Category Archives: Holidays

I Heart Europe!

I can’t shake the shivers. A cold internal feeling creeping across my back as I consume the horrific news in Nice.  Yet another tragic terrorist attack but this one has hit me hard I think because the victims are mainly families, parents with their children watching a firework display. The type of event me and my husband would take our three children to, where you would be helpless stuck in a crowd with an impossible escape hurtling towards you. News reports have said parents were hurling their children to safety before meeting their fate. It is too much to bear the thought of being in that situation. I’ve visited many European cities but have never been to Nice but imagine it was (before yesterday evening) a vibrant family friendly place which has now been tarred with tradegy. I don’t want to feel unsafe in Europe but be proud of it. I don’t want to allow the hate of a few radicalised monsters to define the love that is needed to shower the survivors and families of the victims with. My hubby and I visited Rome earlier this year and I wrote the following blog about our trip which I’ve been meaning to share for a while. I feel it is right to do it today. I want to share my gratitude at a city steeped in history and the pride of its inhabitants and help stand firm against terrorists and not allow them to destroy our homes and communities and to drag us into their hate.

Ciao Roma!

Our Italian 4 day break was my 40th present from hubby and was completely unexpected. Rome is amongst many places on my very long bucket list of destinations I would like to visit and it was everything I dreamt of and more.

We set off on a Thursday afternoon from Stansted airport and strolled (a type of walking that can only be achieved without our three children in tow) around the departure lounge. As it would be just us two, we decided to actually plan stuff to do whilst on our mini break and had already pre-booked the Colosseum and The Vatican tour and had even figured out the public transport situation so we could commute from the airport by bus and use the metro once there.  ‘When in Rome’ as they say!

After a fairly stress free flight (thanks to Kalms, Heineken and a movie on hubby’s IPAD) we arrived on Italian soil.  It was freezing and dark and we felt miles away from the centre of Rome and headed to our bus stop to begin the first leg of our journey to the outskirts of the capital where we picked up our (super cheap – London take note!) underground connection.  We wedged onto the very bright and noisy tube which had a TV monitor hanging at equal sections throughout the carriages churning out Italian infomercials like a scene out of  Blade Runner.  Hubby had booked a hotel by The Vatican so when we reached our stop and ventured out onto the street the view that met us was breathtaking.  The streets were perfectly symmetrical with ornate apartment block buildings above shops of varying type either side of wide streets bustling with cars, trams and mopeds.  As we wheeled our mini cases down side streets, the buildings stayed the same in style but the streets became narrower and sleepier as we passed groups of well dressed Roman teenagers and adults walking their pampered pooches.

Rome is a city steeped in history and each corner you turn you feel like you could be in any era with its unspoilt appearances and ageless surroundings.  Our accommodation was a room set within an apartment block full of local Romans. Our apartment owner met us in the dimly lid street and led us through two enormous doors into a marble decked courtyard with windows overlooking the square below.  It was like a film set and I felt a million miles from home.

Rome is a beautiful place with an unbelievable amount of historical sites to visit that in a short break you have to be fairly ruthless with your itinerary. With so many monuments worth a look, there was also the added importance of ensuring we sampled plenty of Italian food and wine.  My personal highlights were:

The Colosseum 

What an incredible experience and not just because of hubby’s numerous Russell Crowe impressions.  This famous amphitheatre is enormous in size and has been so well protected and updated without losing its historical charm.  We opted for a headphone tour rather than an actual person which meant we spent our time walking around the monument using sign language or shouting loudly to communicate with each other.  To stand in the middle of the stadium and imagine the events that unfolded there was unbelievable.  It is believed to have housed a staggering 80,000 audience members to watch the barbaric games that were held in the arena, with the seats allocated by class and your ranking in Roman society, meaning the cheap seats at the back were for the peasants.  If you were a gravedigger, actor or a former gladiator you were bizarrely banned altogether!

