LETTING GO

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I know this might seem like a no-brainier to some, but just recently it occurred to me that my children are in fact NOT my children. Imagine going sixteen (and nine for the youngest) years thinking that the tiny baby you carried inside your tummy for nine months, the baby you have nurtured now for all those years, really was yours only to have one of those knowing moments when you truly realised that they were in fact NOT your children after all. I know, OUCH right? But there it is, something I have known all along, something I take into account when I make decisions about my child, but something I didn’t really feel deep down in my core until recently. Is this revelation because I now have a child in grade 11 and a child in grade 4? That’s interesting – you could be right…

When we went to Europe late last year we took our children with us, 2 daughters aged 15 and 8. My beautiful 15 year old was pretty independant but still her mothers daughter in the sense that we were unbelievably close and I honestly couldnt really fathom her ever leaving home, along with the fact that so much of what I thought played a role in what decisions she made. I feel like a lioness protecting her cub after almost losing her the year before last when she collapsed in the shower and her heart and breathing stopped. My beautiful 8 year old was both shy and very hard work with her having a myraid of challenges we have lived with over the years…both my girls experience OCD, but Mackenzie also has auditory and sensory processing challenges too which have filled our days with meltdowns and 2hr long mealtimes and bedtimes and to be frankly honest I was more than a little scared of what would happen taking her into overcrowded, touristy places with unfamiliar spaces and food and cultures. What happened next really shocked both my husband and I.

Let me tell you what we saw with our almost 16 year old Lauren. Not to be misunderstood because my daughter is exceptionally more mature and forward thinking than many of her peers and I am immensely proud of how she is progressing (no she isnt perfect by any means and still has her moments of being a pain in my arse – she was never meant to be perfect), however my daughter became even more individual in her own right in Europe. She began thinking way bigger than I had ever instilled and showed a passion for experiencing life in a big way, much bigger than I could have ever imagined for myself at that age. It was as though everything became possible and nothing (not even her mother) could stop her. I have realised through this that when our children reach this time in their lives where they are starting to rebel against our ideas and wishes, and we become frustrated parents of teenagers who long for a weekend off, this is our weaning time to move through what could be a very embarrassing case of seperation anxiety and empty nest syndrome that occurs if they suddenly break free from the nest. I can only imagine the heartbreak I caused my mother by leaving suddenly at the age of 16 to go live and work out on my own – honestly I’m surprised she is still talking to me.

Im still struggling a bit with this new found individuality Lauren has found and riding the rollercoaster of emotions we are both experiencing is what I would call ‘interesting’. (Now Lauren if you are reading this, it by no stretch means I am going to suddenly change my mind about not letting you go to a house party filled with alcohol and no supervising parents – non negotiable). My husband and I have begun to talk about the possibility of Lauren going on ‘dates’ with boys, but we are undecided as to whether we are okay with her getting into a serious teenage relationship when we know she really wants to travel and experience so much in her early years, not to mention the decade of university education she is about to embark on in the very near future. I do know that she is happy at this point to wait until marraige to have sex and is in no hurry to get married and have children so we have breathed a sigh of relief on that front. I guess the jury is still out.

What I am proud of is that this new level of kick-A independence has seen her crave to work and earn her own money, she is dedicated to her studies and is working really hard at that and achieving what she wants, and is taking charge in the changes she wants in her life. I am proud – if not a little sad – that my baby is not my baby…she is an individual in her own right.

Now let me tell you about my little Indigo baby Mackenzie. Mackenzie has been a delightful handful since the day she was born and although I wouldnt change it for the world, I would be lying if I didnt say it has been an exhausting and frustrating ride for all of us – including Lauren as she has had to make adjustments and show great patience with our littlest one. Her sensory processing disorder has meant that textures, touch and experiences are a constant onslaught to her system and her only task each day is to fumble through the best she can. Sometimes a hug from mummy is just not enough, sometimes there is no solution to her troubles but to let her vent and cry, and sometimes she just wants to be like all the other kids. Her auditory processing disorder means that people misinterperet her brains inability to decipher and seperate and process all the input, for insolence and misbehaviour and distraction. She has been called naughty by teachers and family and friends, but when you try to explain it they think that she has trouble hearing so they speak louder which then sets off her sensory issues. Despite this Mackenzie is an amazingly bright, cheery girl who just wants everyone to be happy, and who never wants to disappoint anyone. You can imagine that a 6+ week trip to Europe would have been a struggle for this little one and although it was, something quite extraordinary and unexpected happened during that time. Instead of going into a permanent meltdown as any parent of an SPD kid would expect, she did the opposite! Although we had a few meltdowns and struggles, Mackenzie began talking to people, even in other languages. She climbed a volcano, jumped off a boat and swam to a hot spring, climed the top of the Eiffel Tower, ate strange foods, rode the underground, revelled in the cold temperatures in Switzerland, coped with 10 flights…and began to break the emotional safety straps she had built between her and us.

Now back at home Mackenzie is doing acrobatics, classical ballet, coping with her homework, eating new foods with only a little resistance, speaking up, making new friends, standing up for herself, carrying her school bag and……walking herself into school on her own with us just watching. She is excited about being able to do things for herself now rather than shying away from it and relying on us to be her safety net. Its amazing to see her growing up even though I long for my baby girl who ‘needed me’, but she still will occasionally ask to hop into bed with mummy and have hugs so I can deal with that. I am proud – if not a little sad – that my baby is not my baby…she is an individual in her own right.

I feel good that I have raised individual angels, and although I can feel the shift in the relationship I have with my girls, I know that this is how it is meant to be and that we are not growing apart but are growing – as mother, as daughter, as sisters. This is how it should be – they are not mine, they are just my responsibility to love, nurture and guide.

