A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' ... Merano style

Buon Natale, or Frohe Weihnachten, 2012

snow 4 °C

The kids have long dreamed of a white Christmas, so it was with some anticipation that we set off for Merano, in the northern Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige, or Sudtirol as the (many) German speakers are more likely to say. Our Vermont friends here in Bologna - the aptly named Natale family - had recommended the town after an enjoyable summer visit.

Dolomites ... awesome

Dolomites ... awesome

Located at the juncture of three valleys, Merano is 325m above sea level, and is surrounded by the stunning Dolomite mountains. The town has a long history as a therapeutic spa resort (famously patronised by Empress Elisabeth of Austria, or 'Sissi', in the mid-1800's), and has been a focal point in conflicts between the French, Austrians, and Italians over the centuries. Merano is just south of the Austrian border, with German the most prevalent language spoken, and the cuisine and architecture is a pleasing combination of Italian, Austrian, and German.

Passer River at dusk

Passer River at dusk

Passer River looking back over Merano

Passer River looking back over Merano

There were so many aspects of the town and area that appealed to us : lively Christmas markets along the Passer River; gluehwein, apfelstrudel, and zuppa di gulasch coming out of the kitchen; beautiful pedestrian-only main street (Via Portici) with stunning Christmas decorations; three dedicated pathways (passegiate) around town which showcase the best Merano has to offer, which of course includes the chocolate-box views of the alps.

Lisa reviving in front of the Christmas market stalls

Lisa reviving in front of the Christmas market stalls

Steinerner Steg ... built 1617

Steinerner Steg ... built 1617

Via Portici - even more alluring at night

Via Portici - even more alluring at night

Travelling up to the snowfields was a fairly painless exercise. A 15 minute bus-ride from just near our hotel to the funivia, followed by a short wait, then a brisk 8 minute cable-car ride up to Merano 2000, the local ski resort. The resort is around 1900m above sea level, and whilst it would be classified as basic amongst accomplished skiers, does a great job in servicing families and beginners. Prices were reasonable, with a daily ski pass for the four of us costing around AUD100.

as The Cure would say, "just like heaven"

as The Cure would say, "just like heaven"

Nat on top of the world

Nat on top of the world

spot the confident skier!

spot the confident skier!

Snow bunny is all smiles ...

Snow bunny is all smiles ...

We booked the kids in for a couple of private lessons, and then let Gabi loose into ski school for the last two days. The slopes were surprisingly uncrowded on the days leading up to Christmas, but became a lot busier after that. We elected to go up on Christmas Day as well, and we're so glad we did, as the lunch in the traditional rifugio (mountain hut) was memorable. Blessed by lovely weather on most days, we actually sat outside frequently for our rejuvenating meals and hot chocolates.

Christmas lunch venue ... low key but high enjoyment

Christmas lunch venue ... low key but high enjoyment

Two other activities we undertook are worth noting : a 3-hour visit to Terme Merano - a massive new complex in town that continues on with the therapeutic tradition. With 15 pools (and another 10 available in summer), spas, saunas, solariums, salt-treatments, and a multitude of other indulgences, this place had something to offer hypochondriacs and big spenders alike. As it was we all enjoyed the experience, but at 55 euro for the pleasure it could hardly be described as 'good value'! And finally, the girls and I had a crack at ice skating on the local rink. Harder than it looks I reckon, so the determination of the girls was admirable. We were even treated to a guest visit by Carolina Kostner - 2012 ice skating champ who lives nearby.

concentration required ...

concentration required ...

... or not!

... or not!

For those interested, a short video showcasing (?) the Happell family skiing ability :


Posted by happellfamily12 09:49 Archived in Italy Tagged snow italy ski white christmas northern german gulasch speakers Comments (1)

"They don't speak my language ..."

but you're still doing ok Nat!

rain 2 °C

When we arrived in Bologna we managed to find a local pre-school for Nat quite quickly. The location was good, the price reasonable, and hopefully she would learn some Italian.

I must admit I had my concerns when she started however - for example no medical history was required, and you didn't need to sign your child in or out each day. Perhaps this was just the Italian way I thought ... more relaxed than the nanny state of Australia. But my concerns were not alleviated when several times I saw one of the carers out walking the dog, and the other carer - according to Nat - was always on the 'cuter'. Although Nat seemed happy enough, and she was picking up the odd Italian word (and our American friends had their two kids there), a decision was made to send Nat to international school along with Gabi.

Nat is the only non-Italian in the class, and as she tells us "the other kids don't speak my language", although all lessons are taught in English. Pleasingly she has settled in quickly, and loves her new teachers Miss Mina and Miss Anita (so mind you does Dan as you can probably guess from the photos ... no wonder he is always happy to do the drop off and pick-up!). Nat has also attended her first birthday party, which Dan was most disappointed to miss, as the birthday girl's papa is Alessandro Diamanti (plays soccer for Italy and Bologna), and her mama is Silvia Hsieh, a super-glamorous TV host. There were of course a few other players and their WAGs there. I felt a bit like the hired help ... very unglamorous!

