So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye…

Well, as they say, all good things must, sadly, at some point, come to an end.

Back here in Perth on a 37 degree day, after having gone for a run and a swim at the beach this brilliant Sunday morning, Paris and Europe seems a long, long way away.

I’ve survived my first day back at the office – a big shock to the system – I couldn’t even find my swipe pass to get into the building; but it was great to see the gang again and hear everyone’s stories and gossip.

For Nicki and I – it’s been harder than we thought to adjust back to beautiful Perth. Jetlag yes, but also – we have started to describe it to our family and friends in the following terms:- for six months, in the pages you have faithfully followed, we have had little more to ponder than – What’s for lunch?  Can we make it to that museum this afternoon before we have a kick of the footy and find a playground?   Where is there some decent wifi so we can catch up with the world on viber and emails?  Why do Europeans (as a rule) drive way too fast and well in excess of the speed limits? 

We simply lived in the present – which has been a real gift, and not dwell on the (little or big) issues at work, what high school the kids are going to go to, is our backyard big enough for Tommy’s torpedo kicks or whether Carlton will return to the top four after many years in the AFL wilderness.

Many people have asked – what was the favourite country, and it really is impossible to answer.  We have had such diverse, magic experiences in wildly different places.  We all enjoyed seeing our rellies in the UK, the cruise with Grandpa, the time in Norway, the week in St Jeannet in the south of France, the skiing etc etc…  There were no real duds or downers, and the only time anyone got sick was on the plane on the way home, when all three kids decided to have good old chunder – Maddy’s was gold, all over Nic and the floor at Qatar airport.

Nic would like me to add in a few words about Paris – our last stop on the way home, so we can add some photos to this otherwise very wordy blog (especially for the younger viewers)…

So – Paris was in a few words: –

1. Freeeezing!  It would have averaged about minus 5 degrees each day we were there, and thank golly gosh we still had all our ski gear handy.  I don’t think I have ever been colder than standing in a queue at the Eiffel Tower waiting to get in.  Speaking of…

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2. Queues.  Did everyone decide to go to Paris for Christmas this year?  Far out it was busy, with queues outside churches, museums, monuments, and even shops.  The Champs Elysees was so busy you simply could not get into some shops even if we had room in our stuffed suitcases for one more memento…

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3. Beautiful.  Museums, monuments, churches, etc etc – we wished we had come earlier in the trip when we could have lingered rather than scurrying to the next stop to keep warm!

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We really wanted to say in one last blog – thankyou everyone for all your lovely comments following our travels.  We sometimes felt a long way from home, but a viber, email or post from all of you to us made us remember what wonderful friends and family we have, and what great lives we have back at home here in WA.

Anyway, the kids are calling me for a swim, and I’d better check the BBQ before Dad comes over for dinner.

Til the next instalment – South America maybe?

Ian, Nic, Tom, Mad, Rosie (rocket) xx

Postscript:  I wrote this blog about 10 days ago, just before the tragic terrorist acts in Paris.  Its taken us a while to download our final photos and finish this blog, and also come to terms with what has happened.  We were staying rather close to some of the incidents, and on another scorching day of sun, surf, swimming lessons at Cottesloe and bbq’s – we are feeling very fortunate to live in this corner of the world that we call home.

Tom’s Val Thorens Blog

Bonjour everybody

One of my favourite places has been Val Thorens. Here’s my blog…

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Loads of luggage!!! On the way to Val Thorens

 

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Getting used to the cold – iceskating in Annecy

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We hopped of the trains at Moutiers train station after being at Annecy where we bought heaps of snow clothes and got in a taxi off to Val Thorens. We started driving along the very windy road. When we arrived at Val Thorens we couldn’t believe it – it was actually snowing!!!!! we so hungry so we went to have lunch. We were so excited so we went out to play in the snow. Then we went out to the hire place to and get some stuff.

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First time we are in the snow!

