Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It is two weeks since we left the UK and it has been flat out.
We spent a week in a self contained unit out at Lincoln (Lincoln Views) and that was fantastic. It was great to have a bit more space to ourselves and we were able to unpack some of our suitcases! We really enjoyed the wide open spaces and if we looked out one window we could see the Southern Alps, out the other side was the Port Hills! We had a huge lawn which Josh loved running around and we were surrounded by paddocks (we really are country kids at heart).
While at Lincoln Views we had hoped to organise rental accommodation to move into but it hasn't been quite that easy....we have looked at 3 or 4 houses and the two that were suitable (and the right price) we missed out on! We are still waiting to hear back about one more - so keep praying!
We had a rental car for a week (I can't remember if I have mentioned it) and we enjoyed the luxury and power of the Ford Falcon XR6, however we are now back to reality. We bought a little Toyota Corolla which will be our town run around and it is doing the job well.
Lionel's job hunting is going well, but slowly! He has applied for a few jobs and now it is just the waiting game.
We are currently house sitting for friends who are down south for the school holidays and it is great to be in a real house! Thanks James & Jo it is a real blessing to be here!
We are all well and settling back into life in NZ - enjoying the food (but not the prices) and good coffee where ever we go! I can't wait to take you out for coffee Monica!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Long Flight Home

Thanks Monica for taking us to the airport...it made life much easier and it was good to spend those last few hours together!
We were at the airport early and so check-in was really easy because there were very few other passengers around, although the ones in front of us were re-packing their bags so that they weren't overweight. That was a bit nerve-wracking as we hadn't weighed our bags and so weren't sure how close to the limit we were....our limit was 120kg - we weighed in at 121kg!!!How is that for good packing?

Our Emirates flight left Heathrow at 8.40pm and for the next 30 hours all we did was eat, watch movies, get on and off planes and sleep (actually not too much sleep!) From Heathrow we flew 6 1/2 hours to Dubai where we had 2 hours in the airport, then we flew 5 1/2 hours to Bangkok where we had an hour in the airport before flying 11 hours (I think) to Sydney, where we had another hour in the airport before flying to Christchurch where we landed half an hour ahead of schedule at 1.45pm.

After spending about 2 hours getting through customs and MAF (yes, we did have to unpack the tents) it was good to see Annie waiting for us. It then took ages to get the rental car sorted out, but they upgraded us to a Ford Falcon XR6 - a big car, but not enough boot space! Thanks for taking our extra bags Annie! Lionel & the kids were a bit worried about me driving the XR6 - when I took off from the lights and round-abouts my foot was a bit heavy on the gas and we were thrown back in our seats and it felt like an aeroplane taking off!!! Just as well the car goes back before I get out onto the open road.

We spent the weekend with our friends Dean, Tania & Amelia Comerford (Sam stayed in Cromwell) and it was really good to have our first weekend back in NZ with them. We did lots of talking and lots of eating and they helped to keep us up until a respectable hour in the evening. Lionel also enjoyed watching the All Blacks beat Australia (on TV) on Saturday night - a good welcome home for him.

We have been tired, but not completely out of sync with the New Zealand time zone so that has been good. Daylight saving starts this weekend so we will have to put our clocks forward an hour and adjust again!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Final Days in the UK

It was great to get back to the UK and see some of our friends again. On Monday night (14th) Rebecca even went to swimming club - we only got back into the country on Monday afternoon. She really enjoyed seeing some of her swimming friends and even managed to swim a few lengths - actually considering she hasn't done any training for 7 weeks she swam really well.
Josh had a good catch-up with Tom on Tuesday afternoon and they spent their time discussing and playing with Tom's birthday lego!
It has been great staying with the Evans family - we have had some good coffees, too much great food and lots of talking and laughing.

Some final thoughts on our holiday....
Some of our favourites were the bread in France, and croissants for breakfast.
Pizza and gelato in Italy, as well as the tomatoes and fresh basil.
Dutch pancakes were a favourite!
I soon got used to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, especially when the kids helped by saying 'tight right or loose left' as I was turning a corner.
I loved the motorway driving - 130km in France.
I don't know most of the road rules in Italy - it seemed that you went as fast as you liked and slowed down for a speed camera sign. I also just had to be brave - indicate and go for it!
Some of the autobahns in Germany have no speed limit and so I had Josh in the back seat saying 'Go faster Mum' and Lionel in the passenger seat saying 'I don't want the car engine to die'.
France was great for camping - really good campsites, most had swimming pools and bread deliveries in the morning.
We discovered that some of us don't cope very well when the temperature gets over 40degrees! At the other end of the scale, some of us just want to curl up in our sleeping bags and do nothing when the temperature drops below about 15 degrees...we didn't have cold weather clothes with us!