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CHILLIN IN SYDNEY

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^^^^^^^^^^^BONDI BEACH^^^^^^^^^^^^

After an appointment with my doctor filled with lots of tears and an hour long massage at our local Salt Caves, I’m ready to revisit and share with you our trip home and time in Sydney at the end of our European vacation. I will start with our flight home from Abu Dhabi since we have already talked about the business class bliss from Athens to Abu Dhabi. So we board the plane and end up delayed on take off, which wouldnt have been so bad had it not have felt like a sauna in the plane for the whole time. The flight home was relatively uneventful and we were well looked after the whole trip (I will do a post later about the good bad and ugly of international travel at a later time). Our late departure meant we risked missing our transport to the hotel, especially when the lines to get through border security were horrific!!! Hours!!! Turns out however it really didnt matter because the transport company didnt seem to make their customers a priority and we sat waiting what seemed an eternity til near midnight. Considering I had an early morning conference the next day we decided to catch a cab to the hotel….ahhhhhh – yeah we got done and they over charged us and tried to scam us to call them for our transfer back to the airport.

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We were so grateful to arrive at our beautiful and very luxurious hotel “The Menzies” complete with bell hop (is that even a real title or just in the movies?), indoor heated pool, massive breakfast restaurant (that cooks your eggs to order yes thankyou), and THE most amazing customer service I have ever experienced. Seriously, after the very hard mattress beds in Europe we were very happy to have a few nights in a lovely soft mattress in Australia! Our breakfasts were divine, although we didnt really give a thought to dinner and just bought something close by (in fact I think I even had a vegetarian burger at Hungry Jacks one night – I know….shock horror!!!). Lunches were just something from wherever we were but we did have lunch at the base of the opera house on the waterfront, and another at the RSL at Bondi Beach (not on the same day of course lol).

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I had an absolute blast at the Ignite Tour with Emazon. Seriously folks if you have never heard of this woman check out my blog posts about her workshops, and head over to http://www.emazon.tv or http://www.rebelology.com.au – my whole way of thinking has changed and she is such a catalyst for a better future…words really dont do it justice. I was blessed to be able to go with my beautiful teenager who also swears by what she has learnt with the help of Emma. This was the main reason we came home earlier and had a few days in Sydney, just so we wouldnt miss the event since we missed the Brisbane one whilst we were in Europe.

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We also spent a day just exploring what Sydney has to offer but if I’m completely honest Sydney just didnt excite me at all, but I made the most of it because it seems my kids love Sydney. We did get to do all the musts whilst we were there though – we finally saw the Sydney Opera House in its enourmous beauty, we ate lunch at the Opera House boardwalk restaurant, and travelled around the harbour on a ferry. We decided after all the stairs we did in Europe we would not use this trip to do a bridge climb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge however, and a smart decision that was I think.

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The thing we loved most from our little recovery in Sydney was our day trip to Bondi Beach with my sister in law that lives not far from Sydney. Bondi is just as beautiful (if not more) than we had seen on television. Its beach stretched before us golden, and surrounded by beautiful views. We enjoyed a lovely lunch overlooking the beach before letting the kids have a swim – Lauren in the beach and Mackenzie in the little beach pool – whilst my sister in law and I explored the rocks.

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We enjoyed a little Max Brenner before a good sleep to prepare for our trip home to the Sunshine Coast. We really were looking forward to going home to our pooch Bella, our comfy beds, and our beautiful beaches.

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We arrived home to my parents and my brother in law waiting to pick us up from the airport…their help was very appreciated. Because our poochy wasnt coming home til the afternoon, we dropped all our stuff at home before heading straight to our favourite place One on La Balsa for lunch and a little walk along the waterfront. This will always be home for us no matter where we have been.

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^^^MOOLOOLABA BEACH

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^^^OUR FAVOURITE VIEW – ALEX HILL

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^^^LA BALSA – POINT CARTWRIGHT

Stay tuned for another post – I will do one on the best and worst of traveling internationally with our musts and must nots for every country, and another covering how we dealt with travelling overseas for 7 weeks with a child with APD AND SPD AND OCD and how you can make travel happen with your sensory kiddo.

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ACROPOLIS NOW

Acropolis Now….totally love that old television show! But this isn’t about that, this is about our little visit in Athens.

Well HELLO! As you know I am home sick (although officially this is one of my days off) and clearly my body is wearing thin of my long hours, lack of sleep, and whatever bug little miss 8 passed along to me. My old friend dishydrotic eczma has come to play with a few blisters now burst – I’m not sure what this means for my job but I am hoping that the antihistamines and vitamin e cream might do the trick but I will make a decision this afternoon. The last time I had this my hands ended up covered in blisters making nursing impossible, so fingers crossed and prayers to the heavens this will just go away. So where were we? That’s right, we were on our way to Athens!

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After just a short flight, and by short I mean less than an hour, we landed in Athens and taken to our hotel by our driver which was good because to be honest the centre was ages away from the hotel and the streets really confused us. We were happy to check in and found we were staying in a very lovely hotel with very comfy amenities. We went into the main shopping district and enjoyed having a look around the vast multitude of shops before heading to a restaurant for the most amazing dinner.

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After dinner on our stroll back to our hotel we stumbled across an art shop filled with exquisite pieces of artwork. Talking to the artist we found that the economy in Greece meant that art prices had fallen so low that famous artists work were going for peanuts (still more peanuts than we could pay for), but we found a piece that we loved and bought – even the girls bought a small piece.

Back in hotel we fell asleep very quickly and woke the next day ready to explore all the ancient sites that filled Athens with history and wonder, particularly for my teenager who being the drama buff she is, just loves greek mythology.
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We spent the day travelling by tourist open air bus to the major sites including Temple of Zeus, Theatre of Dionysus, the ruins surrounding the base of Acropolis, and although we were too buggered (after all this was the last stop on a very big trip) to walk up the Acropolis, we did take in its views from the Dionysus restaurant nearby.

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We took the bus also to the seaside which to be honest was not the highlight we thought it would be and paled in comparison to Santorini. The one thing we did notice is the vast amount if stray animals in Athens…however they all looked extremely healthy and well looked after, which was explained by on of the nearby vendors…that the city and the people in it took it upon themselves to care for these animals and in fact one of them had to be put n a diet as it was so fat and they seem to stay close to particular vendors.