The next day we went to a private lesson. Dad and I were snowboarding and the girls skied. I was so excited so I had a little try before the lesson but I kept falling over. My teacher Johannes (for short we called him Jo) was very helpful and always gave us tips. Dad had got taught the wrong way so I wasn’t the only one learning a new thing. After the lesson we went to try on the bunny slopes.

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The next few days we fell over and practiced. On Saturday we got a ski pass and we up to a restaurant up in mountains. We went on lots of ski lifts and blue runs. On Sunday we started ski and snowboard school where we learnt how to snowboard and ski.  We went every morning for 3 hours – I spent most of the time on the blue slopes.  We were the only Engligh speaking kids in the classes but we managed to copy the other kids.  After ski school we would go back to our apartment and have yummy french baguettes for lunch and then Dad and I would snowboard all afternoon too.

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The last few days we went on a few reds ( the order of difficultly went vert, bleu, rouge, noir. Or if you don’t know any French, green, blue, red, black.) and some blues.

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Having lunch on the slopes

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Here are some photos from our balcony.

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There was lots of things going on on Christmas Eve – there was a real reindeer, Father Christmas, roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate in the square, fireworks and the ski instructors skied down the slopes with candles and made a huge star on the slopes.

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There was a good sledding slope near our apartment.  We sled down on little plastic sled spade things every afternoon – it was awesome!

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When we were leaving we had a really bad driver who tailgated everyone and was twenty kilometres over the speed limit. Mum said she was sick but she really wasn’t she just wanted him to slow down.

I had the best week of my life, the most favourite place on the holiday and the worst driver I’ve had.

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From Tom

Our Andalucian Jaunt…

Hola everyone!

We have just spent three weeks in Spain. Spain was somewhere neither Boothie nor I had ever been to, so it was all new territory to us both, including our zero ability to speak Spanish. Thank goodness for Dora – at least the girls knew a few ‘Holas’, ‘Gracias’ and ‘Adios’.

First up was four days in Barcelona, covered so well in Tom’s blog on Barcelona FC’s home stadium Camp Nou.  Barcelona was somewhere that I think all the family really enjoyed. We stayed in the El Born district – thanks Sal and Ned for the tip – our apartment was in a fantastic location, set amongst the cobbled streets filled with oh so stylish boutiques – the kids couldn’t quite work out why Spanish people needed so many shoe and handbag shops! A trip to the zoo was Rosie’s choice – and the weather was incredible – about 20 degrees with no clouds – not bad for the end of autumn. A good zoo, but we were certainly spoilt by Prague Zoo (eg searching for anything to eat in Barcelona vs. full course lunches and beers in the kids playground in Prague).

Other highlights included catching up with Ian’s old uni mate Sascha for tapas, and the Cosmo Caixa science museum, roughly a zillion times better than Perth’s Scitech, with free admission for the kids and four euros for adults.

From Barcelona we took the super fast Renfe train to Seville. A truly romantic city centre, we arrived on Saturday afternoon with all the bars humming with locals and tourists. Absolute highlight for me was the Alcazar – beautiful Moorish architecture, mosaics and lovely gardens – oh and also the best oxtail tapas we had for lunch afterwards will always be remembered!

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The fabulous Alcazar, Seville

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Seville bullring

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The beautiful Plaza Espana in Seville

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Spain (and particularly Andalucia) totally suited my time-sphere perfectly… Boothie has so often lamented the fact that I am late for so many things and that I usually don’t start thinking about lunch till well after 2pm – this worked just perfectly in Spain. Lunch didn’t even start to be served till 2 – with most Spanish sitting down to eat about 3.

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Siesta was initially very frustrating. Everything seemed to close from 1-5pm in Andalucia, however we soon got in the swing of it with all of us on Spanish time – brekkie ~9am, lunch ~3pm and dinner not till 8.30ish and putting kids to bed not before 10.30 – lucky they didn’t have to go to school in the morning!

After Seville we picked up our Spanish hire car and drove down to the SW of Andalucia, staying near Vejer de la Frontera. We stayed in a lovely finca with plenty of friendly dogs and cats to keep the kids entertained. A huge storm rolled in one night – and we woke to find a fallen tree just outside our bedroom window the next morning.