Wednesday 16 September saw us heading to Heathrow and beginning our journey home...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Amsterdam - the final stop

Another big day driving from Freiburg, through Germany, into the Netherlands and up to Amsterdam. The kids are getting sick of the driving but thank goodness for I-pods and PSPs, we have also managed to play lots of word, number and memory games.
The budget is down to the final few euros and so we are back in the tent for three nights and then a cabin for the final night as we leave Amsterdam early to drive to Calais and catch the ferry.
Meals are starting to get down to the basics - pasta cooked on my campstove...unfortunately I have run out of fuel and this new fuel doesn't cook at a very high temperature (yes, Josh, I agree...that was the worst pasta I have ever cooked!)
On Friday we went into Amsterdam and visited Anne Frank's house. Rebecca & I have just read 'Anne Frank's Diary' and so it was really interesting to go and see the actual place where they hid for over 2 years. It makes you appreciate the space and freedom that we have - even if it is only a tent, at least we can get out and about.
It was interesting wandering around Amsterdam looking at the canals and seeing all the different bikes - they really are everywhere, and there are even traffic lights and special lanes for the bikes. We had a yummy lunch - Dutch pancakes! Lionel & I shared a savoury (bacon & pineapple) and a banana & blueberry pancake - the savoury ones aren't as good as the sweet ones. Rebecca had apple & banana & cinnamon and Josh had banana & strawberry with whipped cream...I think this is one food we may have to continue eating in New Zealand!!!

On Saturday we went for a drive north of Amsterdam and saw a village set up like a living museum where there are lots of working windmills. Lionel & Josh went into one and were amazed at the power of the wind that the sails made when they were out on top, they also saw the working mechanism of the windmill. We then drove up to Volendaam which is a fishing village - more of a tourist place now with a huge marina. We had one of the best meals here since we left New Zealand and we were sitting right on the water edge looking out over the marina.

The weather has turned very autumny since we have been in Amsterdam and the jeans and sweatshirts are out of the suitcases for the first time in weeks. Unfortunately we have had rain today - it would happen the day we have to pack up the tents! They aren't too wet but we will have to get them out again when we get back to the UK and have a dry out before the final pack up!

Freiburg, Germany

Hey Becca again :) Today we travelled from Venice up to Frieburg which is in the Black Forest of Germany. It was quite a long journey - we left Venice after breakfast at about 10 to 9, then drove up through Switzerland stopping there for lunch and then on to Germay arriving in time for dinner - so we ate in 3 different countries today!!
We went exploring after arriving in our campsite, walking through part of the Black Forest over to Freiburg where we went to a delicious restaurant for dinner. Mum and Dad both had yummy German sausage with panfried potatoes and mustard while Josh and I had grilled pork steaks and pan-fried potatoes...the potatoes and meat were both very nice!
As we were only staying in Freiburg for one night we stayed in a caravan it was really cool, and more spacious then you would think...we enjoyed it while we could as we knew that next stop was Amsterdam where we would be sleeping in tents once again.


Rebecca overlooking the Grand Canal

We sadly left Jane & Hannah in Rome and we drove north to Venice. We stayed at the Fusina campsite in a cabin and it was very comfortable. It was awesome going out for a walk at night and looking across the bay to the lights of Venice.
On Tuesday we took a ferry across the bay to Venice - it was very cool to arrive in Venice by boat! We wondered around some streets and over some canals to Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square). Thre were heaps of people here and very crowded, but we went into the basilica for a look - very ornately decorated. We walked along side the Grand Canal and the kids bought their souvenirs - Josh a gondola keyring and Rebecca a set of 3 Venetian masks to hang in her bedroom.
Last time I was in Venice it was wet & cold and I didn't remember it being a very pleasant place, but this was completely different. The temperature was in the mid-20's, no mosquitoes and a very enjoyable visit.
We enjoyed watching the gondolas and various canal boats travelling up and down the canals and also saw a man working at glass-blowing making some very intricate figures.
A short but enjoyable visit to Venice.
A gondolier at work

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tour of Roma by Bus :)