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Our highlight for this day was going to a greek theatre show called “Hamlet, That Punk”, a modern take on Hamlet performed by a small greek theatre company. When trying to organise the tickets with my terribly limited greek language, the Director and lead of the performance private messaged me on facebook asking why we were so keen to come to a show we wouldn’t understand the language of. When I explained my daughters love for greek theatre she asked to meet us after the show, and the welcome we got was amazing! They were so excited someone from Australia came and enjoyed their show despite the language barrier, and it appeared the entire cast knew we were in the audience. It was a great show, although probably a little too adult themed for my 8 year old but only in one part of the show where we just covered her eyes lol. When it comes to theatre, language doesn’t have to be a barrier if you are paying attention, and we all understood the storyline. Apart from wanting to be a doctor and forensic psychiatrist, Lauren wants to act…and seriously if you lived with her you could see she has the dramatic makings of a superstar.

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So the next day we woke with hubby and I leaving the girls to chill out whilst we went out for a bit of a stroll and a shop. Then we were off to the airport to say goodbye to Europe and finally travel home to Australia for a 4 day relax in Sydney before returning to our home life…and when we got to the airport that’s when things got interesting!!! Read my post “The Business of Flying Home”. In our next instalment we have our stay in Sydney.

Where is your favourite part of Europe and why? Share your stories and links below…

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Ps…I wanted to add more photos but my computer is throwing a tantrum.

SWEET SWEET SANTORINI

With the sneezing setting in on my sick day, lets continue on our European vacation before I bore or sleep myself into oblivion.

After a short flight to Athens and an even shorter flight over to the Greek Island Santorini, we were welcomed with a super helpful driver happy to tell us about the local sights and give us a quick lesson on how to say thank you and please in Greek, all thanks for it being organised by our amazing Travel Agent Dane. We arrived at our gorgeous hotel complete with glistening pool, beautiful white and blue décor, and a wonderfully friendly welcome by reception, who at this terribly late time at night made us hot chocolates and brought us water to help us settle in. After being in the country for less than an hour we knew it was going to be an amazing little stay of only two nights.

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Because we only had one full day in Santorini we got up super early and had a lovely breakfast in the hotel before heading out by cab to the local town of Fira. We really couldn’t believe our eyes as we took in the breathtaking scenery that was hidden from us in the darkness of night when we arrived (although I must say that as we rounded the bend toward out hotel on arrival, a cascade of fireworks lit up the sky in the background making us feel even more welcomed). The jagged cliffs in some parts, the high hills in other parts, and really looking down from the top to see the town splayed before us was beautiful. The cab prices were pretty reasonable and a good option considering we didn’t want to waste time waiting for a bus and figuring out where we were going, so we were taken straight down to Fira in very little time.

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As we strolled down the streets and looked at all the little shops that were now not so crowded since the summer rush had gone home, we really felt like we were on holiday. We all spent some time (and some money) wandering in and out of shops buying a few pieces of clothing, some local craft, and a delicate Greek Christmas bauble (now in pieces after being dropped when being placed on our Christmas tree – boo!). It was odd to see people swimming at the beach there (hot grey rocky sand) when we dipped our feet in and found it to be FREEZING!!!!!!! I’m sure it would be beautiful in summer though. We considered going to the town of Oia (family for the blue and white churches and Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants), but we decided that maybe we would do an early morning trip there the following day before checkout and our flight out to Athens. Instead we decided to go on a high seas adventure!!!

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Hubby and I booked us and the kids onto an afternoon/evening sailboat trip to visit a volcano, swim in hot springs, dinner, then sunset over Oia from the perspective of the Aegean Sea. We had enough time to go and enjoy a beautiful lunch and a watermelon juice overlooking the ocean, and a yummy greek salad was exactly what I needed after weeks of pastries, chocolate, cheese and pasta. The flavours in all of our dishes were out of this world…we never knew fresh produce could taste so freaking amazing – seriously fresh, full of flavour, fabulous. Then we were ready to board for our big adventure after being driven to the boat by the tour company’s driver.

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We boarded the most beautiful sail boat with polished wood and beautiful fixtures, not to mention the good looking lads that caught my teenagers eye! I had never been on a boat quite that far from shore before so of course I felt a little bit nervous about getting vertigo – or the ship sinking…take your pick. But as we pulled away from the dock I felt a little excited for this new adventure we were taking. The first little while was amazing just chilling out at the front of the boat, wind in our hair, excited children running back and forth, and our first stop was an active volcano. The boat docked and we set off with the rest of the passengers to explore. Now keep in mind it was hot, we wore thongs, and we thought the brochure said 1.6 km return…it was 1.6km each way – up – in the heat – on a very hot active volcano – and an easily tired 8 year old that required some carrying! Yes it was worth it when we got to areas that sulphur was smoking out the rocks and the girls being able to learn about volcano eruptions and formations, but it was certainly was good to get back on the boat with our new type of sunburn – volcanic heat burn.

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Our next stop brought us to the hot springs and although I was super proud of Mackenzie for going over in a floaty ring with her Dad, I did have a little disappointment in myself for chickening out of the 50m swim to get there. I let my fears overtake me once again and it really made it clear that one goal for this year is overcoming my fear of deep ocean water. Lauren of course was one of the first to jump off the boat and swim over, she is such an adventurous soul willing to try any new adventure in life. They all had a great time though so I was really pleased with that and it wasn’t long before we headed of again to find a spot to anchor for dinner. Dinner was fresh, amazing, and we enjoyed a lovely wine followed by Greek dancing with the rest of the passengers on the ships deck. One thing about Europe is that they are more relaxed about teenagers drinking alcohol with their parents and Lauren had the opportunity to have two half strength strawberry daiquiris under our supervision. It really was a non-event, and with her turning 16 this year I know it wont be long til alcohol is in her peer group. Although I know she makes very smart decisions for someone so young I know she is still human and I am glad that her first experience of alcohol was one that was social only, measured, and of course in the presence of her mother – not her peers.