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The lovely animals at the finca in La Muela

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Swimminng at El Palmar, near Vejer de la Frontera

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Driving north east we headed to the pretty white Spanish village of Montejaque nestled between craggy granite peaks and olive groves. Unfortunately the house we stayed in was absolutely freezing, with archaic, ineffective heating and barely luke warm hot water so we were glad to head to our next place.

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The very chilly village of Montejaque

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Ronda

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Definitely getting chilly now!!

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We then spent a relaxing week near Colmenar north of Malaga, in a huge farmhouse perched on a hillside with our first views of the Sierra Nevada. There was a trampoline, tree swing, table tennis, chooks and a grumpy cat – it was great to have the space and the kids loved being able to be as noisy as they wanted without us worrying about the neighbours.

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Maddy’s celebratory ripping up of the finished maths book!

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The amazing view from our house in Colmenar

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National Parque El Torcal, near Villanueva de la Concepcion.

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Our final stay was near Castril in northern Andalucia in an eco-hotel with a lovely family running it. This was a magic place – in the middle of nowhere with not a tourist in sight, yet fabulous scenery, hikes, horseriding – and at long last our limited Spanish vocab seemed to kick in. We had perfectly sunny, blue sky days – although I think the maximum it ever reached was about 8 degrees. The kids became so excited to find frozen puddles that they could smash to pieces, with snow scattered on the hilltops around us.

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Spot Boothie on his morning run!

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Looks just like a car ad, but truly stunning scenery in Parque de Castril

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After a visit to the Alhambra in Granada we jumped on the overnight train back to Barcelona. This time the kids and I had a cabin to ourselves whilst Boothie enjoyed himself in his business class cabin with ensuite toilet and shower. His claim that it was only a four berth cabin was true – but hmmmm….

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The Alhambra, Granada

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Views of Sierra Nevada from the Alhambra, Granada

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So adios Espana, time to head to the Alps!

Nicx

Maddy’s Spanish Birthday

Hola!

Maddy here for another blog instalment.

This one is an important one – my birthday!!!!

I am also going to tell you about my other days in El Geco Verde near the small town of Castril. It was my favourite place in Spain, and not just because it was where I had my birthday.

We arrived on the 8th of December. When we arrived, Illaria introduced Cloudy the cat, Badger the dog and Lola another dog. They also introduced us to their chickens and 22 rabbits. For dinner that night we had pizzas and crepes YUM!!!

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This is where we stayed next to our hire car.

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Rosie with Lola the dog

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The view from where we stayed – so many olive trees.

The next day we went for a walk around the town of Castril, and along the beautiful river. We had lunch at this funny little bar, which had a dog outside with vampire teeth! We then went home and played Twister and lots of other games. For dinner we had mini cheese and ham crepe thingies, which were great.

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There was a wobbly suspension bridge over the river!

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On the 10th we went for a walk into the national park nearby. We found that the puddles had frozen overnight, and we smashed the puddles up.

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Smashing icy puddles.

We then went horse riding, which was really fun. We rode our horses through lots of olive trees where the men were collecting the olives and also through really cool mountains like we were in a cowboy movie. We then went home and Dad cooked pasta for dinner.

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It looked like we were in a cowboy movie

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On my birthday I woke up and got my presents my presents were a dolly, three outfits for the dolly , a tiger t-shirt , pink leggings, a bag of popcorn , skittles , Haribo lollies , peppa pig cookies , three lemons , five euro and two cards . I also got lots of messages from my friends and family. It was really lovely. For lunch we went to a park for a picnic, and then came home for ice cream cake and games. At dinnertime Illaria had cooked burgers, and brought out an Italian fruit pie with 9 candles on it. We sang Compleanos Feliz. She also gave us these really loud blower things that were very noisy! It sounded like a traffic jam.

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My birthday cake

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Opening up my pressies!

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Love from Maddy xo

Camp Nou – FC Barcelona, by Tom

Hi Everyone

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We flew from Split to Barcelona via Stuttgart airport, and there was a indoor playground so we played in there.