The Vatican and St Peters

Our apartment building was a stones throw from the walled city known as The Vatican.  Let me just labour that point – The Vatican is a country within a country! There is a 2 mile wall (which we pretty much walked the length of) that surrounds the Pope’s home and at one end is the breathtaking site of St Peters Square and St Peters Basilica.  It is so momentous I cannot do it justice in words and although I do not consider myself to be that religious I felt a strange sentiment when I entered the cavernous walls of St Peters Basilica.  We opted for a proper tour guide for The Vatican as neither of us really understand the art and the history of the religion within and thank goodness we did as our tour guide was a hilarious Roman lady with impeccable English. Her knowledge was incredible and as a born and bred Roman her pride of this historical site was very engaging.  We spent four hours walking the vast corridors of the Pope’s palaces with its walls and ceilings covered in historic art as we weaved around centuries old statues and apart from my feet aching I was intrigued at every turn.  When we came to the Sistine Chapel, our tour guide warned us not to speak and to walk slowly through the exhibition. The Vaticans are so concerned over this work of art being damaged that the room is decked out with security guards glaring at you menancingly whilst making shushing noises and ushering you past the priceless paintings.

The Trevi Fountain

This famous site was very impressive, so much bigger than I expected and the noise of the water gushing was mesmerising. What I particularly loved about this fountain though was the area in which it was set with its narrow cobbled streets and perfect apartments with their trademark scooters parked outside amid quaint restaurants and bars. My favourite meal of the weekend was in an amazing restaurant in a courtyard just metres from the fountain. The Spanish Steps were also just around the corner but were unfortunately closed for maintenance denying me the opportunity to perform my planned Audrey Hepburn scene from Roman Holiday.

The weekend seemed to fly by and we really did cram in so many sites, walked many miles and more than ate my body weight in pasta and red wine! I would urge everyone to put Rome on their bucket list.  As the saying goes – Rome was not built in a day – and once you’ve walked its cobbled streets you can say how that is true.  It may have taken many years to create its beauty and thankfully the Romans have decided to keep it how it was meant to last.

 

Carry On Glamping

My hubby is buying camping gear again.  He is studying the screen of his iPad as if his life depended on it, scanning the various deals on Ebay and bidding against other Dad campers looking for the best price in portable gas cookers or enamel mugs.  It has become an addiction of his ever since I begrudgingly agreed to ‘give camping a go’. Apparently, sleeping in a home decked out in waterproof material in the Great Outdoors is fun! It will reconnect us with nature, he says, make me appreciate the peace and quiet around me and help us embrace back to basics living.  I, however, envisage a weekend of living like a survivor from The Walking Dead, looking grubby all weekend, not bothering to change out of my pyjama’s during the day and trying to make a family meal out of a can of beans and a pack of sausages.

When the whole camping holiday idea was put on the table last year it was laughed out of the room by me and my 7-year-old daughter.  Sleep in a tent? Wee in the woods? My daughter won’t even use a public toilet without moaning about the state of the facilities.  However, with two sons aged 7 and 11 with a reason to behave like Bear Grylls on holiday, not having to wash much and being allowed to wee in the woods, us girls were outnumbered and the camping gear started arriving in the post.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, for hubby’s birthday in April, I booked us 5 and our golden Labrador Chester on a ‘Glamping’ holiday.  It would be 3 days in a “luxurious home from home canvas retreat”, basically a posh tent with wooden floors, proper beds, working toilet, a shower and a kitchen.  This is how camping is meant to be done, as if I am a member of royalty on safari in Africa.  If I could hack this and actually enjoy myself then I would definitely slum it on a normal camping holiday after.

Out of Africa and into a Chicken Farm in Suffolk!

Out of Africa and into a Chicken Farm in Suffolk!