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After dinner we sailed off toward Oia and we were horrified to realise that the total sum of blue domed rooves were 4!!! Four!!! Yes that’s right! The only buildings with a blue domed roof are churches. But still, the sights were amazing, but not as amazing as the sunset over the Aegean Sea as we were anchored right near Oia. Wow is an understatement. Being on the east coast of Australia means that the sun rises from our beaches but sets over the mountains, so this experience was amazing for us all. The only thing I must say that put a bit of a dampener on the evening of dancing and company, was the Aussie girl who was loud, obnoxious, and had the filthiest mouth I have heard in a long while – seriously folks…can we not present ourselves as bogans – not just when we are overseas, but ever!?!?!?

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We arrived back late but feeling fulfilled, and when we woke the next morning we decided we were going to just explore our immediate surroundings. We walked up and checked out some local shops near our hotel, posted a parcel back home, and looked for somewhere to eat. Its amazing that it is not uncommon to see people drinking wine early in the day, and really the Europeans don’t get publicly wasted like us westerners…they just seem to know the benefit of moderation. So we found an amazing little bakery that had spinach and feta pastries, and great coffee, so we stopped and enjoyed. As we left Mackenzie went inside to say “afgaristo” which is thankyou, and the lass behind the counter was so overwhelmed by her speaking any amount of greek (I am told there are lots of westerners that don’t bother), that she rushed around the corner exclaiming words like “parakalo” and “princess”, holding Mackenzies face and kissing her cheeks – all we could do is giggle…Mackenzie has sensory processing disorder but took this very well probably due to shock lol. She promptly got a “well done for dealing with that situation so well honey”.

So off we trotted and although we didn’t want to leave we boarded our plane in the tiny little airport in Santorini and headed for Athens for a 2 day exploration of mainland Greece. Although grateful for the adventure we had experienced, our hearts sank that it was almost over.

A LITTLE CAPRI

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So. Where were we? Oh yes, my last post in Europe before I interrupted broadcast with the Business Class flight was chocolate nutella in Rome. Then off we headed on the train to Sorrento.

On the train we hopped with excitement rushing through our veins at the next part of our journey. We followed the plan of catching a train to Naples, then changing over to catch a suburban train to Sant Agnello just one stop before Sorrento in southern Italy. Not far out of Naples as we looked out of the window of the run down, over crowded, rickety old train, we soon realised why our wonderful travel agent had refused to book us into Naples and had instead planned a few days in Sorrento. With each station we passed we could see more and more run down, derelict homes missing windows or doors with makeshift covers.

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We saw multiple people (including children and women with babies) entering the train either begging for money or playing an instrument for money. It was sad that these children should have been in school and the flat lifeless look in their eyes was either very good acting or true desperation and despair – to me it seemed like the latter. It became yet another lesson in gratitude and compassion for my children.

When we arrived in Sant Agnello we did spend the first 20 minutes lost and exhausted searching for a toilet. It appears that whilst it is very close to Sorrento and accommodates tourists, it is certainly a cosy little town. We ended up dragging our heavy suitcases for an extra 15 minutes to our hotel before falling in a lump on the couches.

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We decided to enjoy a beautiful dinner in the restaurant attached to the resort and I’m so glad we did. Turns out that it houses one of the regions best cooking school, and is run by a family who prides themselves on great service and high quality produce. Of course Mackenzie decided on her usual Margherita pizza, and this time she was allowed to watch the whole process including the throwing the dough in the air in a spin, the cooking in the big ovens, and of course the enjoyment of her eating it – the whole thing that is!!! We were treated to a taste of Limoncella (odd), and Lauren gave us a great deal of humour trying to figure out how to eat her prawns – aka scampi – and since neither my husband or I are seafood lovers Lauren had to ask the staff (who were already looking a little bemused by her attempts) for assistance. Lets just say that she was not a fan.

We were all a little excited by the trip to Pompeii and after a short train ride we arrived. Luckily we did our research before hand because there doesnt seem to be any toilets inside the Pompeii site, so we ensured every person actually went and did a good wee before we entered. The place is enormous so thank heavens little ones bladder behaved throughout or a tree may need to be watered lol. This historic site was so interesting and we learnt alot about the history of society from this place. Although there were interesting things there including a male appendage carved into a stone to apparently guide the menfolk to the local “ladies” if you know what I mean, and beautiful bath houses and eating rooms, it was also a sad place too. At the time we were there we were fortunate to see an exhibit that had real casts of people found in the excavation, and there were also many excavations currently underway too. How sad that these people were going about their every day lives before their most precious mountain burst forth and ended it all for them.

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The next trip we did whilst staying in Sant Agnello was to Sorrento, which was just beautiful, so we could board a boat to the spectacular Capri Island. We caught a glimpse of the beauty that awaited us just looking at the crystal clear aqua blue water that was beneath the jetty. On boarding the boat and setting off into the ocean it was apparent that the ocean here was far different to the ones at home. When we looked at this ocean it had a deep royal blue colour that was unlike anything I had ever seen. We got even more excited as we saw the Isle of Capri come into view in front of us, and as we rounded the cliff face we got our first view of the beautiful port with homes and budisnesses stretching upward up the rock face. Now the funniest thing was when we disembarked and walked off the jetty, the street was lined with rental/taxi cars….and yes – they were Capri’s lol.

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After talking to the “blue grotto” company that do the trips it was decided we had enough time to grab a spot of lunch at a spectacular restaurant along the waterfront. However when we went out to purchase our boat tickets they had cancelled further trips to Ana Capri due to weather conditions!!! My heart just sank and so did hubbys and the childrens, we had so looked forward to this and I had built up my courage to do it. On a whim I asked if we could hire a private boat and skipper to take us along the other part of the island and to our surprise they said yes! So off we went on our little 2 hour journey on a beautiful boat just the four of us and our skipper. Our beautiful guide just happened to be local, owned a B&B, and was very passionate about the island he lived on. He showed us where Valentinos home was, took us through that famous arch, showed us the spectacular white grotto that as just as beautiful as the blue, and allowed Lauren to jump off the boat into the 9m+ deep water that looked so clear you would think it was 1-2m deep. This place is beautiful, we want to go back, and next time we will stay with our skipper at his B&B where he has offered for us to spend time with him and his family, on his private boat, and where they will include us in their cuisine. My husband and I are very much looking forward to this as he also has young children similar age to our youngest. Capri was so beautiful that the children actually think it is better than Disneyland, and would choose it over anything.

