come across in some of their attitudes, not that many tourists notice.  I understand how the Venetians must feel, being on an island there is little escape, although at the same time, one could argue that tourists are their bread and butter.

In 2003, I returned to Venice with Will.  This time we stayed on the island of Murano.  Murano was beautiful.  It was like staying on the main island, but without the hordes of people and noise.  You could watch the boats on the canals and fishermen, whilst sitting outside in the sun with a bellini and a bowl of squid ink spaghetti (Will’s choice!) and not be overcharged for it.

We got up early the next day and took a water bus to Piazza San Marco.  It was eerie….and quiet.  Nobody was there, except a few locals.  This was what we wanted to see.  We could take in the majestic sights and truly appreciate them.  Seen in this way, in this early morning light, Venice looked hauntingly beautiful.  We had a coffee and then wandered for two hours in bliss.

At 11 o’clock the peace was shattered as, I kid you not, boatload by boatload of tourists, packed in like sardines, started arriving at the jetties.  We were meeting our friends who were staying on the Venice Lido.

After fighting our way through the crowds in the piazza, not enjoyable for my friend who is scared of pigeons, we went for a walk with them and at lunchtime found a restaurant near the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal and sat outside.  Sounds nice, but we got harassed by a tramp until the waiter eventually moved him on where he moved to the next restaurant and started alarming other female tourists.  The food was also shocking and over-priced.

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Then the water buses….if you are sitting on the wrong side in the summer when the boats dock…well, let’s just say the windows are open and you will get drenched when the water sloshes in.  We were very lucky to always be on the right side when this happened.  Our friend Pete said they may be expensive, but water taxi’s are the way to go.

Perhaps it is because I have had such a great time in all the other parts of Italy where it has felt more civilised, that I have a bit of a downer on where Venice is concerned.  However, I don’t like ending on a negative so let’s look at the positives.  Venice is great if you go to the main part very early in the morning before the masses arrive and I definitely give Murano a big thumbs up.  One thing’s for sure, whatever your experience in Venice, you will never forget it!

Sempre Roma!

In 1998, I dragged my friend Steph off to Rome for a four day visit.  I had always wanted to visit Rome.  Of all the wonderful places in Italy, it was at the top of my list.  Roman Holiday was, and is, one of my favourite films (see why on my next blog post at Lulu Loves Films).

From the moment we stepped out of the plane into the warm Italian sun, I felt like I was home.  In my early 20’s, I was wearing my Gucci sunglasses, a black shirt dress, black strappy sandals and red lipstick.  I know.  Practical right.

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We stayed in a charming little hotel, Hotel City. because of it’s proximity to the Spanish Steps.  The hotel was safe, clean and lovely with an old-fashioned charm.  I enjoyed throwing open the shutters of our bedroom window and leaning out, people-watching and taking in the noise and bustle of the city.  My old photos on this post are all pre-digital by the way, hence they don’t look so good
I loved seeing chic Italian girls accessorizing their clothing to match their Vespa’s.  Some had little dogs in their top box and others were riding their scooters with heels on.

Rome is a fantastic city to walk around, if you are a walker.  I love that it is easy to navigate.  We didn’t use public transport once, we did it all on foot, apart from the one exception below.

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One evening, we took a horse and carriage ride through Rome (it cost around €40 each) because we wanted to experience Rome at night and we never would have walked round the whole city on foot at night.  The fountains and historical buildings are all lit up beautifully and it looks so romantic and pretty.

There is a permanent buzz, or undercurrent of excitement in Rome.  People live here.  Everywhere you walk there is a historical wonder of some kind and the food……….

The variety of gelato for example, is astonishing, although some places are better than others.  We went to a gelateria around the back of the Vatican, where all the locals went.  Everyone was adding fresh cream and nuts on top too.  It was amusing to see polished businessmen in their beautifully tailored suits, arriving for three scoops of ice-cream and not spilling a drop.  If you go to the right cafes, a mozzarella toastie is on the menu for breakfast and let me tell you, that is a must-have with a coffee.  I ate gnocchi alla romana in Piazza Navona and fresh scampi with a rocket salad, at a restaurant near the Trevi Fountain.
I returned in May 2001 with Steph and her sister, Ali, who is also my friend.  So the three coins I threw in the fountain in 1998 did their job!
We sat outside in Piazza della Rotunda, where the Pantheon is, in the warm evening sun, drinking bellinis and watching beautiful people on their passeggiata.  Our hearts (or mine and Ali’s hearts at least) fluttered when stunningly handsome Italian men smiled and said buona sera signorina.  Such tourists!

The Colosseum is my favourite historical landmark in Rome.  There is an aura about the place.  When you enter and climb those steps, the steps walked on by Roman emperors and their citizens and look out over the landscape with it’s cypress trees….it is quite something to take in if you are a lover of history.  Many Italian couples have their wedding photographs taken with the Colosseum as a backdrop and who could blame them?

If I hadn’t of met Will in the uk, two weeks after returning from this trip, I had seriously considered training to be a tour guide, or at least a holiday rep so I could live and work in Rome.  Of course, my path took a different direction, just on the opposite side of the coast to Rome.
I have returned to Rome twice again since 2001.  We have yet to take our sons.  We are considering visiting next year, or the year after, when they will both be old enough to remember it

I think I will always return to Rome, the Eternal City and it holds a very special place in my heart.  As Robert de Niro said:  “Italy has changed, but Rome is Rome.”