There were 5 tents situated in a large farmers field on a working chicken farm.  Thankfully, a free range egg farm, with about 3,000 chickens happily scratching about in a neighbouring field.  The tent was love at first sight with oak wood floors, thick canvas on the outer walls with huge tapestries hanging from the inner walls. The tent was decked out in shabby chic furniture and the beds were beautifully made with plenty of hanging space for our clothes.  It was, however, definitely back to basics as my eldest discovered whilst trying to plug in his iPhone.  There was no electric hook-up and our only source of heat was the Aga in our lounge area, but we did have running water which was a bonus.  I was already picturing myself in a scene from Poldark, making pies for the Aga, trying my hand at needlework in front of the fire and taking a turn round the room with hubby in the evening.

In the tent next to us, we thankfully had neighbours consisting of a family of five like us with children of similar ages to ours and even a dog for Chester to harass.  Kids being kids struck up a friendship with each other after about 7 minutes whilst us grown ups just waved and made a bit of small talk about the weather.  Despite my fears of the children moaning constantly about being bored, they instead become feral quite quickly and proceeded to build dens and climb trees and introduce themselves to the farmer all within the first few hours of arrival.  All was hunky dory as we settled down for our pasta evening meal that I had prepared on our two gas ring stove (planning on cooking my Poldark pies on the Aga tomorrow, might even bake some bread).  Hubby had got the Aga fire burning to its maximum capability and we hoped that soon the tent would warm up nicely for our first nights sleep.

After an hour or two, we realised that the heat output generated by the Aga was not really going to warm up any part of the tent and that it was mainly for show.  As the kids started to shiver and put their coats back on in the tent, I realised then that all was not well, that in fact there was quite a strong breeze coming through the gaps in the lovingly sanded wooden floors and that the sheer size of the tent meant that any heat generated was never going to be distributed.  As it was only 7.30pm we couldn’t really go to bed to warm up, so brought ALL of the quilts into the lounge to play Scrabble.  As a westerly breeze blew through the lounge, we wrapped the kids up with hats and gloves and starting to unpack our clothes so we could wear all of them.  Chester, who normally will happily sleep at our feet, climbed on top of our quilts and moaned.  The dog was even cold, this was not boding well!

We sent the kids to bed in as many layers as possible and wished them goodnight whilst trying to laugh off the fact that they could actually see the breath leave our mouths from the cold environment around us.  I was now refusing any offers of wine as I was too cold to visit the loo and against medical advice, was dehydrating myself in a bid not to have to undress at any point.  Me and hubby took our turn around the room, however, we had to do it with the throws from the couch wrapped around us and it was more of a shuffle and a shiver then a pleasant stroll.  Luckily, hubby had brought hot water bottles which was the only reason I didn’t cry when inserting myself into the freezing cold bedding.  We prayed for a sunny morning and hoped we would make it through the night without frostbite.

The Children earning their keep!

The Children earning their keep!

The following morning, we were all up bright and early.  Our neighbours had literally moved into their car so they could put their heater on.  Thankfully, the sun came out and we were able to defrost a bit. We headed off to the local supermarket and as well as our planned shopping list, stocked up on firelighters and even managed to find some long johns in the sale section. We spent all day out and about visiting the Suffolk coast and basking in the sunshine, trying not to think about another cold night in the tent.  When we returned ‘home’, Chester point blanked refused to enter the tent as if the tent had transformed into the vets.  Our host, the farmer, walked over to see us and in true British fashion we told her how settled we felt and how well we had slept, with no intention to complain, stiff upper lip and all that.  She told us of a dog friendly/child friendly pub in walking distance that we could visit that evening and with the promise of a real open fire we decided it was the best bet.

After trying to persuade the local publican to let us sleep in the pub and despite being joined by my daughter who was too cold to sleep alone and Chester who looked like he was silently weeping, we made it through our last night. As we packed up on the final day, my last glimmer of hope was that this might have put hubby off the whole camping lark.  We weren’t campers, we couldn’t even glamp! Unfortunately, it had made him more ambitious to see it through with the reasoning that normal camping is warmer!  So, in 3 weeks time, we will be taking our Ebay purchased tent and accessories and sleeping in a different field and apparently doing that whole embracing nature thing again.  Oh well, at least I have my long johns now!