We are now in Barcelona. The last few days we have been visiting some cool places. We went to a really cool place called Barcelona Football Club.

Barcelona Football club:

Today Dad and I went to Barcelona football club, whilst the girls went to this mosaic place.

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Rosie’s mosaic box and Maddy’s mosaic fish.

We hopped off the train and went to look for something to eat. There was fish, meat, prosciutto, vegies and fruit in the market.  We then walked to Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona fc. The first area you walked into was the trophy room. Some of the info and objects were from 1899, when the club started. There was lots of trophies.

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lots and lots of Trophies

At Barcelona fc they had an athletics club, ice hockey, handball, basketball and roller hockey. So they had information and trophies for those sports. There was a zone in the trophy room of Messi. You could see his golden boots and the golden soccer balls.

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Some old dude’s golden ball. There was heaps of old stuff, and Dad looked at all of it!!!

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Now this is interesting!

Then you walked out and you could see the pitch and sit on the seats.

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The pristine pitch

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After that we went into the press conference area. You even got to hold up a real trophy. The next thing was the away players changing room. Then you walked out onto the pitch. We passed a chapel that the players use before they go out and play. They had a recording of the fans cheering loudly. Then we got to go out onto the field. We saw where the subs sit. We caught a lift up to the commentary boxes and looked at the view. The commentary boxes could hold 400 to 450 media people.

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And Messi kicks a GOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!!

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What comfy seats

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The away players changing rooms.

We went out the exit and got a book about some information and photos of Dad and me . We went to a place for lunch I had a sausage baguette and Dad had a jamon baguette (jamon means ham in Spanish). We had a great day learning about this wonderful club.

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Some cool photos

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We went to this crepe place everyday.

From Tom

 

Croatia – Jivili!

We have started to judge a country based not just on natural beauty, or vive la difference, but on more basic, simple, wholesome values – such as cleanliness. Perhaps this is just weeks (no – months now!?!) of travel; and now equal first with Norway on the cleanliness stakes is – Croatia. Super clean sheets, immaculate bathrooms, and very good manners, Croatia has been a surprise on many fronts. It took until a dinner with an old friend of mine in Barcelona to work it out – Croatians are all instilled with a gene that they must keep their home so tidy that they would be happy to eat off the floor. They are proud, and they are incredibly friendly. This was literally true of every place we stayed at in Croatia, and every person we met. Although of course 10 minutes after the Booth’s had arrived at a new place, dragging our many kilos of luggage and trampling our mud encrusted hiking shoes into every room looking for the best bedroom, it was usually not resembling a place that I would like to eat off the floor.

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Beautiful autumn leaves in Plitvice National Park

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Even the capark at Plitvice was lovely – great for kicking autumn leaves

After the drive from Tuscany via Venezia to Trieste, we found ourselves lost on the outskirts of Italy, as we realised that the Garmin we had purchased filled with maps of Western Europe did not include Croatia. Damn and blast. In these days of Schengen borders and the EU going as far as Romania with Turkey on the way – where exactly does west and east end? (Sounds like a le Carre novel). Anyway, a quick stop to purchase the 15Euro pass you need to zip through Slovenia en route to Croatia (thanks Tommy for your invaluable research into what we’d need to do, to get through the border to Croatia) and we’d bought one of those old school massive foldable maps that fill up half the car to work out the best route to Rovinj. With a little bit of a crease here, a few swear words there (sorry kids!), we’d worked out our way and off we went to a lovely little town.

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Ferry to Mali Losinj

I must say the motorways in Croatia are (after Norway) the best roads we have travelled on. Couple that with off season driving in a good sized country with only 4 million people and you get a brilliant driving experience. There was literally no one else on the motorway in Istria, and so therefore no idiots overtaking you at 200km/h either. Very nice.

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The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula – almost as impressive as my memories of Rome, with about five tourists there

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Rovinj was a lovely intro to Croatia; and as it has off and on been part of Italy (and/or the city-state of Venezia for many a hundred year), Nicki’s Italian language skills came in enormously handy. We hired bikes and Tommy and I even dusted off the running shoes to get a bit of exercise in. The weather was magic.