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So it was time to leave and we caught the train journey back to Rome before boarding the Leonardo Davinci Express to the airport, where we boarded our flight to Athens and Santorini. Our time in Italy had come to a close, but it wont be for long I am sure. We had a lovely flight to Athens, and changed planes immediately to fly late night into Santorini Island – but you will have to wait for that installment next time.
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TO EUROPE, WITH LOVE

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I can feel the tears of longing welling up inside as we think about where we have been and what we experienced. It’s not that I’m unhappy in where I’m at right now but I didn’t think catching this bug would change my whole life the way it has. People warned us that there was a risk of contracting this even if you thought yourself immune. Truthfully, I didn’t even really feel it coming on until we were fully infected and we knew we would never recover. Moments in every day reminded us of that time, and it takes every ounce of strength to stop ourselves from getting swept back into it all.

We really understand so much now after this experience, and understand the addiction to the cure of this bug. We understand the need to feed it, and why every spare dollar can be spent on it. It’s okay though, it’s not a horrible contagion, but it’s certainly a costly one. However I wouldn’t change it for the world and really I feel somewhat blessed and lucky for being able to experience it.

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Okay so I’m talking about the travel bug, but I guess thats not really surprising considering the last lot of posts I have written. We really do have the travel bug now and really its all we seem to be able to think about – not just the travel aspect of it, but having a life filled with more adventure, more wonder, new connections – I guess its the spirit of adventure we are craving more. I know I have been a little behind in my posts, I havent even touched on our last stops of Capri & Sorrento, Santorini, Athens, and Sydney. I suppose it is easy to become caught up again in work, study, and family life to even think about setting aside some writing time to finish off our story…but finish is the wrong word for it and I will tell you why before I tell you about our adventures in Santorini.

I’ve decided to write this now at last because I am home from work sick and talking hurts my throat…the nurofen seems to have dulled the headache pounding in my head for days, and honestly…lying in bed exhausted all day makes me feel a little unfulfilled. So what does a writer do when these moments arise…she writes of course – its highly therapuetic!

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To break it bluntly but beautifully…we are moving to England!!! Okay so not straight away…but in a few years time when our teenager has finished school, and our youngest has finished primary school – our intention is to spend a year or two in England with me working as a nurse, and spending time getting to know my neices and nephews and sister in laws more. Of course we will be doing some European travel whilst we are there too. But first, we are heading for another UK VACAY in December to spend Christmas with my family, and check out schools and hospitals. We did initially consider doing one year in England and one year in France but after looking at the average nurses wage and cost of living we decided we might need to rethink that one.

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So tell me…have you lived and worked abroad before? Have you lived in a country with a different language and how did you cope with that, particularly if you have children? We are currently learning French however to ensure that if something changes we can fit right in with our language skills, and besides that we love the French language and plan on spending more time there whenever our lives and budgets warrant it. Enough about that…stay tuned for my next article on Sorrento and our little adventure on the Isle of Capri…

THE BUSINESS OF FLYING HOME

I’m interrupting the broadcast that is my overview of our European vacation for an awesomely epic announcement! (Okay it isn’t so much an announcement, but something rare for a family that doesn’t have a money tree in their front – or back – yard, so I just had to document and write about it).

Best intentions. Yes we all have the best of intentions when we are preparing for something big. Like preparing for a long haul flight in economy. Of course like everyone else hubby and I had the best of intentions in preparing for our two part, long haul flight home to Australia. Our intention was to have an nice early-ish night giving us a good sleep for the first time on our trip, and head out after an early breakfast to do some shopping before heading to board our plane. I know I know – at least our intention was good right? So instead we did a late night Greek theatre show, a convo with the director after at her request, late night to bed, dragged ourselves out of bed for breakfast before going for a walk to pick up a new top and some *ahem* chocolate before going to the airport.

To say that we were all tired was an understatement…really, I’m surprised the airport security didn’t mistake our entry to the airport with the Zombie Apocalypse. So we were keen as to get on the plane and just get the whole flying thing over and done with very quickly so we could enjoy our four nights in to attend IGNITE Tour, and get rested after our six week holiday in Europe. So we lined up with everyone else to check in for our flight when the check in lady asks us if we want to upgrade to business class for a quite reasonable amount of money. We did consider it may have been way too expensive for us and seeing that we were thinking of saying no they offered one of the ticket upgrades for free, however it was still beyond what we were prepared to pay, another hostess walked up and offered to give us two for free. A little ‘eeek’ are we really going to pay that much to fly business class later and both hubby and I said yes! We have very little occasion to fly business class especially with two children on hand with us – its normally quite expensive for just one person let alone a family. But hell yeah…we were all trying very hard to stop ourselves from squealing with delight.

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Firstly…executive lounge – thank you very much! Yummm…lovely little snacky lunch and a lovely drink and a relax before boarding our flight. Bypass the line to board? Why yes please. I must say that I needed to give myself a bit of a mental bitch slap for having that thought of “sucked in!!!” when the economy passengers began walking past looking longingly at our spacious accommodations – after all, we would have to be those economy people once again so remember to be grateful gosh darn it!

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Secondly…the plane. So we boarded our plane and the set up is amazing. For example it appears that my seat has multiple functions. It is a chair, a recliner, A BED!, A MASSAGER!!, A CUBICLE!!! (Can you tell I have never flown Business Class). My little cubicle had storage area for my bag, a foot rest, a spacious table, a tv, a little area for bits, bottled water waiting for us, A DOONA! When I needed to visit the little girls room I found it to be only for Business Class, way more spacious, and complete with aromatherapy spritz, moisturiser, and eternally immaculate in cleanliness.

