Goodbye in Europe

Our European holiday ended when we left Lucerne. We returned to Heidelberg to visit friends for one more weekend. The Advent season was in full swing there. Dusk was beginning to fall at 4:30, the Christmas decorations were out and shopping was underway. We wandered into the city to do some last minute shopping for a strange collection of items (my favorite toothpaste, a decent fountain pen, some lace for a crafting project…) As we walked home we could look up into the illuminated homes as we passed. The warm glow of the rooms gave off a sense of cosines that made me wish I could call one of them my own.

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After a tearful goodbye, we left our good friends and headed to Frankfurt where we boarded our Emirates business class flight to Dubai. It was such a different flying experience than I’ve ever had. I actually emerged from the long haul flight more relaxed than when I had boarded!

 

Another flight took us to Singapore where we spent two days eating spicy, delicious Singaporean food and splashing in the hotel pool.

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On the 11th of November we landed back in Melbourne and began two weeks of searching for a neighborhood, school, house, car while we were in temporary accommodation. We were still all a bit jet-lagged and shaken from all the goodbyes and traveling. We were ready to unpack and settle down for a while.

Postcard from Luzern

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We all enjoyed Italy very much – particularly the food! But we also noticed how we all breathed a bit of a sigh of relief as we crossed the border into Switzerland. At once the roads became wider, perfectly maintained and the drivers were all extremely well mannered.

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The first night we were there, we mistakenly navigated to a campsite that was closed. Despite the fact that the facilities were shut down for the winter, we decided to stay the night there as it was already late.  It was lucky we did because it was there that we made one of our fondest memories from the trip. That night as we lay in our campervan bunks we fell asleep to the sound of cowbells clinking through the valley. At the time I thought, if you had grown up going to sleep to that sound, would it be possible to ever move away and live anywhere else?

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The next day we took a trip into the mountains to visit the Titlis glacier. Our journey involved a ride on the perfectly timed Swiss railway and a number of gondola rides, all of which were great fun.

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And at the top of the mountain – snow from last summer!

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Postcard from Cinque Terr

 

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It is listed as a world heritage site for a reason. It is unquestionably picturesque and most likely quite unique in the world, which is of course, what draws the masses of tourists.

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We found we enjoyed the area most around the edges. We avoided the main thoroughfares and crowds, taking the back alleys whenever possible.

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After a bit of touring around on the first day, we spent the rest of our time there enjoying a beach holiday.

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My favorite part was lying on the pebble beach, gazing out into the Mediterranean Sea and having espresso delivered to me!

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La dolce Vita!

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Postcard from Pisa

 

 

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Pisa was a welcome respite from the crowds of Florence. We found that there was so much to see of the church and the city beyond its famous bell tower.

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The whole church complex is absolutely beautiful and its almost a bit of a shame that its notoriety is derived from the leaning tower because the whole thing is worth visiting in its own right.

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The day we arrived in Pisa was October 28th, Morgan’s eighth birthday.

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As it turns out, people have to be eight years old to climb the tower. Of course this was very exciting for Morgan, and not so exciting for Vivien. After a brief moment of incredulity (“I’ve climbed the highest church steeple in the world in Ulm!”) she quickly moved on to tour the rest of the church with Brad, while Morgan and I climbed the tower.

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Later that evening, we wandered through the town in search of a celebratory birthday dinner.

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Happy eighth!

Postcard from Firenze

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We spent a few days camping on a hillside outside Florence.

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It was the perfect retreat every evening from the hectic crowded streets of the city.

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We spent a good portion of our time in and around the Duomo. The highlight was climbing to the top of the cupola on a narrow staircase between the inner and outer wall of the dome itself. The girls are still talking about it as one of the main events of the trip.

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And of course we walked everywhere, browsed leather goods, walked some more, visited the market, ate ice cream and walked some more.

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Postcard from Bologna

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So, if it isn’t already obvious, we basically ate our way through Italy. It is an activity we all enjoy and Italy was a great playground for us.

Our favorite part of Bologna was happening upon the shop pictured above. It really was as crazy as the picture looks. The woman running the shop, named Barbara, truly loved everything she sold. She instantly sensed a kindred spirit in Bradley as we stepped into her shop “just to check it out”. A good hour passed during which we sampled our way through the hams and cheeses and carried on an endless conversation about food despite the fact that we didn’t speak each others’ languages. At the end of the hour we emptied our pocketbooks into Barbara’s til and left happily with our treasures.