Hey it's Becca again - I said I'd be writing more often didn't I? We got the shuttle to the Vatican, and Jane showed us where to stand in St Peters square so that it looked like there was only one row of columns (the Elliptical Eye).
Then we got on our Hop on Hop off bus and decided to do the whole tour through first, so we got an overview and could decide what we wanted to get off at. By the time we had done this it was lunch time so we decided to get off at Piazza Navona to look for lunch. The Piazza Navona has a fountain that has a statue on each corner, each of these statues represents one of the four continents that was known at the time that the fountain was built; America, Africa, Asia and Europe...poor old NZ and Aussi hadn't been discovered yet! It was too expensive to have lunch in the Piazza Navona so on our way to the Pantheon we went up a side street and stopped at a little family restaurant, the meals were very yummy - I had a salami pizza...mmm! It was very funny as when Hannah went to the toilet she thought the wash basin tap was broken because, well there was no tap! However when Josh went he discovered that there was a foot pedal, this is very common in Italy. Hmm reading back it doesn't sound that funny but trust me it was at the time...guess you had to be there!
The Pantheon was Dad's favourite site in Roma because of the fact that it has survived from Roman times intact, and the amazing architectural design...for those of you who don't know the Pantheon is a round building with a hole in the dome for light, when it rains that comes in too - they compensated for this by putting 22 small drainage holes in the floor. Hannah and I tryed to find all 22 but gave up after only 15 - we got bored!
After the Pantheon we walked up to Trevi Fountain. At the Trevi Fountain there is a tradition of throwing coins in - if you throw 1 coin in you'll come back to Rome, if you throw 2 coins in you'll come back married and if you throw 3 you'll come back divorced...we all threw 1! Mum and Jane then made us walk up to the Piazza di Spagna with the promise of a gelato sitting on the Spanish steps... while there we also saw the Broken Boat Fountain where we filled up our drink bottles. Mum and Jane did not live up to their promise but we did get a gelato and it was from McDonalds...I bet you're thinking why go to McD's when you're in Italy?? I will answer that with because it was the best McD's ever... it had REAL gelato...even better than some I've had from proper Gelaterias!! Jane took us past some dead monks...I am NOT going to explain - it was too gross...however if you want to find out about this part of our stop please Google 'Cripta Dei Cappuccini'. After we did that we got back on the Hop on Hop off bus to get to the Colosseum.
Some facts about the Colosseum: Built in A.D. 72 - 80, Romes greatest amphitheatre has 80 arched entrances, access for 55,000 spectators, gladiator fights (not anymore OBVIOUSLY - back in actual Roman times for that one), christians were executed here by various means including slaughter by African animals (lions etc.). This was Josh's favourite place. I just asked Mum what her favourite place was and her reply was "Ohh I can't decide!!" a couple of minutes later she decided to add this : "I enjoyed walking around the streets seeing the thousands of years of history and I loved the fountains." Man that took her a while to get out!! Back on the bus again we went past the Palatine hill, with the ruins of the Forum, the Forum was the political centre of the Roman Empire. We also went past Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) which was ancient Roma's largest stadium, venue for horse and chariot races, athletic contests and wild animal fights. Then it was back to the Vatican to catch our shuttle back to Camping Roma.
Agian thats all for today but expect to hear more from me soon! Byyee Becca!!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Leaving the Villa... Onwards to Rome!

Hey guys, Becca here! Well, today we left our villa..and with it all the AWFUL flies :) YAY! We moved onward to the city of Roma, where we are staying in Camping Roma in a permanent tent. Jane, Hannah and Malcolm are here aswell, we're staying until Monday and they'll be here two nights longer.
As we're only here for a short amount of time, we decided that in order to see everything we could we had to start sight-seeing as soon as we got here...so off to the Vatican we went!
As it was Saturday afternoon it wasn't too busy and although we only went to St Peters Cathedral and got a gelato it was still very cool. We saw the Swiss guards as well :) INTERESTING FACT: Swiss Guards are used in the Vatican to maintain neutrality in all aspects of Vatican life...I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Switzerland is a neutral country.
After leaving the Vatican we took a shuttle bus back to our campsite. There are three restaurants on site and you get a 10% discount on your first meal here so we headed off to the nearest restaurant to see what Italian delicacies we could find for dinner... Mum and Dad found a delicious lasagne and Josh and I both had a Hawaiin pizza...YUM! There is a pool here and Josh has already made use of it while Hannah and I were finding their 'bungalow' (mobile home) this afternoon and the verdict is that it's shallow and there is no shade. Plus we're so busy that we won't have much time to use it anyway.
Hmm well I think thats about all for today...tomorrow we're off on a Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour (twelve stops your ticket is valid for 24hrs and you can get on and off the bus as much as you like) with Jane, Hannah and Malcolm ( at the moment they're off on a night bus tour of Rome, pretty cool huh?). That'll take us all day we think. Tomorrow night will be our last with Hannah and then we're off to Venice for a couple of nights.
Thanks for reading hope you enjoyed it and as I have only one book for the rest of the holiday you might be hearing from me instead of Mum a little more often then usual!
Byyee Becca :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Italy so far...

Relaxing by the pool - Jane pouring another glass of Chianti (you just have to do it when you are in the Chianti region) and Rebecca & Hannah poolside.