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We also had coloured mood lighting throughout the trip…wow! Talk about spoilt. It was a little odd being frequently called ma’am and constantly being offered alcohol (yeah right like I’m going to experience this under a haze of booze….nah!). But I soaked it up when brought our A la carte menu with the most amazing food on it – and yes they suggested a different type of wine with each course lol…nah!

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So all in all we really enjoyed the high life even if it was only for five hours, and I really loved that I could let my kids experience it too – and they really appreciated it for sure. So now we are to disembark and head to our FIFTEEN. HOUR. ECONOMY. FLIGHT. TO. AUSTRALIA. ICK!

See you on the other side!

WHEN IN ROME – SO ORIGINAL

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When in Rome…one does not leave ones purse complete with credit cards, passports and other valuables like 400 Euro on the seat next to one, for one may lose ones valuables to a broad daylight thief. Phew! Thanks heavens that wasn’t us! Unfortunately, like many of the major cities and tourist spots throughout Europe, Rome too has very brazen pickpockets that are extremely skilled at taking what is not theirs. Its also comes with many many MANY people selling bits and bobs illegally on the streets, shoving them in your face whether you politely say no thank you or ignore them…that is until the Police come near at which time they scatter and run, taking off their over shirts to appear a different person. The people I speak of were an older American couple and as they sat eating their lunch a man sat near them and began watching very intently before taking the womans purse almost undetected, although they did not get it back or catch the man when we saw them. There is definitely a dark and sad side to Rome that is very out there and in your face.

What I’m talking about is the significant homelessness and poverty in Rome but unlike the homelessness we have back in Australia, it is on every street and alleyway we went down, it is in your face, and you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t see and feel something. No matter how many people tried to tell us that we should ignore these people begging day after day after day, it has had a profound impact on me and our entire family really and I know we will be having more conversations on being a blessing to others. After all if I am true to my faith there is a scripture that tells me how to deal with this “…whatsoever you do to the least of my brother; that you do unto me” – Matthew 25:40. So despite people telling us not to, we still gave some money to some of the people we came across and made eye contact so they knew we saw them as a real person, and I feel that it showed my children that we can help someone else even in such a small way. There is still a question however, as to how to live it in a world that is so defined by stuff and with many that are so consumed by building up their fortunes and adorning their homes with the newest and biggest television that they really only watch and hour a day because they have to work to pay off their debt. Which brings us to look at ourselves in this moment. How do you talk to your children about this stuff and have them take you seriously when you have spent thousands of dollars to travel overseas. I honestly don’t have any answer for that, I really don’t. The only thing I do is continue to behave in a charitable manner, continue to live more simply so we put more value and time into experiencing the life we have, and to be truly grateful for what we have…every meal, every good nights sleep, the roof over our head, the ability to get an education, every thing really.

We did manage to see quite a few things in Rome whilst we were there, it is a city that is full of history so it was great that my girls (and us of course) could see in real life the places they had only read about. I guess all this history throughout Europe is quite fascinating for us because we come from such a newly developed country, and personally I feel that my children have really not been exposed to nearly enough of our own richly indigenous culture back home as I would like them to. Yet another thing that will change at home – there is a list of things we will be embracing in a new way.

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The food in this part of Italy is much nicer than what we experienced in Northern Italy…even when we visited the non-touristy places in the outer alleyways – at least that is how we feel. We had our very first great coffee since we had left Australia which was so good we had two and the girls both had one too. The waiter was jovial, fun, waltzed with Mackenzie in the street – it was alot of fun at the end of a really long day. Our BIG beef for this stop however was our choice in Big Bus Tour. All I can say is that if your choose the “I Love Rome” hop on hop off bus, you will want to leave Rome by the end of it. We waited for forever through the mass amounts of the other buses only to get a bus that had no seats left, was dirty, and the operators lighting up cigarettes and blowing the smoke right near the children. Seriously if you are going to Rome and want a tour bus go with City Sightseeing hop on hop off bus – they are more professional, clean, and come regular with adequate seating…we just looked longingly as Mackenzie pronounced “THIS ISNT OUR BUS YET??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!” – clearly she was well and truly over it.

COLOSSEUM

Wow this place is HUGE!!! It was amazing to see a structure that is still so wonderfully preserved. I would love to have been a fly on the wall (instead of a poor slave turned gladiator that had to be in the arena), when this place was alive and bustling. We hired a couple of audio guides to share to help us around and I am really glad we did. Particularly when it was a great tool for getting Mackenzie involved and interested in her own experience of this place, and it served dual purposes to keep her from being impacted by the crowds and noises which really decreased the sensory impact on her. On the one part it was great wandering around the Colosseums inside learning about what all the different structures were and what the process was for what they did here. Many people think that the gladiators were a fight to the death thing, but actually the audience often gave them reprieve out of pity thus many less ended in death than is widely thought of.

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Apart from the Colosseum, you can go to the ruins across the road on the same ticket and it is well worth starting your day early (advice I should have taken myself), so that you can do the Colosseum, have lunch, then explore the ruins afterwards. The ruins were so interesting and we far from got round it all, and by this time it was getting late and we really needed to get our tired little munchkins back to the hotel for some dinner and a rest.

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VATICAN CITY

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Most of our days on this trip have been starting quite late due to the fact my children are both in a state of constant jet lag – aka laziness – and have been horrific to get up and moving in the morning. Miss Rebel Teen has become very disconnected from the early part of every day, and Miss Moo has struggled with the tiredness that over exposure to sensory input causes. That in mind we made it to the Vatican City (not inside because I’m not sure that is possible???), and visited St Peters Basilica, the museum, and the underground area where all the tombs of the popes are. What a sight the Basilica was!

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So beautiful and although the pictures in the walls seem like paintings, they were actually intricate mosaics, and would have been quite the project to undertake back in the day and Michelangelo was quite the artist.