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The lovely ladies, and a few boats, at Rovinj Harbour

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From Rovinj we headed out to the islands – Mali Losinj at first. Our accommodation was perhaps slightly smaller than we’d anticipated in the non-touristy side of the town, but it was perfect for Maddy and Rosie, with a lovely Croatian family who had three girls aged 10, 7 and 3 to play with. They truly did not wish to leave and had a massive cross-cultural experience. The elder girls spoke a bit of English, and with google translate and sign language they would disappear as soon as they could from our place, to play with their friends. With the girls pre-occupied Tom buckled down on his books; and finished his maths work – amazing stuff! We all enjoyed the ceremonial ripping up of his text book, none more than Tom.

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Mad and Rose with their Croatian buddies

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Take that Maths book!

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Watch out for that cactus Tommy!

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Street kids, Veli Losinj

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From Mali Losinj we travelled to a couple of national parks. Plitvice was stunning, really amazing scenery; then followed by Krka which was very nice but unfortunately could not match up to Plitvice. I think the photo tally was Plitvice 153; Krka 3.  A picture does tell a thousand words… One reality check for us was the many, many bombed houses and churches in the villages surrounding Plitvice, which was where the Croatian troubles started in the early ‘90’s as it has traditionally had a large Serbian population. It made Nic and I realise how much recent history we have not paid enough attention to. Hmmm.

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A house near our B and B, Plitvice

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Beautiful Plitvice

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I wonder if I can swing around this tree branch and not get wet…. is Dad watching?

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We then headed out to the island of Vis – and more precisely the small fishing village of Komisa, a couple of hours off the coast from Split. We started to get a little nervous when we realised that they were tying the trucks down to the deck in the cargo hold…A seriously bumpy ferry crossing later we found ourselves in a really beautiful living village where we were the only tourists. Incredibly fresh fish meals, fresh sea air… awesome.

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Ahh, Komisa! At sunset

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St Nicola church – true!

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Ted, you forgot your bathers!

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The first night there, the manager of the very swish accommodation we were staying in, invited me out to the local bar to watch Croatia v Argentina (with Messi playing) with his soccer teammates. A rather large number of Osjusko beers later I had had my own Croatian cross cultural experience, and survived the fumigation of hundreds of Marlboro lights in a rather small confined bar. Minus the smokes it was akin to going out with the Wembley Vets and/or North Perth sloths for an evening of beverages. So Jivili to all you boys if you are following the blog and to Adam, Bers, Gus, Tim, Chuck, Colgs, Magic, James, Eric, Scott, Waz, Yusen, Andy and any other sloth out there – I hope you get leave passes from your wives and/or physios to get the AFL 9’s team back together when I get back! [Or we’d better invent another reason to have nights out.]

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With not much flat ground around Komisa – Tom and I found ourselves inventing basketball footy; as opposed to the footy soccer we’d played in earlier travels. IE – trying to get the football in the basketball hoop from about 35 metres. My record was two in a row, and Tommy hit the score board as well with some very nice drop punts. Now for working on the opposite foot and marking like Pavlich Tom!

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The Tommy Maxi Market, much better than Coles!

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After a couple of slow days in Trogir (yet another pretty UNESCO world heritage town) next stop – Barcelona!

Italy – the Dolce Vita

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It’s our last night tonight in Italy and we are all feeling a little sad about leaving here.

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I think the kids are especially sad as we are at the end of my rash promise of ‘you can have gelati every single day’ when in Italy. We have tried most flavours available, with current favourites being Tom – Cicciolato; Maddy – Limone; Rosie – Fragola; Nic – Figlio; and me – Stracciatella. I wasn’t game to try the ‘birra’ flavoured gelati on offer in an artisan of gelati’s shop in Pienza, but the ‘cocco’ I got there was yum.