The other highlight of our time in Bologna was tasting real spaghetti bolognese. A couple of times in my life I’ve had the experience of tasting a common dish prepared as it was originally intended. Its often lead to an a-ha effect. This was certainly the case with spaghetti bolognese in Bologna. I love a good spag-bol, as its called here in Australia, but the original is an entirely different beast. And such a magnificent one! The sauce was thick, rich and meaty. That was all. No carrots, mushrooms and very little tomato if there was any at all. It was unforgettable for us all.

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Postcard from Venezia

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We arrived in Venice with high expectations for this magical city. The first day we were there was grey and dreary and we failed to understand the charm of the city. It was October and Venice was still quite full of tourists. We wondered what it must be like in the height of summer with many more tourists, more heat and the stench it would cause from the canals.

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The next day was clear and crisp. We began to discover the back alleys and fantastic food of Venice. We all loved the cicchetti  – a specialty of Venice. Cicchetti are little slices of bread with various delicacies on top including salt cod – our favorite!

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We could easily get a plate full of cichetti and two glasses of superb house wine for 20 Euros. We happily bar hopped around the alleys sampling all they had to offer. Some of the bars were so small it was standing room only outside in the alley.

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Rather than being an inconvenience, this only added to the atmosphere. We all loved it.

We had great adventures during the day including a ride around Venice on a Vaporetto (water taxi).

However, we were most enchanted by Venice at night.

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Of course, that is when we did a lot of our family bar hopping. We also got lost every night on the way home at the same spot. It was a bit like Night on Earth and the funny thing was that there were also always other tourist wandering around the square, looking at their phones, obviously as lost as we were!

We also had the great pleasure of taking a gondola ride just as the sun was setting. It was truly delightful and worth the hefty fee. Our Gondolier, Massimo managed to ferry his gondola within inches of the stone walls, while telling us the history of Venice, singing a few bars of opera songs and making mobile phone calls at the same time. He was the perfect tour guide for such an iconic Italian setting!

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Postcard from Riva del Garda

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Riva del Garda was our first stop in Italy. Somewhat frazzled, we exited the Autostrada, leaving the mayhem of Italian style driving behind us for a few days. We arrived at Riva, which was like a soothing balm. We pulled into a small, tree-lined, family-run campground about twenty paces from the lake. On our first morning, Bradley and I enjoyed our first Italian coffees on the shores of Lago del Garda, while the girls frolicked in the water. Family bliss! (At least for a few minutes!)

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We had some of our favorite meals of the whole trip in Riva including our first Italian pizza and dinner at a local trattoria that proudly served “NO PIZZA!” and was run by a no nonsene grandmother who was clearly beloved by the locals.

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One afternoon we climbed up the hillside to the ruins of an the old Bastione. It was another great walking challenge for Vivien, which she mastered beautifully. We were all rewarded with a sweeping view of the town of Riva and Lago del Garda.

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In addition to the beauty of the place, the area is a popular destination for windsurfing, rock climbing and sailing as well as just touring about, taking ferries across the lake to different little towns and eating delicious food along the way. We were just at the beginning of our adventure and only stayed a few days. Next time we will stay much longer!

Postcard from the Alps

 

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There is something about the alps I find so exciting. Maybe it is the clarity of the air or the sheer height of the mountains. It could just be the invigorating cold or all of these things together. Whatever it is, I always feel a rush of energy and optimism when I visit the alps.

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It was wonderful to share the excitement and beauty of this special place with Bradley, Vivien and Morgan.

 

 

 

Postcard from München

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After our visit in Heidelberg, we picked up our camper van (affectionately know as “Campy”) and headed to Munich to visit more friends, drink beer and eat Weisswurst!

Along the way, we stopped in Ulm and climbed the tallest church steeple in the world, which has been a point of pride for Vivien ever since.

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In Munich, we were greeted by  our good friends Carsten and Katrin and their three lovely daughters Annika, Mira and Jonna.

Carsten is a passionate cook and treated us to non-stop culinary delights including spit roasted chickens,

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Weisswursfrühstück,

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a trip to Munich’s famous gourmet market (Viktualienmarkt)

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and moose with wild mushrooms – devine!

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While we were there, Annika (12) treated us to an evening of piano and song in front of their beautiful woodstove. It is something we still all remember so fondly.

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