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The tombs underneath the Basilica are really nothing special apart from the fact that you know there are dead popes down there somewhere and that it is so quite its a little eerie. The museum was quite interesting too with so many of these gold trophy looking things that housed a piece of bone or tooth of someone of stature in the Catholic world who died in it. Quite odd really. We did miss the Sistine Chapel and the Trevi Fountain unfortunately due to time constraints and late-waking children, but really I think the fact we got to go to the Disney Store for Mackenzie and H&M for Lauren more than makes up for it.

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We did manage to go to the Spanish Steps whilst we were there, but to be blatantly honest, they were steps…with lots of people sitting on them. Pretty sure I might have missed the importance of these steps, however I did get some really kick-ass tea from the cute tea rooms next to the steps, and I did talk my husband out of buying a rather expensive bag from one of the stores nearby like Prada (only kidding…they were WAY WAY WAY more than either of us would be happy to pay for a handbag!

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There is something I have failed to talk about in all my posts about Europe, and that is in regards to food. In all the European places we have been on this trip there really has been only one or two places where allergens are mentioned. We really noticed quite quickly that our vegetarian, wheat and dairy free, organic lifestyle to which we are accustomed to was in no way understood by any of these countries. The thought of us not having meat as part of our meal, and asking for just vegetables, or asking for things without cheese, were met with looks that immediately conveyed the thoughts “holy shit, these people are nuts!”. Seriously…there is not a whole lot of allergy stuff here either and when we were looking for phenergan tablets the pharmacist said to me that there really wasnt a whole lot of need for that in Italy. This makes me really wonder what we are doing wrong in Australia and some of the other highly westernised countries for us to have such a huge industry related to wheat allergies, nut allergies, dairy allergies and the like. Some of it I am sure is because they seem to eat very seasonally, and very local. There are not massive supermarkets here, and the old fashioned green grocer is still very much alive and well, however that didn’t stop us from enjoying the local fare in Europe…like Nutella the size of Mackenzies head, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!

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Well I best be off and sort out my recap of my favourite place – Sorrento and the Isle of Capri. Although I might just veg out and get through this flight to Greece that has become significantly turbulent. Its likely that I am more miffed about the people who recline their seats back all the way on a cramped short flight, those behind me that may or may not have forgotten to brush their teeth sometime in the last century, and…okay I am not always the best flier but I think I am doing better that I have in previousl\ times. I know I have a big thank you to my hypnotherapist for helping with that…thanks a million Ange x

See you in our next installment…photos will be spectacular!!!

OUR TUSCAN TIME OUT

We were so excited to head to Florence – the place Florence Nightingale was born and named after, close to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and in the region of Tuscany (aka wine region). Being the Aussies that we were we decided to just walk the short 900 metre distance to the hotel, after all…’she’ll be right!’ Of course this is Italy and the streets are not a simple pathway like in Australia. I dug my heels in (literally), and we bobbed over the cobbled streets and tiny footpaths all the way to the hotel, in fact I think there is a definite gap in the market for 4WD suitcases for European vacationers, and I will be the first in line to buy them – just take my money lol.

We arrived at our hotel and were warmly greeted once we lugged our suitcases up the stairs to reception. I was already concerned by the clearly dodgy area the hotel appeared to be in and already felt unsafe, when another alarm bell rang for us in that we were required to leave our room key in the pigeon hole when we are out despite the fact that there was no available safe and the pigeon holes were open and within reach of anyone walking through there. The deal breaker for us though was getting into the room – which was quite nice and modern – and greeting the overwhelming smell of bleach. It was so strong and although we tried airing the room out with the one available window and the door to the hallway, nothing was making the smell go away and mummy ended up having an asthma attack and feeling like vomiting. We had to leave immediately, although we were still stuck with the three days of city tax and our already paid for bed and breakfast for three days – they were quite annoyed but meh…our well being comes first.

…and so our Tuscan Timeout Began…..
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Lucky we managed to track down a lovely resort in the hills of Tuscany that could take us for the three days, and we jumped in a taxi to get there. Cost was really not a factor by this stage, after all mummy was at the end of her tether with an attitude filled teen and an overwhelmed sensory kid in tow. Hubby and I agreed that a time out away from the hustle and bustle of any city centre was just what we needed to recharge for the rest of our trip.

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We arrived at The Florence Hills Luxury Resort amongst grapevines and olive trees, in a very small town called Pelago. The hotel was modern, tastefully decorated, and spacious, which added to us feeling pampered with a breakfast of eggs, (meats…which we don’t eat being vego), fruits, pastrys, and fresh breads….oh and of course nutella! We had our dinner customised to our needs each night and it was mostly quite delicious, with Mackenzie even trying some new things. Our only gripe really was not enough seats and no table on our balcony, very firm mattresses and pillows, not enough bin space for rubbish, and lack of communication about no dinner service for our last night when we had already discussed this on our arrival. To their defence however, they did order in pizza for us and they covered the cost of this to make up for the miscommunication.

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The hotel staff organised for us a tour of a local winery and castle which was over 1000 years old. We had a guided tour followed by a wine and cheese tasting accompanied by another couple from Denver USA that were just delightful to spend time with.

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The vineyards were beautiful and were also surrounded by olive trees ready for harvest, and the grapes were actually in the middle of being harvested when we arrived, so it was cool for both us and the girls to see this process.

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I do believe the Europeans have got something right in how they introduce alcohol to their children, alcohol is not taboo in Italy and children can legally drink at 16 with their parents but are often allowed a taste younger when not out in public. I felt this was the perfect situation to allow my children a controlled taste of alcohol in an appropriate setting with food and family, so Lauren was allowed a proper tasting and Mackenzie was allowed a sip of mine.

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Let me say straight up that my kids so far HATE alcohol. They both think wine is the most disgusting thing in the world, so although they appreciated the opportunity to participate with the adults, I don’t think they will be guzzling down the booze anytime soon. Hubby and I both enjoyed it though and although we were not drunk at the end, we were certainly happy so to speak and grateful we had a driver (phew…thought we wouldn’t since there was a taxi strike that afternoon.