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In fact the food has been on the whole, extremely yum. Plenty of margherita pizzas and penne pasta going down, but the porchetta with a glass of Brunello from Montalcino I had in Tuscany was a personal highlight. The supermarkets were disappointing compared to other places we have been – no marshmallows for the kids to roast by the open fire we had at our agriturismo in Tuscany, not great bread (spoilt in France), absolutely no Asian or international foods on offer. Meat, pasta, more meat, more pasta. The osterias, trattorias, agriturismos and enotecas we’ve sampled though have been excellent, along with the magic scenery of this contrasting country.

From France we first went to Imperia – a rather non-descript town on the Italian Riveria. It was an incredible contrast from Antibes and surrounds of glitzy apartments, shops and Mercedes Benz driving too fast on the narrow roads of France, to get to average beaches with falling down buildings and massive potholes in the road. Some of the areas reminded us of parts of Asia, as opposed to a first world country. The churches were, as always in Italy, incredibly impressive and vast, even in small villages. The highlight was a 17 course (yes folks, 17) degustation lunch we had for 30 euros each. A rather long story how we found ourselves there, but in short it was amazing value for really good local produce well cooked – with 17 courses we had pasta in all forms, risotto, plenty of vege dishes, meat etc etc. The kids were incredibly well behaved – and they really have been everywhere we have been – but especially on this occasion of a lunch that took about three hours. (I still feel full thinking about it). Nicki’s Italian language skills were terrific and sorely in need in most places we travelled to in Italy.

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The painted doors of Valloria, Imperia.

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The Cinque Terre was exceptional. We stayed in a beautiful B and B/apartment near Monterosso, the first village in the chain of villages that hug the rocky coast (if you start from the France end). The beach was lovely for a European beach – not a touch on any West Aussie beach such as Cottesloe mind you, but there was sand in amongst the rocks, and the weather was warm for mid-October so we had a dip on a few days. Tom and I found a mini football pitch right next to the beach. It was about 45 metres long with a net around the outside and over the top, so it was a great place to kick the Sherrin and invent a game of a mix of soccer and Aussie rules, which we have now refined a little in subsequent towns.

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The hiking in the Cinque Terre was superb, even the loads of American tourists traipsing the route didn’t put us off, and the food being dished up every night back at our apartments by our host (also called Tommy) was brilliant – super fresh fish from the Med cooked simply with really fresh veges from his garden. If you get the chance – you should really think about a few days here.

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Walking down to the village from our hillside agriturismo

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View from our balcony

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School work time!

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Brekkie time at Monterosso

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Our agriturismo pad at Monterosso

Cinque Terre was followed by a week in Tuscany, close to Pienza and Montepulciano – about 45 minutes south of Siena. Our days were filled with finding (yet another) magic hilltop town, another yummy place for lunch, a quick squiz at a couple of stunning churches, then finding a playground and hopefully a place for a kick of the footy before heading back to our self-contained apartment smack in the middle of rolling fields for a few games of ping pong followed by a couple of glasses of vino. A tough week indeed.

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Sunset over Tuscany from our farm.

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Montepulciano

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Very hot springs – Bagno di Filippo

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Pienza

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Our dirty car at Cosona, Tuscany

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In truth the toughest thing for me has been the driving. I am amazed we have only seen one car crash in a few weeks here (not involving us and fortunately no one hurt that we saw) with all Italians driving incredibly fast on hair pin narrow roads, usually narrowing down to one lane over bridges or around road works that don’t seem to have been worked on for some time. They have a knack of drifting in and out of lanes, especially on the autostrada at over 130 km/h, and tailgating is expected, along with overtaking on blind corners… The Opel we currently have is great to drive on the open road, but scary on narrow roads or trying to park in tiny car parks due to its length and its fat behind. Our most embarrassing occasion whilst driving was getting stuck in a small hill top town following the directions of the sat nav up and up to the top of the village with the road getting narrower and narrower…. At the point of no return I gave up and decided I couldn’t continue on without lodging the car permanently between two 14th century walls, so I attempted to reverse back down the ‘road’, which meant that the two cars behind needed to also reverse a little bit. Shouting, and then sense, prevailed and we eventually were able to hightail it out of town for a gelati in another, nicer, hilltop town.

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