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.

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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!

THE SPANISH IMPOSITION

The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly On The – hearts of all the long distance bus drivers!

Okay so this really wasn’t the highlight of our trip that we thought it would be – in fact it was kind of horrific really. In my head I had envisaged this whole awakened feeling of joy seeing the places that people visit on the Camino de Santiago…really got to stop building expectations before the actual event I think. We caught a high speed train from Montparnasse to Irun on the border of France and Spain, and from there we caught a taxi (after much difficulty trying to find one) to the hotel in San Sebastian. Now if we had just stayed in the hotel we would have been absolutely fine because it was super comfortable, beautiful breakfasts, wonderful attentive service…but we decided to explore San Sebastian instead.

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San Sebastian is a beautiful backdrop of old buildings and cobble-type streets, mixed with churches, hillsides, beaches and old boating docks. Its very picturesque and worthy of the postcards you by at the touristy stops along the way.

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Along the beaches is like a concrete walkway that was under the higher walkway kind of like a tunnel, that had archways along the front – bit hard to explain really. Although the day started out as rainy and miserable, it became quite sunny and warm and it wouldn’t be strange to think it was a bit like Melbourne weather. We enjoyed a lovely walk along the beach and thought it might be nice to go for a swim seeing all the English folk enjoying the water so we went to the waters edge and enjoyed the moment of frostbite as our toes felt the icy waves coming in. No I don’t think we will swim thankyou…

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We did love the idea of tapas they have there and after seeing the beautiful church there, we went off in search of a lovely tapas bar to eat at – the spreads put on were beautiful and the social vibes were funky. Sadly though we did not get to enjoy this with most of it being all local seafood and cured meats, so we opted for a lovely little restaurant or two for our meals in San Sebastian. Did I mention that breakfast often was sweets here? The girls thought this was completely awesome! I was craving my raw spinach and vegetables.

After two nights we boarded the bus for Santiago de Compostela. That is when our real nightmare began. The trip we had thought was going to be a nine hour bus trip and we were well planned for that with snacks, water, and activities. It wasn’t til about four hours in that we realised that there may be no stops for meals, and we also found out that it was going to be a twelve hour trip. We tried to ask if we could duck out to a vending machine at one of the stops whilst they loaded up the suitcases but the bus driver stood in the walkway with hands in our face saying no very loudly and rudely. Despite us trying to explain (in Spanish we had translated by a friend) that we had no food for our children because the ticket did not state there would be no stops, the bus drivers still refused to let us off to get food for our kids. It was at this stage that I lost the plot and began crying…the feeling as a mother of not being able to provide food for your child when they are already distressed is a terribly helpless feeling and although it is definitely not the same, I now have a renewed empathy for mothers struggling to feed their children in refugee camps and third world countries. Finally an Aussie (at one of the stops and not even on our bus), saw our distressed and told us to get off now and the bus will come back for us. I cried with sheer relief, and let me tell you I could have kissed the ground when we finally arrived in Santiago.

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The accommodation in Santiago was basic, but modern, comfortable, and the service was exceptional. We visited the church and enjoyed the energy of all the pilgrims that had arrived to end their long journey. We met lots of Aussies that had just finished it and they gave tips for our teenager who now wants to do the Camino – that would be the only reason for returning to Spain at this point. The church was beautiful and I wondered for just a moment how a simple building could bring up so many emotions for me when I realised it wasn’t the grandeur of the building, but the grandeur of the millions of tears and prayers that had taken place over many years in this place.

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We left Spain much to our excitement and flew to Switzerland – by far my favourite place so far for its beauty….but as always thats for another time…

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Have you got a horror story from one of your holidays? Share with me your story.