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The hotel also organised a masseuse to attend for Lauren and I to have a massage on our second day there which was total bliss, and the last day we were there we did absolutely nothing and just watched movies on the laptops all day…again – bliss. We did have a bit of a wander around the town of Pelago on our first day though and found it to be very small, quaint, and the fold certain did not speak english…so we had to wing it to get lunch and buy anything there. It was an old town complete with washing on retractable lines out the windows, a tiny little church, and a very old bell that rang each day. Honestly I’m not a bit disappointed at not getting to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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Now that we are rested up, its time for us to head off to Rome. Being that it is only a hour and a half train trip I am feeling the sheer speed it is travelling at as we speak – so fast our ears pop the whole way. I must say this whole homeschooling gig with Mackenzie is doing my head in and she only has to do a diary each day and some reading and maths. It is painful and I really do think her teachers deserve a medal for doing so well with her. I do wonder whether it is just worse because of all the sensory input she is having, so I am trying to choose my battles, but I do think the girls are going to be grateful for the everyday routines, mummys vegetable filled food, and early nights again when we get home.

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NB…we are told that 2015 is going to be a great year for wine too so keep your taste buds at the ready. (Please note we are always an advocate for the responsible use of alcohol – although it is a legal substance, it can also be a source for addiction, alcoholism, and may impact wellbeing both physically and emotionally – seek help if this impacts you)

Stay tuned – Rome is up next….

VENICE – THE S(T)INKING ISLAND & PAINTERS PARADISE

LEAVING SWITZERLAND
(Thanks MAB Adventure Wear for the comfy outfit…best pre holiday buy yet).

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Venice…the city of love. Venice…the city of art. Venice…the city of glass. Venice…the city of water. Venice…the city of – – – – – – smells. After a lovely train ride (yes first class again thank you very much – worth it for the comfort and drinks/snack service along the way…especially with kids), we finally arrived in Venezia Island aka Venice. We knew from lots of friends who had visited before, that the city could be a little smelly from time to time depending on the weather, so we were prepared for this to a point. The point we had failed to factor in was how close were were to St Marks Basilica and the square, and what happened when the sewerage backed up and started bubbling up the drainage holes, coupled with some rain. For interests sake, what happened was the square and some of the cobbled walk ways/alleys became somewhat lapping with liquid causing a stench that was spew-worthy. We had originally wondered about the trestle tables stacked up throughout the outer area of the square and had imagined they were for some market they had, however the morning that everything bubbled to the surface we found they were actually walking platforms so people could get across the square and into the church without stepping into the *ahem* water and smelling for the rest of the day. The kids found this kind of cool to see the city *s(t)inking* but Mackenzie was notably overwhelmed by the smells as any sensory kiddo would be.

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When initially arrived we took up the offer of a porter to take our bags over all the stairs – it was lovely but we soon realised that he took us the long way around with his special cart and that we could have gotten there with less crowds and little stairs at all…at 35 Euros it was a costly lesson. Our hotel was an old refurbished one right off the Basilica so it was perfectly close, and the decorations were older and quaint making us feel like we were a little more old world. The only down side I guess in being so close to a major tourist site, was the scores of peddlers selling their wares illegally throughout the area…until the Polizia were in sight at which time they scattered. We knew that there may be a bit of rain throughout our three days in the city so the first day we decided to do all the big stuff we wanted to do like Murano and Burano Islands, the Gondolas, and a general wander around.

OUR HOTEL

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PORTERS ON HAND TO GET LUGGAGE OVER STAIRS

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So we headed off to Murano Island on the boat, excited to see glass making and explore this exciting little island. We stepped off the boat only to be ushered toward a glass making factory by a salesman, but we wised up quickly and broke away to experience our own adventure. We quickly realised which were authentic and which were mass produced items, and stumbled across a cool little shop with onsite produced glass products that we could actually see being made by father and by son. We bought a few lovely little items (Lauren wanted to buy the entire store) and Mackenzie was in awe of the process and outcome. We did find the island a little smell though and couldn’t bear to eat there.

MURANO ISLAND

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After much walking and searching and different bridges, we finally found the boat to Burano and jumped on board. I’m glad we took the advice of a friend and went to this island to because it was far better than Murano with a definite charm, (less smell), and the most exquisitely coloured buildings you’ve ever seen. All the buildings were painted different vibrant colours that made the entire island come alive. We had a delicious lunch and began to explore the surrounds.

BURANO ISLAND

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I’m glad I researched the island and found that Burano is known for its lace if you go to the right stores. We went into two stores (one was Emilia and very famous), and we saw the Nannas making the lace right in the store by hand. The laces were exquisite and if only we had more disposable income we could have bought up more. We left Burano and headed back to Venice just in time to do the Gondola experience.

LACE CREATING NANNAS

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We jumped on a Gondola with all four of us in the one and even though I am still terrified of deep water and the gondolas were rocking violently in the water, I still plucked up the courage to get in with the family. I held my breath right up until e got out of the main waterway and into the little canals. It was simply magical and worthwhile doing, with us being able to see some famous bridges, and the previous homes of Cassanova, Vivaldi, and a famous painter. We went under so many bridges, it is an experience you just have to see to get a feel for.

GONDOLA RIDE

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We didn’t forget to experience art whilst we were there, with Lauren buying a piece of original art and Mackenzie buying a handcrafted mask. We did also manage to see the Rialto Bridge but being that it is currently under renovations, there was not much to see.

LOCAL ART PIECES

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Our last day was super wet so we chilled out inside, and the girls chilled and watched a movie so hubby and I could go in search of a laundromat and give the girls and us some much desired clean clothes. This did give us the time to sneak a little lunch and gelato on our own as a couple – laundry and lunch…so romantic lol. We were ready to leave by the time our stay was up, and caught a speedy taxi to the train station to head to Firenze aka Florence – and once we arrived all our plans changed….

…..tune in again for that one!