Miss Anita and Miss Mina



Class Mates


After three weeks Nat has also started to make some new friends (Aurora is her best mate, although little English is spoken, which is amusing to watch). She has sung 'I'm a little snowman' for the Christmas concert, and is the best pasta eater in the class! "The cookers love me mum", as Nat is inclined to say ...

Good Food



Gabi also continues to enjoy school, and loved taking part in her class' Beatles Concert. Also included are photos of her school buddies saying farewell to Zach, who is returning home to Connecticut with his family.

Beatles Concert


Gabi Class Mates


Posted by happellfamily12 06:35 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sta Nevicando

It's actually snowing kids!!

snow -2 °C

All week the children have been hoping that it would snow. So you can imagine their excitement when I stepped out of the apartment for a night-out on Friday evening to find that the snow was falling. Calling the household to come and have a look, husband and kids hurried down, without shoes, to see the snow falling outside (what is it with our family and no shoes in -1 temps?).

The next morning the kids were up early and looking out the window ... and they were not to be disappointed. The snow was at least an inch thick in parts and the grey streets of Bologna had been transformed. Dressing up in their recently purchased snow suits they quickly went up to the top terrace to build a snowman complete with carrot nose. Of course a trip to the park was also in order, and we caught up with school friends Genevieve, Lucy, and their mother Olivia ... the children were in snow heaven. Rolling up big balls of (not the cleanest) snow to make snowmen, throwing snow balls, and sliding down snow covered slides.

Never have the kids experienced snow in a city where they live. Maybe the excitement will wear off, but for Gabi and Nat this has certainly been a highlight of Bologna.

Some Happy Snaps



Posted by happellfamily12 16:57 Archived in Italy Tagged snow in bologna Comments (1)

London's Calling

The Mother Country

overcast 8 °C

What a bonus it was to find out we could fly from Bologna to London for the price of 300 Euros return. EasyJet ... Priceless.

Setting off early on Wednesday morning we arrived at Gatwick around lunchtime. It was then straightforward to catch the Gatwick Express direct to Victoria Station and walk to our B&B in Belgravia (Luna Simone Hotel). Leaving our bag with the proprietor brothers Les, Pete and Bernard - real characters, and an improved version of Fawlty Towers we decided! We caught a double-decker bus to the Millennium Bridge ... a great way to see the city and experience London Transport. A brisk walk around the local area taking in fine views of St Paul's Cathedral, and then it was time to find a local pub to enjoy some traditional English fare. The Black Friar was our choice - a famous pub dating from 1905. Original Art Nouveau marble friezes of boozy monks and a highly decorated alcove complemented the fine English tucker : fish & chips, steak & guiness pie, and a few cold(ish) beers. A lovely change from our past three months of Italian food.

Millennium Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral


Thursday morning, and following our traditional hearty B&B breakfast of bacon, eggs and a good cup of tea, we made our way on foot to the River Thames. London was at its best ... the sun was shining, the streets were clean, transport was efficient, and the people were friendly. We passed many famous sights on our walk to the London Eye, including Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, and St James's Park. In the latter Gabi and Nat counted 300+ squirrels much to their delight. London Eye gave us a bird's eye view of the city and all the sights. The kids also played on the 'beach' by the river.

Famous London Sights


A treat was in store for the kids with their first ever musical - 'Shrek' in the famous Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.



Of course a trip to England would not be complete for Dan without a trip to the famous Newmarket where he could see, in the flesh, his four-legged workmates who make his day job possible. We caught the afternoon train to Cambridge after spending the morning in the Natural History Museum followed by a quick visit to Harrods. Our country friends (Emma and John) kindly put us up for the night. The kids - all three of them - were estactic that they were sleeping above the stables, and that the house had three dogs and several cats. Emma cooked a beautiful roast and we enjoyed much horsey conversation with our hosts.

The following morning John left early with a runner at Doncaster, and Emma kindly took us on a tour of Newmarket. We watched a few of their horses training on the famous Newmarket Heath, and were fortunate enough to rub shoulders with Luca Cumani - champion trainer who is still pursuing that elusive Melbourne Cup winner.

Back in London after our racing sojourn we enjoyed dinner at the funky 'Giraffe' restuarant near Victoria Station, which had excellent food and was well set-up for kids. Unlike most Italian restuarants this one caters for nursing home diners by opening at 6.30pm!


Who's the boss Gus?

Who's the boss Gus?

On the final day of our trip we caught the train to the lovely suburb of Richmond. A walk along the River Thames and then a stroll through beautiful Richmond Park followed. This park has over 2500 acres of grassland and woodland and it is Europe's largest city park. Although we didn't see any deer we did enjoy the expanse and the children loved running through the grass and revelling in the sun and open spaces.

A few underground trains later and we found ourselves back in the centre of town at The Tower of London, which the kids enjoyed. A final meal in London (Wimbledon) ensued thanks to the very kind hospitality of Virginia, Alister and Sophie. Unfortunately our time in London ended all too quickly, but we will definitely be back for more sights and experiences in 2013.

Richmond Park, London Bridge, and Sophie with the interlopers


Posted by happellfamily12 07:57 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london Comments (0)

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