We are at the end of our last full day at Sommavilla and we have enjoyed a very relaxing day (but are sick of doing the 'Aussie wave' to get rid of the flies). It has been quite a bit cooler today - mid 20's and so there has been lots of reading done and the internet has been off all day so we are only just able to get onto the computer now.

It is 2 weeks today until we land in New Zealand and so we are looking forward to that, but I am waiting patiently (OK not so patiently) to hear back from a lady about a house to rent. We will also be on the hunt for jobs and cars once we get back - at least we have somewhere to stay for the first 9 nights! We were also delighted to hear the news that James & Jo Finlayson (friends in Christchurch) have just had a little boy, Nico, and so we are looking forward to meeting him!

The temperatures in Italy have been hotter than we expected and being Southlanders who have lived in England for the past 17 months, we didn't always cope well when the temperature rose over 40 degrees and up over 44 degrees! Gelato and lemon flavoured shaved ice helped, as did the many drinking fountains in Italian towns but the men in the family did not enjoy the heat.

It has been great having villas to base ourselves in over the last 3 weeks and really good to be with Jane & Hannah and Malcolm, but the next 9 days until we cross back over into England are going to be at a faster pace. We decided that we couldn't be this close to Rome and not visit... I know that 'Rome wasn't built in a day' but we are going to try and see some of it in a day and a half! We leave Sommavilla tomorrow (Saturday) morning and drive down to Rome visiting Vatican City in the afternoon. On Sunday we will spend the day checking out some of the sights of Rome and then on Monday morning leave Rome to drive up to Venice where we will have two nights. After that it is a bit vague but we will have a couple of nights in Amsterdam and a night in Brugge before crossing over from Calais on Monday 14th...


Josh looking out over Assisi
Yesterday we headed out for the day (well actually half a day, as we didn't leave the villa until 11am). Our destination was Assisi - the birth place and home of St Francis of Assisi. I was expecting another small mountain village with a cathedral commemorating St Francis and lots of tourists. The first view we got of Assisi was a rather imposing town perched on the hillside with a large basilica at one end and a fort at the top. We wound our way up the hillside to a parking building and then walked through the narrow steep streets to the central piazza where we had a lunch break.

There were lots of tourists about but not overwhelming masses and, although it was still hot, it was much cooler than other days that we have been out and about - only in the low 30's. It was great walking around the town looking at the old buildings and narrow streets, but these hill towns are starting to look a bit the same!

We went into Basilica St Francesco (well Lionel & I did - Rebecca had her singlet top on and so couldn't go in, and Josh didn't want to) for a look around and went down St Francis' tomb. Lionel also discovered the relic room which housed all sorts of bits including a tunic, an ivory horn and some of his writings.

Assisi also looked remarkably fresh and well looked after, much cleaner than any other town we have visited in Italy. There is a lot of restoration work going on in the town and they obviously take a lot of pride in their town.

On our way home from Assisi we stopped at Perugia - a lovely place which we may have appreciated more if we had been there earlier in the day, or earlier in the holiday. We did visit the Etruscan (pre-Roman) Arch which was the main entrance to the town, and looked down on the Roman aqueduct which supplied the town with water. The view of the aqueduct was a little underwhelming but it did serve to remind us of the great engineers that the Romans were - amazing that they could build aqueducts that carried so much water great distances, over 2000 years ago.

One of the reasons for stoping in Perugia was to visit the supermarket - we are now well used to the workings of Italian supermarkets and quickly purchased our fruit (remembering to weigh it), got a number to purchase our meat (and with lots of pointing and limited Italian got what we needed), bought some cheese and another bottle of red wine. We also remembered to take our own bags (you pay for plastic bags here) and had the chilly bin in the car to pack our fridge items.

We were home about 7.30 and so Jane & I got onto tea preparation - we made some salads and cooked kebabs and sausages on the charcoal bar-b-cue. We finally ate at 'Italian time' of about 9pm...but it was worth waiting for!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lake Trasimeno

On Tuesday we headed out for a day at the lake, and hopefully some windsurfing. The lake looked lovely as we drove around it to get to our villa and from the top of the hill looking down it looked very inviting. However, looks can be deceiving....
As we walked down to the waterfront we noticed that the lake was very low - we found out later that Lake Trasimeno has no inlet or outlet and is only filled with rainfall, we are at the end of a long hot summer and so the lake level was extremely low. The water was green and there was lots of algae and lake weed in the lake - we now know that the deepest the lake gets is 6m and so with the shallow depth and the high temperatures it is no wonder there is so much weed.
There was no wind and therefore no windsurfing or kite surfing....not that we were keen to get in the water anyway - we didn't even swim.
After a very disappointing trip to the lake we drove back up to the villa where we spent an hour in the pool before getting ready to go out wine tasting at a local restaurant/winery.
It was so disappointing I didn't even take any photos...